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UK Basketball: Will struggles of this season lead to more returnees in 2018-19?

This year’s struggles could turn into a blessing for the Wildcats going into next year.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats aren’t exactly having the kind of season we all envisioned, but their struggles could be a blessing in disguise.

The Cats are 5-3 in the SEC and 15-5 overall. They lack a top-25 win and, lately, are struggling to finish out close games. The criticism and disappointment has been widely heard after the last week, especially after Saturday’s loss to Florida. While John Calipari has remained optimistic about his team, others are beginning to have their doubts about this year’s squad.

One such naysayer is Reid Forgrave with CBS Sports. In a recent article, Forgrave talks about Kentucky’s young, struggling team:

Kentucky is not a pretty team this year. The Wildcats have the potential with their massive size and length to be an elite defensive team, but that potential only comes out in spurts. They’re young – this is Calipari’s youngest team, ranking 351 out of the 351 teams in college basketball in experience, perhaps the youngest team in modern college basketball history – but the bigger problem is they play young. They don’t move the ball well. They turn the ball over too much. They shoot fewer 3-pointers than all but three teams in college basketball. Their only strength on the offensive end seems to be when they work smaller teams over in the paint.

Forgrave goes on to say that this year’s team “is a bit of a mess right now” when judging them by typical Wildcats standards. “They’re not going to be an NIT team like that 2012-13 team, but it should be considered a massive success if this team is in the top three in the SEC, or if it makes the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.”

But there’s a silver lining. Most of this year’s squad is likely to come back for a second year. One thing that has distinguished Calipari’s most successful teams (the 2012 squad that won the National Championship and the 2015 team that very nearly went undefeated) from the others has been a mix of star talent and skilled, experienced veterans.

I think that every player on this team could use a second season of college ball before moving on, but that probably won’t happen. I think Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo are almost locks to declare for the draft at the end of the season. But beyond those two I don’t think there’s another guy who should consider leaving Kentucky, or who wouldn’t benefit themselves even more by another season in college. That leaves us with this potential roster:

Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, both juniors and former top-25 recruits.

Quade Green, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, and (a hopefully healthy) Jemarl Baker all sophomores and former top-35 recruits.

Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Immanuel Quickley, and potentially one or two more recruits, all top-35 ranked guys.

That’s a loaded team right there. Even if Gilgeous-Alexander or Vanderbilt (or maybe even both) decide to test the NBA waters, I still like the experience returning to this team next year.

While I don’t share Forgrave’s pessimism for the remainder of the season, I do realistically recognize that this season may not have the ending so many in Big Blue Nation were hoping it would have. But looking ahead to next year, there is a lot to be excited for. Hopefully next year we can all look back and recognize these struggles for what they are, a “blessing in disguise”.