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Power ranking the Wildcats

Power ranking Kentucky’s basketball players after moving their season to 4-1 with a win over Mount Saint Mary’s

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

On Sunday, Kentucky prevailed over Mount St. Mary's behind a slow first half and a promising second half to a final tally of 82-62, a non-spread-covering margin. The Mountaineers’ Damien Chong Qui (certain member of the 2020 Name Mount Rushmore) attempted his best Isaiah Thomas impersonation for the Mountaineers but just couldn't outdo Junior Nick Richards and the Kentucky Wildcats.

Frankly, Kentucky needed to perform well, and they did en route to a comfortable victory over, once again, a sizably inferior foe. Whatever, I’ll take it. Here are my power rankings of each player following the two-hour shift from 3-1 to 4-1:

1. Injured Ashton Hagans

Hagans hasn’t been at full speed since the Korean War but that hasn’t halted the sophomore point guard from slicing up one of the Northeast Conference’s premier defenses. Chong Qui and the entire Mountaineer flock had no answers for Hagans’ uncharacteristic made layups and passes to his own teammates.

No. 0 in blue followed up Monday night’s 26-point outburst with 16 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds and just 2 turnovers. Still on an unwell wheel, that’s a fantastic night. This time around, his teammates decided to contribute by cutting, setting off-ball screens and making jumpers rather than idly watching Ash dribble into a dozen players and draw fouls or dribble the ball off his foot.

When not required to steer every oar on the canoe, Hagans settled into his ideal role: Table-setting lead guard who can get to the rim and pass to OPEN shooters or rim-running forwards. He looked great again. There’s a faint scent of PJ Washington-ness the way Ashton took over the offense and controlled the team down for most of the second half’s these past two outings. UK needs a leader still. That’s all I’ll say.

2. Nick Richards

“When in doubt, go to number four down low” evoked a Joker-esque laugh from me when John Sundvold staked the claim midway through Friday’s game. But after Richards’ back-to-back 21-10 and 19-6 stat lines this work week, Nick’s making me smile wider than Joker after his interview with Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Kimmel alter-ego.

Again, the dunks. For years and years, all two of them, Nick botched alley-oops habitually. I think he might be the only 7-footer to convert a higher percentage of 18-footers than slam dunks. Tonight, he compromised and just made both, dunking ON people and connecting on another sweet mid-ranger or two.

He continues to move like he’s on stilts when guarding opposing guards (particularly our abbreviated friend Chong Qui) but overall turned in another dominant performance. Learning to trust him is like trusting Kentucky Football during the early Stoops era. Call this his 2016.

3. Immanuel Quickley

For two weeks, Kentucky eschewed three pointers in favor of turnovers and Riley Welch flings (shots similar to Welch’s late-game air-ball floater vs. MSM). IQ returned to the lineup Friday after missing Monday’s bout with an apparent sternum injury and his presence was felt—in the form swished threes, most notably. I felt like Zero and Stanley in Holes when they stumbled upon a freshwater stream. “ZEEEERRO, UK found made three pointers!”

How delightful.

4. Tyrese Maxey

Maxey oozes play-breaking speed and a hounding mentality. But he also looks so frantic and nervous. Just look at his shoulders, they’re perched up like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men when he quips “why the two orders, captain”—sharing the Fifty Cups of Espresso energy that Maxey has on the basketball court.

Calipari tells his “kids” all the time that they need to calm down and let “things” come to them. Maxey has the talent and raw athleticism not to wait like a role player might but he hasn’t figured out the perfect method of channeling that energy since the Michigan State game. Maybe he’s a PTP’ER to use Vitale vernacular. If he simply just elevates when with the stakes of the game, then I’m excited for December 28th.

5. Kahlil Whitney

Kahlil splashed a three, connected on an early alley-oop and provided sound defense while weaving his way to a final line of 9 points, 2 steals and 1-each rebound and assist.

Shabby? No.

Titillating? For a number of reasons, yes.

Kahlil continues to be an underrated shooter, making a Totally Telling 3/7 on the year from three! Jokes aside, Kahlil converts jumpers regularly although his form reminds me of Ricky Rubio’s crossed with a corkscrew.

He’s just a caterpillar right now in terms of what he can be both in Lexington and in professional ball, and I really see no answer in near sight to the identity of his game. Still, I’m excited to see the niche Calipari finds for Kahlil offensively (he will).

Defensively, he can be a jackknife and he will be with a few (could be 100 more for all I know) more games under his belt.

6. EJ Montgomery

In his welcome back, Montgomery drained a three and missed a couple of boneheaded 20-foot two’s. He also rebounded well and didn’t get abused on defense. If you can’t read my bluntness, this was a fairly mundane big man performance from Efrem Jr. But it was nice to have another lanky forward in there to give Nick and Nate a breather while also spacing the floor just a tad and inhaling a sextuplet of rebounds.

7. Nate Sestina

Nate Sestina has defended quite poorly during Kentucky’s Evansville/Utah Valley/Mount St. Mary’s murderer’s gauntlet over the past couple weeks. I’m hanging on to my Nate Sestina stock with Alex Honnold margins—I’m inches away from nose-diving off my “He’s One of Our Best Players” mountain. He isn’t right now, unless his mythical “verbal leadership” (Cal raves about this) is why IQ made threes or Nick Richards finished dunks.

I will say, he’s actually in a bit of a matchup nightmare against these small-conference foes. Lower-level mid-majors tend to run small, often wheeling out 6-5 or 6-6 gunners as their power forward. Against Nate, they’re just quicker, able to beat the Bucknell product off the bounce and maneuver into open threes with relative ease, capitalizing on his worst weakness.

Once Kentucky plays the Ohio State’s, Louisville’s and the SEC, Sestina should be matched up with traditional forwards, and he’s a strong defender in the post. It sounds strange, I know, but these games are unideal for Sestina’s skillset. If you’ll recall, similar defensive disgruntlement over Reid Travis was shared early last year when his feet seemed like cement chasing smaller, speedier 4-men.

How was Reid in conference play and beyond? (I’ll let you think).

8. Johnny Juzang

I’ll die screaming that Johnny J should play more. He glides like a lotion-soaked rattlesnake on offense, flowing through the half-court sets with direction and intent to create a scoring play, whether it’s drawing his man out to open driving lanes for Ashton or diving towards the offensive glass (these are not common traits among our Cats), Johnny operates with purpose uniformly.

On a team of “kids,” I’d like to see the patient slitherer get a little bit more run. But I get it, UK is LOADED at guard, although I’d forgo playing Brooks as a 3, but that’s just me.

9. Keion Brooks

Sorry if I’m not gushing about a 2-point, 3-rebound performance, it sounds like one of my roommates’ fraternity brothers (a shirtless ragamuffin by the looks of it) just shattered my toilet on his way to spew regurgitated Coors Banquet all over the damn place. Brooks’ mid-range jumper and team-leading 85 minutes spent with his foot on the three-point line (JUST TAKE A THREE) are the only sure things; everything else comes and goes with the consistency of John Travolta’s acting career.

Finally, a win we can all feel mildly good about.