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Keldon Johnson becoming the lottery pick he was expected to be

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After a hot and cold regular season, Keldon Johnson has stepped up in a big way.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wofford vs Kentucky Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2018-19 season, most of the country knew Kentucky’s roster was going to be among the best in the nation.

John Calipari put together another loaded recruiting class consisting of Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, and Tyler Herro. However, no one in that class was rated higher than Keldon Johnson.

Johnson was rated number seven in the 2018 ESPN 300 rankings, which was nearly 10 spots higher than Montgomery (14) who was the next highest-rated Wildcat.

The ranking and all early scouting indications landed Johnson in the top 10 of almost everyone’s NBA Draft boards entering the college basketball season.

However, at many points throughout the regular season, Johnson did not look close to a lottery pick, as some even speculated that he should return for the 2019-20 season to boost his stock.

Yes, he did win the SEC Freshman of the Year award, but there is little doubt that, at times, Johnson simply struggled. During a key stretch of the SEC regular season, Johnson seemingly disappeared.

Shots weren’t falling, his defense was off, and he was turning the ball over.

On January 15th in Kentucky’s road win over Georgia, Johnson laid a goose egg, not scoring a single point and only grabbing three rebounds. That is not exactly what you’d expect from a lottery pick, especially against one of the worst teams in not just the SEC, but of all the Power 5 leagues.

Johnson went on to finish the regular season extremely hot and cold. In Kentucky’s win over Tennessee on February 16th, Johnson shot 8/14 from the field including going 3/6 from downtown finishing with 19 points and four rebounds.

He also put together an incredible 17-rebound performance against Auburn the following weekend.

However, he had his fair share of not so hot performance as well.

In a March 2nd loss to Tennessee, Johnson shot 2/9 from the field, recorded just one assist and shot just 50% from the free-throw line.

The struggles carried into the postseason as he shot 1/7 from the field in Kentucky’s SEC quarterfinal win over Alabama. But in the SEC semifinals, a flip switched.

Johnson shot a productive 6/10 that saw him finish the game with 15 points, grab six rebounds, and seemingly run harder than anyone else on the floor.

With ESPN’s latest mock draft knocking him out of the lottery heading into the NCAA Tournament, Johnson began to step up his game.

In Kentucky’s first round domination over Abilene Christian, no Wildcat performed better than Keldon Johnson.

The freshman dropped 25 points thanks to a 10/16 shooting night that included going 3/5 from beyond the arc, grabbed six rebounds, and was able to play lockdown defense.

In Kentucky’s Round of 32 win over Wofford, Johnson got into foul trouble, but when he was on the floor, he played a significant role in helping Kentucky advance.

Johnson shot 50% from the field, scoring nine points, pulling down four rebounds, and again playing solid defense.

If the Wildcats are going to get this version of Johnson the rest of the season, they have as good a chance as ever to win a ninth national championship.

As for Johnson, he’s boosting his NBA Draft stock by the minute while helping the team win games. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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