News broke Thursday that the Kentucky Wildcats were attempting to get Jacob Toppin eligible for the 2020-21 college hoops season.
Toppin, who transferred in from Rhode Island this offseason, was expected to sit out this year due to NCAA transfer rules, but also because UK wanted him to sit and develop for a year while redshirting, then take on a big role for this team in 2021-22.
However, the younger brother of Obi Toppin has the potential to make a big impact now for a Wildcats team looking to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.
Here are five reasons why UK should absolutely want Toppin eligible this season.
If Olivier Sarr gets his transfer waiver, UK will have 10 eligible scholarship players. While not bad, playing with just 10 guys can be risky, especially if injuries start piling up.
Just look at last year when EJ Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans were banged up early in the season, while Dontaie Allen was redshirting while recovering from his own injuries.
And once Kahlil Whitney quit the team, UK was left with just players for the second half of the season. It was actually the second-straight season in which UK had a midseason transfer.
Thankfully, no more significant injuries happened, but it was still the type of situation John Calipari would prefer not to be in. Having Toppin eligible would give UK another able body who could help the team overcome injuries if/when they happen and possible defections.
A great reason for getting Toppin eligible now would be the valuable playing time he’d get this season before assuming a bigger role in 2021-22. If he redshirts, he’ll only get limited practice reps throughout this season. But if he’s eligible to play, I think he’d get around 10-12 minutes per game.
While not a big workload, those minutes throughout a full season could help speed up his development so he’s ready to become a more important role player, if not a starter next season.
Kentucky is likely losing Olivier Sarr, Terrence Clarke, Brandon Boston and Keion Brooks to the NBA next year, and their 2021 recruiting class currently has just one pledge from four-star guard in Nolan Hickman. With UK continuing to struggle with frontcourt recruiting, they may need Toppin to have a significant role for this team next season.
Getting him PT now would help ensure he’s ready for it.
More size on a roster lacking it
UK has a world of potential this season, but they’re a bit lacking in terms of size and length in the frontcourt. Even if Olivier Sarr gets a transfer waiver, UK would have just three scholarship players who are 6-9 or taller. Two of those guys are Lance Ware and Isaiah Jackson, who are raw freshman who may have small roles in their first years of college.
Toppin, however, is 6-9 and actually has a season of experience under his belt. Of course, he’s a little thin at 187 pounds to play the 4 in a Power 5 league like the SEC, but so many teams are deploying small-ball lineups for stretches of games that Toppin could be effective at the 4 in those scenarios.
Also, UK could deploy a big lineup that includes Toppin at the 3, Keion Brooks at the 4 and Sarr at the five to bully teams in the paint. That kind of size and length would make it very challenging for teams relying heavily on points in the paint to score against these Cats.
Combined with Toppin’s and Brooks’ ability to stretch the floor, this kind of lineup could also really open up the paint for Sarr to have some monster games like he did down the stretch of his junior season at Wake Forest.
And if the UK practice highlights we’ve seen recently are any indicator, Toppin looks like a great lob target for guys like Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston who will draw a lot of attention when they slash to the rim.
As mentioned above, Toppin is capable of hitting threes and stretching out defenses. He finished his freshman season shooting just 24.5% from deep while attempting 1.8 threes per game, though he did shoot 3/4 from deep in Rhode Island’s win at Alabama.
Perhaps having a full season under his belt coupled with what could be a loaded UK offense could help Toppin become a more consistent shooter in Lexington. The only experienced scholarship players UK currently has are Keion Brooks (26.5% shooter from deep) and Davion Mintz (36% in his last season at Creighton).
If Toppin can be a consistent shooter, he could have a very valuable role on this UK team.
Possible free year of eligibility anyhow
Next week, the NCAA will vote on if winter athletes should be granted a free year of eligibility due to the coronavirus outbreak. If that passes, then there’s really no reason for Toppin to redshirt this year ‘if’ he gets a transfer waiver.
While Toppin needs some development before he’s ready to test the NBA waters, he’s probably not sticking around college for six years, which is what could happen if he gets a free year of eligibility but still redshirts this season.
Frankly, I don’t think Toppin will spend more than four years in school. He’s just oozing with potential and could be an NBA Draft pick with 2-3 more years of development.
There is also a scenario, though unlikely, where Toppin comes in, redshirts for a season, tests the NBA Draft waters in 2021, has off-the-chart testing with his measurables and athleticism, convinces a team to spend a second-round flyer on him, and he ultimately never plays a minute in Lexington, similar to what almost happened with Hamidou Diallo.
Might as well let Toppin loose now.
Four Spiders One Jacob Toppin... who ya got? pic.twitter.com/tIEV2afucJ— Rhody MBB (@RhodyMBB) January 5, 2020