The #9 Kentucky Wildcats won a pair of games on Friday against North Florida and then against Tony Barbee’s Central Michigan team on Monday. The Wildcats won by an average of 31 points and had some really good stretches during the two wins.
With eight days between their latest win and their next game, it’s a good opportunity to evaluate some player stock seven games into the season after the victories over the Ospreys and Chippewas.
Oscar Tshiebwe: Tshiebwe continued his campaign for UK’s best, or at least most important, player with two more double-doubles. He scored 12 points and grabbed 16 boards against North Florida and then followed it up with 20 points, 16 rebounds and 3 steals against Central Michigan. Tshiebwe has looked like a man amongst boys all season long, which says a lot more now considering how good Duke’s front court has continued to look this season. He leads the nation in rebounds and likely will be high on that list all year long because that’s just how hard he works.
Sahvir Wheeler: Another candidate for the best/most important player on the roster has been Wheeler. His playmaking and perimeter defense have been invaluable and his ability to finish at the basket at his size puts pressure on the defense once he gets his first step. He had a casual 7 points and 6 assists against Central Michigan, but scored 12 points and dished a career high 14 assists against North Florida. He has taken the reins as John Calipari’s latest point guard, and he controls both the pace and energy in every aspect of the game.
TyTy Washington: Washington has really come into his own ever since opening night. Over the two wins, he averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds on 50% shooting from both the field and three. There were a lot of Immanuel Quickley comparisons with Washington, and it’s not hard to see why, except we don’t have to wait for Washington’s second year for it. With that said, we likely won’t be seeing a second year out of him anyway. When you pair his role, his opportunity, and the trajectory he’s on, he’s on track to lead the Wildcats in scoring this season.
Bench Play: These early games have really been important for development outside of the starting lineup, and it became a front and center opportunity with Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks both missing time. Jacob Toppin returned from injury against North Florida and played well in both games with productive minutes and the energy we saw him provide last season. Daimion Collins was okay against Central Michigan in his return to his bench role, but he took advantage of Brooks’ absence against North Florida where he started and scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Bryce Hopkins might have been the biggest beneficiary, though, with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists through 25 minutes across both games. These contests are an audition to justify playing time once the rotation gets cut down and these three made strides during these games.
Davion Mintz: You hate to pick on the guy who’s struggling for reasons out of his control. Mintz has had an illness that’s caused him to miss the last three games, but the fact still remains that these games are important for determining lineups and carving out roles. As of now, I don’t see how Mintz would fall out of the rotation completely, but you can tell he spent the first few games trying to figure out his new role this season off the bench. These could have been two more opportunities for him to find his way, but well wishes to Mintz as he recovers and hopefully gets back on the floor soon.
Keion Brooks: Brooks also missed the North Florida game with an illness, but he didn’t do anything significant in the Central Michigan game either. It was fine production with nine points and three rebounds, but it was on 3-10 shooting. Brooks has been a roller coaster with consistency during his three years at UK and, although the Wildcats are better equipped to survive the games he goes missing in action, you’d rather he not got lost in the shuffle at all. It’s a long season, but seeing the same Keion Brooks, even though that Brooks is a really solid college basketball player, is a bit of a letdown.
Dontaie Allen: Allen has created his own category with his two performances. In 19 minutes per game, the numbers look good on paper with 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. The percentages are rough, though, with 34.8% shooting from the field and an even worse 20% from three. You love to see the scoring paired with the defense and rebounding. Allen’s play on the defensive end has always been the key to him earning minutes, but you’d like to see better efficiency from the roster’s designated “shooter” with CJ Frederick out for the year as well as in games without Mintz in the lineup. He had highs high enough to call him a riser, but the percentages make him a faller, so he’s going to fall right in the middle for the time being.