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Kentucky rising in ESPN’s way-too-early rankings for 2021-22 season

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And could rise higher before it’s all said and done.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After the worst season in program history, the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program felt like it needed a massive overhaul, and that is exactly what John Calipari did this of-season.

From bringing in two new assistant coaches, to changing his entire coaching philosophy, John Calipari made the necessary changes to ensure that a 9-16 season does not ever occur again.

Kentucky hit the transfer market hard bringing in four transfers, all major contributors at their previous schools, and securing a commitment from the fastest rising point guard in the high school ranks by way of TyTy Washington, after the de-commitment of Nolan Hickman.

Because of that, Kentucky has jumped all the way into the top-10 of Jeff Borzello’s newest “way-too-early” top-25 rankings, with the Wildcats coming in at No. 9.

Entering the offseason, it was clear John Calipari wanted to make major changes within the program. With the dust presumably settled, both the roster and staff have undergone a complete overhaul. Out went Brandon Boston Jr., Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson and Devin Askew. In came three more transfers and another five-star prospect. Two assistant coaches left, replaced by two assistants from Illinois. But the team as a whole is in much better shape than it was last season. The team lacked consistent shooting and capable playmakers a year ago; that’s been solved. Sahvir Wheeler led the SEC in assists at Georgia, while TyTy Washington was one of the premier point guards at the high school level. Kellan Grady made at least 50 3-pointers in all four seasons at Davidson, and Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick might have been the best pure shooter in the portal, making better than 46% of his 3-point attempts. Next season’s lineups should have better balance, the team should have better depth — and more experience. The return of Davion Mintz could boost this ranking even higher.

This new ranking is coming off the heels of Calipari officially announcing Keion Brooks Jr. being back for his Junior season. The only decision remaining is that of Davion Mintz, who has until July 7 to either keep his name in the NBA Draft, or pull out and return to Kentucky for his final collegiate season.

If Davion were to return, Kentucky almost certainly leaps into the top-five with the return of their “dagger thrower.”

John Calipari will need a veteran-lead team for this season, as their schedule will be no walk in the park. The SEC will have six legit teams who can win the league (Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn) and Kentucky’s confirmed non-conference schedule features Duke in the Champions Classic to kick off the season, a trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan, Notre Dame, North Carolina, their Big 12 opponent, and of course, Louisville.