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Where the Wildcats stand in The Athletic’s latest NBA Draft rankings

Oscar Tshiebwe is inching closer to the first round.

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Oscar Tshiebwe Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The postseason is officially here, and the Kentucky Wildcats have a legitimate chance of winning the NCAA Tournament and the program’s ninth National Championship.

With the regular season now over, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic released his updated NBA Draft rankings.

Shaedon Sharpe is the first Cat coming off the board, as Vecenie has him as the No. 5 overall pick.

The second Wildcat taken is TyTy Washington, who is still in the lottery but on the back end, as he is projected to be the No. 14 overall pick.

Throughout the season, Oscar Tshiebwe has dominated college basketball as he averaged 17.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 assists per game on his way to being named the SEC Player of the Year and is the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.

Despite his numbers, Oscar has consistently found himself projected either late second round or to go undrafted.

However, Vecenie now has Oscar inching toward the first round as he has him going No. 34 overall, which is the fourth pick in the second round.

“At the end of the day, in the second round, you’re just looking for players who can stick. And it’s exceptionally easy to imagine Tshiebwe sticking. He’s the best rebounder college basketball has seen in at least a decade, and he plays exceptionally hard all the time. You know what you’re getting every time he’s out there, and he’s going to make opposing players absolutely miserable on a random Wednesday night in February when he chases every single loose ball and rebound. I don’t think I’ve seen someone who plays this hard all the time with this type of relentless motor and energy. It’s an enormous credit to him, and it’s why he’s going to be named National Player of the Year in college basketball.”

One of the worries that Vecenie notes in Oscar’s game is his defensive positioning saying that his impact is because of his hustle and 7-foot-5 wingspan.

“There are some obvious worries. I don’t love his defensive positioning. He makes an impact on that end just by having a 7-foot-5 wingspan and by playing as hard as he does, but he gets lost a bit more often than you’d like to see. Also, it’s a bit easier to finish over the top of him than you’d like to see from someone who will play the center position full time. He doesn’t have much in the way of elevation for an undersized big. I don’t really see him as the All-Defense-caliber player SEC coaches apparently did by voting him to that team. He has value because he consistently ends every possession after just one shot by grabbing every miss, but he might not consistently force that first miss either.”

On top of that, Vecenie added that he is not impressed with Oscar’s offense either.

“On top of that, the offense isn’t awesome. He can’t create his own shot, and he can’t shoot. He’s not a particularly vertical rim runner out of ball screens because of that lack of explosiveness. He’ll be the most limited national player of the year I can remember skill-wise. But he’s good in the dunker spot and creates a metric ton of extra possessions. Tshiebwe just seems like one of those guys whose positive energy will genuinely help a team and whose insatiable motor will help a team in the regular season. If you’re picking at No. 35, I’m not sure you can ask for much more than a pretty strong bet to stick because he plays so much harder than everyone else across every level of basketball that he just won national player of the year based almost solely on his work ethic.”

Regardless, Oscar has been dominating this season and deserves all the awards coming his way.

Now that Oscar can utilize NIL opportunities, the chances of him returning to Kentucky for a second-year increase. However, the higher he rises up the draft boards the less likely that becomes.

You can check out Vecenie’s entire mock NBA Draft here.