The Kentucky Wildcats are 3-1 on the young season and are getting ready to dive into the heart of their non-conference schedule with matchups against Miami (FL), North Carolina, and Louisville all coming up in the next month.
Entering the season, it was widely expected that this freshman class would be making some noise at this point in the year. Similar to John Calipari’s early teams in Lexington, this roster features a plethora of elite guards and bigs, with some key experienced players helping round out the rotation.
If you were to ask anyone after four games who the best player on the team is at this point, one would assume they would have mentioned the highly-ranked NBA Draft prospects in DJ Wagner or Justin Edwards.
Another good guess would have been one of the fifth-year seniors in Antonio Reeves or Tre Mitchell, especially with how well they looked in Canada.
Well, the answer is actually Reed Sheppard.
A familiar name to all of the BBN even before the season, Sheppard has now inserted himself right into the conversation for players taking college basketball by storm. His most recent outing was a masterpiece of epic proportions, as he scored 25 points on 9/10 shooting (7/8 from deep) with seven assists, three rebounds, two blocks, three steals, and a team-high +42.
Reed Sheppard is the first freshman to score at least 25 points, make 7 three pointers, and miss only one field goal since 2018 in Division I.— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) November 18, 2023
If you add in his 7 assists today, only one other player in college has achieved that stat line since at least 2011.
Through four games, Sheppard is averaging 13.3 points per game on 69% shooting from the field and an absurd 70.6% from 3-point range, the best in college basketball. He’s also adding 2.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on the offensive end.
But it is his play on both ends of the court that has really separated him from others on the Kentucky roster to this point. He has currently totaled 12 steals and six blocks through four games, which leads the team in both categories.
Even more impressive is Sheppard’s absurd 35.6 player efficiency rating (PER). If the season ended today, that would be the 11th-best PER ever recorded (dates back to 2002-03). While it’s not reasonable to think he’ll keep up this rate, it still shows just how special the start of his Kentucky Basketball career has been.
Here are some other notable stats to know about Sheppard:
- His 12 steals rank second in the SEC and 12th in the country.
- His true shooting percentage (.934) ranks first in the SEC and third in the country.
- His win shares per 40 minutes (.380) rank second in the SEC.
- His box plus/minus (21.1) ranks first in the SEC and third in the country.
- His offensive rating (165.2) ranks second in the SEC and eighth in the country.
- His steal percentage (7.1%) ranks first in the SEC and 12th in the country.
Simply put, Sheppard is the Cats’ best player because he’s their most complete player. There’s nothing he hasn’t been able to do through four games, be it running the offense, blocking shots, or spreading the floor. He’s exactly what this Kentucky team needed to go from not even being a preseason top-15 team to suddenly looking like a legitimate Final Four contender.
The London (KY) kid has proved himself to this point in the year, now comes the big-time matchups in the non-conference alongside a difficult SEC schedule with plenty of top-25 matchups coming up, the next being vs. the No. 11 Miami Hurricanes, who are fresh off a Final Four appearance of their own.
To this point, he has made a strong opening statement. Now comes the chance to make some noise on the biggest stage.
It is safe to say he is ready for it.