The Kentucky Wildcats will look to put their first-round exit behind them as they enter with a promising blend of their roster.
CBB Review is once again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the 2022-23 season. Each day we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Coming in ranked number 5 are the Kentucky Wildcats.
Things were going pretty well for Kentucky, making the NCAA Tournament as a 2 seed. Then St. Peters went to the ball, and the rest is history.
This season will look to have a different outcome, although they have the same key player in Oscar Tshiebwe. Calling him a key player is an understatement. Tshiebwe is the returning National Player of the Year, the first to return since Tyler Hansbrough. He will once again be one of the most dominant players in college basketball. That’s a good place to start.
The Kentucky Wildcats also bring in one of the top recruiting classes, including 2 5 star talents that will get significant minutes. There is also other veteran leadership in Toppin and Wheeler. All the pieces for Kentucky are there.
To those who have not, click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams in the 2022-23 college basketball season.
Head Coach: John Calipari (31st season overall, 14th season at Kentucky)
2021-22 Record: 26-8 (14-4)
2022 Postseason Finish: Lost in first round of NCAA Tournament
PG: Sahvir Wheeler (5-9, 180, Sr.)
2021-22 stats: 10.1 points, 6.9 assists, 3.0 turnovers
SG: Cason Wallace (6-4, 193, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #8 overall ranked recruit
SF: Chris Livingston (6-6, 220, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #12 overall ranked recruit
PF: Jacob Toppin (6-9, 205, Sr.)
2021-22 stats: 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists
C: Oscar Tshiebwe (6-9, 260, Sr.)
2021-22 stats: 17.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.6 blocks
6: Antonio Reeves (6-5, 205, Sr.)
2021-22 stats: 20.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 39.0 3P% (Illinois State)
7: CJ Fredrick (6-3, 185, Rs.-Sr.)
2020-21 stats: 7.5 points, 1.9 assists, 47.4 3P% (Iowa)
8: Ugonna Onyenso (6-11, 225, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #39 overall ranked recruit
9: Daimion Collins (6-9, 210, So.)
2021-22 stats: 2.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks
10: Lance Ware (6-9, 235, Jr.)
2021-22 stats: 1.5 points, 1.9 rebounds
Team MVP: Oscar Tshiebwe
It does not get much easier than this when picking a team MVP. The reigning National Player of the Year put up an otherworldly stat line of 17.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game. His seemingly grabbing every rebound allows Kentucky to play freer, leak out more, and push the pace. Per Kenpom, Tshiebwe had the highest defensive rebound percentage and 2nd highest offensive rebound percentage in all of D-I. Side note, would a stat line of 10+ points, 10+ offensive rebounds, and 10-plus defensive rebounds be considered a triple-double? If so, Tshiebwe did it once last year and could do it again.
In addition to his rebounding prowess, Tshiebwe also showed a good post-up game. Per Synergy, he ranked in the 89th percentile of post-up efficiency, most of them being drop steps to the basket.
There is hope in Kentucky that he will be able to expand his game out towards the perimeter at times and knock down some open ones to try and help with spacing. There will also be hope for an improved defense, although he was by no means a bad defender at all. He has the physicality to alter teams on defense at times if he develops more.
Make or Break Player: Sahvir Wheeler
If Tshiebwe is the player that allows Kentucky to run, Wheeler is the player that takes advantage. He wants to get the ball and go. Per Synergy, about 27% of his field goal attempts came in transition, more than all but 5% of D1 players.
When he is not running, Wheeler is a point guard uber comfortable creating for others in the pick-and-roll. He assisted on 35.5% of all Kentucky baskets while on the floor, good for 19th best in the country. He can slice defenses up and find the open man with ease.
The big thing for Wheeler is whether his perimeter shooting will come around this season. On the bright side, he shot his best 3-point percentage in college last season. However, it was only 30.8%. With Tshiebwe dominating the paint, it makes it more difficult for guards with a lack of perimeter game to flourish due to lack of space. If Wheeler can get the three-ball to go, this offense becomes even more dangerous than it already is.
Analytic to Know: 351st in 3PA Rate this season
Intuitively, this makes sense. A lot of shots come from a big man who dominates the game from within 8 feet. Couple that with a guard who is an ok 3-point shooter at best, and it makes sense that Kentucky would not put up a lot of 3s.
Incoming freshmen Wallace and Livingston shot well in their pre-season tour, but they will need to maintain it in season. CJ Fredrick is an absolute flamethrower from deep, and he should help the Kentucky Wildcats gets some more perimeter looks up.
The Kentucky Wildcats will be amongst the favorites to win the SEC. They more than have the talent, but the SEC will be tough this season with multiple teams having realistic chances to win.
The Wildcats are going to have a fun non-conference that includes neutral matchups against Michigan State, Michigan, and UCLA. They also will travel to Gonzaga to take them on. We should be able to learn a lot about this team by the time SEC play rolls around.
This team is going to start with Tshiebwe no doubt. Will he be able to reproduce the stat line of last season or possibly improve? Kentucky is going to need him to.
This projects to be one of the best defenses in the country, with multiple guards and wings that can defend really well. Freshmen Wallace and Livingston will both be able to apply pressure from the start, and forward Jacob Toppin will be one of the most athletic players in college basketball.
The pieces are there for the Kentucky Wildcats to make another run. They are going to be good in the regular season, no doubt. All eyes will be on them come March to see if they can put last year’s tournament behind them.