Conference: SEC (Auto-bid)
Record: 29-5 (16-2)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 2 (South)
How they got the the Big Dance
John Calipari always recruits some of the best talent to Lexington. This year is no different. The top three scorers, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Edrice Adebayo are all freshmen. Despite being such a young team, it has been able to avoid bad losses. Kentucky’s only loss outside of the RPI top 50 came at RPI No. 83 Tennessee. The team also boasts seven wins against the RPI top 50, most notably against North Carolina and Florida.
Since their loss at Florida on February 4, their third loss in four games, the Wildcats have not lost a game. This streak earned them the SEC regular season title and the No.1 seed in the SEC tournament, which they won.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
As mentioned earlier, Kentucky has some of the most talented players in the country. If the team is able to come together and play like an efficient basketball team, they will be able to enforce their will on opposing teams, both offensively and defensively.
The two-headed monster of a backcourt in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox will stretch any team to the limit. The tandem collectively average 36.5 points a game, while also averaging 7.2 assists. This combined with the sophomore talent Isaiah Briscoe and the frontcourt presence of Edrice “Bam” Adebayo will put fear into any opponent they face.
No opponent wants to play Kentucky in March. In recent years, Kentucky teams have played their best basketball in the tournament, even reaching the National Championship as a No. 8 seed in 2014. Secondly, Kentucky is playing like one of the hottest teams in the country. This team has the resume, talent and recent form to have a legitimate goal of winning Kentucky’s second national championship under John Calipari.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
As much as winning a conference title is a significant accomplishment, the SEC may not provide the competition needed for Kentucky to succeed in the NCAA tournament. They split the regular season series with Florida, the SEC’s second best team. Their lack of recent challenging competition could give the Wildcats a sense of security, which is never good to have come tournament time.
Kentucky is also very young. So young that Isaiah Briscoe is considered an elder statesman and leader on the team as a sophomore. Kentucky’s freshmen aren’t like other freshmen, but they still have the potential to get caught up in the moment and make mistakes. And with such a young team, it is hard to predict how they will react to adversity, which is inevitable in the NCAA tournament.
Player to watch: G De’Aaron Fox
Although often overshadowed by fellow teammate Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox’s ability as scorer and facilitator is vital to this Kentucky team. Fox is averaging 16.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. This shows how much of a versatile, complete player Fox is, even as a freshman. Despite shooting only 22 percent from behind the arc, he is still able to score at an efficient clip while also being able to find the open man.
If Fox plays well in the tournament, expect Kentucky to go far.