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2021-22 Kentucky men's basketball preview

Kentucky Wildcats

2020-21 record: 9-16, 8-9 in the SEC

Head coach: John Calipari

Tenure at Kentucky: 13th year

Career coaching record: 742-231

Home court: Rupp Arena

Projected starters: G Sahvir Wheeler, G Tyty Washington Jr., G Kellan Grady, F Keion Brooks Jr., F Oscar Tshiebwe

Bench: G CJ Fredrick, G Davion Mintz, G Dontaie Allen, F Daimion Collins, F Jacob Toppin, F Lance Ware, F Bryce Hopkins

Overview: Coming off of a disappointing season that ended with a 9-16 record, 13th-year head coach John Calipari maximized recruiting this offseason with a full roster reconstruction and is now well on his way to a bounceback season. With a mix of seasoned veteran transfers and a solid recruiting class, Kentucky is looking brand new with a different style and feel from last season.

The Wildcat's biggest roster strength lies in its backcourt depth, starring the heralded freshman point guard Tyty Washington Jr. and shooting guard Kellan Grady, the fifth-year graduate student who transferred from Davidson this offseason. As the fourth-ranked point guard prospect in the 2021 class, Washington arrives in Lexington with lofty expectations, and Grady, who led his former team in scoring last year, is looking to continue playing a key role in this year’s Kentucky squad. Kentucky also welcomes junior point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who led the SEC in assists last season at Georgia. On the bench, they have redshirt junior shooting guard CJ Fredrick, who shot 46.6% from deep during his playing career at Iowa. Furthermore, Kentucky also brings back veteran guard Davion Mintz, who has made 37.8% of his 3-point attempts during the previous season. The talent, combined with the group’s experience, can pose a serious threat to Duke’s younger and developing backcourt.

Junior small forward Keion Brooks, one of the key returnees from last season, will be the team’s primary wing presence, along with junior Jacob Toppin and sophomore Lance Ware, both of whom played sparingly last season. While the team lacks depth in the paint, junior power forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who transferred from West Virginia after leaving the team mid-season, is ready to become Kentucky’s force inside the paint. And Daimion Collins, the highly touted freshman power forward, can also add to the Wildcats’ game plans with his rim protection and a developing pull-up game.

The most overlooked aspect of this year’s Kentucky team comes in its coaching staff. Calipari welcomes back his former assistant Orlando Antigua and brought Chin Coleman onto the crew as well. Although the departure of Kenny Payne to the New York Knicks resulted in a costly transition last year, both Antigua and Coleman were assistants for No. 1-seed Illinois last season and can bring a substantial change to the team’s game plans on both ends of the floor.

Coming into the season, the Wildcats will likely use a three-guard lineup to maximize its roster upsides, although the lack of presence inside the paint might also lead to some changes later on. Nevertheless, with the amount of rebuilding effort, Kentucky will be an interesting team to observe throughout the season, as its improvements from multiple areas will give it a brand new identity sufficient for taking last year’s record off the shelf.

Team ceiling: Kentucky’s season becomes a redemption from last year’s disappointments, and the dynamic combination of veteran leadership and new talents brings Kentucky back to a conference title and Final Four contention.

Team floor: Chemistry issues as well as lofty preseason expectations prevent the newcomers from finding their place in the Wildcats’ deep roster. Kentucky finishes the regular season with ups and downs while entering the tournament as a middle-seed.

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