As soon as the ball stopped bouncing in the national championship game earlier this month, a slew of way-too-early preseason polls slotted Kentucky as a preseason top-5 team heading into next season.
Tuesday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected the Wildcats as his No. 1 overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Then, in version 4.0 of its Top 25 And 1, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports ranked UK No. 3 behind only UCLA and North Carolina. There is a caveat, however, being that John Calipari‘s roster includes reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwea possibility that has gained more and more steam in recent weeks.
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“The Wildcats’ ranking is based on CBS Sports National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returning to school alongside fellow starters Sahvir Wheeler and Keion Brooksthe latter of whom has declared for the NBA Draft but is maintaining his college eligibility,” Parrish wrote.
Parrish says Kentucky could rise even higher if former No. 1 overall prospect and projected top 10 pick Shaedon Sharpe returns next season.
“For now, I’m projecting 5-star guard Shaedon Sharpe to enter and remain in the NBA Draft considering he’s a projected top-10 pick – but, let the record show, John Calipari’s Wildcats could move to No. 1 if Sharpe ultimately decides to play next season at UK.”
On Tshiebwe and Sharpe, we’ll know sooner rather than later as underclassmen have until April 24 to declare for the 2022 NBA Draft and then until June 1 in order to withdraw and return to school.
After the way it ended–with a loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament–it’s easy to forget that Kentucky was a top-5 team for much of the 2021-22 season and defeated Kansas and North Carolina–the two teams that played for the national title–by combined 47 points during the regular season.
UK loses guards Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz to graduate and forwards Dontaie Allen and Bryce Hopkins have each entered the transfer portal. Ty Ty Washington, Keion Brooksand Jacob Toppin have entered the 2022 NBA Draft, with both Brooks and Toppin maintaining their eligibility.
The Wildcats are expected to return starting point guard, SEC assist leader and Bob Cousy Award finalist Sahvir Wheeler, who became just the fourth player in school history to record 200 or more assists; reserve forward and form McDonald’s All-American Daimion Collins; Iowa transfer and 46.6 percent career 3-point shooter CJ Fredrick, who missed the 2021-22 season with a hamstring injury; and reserve forward Lance Ware.
Kentucky adds a pair of top-10 prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans Chris Livingston and Cason Wallace as part of its 2022 recruiting class. While continuing to monitor the remaining stay-or-go decisions, Calipari is still active in recruiting both the top remaining prospects in the 2022 class and the transfer portal.
Transfers have until May 1 to enter the portal in order to be immediately eligible at their new school.