UK Men's Basketball

Next season’s college basketball rankings are in. Here’s where Kentucky is projected.

Kentucky’s John Calipari: ‘I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of my team’

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
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Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

With college basketball’s national champion decided in overtime late Monday night — Virginia defeated Texas Tech for the honor — it’s now time to look ahead, and several national media outlets were quick to move on with “too early” rankings for the 2019-20 season.

The consensus: expectations in Lexington will be high once again.

Nearly all of the major Top 25 lists that have come out in the immediate wake of this season’s end peg Kentucky as a top five team in 2019-20, and many of those national websites are projecting the Cats as a top three squad for next season.

Sports Illustrated and USA Today both have UK at No. 2 on their lists, while ESPN, NBC Sports, the Sporting News, the Associated Press and 247Sports have the Cats in the No. 3 spot. Kentucky is No. 4 on Jeff Goodman’s list for and Seth Davis’ rankings for The Athletic. The Washington Post places UK in the No. 5 spot. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish ranks the Cats at No. 6, though he notes they would move up if Ashton Hagans and/or Tyler Herro decided to return to Lexington for a sophomore campaign.

As always, questions about roster turnover make it difficult to place Kentucky in next season’s rankings. Hagans and Herro are among those who still have decisions to make. Recent years have also featured surprising departures from UK players who either transferred or entered the NBA Draft without being projected as a first (or even second) round pick.

Pretty much every list conceded that Kentucky would lose PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson as early entrants to the draft, along with Reid Travis, who is out of college eligibility. Most also listed Herro as a likely departure.

That would leave Hagans (if he stays) along with possible returnees Immanuel Quickley, Jemarl Baker, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, plus incoming recruits Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks, and graduate transfer Nate Sestina.

And it’s still highly possible that Kentucky will add at least one more player — whether it be a recruit or another graduate transfer — before next season.

Much about UK’s next roster is yet to be determined.

Michigan State is the No. 1 team on the majority of these lists, with nearly all of the Spartans’ top players expected to return from this season’s Final Four squad. Now-reigning champion Virginia got the No. 1 nod from the Sporting News and WatchStadium.

Southeastern Conference rivals Auburn, Florida, Louisiana State and Tennessee all made Top 25 lists, with Bruce Pearl’s Tigers getting a few mentions in the top 10 for next season.

After exceeding expectations in Year 1 under new head coach Chris Mack, the Louisville Cardinals will go into next season with loftier projections. Every list mentioned has U of L in the top 20, most have the Cards in the top 15, and a couple pegged them as a top 10 team, with Parrish ranking Louisville at No. 7 — just one spot behind Kentucky.

If you think it’s too early for all these rankings — and you’d be right — then it’s certainly too early for a 2020 Bracketology, but ESPN has already posted its first bracket breakdown.

Seven months before the season is set to begin, Joe Lunardi has Kentucky as a No. 2 seed with a road to the Final Four in Atlanta going through stops in St. Louis and Houston.

Next year’s national title game is only 363 days away.