Calipari says 2019 will be a breakout year for returning players
On Tuesday afternoon, the Kentucky Wildcats lost out on five-star center N’Faly Dante, who instead chose Oregon and will seemingly be the final major addition to this college basketball season.
Experts still see UK as a big-time winner on the court this winter.
The news of Dante’s commitment to the Ducks and reclassification to 2019 prompted national websites to refresh their admittedly “way too early” power rankings for the upcoming season. Oregon, of course, made a major move. Kentucky is still near the top of the lists.
NBC Sports has UK ranked as the nation’s No. 2 team heading into this season despite the Wildcats missing out on one more frontcourt addition for the 2019-20 roster. Those rankings included a projected starting five for the Wildcats that features Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks and EJ Montgomery — one possibility among several lineups that John Calipari could send out this year.
CBS Sports’ updated rankings placed Kentucky as the No. 3 team in the country. ESPN also has the Wildcats at No. 3, and that site’s updated rankings said Dante could have been a “difference-maker” at UK this season and would have pushed the Cats to No. 2 had he committed to Kentucky instead of Oregon, which is now a top-15 team in all three lists.
A common theme across all three rankings: Michigan State is ranked No. 1.
That should make for another highly anticipated opening night to the college basketball season Nov. 5, when the Spartans play Kentucky in Madison Square Garden as part of the annual Champions Classic event.
NBC’s projected starting lineup for Michigan State features Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry and Xavier Tillman — that’s three seniors, one junior and one sophomore — a group that’s high on experience and could create problems for another Kentucky lineup stacked with underclassmen who might still be trying to find their way early in the season.
The Wildcats will close the calendar year with their Dec. 28 rivalry game against Louisville, a team ranked No. 4 by CBS, No. 5 by ESPN and No. 6 by NBC Sports.
Some other notes on various early rankings:
▪ ESPN put Kansas in the No. 2 spot, ahead of Kentucky, while CBS Sports has Duke ranked No. 2 nationally. In addition to those three schools, Michigan State and Louisville, two others — Florida and Villanova — received top-five standing on one of the national lists.
▪ SEC teams Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana State, Auburn and Tennessee all made at least two of the three national rankings.
▪ Memphis, in its second season under Coach Penny Hardaway and welcoming in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, is ranked No. 7 by CBS, No. 13 by ESPN and No. 21 by NBC Sports. After missing out on No. 1 target James Wiseman last year, Kentucky will be battling the Tigers for more recruits in the 2020 class, including five-star shooting guard Jalen Green, who many analysts believe will pick one of the two schools.
▪ The latest betting odds from Bovada have Kentucky at 15-2 to win the NCAA title in 2020. Only Michigan State (13-2) has shorter odds, with Duke as the third-most likely choice at 8-1. Memphis and defending champ Virginia are at 10-1, and Louisville has 16-1 odds to win it all this season.
▪ Sports Illustrated ranked Kentucky as the No. 2 team for the 2019-20 season following finalized NBA Draft decisions back in June. Michigan State is No. 1 on that list.
▪ NCAA.com’s Andy Katz ranked UK as the No. 3 team for this season following the NBA Draft, placing the Wildcats behind Michigan State and Kansas. (He had Duke at No. 4 and Louisville at No. 9).
▪ And Athlon Sports — the respected preseason magazine — put Kentucky at No. 1 in its 2019-20 rankings back in June, noting the experience the Cats would have on this team with the return of Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and incoming graduate transfer Nate Sestina. “Combine that with the influx of talent — in particular, five-star prospects Keion Brooks, Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney — and Kentucky has the formula for a Final Four run.”