Kentucky Goes Home – March 20th Mailbag

I was about to title this “All Things Kentucky.” Okay so maybe this won’t be all things Kentucky – but Kentucky getting knocked out certainly prompts many questions. We are three days into the Madness, and so much has happened. The first day wasn’t too bad – I had 2 perfect brackets at the end of Day 1. Even upsets like Stephen F. Austin over WVU weren’t blasphemous, and neither was Hawaii over Cal. But the fact that both of those teams pulled it off on the same day as what I think is the biggest tournament upset in history really added the madness to March.

Is Middle Tennessee over Michigan State really the biggest upset in tournament history? Are you just being a prisoner of the moment? 

Let’s look into this. No 1 seed has ever lost to a 16 seed, so simply off a seeding standpoint, the biggest upset should belong to a 2-seed. Michigan State was considered by the masses to be a one-seed – the committee just disagreed. Though teams like Duke have lost to Lehigh as 2’s (Iowa State and Arizona as well), Michigan State was also a very popular title pick. They had one of the highest Vegas odds, I would guess about 30 percent of people had them winning it all, and I’d predict that about 98% of people had them beating a 15 seed. Plus, this is a Tom Izzo team with a player of the year frontrunner. Tom Izzo’s teams are supposed to overachieve in March and this year was just an exception.

Didn’t you have Kentucky in your pre-season Final Four, and weren’t you high on them during the year? 

Yes, yes, and yes I’ll own that. This team was talented – not perfect, but had the talent and was a contender. They played a good team in Indiana and didn’t play their best game. As I looked at the television in sadness and sighed (by the way, this was nowhere near as devastating as the Wisconsin upset over Kentucky in 2015), a few great questions hit me about what’s to come for Kentucky.

So, many teams have already been bounced from the tournament. In fact, only 24 are still alive right now (8 have already punched their Sweet Sixteen Ticket, 16 will play for the last 8 of those spots tomorrow). As expected though, people will start thinking about next year.

So, what does Kentucky have going for them next year? 

Well, first off it’s Kentucky, but before I dive into that – shoutout to Tyler Ulis. He’s going to declare for the draft (or already has basically – Cal told the press that he would). It was so much fun to watch him this year – especially with Murray.

Alright enough with the fanboying. So, Kentucky is Kentucky and guys will come back, new recruits will come, guys will take steps going forward. And they have Coach Calipari. This is my guess of what the roster looks like going forward.

Definitely leaving: Tyler Ulis (NBA Draft), Jamal Murray (NBA Draft), Alex Poythress (Graduation/NBA draft).

Could leave but are projected as 2nd round picks/undrafted: Marcus Lee, Isaiah Briscoe

Coming to Kentucky: Tai Wynard, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Malik Monk, Brad Calipari.

Then you think about returners (if Briscoe and Lee do return) – throw in Humphries, Willis, Charles Matthews into the mix, and 5 of the 7 incoming freshmen are top-25 recruits. I know that high school talent doesn’t always translate to success on the college level or an immediate impact, but at least for the time being, the talent and ceiling is there.

Has Brandon Ingram leapfrogged Ben Simmons as the top pick? 

Though I have had some criticisms of Ben Simmons’ game, I could pick apart Ingram too. I think Ingram can still gain some ground, but the race is far from over. This may be compelling because for once, maybe the top-two prospects will attend the NBA draft combine.

Isn’t Duke also going to have a lot of stud recruits along with returners? 

Yes, I just didn’t write about it/think about it as much because their season is still going.

Does Tyler Ulis get drafted? 

Yes, he’s definitely raised his stock enough to get drafted 30-45. I think if he really impresses a team that needs a point guard, someone may take him in the 25 range (late first round). He’s done nothing but impress people this year.

How special was the Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet class at Wichita? 

Legendary. At Wichita State, they played in 13 NCAA tournament games and went 9-4. They went to a Final Four, had an undefeated regular season, and they also handled teams like Kansas and Arizona in the tournament.

Since a double-digit seed is guaranteed to get into the Elite Eight, what do you foresee? 

Between Gonzaga, Syracuse, and Middle Tennessee, one will be in the Elite Eight playing the winner of Iowa State and Virginia. I foresee the winner of the ISU-UVA game getting to the Final Four – as crazy as this year’s been, I don’t see any of those double digit seeds knocking off a tested and veteran team like the Cyclones or Cavaliers.

How was this freshmen class? 

I may write a more in-depth column about this later, but it wasn’t as impressive as the typical freshmen class. Which elite team was led by a freshmen? The freshmen on successful teams were rarely the leaders or go-to guys (Murray was the offensive go-to guy but Ulis is the heart and soul of that team). Teams like Duke, Indiana and Maryland have talented freshmen but their best players on paper are non-freshmen – Grayson Allen, Yogi Ferrell, Melo Trimble.

Will you ever write a non-college hoops column? 

Yes! I will. It’s just March and everything so I’m in that college hoops frenzy, but there will be other work on the way.

 

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