Kentucky’s top players head to the NBA Draft again, but John Calipari’s Wildcats will likely be fine


It’s been a pretty typical April week for Kentucky in the sense that underclassmen are announcing their departures from college and formally entering the NBA Draft. First, on Monday, Immanuel Quickley made it clear he’s gone. Then, on Tuesday, Nick Richards did the same.

So that’s four early entries so far.

And what it means is that Kentucky, which won the SEC regular-season title by three games this past season, will have to replace its top four scorers for the fourth consecutive year. Simply put, this is life in Lexington. Simply put, this is the program John Calipari is running.

The turnover is constant.

The rebuilding/reloading never stops.

Now, it should be noted, arguably nobody handles the constant turnover better than Calipari. Despite starting from something close to scratch year after year after year, he’s still won six SEC regular-season titles in 11 seasons at UK. He’s taken the Wildcats to four Final Fours. He won the NCAA Tournament in 2012. His average KenPom finish is 13th. He’s finished in the top 10 at KenPom seven times. He’s only finished outside of the top 25 at KenPom twice. So, based on all of that and more, you can reasonably assume the Wildcats will be good again next season (even though they will return nobody who averaged even 6.5 points per game this past season) thanks to, you guessed it, another top-ranked recruiting class.

Yep, UK will have elite freshmen again.

And the Wildcats remain finalists for Purdue grad-transfer Matt Haarms — which means they could still add a 7-foot-3 rim-protecting center. So I repeat, one way or another, UK should be good again and, perhaps, even the favorite to win another SEC title. But, all of that said, this is also true: Calipari’s best teams at Kentucky, according to KenPom, are the 2010, 2012 and 2015 teams, and the common thread between all three of those teams is that they A) each had a future No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on the roster, and B) returned at least one double-digit scorer from the previous season’s team. In other words, we know how Calipari’s best teams at UK are built — by mixing elite freshmen with proven returning players. And, because of recent developments, such just is not going to be the case at Kentucky next season.

Could the Wildcats still get to a Final Four?

Of course.

Bet against them with caution. I wouldn’t rule anything out.

But, based on Calipari’s track record at Kentucky, and the lack of relevant pieces set to return, next season’s Wildcats are likely to have some ups and downs and, ultimately, be something closer to good than great.



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