Despite having the most inexperienced roster in the John Calipari era, the Kentucky men’s basketball team will begin the season among the preseason top 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. The Wildcats were tabbed No. 10.
Gonzaga begins the season as the preseason No. 1 ranked team. Baylor, Villanova, Virginia and Iowa round out the top five. Kentucky will take on No. 6 Kansas on Dec. 1 in the Champions Classic. Wisconsin, Illinois, Duke and the Wildcats complete the top 10.
The full preseason rankings are available via collegebasketball.ap.org.
It’s the 11th time in 12 seasons the Wildcats will begin the season ranked among the nation’s top 10 to begin the season. Calipari has had a team ranked among the top 11 in the preseason poll in all 12 seasons at the helm as voted on by a panel comprised of media members throughout the country.
Other preseason rankings have the Wildcats ranked No. 9 by Andy Katz, No. 10 by CBS Sports and No. 13 by Blue Ribbon magazine.
The USA Today Coaches Poll is expected to be released soon.
Four Kentucky opponents enter the 2020-21 season ranked in the AP Top 25, including three nonconference opponents in Kansas (No. 6), Texas (No. 19) and UCLA (No. 22). Louisville and Richmond sit just outside of the top 25 and are receiving votes to begin the season.
Tennessee, at No. 12, is the other Southeastern Conference program ranked among the top 25 to begin the season. Four more teams in LSU, Florida, Alabama and Auburn sit just outside the top 25 and received votes. Kentucky plays Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Auburn twice. Based on preseason polls, UK will have five total matchups in 2020-21 against top-25 opponents.
Kentucky is coming off a 25-6 season that culminated in its 49th regular-season SEC championship, the Wildcats’ sixth under Calipari.
UK will be tasked with replacing 94% of its scoring from last season – most of the Calipari era – 92.4% of its minutes, 84.4% of its rebounds, 98.6% of its assists and 91.5% of its blocks.
The Wildcats said farewell to eight of their top nine scorers from a season ago, including all five starters. The lone major returning contributor from last season will be sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr., who averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 31 appearances, including six starts.
Calipari and his staff have prepared for the losses – which included five underclassmen declaring for the NBA Draft – with the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class and three key transfers.
UK’s eight-man freshman class features six consensus five- and four-star prospects, including top-10 signees Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke. The Wildcats also signed Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, Creighton graduate transfer Davion Mintz and Rhode Island transfer Jacob Toppin. Sarr and Toppin were ruled immediately eligible last month.
Underscoring the potential of this 2020-21 Kentucky team, was four Wildcats earning selection to preseason watch lists for positional awards as presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week. Sarr was tabbed to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar watch list, which honors the nation’s best center. Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson was tabbed to the Karl Malone watch list (nation’s best power forward), freshman guard Clarke was named to the Hall of Fame’s Jerry West Award watch list (nation’s top shooting guard) and freshman guard Boston Jr. landed on the Julius Erving watch list (nation’s top small forward).