Wednesday November 2nd, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

No coach in America recruits and reloads better than John Calipari, but even by his standards this freshman class is sublime. After losing five of its top seven scorers, Kentucky has brought in a quintet of stars—including four McDonald’s All-Americans—who are good enough to return the team to the Final Four. The only questions are how well they fit together and how quickly they grow up.

Start in the backcourt, where Calipari has said that the speed of point guard De’Aaron Fox and the strength of combo guard Malik Monk remind him of John Wall and Derrick Rose, respectively. (No pressure, kids!) The lack of a dependable post presence hastened the Wildcats’ exit from the 2016 NCAA tournament, but this year they will deploy a genuine wide body in 6' 10", 255-pound Edrice Adebayo, whose nickname, Bam, reflects the explosiveness of his legs and strength of his hands. The other two newcomers, forwards Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel, have been filling Calipari’s head with visions of junk zone defenses that take advantage of their length, versatility and agility.

“It’s a process we go through every year. It just takes time,” Calipari says of his inexperienced roster. “We might start four or five freshmen at times. So you understand that you are going to lose some games early and then try to right the ship by the end of the year. When late February and March rolls around, we expect to be at our best.”

College Basketball
SEC preview: Malik Monk should lead Kentucky to another league title

X-Factor: Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe 

Pigeonholed as a defensive specialist because of his shooting woes (13.5% from three), Isaiah Briscoe has worked hard to improve his accuracy since arriving in Lexington in 2015 and is prepared to be a leader this year.

Coach’s Take: John Calipari

“We’re going to be a mauling, helping, rotating, shot-blocking team. We’re going to push the ball up the court because we can. On offense, we’re going to try to score within three seconds, and if not, we’re going to attack the rim or throw it to the post. I’m going to be disappointed if by February this isn’t the best defensive team I’ve had. Isaiah’s shot has really improved. We’re teaching him how to lead off the court just like we did with Tyler [Ulis]. Last year, I thought we were playing our best, but we just needed one guy near the goal that we could throw the ball to to get easy baskets. There are some zone defenses we could play. Not the traditional 2–3, but we could play those three big guards out with two bigs, or go 6' 11", 6' 10" at the top of the key. We're going to go with a three-guard lineup a lot of the time. So there’s all kinds of ways we can play with this group.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Malik Monk Fr SG 16.0 2.1 2.5 117.1 25% 77%
De'Aaron Fox Fr PG 12.9 1.7 3.9 117.6 21% 77%
Bam Adebayo Fr C 12.5 6.9 0.8 116.3 24% 63%
Derek Willis Sr PF 11.1 6.3 0.7 125.6 16% 68%
Isaiah Briscoe So PG 10.9 5.1 3.3 109.1 20% 80%
Wenyen Gabriel Fr PF 7.2 4.7 0.6 110.3 20% 45%
Isaac Humphries So C 5.0 5.4 0.4 109.9 15% 50%

Projected SEC Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Kentucky 16–2 13–5
2 Florida 11–7 9–9
3 Texas A&M 11–7 13–5
4 Vanderbilt 10–8 11–7
5 Georgia 9–9 10–8
6 Arkansas 9–9 9–9
7 Ole Miss 9–9 10–8
8 Mississippi State 9–9 7–11
9 South Carolina 8–10 11–7
10 Auburn 8–10 5–13
11 Alabama 8–10 8–10
12 Tennessee 7–11 6–12
13 LSU 7–11 11–7
14 Missouri 4–14 3–15

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.