UK Basketball: 10 predictions for the 2017-18 season

Last season, the Kentucky Wildcats won an impressive total of 32 games before losing to the North
Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Their regular season included
wins over then No. 7 North Carolina and the then No. 13 Michigan State Spartans, as well as close
losses to the then No. 11 UCLA Bruins, then No. 10 Louisville Cardinals, and then No. 2 Kansas
Jayhawks.

All season long, the Wildcats were on the verge of greatness but failed to really kick things into
gear until they lost by 22 on the road to the Florida Gators in early February. From that moment on,
Kentucky would win 14 straight games that included an SEC regular-season title, SEC Tournament
Championship, and wins over Northern Kentucky, Wichita State, and UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, it will have been disappointing to lose to North Carolina by just two points in the Elite Eight
after beating them earlier in the season, but the 2016-17 campaign should be considered a success
based on sweeping the SEC regular-season title and SEC Tournament Championship, as well as that
Sweet 16 win over UCLA.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, however, expectations will be even higher. Kentucky has what it
takes to do exactly what they did last season and more, and fans expect it of the elite program. It’s
been two whole seasons since they went to the Final Four – which is far too long for one of the top
basketball programs in college basketball history.

So, what does the 2017-18 college basketball season have in store for John Calipari and the
Wildcats?

Possible outcomes:

I believe the Wildcats will go undefeated in non-conference play, especially the opening non-
conference slate. The three big games on the schedule are against a definitively weaker UCLA
squad, a Louisville team that is amid turmoil, and a Virginia Tech squad that cannot stay
healthy.

These three teams are likely NCAA Tournament-bound, but Kentucky is getting them at a time where none of them should be playing their best basketball.

There is an early season match-up against Kansas to worry about, but, if they get that down, there
is no stopping them.

If they do win all their opening non-conference games, expect the Wildcats to enter SEC play as
the No. 1 team in college basketball, because preseason No. 1 Duke faces Michigan State on Nov.
14 in Chicago and could easily have a loss.

The only non-conference game that I see the Wildcats potentially struggling in is the one
versus West Virginia sandwiched in the middle of the SEC schedule as a part of the Big 12/SEC
Challenge, meaning that, even if they lose that game on the road against “Press Virginia,”
But remember, John Calipari seems to have Bob Huggins’ coaching style figured out, and this could
just as well be a blowout.

Of all the predictions, this is perhaps the one that will make Kentucky fans most upset. If the
Wildcats go undefeated in non-conference play, then they should dominate the SEC and potentially
finish the season undefeated, right?

This line of thinking is natural as a fan, but it’s wrong – especially this season.

The SEC is really, good. It might not be as top heavy as it has been in the past, but the mid-
range teams can hold their own on any given night.

If you don’t believe me, the Tennessee team that played every Final Four team close, beat Kentucky
last season and is only losing one key player was ranked No. 13 in the preseason media poll. Texas
might have the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, Ole Miss might have the best
backcourt, Alabama might have the most top to bottom complete team in college basketball,
Missouri has the best freshman, and, don’t forget, Florida is still one of the best teams in the
country.

Kentucky, even though they are the favorite in the SEC, are not, going to go undefeated in
conference play.

However, that does not mean that the Wildcats will fail to repeat by winning the SEC regular
season title.

Kentucky will also win SEC Tourney!

Then:

I think it is a natural progression to believe that Kentucky will be a top-two seed in the NCAA
Tournament.

Their strength of schedule, while missing any elite non-conference opponents, boasts clear top 25
teams throughout.

The reason I do not have Kentucky as a clear No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is not due to any
fault of their own, but because, for some reason, SEC teams tend to get valued less than
other conferences by the Selection Committee.

A win against a bubble ACC team seems to count more in their eyes than a win against a bubble
SEC team, and it always ends up affecting NCAA Tournament seeding at the end of the season.
Deep down we know they’re just jealous because we’re the top conference in college football (I’m
only slightly joking), but a fantastic, ridiculously high KenPom ranked SEC team sometimes gets
snubbed for the likes of a Syracuse or another program, and I think that this will be the case this
season.

If Kentucky does lose to a team like Tennessee – which they have three times out of their last
seven games – will that be enough for the Selection committee to place them at a No. 2 seed
rather than a No. 1?

Maybe, but I still think Kentucky should get a No. 1 seed this season. Either way, no team will want
to face Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

UK, ALL THE WAY!

John Leonard

John Leonard is the lead Kentucky Sports Writer for SportZreport.com. John, a Western Kentucky Graduate, loves Sports. Especially, the Yankees. He has been with the SportZreport.com Writing Team since October 2017. Email any questions or comments to John@SportZreport.com

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