At the beginning of the 2016-17 college basketball season, the Kentucky Wildcats found themselves in a familiar spot atop the elite schools in the country. CBS Sports’ Top 25 preseason poll had the Cats sitting at the No. 2 spot, behind only the Duke Blue Devils. Replacing two top NBA talents such as Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis seems like a tall task for most teams, however, John Calipari continues to reload the top recruits in the nation year in and year out. This year’s class was no different as it was headlined by four top-15 recruits.
The Wildcats first big test of the year came on November 15th when they were scheduled to take on Tom Izzo and the MSU Spartans. Kentucky came into the game as a small favorite, but seemed to have little trouble putting this one away. Freshman Malik Monk lead the way with 23 points while going 7-for-11 from 3-point range. De’Arron Fox also burst onto the scene with his 12 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists while running the show at point guard.
After winning their first seven games, Kentucky jumped to top of the rankings conquering the No. 1 spot. Their favorable schedule didn’t seem to prepare the young Wildcats for a shootout with the UCLA Bruins as they had their 42-game home winning streak at Rupp Arena snapped. Two weeks following their first loss, the Cats were headed to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to take on the nations 7Th ranked Tar Heels. This game lived up to its vaunted expectation as both teams were outstanding from start to finish. Thanks to Malik Monk and his career high 47 points the Wildcats edged the Tar Heels in spectacular fashion. The freshman phenom poured in 8-12 3-pointers, including a transition right-wing 3 to put the Cats up 101-100. A missed UNC field goal attempt followed by De’Arron Fox hitting two free throws with 1.9 seconds left sealed the deal.
At this point in the season the young Wildcats’ team was living up to its preseason expectations. A close loss to instate rival No. 10 Louisville was a small slip up as they followed it up with a seven-game winning streak. Everything seemed to be going great until a stunning upset occurred when the Cats traveled to Tennessee.
Kentucky seemed to lack energy and motivation the entire game. No incentive was needed for the next game when the Kansas Jayhawks were coming to town for a top 5 matchup including two of the best teams in the country. Kentucky got off to a hot start and continued to hold the lead going into halftime. The Jayhawks had a big second half surge as they were able to complete the comeback. Kansas’ experience showed down the stretch as they were able to hold off Kentucky’s talented youth.
The Wildcats’ remaining schedule seems to be pretty favorable pending their two matchups with No. 24 Florida. It has been a down year for SEC basketball as whole with only three teams currently sitting in the Top 25. Look for Calipari to test his young team down the stretch in hopes of getting them prepared for a Final Four run. With superstar shooting guard Malik Monk and the dangerous cast that surrounds him look for the Cats to continue their winning season and make a deep run into March.
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