Busting Brackets

Kentucky Basketball: Early look at Wildcats potential 2019-20 starting lineup

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts with teammates against the Houston Cougars during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts with teammates against the Houston Cougars during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

A Farewell to a contagiously fun and extremely likable group means the dawn of a new season with fresh faces and new 5-star talent. What does Kentucky Baksetball look like heading into 2020?

The unfriendly end of another successful (Elite Eight is a good year and you can not tell me otherwise) season under John Calipari always has a silver lining: excitement for the next season. Kentucky athletics fandom is year-round, especially on the basketball side, with the heavy roster turnover, dazzling new recruits, and annual national relevance. For some programs, the taste of an Elite Eight or Final Four is a momentous occasion–few and far between. But for the Wildcats, they wear the shoes of a contender on a yearly basis. Even though the final losing buzzer stings my heart every year, as an enduring Kentucky fan, there’s always next year. Let’s take a look at how Kentucky will open the roaring 20s.

Saying Goodbye

Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans

The question of which Kentucky players will jump ship to the draft remains a relative mystery, but I have my hunches. P.J., after an incredible season and colossal improvement from 2018, will enter draft surely, as will Keldon Johnson. I also would be shocked if Tyler Herro remains in Lexington as he’s comfortably projected as a first-rounder. Hagans is the real question regarding one-and-done-ism.

From what I gather, the kid came to Kentucky with the plan of leaving after one year (shocker). However, since January, Ashton’s play declined immensely on both ends of the court, leaving his draft stock and the chance at making an NBA roster next season highly questionable. He would be open to another year of school, reportedly, but his final decision will likely hinge on what Coach John Calipari advises him to do. Ultimately, I lean towards Ashton going, but that’s merely a guess.

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Finally, it’s with a heavy heart that the Big Blue Nation bids farewell to senior graduate transfer Reid Travis. Reid was a consummate professional and brought a taste of experience to a program otherwise devoid of it. His contributions to the team were absolutely vital, and I enjoyed watching him every second he stepped foot on the hardwood. He will be sorely missed. But hey, Cal seems privy to grad transfers now, so that’s cool.

Welcome Aboard

Kahlil Whitney (7), Tyrese Maxey (9), Keion Brooks (23), Dontaie Allen (108), Nate Sestina (GRAD)

Rankings per 247 Sports

Unsurprisingly, Kentucky brings in another massive recruiting haul. The 2019 class, headlined by top-ten stars Maxey and Whitney, goes five men deep and runs the gamut of basketball skills. Shooting (Maxey, Sestina, Allen) athleticism (Whitney, Brooks, Maxey), defense (Brooks, Whitney), ballhandling (Maxey), and Rebounding (Brooks, Sestina) are all addressed in this class. And Kentucky may not be done on the recruiting trails. 5-star bigs Matthew Hurt (rumblings around the program suggest the Cats have a better chance with Hurt than the public believes) and Jaden McDaniels are still on the market and have Kentucky in their abbreviated lists. And I’m told not to rule out a potential reclassification (R.J. Hampton) if Hagans or another guard should decide to leave.

But, even just with the current roster of recruits coming in, Kentucky has the talent to match any team in the country once again. Look, I’m a nice guy, so I’m going to give you all some insight, some behind the scenes knowledge (not really) if you will: Tyrese Maxey is a superstar. He will be the best scoring guard Kentucky’s had since Malik Monk, and maybe even Jamal Murray. As a shifty combo-guard, Maxey thrives in any scoring situation and is universally elite on that end of the floor–shooting, attacking the basket, mid-range, he has the full arsenal. With one bucket leaving, Kentucky’s in dire need of another. Tyrese can certainly fill those shoes. Whitney, his fellow top-echelon recruit, is an abundantly athletic wing who attacks the basket fiercely and flashes moments of athleticism few will be able to match at the collegiate level.

Aside from the blue-chippers, Brooks, Allen, and Sestina should all fill in nicely. Brooks is a moldable combo-forward who can cash in from three but also bang with the big bodies. Dontaie Allen, on the other hand, is a finesse scorer with a smooth and lethal three-point stroke. After all, he poured in 43 points per game before tearing his ACL during his senior campaign in High School.

The newest commit, former Bucknell Bison forward Nate Sestina, has already been dubbed “Reid Travis Lite.” I don’t know about you, but I’m all in on a nice cold glass of Reid Travis Lite next year–and Sestina can shoot threes! I actually saw this kid walking around campus the other day, and let me just say this: put your Reid comparisons on layaway until this guy hits the gym, because he’s a boy compared to the MAN Reid was. Nonetheless, I’m sure Sestina will prove a valuable veteran presence on another childish Kentucky team.

Staying Put

Immanuel Quickley, Jemarl Baker, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards

Barring a transfer (not out of the realm of possibility), all four of these guys will return to Lexington. Quickley and Baker figure to each slide into bigger offense roles next year, where I’m extremely excited to see both of them increase their shot volume. Meanwhile, Montgomery is primed for a breakout year and possesses an elite skill set in need of some fine-tuning. Nick, poor guy. I just can’t trust him until he proves he can contribute something on both ends of the floor without making boneheaded decisions. The Jamaican 7-footer has only been playing basketball for about 5 years and I just don’t think he has the tools upstairs to be the dominant post presence people envisioned when he committed. However, I expect all four of these underclassmen to take significant strides forward in their sophomore or junior seasons.

The Lineup

As of April 7th, 2019, this is the starting lineup and reserves Kentucky is looking at, in my view:

G: Immanuel Quickley

G: Tyrese Maxey

F: Kahlil Witney

F: Keion Brooks

C: E.J. Montgomery

Bench: Jemarl Baker, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina, Nick Richards

Next. Ranking last 25 national champions. dark

Once more, Kentucky will be a top ten team. Book it. This is the FLOOR for the Cats’ roster. Meaning that, even if there isn’t one other addition or surprise return (I’d be shocked if this was the final rotation FYI) Kentucky still has the makings of a Final Four contender. The start of next season is a long way away, but this is the blueprint to go off of in the coming months.