Dribble Handoff: Predicting how Kentucky basketball will bounce back in 2021-22 season with revamped roster


Prior to last season’s 9-16 calamity in a pandemic-shortened season, Kentucky averaged 30 wins per year in its first 11 seasons under John Calipari. The worst season in the stretch was a 21-12 finish in the 2012-13 season marked by UK’s only absence from the NCAA Tournament under Calipari until last season. 

What followed was a season of extremes. On the heels of the disappointing season, the 2013-14 team also struggled by Kentucky’s standards under Calipari by securing just a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But after entering the Big Dance with 10 losses on their ledger, the Wildcats got hot at the right time and made a run to the national title game. Once there, Kentucky lost to UConn, but the deep postseason run solidified that the Wildcats weren’t going anywhere, even after a couple of relatively tough seasons. 

As Kentucky looks to rebound again in the 2021-22 season from a new low under Calipari, can the Wildcats bounce back again? With the program’s roster for next season coming into focus following the recent additions of transfers Sahvir Wheeler and CJ Frederick along with the signing of five-star freshman guard TyTy Washington, it’s a good time to start predicting what this team may accomplish next season.

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For this week’s edition of the dribble handoff, our team of writers is giving their takes on what we should expect from Kentucky next season. Win total is only for the regular season and doesn’t include a forecast of postseason performance. 

Gary Parrish

26 wins | 3rd in the SEC | Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament

As noted on the most recent episode of the Eye On College Basketball Podcast, I really like the way John Calipari has remade his roster. The Wildcats should go from a young team that couldn’t shoot to a much older team that can shoot thanks to a recruiting class highlighted by four transfers and two five-star prospects. The additions of Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington and Kellan Grady will allow Calipari to have three capable ball-handlers on the floor at the same time — if he wants. Grady is a fifth-year player and proven shooter who scored more than 2,000 points at Davidson. Wheeler is a third-year player who led the SEC in assists per game this past season. And Washington is a likely one-and-done point guard who is regarded as a legitimate perimeter threat. Then there’s CJ Frederick, a transfer from Iowa who shot 46.6% from 3 in two seasons with the Hawkeyes. And the fourth transfer, Oscar Tshiebwe, is a third-year player who led West Virginia in points and rebounds two seasons ago. He’ll likely start in the middle for Kentucky alongside at least three other non-freshmen, which will obviously be unusual for UK in the Calipari era. Bottom line: it’s pretty clear Calipari made a point to get old and add shooting. He’s done both. And now the Wildcats are set for a nice bounce-back season that should result in a top-three finish in the SEC.

Matt Norlander

23 wins | 4th in the SEC | Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament

Kentucky will rank among the five-or-so most interesting teams to track heading into the season. John Calipari has assembled a roster unlike anything he’s had prior, and coming off that bad 2020-21, it will put an atmosphere of urgency and uncertainty around this program that it’s never had before. Was last season an aberration? Will bringing in a bevy of transfers and heavily investing in point guards and perimeter shooters pay immediate dividends? It’s also been a long time since Kentucky will have been this old. I think we’ll have the Wildcats bouncing in and out of the AP Top 25 next season. I think Kentucky will be in the NCAA Tournament but won’t be a top-four seed. I think the SEC is going to be a top-three league in the sport, and that means UK moving up is going to be a challenge. But I do expect a flip from last year. Parrish laid out the roster details above. The schedule will be a challenge. Mark me down for the top four of the SEC to finish as follows: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky. I’ll split the difference a bit and predict that Kentucky has a good-not-great regular season, and then Calipari will get a couple of wins in the NCAAs with a 6 or 7 attached the Wildcats’ name when the bracket is revealed next March. 

Kyle Boone

27 wins | 2nd in the SEC  | Elite Eight of NCAA Tournament

Kentucky has not only improved its roster this offseason after a 9-16 season — it has gotten older. This is one of the most experienced teams John Calipari has fielded in Lexington, on paper. While there’s obvious concern that most of this roster, while heavy on upperclassmen, still has not played together (with seven incoming players either transfers or recruits), there’s a lot of reason to be confident in this bunch. UK has a star big in Oscar Tshiebwe, a pair of starting-caliber point guards in Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington and — dare I say it?! — shooters to surround them. Kentucky might be able to shoot it competently from 3-point range. CJ Fredrick, Kellan Grady, Dontaie Allen and TyTy Washington all should be average-to-above-average outside shooters. That’s an upgrade from the last few seasons, in what was clearly a priority for the staff this offseason. Is this the most talented UK roster Calipari has ever had? No. Probably not even close. But the combination of skill, experience and IQ should make this Wildcats team one of the best in the SEC, even in a year where Alabama and Arkansas may enter the preseason as top-10 teams.

David Cobb

25 wins | 4th in the SEC | Second round of NCAA Tournament

As I noted in the intro paragraphs — the last time Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament, it did not bounce back straight to the top. Although it ultimately made the national title game in 2014, that run came with the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament following a 12-6 SEC finish. The SEC has gotten better since then, and it’s hard to envision Kentucky immediately returning to the 15-3 league marks it enjoyed in 2019 and 2020. My expectation is for this team to compare closely with the 2017-18 squad, which finished 26-11 (10-8 SEC) with a Sweet 16 exit. The SEC was strong that season, sending eight teams to the Big Dance, and it should be strong in 2022. Auburn is reloading and should be eligible for the postseason again, and Alabama and Arkansas are established as power players in the league now. So long as the NCAA doesn’t drop the hammer on LSU (or Auburn for that matter), the conference should send half its teams to the NCAA Tournament and could reach eight again. Kentucky will be in that group, but unless a superstar emerges, this team will be limited by its newness to each other and bow out after a respectable bounce-back season.





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