#TrendingNews Blog Business Entertainment Environment Health Lifestyle News Analysis Opinion Science Sports Technology World News
Is This The Year for Kentucky to End Its Final Four Drought?

The past eight seasons have disappointed spoiled Kentucky Basketball fans, as the men’s team has not made the Final Four since 2015.

This eight-year drought is one of the longest in the storied program’s history, joining 1967-1974’s eight-year drought, 1985-1992’s eight-year drought, and 1999-2010’s 12-year drought. 

Their current 11-year National Championship drought joins, the 1979-1995 drought and the 1998-2012 drought as the longest in program history.

These recent struggles have been put on head coach John Calipari, as many of these teams in the past eight seasons have been filled with five-star recruits and have led to underwhelming results by Kentucky fans’ standards.

Kentucky is currently ranked 17 in the nation and has a record of 18-7, but with March approaching, college hoops fans wonder if this could be the year Kentucky makes it back to the Final Four in Phoenix.

This year’s Kentucky freshman class led the nation in recruiting, per 247. This class is led by five-star guard DJ Wagner, five-star forward Justin Edwards, and five-star center Aaron Bradshaw. Other recruits in this class are electric four-star guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard. Croatian sensation Zvonimir Ivisic was a late but elite addition to this Kentucky class.

The Kentucky freshmen have allocated 56.8% of Kentucky’s total scoring. 

Veteran players have greatly helped the Wildcats this season, including returning graduate transfer guard Antonio Reeves, graduate transfer forward Tre Mitchell, and returning sophomores Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso. 

These four have been allocated for almost every non-freshman scored point and sit at 43.1% of Kentucky’s total scoring thus far. Guard Antonio Reeves leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game, sitting fourth in the SEC just behind Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht and Alabama’s Mark Sears.

But Kentucky’s offense has not been the problem for them so far this season. The Wildcats are currently third in the nation in offense, scoring 88.2 points per game. This marks them as the highest-scoring Kentucky team in John Calipari’s tenure and the best mark for a Wildcat team since the 1992-1993 season, in which they lost to Michigan in the Final Four.

Having guards such as DJ Wagner, Rob Dillingham, Reed Sheppard and Antonio Reeves, makes this Kentucky team very difficult to guard. All four of these guards can get any shot they want at any time. 

Both four-star guards in Dillingham and Sheppard have been one of the main reasons this Kentucky team is as good as they are. For the majority of the season, barring injuries, these two have come off the bench and sparked this team in different ways.

For Dillingham, it has been electric scoring. He is currently second to Kentucky in points per game with 14.7 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. 

For Sheppard, it has been his poise, scoring and defense. Sheppard currently leads the SEC in steals by a half of a steal with 2.6 per game, second place is Mississippi State’s Cameron Matthews with 2.1 steals per contest. Sheppard also leads Kentucky in three-point field goal percentage at 51.4%.

Both guards have garnered plenty of media attention, with Sheppard receiving the highest praise from big-time ESPN analysts.

“I think he is the most complete basketball player on [Kentucky],” said former Duke basketball player and current ESPN college basketball analyst, Jay Bilas. “He’s not the greatest athlete you will see, but he knows how to position himself and he has great hands. He has about as pretty a jump shot as you are going to see.”

Although the offense has been spectacular all season, a few things have plagued this Kentucky team and held them out of the top of the country.

The first thing that has crumbled this team is the number of injuries. The first game Kentucky played with all of their scholarship players was last Tuesday against Ole Miss, the 24th game of the season. This did not last long, however, because forward Tre Mitchell left this game with a shoulder injury and has not returned.

The list of injuries to key Kentucky players is as follows: Ivisic has missed 18 games, Onyenso has missed nine games, Thiero has missed eight games, Bradshaw has missed seven games, Wagner has missed four games, Mitchell has missed three games, and Dillingham and Edwards have each missed one game.

Ivisic missed his 18 games due to NCAA eligibility disputes but was eventually cleared on January 20 and has shown flashes since. Ivisic is a projected first-round draft pick despite barely playing, but he has the ability to be an NBA star.

The only Kentucky differencemakers to not miss a game this season are Antonio Reeves and Reed Sheppard. Currently, Mitchell is the only player who is out with an injury. 

Kentucky has also struggled mightily on the defensive end. They are currently 134th in the nation in defensive efficiency, per teamrankings.com. They are 307th among 351 teams in the country in scoring defense, giving up a total of 1934 points and 77.4 points per game.

Luckily for this Kentucky team, they have been playing much better on the defensive end as of the past week, holding Ole Miss and Auburn to 63 and 59 points, respectively. These performances are coming off a horrid stretch for the Cats, going 2-4 in the previous six games.

In this stretch, the Cats lost three consecutive games at Rupp Arena, losing to Florida in overtime, Tennessee, and Gonzaga. Kentucky has only lost back-to-back home games six times in Rupp’s 48-year history. This was the only Kentucky team to lose three in a row in Rupp.

Desperately needing a win to survive a dreaded fourth-straight loss at Rupp, the Wildcats defeated an 18-5 Ole Miss team 75-63 on Tuesday, February 13. This win came on the backs of Ugonna Onyenso, Reed Sheppard, and Antonio Reeves.

Onyenso had a ridiculous 10 blocks to go along with his eight points. Sheppard had 13 points off the bench and added five assists and five steals for the SEC steals leader.

Following Tuesday’s win, the Cats went into Auburn to play the 13th-ranked Tigers, who just beat 11th-ranked South Carolina 101-61 the game before. Auburn had only lost two home games in two seasons prior to Saturday evening’s game vs. Kentucky.

Kentucky went into Auburn on Saturday and dominated the Tigers from start to finish. A Tre Mitchell-less Kentucky team never trailed vs. the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers, and Reed Sheppard locked up his second five-steal game of the week.

Sophomore forward Adou Thiero has been the toughest player the Cats have needed since he returned from injury. Every time the Kentucky offense was stalled, Thiero was there for a backside rebound and put-back dunk. 

Ugonna Onyenso played a team-leading 36 minutes against the Tigers where he had seven points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

“Today [Onyenso] and Adou were unbelievable,” said Head Coach John Calipari after the win. “Both of them played great”.

Guys like Aaron Bradshaw and Zvonimir Ivisic had less than three minutes in the game, but they have a world of talent and can play big roles for this uber-talented team come March.

Kentucky is now ranked number 17 in the AP Poll this week, according to the Associated Press on Monday. The Cats go and play LSU on the road Wednesday and play the 13th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp this Saturday.




Image 1 Credit: AP Photo/Matt Stamey

Image 2 Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports 

Image 3 Credit: Jordan Prather- USA TODAY Sports

Image 4 Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


Image 5 Credit: Jake Crandall


Share This Post On


Leave a comment

You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in