Power rankings, season expectations, predictions, and NCAA Championship contenders are always the talk of the town during the college basketball offseason. And this year, several pundits, analysts, and experts have given the Kentucky Wildcats an excellent chance of breaking their 11-year drought from glory by being a serious contender for the 2024 NCAA title.
Wildcats: March Madness 2024 Contenders
The Kentucky Wildcats have had limited success in the past three March Madness tournaments, winning only one game. However, the upcoming 2023-24 season will significantly change the team.
Notably, official departures from the team include Oscar Tshiebwe (NBA Draft), Jacob Toppin (NBA Draft), Cason Wallace (NBA Draft), Chris Livingston (NBA Draft), CJ Fredrick (transfer), Sahvir Wheeler (transfer), Lance Ware (transfer), Daimion Collins (transfer).
This staggering amount of team exits was the highest number in John Calipari’s 14 years as Kentucky’s head coach. Moreover, panic amongst Wildcats supporters grew as the players leaving were Kentucky’s eight top scorers of the 2022-23 season.
So, how are the Wildcats still considered 2024 NCAA Championship contenders?
Despite these departures, Kentucky remains a strong contender for the 2024 season. The team boasts the top-ranked recruiting class, including highly touted freshmen Aaron Bradshaw, Justin Edwards, Reed Sheppard, and DJ Wagner, who are all McDonald’s All-Americans. Furthermore, they have added Rob Dillingham, a top-10 prospect, and most recently, Zvonimir Ivisic, a 7-foot-2 center from Croatia.
With such a talented recruiting class, it’s no surprise that Kentucky is ranked highly, despite lacking collegiate experience. Moreover, with John Calipari returning for his 15th season as head coach, the Wildcats will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the 2023-24 season.
Kentucky Wildcats: Oddsmaker’s opinion
Before the 2023 NCAA March Madness final had even finished, oddsmakers listed Kentucky as an early favorite to win the 2024 championship.
In April 2023, the Wildcats opened with odds of 11-1 (+1100) on the upcoming best Kentucky apps and other platforms, with Duke and Purdue following closely at 12-1. UConn came in at 14-1, while Kansas and Marquette tied at 16-1. Creighton held an 18-1 chance, and both Arizona and UCLA showed odds of 20-1.
Four months later, not much has changed. While UK isn’t the No.1 team to win the championship anymore, the are Wildcats designated as the fourth strongest contender to win the NCAA Championship, even though they are only a 6-seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology (21-24th-best team in the country).
Despite some weaknesses in their frontcourt, the acquisition of 7-foot-2 center Zvonimir Ivisic has bolstered their prospects, specifically in the betting odds. Moreover, various rankings have positioned Kentucky higher than ESPN’s bracketologist, including CBS Sports ranking them at No. 16.
Vegas, however, puts Kentucky on a much higher pedestal.
According to multiple sportsbooks nationwide, they are given the fourth-highest odds in the nation to secure the championship. Given their talented recruiting class and the influx of scholarship players, accurately forecasting Kentucky’s potential is challenging.
Basketball recruiting analyst Jamie Shaw also lists the UK as a top 10 team for the upcoming season. However, he did express some concerns.
“The elephant in the room is the question at point guard. Is Reed Sheppard ready? Can Robert Dillingham or DJ Wagner play the position? Those are real questions, but talented players tend to figure it out, and they’re talented,” Shaw said.
“Look for Wagner to be an alpha on this team; he has been that throughout his career, and there is no reason to slow that down. Antonio Reeves provides experience and perimeter shooting. Justin Edwards is an excellent connecting piece on both ends of the floor, and I expect a step to be taken from Adou Thiero. Aaron Bradshaw may have the most NBA upset on the roster as a 7-foot-1 center who can block shots and knock down threes. Ugonna Onyenso might be the best natural shot blocker in the league. The late addition of Tre Mitchell gives them a skilled big with experience who has seen college success. This team has many questions, but the Wildcats also have much talent.”
In Retrospect: Kentucky’s Rising Prospects for the 2024 Championship
Drawing from the myriad of perspectives, it’s evident that the Kentucky Wildcats are at a pivotal crossroads. The mass departure of key players cast a shadow of doubt, yet the influx of fresh, high-caliber talent paints a promising picture for the upcoming season. Oddsmakers and analysts, despite their varied opinions, consistently place the Wildcats as top contenders, driven by the faith in their new recruits and the leadership of Coach Calipari. However, only the unfolding season will determine if this faith is well-founded. As always, college basketball remains an unpredictable domain, but for the Wildcats, the future seems ripe with potential. Will they rise to the occasion or succumb to the weight of expectations? Time will tell, but for now, hope and excitement pervade the air in Kentucky.