(Image Courtesy of Lexington Herald Leader)
After tomorrow night's game against Mississippi State, Kentucky will be either 16-4 or 15-5, but either way, we will be 20 games into the 2021-2022 season. Throughout this season, the Kentucky Wildcats have been impressive with plenty of accolades to prove it. Currently, the Cats are 1st in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, 4th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 24th in effective field goal percentage, 31st in adjusted defensive efficiency, and 12th in opponent offensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom.
The Skinny: Kentucky is a good team, 8th in the nation according to KenPom, 9th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), and 12th according to AP voters (who don’t even watch basketball).
So often at Kentucky (and probably anywhere if we’re being honest), the preseason hype gets a little out of control. For what it’s worth, this Kentucky team is about right where most fans agreed they would be at this point in the season. Let’s put pen to paper (or words to the keyboard) and break down this roster with some midseason grades, shall we?
Note: Letter grades are dumb. In the Beers & Buckets Kentucky Post-Game episodes, Bourbon Basketball Nation, we prefer to grade the players’ production using “Swaggy Cal’s”. You know the GIF, but if you forgot, here it is to refresh your memory.
John Calipari - 4 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Coming into this season, Cal had a lot of pressure on him to get things right. I’d say he’s done that and some. Not only has he completely changed his team’s offensive approach, but he’s raised this team’s ceiling by making them one of the more underrated defenses in the SEC. Kentucky is top 50 in six different defensive categories on KenPom. That has far exceeded a majority of this fanbase’s expectations for this team’s defense, which was a big question mark to start the season.
Not without fault, there has been some questionable decision-making in games that have left fans desiring more from the Hall of Famer. Leaving road losses with timeouts remaining is always a polarizing debate. Some of his rotations have been suspect at times (albeit this squad has had to battle some injuries). The fact that this team, to my knowledge, hasn’t even attempted a zone defense is curious to say the least. All of these factors has kept him from achieving 5 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s.
#0 Jacob Toppin - 4 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Toppin has been sensational, especially in close games on the road. What he’s brought to this team with his veteran presence, defensive prowess, and freakishly athletic abilities is unlike anyone else on this team. In the clutch, there isn’t another player I want more out on the court than Toppin. He hasn’t gotten the minutes I think he deserves, but they’re coming.
#1 CJ Fredrick - N/A
For what it’s worth, I wanted to include CJ because I think his presence with the team is felt even if he isn’t playing. Building that bond and team chemistry is crucial, especially if he is able to return sooner than we expected and log some minutes for Kentucky this season.
#2 Sahvir Wheeler - 3.75 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Sahvir has been really good for Kentucky, let me start with that. However, there have been some games where it hasn’t been his night. For what it’s worth, he’s done more good than bad, and you always want that. I expect Sahvir to bump his grade up by the end of the year. How he can do that is by limiting turnovers, controlling the pace of the game, and excelling in the pick n roll defense. Offensively, you have to love what he brings to the table when he plays with control.
#3 TyTy Washington - 4.5 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
TyTy is the best freshman guard Kentucky has had since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This is not a slight to Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Devin Askew etc… that’s just how good and consistent TyTy has been. He is a master in the pick n roll, can pull up from anywhere, and has the ball on a string. He’s been SEC Freshman of the Week for four consecutive weeks, which hasn’t been done at Kentucky since Devin Booker.
#4 Damion Collins - 2.75 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Damion Collins’ career at Kentucky hasn’t started the way many have hoped, but the potential is there. Collins’ lack of physicality is keeping him from logging minutes in SEC play, which can’t be helping his development. However, he’s shown flashes that must have Kentucky fans excited for when he can put it all together.
#10 Davion Mintz - 3.75 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Mintz had a rough start to the season, but he has slowly carved out his role as one of the best sixth man in the SEC, if not the nation. His shooting has improved throughout the season, which is a great sign going into a tough stretch of SEC opponents. I fully expect Mintz to continue to improve his grade.
#11 Dontaie Allen - 2 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
This might be a hot take, but I feel that Dontaie Allen exceeded fans’ expectations last year, which historically was a down year for the program. Since then, the fans’ perception of Allen has skyrocketed into unrealistic expectations for the Kentucky native. The fact remains, the 3-point sharpshooter specialist is currently shooting 18% from behind the arc, and is a liability on the defensive side of the ball.
#12 Keion Brooks Jr. - 3 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
The Fort Wayne prospect has slid under the radar in his third year with the Wildcats. It seems like his leash is far shorter than other players, which seems wildly unfair to him. Keion Brooks Jr, when committed to his role, is a fine player. When he doesn’t try to do too much, that’s when he’s at his best.
#14 Brennan Canada - 3 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Bench players are all-stars. Simple as that.
#20 Zan Payne - 3 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Fun fact: Zan Payne outscored John Fulkerson in the Tennessee matchup. Zan Payne also is the spread-cover gawd and made one Kentucky bettor a happy person.
#21 He Who Shall Not Be Named - N/A
Taking a note from Encanto, “We don’t talk about Shaedon”... But really, until he plays, we don’t need to talk about him.
#23 Bryce Hopkins - 2.75 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Like his freshman counterpart, Hopkins hasn’t had the most glamorous start to his Kentucky career. Calipari seems very high on him though, so it makes you wonder what he’s showing in practice. Hopkins has shown improvement in his play, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score. He’s not a black-hole on offense anymore, and is a physical presence on defense. His growth is well awaited as we enter into the back half of the season.
#25 Kareem Watkins - 3 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
I will streak naked in the streets of the Big Easy during the Final Four weekend if Kareem Watkins dunks in a game.
#31 Kellan Grady - 4 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Kellan Grady has been such a calming presence to this team, he absolutely warrants this grade. He’s had some off games, but when he’s on, he is on… The only way he can improve is just by looking to create separation off-ball so he can get more shots up. His role is limited according to KenPom, and Kentucky is wasting his potential in a special season.
#34 Oscar Tshiebwe - 5 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
Don’t listen to him, Oscar IS a machine. But really, we are witnessing history here. There’s not much you can ask Oscar to do more, he’s been amazing. There are some things he needs to work on in the second half of the season, such as the pick n roll defense and defending the rim, but overall he’s been exceptional. Enjoy him while you can, Kentucky fans, a really smart NBA team will draft him and absolutely win the steal of the draft.
#55 Lance Ware - 3.5 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
This is a Lance Ware stan account. You mess with Lance, you mess with us. But seriously, Lance knows his role and plays it well. He hustles, plays hard, and talks his talk. In stretches where he’s had significant minutes due to Oscar Tshiebwe’s foul troubles, the efficiency of both the offense and defense hasn’t suffered, which is insane considering how dominant Oscar has been this season.
Kentucky Fans - 1 out of 5 Swaggy Cal’s
A loud minority (hopefully) has been ridiculous this season. Calling for Cal’s job, complaining about not calling timeouts, pestering about playing Shaedon Sharpe on the road down 10 to a top 5 team expecting him to Maple Jordan… Fans have been the worst this year. However, there is still time to make things right. Enjoy the games, take what you can from the losses, and be decent to one another. Easy as that.
Kentucky takes on Mississippi State tomorrow night at 9:00pm on ESPN. Saturday, Kentucky travels to Lawrence, Kansas to take on the Jayhawks in Phog Allen at 6:00pm. We’ll see if Kentucky can improve on these grades when applicable and get back in the win column.