Kernel sports editors’ predictions for UK men’s basketball season


The UK men’s basketball team poses for a photo during media day on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

What will UK’s record be at the end of the regular season?

Erika: This is always a hard question for me to predict. While I don’t doubt the Cats will be one of the top four or five best teams in the country the whole season, Kentucky’s schedule this year is really tough–seven of their opponents are ranked in AP Preseason Top 25. But, with that said, I’m going to say 27-4.

Mohammad: Well, this is tough. Kentucky never gets a break with schedule strength. You saw Erika mention the AP Top 25 opponents. Don’t forget that the Cats face Texas Tech, the defending national runners-up, in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. I’m gonna go with 25-6.

UK and Louisville are both ranked in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll. Who wins that matchup on Dec. 28?

Erika: Kentucky. But with both UK and Louisville ranked in the top-5, it’s bound to be a heck of a rivalry game. Rupp will be rocking. 

Mohammad: Gotta go with the Cats. Rupp Arena is a hard place to play in if you’re Louisville. The Cards have lost their last five games at Rupp. Go figure.

Who will be season MVP for the Cats? 

Erika: I’m going with Ashton Hagans. After the stellar defensive year he put up last year, I expect him to be that and then some this year. I know he wasn’t satisfied with how last year’s season ended and from what little we’ve seen of him so far, he’s bringing back that fire and aggressiveness he had. He can score, he can dish it out, he’s a defensive terror and he’ll be huge for Kentucky this year. 

Mohammad: Ashton Hagans. So far he hasn’t given me a reason to doubt him. Not only has he picked up where he left off last season, but he’s shown more potential. You can tell by his body language that he looks and feels like an unquestioned leader. Aside from Nate Sestina, he’s the most versatile veteran on the team. If you need a do-it-all guy, call 1-800-AHAGANS. 

Which player will lead the team in points/rebounds/assists?

Erika: I expect Tyrese Maxey to lead in scoring. The five-star point guard averaged 22.2 points per game his senior season and can score from just about anywhere. Nate Sestina averaged 8.5 rebounds per game his senior season at Bucknell (led his team and the Patriot League), so I’ll say he’ll do the same for Kentucky this year. Ashton Hagans will lead in assists.

Mohammad: I might sound crazy, but I have Immanuel Quickley leading in scoring. The kid says he feels more confident and there’s so much truth to that so far. Nate leading in rebounds is a no-brainer, especially if Nick Richards’ body doesn’t hold up. And good ol’ Ashton will dish the ball around more than anyone (and swipe it whenever he feels like it).

What’s your early prediction (emphasis on early) for how far the Cats will get in the NCAA Tournament?

Erika: I’m going to say Final Four. Last year’s team was great, and I think they have even more talent and potential this year. With the handful of returners they have, who have had some time to polish their game, and a veteran leader in forward Nate Sestina, I think they have what it takes to make it to Atlanta.

Mohammad: Elite Eight at best. I think a Final Four is a stretch. Last year’s team had more versatility and talent, in my opinion, and they barely beat Houston in the Sweet 16 before choking against an Auburn team that they had already beaten twice (including a blowout) in the regular season. There’s veteran depth like Erika added, but I see the young guys letting the big time pressure get to them. That’s been the Cats’ Achilles heel in big NCAA Tournament games.