Fans share expectations for Kentucky mens basketball ahead of Big Blue Madness


Isabel McSwain

Fans cheer during an open practice and telethon benefitting flood victims in Eastern Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Kentucky Kernel

Samantha Money, Asst. Sports Editors

With temperatures starting to drop in Lexington, it’s nearly time for Kentucky basketball to bring the heat to Rupp Arena.

It was an abrupt goodbye to last year’s team when the St. Peter’s Peacocks devastated the Wildcats during the first round of the NCAA tournament.

With less than 5% of basketball brackets picking Kentucky to lose in the first round, it was hard for Big Blue Nation to accept that it wasn’t going to see the 2021-2022 team showcase its talent in one of the largest sports spectacles of the year.

Another grief from the loss to Saint Peter’s was the fear that the consensus mens college player of the year and beloved member of the Lexington community, Oscar Tshiebwe, would have played in his last game as a Kentucky Wildcat. 

Despite this, Tshiebwe made the decision to further his basketball career in college and stay with Kentucky, much to the joy of Wildcat fans and giving many a new hope for the upcoming season.

“I think we’re going to be amazing because of Oscar Tshiebwe,” Kentucky freshman Julia Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer isn’t the only fan with high hopes, with numerous campers at the Big Blue Campout, a leadup event to Big Blue Madness, expressing that “Big O” was their favorite player on the team.

“You got to go with the great Tshiebwe,” George Tye, a fan from Corbin, Kentucky, said. 

Tshiebwe’s return, along with CJ Fredrick’s recovery, makes Kentucky a team to fear in the SEC.

Fredrick, a senior transfer from Iowa, was unable to play for the Cats last season due to having surgery on his leg following an injury. Known for his 3-point shooting, his presence on the court could prove to be a vital asset.

Fans also get to meet the new faces added to the roster this year, including Antonio Reeves, a senior transfer from Illinois State.

There’s certainly no lack of opinions when it comes to the Cats’ upcoming season and why the team should be better than the season prior.

“(The team has) a little bit more experience with Oscar and the players that transferred in,” Carlisle, Kentucky, native Tracy Brown said. “They’re going to be a big help.”

Brown was far from alone in thinking the team was going to be better, with numerous fans agreeing with the sentiment.

“I think we are a lot different than we were last year and stronger physically,” UK freshman Parker Wilson said. “Got a lot more size in the paint and better shooters. CJ Frederick’s going to light it up. First Team All American in my opinion.” 

The team also has a lot of buzz surrounding the incoming freshmen, including talks about Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso, a 6’11’’ center from Nigeria.

Onyenso did not make the trip to the Bahamas for Kentucky’s pre-season games due to re-classifying, so his first appearance as a Wildcat will be at Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness.

Other new recruits to be watching for are freshman shooting guards Adou Theiro, Carson Wallace and forward Chris Livingston.

“I’m hoping for a great year,” Kentucky freshman Chase Bradford said. “Hopefully we go further in the playoffs. We got a lot of new potential, so it’s going to be nice seeing that first practice. We’ll see where we are.”

Growing from last year seemed to be the consensus for fans with their expectations for the team.

“I think they’re going to take their mistakes from last season and improve upon them in the upcoming season,” Kentucky freshman Micayla Densmore said. “I think we have a really good team stacked up this year.”

Some fans even offered advice and an explanation regarding what happened in last season’s upset loss, writing it off as a preventable mistake.

“They got to be more mind strong,” Tye said. “That loss against Saint Peter’s – I feel like they just got weak in their mind.”

Kentucky will properly introduce the team at Big Blue Madness this Friday, Oct. 14, along with the womens basketball team inside Rupp Arena.