Kentucky picked to win SEC title amongst talented conference


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari yells at his team during the UK vs. Wesleyan exhibition game on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 95-72. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Scott Clarke

Kentucky men’s basketball landed at No. 10 in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll and was selected to win the 2022 Southeastern Conference title by the league’s media.

If the prediction is true, it would be Kentucky’s seventh under John Calipari. This is now the 16th time since the 1998-99 season that the Wildcats are the overall preseason favorite in-conference.

Sahvir Wheeler was voted preseason All-SEC first team, while Kellan Grady, Oscar Tshiebwe and Keion Brooks Jr. were all picked to the preseason All-SEC second team. 

Brooks and Wheeler also received at least one vote for the preseason SEC Player of the Year, but the award was given to Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr.

Wheeler is joined by Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, Florida’s Colin Castleton, Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar and Vanderbilt’s Pippen on the first team. 

Joining Brooks, Grady and Tshiebwe on the second team is Arkansas’ Davonte Davis, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and LSU’s Darius Days.

The SEC has always been known for its football, but the conference is as deep as ever on the hardwood. Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn all join the Cats in the preseason Top 25.

After an Elite 8 appearance last year, Arkansas is looking primed to get back to that mark this year under head coach Eric Musselman. Musselman, like Calipari, used the transfer portal to his advantage, landing former Pitt standout Au’Diese Toney and Miami guard Chris Lykes. Both players will make immediate impacts alongside returnees JD Notae, Jaylin Williams and Devontae Davis.

Tennessee is now in the seventh year of the Rick Barnes era, which has brought the Vols mixed results. Last season, the Vols were bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in an upset against Oregon State. The Vols have big man John Fulkerson returning for his sixth year, as well as forward Josiah Jordan-James returning for his third year. Freshman Kennedy Chandler will provide the Vols a much needed spark from the point guard spot.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, last year’s SEC champions, welcome some new faces as well as some veterans. After SEC player of the year Herb Jones and All-SEC guard John Petty Jr. departed in the offseason, head coach Nate Oats brought in some highly touted newcomers into Tuscaloosa.

Top-10 high school recruit JD Davidson will bring the Tide athleticism and scoring, as will former Furman guard Noah Furley. Alabama returns two preseason All-SEC junior guards in  Quinerly and Shackelford. 

For Kentucky, roster change is nothing new. This year, however, the roster is filled with experience.

Returning for the Cats, Keion Brooks Jr. looks to continue his steady improvement from last year, where he averaged 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. Lance Ware, like many other players last year, struggled but is poised for a bigger role this season with his toughness and rebounding. The Cats also welcome back last year’s leading scorer Davion Mintz, returning for his sixth year of college hoops.

The Wildcats brought in four new transfers who will all be key parts of the team’s success. Former Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler was All-SEC second team last year and averaged 14.0 points and 7.4 assists, which led all power-five players in the country. Former Davidson combo Kellan Grady is a career 17 points per game scorer. Former West Virginia center Oscar Tshiebwe was voted All-Big-12 his freshman year and is touted as one of the top rebounders in the country. Former Iowa Hawkeye CJ Fredrick is a career 46 percent 3-point shooter and will provide spacing from off of the UK bench.

Unlike most years, Calipari only has three freshmen on his team. TyTy Washington, a top-15 high school recruit, is expected to be one of the Wildcats’ best players at the guard spot while top-10 recruit Daimion Collins will provide shot blocking and rebounding with his length. Bryce Hopkins, a top-50 recruit, is a do-it-all player who can handle the ball, defend, shoot and rebound.

Amongst a conference that is as talent-rich as ever, Kentucky brings depth and experience, two things that Calipari-coached teams have lacked since the legendary coach came to Lexington in the 2009-10 season. With targets on their backs, the Cats will look to return to the gold standard they have set for themselves and vie for their ninth National Championship.