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Takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 2023 Big Blue Madness

Travis Fannon
Kentucky Wildcats guards Reed Sheppard (15), Jordan Burks (23) and Antonio Reeves (12) celebrate during Big Blue Madness on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, inside Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball hosted the 2023 edition of Big Blue Madness on Friday.

While the event is one mainly for the fans and recruiting in its modern format, the first real public view of both the men’s and women’s teams provided several key takeaways as to how the teams will be as well.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest takeaways for both teams:

Parke: Amiya Jenkins may be pivotal for the success of the women’s team.

While she was initially not on the radar after not participating in the 3-point contest, which was ultimately won by Maddie Scherr, Amiya Jenkins showed out in the women’s exhibition.

In what was truly a lopsided affair, Jenkins boosted her team to a 20-6 win with nine points, leading all scorers and outscoring the other team by herself.

What was more interesting than just a strong showing, though, was that all nine points came from beyond the arc.

Perhaps she was just hot on the big stage, but if she can consistently hit from deep she will be a massive offensive weapon for a team looking for serious redemption.

Parke: Kentucky women’s basketball is Maddie Scherr’s team.

Scherr is a baller. There is no way around that.

While she was relatively quiet in the exhibition from a points standpoint, it wasn’t so much a coincidence that it was her side that won 20-6.

While Jenkins’ clutch threes counted for plenty, it’s also important to note simply how much better the whole team’s offense flowed as opposed to its opposition.

Scherr did not shine on the box score, but the offense of her team looked far more natural and fluid with her at the center of it.

Especially with former point guard Jada Walker leaving the program in the offseason, Scherr will need to be a commanding presence and lead the Kentucky offense if the women have any ambitions of being a competitor in the SEC this season.

Johnson: New faces could elevate perimeter shooting for the men’s team.

Kentucky ranked No. 145 in three-point percentage in 2022 with Reeves’ 39.80-percent from deep leading the Wildcats as they left much to be desired. 

Kentucky Wildcats forward Tre Mitchell (4) shoots the ball during Big Blue Madness on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, inside Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

The Wildcats entered last year’s campaign with high expectations from their spot shooters despite the poor performance, with Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick not being able to replicate two seasons of  shooting over 46 percent from three for the Hawkeyes. 

With the shortfalls of its 2022 season in the rear view, Kentucky will look to its new additions in freshmen Reed Sheppard and D.J. Wagner, as well as West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell to stretch the floor. 

All three had respectable performances in the three-point contest, with Sheppard’s 21-point performance in the first round earning him a spot in the finals against Reeves. 

Reeves would get the better of Sheppard, but the Wildcats showed indications throughout the contest that perimeter shooting in the Bluegrass could return to its efficiency of years past.

Parke: Antonio Reeves could be preparing for a career season.

Antonio Reeves balled out during Big Blue Madness.

The veteran returning presence finished the 2022-23 season as a fan favorite, finishing with 14.4 points-per-game and making a team-high 80 3-pointers.

Returning for another year, Reeves became the second player in UK history to win back-to-back 3-point contests, dropping 26 points in the first round before beating Reed Sheppard 20-18 in the finals.

If Reeves can be the veteran leader that many people expect him to be, and get some help from beyond the arc so all the weight isn’t on his shoulders, he could easily be a star on the team, maybe even averaging 20+ points-per-game.

In his last year at Illinois State he averaged 20.1 points-per-game and that earned him a spot in Lexington. This year could exceed even that.

Johnson: Return of size for the men’s team could resurrect success from the past.

While none participated in any basketball related activities during Big Blue Madness, it was hard to miss all three of Kentucky’s seven footers with sophomore Ugonna Onyenso returning and being joined by freshmen Aaron Bradshaw and Zvonimir Ivišić. 

The trio will mark the first time a Wildcat squad has boasted more than one seven footer since its star-studded roster from the 2014-2015 season, Kentucky’s last visit to the Final Four.

With depth in size being paramount in Kentucky’s deepest postseason run since its 2012 National Championship, the Wildcats will need production from its big three, despite Bradshaw and Onyenso having delayed season debuts.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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