By UK ATHLETICS
LEXINGTON – With a mix of talented newcomers and experienced veterans, the Kentucky men’s basketball team will begin the season among the preseason top five in the Associated Press Top 25. The Wildcats, the preseason Southeastern Conference favorites, will open play as the No. 2 team in the land and face preseason No. 1 Michigan State on Nov. 5 in Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Spartans begin the season at the top, with Kansas coming in at No. 3 to open the season. Duke was voted fourth and Louisville rounds out the top five. UK picked up two of the possible 65-first place votes. Michigan State tallied 60, while Kansas received three.
The full preseason rankings are available via collegebasketball.ap.org.
It’s the 10th time in 11 seasons the Wildcats will begin the season ranked among the nation’s top five to begin the season. Calipari’s squad has been ranked in the top two to open play seven times, including in six of the last seven seasons. Calipari has had a team ranked among the top 11 in the preseason poll in all 11 seasons at the helm as voted on by a panel comprised of media members throughout the country.
The AP poll isn’t the only preseason ranking that’s showing confidence in the Wildcats. The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Andy Katz of NCAA.com tabbed UK No. 3 in their preseason rankings.
The USA Today Coaches Poll is expected to be released soon.
With Michigan State and Kentucky entering the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, it will mark the 42nd time since the inception of the AP Top 25 that the top two teams will meet during the season. It’ll mark the ninth time UK has been involved in the matchup. Kentucky is 4-4 all-time in those matchups.
Coincidentally, the last time Kentucky was involved in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup was also against Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic. The Spartans won 78-74 in Chicago on Nov. 12, 2013.
Calipari is 12-8 as a head coach when both teams are ranked among the top five in the AP Top 25. He’ll be involved in his fourth No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup on Nov. 5.
Seven Kentucky opponents enter the 2019-20 season ranked in the AP Top 25, including four nonconference opponents in Michigan State (1), Louisville (5), Texas Tech (13) and Ohio State (18).
Showcasing the league’s strength, fellow SEC members Florida (6), LSU (22) and Auburn (24) were also ranked among the top 25. Four more teams in Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi State and Alabama sit just outside the top 25 and received votes. Kentucky plays Florida and Auburn twice, resulting in nine total matchups in 2019-20 against top-25 opponents.
Kentucky was picked by the media to win its 49th SEC regular-season crown. UK returns to action with an exhibition game vs. Georgetown College on Sunday at 5 p.m. on SEC Network. Kentucky’s regular season opens Nov. 5 in New York vs. Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic.
Kentucky is coming off a 30-7 season that culminated in a trip to the Elite Eight, the Wildcats’ seventh under Calipari. Those seven appearances lead the country over the last 10 seasons.
The Wildcats welcome back a solid core of returners led by sophomore guards Ashton Hagans (7.7 points per game and 160 total assists in 2018-19) and Immanuel Quickley (30 3-pointers), junior forward Nick Richards (74 career games), and sophomore forward EJ Montgomery (3.8 points, 4.1 rebounds in 2018-19). Hagans was tabbed to the preseason All-SEC First Team and Montgomery was a second-team pick. Both players earned selection to preseason positional player of the year awards presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Hagans was on the Bob Cousy Award Watch List for the best point guard, and Montgomery was among the candidates for the Karl Malone Award presented to the nation’s best power forward.
To replace the losses of first-round NBA Draft picks PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson, plus Reid Travis, who signed a professional contract in the German Basketball Bundesliga, Calipari has brought in another top-ranked recruiting class that features six freshmen – five of them considered consensus four- or five-star prospects – plus graduate transfer Nate Sestina.
Freshmen Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney headline the freshman class. Maxey joined Montgomery on the All-SEC preseason second team and was one of 20 players selected to the preseason watch list for the Jerry West Award which is awarded to the nation’s top shooting guard. Whitney was selected to the Julius Erving Watch List given to the top small forward. Both players were rated among the top-15 players in their class.