LEXINGTON, Ky. – With what appears to be a dangerous blend of talent, unusual experience and the momentum of a powerful preseason showing in the Bahamas, the Kentucky men’s basketball team will start the 2018-19 season ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll. It is the sixth time under John Calipari the Wildcats will begin the year ranked among the top two.
Kansas was the only team voted ahead of the Wildcats. Gonzaga was voted third. Duke is fourth and Virginia rounds out the top five. UK picked up 19 of the possible 65-first place votes. Kansas tallied 37. Duke received four, Virginia tallied two and Gonzaga, Tennessee and Villanova all notched one apiece.
The full preseason rankings are available via collegebasketball.ap.org.
It’s the ninth time in 10 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 six times, including in five of the last six seasons. Calipari has had a team ranked among the top 11 in the preseason poll in all 10 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. 1 in their preseason rankings.
The USA Today Coaches Poll is expected to be released soon.
Kentucky will start the season among the early title contenders despite losing eight players from last season’s roster, including five players who made a 2018-19 NBA opening-day roster. Calipari, as he does so every season, has reloaded with a talent-rich recruiting class to combine with key returners PJ Washington, UK’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder from a season ago (and preseason All-Southeastern Conference Second Team selection), Quade Green, the Wildcats’ second-leading assist man, and Nick Richards, who started every game in 2017-18.
UK certainly looked like a top contender during its preseason exhibition tour in the Bahamas. Playing against professional teams from Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Serbia – teams Calipari predicted would knock off UK at least once or twice – the Wildcats rolled in all four with an average margin of 29.0 points per game. UK shot 49.8 percent from the floor, outrebounded its opponents by an average of 12.5 boards per game, dished out 17.0 assists per contest and committed just 11.3 turnovers, largely with a new team. Five Wildcats averaged double figures, led by freshman Tyler Herro. Washington averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, a preseason All-SEC First Team pick, averaged a double-double with 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Seven Kentucky opponents enter the 2018-19 season ranked, including four top-10 opponents in Kansas (1), Duke (4), Tennessee (6) and North Carolina (8). Four more teams sit just outside the top 25 and received votes.
Showcasing the league’s strength, fellow SEC members Tennessee (6), Auburn (11), Mississippi State (18) and LSU (23) were also ranked among the top 25. Additionally, Florida, Alabama and Missouri earned votes.
Kentucky was picked by the media to win its 49th SEC regular-season crown. UK returns to action with an exhibition game vs. Transylvania on Friday at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. Kentucky’s regular season opens Nov. 6 in Indianapolis vs. Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic.
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‑ GO CATS –