I have a theory that almost any UK basketball team could have won a national championship under John Calipari if the Cats had just one more weapon. Maybe UK missed out on a recruit or a player went to the NBA Draft that surprised the staff, but nearly every year since the 2010 season the Cats have been missing just one player. A couple years the Cats were a player off from having a perfect season.
I will tell you those players and how things would have been different, but let’s remember we’re keeping realistic expectations. We can’t say Anthony Davis could have returned in 2013 to help UK go back-to-back. No one can convince me that woulnd’t have happened, but Davis was never going to have a sophomore season. You all are smart, you get the rules.
2010: 35-3, UK lost in the Elite Eight to West Virginia.
The Missing Player: A senior Jodie Meeks.
The hypothetical result: Kentucky would have finished the season undefeated with a national championship with Meeks. How would you stop a UK team that had John Wall attacking the rim and Meeks waiting for open shots on the perimeter? Remember (how could we forget), three-point shooting sunk the Cats against WVU. Many believe Meeks was close to returning to UK.
2011: 29-9, UK lost in the Final Four to UConn.
The Missing Player: An eligible Enes Kanter.
The hypothetical result: If things had just gone as planned and Kanter was ruled eligible by the NCAA the Cats would have cut down the nets. The hard part here is that Kanter would have completely changed the regular season. The Cats wouldn’t have been a four seed. They wouldn’t have had a dramatic win over Ohio State and UNC to get to the Final Four. But they definitely would have had enough talent to beat UConn and Butler in Houston.
2012: 38-2, UK won the title.
The Missing Player: A senior DeAndre Liggins.
The hypothetical result: Kentucky beats Indiana and crushes Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship game with Liggins and UK goes 40-0. Liggins was the best defender in college basketball in 2011 and would have only improved in 2012. Imagine a lineup with Teague, Liggins, MKG, Jones and Davis. Good luck scoring. Liggins didn’t seem forced out but UK bringing in MKG probably made his decision slightly easier.
2013: 21-12, UK lost in the first round of the NIT.
The Missing Player: A sophomore Marquis Teague.
The hypothetical result: If UK doesn’t win the title in 2012 Teague and Doron Lamb likely return. Rumors suggest even after winning the title UK expect both players back and were surprised when both left for the NBA Draft. Teague would have improved the disappointing 2013 season more than Lamb. UK isn’t winning the title with a sophomore Teague but if Noel stayed healthy it could have been a Sweet 16 team.
2014: 29-11, UK lost in the title game to UConn.
The Missing Player: Andrew Wiggins.
The hypothetical result: I’ll never forget Wiggins’ decision day. Staffs from UK, FSU and Kansas had no clue where the five-star wing would end up and Bill Self said he was shocked to hear he picked the Jayhawks. Had Wigg
ins picked UK the Cats win it all in 2014. UK needed perimeter defense and Wiggins would have provided that while also helping offensively. Like 2011 the regular season isn’t as ugly with Wiggins, so the road to the Final Four would have been much different.
2015: 38-1, UK lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin.
The Missing Player: Justise Winslow.
The hypothetical result: UK was late to recruiting Winslow, who was somewhat of a late bloomer, but had the Cats prioritized him earlier the recruitment could have gone differently. UK could have used his defense and versatility offensively, but let’s be honest: UK should have won in 2015 and had its ideal roster. Ugh.
2016: 27-9, UK lose in the Round of 32 to Indiana.
The Missing Player: Dakari Johnson.
The hypothetical result: UK also expect Johnson to return and it’s not crazy to think the Cats could have competed for the title with Johnson. Johnson would have allowed Skal Labissiere to play a stretch four and I’m not sure how you guard a team that features Ulis, Murray, Poythress, Skal and Dakari. UK really struggled guarding physical bigs and also struggled on the glass. UK is at least a Final Four team with a junior Johnson.
2017: 32-6, UK lost to UNC in the Elite Eight.
The Missing Player: Miles Bridges.
The hypothetical result: UK was thought to lead for Bridges for the majority of his recruitment, but after visiting MSU he set a commitment date and canceled a visit to UK. That was all she wrote. Had UK landed Bridges the Cats win it all in 2017. Fox, Monk, Bridges, Willis and Bam would have been Calipari’s best offensive lineup and Bridges would have provided some much needed rebounding. Marcus Lee was also considered for 2017 and the Cats suffered when he transferred to California.
2018: 26-11, UK lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16.
The Missing Player: Mohamed Bamba.
The hypothetical result: UK had outside shooting (at times streaky). The Cats had attacking guard. The only thing UK was missing last season was a dominant center and had Bamba picked UK instead of Texas the Cats could have made a serious run at a championship. I don’t think UK wins it all because Villanova was just on a different level, but Kentucky could have been the second best team in the country with Bamba.
In 2019 UK is just a Reid Travis away. Come on down, big guy.