No matter who the head coach is, Rhyne Howard is clearly one of the best players in the country.
The Kentucky Women’s Basketball junior guard has been named to every preseason award watch list that you can think of, including the Naismith Preseason Player of the Year and SEC Preseason Player of the Year, while also being lauded as an All-American by several outlets. Before Matthew Mitchell retired as the head coach and after Kyra Elzy slide into the interim role, the expectations placed upon Howard have not changed. Over at ESPN, they tend to agree.
What does Matthew Mitchell's retirement mean for Kentucky? What should we expect from Tennessee? How good is Arkansas? How big is the gap between the Gamecocks and everyone else?https://t.co/QFlHbostfL
— ESPN Women's Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) November 20, 2020
The Worldwide Leader had plenty to say about Howard and the 2020-21 version of the Wildcats as three panelists–Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays, and Charlie Creme–all tabbed her as their choice to repeat as the SEC’s Player of the Year. The media trio then broke down their thoughts on how Howard and Kentucky will respond this season without Mitchell at the helm.
Some of the points they made are ones that have been reiterated on this site before, such as the anticipated smooth transition process from Mitchell to Elzy, and they agree that Howard and company shouldn’t have that difficult of time adjusting to a “new” coaching philosophy. But this year’s squad is different from year’s past in that they’ll have a clear inside presence.
“Kentucky will look and play differently this season, but that’s less because of Mitchell’s departure than the influx of post talent — specifically Maryland transfer Olivia Owens. And Elzy has already talked about the influence Lin Dunn had on her when it comes to emphasizing offensive execution and efficiency rather than relying on defense to fuel everything.
“I don’t really think the coaching change affects Kentucky’s outlook much. It was always going to take some time for the new faces (which now include junior guard Robyn Benton, after her transfer waiver) to settle in and for the playing style to evolve. But as long as Howard is out there, this team has a chance to matter in March.” — Graham Hays, ESPN.
However, even though all three panelists agree that Kentucky will challenge the SEC’s top teams and should be an improved overall squad from a season ago, they don’t appear to have as much faith in the overall team’s ability to contend for a league championship. Hays predicts the ‘Cats will finish third in the league (which I agree with) but Creme and Voepel have them finishing fourth and fifth in the SEC, respectively.
But that’s alright with us, especially Howard, who is absorbing all of the negativity and criticism that has come her and Kentucky’s way and turning into a vengeful energy that I can’t wait to see unleashed on the hardwood in just three days.