Five out, three more in.
The 2020-21 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats Women’s Basketball team is going to see some significant turnover, but with plenty of key returnees. The transfer portal is growing by the day and roster movement will become inevitable as we transition into the offseason (or whatever you’d call this dead period).
As it stands right now, Matthew Mitchell’s program will lose five seniors and gain three freshmen for the upcoming season.
SENIORS HEADING OUT
Sabrina Haines – 5’10” : 27.1 mpg (30 games played – 30 starts) – 9.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.4 spg (39.7 FG%/40.0 3PT/72.2 FT%)
Jaida Roper – 5’6″ : 25.3 mpg (30 games played – 19 starts) – 7.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 spg (39.8/33.9/78.0)
Amanda Paschal – 5’7″ : 25.4 mpg (30 games played – 14 starts) – 5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg (36.4/34.3/73.3)
Ogechi Anyagaligbo – 6’1″ : 14.6 mpg (27 games played – 10 starts) – 3.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg (46.7 FG%/42.9 FT%)
Nae Nae Cole – 6’3″ : 7.8 mpg (16 games played – 0 starts) – 1.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg
Scoring lost: 38.3 percent of overall points scored per game.
Kentucky is going to lose a ton of production from this past season, specifically in the backcourt. Sabrina Haines had been a starter since the day her redshirt expired and the coaching staff could throw her into the fire. Only she wasn’t unprepared; the Arizona State transfer was a three-point specialist and a clutch-shot maker from the opening tip at Big Blue Madness. Her defense was perhaps a bit under shadowed by the next two ladies I’m about to mention, but Haines was tenacious on that end of the floor, as well.
Alongside Haines, Jaida Roper and Amanda Paschal were the pesky bulldogs on defense and court-operating gurus on offense. Roper eventually overtook Paschal in the starting lineup about halfway through the season – although Paschal was one of the first players off the bench after that – but you never saw a time when at least one of them wasn’t on the floor.
When you talk about the “mainstays” of the 2019-20 Kentucky Wildcats, it’s those three that come to mind.
Ogechi Anyagaligbo found her footing toward the end of the season, eventually moving into the starting lineup for the final 10 games of the year. Once she fully overcame her knee injury, her production – and most importantly, her energy – improved. At 6-foot-1, she’s the tallest impact player that Kentucky will lose, but the ‘Cats will bring in two freshmen taller than Anyagaligbo.
When the dust finally clears, Matthew Mitchell will lose four starting-caliber players to graduation, three of them who often had the ball in their hands. Roper, specifically, was the team’s pure point guard and controlled the ball more than anyone other than Rhyne Howard.
Speaking of Howard, the SEC Player of the Year will be gunning for a repeat in her junior season. She’s still in serious contention for a couple of Player of the Year awards right now and will head into next year as one of the few favorites. Howard is the fulcrum on both offense and defense. Even with the four previously mentioned starters out of the picture, there is more than enough talent surrounding her that can make next year’s team even better than the one that went 22-8 and finished third in the SEC a season ago.
Some of that potential does depend on the incoming freshmen. Treasure Hunt and Nyah Leveretter could come in and start from day one. I think it’s safe to assume that Hunt could establish herself as a starter before the preseason – she’s that special of a talent.
Treasure Hunt – 6’2″: 5-star wing
Nyah Leveretter – 6’3″ : 4-star forward
Erin Toller – 5’7″ : 3-star point guard
Hunt has similar intangibles to Howard; tall and long, can score at all three levels, heads-up defender. Even in her highlight videos, Hunt’s casual demeanor and straight-faced attitude are a bit reminiscent of how Howard breezes through the competition. If Hunt can translate her skills to the next level the same way Howard did, or even on a slightly smaller scale, the opportunities are endless. Landing 6-foot-2 guards that can dribble and shoot like Howard and Hunt is similar to striking gold and Mitchell appears to have done it two years running.
Leveretter is going to bring a unique set of talents that can’t be taught: size and athleticism. One of the biggest criticisms of recent Kentucky teams has been the lack of an interior presence. At 6-foot-3, Leveretter might not be the most imposing on the block, but she’s incredibly long, can run the fastbreak, and has impressive defensive instincts.
All-in-all, the current roster sits with 12 expected players for the 2020-21 season. Now the question is, who should we expect to see play?
RETURNING PLAYERS (regular rotation)
RETURNING PLAYERS (out of rotation/injured)
There a couple of “unknowns” in terms of what we’ve seen from them in a Kentucky uniform. Both Deasia Merrill and Dre’una Edwards sat out the 2019-20 season due to knee injuries. Edwards was a sophomore this past season and was recruited as a highly-touted star forward out of Nevada, raking in all sorts of Player of the Year awards during her high school days. She was tabbed the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year during her lone season at Utah, averaging 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-2, she’ll provide a necessary physical presence inside for UK that can quickly make up for the loss of Anyagaligbo.
Merrill came in as a freshman this past season and sat out with a knee injury. She’s a dominating four-star recruit from Georgia who can stretch the floor at 6-foot-1 but also battle on the glass and dribble out on the break.
If Edwards can start next season fully healthy, she’ll be a player to look out for in the regular rotation. Merrill, on the other hand, might be a year away from sneaking into what should be a packed frontcourt. It’s hard to say what we should expect from players such as Emma King (soon-to-be sophomore) and Erin Toller (incoming freshman), either, along with Deasia Merrill.
As it stands right now, the backcourt is missing a piece or two. Toller has been forecasted as a “crafty floor leader”, so maybe she steals some early season minutes at point guard. The good news is the frontcourt actually might be a strength, as opposed to the past few seasons when it was more of a weakness. Maybe there’s another transfer guard they can scoop up à la Chasity Patterson (but hopefully without the year-long transfer wait). There are some gaping holes but with plenty of time to fill out the roster and a solid foundation already in place for what should be an even better team than 2019-20.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
G: Chasity Patterson
G: Rhyne Howard
G: Treasure Hunt
F: KeKe McKinney
I’ll stop at these four for the moment. Howard and McKinney are no-brainer starters. Howard is one of the best in the country and McKinney is a top-tier defender who excels at stretching the floor. Those two have worked well together for two seasons now and that chemistry is only going to grow. Patterson was named Sixth Woman of the Year in the SEC, but will ultimately move into the starting spot with the departure of Roper, Paschal, and Haines. Hunt is being advertised as a player that can make an immediate, Howard-like impact from the opening tip. Those four are a solid bet to start every game if healthy.
The fifth and final spot is where it goes to a toss-up, in my opinion. If Mitchell picks up another guard to add into his backcourt, maybe he goes small(er), dropping McKinney to the center position while Howard and Hunt fill the forward spots. Although going big(ger) would allow him to try a few different directions.
6-foot-2 forward Tatyana Wyatt will be a popular choice to start, and she did so for 20 games this past season before she moved to a reserve role near the end the year. Leveretter would allow Mitchell to breakout an insanely lengthy and fast lineup that might be the best option to enforce the full-court trap.
Blair Green could be primed for a breakout junior season after a somewhat underwhelming sophomore campaign. Although she’s more of a taller guard rather than a smaller forward. Green works best on the perimeter, hunting down open shots off the dribble or around screens.
Then there’s Merrill and Edwards, who could come out and surprise everyone to steal the fifth starting role. Their rebounding abilities could land them plenty of minutes. Either way, the bench will run deep. The roster is looking at a 10-player rotation to begin non-conference play in 2020-21.