A head coaching vacancy at his alma mater provoked some rumors, but he quickly shut them down – Matthew Mitchell is determined to stay in Lexington.
On Sunday afternoon, it was announced that Mississippi State women’s basketball head coach, Vic Schaefer, had accepted a job offer to lead the Texas Longhorns women’s program. Immediately, all eyes pointed to Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell – who attended MSU back in the mid-90s – as a potential replacement.
The Wildcat head coach took to Twitter late Sunday night to set the record straight.
Hey #BBN, let me say this loud and proud for all to hear: I’m the head coach @KentuckyWBB and my heart, family & life are devoted to UK! I will be there for as long as they will have me! I want to make that CRYSTAL clear! Grateful to God that I am allowed the privilege! ?????
— Matthew Mitchell (@UKCoachMitchell) April 6, 2020
“Hey #BBN, let me say this loud and proud for all to hear: I’m the head coach @KentuckyWBB and my heart, family & life are devoted to UK!” Mitchell tweeted out. “I will be there for as long as they will have me! I want to make that CRYSTAL clear! Grateful to God that I am allowed the privilege!”
Kentucky is expected to be one of the premier teams once again in the SEC next season. Despite the loss of five graduating seniors, Mitchell is returning plenty of key starters and rotational pieces, adding three impressive freshmen, and, most importantly, he’ll have Rhyne Howard in her junior season. Howard will likely lead the National Player of the Year race from the time the preseason awards are announced and should be one of the two or three best players in the country. I’d expect Mitchell will also look to add a graduate transfer (or two), particularly in the backcourt. Kentucky could also use another tall, rebounding center, as well. UK hasn’t been to the Elite 8 since 2013 – next year’s team is the one that could get them back there.
Shutting down the MSU rumors was a sign that Mitchell believes he has something special looming on the horizon. In all honesty, the Bulldogs women’s program might still be a better team than UK next season. Schaefer rebuilt the program from the ground up back in 2012, culminating with back-to-back NCAA Championship game appearances (both losses) in 2017-18. MSU made it to the SEC Tournament Finals back in March, beating the ‘Cats in the semifinals before falling to the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks in the championship. Schaefer’s team from this past season only had one senior departure and the Bulldogs are poised to be a top-10 team in the country next year.
Kentucky compared to the rest of the SEC
The SEC is shaping up to be a battle at the top next season. South Carolina will be incredibly good once again. Depending on what happens with MSU (new coach, potential transfers, etc.) they could still find themselves near the top. Arkansas will return most of its production. Texas A&M and Tennessee will be highly competitive even though they’ve lost some star power. With Schaefer moving on, one could argue that Kentucky is the preseason No. 2 favorite to win the SEC behind Carolina.
Here’s how I’m reading into all of this: Mississippi State is in a fantastic position with its women’s basketball program and a popular figure within the area (who also attended the college and was born in Mississippi) that could potentially fill the head coaching position turned it down. That says a lot about how Mitchell feels about what he has going with Kentucky right now. The Bulldogs are one of the few programs that might be willing to throw a high-dollar mark ($1 million+ per season) at Mitchell, too. Maybe he ends up working his way into a raise from Mitch Barnhart after all of this? It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t deserved it.