Two massive pick-ups announced on Wednesday afternoon have changed the course for the future of Kentucky Women’s Basketball.
Auburn guard Robyn Benton and Tennessee guard Jazmine Massengill both have decided to leave their respective programs where they will transfer to Lexington to play for the Wildcats under head coach Matthew Mitchell. Both are former five-star recruits out of high school and both are rising juniors. The big question right now is will these two be able to play right away?
As it currently stands, the short answer is “no”. Our own Jack Pilgrim noted in this recent article about UK men’s basketball transfer target Jacob Toppin that the NCAA is set to meet soon to decide whether or not they should pass an immediate transfer rule.
As of today, Toppin would have to sit out a year as a traditional transfer, though the NCAA is still contemplating a potential one-time immediate eligibility transfer rule that would allow the 6-foot-8 forward to play right away. Last week, Kendall Rogers or D1Baseball.com reported that the NCAA Division I Council would discuss the one-time transfer waiver on April 24 before officially voting on the matter on May 20.
Though Rothstein reported that the vote – originally set for June – was likely to pass, but not implemented until the 2021-22 season, Rogers is hearing the NCAA will ultimately decide to pass the rule immediately.
With this knowledge, I’ll be splitting the rest of this post into two different directions. The first direction is short and sweet, where the NCAA does not allow an immediate transfer rule, meaning both Benton and Massengill would have to sit out an entire season before being allowed to play. If this ends up being the case, then the team will proceed with the roster at hand, which is one still expected to begin the season in the top-25 rankings.
The other direction, the one where the NCAA does allow an immediate transfer rule, changes everything for Kentucky. Even if the two girls have to sit out, the ‘Cats will still have a good team in the 2021-22 season, but we could be looking at a Final Four contender if they can play right away.
Allow me to explain…
Here’s what Matthew Mitchell is looking at for next season’s roster. *Note: everything I write going forward assumes that Benton and Massengill will play immediately in the 2020-21 season (whenever that might be).*
Treasure Hunt – wing (5-star)
Nyah Leveretter – forward (4-star)
Erin Toller – point guard (3-star)
Deasia Merrill (sat out freshman season with a knee injury – could redshirt?)
Dre’Una Edwards (sat out last season due to transfer rules. Also tore ACL near the end of 2019 season)
Kameron Roach (sat out last season with Achilles injury)
Before we dive into how coach Mitchell can break down this roster of 14 players, let’s quickly go a bit more in-depth on what I can tell you about the two newest Wildcat transfers.
Jazmine Massengill (Tennessee transfer)
6-foot-0, guard – averaged 6.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game in 2019-20, starting in 30 of her 31 appearances: Shot 39.9 percent from the field, 28.3 percent from 3, and 75.6 percent from the free-throw line.
Matthew Mitchell didn’t bring in Jazmine Massengill to score, but she’s going to do pretty much everything else possible. During her sophomore season with the Lady Vols, she played the second-most minutes on the team behind Rennia Davis (UT’s top overall player).
What makes Massengill so effective is her size. She’s tall and lengthy for a guard at an even 6-feet tall, and even though she wasn’t a traditional point guard that constantly had the ball in her hands, she had a knack for making plays. Massengill’s 2.67 assist/turnover ratio last season was easily the best among her teammates and one of the top marks in the entire country. On a Tennessee team that turned the ball over more than just one other SEC program (Vanderbilt), Massengill stood out as a smart playmaker.
At Kentucky, she likely wouldn’t be tasked with commanding a ton of minutes as the lead ball-handler. Those minutes will go to Rhyne Howard, Chasity Patterson, or even Treasure Hunt. Massengill isn’t going to search for shots and she’ll have plenty of shooters surrounding her; stuffing the stat sheet is the more the style of her game. She recorded double-digit assists twice last season and one game against Notre Dame saw her post a stat line of five points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, and four blocks.
“We spent a lot of time with Jazmine and her family during her initial recruiting process and are grateful they let us rekindle our relationship this time around and can now welcome her into Big Blue Nation,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said according to a UK press release. “Jazmine is an electric guard that uses her size and strength to really make a difference on both ends of the court. Off the court, her personality can light up a room and I am so excited she is a Wildcat and brings that energy to our program.”
Versatility is Massengill’s strong suit. As Mitchell alluded to, she can make a difference on both ends – defense will be an area that she succeeds.
Massengill doesn’t make silly fouls and, most importantly, she can defend four positions – maybe all five depending on who the opposing center is. While Howard is an elite-level defender, allowing her to exert more energy on offense as Massnegill makes life difficult for the other’s team star player gives Kentucky an advantage and an extra burst of energy for the ‘Cats own star.
I’ve only been covering the UK Hoops team for two full-ish seasons now, but I can specifically remember Massengill sticking out to me whenever she took on Kentucky. As I previously mentioned, she’s not someone who always has the ball in her hands, but she always finds a way to make plays. Her usage rate last season, according to Her Hoop Stats, was just 13.8 percent, the seventh-lowest on her team. Despite that, she still dished out the second-most assists.
(For comparison, Howard’s usage rate last season was 35.9 percent – the sixth-highest in the entire country.)
Massengill also has a local connection to both Howard and Hunt. The three are all from the same area of Tennessee and both Massengill and Hunt attended the same high school. Not long after Massengill announced that she would be transferring from Tennessee, Howard immediately reached out to her on social media.
Howard spoke it into existence, and it quickly came true.
Robyn Benton (Auburn transfer)
5-foot-9, guard – averaged 10.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.8 steals per game in 2019-20, starting 14 of her 20 appearances: Shot 33.0 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from 3, and 84.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Where Massengill is the playmaker, Robyn Benton is the shooter.
Benton’s sophomore season at Auburn was slightly hampered by a minor injury that forced her to sit out the first nine games of the 2019-20 season. She managed to recover from that and turn it into a successful season, but a full offseason to get fully healthy will surely help her overall game going forward – which is why I wouldn’t read too much into her 31.8 percent clip from deep during last season (she shot 35-of-94, or 37.2 percent, as a freshman).
Following her injury, it took Benton just six games before she made her way into the starting lineup, where she would stay the rest of the year. What made her such a key player for Auburn was how quickly she appeared to adapt to the college game. She bumped up all of her averages from year one to year two and it’s reasonable to assume her numbers would have been even higher had she been healthy from the jump.
But it’s not just the outside shooting that she brings to Kentucky. Benton registered more steals than any other player in the league during SEC play (3.1 per game) and is a career 78.8 percent free-throw shooter. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2018-19.
“Robyn is a fantastic player that really is going to fit in perfectly here at Kentucky,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “When you look at her production the last two seasons, she has shown an ability to score at a high level and has some defensive intangibles that you cannot teach averaging nearly two steals per game. Most of all, she comes from a fantastic family and is a terrific person away from basketball and we are overjoyed to welcome her to Big Blue Nation.”
Compared to Massengill, I don’t know nearly as much about Benton’s individual game, plus, Auburn was the SEC’s second-worst team last season. However, Benton is a proven player and the Tigers’ woes were hardly her fault. I wouldn’t expect her to start right away as I would Massengill, but Benton’s shooting off the bench will be a vital weapon.
So with all of that out of the way, I hope we’re all somewhat caught up on who these two ladies are and how they play. Now we’re going to get into one of those famous “good problems to have” conversations.
The current roster sits at 14 players with 9-10 of them as starting-quality players. I’ll just go ahead and say it wouldn’t shock me if one of them ultimately decided to transfer, I’m just having a hard time of trying to figure out who that might be.
Kentucky already has a couple of transfers on its roster right now that they’ve acquired over the last few seasons. Howard isn’t going anywhere and it feels safe to say the same thing about KeKe McKinney. Blair Green didn’t see the boost in production that many had expected last season, but she’s a Kentucky native and a born Wildcat. Rising sophomore Emma King is kind of in the same boat as Green, just one year below. The only “likely” – or likeliest – candidate would be Tatyana Wyatt, who is a rising senior and an important piece to the frontcourt. But even that seems wildly unlikely.
If we assume everyone stays, then I would guess a starting five on opening night would look something like this:
That is one hell of a starting lineup, and arguably one of the most versatile in the nation. There are four players listed that are over 6-feet tall, four that can shoot from beyond the arc, four that can handle the ball, at least three that can rebound, and three more that can attack the paint. It’s going to be interchangeable, too. Maybe Massengill comes off the bench as the all-time backup point guard when Patterson is out? Howard could even run the point if needed.
This team is still missing its intimidating interior presence, something that has constantly been touted as coach Mitchell’s weakness over the years. And I tend to agree, as well.
But this could be a team that gets by without a center roaming the paint at 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5. Switching on defense will not be an issue for any of the current starters (outside of 5-foot-6 Patterson, who is still a terrific on-ball defender). Howard is an elite rebounder for her size and McKinney grabbed the second-most boards on the team this past season. Hunt is 6-foot-2 and Massengill has already shown to be an effective rebounder for her size.
I’m not saying Kentucky doesn’t need a 6-foot-5 center, because I recognize that the addition of one would really put Kentucky in a fantastic position. But the ‘Cats will bring several players over 6-feet off the bench that can battle down low; Nyah Leveretter, Deasia Merrill, and Dreu’Una Edwards are all big bodies in the paint with different skillsets. I would expect all three of them to fight for clock early in the season.
That’s also a ton of minutes dedicated to forwards. Not to mention, Tatyana Wyatt is a better college player right now than all three of them. I would find it hard to believe if she doesn’t play more than 20 minutes per game right out of the gate next season.
The addition of Benton is key for that reason – Kentucky now has another guard off the bench. Bringing her off the pine along with Blair Green allows the offense to maintain its outside shooting, although the defense will take a hit. A substantial leap this offseason from Green would go a long way in helping Kentucky’s postseason chances, too. In fact, her development might be one of the most important factors going forward. There is All-SEC potential tucked away in her somewhere.
We haven’t seen much from backup guards Kameron Roach and Emma King, either. They might get some run early in the season just while coach Mitchell tries to figure out his rotations. Incoming freshman Erin Toller could be the first odd-woman out. Roach might be necessary for backup point guard minutes.
What Kentucky is looking at for next season is a top-10 ranking before the regular season can even begin. Howard is going to be a preseason favorite to win NCAA Player of the Year. Only South Carolina – the nation’s No. 1 team last season – can say they’ll have more overall talent in the SEC than the ‘Cats, and even that might be hard to justify. This is a team that could seriously contend for a Final Four. There are five former 5-star recruits on this roster.
Again, all of this could come crashing down if the NCAA elects to not institute an immediate transfer rule. Even still, acquiring Massengill and Benton for the 2021-22 season is a huge bonus. Next year’s squad will still be one of the SEC’s best without them. Who knows if Mitchell is even done?
Kentucky is quickly becoming a hot spot destination in the women’s college hoops scene.