Story by Ben Roberts
Lexington Herald-Leader (TNS)
It was a disappointing finish to Kentucky's 2021-22 basketball season, the Wildcats' national championship hopes ending just as their NCAA Tournament was getting started with a shocking loss to Saint Peter's in the first round.
There appears to be plenty of hope for UK's next run, however. Even before Kansas defeated North Carolina in the national championship game Monday night, early rankings of the top teams for the 2022-23 college basketball season were starting to trickle out. All of those lists place the Cats near the top. The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has the Wildcats in the No. 1 spot, though he makes it clear that ranking will change if national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe doesn't return to the team for next season. UCLA, Kansas, Michigan and North Carolina complete DeCourcy's top five, with Arkansas as the next-best Southeastern Conference team at No. 6 nationally.
College basketball reporter Jon Rothstein also has Kentucky as the No. 1 team for the 2022-23 season, though he has a projected starting lineup for UK that features both Tshiebwe and former No. 1 recruit Shaedon Sharpe, who is projected as a top-10 NBA draft pick this year. That's a rosy projection for the Wildcats' offseason. UK is followed on Rothstein's list by UCLA, North Carolina, Houston and SEC foe Arkansas. Over at The Athletic, it's UCLA that's No. 1 on Seth Davis' list. Those rankings have Kentucky in the No. 2 spot, projecting that Tshiebwe will return and Sharpe will go pro. Arkansas is No. 3 nationally, according to Davis' list. It's actually the Razorbacks that lead the ESPN "Way-Too-Early" rankings, entering next season with a projected starting lineup that features three McDonald's All-Americans. That list has Kentucky at No. 7 nationally even while projecting that the Cats will lose both Tshiebwe and Sharpe.
The 247Sports rankings also featured Arkansas in the No. 1 spot, with Kentucky right behind the Hogs at No. 2 nationally. That list included a projection that Tshiebwe would return to the Wildcats, while Sharpe would move on to the NBA draft. UCLA, Houston and Gonzaga finish out the top five. Sports Illustrated also has Arkansas at No. 1 and Kentucky at No. 2, with a prediction that Tshiebwe would be back for another run with the Wildcats. Houston, Kansas and Gonzaga are next on the SI list.