UK Men’s Basketball begins season No. 2 in USA Today Coaches Poll

(MGN)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky men’s basketball team will start at No. 2 in both major polls.

After landing in the second spot earlier in the week in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, UK was also voted No. 2 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, which was unveiled Thursday.

Kentucky just missed out on the No. 1 ranking with 761 points and 12 of the 32-first place votes. Kansas, who was also voted No. 1 in the AP Top 25, reeled in 771 points and 14 first-place votes.

Duke is behind UK at No. 3, followed by Gonzaga and Virginia.

The full preseason rankings are available at USAToday.com.

It’s the ninth time in 10-season John Calipari era the Wildcats will begin the season ranked among the nation’s top five to begin the season in the Coaches’ Poll.

The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Andy Katz of NCAA.com tabbed UK No. 1 in their preseason rankings. Calipari’s squad has been ranked in the top three to open play six times. Calipari has had a team ranked among the top 10 in the preseason poll in all 10 seasons at the helm as voted on by a panel of Division I head coaches in consultation with the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The members of the Coaches Poll represent each of the 32 Division I conferences that receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Each coach submits a top 25 with a first-place vote worth 25 points, second place 24, and so on down to one point for 25th.

Kentucky will start the season among the early title contenders despite losing eight players from last season’s roster, including five players who made a 2018-19 NBA opening-day roster. Calipari, as he does so every season, has reloaded with a talent-rich recruiting class to combine with key returners PJ Washington, UK's third-leading scorer and leading rebounder from a season ago (and preseason All-Southeastern Conference Second Team selection), Quade Green, the Wildcats' second-leading assist man, and Nick Richards, who started every game in 2017-18.

UK certainly looked like a top contender during its preseason exhibition tour in the Bahamas. Playing against professional teams from Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Serbia – teams Calipari predicted would knock off UK at least once or twice – the Wildcats rolled in all four with an average margin of 29.0 points per game. UK shot 49.8 percent from the floor, outrebounded its opponents by an average of 12.5 boards per game, dished out 17.0 assists per contest and committed just 11.3 turnovers, largely with a new team. Five Wildcats averaged double figures, led by freshman Tyler Herro. Washington averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis and preseason All-SEC First Team pick averaged a double-double with 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

All 10 starters scored at least 12 points in Sunday’s Blue-White Game, led by Herro's 34 points. Travis posted a double-double with 27-points and 13-rebounds and Richards recorded 16 points, a game-high 16 rebounds and a game-high five blocks.

Six Kentucky opponents enter the 2018-19 season ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, including four top-10 opponents in Kansas (1), Duke (3), Tennessee (6) and North Carolina (7). Six more teams sit just outside the top 25 and received votes.

Of the six teams UK will play in the top 25, the Wildcats will play nine games against them.

Showcasing the league’s strength, fellow SEC members Tennessee (6), Auburn (12) and Mississippi State (19) and LSU (23) were also ranked among the top 25. Additionally, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Vanderbilt earned votes.

Kentucky was picked by the media to win its 49th SEC regular-season crown. UK returns to action with an exhibition game vs. Transylvania on Friday at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. Kentucky’s regular season opens Nov. 6 in Indianapolis vs. Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic.