Kentucky coach John Calipari is trying to hold down early-season expectations for his No. 4 Wildcats.
They will open the season Monday night by hosting Howard, and Calipari posted a video on Twitter in which he cautioned that the team might not be on schedule right out of the gate.
Key players, including center and reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and preseason All-SEC guard Sahvir Wheeler, have missed time in preseason practice with injuries, perhaps slowing the team’s efforts to build early-chemistry.
Calipari said he would be “stunned” if Tshiebwe, recovering from an October knee procedure, played in the opener and “somewhat surprised” if he is available for the Nov. 11 game against visiting Duquesne.
“We’ve got the player of the year and another first-team all-conference (player),” Calipari said. “We’ve got good young guys, but let me explain to you and you know I’m honest about stuff. We’re not where we need to be right now and I’m looking at November and December saying, ‘We could be a little shaky.'”
Kentucky is excited about the return of guard CJ Fredrick, who missed all of last season after transferring from Iowa because of hamstring surgery.
“I tell people that this year off actually kind of was like a blessing in disguise,” Fredrick said. “I was able to get my body in much better shape. The Big Ten and SEC are way different, so I was able to get in shape for what this kind of style of play was going to be like.”
Calipari praised Fredrick for his hard work and leadership.
“He moves his team, he plays so hard, he talks on defense,” Calipari said. “It’s nice when you have older guys that really know what they’re doing out there.”
Forward Jacob Toppin, like his coach, cautioned that Kentucky has “a long ways to go.”
But, he added, “Once we click fully, I think we’re going be one of the best defensive teams in the nation.”
They’ll be facing a Bisons team that last season led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in scoring (76.4 points per game), 3-point shooting percentage (35.9) and free-throw shooting percentage (74.5).
Howard (16-13, 9-5 MEAC last season) was picked to finish third in the MEAC.
Sophomore guard Elijah Hawkins was named to the All-MEAC Preseason First Team and junior forward Steve Settle III was named to the second team.
Hawkins was named MEAC Rookie of the Year last season after he led the conference in assists per game (5.6). He was 15th in the country in steals per game (2.21). Settle started 28 of 29 games last season and was named to the All-MEAC second team.
Junior forward Jordan Wood who stood out the most in exhibitions wins against Bowie State (114-77) and Multnomah (81-69). Wood led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 21 points.
“We’ve talked to him about taking strides and having a breakthrough with his training,” coach Kenneth Blakeney said. “He’s achieved every benchmark that we’ve set for him and I see him growing with his confidence daily.”
Blakeney said his team benefited from facing Multnomah’s zone defense for the entire 40 minutes.
“For the first time we had a chance to play against a zone,” Blakeney said. “It was great for us to take a step in our development and growth.”
–Field Level Media