5 players Kentucky doesn’t want to see in the SEC Tournament

Kentucky is one of the most talented teams heading into March, but John Calipari's group is far from infallible. These five players in the conference can exploit the Wildcats issues in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Florida Gators guard Walter Clayton Jr. (1)
Florida Gators guard Walter Clayton Jr. (1) / Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
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John Calipari hasn’t gotten the Kentucky Wildcats to play any defense in 2024, but he has gotten his to win a lot of games. Kentucky enters the final week of the regular season at 21-8 and 11-5 in SEC play, poised for a top seed in the impending conference Tournament. 

This year, Coach Cal has leaned into his group’s fast-paced offensive-heavy style, surrounding one of his three bigs, Ugonna Onyenso, Aaron Bradshaw, or Zvonimir Ivisic with four scorers and averaging the fifth most possessions per game in the entire country. Freshmen guards, Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard have been revelations and despite coming off the bench, carry the team at crunch time. Oh, and fifth-year senior Antonio Reeves is averaging 20.0 points a game with 50/44/88 shooting splits. 

There may not be a more talented team in the nation let alone the SEC. This team can beat anybody, but because it ranks 188th in defensive efficiency and 148th in opponent two-point field goal percentage, on the wrong night, anybody can beat this team. 

Kentucky hasn’t won the SEC Tournament since 2018 and to end the drought, Calipari and the Cats will be hoping to avoid these five players who can disrupt their style and exploit their defense. 

Junior. Walter Clayton Jr.. G. player. 526. . . 5. Walter Clayton Jr.. Walter Clayton Jr.

Florida loves to run just as much as Kentucky. So, the Wildcats would probably welcome a matchup with the Gators, even if Florida has already beaten the Cats once and Kentucky only beat the Gators 87-85 in the first meeting of the season. Kentucky’s play-style preference is why there isn’t any player from Alabama on this list, even though Mark Sears leads the conference in scoring. 

The Gators are 14th in possessions per game, so it would certainly be a track meet. In the previous two games, Clayton, who typically pushes the pace for Florida, has scored 23 points apiece, and in Florida’s 94-91 win, he went 7-14 from the field and 7-13 from three. Only one of his shots wasn’t from beyond the arc. 

Kentucky isn’t great at defending the three, but more than that, they struggle to slow down dynamic guards. Reed Sheppard is an excellent defender, leading the conference in blocks, but he’s not a ball-stopper at the point of attack and Rob Dillingham is a turnstile defensively. 

Clayton has given Kentucky fits already this season and he’s the type of player who can shoot his team into the next round of either the SEC Tournament or the big dance. Clayton is averaging 16.9 points and is shooting 36.5% from three on seven attempts a game.