Kentucky basketball: 3 players primed to level up in conference play

The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the best teams in the country, but with such a young roster, a few players are ready to take another leap and have a breakout moment in SEC play. If these three players do improve, then Kentucky shouldn't just be the favorite in the conference, but in the country.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with Justin Edwards
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with Justin Edwards / Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
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528. 7'0" 247 lbs. Ugonna, Onyenso. C. player. Ugonna Onyenso. Sophomore. . . Ugonna, Onyenso

Kentucky began the year playing Tre Mitchell and Adou Thiero at center purely out of necessity. John Calipari doesn’t love to play five-out basketball, even when he had players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Bam Adebayo, who have both proven able to excel as stretch-fives in the NBA. 

So, when Calipari got Aaron Bradshaw back, he was happy to have an interior presence, though this Kentucky team is still playing at the 21st fastest pace in the country. The Wildcats are built around young guards, but they are allowing opponents to shoot 49% from two-point range which is 134th in the country. 

Kentucky’s elite offense needed a shot-blocker on the other end of the floor. Bradshaw was the first candidate to fill the role, but Ugonna Onyenso has played three games and is starting to provide some depth at the center spot behind Bradshaw. He might even start stealing the lion's share of the minutes down low.

In those three games, he’s averaged nine minutes and 2.66 blocks per game. In five games, averaging 19.8 minutes, Bradshaw is only blocking 1.2 shots a game. Onyenso will keep getting more minutes from Calipari and may become one of the most important players on this team.

Kentucky has been playing at such an elite level on offense that any defensive improvement will turn this group into a legitimate threat to win the national championship. Onyenso appears to be the key.