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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. 6'3" 176 lbs. Freshman. Rob Dillingham. . player. Rob Dillingham. Rob Dillingham. G. 528

Rob Dillingham already had his breakout moment. That came against Kansas in the Champions Classic. He took over the game for stretches and was the best player on the floor against a team that is expected to contend for the national title. 

However, there is still another level for Dillingham, who is still coming off the bench, to reach. In 2017-18 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started the season averaging 27.5 minutes and 10 points in his first 10 games. Then, he had a breakout and finished the year averaging 33.7 minutes and 14.4 points a game. 

Eventually, it was undeniable that SGA was Kentucky’s best player and he was the SEC tournament MVP. I think that Dillingham will have that type of trajectory this year. He’s electric in his limited minutes, but it’s time for Calipari to hand him the car keys and live with the mistakes. 

SGA was surgical in how he operated the offense, and Dillingham is much more volatile, but he still needs more opportunities to grow into the leader of Cal’s team on the offensive end. He’s only averaging 1.6 turnovers to 4.5 assists and is shooting 47% from the field and 44.7% from three on nearly four attempts a game. 

Sure, his efficiency may fall with more volume, but Dillingham can carry this team in March if Calipari lets him learn how to in January. D.J. Wagner still deserves an important role, and you can’t take Reed Sheppard off the floor, but Wagner should sacrifice some minutes to Dillingham. 

Wagner is shooting 41.7% from the field and 30.7% from beyond the arc with 1.4 turnovers to 3.5 assists in 26.7 minutes. That production isn’t good enough to justify keeping your most dynamic scorer on the bench at the start of games.

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