Kentucky won't fall far next season despite losing seven to the draft

The Dagger
Kentucky won't fall far next season despite losing seven to the draft
Kentucky won't fall far next season despite losing seven to the draft

Even though Kentucky didn't become college basketball's first 40-0 team, the Wildcats may still make history this spring. 

They could become the first program to produce seven selections in one NBA draft, breaking their own record of six after the 2011-12 season.

Seven Kentucky underclassmen jointly announced they're turning pro at a news conference in Lexington on Thursday afternoon. Forward Karl-Anthony Towns is a potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Center Willie Cauley-Stein, forward Trey Lyles and guard Devin Booker are each surefire first-round selections. And while center Dakari Johnson and guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison could slip to the second round, all three have a good chance to be selected.

Saying goodbye to seven underclassmen would be difficult to overcome for any other program, but the Wildcats will reload rather than rebuild. They surely won't make a run at an undefeated season again next winter, but they could still contend for a national championship.

Kentucky will build around rising sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and veteran frontcourt standouts Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. Ulis has the potential to be one of the nation's elite pass-first point guards, while Poythress will try to prove he has regained his explosiveness after tearing an ACL in November, and Lee will try to take advantage of his first real chance to make an impact after two seasons as Kentucky's fifth big man.

It's unclear how many elite recruits Kentucky will bring in, but three are coming for sure. Skilled forward Skal Labissiere (No. 4 in Rivals rankings), high-scoring guard Isaiah Briscoe (No. 10) and wing Charles Matthews (No. 58) each signed in the fall. 

The available playing time created by Thursday's roster turnover should make the Wildcats more attractive to some of the elite prospects they're pursuing this spring too.

Elite wing Jaylen Brown, Rivals.com's No. 2 prospect, lists Kentucky among the eight schools he is still considering. Guard Malik Newman, Rivals.com's No. 3 prospect, is likely to choose between Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State and Kansas. Among the other top 20 prospects Kentucky is targeting this spring are forwards Thon Maker and Cheick Diallo and center Stephen Zimmeran.

Even if Kentucky lands just one more top guard and one more top big man, the Wildcats will enter next season as the clear favorite to win the SEC and a potential title threat. They also have guard Dominique Hawkins and forward Derek Willis, who are more than capable of playing a bigger role off the bench than they did last season.

Kentucky won't have the size or depth it had last season when it featured an armada of 7-footers to protect the rim, but the Wildcats still have a chance to be formidable.

Duke won a national championship with four freshmen and eight scholarship players on Monday night. Kentucky will probably be a threat to do something similar.

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

What to Read Next