The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament with a record of 27-6. The Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, but they will be undermanned to start the tournament. Star sophomore forward PJ Washington will miss the opening game against Abilene Christian, according to head coach John Calipari.
Washington sprained his foot in the SEC semifinals against Tennessee. He underwent x-rays and an MRI for the injury, but they came out clean. Washington saw a foot specialist about his injury to make sure that nothing has gotten worse with his foot.
His absence from the lineup should not hurt the Wildcats against Abilene Christian, but the Wildcats need him to win the tournament. Washington leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 14.8 and 7.8, respectively. The sophomore has been one of the best players in the nation this year, carrying the Wildcats at stretches this season.
Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans have been instrumental for coach Calipari, but both players are guards. The Kentucky frontcourt has talent in McDonald’s All-Americans EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, but both players have struggled with consistency. Richards has been a difference maker on the defensive end, but has not scored over 10 points in a game since January 29.
EJ Montgomery brings length and athleticism to the team but has not been able to put a complete game together. Reid Travis has given Calipari the experience that this team desperately needs. The Stanford transfer will need to step up in Washington’s absence as he is Kentucky’s only viable scoring option in the post.
While Abilene Christian won 27 games this season, the Wildcats lost by 34 to Texas Tech, the only ranked team they played this year. Washington will be needed for the second matchup as Wofford and Seton Hall both pose serious threats to Kentucky. The Pirates have already beaten the Wildcats this season, while the Terriers are one of the best shooting teams in the nation.
It’s unrealistic to say that a team’s title chances are in the hands of a single player, but that is the case with Kentucky and star forward Washington.