Home » NBA Draft prospects Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham make ‘freshman mistakes’ in Kentucky’s March Madness loss | Sporting News United Kingdom

NBA Draft prospects Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham make ‘freshman mistakes’ in Kentucky’s March Madness loss | Sporting News United Kingdom

For the second time in three years, Kentucky has been upset by a double-digit seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The No. 3 seed Wildcats were stunned by No. 14 seed Oakland after senior guard Jack Gohlke became a household name with his 10 3-pointer, 32-point outburst.

Kentucky has become familiar with March Madness shortcomings. Head coach John Calipari has no trouble bringing in premier talent every season, but those star freshmen have a history of shrinking on college basketball’s biggest stage. The 2024 NCAA Tournament was no different, and coach Calipari was the first one to admit it.

“We made some critical mistakes at times today. When you have a really young team and look at, ‘Where did the mistakes come from?’ They were freshman,” Calipari told the media after the loss.

While the statement is harsh, it is not wrong. Kentucky has two projected top-10 2024 NBA Draft picks in freshmen Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham. It also has other first-year NBA hopefuls in D.J. Wagner and Justin Edwards.

Edwards upheld his end of the bargain in the loss, but the same can’t be said for the other three. How did Oakland’s upset over Kentucky affect the Wildcat freshmen’s draft stock? The Sporting News takes a closer look below.

MORE: 2024 NBA Mock Draft: Where do Sheppard, Dillingham land?

How did Kentucky’s March Madness loss affect Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham’s 2024 NBA Draft stock?

Let’s start by saying this: Even in the March Madness spotlight, one game is not the end-all, be-all for an NBA prospect. That said, it certainly puts a spotlight on both breakout performances and mistake-filled outings.

Unfortunately for Kentucky’s star freshman duo, the latter applied on Thursday night.

Reed Sheppard’s draft stock

Sheppard picked a horrible night to have his most invisible game of the season. He finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field, adding four assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

Typically one of the Wildcats’ most reliable, calm, cool, and collected players, Sheppard looked anything but. He seemed rushed every time he had the ball in his hands, failing to break down Oakland’s defense to set up easy looks for himself or others. He never found a rhythm on offense because the Golden Grizzlies’ extended zone defense cut off his catch-and-shoot looks. His inability to create his own shot was glaring.

Even though he’s a pesky perimeter defender, coach Calipari preferred bigger wings to try and stop sharpshooter Jack Gohlke.

Sheppard had been projected in the top five of the 2024 NBA Draft on several reputable publications, including my mock draft on The Sporting News.

This isn’t to say that Sheppard won’t draw top-five consideration. He still projects as a sharpshooting combo guard who can fit into any backcourt because of his ability to play on or off the ball and defend at a high level.

Before this game, however, you hardly ever heard about Sheppard’s weaknesses. His lack of size, speed, and athleticism was evident in a big moment.

MORE: Will Kentucky fire John Calipari after Kentucky’s loss to Oakland?

Rob Dillingham’s draft stock

Dillingham couldn’t get anything going in Kentucky’s loss, either. The SEC Sixth Man of the Year had been a burst of instant offense off the bench for the Wildcats all season, but he finished with an inefficient 10 points on nine shots Thursday.

Dillingham is known for his creative flashes as a scorer. He’s shifty with the ball in his hands, capable of breaking down any defender to get to his spot and get a bucket. When his shot is off, he isn’t bringing much else to the floor, though. Dillingham is a solid playmaker (and he did have three assists), but his scoring is his biggest asset.

He isn’t the type of player who can be relied on to step up defensively, and that was reinforced in the loss. He did hit a clutch 3-pointer late, proving he can shake off a cold shooting night in key moments, but Kentucky desperately needed more on a night it was held to 76 points.

Honestly, there wasn’t much new learned about Dillingham in this contest. Teams who consider him in the top 10 or lottery know that they are drafting a prolific scorer and will have to live with his hot and cold streaks.