NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Kentucky vs Kansas State

Kentucky guard Cason Wallace is entering the NBA Draft after earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team, he announced Saturday. At 6-foot-4, Wallace demonstrated the ability to play on or off the ball during his lone season with the Wildcats and also developed a solid defensive reputation after entering UK as a five-star prospect.

Wallace started every game he played for Kentucky, reaching double figures in 18 of 32 contests while averaging 11.7 points and 4.3 assists. Amid an injury and reduced role for Sahvir Wheeler in the season's final weeks, Wallace took on more a facilitating role and flashed his prowess as a distributor. In a win at Mississippi State, Wallace dished out 11 assists to mitigate a poor shooting night.

The Richardson, Texas native also recorded 18 games with multiple steals while rating as the best defender in Kentucky's backcourt. Wallace's 34.6% 3-point shooting and 75.7% free-throw shooting mark also suggested he can develop into a proficient shooter at the next level.

Kentucky has a strong track record of churning out first round picks at the point guard and shooting guard positions. As a true combo guard, Wallace is well-positioned to continue the program's strong track record in that regard.

Cason Wallace's NBA Draft projection

Wallace lived up to the hype he generated as the No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2022, per the 247Sports rankings. At 6-foot-4, he can play either guard slot and effectively defend some bigger wings. His versatility on both ends and ability to play effectively without being a primary scoring option suggest that he will have a high floor at the next level. So long as the back issues that hampered him during his freshman season are not a cause for long-term concern, he should comfortably land in the first round of the draft.

He ranks No. 9 in the 2023 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports. Wallace landed at No. 9 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone and landed at No. 18 in Gary Parrish's most recent mock draft.

"Wallace's defensive impact and ability to affect games with his length and anticipation on the perimeter is the real elite skills he brings," Boone wrote. "Defense generally isn't fun to watch but his individual consistent effort is a joy."

Impact on Kentucky

Kentucky is accustomed to seeing players like Wallace depart after one season, and the Wildcats have another loaded class of freshmen on the way. Included among the group are five-star guards DJ Wagner and Robert Dillingham. Both are projected as excellent offensive players and are part of why UK's class is ranked No. 1 in the 247Sports Team Rankings. Where the Wildcats may miss Wallace most is on defense, as he collected two steals per game. He was willing to take on challenging defensive assignments and played whatever role necessary on offense.