Hoosiers Ready To Battle Bulldogs

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By Ashley Kirklen

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kentucky Wildcats

Last Season: 38-2 (16-0) SEC
Head Coach John Calipari

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Ryan Harrow, Redshirt So.
SG: Archie Goodwin, Fr.
SF: Alex Poythress, Fr.
PF: Willie Cauley-Stein,Fr.
C: Nerlens Noel, Fr.

Key Reserves:
SG: Julius Mays, Sr.
SF: Kyle Wiltjer, So.

John Calipari finally got over the hump won his first National Championship last year. The first for Kentucky since 1998, which is an eternity in Lexington. With his first National Championship and the school's eighth overall under his belt, it would not be unreasonable to think coach Cal has a tough act to follow. So, what does he do for an encore? He goes out and grabs the top recruiting class in the country for the fourth consecutive year. Ho-hum, just another year of Kentucky Wildcats basketball.

Everybody who made significant contributions is gone from last season's 38-2 squad. The top two picks in the NBA Draft were Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the leaders of the championship team. An amazing four other Wildcats were drafted later on. How much did Kentucky lose from last year? They lost 94 percent of their offense from last year. The top returning player is Kyle Wiltjer, a sophmore forward who put up five points per game last year. The overwhelming majority of NCAA teams would suffer a setback after losing 94 percent of their offense from the previous year. But this is John Calipari and Kentucky, this is par for the course. Some teams rebuild, the Wildcats reload.

Leading the recruiting class is forward/center Nerlens Noel. Noel was the USA National Player of the Year last year and will make an immediate impact on this team. After some controversy surrounding his recruiting, coach Cal said he is eligible to play this year, which is great news for the Wildcats. He is said to be possibly better than Anthony Davis defensively, an incredible feat if it turns out to be true. Davis was a force for Kentucky and is looking to make a huge impact in the NBA as the number one pick in the draft. Noel put up similar numbers in high school and knows more of the ins and the outs of manning the middle than Davis did.. Davis blocked a ton of shots on the perimeter and as a help defender. Noel is more of straight up defender who will swat shots in the paint. Time will only tell if he turns out to be better than Davis.

Noel does not possess the same offensive game as Davis and needs to develop his body to fully realize his potential. He is 6'10” but only weighs 230 pounds. His low post game is pretty raw, with a lot of his points coming on dunks and short hooks. He does not have the same ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. That could be a concern banging in the paint, but Noel has all the tools to become a force in the middle. Maybe not the force that Anthony Davis was/is, but do not look for too much of a drop-off. If things go according to plan, he should get around ten points a game and around eight rebounds a game between three and four blocks a game.

As good as Noel is, he may not be the most important recruit for Kentucky. Alex Poythress is a super-athletic swingman who is turning heads. At 6'7'' and 239 pounds he should slot in as the Wildcats small forward and make his presence known right away. He is like Terrence Jones with his ball-handling and perimeter skills. His size and versatility will allow him to switch over to the two and four spots on the court. He should be used in numerous different ways in numerous different lineups. This may work against him because he does not have a defined role as of yet. His strength in the paint is yet to be determined. His rebounding prowess is up in the air. Is he quick enough to defend athletic guards, and how consistent is his outside shot. All important questions that will need to be addressed. But with all those question marks look for a great year for Poythress. He can easily put up between 14 and 16 points, around eight rebounds a game.

At the guard positions Kentucky has once again loaded up. Ryan Harrow continues the recent tradition of successful Kentucky point guards. He was a top level recruit two years ago at NC State where he never really fit in. After transferring to Kentucky he is a red-shirt sophomore and expect another great guard running the show at Kentucky. Another top recruit is shooting guard Archie Goodwin. He is a sharpshooter who will spend a lot of the time on the wing with Poythress.

The Wildcats will be tested this year. In addition to their SEC schedule they face their usual tough non-conference schedule highlighted by a couple of key match-ups. They play Duke in mid-November in Atlanta in a huge early season game. After some cupcakes they travel to South Bend at the end of the month for a tough road test against Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Challenge. They come right back and play Baylor a couple days later. Baylor is not the same team that Kentucky knocked off in the NCAA tournament last year, but they should be up for this game and bring their best into Lexington. They finish up their non-conference schedule with a road test at their usual rival, Louisville. These two tough road games against big time opponents will prepare them for their conference opener on the road at Vanderbilt, the team that denied them a SEC Tournament title. With Missouri and Texas A&M now in the SEC, Kentucky's road will only get tougher. Fortunately they only play Missouri at home late in the season, but they do travel to all the other SEC powers.

While it may be unreasonable to expect Kentucky to emulate the success of last season where they won a title, they still are Kentucky. They are still a top 10 preseason team and do not expect them to drop out. They have the number one recruiting class for the fourth consecutive year led by two studs Nerlens Noel and Alex Proythess. Noel should put up similar defensive numbers to last year's leader, Anthony Davis. Alex Proythess is most similar to former Kentucky stud, Terrence Jones. They will have great guard play as usual led by transfer Ryan at point guard. They could be in trouble with a lack of a bench, but Kentucky should go deep into the NCAA Tournament once again.

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