Saturday, November 01, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Kentucky Wildcats

Alabama will return home to play the preseason #1 team in the country. It will be the first of two games with the Wildcats, and what should be a great opportunity for Bama to post a huge win for the postseason resume should they be in that position come March. Once again John Calipari signed the top recruiting class in the country but, unlike previous seasons in Lexington, he will have also have the luxury of returning roughly 60% of the scoring from last season. UK will be so deep that Calipari is seriously considering playing a two-platoon system in an effort to get all of his talented players on the floor.

With this much talent, the biggest question for Kentucky may be how hungry will this team be? Last season's Kentucky team was supposed to be unbeatable on the back of what was considered by some to be the greatest recruiting class of all time. There were serious discussions that Kentucky would go 40-0. Instead, they were a disappointing team, finishing 12-6 in conference play. And then March happened. Despite losing in the SEC Tournament title game to Florida, Kentucky played with a renewed swagger in Atlanta. A swagger which they carried into the NCAA tournament as an 8 seed where they knocked off Kansas State, unbeaten Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan to advance to the program's third Final Four in Calipari's five seasons. Once there they knocked off Wisconsin before losing in the title game to Uconn. Will that experience bond the returning UK players and allow them to serve as leaders to the new guys, or will chemistry continue to be an issue as it has been for Calipari's last two squads?

The top returners include the Harrison twins, Aaron (13.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.1 spg) and Andrew (10.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.0 apg). The media has selected Aaron Harrison as preseason player of the year. Also returning is 7'0, 240 lb, Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed Kentucky's final three games with a foot injury. The injury could have been the difference between Kentucky raising a championship banner and Cauley-Stein earning an NBA paycheck right now. Cauley-Stein was 2nd in the SEC last season in blocks per game. He is also one of seven players on the Kentucky roster listed at 6'8 or taller. A fantastic athlete, Cauley-Stein needs to improve his offensive game, rebounding and needs to play with a higher motor.

Other returning players are Alex Poythress (5.8 ppg), who could be a lottery pick if he can ever completely embrace his talent. Also returning is Dakari Johnson, another 7-footer, who has slimmed down and should build on his averages of last season (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg). Another potential impact returner is Marcus Lee, a 6'9 220 lb sophomore who played sparingly last season, but showed some flashes down the stretch. Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis are former 3 star recruits who would be starting for a lot of programs, but are forced to the end of the bench as a result of the stockpile of talent.

The four freshmen on the roster are the typical 5-star recruits we've come to expect under Calipari's watch. Karl-Anthony Towns (6'11, 250 lbs) is already projected as a top 5 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Trey Lyles (6'10, 235) best days may be a year away, but he should still factor into the proceedings for this team. Devin Booker (6'6, 206) and Tyler Ulis (5'9, 155) are the guards. Booker and Ulis will be a dynamic backcourt sooner rather than later for Calipari. Ulis may be a four year guy because of his size, but I believe he will be a star in the college ranks. I've been very impressed by his game when I've seen him play and, as a college basketball fan, will be excited to watch his career progress.

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