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What you need to know about the Kentucky Wildcats

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John Calipari still hasn't won it all.

Perhaps you've heard.

It's the trump card always used against the Kentucky coach by detractors, and it'll never go away until he takes that card from the deck. Calipari came close in 2008 at Memphis, had a team at Kentucky built to do it in 2010, and he put another team in the Final Four last season. But for different reasons each time, it just didn't happen. So this statement remains factual: Calipari has never won it all. And folks will keep screaming it until he changes it with the only good news being that he's got a reasonable chance to change it this season.

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Why they'll win it all: The Kentucky roster isn't as experienced as North Carolina's, but it's nearly as talented thanks to the recruiting successes of Calipari. Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague could all be lottery picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. Add Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer to the rotation, and that's a roster gifted enough to cut nets on the first Monday in April.

Why they might fall short: Four of the seven players listed above are freshmen, and two of the other three are sophomores. In other words, Calipari's Wildcats are again very, very young, and no team relying on newcomers this much has ever won a national title.

Who's new: Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague were each ranked No. 1 at their positions in the Class of 2011 by various recruiting analysts. Wiltjer was also a McDonald's All-American, meaning this might be the best class Calipari has ever assembled.

Player they can't afford to lose: Though Jones, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist will get much of the attention, none of them are as important as Teague because he's the point guard and Kentucky has no other solid options at that position. The freshman from Indianapolis must be good right from the start, and he needs to remain healthy all the way to the end.

Most underrated player: Lamb was overshadowed by teammates Brandon Knight and Jones last season, and he'll be in the shadows of Jones, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and even Teague this season. But he's still a terrific "other" guy -- one who averaged an impressive 12.3 points per game last season even though he was rarely the focus of anything on the offensive end. Lamb shot 49.7 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3-point range as a freshman. Similar numbers as a sophomore could be what keeps defenses from collapsing on Jones and Davis, and what helps push the Wildcats to another Final Four.

Key non-conference games: 11/15: vs. Kansas (in New York); 12/03: vs. North Carolina (in Lexington); 12/10: vs. Indiana (in Bloomington); 12/31: vs. Louisville (in Lexington).

Notable stat: Calipari has won a total of 64 games in his first two seasons at Kentucky. Only Kansas' Bill Self (68) and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (67) have won more games in that span.

Final thought: The idea that Calipari can't win a national title because he hasn't yet won a national title makes little sense to most considering he's merely a missed-Mario-Chalmers-shot away from already having one (subsequent NCAA issues not withstanding). Still, he's 52 years old and always a possibility to return to the NBA, so time probably isn't on Calipari's side in his quest to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Is this the season it happens? That's hard to say because North Carolina is more talented and more experienced, and Connecticut, Syracuse and Ohio State are also legitimate title contenders. But Calipari absolutely has a roster built to do special things, and it's fair to assume the Wildcats will be a factor in March and perhaps in April, too.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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