Coach: John Calipari
Career record: 505-151 at Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky
Best NCAA tournament finish: National championship in 2012 at Kentucky
Years at current school: 3
|Vital Info: No. 2 Kentucky|
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Last season's record: 38-2
Notable losses from last season: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller
Notable returnees from last season: Kyle Wiltjer
Notable newcomers: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Ryan Harrow, Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Mays
Projected starters: G: Ryan Harrow G: Archie Goodwin F: Alex Poythress F: Kyle Wiltjer C: Nerlens Noel
Why this team will be good: Nobody is better at getting young players to buy in and play together than John Calipari. So while it might be reasonable to doubt most coaches with a roster this inexperienced, Calipari has established himself as the exception to the rule. He has a record of taking freshmen and winning big with them immediately, and I suspect he'll do the same this year because -- despite the losses of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller -- Kentucky is seriously talented again. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are all projected lottery picks. Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer and even Willie Cauley-Stein could someday play in the NBA, too. So stop comparing this Kentucky team to last season's Kentucky team and start comparing this Kentucky team to every other team playing college basketball this season. Then ask yourself the following question: Does anybody have more pure talent than these new-look Wildcats? The answer, once again, is probably no.
Why this team might disappoint: Remember everything I just wrote about Calipari being great at getting young players to buy in and play together? I believe that. But the truth is that he's never had a team this young, and that does concern me a little. Last season's roster had a senior named Darius Miller and two sophomores named Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to help steady things. All three had played major minutes for a Final Four team. They were experienced winners. They (and that) mattered. But this team? This team's most experienced player -- outside of transfers Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays -- is sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. He only averaged 11.6 minutes per game last season. So can the freshmen really look to him for guidance? And what happens if everybody's learning curve is wider than expected? Three of UK's first seven games are against ranked opponents. So early losses are possible if things don't click quickly.
Bottom line: The truth is that though I do think this team will take an early loss that'll send the rabid fan base into a state of pandemonium, Kentucky's players are just too talented to not develop into a scary outfit by the time the heart of the SEC schedule rolls around. Who will be the best player? I guess it could be Nerlens Noel. Or Archie Goodwin. Or Alex Poythress. We'll see. But at least one of them -- and possibly all three -- will emerge as a serious All-American candidate and position Kentucky to make a third consecutive Final Four and win a second consecutive national title. Again, these Wildcats don't have to be as good as last season's Wildcats. That's important to keep in mind. They just have to be as good as this season's Cardinals, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans, and being that good given the amount of talent in place is a reasonable and attainable goal.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "It's going to be interesting to see how Kentucky responds to all this attention and trying to live up to the hype because this group isn't as good as last year's group. Last year's team was just a nightmare to play against on one end because of Anthony Davis, and Darius Miller actually made them tough to match up with on the other end. That team was special. It'll be harder for Cal to make this team special. But I wouldn't doubt him."