2012-2013 Overall Rank: #2
Conference Rank: #1 Southeastern Conference
Kentucky Team Page
For years, everyone doubted whether John Calipari’s system could work. After all, he was attempting to skirt one of the more valued traits a basketball team could have: experience. With the possible exception of guard play, the thing experts always pointed to in the NCAA Tournament as a key to a team’s success was senior leadership/experience. If a player had been in a certain situation before, they would be more likely to succeed in a similar situation down the road. It was common sense. Those players (read: freshmen) with no big game notches on their belt would struggle to adjust to what would be expected of them. This was an accepted train of thought until Coach Calipari commandeered that train last year and drove it off the tracks. And now, his way seems so clear. Oh yeah, having all the most talented players probably should have been more important this whole time. Experience is overrated.
2011-2012 Record: 38-2, 16-0
2011-2012 Postseason: NCAA Champions
Coach: John Calipari
Coach Record: 102-14 at Kentucky, 547-154 (some wins subsequently vacated) overall
It really seems silly to dwell on who is gone from Kentucky’s National Championship squad since everyone who left was a planned departure from the time Calipari recruited them. He nabs all the top freshmen in the country with the promise of playing time, a trip to the Final Four and preparation for the NBA and in return, he concedes that they will only stay the one year. But nevertheless, let’s go through it: National Player of the Year Anthony Davis took his 14.2 points per game, 10.4 rebounds per game, 4.7 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per game to the NBA. Doron Lamb took his 13.7 ppg and 46.6% three point shooting to the NBA. Terrence Jones took his 12.3 ppg and 7.2 rpg to the NBA. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took his 11.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg to the NBA. Marquis Teague took his 10 ppg and 4.8 assists per game to the NBA. Darius Miller took his 9.9 ppg and “veteran leadership” to the NBA as well. So, if you’re counting, Kentucky lost its top six players. But, really, no one is counting.
To replace those half dozen NBA pros is one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Calipari succeeded again in a game that only he seems to be playing. No one else has yet ventured into the realm of recruiting one-year players in bunches so Coach Cal is doing this almost unimpeded for the time being. This year’s crop is as good as any. Center Nerlens Noel is the number one player in the country coming out of high school. He should be 80 percent of what Anthony Davis was even if he cannot completely replace the POY. With Noel comes Alex Poythress: one of the best high school forwards in the nation, and Archie Goodwin: one of the best high school guards in the nation. If it’s even possible to be overlooked as a seven foot uber-prospect, Willie Cauley-Smith is just that, ranking as Kentucky’s fourth best prospect in this class.
Who to Watch:
With nearly an entire starting lineup of top prospect freshmen, it would be safe to assume the Wildcats would rely heavily on players with zero minutes under their belt. However, like Lamb and Miller on last year’s team, there are some returning players who can ball, namely two sophomores to keep an eye on. The first is forward Kyle Wiltjer. Completely overshadowed a year ago by all the other talent, Wiltjer was a big recruit in his own right. His minutes this year will skyrocket, and with it will come his production. With a combination inside-outside game and a great shooting touch, Wiltjer could develop into Kentucky’s best scorer. With him will be NC State transfer guard Ryan Harrow. Having to sit out a year means everyone has forgotten about Harrow but the sophomore can really play. He put up very solid numbers as a freshman at NC State and having practiced and learned for an entire year at Kentucky in ’11-’12, don’t be surprised if Harrow is the Wildcats’ starting point guard and gives a level of consistency and reliability that Marquis Teague could not generate a season ago.
Losing six pro players would normally cripple a university. Kentucky just replaces them with four high level incoming freshmen and two talent-rich sophomores; no biggie. This is the best team in the SEC and one of the best teams in the nation. Last year was probably the scariest thing that opposing coaches could have seen because now they know that Coach Calipari is capable of winning it all with young kids. And, more importantly, Calipari himself and his players know they can win it all with no experience. It is impossible to name any specific team as a title lock or Final Four lock because of how random March Madness is but look for another long tournament run for the Wildcats that will go as far as luck and fortunes take them.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ryan Harrow, Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Archie Goodwin, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Alex Poythress, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Kyle Wiltjer, Sophomore, Forward, 5.0 points per game
Nerlens Noel, Freshman, Center, DNP last season
Madness 2013 NBA Draft Rankings:
#2 Nerlens Noel
#8 Alex Poythress
#29 Ryan Harrow
#96 Kyle Wiltjer
Madness 2012 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#2 Nerlens Noel
#11 Archie Goodwin
#18 Alex Poythress
#36 Willie Cauley
#56 Torian Graham