Thursday, October 28, 2010

No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats

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Last Season: 35-3, 14-2 (1st SEC), lost in the Elite 8 to West Virginia

Head Coach: John Calipari

Key Losses: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson, Darnell Dodson, Ramon Harris

Newcomers: Enes Kanter*, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Stacey Poole, Eloy Vargas, Jarrod Polson

Projected Lineup:

  • G: Brandon Knight, Fr.
  • G: Darius Miller, Fr.
  • F: DeAndre Liggins, Jr.
  • F: Terrence Jones, Fr.
  • C: Enes Kanter, Fr.
  • Bench: Doron Lamb, Fr.; Stacey Poole, Fr.; Eloy Vargas, Jr.; Josh Harrellson, Sr.

Outlook: I'm sure that I am far from the only person that is tired of hearing about the Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari, and the scandals that come with that territory. And while the start of practice will help to quell some of the off-the-court chatter that filled my reader this summer, one problem that won't be going away anytime soon is the eligibility of Enes Kanter.

As you are all well aware, Kentucky lost essentially their entire team from last season. Five players went in the first round of the NBA draft, two graduated, and one left school. Calipari went out and got some of the best freshmen in the country to replace those guys, but he is still waiting to receive word on his most valuable piece. We've talked about Kanter's amateurism issues too many times, and I'm sure you are as sick of reading "no one knows when or if Kanter will play at Kentucky" as I am of writing that sentence. But the point that cannot be stressed enough is just how good Kanter is and how important he is to this Kentucky team.

Kanter is a 6'10", incredibly strong, and fundamentally sound in the paint. He's aggressive going to the glass, great at establishing and holding position, and deadly with his back to the basket. Essentially, he is everything that you look for in a post player. While I don't think he will be quite as dominant as DeMarcus Cousins was last season, I don't think it is a stretch to say that Kanter is the only player in the conversation with Trey Thompkins as the best big man in the SEC.

While someone with that amount of talent is clearly a valuable weapon, Kentucky's lack of interior size only makes Kanter that much more important. After Kanter, there are only three big men on the roster. Terrence Jones, another freshman, is easily the most talented of the bunch, but he isn't really a post player. He's a versatile four man, a combo-forward with perimeter skills that get compared to Lamar Odom's. He would be quite effective playing alongside a strong post presence like Kanter. Eloy Vargas played a season at Florida before transferring to a JuCo for a year. He barely saw the floor in his one year in Gainesville, and is not the answer inside. Josh Harrellson is the last option, and while he has been getting first team minutes in practice, it is not a good sign when Harrellson is a starter.

The perimeter is a different story, as there are a number of weapons here. Brandon Knight is the next in line to be a great John Calipari point guard. Knight, however, is a different player than a Derrick Rose or a John Wall. He's more of a scorer, what one might term a combo-guard. I hesitate to call him a volume shooter until I've seen more of him, but he definitely has a shoot-first mentality. With the youth on this team, its not necessarily a bad thing, although he is going to eventually need to learn to lead as a true point guard, not just as a lead scorer. The other two freshmen guards are Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole. Lamb has a bit of a throw back game. He can get to the rim and he can hit a three, but he is going to make a living one day off of his mid-range game. Poole is less polished and more of an athlete. He can defend either perimeter position and attacks the basket, either off the dribble or to hit the glass.

There are two x-factors to this Kentucky team -- Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Miller was mostly forced into a jump shooting role last season, but the 6'7" former top 50 recruit is capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. Liggins is the guy that everyone was raving about over the summer. He has the tools to be a very good player in the SEC, it was always a matter of motivation and preparation with him. From what I've read, he has figured that out. He's been the best perimeter defender and finally learning what he is capable of offensively.

Its tough to predict what Kentucky will be this season because no one knows what the outcome of Kanter's eligibility case will be. With him, I think the Wildcats compete with Florida for the SEC crown. Without him, this is still a tournament team, but I see them somewhere around third or fourth in the SEC.

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