One era of Kentucky basketball has passed, and a new era has begun. When Kentucky fans look back at their former coaches they mention Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, and Tubby Smith. They affectionately leave out Eddie Sutton and now Billy Gillispie. The past two seasons of Kentucky basketball have been rough with the Wildcats taking home losses to VMI, San Diego, and Gardner Webb. After unceremoniously bowing out of the NIT second round last season Gillispie was very publicly fired and then began Calipari-mania. Armed with the #1 recruit and the #1 recruiting class, John Calipari has his Wildcats ranked in most preseason polls in the Top 5, and expectations in Lexington are higher than ever.
This is perhaps Kentucky's strongest position as far as potential. Freshman sensations John Wall and Eric Bledsoe will lead Kentucky at the guard position. Many have Wall projected as an NBA lottery pick, and Bledsoe was as heavily recruited out of Birmingham, AL. Both Wall and Bledsoe are known for their lightning quick speed and athleticism. Add to that the Wildcats return Darius Miller, who spent the summer playing with USA basketball. Darnell Dodson is a Sophomore transfer from Miami-Dade Community College where he averaged 15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Dodson is known as a strong shooter especially from outside. Off the bench the Wildcats will have freshman Jon Hood, senior Mark Krebs (played at NCC) and sophomore DeAndre Liggins.
Patrick Patterson decided to skip the NBA draft and return for his Junior year at Kentucky. Patterson has been listed as a pre-season All-American and is one of the most physical players in all of college basketball. Patterson will play a significantly different role for the 'Cats this year and move away from the basket. Calipari's offensive system should play well into Patterson's game. The forward position has by far the most experience for the Wildcats with Patterson and senior Ramon Harris. Harris' role on this team is really still up in the air, he will more than likely come off of the bench but his contributions are not yet know. The wildcats also return Josh Harrelson, a 6-10 junior who has a pretty nice stroke from the perimeter.
Kentucky adds another potential lottery pick underneath the basket in freshman DeMarcus Cousins. The McDonald's All-American Cousins will be joined by another highly touted recruit Daniel Orton. Calipari's offensive style will not have these guys anchored under the basket, but will give them the opportunity to play a pro style offense and use their athletic ability. Kentucky also has senior Perry Stevenson, known for his shot blocking ability, to give them another look at the post position.
Calipari has come into Kentucky and brought his "dribble drive" offense for Kentucky to run. The basic fundamentals of the offense are to attack the basket from all angles getting to the middle of the floor and getting to the rim to finish. Don't expect to watch Kentucky play a slow paced methodical game. Expect to watch the 'Cats run the floor and attack the rim. Coming from a coach who refused to make adjustments in Gillispie, Calipari is a proven winner and should be poised to make his first ever Final Four run, seriously check the record books it will be his first!
Prediction: 28-3 regular season, Final Four appearance
Kentucky's non conference schedule is pretty strong this year with the big matchup coming on December 5th when they face off with North Carolina. Add to that games with Indiana, UConn, and Louisville there are some formidable opponents on the schedule. The SEC will be stronger this year than last with Tennessee and Mississippi State having some good teams coming back. With that being said I expect Kentucky to handily win the SEC regular season championship and the conference title and enter the tournament as a #1 seed. There really are only a few teams in College Basketball that worry me one of them being Kansas. Its hard to predict how far a team of talented freshman can go, but their talent level is as good as any team in the country.
Projected Starting Lineup
G- John Wall
G- Darnell Dodson
G- Darius Miller
F- Patrick Patterson
C- DeMarcus Cousins
G- Eric Bledsoe
F- Josh Harrellson
F- Ramon Harris
G- Jon Hood
G- Mark Krebs
G- DeAndre Liggins
F- Perry Stevenson
C- Daniel Orton