Coach John Calipari and Kentucky exceeded expectations last year with a young and inexperienced team, but Calipari is used to a young team. For years he’s been known to recruit the top “one-and-done” players, the hoopsters that go to college for just a year and then head to the pros. Last year was no exception, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones led the team to a 29-9 record and SEC Tournament Championship as just freshman. The ‘Cats then surprised some people by making a run all the way to the Final Four before falling to UCONN 55-56 in the national semifinal.
Just as everyone expected, Knight left for the NBA. But no one expected Jones to do what he did when he announced he’d be returning to Lexington for his sophomore season. Jones is the top returning scorer (15.7 points per game) and rebounder (8.8 rebounds per game) for the Wildcats. Other key returners include Guard Doron Lamb, sophomore, who averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 49% from 3-point range, and Forward Darius Miller, senior, who averaged a solid 10.9 points per game in his junior season. But as I said before, Calipari is known to sign the top freshman in the country to his squads, and this past off-season was no exception.
Calipari once again signed the top recruiting class in the country, grabbing commitments from four of the top 19 in ESPNU’s Top 100. Besides #19 Kyle Wiltjer, the ‘Cats signed #8 Guard Marquis Teague, #4 Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and #1 Forward Anthony Davis, all three of which are already starting for Kentucky. Although Jones is the leader of this team, these freshman are going to make a huge splash for Calipari in Lexington.
The Wildcats already have one of their toughest games out of the way after defeating Kansas in Madison Square Garden last night, 75-65. However, Kentucky still has many tests left on the schedule. The Wildcats host juggernaut North Carolina on Dec. 3 and play Louisville at home on Dec 31. In conference play, the ‘Cats host Alabama on Jan. 21 And play Florida (Feb. 7 and March 3) and Vanderbilt (Feb. 11 and Feb. 25) twice each. The schedule looks tough, but with some wins Kentucky could be poised to grab another #1 seed by the time of the NCAA Tournament.
Although the team is very young, they will get better with more game experience. I could see Calipari’s squad having a couple tumbles due to the lack of upperclassmen leadership, but I expect Kentucky to have a very strong year. A national championship is not out of the question whatsoever. The young players will do nothing but improve and as far as coaching goes, Calipari is as good as it gets. This team has all the makings of bringing home the title come early April, but until then let’s sit back and watch the highlight show that is Kentucky basketball.