The Wildcats made their first Final Four since 1998 last season and after losing four of their stud freshmen to the NBA Draft, nothing is guaranteed this year. John Calipari believes the team has “a good blend of veterans and young players” who give them the length and athleticism to be among the best teams in the NCAA this year.
Odds to win 2012 NCAA Tournament on Bodog: 9/2
In the frontcourt, Kentucky boasts 6’9″ sophomore Terrence Jones, who decided to stay in college for another season or two, when he undoubtedly could have declared and been drafted. He led the SEC in rebounding last year and was 7th in scoring. He finished with the Freshman of the Year award and this season he promises to be even more imposing after having bulked up to a well built 252 pound frame. Jones said he came back “to win a national championship…” and that “college was too fun” and he “wasn’t ready to leave.” Wildcat fans are grateful for that, as they have become accustomed to seeing stud freshman come in and buck (see: John Wall). His added weight will make him a more physically imposing specimen, but other than him Kentucky lacks muscle up front. What they lack in muscle will be made up for in athleticism, as 6’10” freshman Anthony Davis will be springing up for rebounds and dunks in the paint. He was only 6’3″ two seasons ago, and played guard, but had a freakish 7 inch growth spurt that has now rendered him an athletic and freakishly well coordinated big man. They will also have freshman Kyle Wiltjer in the front court, who will give them some outside shooting, and senior center Eloy Vargas should help provide some interior strenght as well.
Point guard Marcus Teague will be running the show, as a freshman. He’ll be the fifth freshman to play the point for Calipari, and after nurturing John Wall and Brandon Knight for a year each, expectations are rightfully high. Teague finishes well at the rim and is a great passer, a combination that will serve a point guard well in an offense like Calipari’s.
Doron Lamb comes back for a sophomore campaign that promises to be a good one. Lamb has improved his physique and Calipari unhesitantly said he is the best player on the team and said he could be a top 15 player in the nation.
Darius Miller will be the third guard in the three guard rotation. Miller has started 71 games in 3 seasons but will have to contend with backup freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, whose offensive skills will not render him a bench warmer, to say the least. Unfortunately, Jon Hood is likely going to be out for the year with a knee injury, so sopomore Stacey Poole will be called upon to provide depth, while Twany Beckham – a transfer from Mississippi State – will play the role of defensive stopper when opposing guards start to get hot.
Calipari has become accustomed to the “one and done” nature of his prospects, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to build cohesion on his team, with the hope that some of them stay like Terrence Jones did. Calipari commented on the situation: “We’ve been in this situation before with new teammates, a new team…We know how hard it is going to be and what kind of work we’ll have to put in.”
If Kentucky can play well defensively, the sky is the limit. The talent level they have dictates they will succeed offensively, but talent doesn’t translate to excellent team defense — that takes both chemistry and hard work. If Kentucky puts that work in, they have a legit shot at taking the tournament in March. If they try to rely on their natural talent alone, that proposition is a lot more shaky.