Head Coach: John Calipari
2011-12: 38-2 (16-0 SEC record), won NCAA tournament
Odds to win NCAA title: 6/1
Kentucky took home the title last year, and Bovada college basketball oddsmakers expect them to do it again, with 6/1 odds that are better than any other team in the NCAA. The only thing that can prevent the Wildcats from not winning it this year is inexperience, because their talent level is unparalleled. Calipari brought in the top recruit class for the fourth year straight, and though center Nerlens Noel is likely a one-and-done, he’ll quickly replace 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis in the Cats attack this year.
Noel is said to be an even better shot blocker than Davis, and Davis set the NCAA record for blocks last season. Adding Noel with another 7-footer, Willie Cauley-Stein, will go a long way towards giving the Wildcats the best interior defense in the nation. Cauley-Stein played wide receiver in high school, and is very coordinated and skilled. His transition should be smooth.
Calipari has even toyed with the idea of playing both Noel and Cauley-Stein as a twin tower lineup, which is downright scary for SEC opponents and non-conference opponents, too. When he’s not playing both of them, he’ll bring in 6’9″ PF Kyle Wiltjer, who is a sharpshooting stretch-4, that will give the Wildcats a different look when he’s on the floor. Adding another talented freshman Alex Poythess should only make the frontline that much tougher, as Poythess is already projected to go high in the 2013 NBA Draft.
In the backcourt, the Cats lost Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb to the NBA. Replacing four NBA talents in the backcourt should prove tough, but Calipari brought in some talent in the backcourt, too. Arhcie Goodwin, Julius Mays and non-freshman Ryan Harrow will fill the void. Harrow came from NC State, and still has three years of eligibility left, so he may be a long-term answer for a school so accustomed to one-and-dones. Harrow is quick and a great athlete, and he’s a decent shooter, too.
Kentucky has made three straight Elite Eights and back-to-back Final Fours. They won the title last year. Things are looking good for them repeating. Still, only two squads since UCLA’s seven straight run in the last 60s/early 70s, have repeated as champions (Duke and Florida). Former players Darius Miller and Doron Lamb are both high on the teams title chances, and Lamb feels they will win it all again, saying “They have a great team,” while Miller commented that the team will be enjoyable to watch.
They’ll be even more enjoyable for Wildcat fans if they become the first to repeat as champs since the Gators did it in 2006 and 2007.