NCAA Basketball

2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Preview

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The season will kick off tomorrow night at Rupp Arena against East Tennessee State University.  Before we get into all of that hoopla lets take a look at who we will be seeing and what we can expect from the Blue and White this season.

The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off a magical season.  In John Calipari’s first season at UK the ‘Cats accomplished much.  None greater than an Elite 8 appearance just a year after being banished to the NIT in complete embarrassment.

A couple other accomplishments that were achieved would be the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the first time since 2004, NCAA Freshmen of the Year in John Wall, and an SEC championship.  Not too shabby for a first year coach if you ask me.

The task will be a little tougher this season for Calipari and company.  He once again has secured the No.1 recruiting class in the nation but the talent is different from what he had last season.  John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were talents you don’t typically see as freshmen and Daniel Orton along with Eric Bledosoe were huge assets for the Wildcats.

Enough of living in the past.  The Wildcats have a chance to be a special team again this season and unlike last year they seem to be flying a little bit under the radar.  They have been projected by many to come in second place in the SEC East behind Florida and many have chose Mississippi State to finish ahead of them as well when breaking down the entire SEC.

One thing is for certain though, John Calipari really will take talent over experience any day.  He has a tremendous freshmen class but will also have a few players on the court with some experience.  Lets meet the team, shall we?

Darius Miller

Miller may never be held to higher standards than he is going to be this coming season.  With the loss of just about all the leadership from last years team, Darius will be turned to carry the load.  The junior guard/forward has improved on his jump shot since last season and should be a significant scoring option for the ‘Cats.

He finds a way to get to the basket and at 6’7″ he will need to help with what is a small Wildcat team on the boards.  The lanky forward will have to show up for the big games and will need to be consistent if Kentucky wants to make any noise.

Through his first two seasons, Miller has only contributed about six points of offense. This season the ‘Cats will need him to be in double digits and shoot the ball much better from the three point area.

Stacey Poole

Stacey is one of the five recruits that Kentucky snagged out of the ESPNU 100 and he is also the one with the most to prove.  With all the buzz circling the four five-stars that were brought to Lexington, he is the lone four-star. The 6’5″ guard from Jacksonville, FL has the talent to become an elite player.

Poole is an amazing athlete with the ability to jump out of the building.  He has good ball skills but like any young player he has a lot of work to do. With any John Calipari coached team, the guards are the center point of his masterpiece.  Poole will have a chance to prove himself but probably not much in his first season.

You will most likely see Stacey get the majority of his minutes in the early games in the season or in blowouts.  There is one positive that comes from recruiting a guy like Poole.  He won’t be a one and done which means he will get a chance to learn and put it on display for hopefully a few seasons to come.

Terrence Jones

Jones and Brandon Knight will be fighting for the Big Man On Campus Award all season.  What is there not to like about this guy?  He is a flashy 6’9″ freshmen with no where to go but up.  He has potential that could translate to a big pay check at the next level.

In the two exhibition games, you saw two different players.  In the first game versus Pikeville, Jones struggled.  He shot poorly from the field and didn’t seem to get his game going.  After he had missed his first couple of shots it looked like his confidence was thrown out the door. It affected his game and he never found his rhythm.

In the Dillard game he came out and got to the rim early and from that point forward he couldn’t be stopped.  He threw down a few nice alley-oops and brought the fans at Rupp to their feet.

The one flaw in Terrence’s game seems to be his mentality.  He gets down on himself very easily and lets the game dictate his attitude which in turn dictates how he plays.  We saw this early with DeMarcus Cousins last season and John Calipari is not new to fixing this problem.  Jones has the ability to have a very special year.  It all will depend on how he handles the pressure of not scoring 30-plus a game like he did in high school.

Jon Hood

Jon Hood will be looking for a little bit more playing time this season and his coach will be expecting much more out of him if he wants the extra minutes.  Last year Jon Hood played the role that Stacey Poole should be ready to play this season.  Sitting on the bench.

Hood has shot the ball pretty well in the two games he played this season and will need to provide a little bit of offense off the bench.  The depth of the Wildcats is not going to be what it was last season and everyone knows the bench can make or break a team.  Hood will get more minutes but only if he can be consistent when he gets into the game.

Jarrod Polson

There isn’t much to say about this kid except that he has incredible work ethic.  He hustles for everything and that is probably the leading factor as to why John Calipari has kept him around.  Polson will get very little action but who wouldn’t want to practice with the team and get to put on a jersey, going through the lay-up line before every game at Rupp?

Brandon Knight

Ah, and here we have the next prodigy from John Calipari’s point guard carousel.  Every season Calipari seems to have the best point guard in the country and if your coming out of high school at that position why wouldn’t you play for him? He has produced over the past three years, three one and done all-star caliber point guards in the NBA.

Brandon Knight could be the next.  He isn’t as flashy as Derrick Rose or John Wall but plays more like Tyreke Evans.  He lowers his shoulders and comes right at you.  Knight is a scoring machine and that is not likely to change.

He is not fast but quick and he has an outside jump shot.  His crossover will leave many defenders a step behind and if not he has good vision which leaves him with plenty of other scoring options.  Knight by the end of the season has a real chance to be competing with whoever you would like to chose for National Player of the Year.

Doron Lamb

Lamb is another one of the highly touted freshmen in this years class.  He can shoot the ball very well and has a pretty good defensive game too.  Lamb at times has looked a little lazy out on the floor and has disappeared a little in the two exhibition games.  With that being said he has been consistent with his play.

You know what you are going to get from Doron but the good thing for Kentucky is that I don’t know if what you are going to get in his freshmen season is going to be good enough for the NBA right away.  With a chance to bring this freshman back for another season, it has to have John Calipari salivating.

Lamb should be a healthy contributor on the offense and could be another Eric Bledsoe in the making.  With Lamb and Knight you get two players who can score and will feed off of one another. It will also make things difficult for other teams, creating a ton of match-up problems.

Eloy Vargas

Vargas started his college days off at Florida but transferred after his freshman season.  Calipari swooped in and picked the big man from the Dominican Republic up.  He will have some very large shoes to fill this season.  After the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson to the NBA, the ‘Cats are without a dominant post presence.

Vargas is a solid defensive player but on the offensive end he is a little suspect.  He doesn’t have any mid-range game and inside he struggles on a few of the easier shots from the post.  Calipari looks as of now that he is going to be going with a small line-up but Vargas will be counted on to come off the bench and provide a significant amount of rebounding for Kentucky.

DeAndre Liggins

He has finally looked like he has hit his peak.  Everyone has been waiting for Liggins to play to his five-star potential and Calipari seems to have finally got it out of him.  He provides a spark on the defensive end of the court and seems to always find a way to create that turnover that moves the ball up he floor for an electrifying dunk.

Liggins was a freshman in the Billy Gillispie era, an era when Kentucky basketball hit rock bottom.  Gillispie was reported on numerous occasions to have worked Liggins way to hard and really just wore the young freshman out verbally.

Liggins thought of transferring after his freshman season and now as a junior has earned a spot in Kentucky’s starting five.  DeAndre Liggins from thoughts of transferring to NBA? Possibly.  One thing is certain, Calipari is happy Liggins decided to stay in town.

Josh Harrellson

Josh Harrellson or Jorts as they kindly refer to him around Lexington may play the x-factor on this years Kentucky team.  As touched on above with Eloy Vargas, the ‘Cats are going to be hurting for height and big bodies this season.

Harrellson, since arriving on the scene in Lexington has always given his all.  He will be called upon to give it his all on the boards this season.  Sure, Calipari would prefer to play small and move the ball up and down the court quickly but against the teams that have some height he won’t be able to play like that.

Harrellson and Vargas will be counted on to give significant minutes off the bench and come in to beat up on the opposition on the boards and give some substance in the paint.  A job that Harrellson will gladly oblige to do.

Enes Kanter

We now get to the hottest topic surrounding the UK basketball program.  The controversy surrounding Enes Kanter and his eligibility.  People are beginning to wonder if a ruling will ever be made on the Turkish wonder boy.

If Kanter is eligible he provides many things that Kentucky does not have.  He instantly changes teams game plans at how they will attack the Wildcats. You can no longer beat the ball into the paint with Kanter on the floor and offensively he has just about every thing in his arsenal to score the basketball.

He has crazy work ethic and will just continue to pound you down low.  With Kanter on the floor it will make everyone better around him.  The double teams that would have to be flashed his way will open up the floor for every other player on the floor.  Kanter is a double-double waiting to happen. Now we just need the NCAA to allow it to happen.

Summary

The Wildcats are going to have a tough go at it this year.  It seemed to come pretty easy for Kentucky last season but this year there is a completely different dynamic to the team.  They aren’t as tall, fast or experienced as last year.

The Wildcats will be tested against UNC this season in Chapel Hill.  North Carolina had a rough season last year and did not play to the standards that coach Roy Williams has for his program. The Tar Heels will be a much better team this year and are never easy to beat in the Dean Dome.

Also, look out for games versus Florida and Mississippi State.  Florida will be much improved returning a handful of guys while adding a couple of five-star freshmen to the team.  Gainesville will not be an easy place to win at this year.  The sleeper to watch for in the conference is the Georgia Bulldogs.  With Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie the Bulldogs will get their fair share of wins in the conference.

Kentucky has the ability to be a Final Four team with Kanter but without him Sweet 16 and maybe an Elite 8 is as far as they will get.  Height means everything and early on there is a learning curve for the young players.  John Calipari is good at speeding up the learning process for his freshmen and if he gets things rolling early on, look out for the ‘Cats down the road.

Season Prediction:

23-5(12-4)

Losses: 12/4 @UNC, 1/8 @Georgia, 2/5 @Florida, 2/12 @Vandy, 2/15 Mississippi State