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Kentucky Basketball: Projecting Kentucky's Starting Lineup for Next Season

Matt OveringContributor IIIOctober 31, 2016

Kentucky Basketball: Projecting Kentucky's Starting Lineup for Next Season

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    John Calipari's coaching style makes projecting a starting lineup simple. He's most comfortable with six- or seven-man rotations, and the lack of depth in 2012-13 makes my job that much easier.

    With the 2012-13 roster all but set in stone, we can now get a glimpse of a squad that looks to be the first Kentucky team to repeat as national champions since the days of Adolph Rupp.

    Correctly naming all five starters can be a challenge, even if Calipari has a limited rotation. Everyone knows who will contribute next year. But how will Calipari use them?

    Before the 2011-12 season, Glenn Logan's preview was most accurate in determining the starting five for Kentucky's championship season. He listed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a "co-starter" beside Darius Miller, although, according to Wildcat Review, Miller started just 11 games to MKG's 39.

    Kentucky Sports Radio's Thomas Beisner projected Doron Lamb to be the excluded starter. Eric Wright of Bleacher Report predicted a starting five without Kidd-Gilchrist.

    No one expected a tenured senior like Miller to cede a starting role to an unproven freshman, nor would they expect Miller to finish sixth on the team in minutes per game. 

    Will there be another surprise starter in 2012-13? Could Willie Cauley start over Kyle Wiltjer? Julius Mays over Ryan Harrow? Probably not, but who knows? 

    In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at who could start at each position.

Point Guard

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    Prediction: Ryan Harrow

    Other Candidates: Twany Beckham, Jarrod Polson

    I'm not sure how satisfied John Calipari is with his guard situation. Going after Mark Lyons, Mislav Brzoja and Julius Mays speak to that judgment. Maybe he just wants depth. Maybe he is skeptical about the impact Harrow will have next year.

    However, Big Blue Nation expects Harrow to be the next great Calipari point guard. In Rivals' 2010 rankings, Harrow was a 5-star prospect. He practiced against one of the better defensive point guards in the nation all of last year, without the pressure of performing. All signs point to Harrow having a breakout year in 2012-13.

    He knows the system. He is an explosive scorer offensively, and he's an above-average distributor. His size may limit him on the defensive side of the ball, but that shouldn't kick him out of the starting lineup this fall.

    Knowing Calipari, Beckham and Polson may not play significant minutes at all this year. Beckham has the size (6'5") to be a solid defender, but he rarely saw the court in 2011-12. 

Shooting Guard

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    Prediction: Archie Goodwin

    Other Candidates: Julius Mays, Jon Hood, Twany Beckham

    Archie Goodwin has to be a lock at shooting guard.

    He fits into the dribble-drive offense perfectly with his slashing mentality. He can knock down shots from deep. Defensively, his length will bother opposing guards.

    Mays is the only other viable option at this position, and it is unlikely that he will be a starter next year.

    Mays will be a solid scoring option off of the pine for Calipari, but he doesn't bring the athleticism that Goodwin possesses. One Horizon League coach told CBS Sports that Mays "...struggles to defend and isn't overly quick." Calipari loves defense, and I doubt Mays will receive starters' minutes because of it.

    Hood is a wild card for the 2012-13 season. At best, I see him in a Wiltjer-like role from last year. Ten minutes per game would be a generous estimation, but Hood could turn out to be a situation scorer off the bench.

    In the end, Goodwin should be in line for 30-plus minutes per game next season. He may even spend time at the point when Harrow is not on the court.

Small Forward

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    Prediction: Alex Poythress

    Other Candidates: Julius Mays, Jon Hood

    In the past three years, the Kentucky Wildcats have had depth at small forward. Just last year, this position was anchored by a platoon of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller and Terrence Jones. This year, that depth is non-existent.

    Poythress is the only true small forward on the roster. You could argue Hood as a small forward because of his size (6'7", 215 pounds) but even UK Athletics lists him as a guard.

    No other player fits the "small forward" role quite like Poythress. He's athletic, lean and versatile. He'll be able to guard power forwards because of his length, and his skill set will create matchup problems for any team that plays the Wildcats. 

    In fact, most of you predict Poythress will be the "go-to guy" for John Calipari's offense next season. I'm not ready to place that title on him just yet, but he'll certainly be one of the key cogs in the Wildcat offense in 2012-13.

Power Forward

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    Prediction: Kyle Wiltjer

    Other Candidates: Willie Cauley

    Ah, the depth disparity continues. Three players (Wiltjer, Cauley and Nerlens Noel) will outfit the Kentucky frontcourt. Alex Poythress may see minutes at power forward if coach Calipari decides to go with a smaller lineup.

    I'll take Wiltjer over Cauley because he's more experienced and is exceedingly better on the offensive end. Cauley holds his own on defense, but the idea of a Ryan Harrow/Wiltjer pick-and-pop should have all of Big Blue Nation drooling (Calipari included).

    I'll note once again that Calipari is a defensive-minded coach. If Wiltjer hasn't progressed in that department, Calipari may take his chances on offense for a defensively-minded starting five, with the inclusion of Cauley. Possible, but unlikely.

    This team will need its offense, something Wiltjer is willing to provide.

Center

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    Prediction: Nerlens Noel

    Other Candidates: Willie Cauley

    Noel will be the starting center for the Kentucky Wildcats next season, barring any catastrophic injury. That should be an undisputed fact.

    What can be disputed is what kind of impact Noel will have for John Calipari. Is he really a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis? Will he have the same impact that Davis had? How polished is his offensive game?

    The comparisons between Davis and Noel are uncanny. Both are erasers defensively, with Noel actually having an advantage of playing as a center his entire life. That may be problematic, however, when you consider he doesn't have the offensive repertoire of Davis coming out of high school.

    Noel may struggle offensively, but his real contributions lie on defense. His presence will be felt on every possession. If one person can replicate Davis' success, it's Noel.

    Cauley is the third wheel in this Davis-to-Noel transition, but he'll have an important role on the 2012-13 team.

    With Cauley, the 2012-13 team has what the 2011-12 team did not: depth at center. Last season, if Davis were to get in foul trouble, Kentucky would struggle on both ends of the floor. Cauley gives Calipari a valid option behind Noel, regardless of the situation.

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