Kentucky vs. Maryland: Preview and Prediction for Friday's Season Opener

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2012

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 05:  Nerlens Noel #3  of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after dunking the ball during the exhibition game against the Transylvania Pioneers at Rupp Arena on November 5, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Fans around the country will notice a lot of new faces as the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats return to the floor on Friday night in search of another national title against Maryland Terrapins.

That's right, college basketball is back.

Seven months after Kentucky knocked off Kansas to win the NCAA tournament, the road the the Final Four begins again. But Anthony Davis won't be guarding the paint, and Doron Lamb isn't around to knock down jumpers for the Wildcats.

In all, they lost six key players from the championship squad. Along with Davis and Lamb, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have all moved on, leaving John Calipari with a lot of work to do.

Not only did those stars represent the team's top six scorers, but no other player on the roster had seen the floor for more than 12 minutes per game. So it's almost like Kentucky is starting with an entirely blank canvas once again.

Calipari has done another brilliant job recruiting. The class, led by dominant center Nerlens Noel (strategy sound familiar?), will constantly be compared to last season's group, but they have the potential to live up to the hype.

A couple other names to watch include Alex Poythress, a do-it-all swingman that will fill the void left by Kidd-Gilchrist, and shooting guard Archie Goodwin. Both players have a boatload of upside.

But the keys to another deep run are in the hands of point guard Ryan Harrow. The transfer from N.C. State must find a way to run an effective offense while getting all of these superstar recruits to gel and form one unstoppable team.

Despite the lack of experience, the Wildcats open their title defense as double-digit favorites against a Maryland squad that finished with a losing record in ACC play last season.

The Terrapins feature a young starting lineup that will be looking to senior power forward James Padgett to lead the way. He averaged nine points and six rebounds last season and will need to show major signs of improvement.

They also have an intriguing freshman class featuring center Shaquille Cleare. He's a raw talent, but his combination of size and athleticism make him a player to watch moving forward.

Ultimately, much like Cleare, the Terrapins are still another season away from being viewed as a threat. Kentucky's talent should be enough to push the Wildcats over the top in the opener.

Prediction: Kentucky 78, Maryland 61