Kentucky Basketball: Early-Season Grades for Each Freshman

Nick NafpliotisCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2012

Kentucky Basketball: Early-Season Grades for Each Freshman

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    Just like any John Calipari team during his tenure at the University of Kentucky, this current group of Wildcats is filled with extremely talented freshmen.

    But instead of playing a reserve role or sitting on the bench, Coach Cal's new recruits are expected to come in and contribute significant minutes immediately.

    For most schools, a team that starts the players that graduated from high school last spring would constitute a rebuilding year—for UK, the expectation is to make yet another run at a national championship.

    The following article is a look at how each of the the Kentucky freshmen on the 2012-2013 squad have fared so far this season.

     

    All stats via ESPN.com

     

Nerlens Noel: A

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    Considering the inevitable (and unfair) comparisons that people were going to make to Anthony Davis, it may be a bit of a surprise to see Nerlens Noel receive such a high grade.

    Even though he's averaging nearly a double-double per game (11.1 points, 9 rebounds), he hasn't seemed like the dominant force that many in the Big Blue Nation were hoping for when he arrived in Lexington.

    But if you've watched Noel in every game this season, you've seen a player who's motor never stops running, fights for every loose ball, and does all the little things to help his team win.

    He definitely gets his share of blocks (3.6 per game), but he also alters many of his opponents' shots, and has a real nose for the ball—which is part of why Noel is also averaging 2.7 steals per game.

    Noel is also one of the only players on Kentucky who consistently attacks when he's on defense, rather than react to the opposing offense, something that this year's squad desperately needs to improve upon.

    Add in the fact that he continues to develop a strong offensive game (and an ability to create his own shot), and Nerlens Noel is a big reason why this Kentucky team still has a chance to return to the Final Four. 

Alex Poythress: B+

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    Alex Poythress' versatility is so great that it can almost work against him—it's hard to figure out where is the best place to put him on offense to maximize his potential.

    In the last few games, however, his ability to score inside on mismatched guards and small forwards has seemed to finally help the Wildcats settle on an answer.

    That's not to say that Poythress should never shoot from the outside—he's actually second on the team in three-point field-goal percentage (55.6 percent), behind Jon Hood (who hardly ever plays).

    But his excellent ball-handling skills and ability to slash the lane have helped him become the team's second leading scorer (15.4 PPG), while his size and athleticism has helped him to be second on the team in rebounding (6.6 RPG).

    One area of Poythress' game that could definitely improve is in the turnover department. He is averaging three turnovers per game.

Archie Goodwin: B-

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    I struggled giving Archie Goodwin a B-minus (rather than an A) because much of his difficulties can be traced to the fact that he has been forced into service as the team's point guard—a position he hadn't played in nearly four years. 

    He has often tried to force things too much, which has led to turnovers (3.2 per game) and problems with getting the Wildcats' offense in sync.

    But Goodwin has also at times been spectacular on offense, leading the Wildcats in scoring (16.4 PPG) while scoring from all over the floor, providing UK fans with some early season highlight reel-worthy dunks.

    If Ryan Harrow returns to form over the next few weeks, and Goodwin can settle in at the shooting guard position, look for his game to elevate even further (and for my next grade of him to be much higher). 

    But back on the plus side of the column, he did give us this amazing GIF (h/t KentuckySportsRadio.com).

     

Willie Cauley-Stein: C+

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    Willie Cauley-Stein's low/average grade isn't for his ability or athleticism—he has both in spades.

    The kid is hands down the best backup center in the country, giving the Wildcats instant offense and rebounding off the bench.

    But we really aren't sure which Willie Cauley-Stein will show up from game to game.

    Against Duke and Baylor, he was basically nonexistent. But in the Wildcats' wins over Samford, he was an absolute beast, putting up a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) to go along with four blocks.

    While Duke and Baylor were obviously much stouter competition, Cauley-Stein has more than enough talent and pure physical power to match up with any frontcourt in the country.

    He needs to put that on display every night if the Wildcats want to make a return trip to the Final Four.

     

     

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