Kentucky Basktball: Grading Each Wildcat Freshman Relative to Expectations
It's a mantra so cliche it almost hurts to write, but with Kentucky basketball, it's too true to ignore: John Calipari and Co. don't rebuild...they reload.
One year removed from a national championship, the Wildcats brought in yet another top-rated recruiting class this season. Following the departures of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marcus Teague and Terrence Jones, Kentucky's highly ranked quartet was given the keys to an acclaimed engine right off the bat.
Reviews have been mixed for the team as a whole, but on a microcosmic level, each player's season has been (at least) a tepid success.
Relative to what was expected from them, let's examine how each one has performed this season.
C Nerlens Noel
Rivals Rank: 2, ESPN Rank: 1
For most young basketball players, the pressure of performing like the top overall recruit would be enough. But fair or not, Nerlens Noel's expectations were colored by the unprecedented success of Davis.
After Davis took the Wildcats to the national title, then bolted to become the NBA draft's top pick, Noel was quickly touted as his replacement. And when word started circulating that Noel might be just as good—if not better—at blocking shots, expectations began getting, perhaps, a little unrealistic.
Noel has been quite good in his own right this season, but his offensive game has left a lot to be desired. He's shooting an impressive 58.7 percent from the field, but on only 7.4 shots per game, that's slightly less impressive.
In a vacuum, Noel would be lauded for what he is—one of the top freshmen in college basketball, someone averaging 2.6 steals and 4.1 blocks every night. But so far he's better known for being "not Anthony Davis" than he is for being Nerlens Noel.
Relative Grade: B
F Alex Poythress
Rivals Rank: 8, ESPN Rank: 13
Poythress has been, to borrow a term from Dennis Green, more or less what we thought he was.
That is, a compatible sidekick to Noel. The same way Noel was a poor-man's version of Davis, Poythress has been a similar poor-man's version of Kidd-Gilchrist.
Unlike Noel, however, Poythress wasn't expected to come in and match his predecessor's success. Thus far, Poythress is matching Kidd-Gilchrist's success—and then some.
MKG shot a much lower percentage than Poythress and averaged fewer points in five more minutes per game. At some point, Kentucky's current wing forward must learn how to start involving his teammates (0.5 assists per game), but for now, scoring and rebounding is enough.
Relative Grade: B+
G Archie Goodwin
Rivals Rank: 14, ESPN Rank: 15
For most schools, getting a team-high 15 points from your third-rated freshman would be the No. 1 story of the year. But Kentucky is not, nor does it claim to be, most schools.
That being said, Goodwin has been just as good—if not better—than advertised this year. The field-goal percentage looks low next to his fellow freshmen, but they're all bigs. Hitting 45 percent on 11 shots per game, from the guard spot, is nothing to complain about.
He's also contributing in other areas, grabbing 4.9 boards per game (no easy task given the presence of Noel, Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein), and dishing out 3.4 assists per night, too.
On a team without two top-10 recruits, that's exactly the type of production the 15th-ranked guy would be expected to produce. But next to two top-10 recruits, that's a pretty impressive feat.
Relative Grade: A
C Willie Cauley-Stein
Rivals Rank: 40, ESPN Rank: 40
The forgotten man of this year's class—the Daniel Orton to Noel's Demarcus Cousins—Cauley-Stein has provided quality, consistent production off Kentucky's bench.
It would be misleading to say expectations were "low" for Cauley-Stein. He's seven-feet tall and graded out as a top-40 recruit.
But he was expected to, potentially, fade into the background while Noel and Poythress stole the show. That's happened on a couple of occasions this season, but for the most part, Cauley-Stein has looked every bit as good during slightly abridged minutes.
Relative Grade: A-
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