Kentucky Basketball: Final Regular Season Grades for Wildcats
The No. 2 team in the SEC tournament is the Kentucky Wildcats.
When was that foreseeable?
Two games into SEC play, Kentucky was 1-1 with an ugly loss to Texas A&M at home. Five games in, Kentucky was 3-2.
Two streaks of two losses in a row at the end of the year put Kentucky out of the tournament, and a win vs. Florida on March 9 put Kentucky back "in."
It has been an up-and-down season to say the least. With the final regular-season game played, here are my grades for each Wildcat this season.
Twany Beckham scored this year.
He didn't last year.
Unfortunately, he played more last year. He's been hampered with injuries this year, and because of the nature of the games (fewer blowouts), he hasn't been on the court as much.
There's not one player on the Kentucky team that has risen more than Willie Cauley-Stein.
What more can be said?
Before Feb. 12, WCS was a rapidly-improving 7'0" big man.
After Nerlens Noel went down, Cauley-Stein proved to be even more valuable.
His best game of the season came against Florida on Mar. 9, where he controlled the paint and played with four fouls for the majority of the second half.
He's matured to the point where he may be a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft, should he go.
Electric plays are as common as bonehead plays with Archie Goodwin.
If he was a better free-throw shooter, his grade (and scoring average) would be significantly higher.
But it has been a challenge for Goodwin this season on both ends of the floor. His effort has been intermittent on defense and his offensive decision-making has been consistently disappointing.
The talent has always been there for Goodwin. He just hasn't been able to put it together on the court.
Guess who stepped up for the stretch run?
He's scored in double figures in the last six games for the Wildcats. He's dished 18 assists and only turned the ball over seven times in that span.
He's played 182 minutes in those six games, good for just over 30 minutes per game.
Although Harrow hasn't been the consistent floor general we expected at the beginning of the year, he has been somewhat reliable for the Wildcats down the stretch.
I'll also add that Harrow is 16-of-18 from the line in Kentucky's last six games. Not bad for a team that is atrocious from the foul stripe.
Jon Hood's numbers indicate he's an asset on the court.
In his paltry 5.5 minutes per game, Hood averages over a point and a rebound. He shoots well (52.4 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from deep) and doesn't turn the ball over (two in 116 minutes),
So why doesn't Hood play more?
His defense is a liability, and he isn't the best at creating his own shot. But his third year on the court has been strong, even in limited playing time.
Tod Lanter, Brian Long, Sam Malone
The trio of Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone make up the end of John Calipari's bench.
None have played over nine minutes on the year.
The senior from Wright State has emerged as a leader for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Julius Mays' leadership does not come from statistics or scoring. Watching one Kentucky game will not show Mays as a standout leader for the young 'Cats.
Mays' leadership comes through sweat. He has played more minutes than any other Kentucky player this year, and he's never played fewer than 21 minutes in a game.
He's consistent from the foul line. He doesn't turn the ball over.
Mays may not have an NBA future. But his value to Kentucky has been immense.
Where would Kentucky be with Nerlens Noel?
That is a question that can be pondered by minds across Big Blue Nation and college basketball. Noel's presence could have equated to at least two more wins for Kentucky in the regular season.
Now, the question becomes whether or not we'll see Noel in Lexington next year.
Chances are slim, primarily because he's still considered a top-five draft pick.
That alone should tell you how great Noel has been this season for Kentucky.
"There's not one player on the Kentucky team that has risen more than Willie Cauley-Stein."
Jarrod Polson might disagree.
From walk-on to game-changer, Polson has become a core rotation player for John Calipari.
He's played in every game this year.
Like Mays, Polson may not have an NBA career ahead of him. But his contributions to the 2012-13 Wildcats have been more than we could have ever expected.
Who has been the enigma of the Kentucky Wildcats this year?
Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have been battling for that title, and neither has quite lived up to their massive expectations this year.
But neither has failed.
Poythress put together a strong performance to cap off the regular season, grabbing 12 boards and only fouling once in 32 minutes against Florida.
If we see more of that from Poythress in the postseason, Kentucky will be a team to watch.
Kyle Wiltjer didn't exactly end the year on a strong note.
He only scored in double-figures once in Kentucky's final six games and never shot above 40 percent in that stretch.
For a player that needs to score to earn minutes, that's a problem.
The postseason should bring some semblance of a "clean slate" for Wiltjer. Last year, Wiltjer's three-point shooting was superb in the postseason.
Will we see the same Wiltjer this year?
How about the team? Will we see the same Kentucky team that stepped up against Florida? Or will the Wildcats struggle to build on their final win?