Julius Randle Remains Biggest Key to Kentucky Wildcats' Success in 2013-14

Alex KayCorrespondent INovember 20, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 01:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats watches a free throw during the exhibition game against the Transylvania Pioneers at Rupp Arena on November 1, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Julius Randle is the ultimate key to success for the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats.

The freshman star is just one of many elite talents on this loaded roster, but he’s going to make the difference between another national championship banner hanging from the rafters in Rupp Arena and a disappointing defeat in the NCAA tournament.

So far, Randle has been excellent, even in UK’s sole loss of the season during the Champions Classic last week against Michigan State.

Against the Spartans, he recovered from a poor first half (four points and four boards) to finish with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Unfortunately, his teammates struggled—especially from beyond the arc, shooting just 4-of-20 from deep—and the Wildcats narrowly lost, 78-74.

However, considering his poor first half and lack of support from some key players in the lineup, Kentucky was lucky to even be in the game. Randle helped mount a second-half rally from 12 points down and nearly willed his side to victory.

Only a special player could do that against such a talented opponent, and it became clear that night that Randle is extremely gifted and is arguably the most dominant player in the nation right now.

Randle's Per Game Averages Compared to Other Top Freshman
PlayerPointsField Goal %ReboundsAssistsBlocks
Julius Randle (Kentucky)20.861.
Jabari Parker (Duke)22.455.
Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)

The 6’9”, 250-pound forward leads or is at the top of his team in a number of categories, including points (20.8 per game), field-goal percentage (61.1 percent), rebounds (13.4 per game), assists (2.2 per game) and blocks (1.0 per game).

He’s dominating on a nightly basis, not letting up against inferior opponents like Texas-Arlington (22 points, 10 rebounds) or Robert Morris (10 points, 15 rebounds). He has yet to miss posting a double-double and may not for quite some time, as he possesses a motor that just doesn’t quit and a will to win.

Nov 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) reacts to losing to Michigan State 78-74 after the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

Randle’s next major tests will come on Dec. 6, when the Wildcats gear up to take on No. 20 Baylor, and Dec. 14, when they match up with No. 24 UNC. These are great opponents that will provide a tough challenge, but Randle will be the best player on the floor and should have no issues guiding Kentucky to victory in these critical contests.

If he keeps this pace up the rest of the 2013-14 campaign, it will be hard to bet against UK winning a national title.