Kentucky Basketball: 5 Preseason Misconceptions We Had About Wildcats
Kentucky’s No. 18 spot in the latest AP poll is a far cry from the Wildcats’ status as preseason championship favorites with a No. 1 ranking. The gap between projections and reality is bigger for Kentucky than for pretty much any other team in college hoops, and the discrepancies come in all shapes and sizes.
James Young, for instance, has actually looked better than what seemed likely before the year began. Instead of scratching out playing time from the bench behind Alex Poythress, the freshman forward leaped into a starting role immediately and has become the top long-range threat in Kentucky’s offense.
Herein, a closer look at Young’s ascension and four more ways the preseason image of the 'Cats turned out not to reflect the real thing.
5. There Would Be Rebounders to Spare
With a projected starting lineup featuring five players 6’6” or taller, rebounding seemed like it would be the least of Kentucky’s concerns.
Indeed, the Wildcats have been grabbing the seventh-highest board total of any team in the country—and it still hasn’t cut down on one of their key vulnerabilities.
Kentucky is tied for 314th nationally in offensive rebounds allowed, and the 13.1 boards they’re handing back to their opponents every night puts them just behind such powerhouses as Central Connecticut State.
So far, only Baylor has really capitalized on that problem, but SEC rebounding machines such as Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon and Missouri’s Johnathan Williams III are fast approaching on the schedule.
4. Dominique Hawkins Would Be Irrelevant
In a freshman class full of McDonald’s All-Americans, the comparatively undecorated Dominique Hawkins looked like an afterthought. In reality, last year’s Kentucky Mr. Basketball has earned an ever larger share of the minutes in this year’s Wildcats backcourt.
With Andrew Harrison proving to be the least effective of the 'Cats starters, Hawkins’ services as backup point guard have quickly evolved from a luxury into a necessity.
He’s up to 12.8 minutes per game following a career night (three assists, four rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes) in a win over Belmont.
3. Alex Poythress Would Make It Tough for James Young to Earn Minutes Early
Although Kentucky returned just two sophomores from last season’s heralded recruiting class, both had extensive starting experience.
However, while Willie Cauley-Stein has been even more dominant in the middle than he was a year ago, classmate Alex Poythress has been most valuable for ceding the spotlight to freshman James Young.
Poythress, the second-leading scorer on the 2012-13 roster, has been most productive this year as a designated rebounder off the bench (6.0 boards in just 17.8 minutes a night).
Young, meanwhile, has started every game and been the team’s most reliable three-point threat, with neither player leaving any doubt as to who should hold the starting job.
2. Andrew Harrison Was the Better Twin
Every major scouting service had Andrew Harrison (uniform No. 5 at left) ranked higher than twin brother Aaron (No. 2).
Whether the point guard half of the fabled twins turns out to be a better pro prospect or not, he’s certainly taken a back seat to shooting guard Aaron this season.
Aaron Harrison is outplaying his brother in every category except assists, and even there, Andrew’s lead isn’t a big one (3.5 per game vs. 2.3, the two highest averages on the team).
Andrew has been a distinct disappointment as floor leader of an outstanding offense, while Aaron has been both the second-leading scorer and the best two-way player on the Wildcats roster.
1. The Defense Would Be Rock-Solid
One of the most consistent aspects of John Calipari's tenure at Kentucky has been the Wildcats’ ability to clamp down on opposing offenses.
With Willie Cauley-Stein back to anchor the middle, the defense looked like the least of Coach Cal’s worries, when in fact it’s been a major contributor to an underachieving start.
The Wildcats rank just 69th nationally in scoring D (66.3 points per game) despite blocking the sixth-most shots in the country.
Between their porous defensive rebounding inside and a shaky perimeter corps that ranks 109th in three-point percentage allowed, these 'Cats have been decidedly vulnerable when they don’t have the ball in their hands.