Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' Blueprint to Get Back to National Title Game
Whether Kentucky's run to the 2014 national title game was a fluke or not is another debate. The fact is the Wildcats completed their checklist laid out by head coach John Calipari heading into March to look like one of the best teams in the country.
The roster is expected to look extremely different next season, but that's nothing new in Lexington. While there would be no surprise to see as many as four starters and sixth man Willie Cauley-Stein declaring for the NBA draft, this is nothing new for the Wildcats.
This slideshow will take a look at the blueprint for Kentucky to make another trip to the national title game in 2015.
Follow the Recent Trend
Since 1997, Kentucky has played in five Final Fours. Including this year, the Wildcats also appeared in the 1997, 1998, 2011 and 2012 Final Fours, with championships in 1998 and 2012.
The one thing in common is Kentucky winning it all following a loss as one of the last four teams remaining in the country. The Wildcats lost to Arizona in the 1997 national title game before defeating Utah in 1998 to win their seventh national championship.
Both teams in 1998 and 2012 also experienced massive changes, something expected to happen with the 2014-15 Kentucky team. In 1997 Kentucky was lead by Rick Pitino, who famously left Kentucky for the Boston Celtics while Tubby Smith took over the team and lead it to its 1998 title.
In 2012, the roster was vastly different than the 2011 team that lost to Connecticut in the Final Four. Gone were team leaders Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, while star freshmen like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague helped lead the Wildcats to a title.
Find Another Guard
Kentucky is expected to be loaded in the frontcourt next season no matter if Dakari Johnson declares for the draft or not. With Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle as more-than-likely early departures, the Wildcats will still have Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress on their roster. Joining them are McDonald's All Americans Karl Towns and Trey Lyles.
The trouble could be in the backcourt for Kentucky. Sure, there are two more McDonald's All Americans coming to Lexington in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. However, what happens if the Harrison twins and James Young all declare for the draft? There goes any depth you have at the guard positions.
Many people will say Dominique Hawkins is a suitable backup, but he provides little to no offense and barely played any point guard during the offensive sets. He's a nice situational player to bring in off the bench to play tough defense. But he can't be relied on for an entire season as your only backup guard.
The head coach needs to convince one of the Harrison brothers to stay another year or find a transfer who is eligible to play right away. As we learned during this year's NCAA tournament, it's your guard play that leads you to a national championship.
Retain Head Coach John Calipari
This one might be pretty obvious, but it has to be written every year John Calipari is the head coach of Kentucky. The Wildcats must retain Calipari as their head coach.
The most recent rumor was started by former Kentucky legend Rex Chapman who announced on Twitter just moments before Kentucky's tip against Connecticut that Calipari would be going to the Lakers after the season ended, regardless of a title or not.
This is something Kentucky fans go through every year, usually all year. Whether there is an NBA team interested in Calipari or vice versa. While this rumor was shot down quickly, there's always the worry in the back of many Kentucky fans' minds whether or not he'd ever leave.
If Kentucky wants to make it back to the national title game in 2015, it needs to do so with Calipari at the helm. Whether people agree to it or not, he's arguably the best coach in college basketball after leading Kentucky to three Final Fours in five years including two title appearances and winning once.
He knows what it takes to handle a fairly new roster each year and how to help that team grow to more often than not make a serious run come March.
Improve Devin Booker as a Shooter
It could be argued that the main reason Kentucky made a run to the national title game in 2014 was the fact that Aaron Harrison and James Young finally became the shooters from behind the arc many expected them to be heading into the season.
That needs to carry over to the 2014-15 season in the form of Devin Booker. The 6'6" Mississippi native is one of the top shooting guards in the 2014 class and more importantly is known as one of its best shooters. He is said to have excellent mechanics on his jumper, and if left open, expect him to bury the shot.
With the type of offense Kentucky runs in trying to attack the rim and use its athleticism to get into the paint, it needs to have a player to rely on to stretch the defense and keep the lanes open. Even more, teams tend to run a zone defense against the Wildcats, daring them to win from deep.
Booker has the capability to be a one-man zone-killer, similar to the way Doron Lamb was during his two years at Kentucky.
Make a Different Type of Tweak
Kentucky head coach John Calipari mentioned he tweaked something with his team numerous times during its run to the championship game. Usually it was something on offense that he claimed was adjusted to help his team.
In order to return to the 2015 national title game, he needs constantly make tweaks. Those tweaks needs to be to his lineup. Sure, it's always nice to have the same starting lineup and rotation, but there is a possibility that his team can be unique next year based on who stays and goes.
There is a chance to have versatile players like Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Karl Towns at Calipari's disposal. How do you determine who starts between the likes of Towns, Lee, Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyle?
It should be determined on whom Kentucky is playing. Calipari and his staff should be able to quickly identify the best players to put on the floor during a game, similar to how they didn't play Dakari Johnson this season against a smaller, quicker Belmont team.
A team that didn't have a specific starting five has worked before. In fact, the 1997 North Carolina team used six starters, head coach Bill Guthridge would rotate based on alphabetical order. That team made it to the Final Four with that system, something Kentucky could do next year as well.