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Kentucky Basketball: Projecting UK's 2014-15 Rotation with Harrisons Returning

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 7, 2017

Kentucky Basketball: Projecting UK's 2014-15 Rotation with Harrisons Returning

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kentucky was already going to be ranked in the Top Five at the start of next season, but Wildcats fans may want to reactivate the printing press for those 40-0 t-shirts in light of Friday's announcement that the Harrison twins are coming back for another year.

    With its starting backcourt returning, let's take a moment to look at how ridiculously strong Kentucky's rotation is going to be next season.

    This team is so deep that it could split into Team A and Team B and finish in both first and second place in the SEC.

    Don't believe me? I've projected Kentucky's starter and reserve for each position for the 2014-15 season. Take the five reserves and stack them up against the starting five for every other team in the SEC, and just try to argue that any other SEC team is better.

    The amount of talent that John Calipari will have in the upcoming season isn't even fairespecially for Derek Willis.

     

    All statistics on the following slides are courtesy of ESPN.com or KenPom.com (subscription required).

Point Guard

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    Michael Conroy

    The Starter: Andrew Harrison

    Spending a sophomore season at Kentucky was a win-win decision for Harrison.

    Had he declared for the draft, Kentucky would have been razor thin in the backcourt, and Harrison probably would have been a late second-rounder who spent his first few seasons in the NBA just trying to break into a starting rotationthink Patty Mills or Patrick Beverly.

    But with one more year of seasoning, it's at least within the realm of possibility that Harrison instantly becomes a starter for whoever acquires his services in the 2015 draft. If Kentucky wins the national championship and he's the primary catalyst at point guard, who's to say Harrison won't be a lottery pick next year?

    What we would love to see from Harrison is a much-improved assist-to-turnover ratio. For the entire season, his ratio was 1.46. In the tournament, it was 1.25 (30 assists and 24 turnovers).

    Not only does he desperately need to cut down on his turnovers (2.7 per game in 2013-14), but there's no excuse for a point guard averaging just 4.0 assists per game when he is surrounded by this much talent.

    I don't think asking for six assists and two turnovers per game is out of line here, and I wouldn't be surprised if Calipari feels the same way. Of all the projected starters, Calipari should have the shortest leash with Harrison.

     

    The Reserve: Tyler Ulis

    The prevailing sentiment among people who have seen Ulis in action is that he could be one of the most exciting true point guards to play college ball in the past decade, as long as his 5'9", 150-pound frame doesn't get broken in half the first time he drives to the lane.

    When you think of Calipari's point guards, big-bodied slashers like Derrick Rose, John Wall and Andrew Harrison are the first ones to come to mind. Ulis is a whole different ball of wax, and it will be fun to watch him play next season.

    If for no other reason, it will be hilarious to see him in the same huddle with behemoths like Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns Jr.

Shooting Guard

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    Steve Helber

    The Starter: Aaron Harrison

    Of the twins, Aaron was the one who was more prepared for the NBA. His jump shot improved dramatically throughout the season, and his knack for hitting clutch shots in the tournament showed a killer instinct that a lot of freshmen lacked in 2013-14.

    But Calipari certainly won't complain about having him back for another season.

    If we were setting odds on who will lead Kentucky in scoring and serve as one of the primary candidates for AP Player of the Year if Kentucky does as well as it should, Harrison would be the early favorite. Despite shooting just barely over 30 percent from three-point range prior to the start of the SEC tournament, he finished the season averaging 13.7 points per game.

    Now that he seems to have discovered how to shoot consistently at this level, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to suggest that he could average 18 points per game if he gets enough minutes.

     

    The Reserve: Devin Booker

    Because the Wildcats don't have a true small forward, Booker could occasionally share time on the court with the Harrison twins.

    When that occurs, Kentucky will boast the best backcourt in the country.

    Booker is one of the best shooting guards of the incoming class, having averaged 27.1 points per game in high school, according to MaxPreps.com. He didn't do a ton at either the McDonald's All-American Game (eight points) or the Jordan Brand Classic (11 points), but it's hard to ask for a more serviceable backup shooting guard.

Small Forward

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Starter: Alex Poythress

    While many teams look for a power forward who can stretch out to the wing, Kentucky's leading candidate to start at "small" forward is a 6'8" player with pogo sticks for legs. Few players in the country are better or more exciting when playing above the rim than Alex Poythress.

    As a perimeter player, though, he'll leave you wanting more. Poythress attempted just 33 three-pointers last season, making a paltry 24.2 percent of them. He was considerably better from long range as a freshman (42.4 percent), but his real value to the team is in the paint.

    Hopefully, he sticks to his strengths because there's certainly nothing wrong with having three big men in the game at the same timeArizona did just fine with Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski in the starting rotation.

    Like Poythress, Gordon was capable of the occasional three-pointer, but I promise that Sean Miller was much more comfortable seeing him rise up for thunderous dunks instead.

     

    The Reserve: Karl Towns Jr.

    When Kentucky does decide it wants its "small" forward playing beyond the arc and attempting three-pointers, it will be best suited having 7'0" Towns on the court.

    Though a big man, he is much more Dirk Nowitzki than he is Shaquille O'Neal. Towns is an excellent perimeter shooter and will be the Freddy Krueger of matchup nightmares for any opposing coach.

    For example, if Towns is in the game at the same time as Trey Lyles and Dakari Johnson, what in the world can you possibly do to defend them all?

Power Forward

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    The Starter: Trey Lyles

    Hard to believe that Kentucky has one of the nation's best incoming recruiting classes, and Lyles might be the only freshman in the starting rotation.

    Lyles has already been compared to a "young Tim Duncan," according to ESPN.com (subscription required). That's high praise, but if you watch enough tape on him, it's a pretty easy conclusion to come to. He has excellent court vision, has plenty of body, strength and footwork to play in the post and has one of the best mid-range jumpers in this year's recruiting class.

    Leave him open, and he'll even drain some three-pointers.

    The only real question is whether he'll be assertive enough to make as much of an impact as he could. With his skill set, he should easily be averaging 30 points per game in high school, but he failed to reach that plateau even once as a junior, according to VarVee.com.

    Suffice it to say, there are plenty of Wildcats willing and able to pick up whatever scoring slack Lyles leaves behind.

     

    The Reserve: Marcus Lee

    Towns Jr. will get his fair share of time at power forward as well, but Lee had a few very impressive games last season in the paint. Most notably among them was his 10-point, eight-rebound game in the Elite Eight against Michigan.

    Behind Julius Randle, Lee never got much of a chance to earn a spot in Kentucky's rotation, and it looks like he'll be in a similar boat this year.

    When he does play, though, expect more of the explosiveness that put him on the national radar during the tournament.

Center

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Starter: Dakari Johnson

    The Reserve: Willie Cauley-Stein

    Of the five positions, this is by far the most likely to result in a 50-50 split.

    Not only are centers notoriously incapable of averaging 30 minutes per game to begin with, but Johnson and Cauley-Stein provide Calipari such a great contrast at center that it's hard to believe he won't incessantly bounce back and forth between the two big guys.

    Johnson is much more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. He took 19.1 percent of Kentucky's shots when he was on the court last season, and he grabbed 17.0 percent of potential offensive rebounds. He led the team in the latter category and would have ranked fifth in the nation if he had played enough minutes to qualify.

    Johnson also drew nearly five fouls per 40 minutes and took a good number of free throwsthough he only made 44.7 percent of them.

    Cauley-Stein doesn't provide much more insurance from the free-throw line (48.2 percent), but he'll be the man in the paint when Kentucky is looking for more defense.

    He blocked 12.3 percent of the opponents' two-point field-goal attempts when he was in the game. This not only made him the team leader by a country mile, but he ranked 12th nationally in block percentage. Cauley-Stein was also the best thief on the team, creating a steal on 3.0 percent of defensive possessions.

    Though Cauley-Stein played 330 more minutes than Johnson last season, I'm giving the nod to Johnson solely because none of us know how badly Cauley-Stein's ankle is injured. As SB Nation's James Dator shared a few days ago, he has been seen driving a Hoveround.

    Granted, if you give any college kid a Hoveround, he would ride it everywhere without so much as a second thought because, come on, Hoverounds are awesome. But we'll see how hobbled he ends up being in November.

Most Likely to Transfer

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Player: Derek Willis

    Willis played a grand total of 39 minutes last season. Zero of them occurred in Kentucky's six NCAA tournament games. And the frontcourt is going to be twice as crowded as it was last season.

    Willis was the first player to commit to Kentucky's outstanding 2013 recruiting class, signing in January 2012. It wasn't until nine months later that the Harrison twins, Marcus Lee and James Young followed suit. Dakari Johnson signed on in January 2013, and Julius Randle joined the club in March 2013.

    Willis had originally verbally committed to Purdue but said in an interview with CoachCal.com,

    (Kentucky) was the best option for me. Every other school that recruited me, they were great schools, but I felt that Kentucky could do more for me and I had better opportunities here. I looked at the pros and cons of each as well as the other colleges too. Kentucky was just the better opportunity.

    So much for that opportunity.

    Will he actually transfer? I have no earthly idea. But if he does, he'll be a hot commodity. When breaking down the best available transfers last week, I couldn't help but notice a complete lack of big men.

    Rice's Sean Obi was recruited by virtually nobody, but after one season at a dreadful basketball program, he transferred to Duke.

    A few years ago, Kyle Wiltjer was in a similar situation as Willis isstuck at the wrong end of a logjam of highly rated recruits in Lexington. He skipped town after two seasons, and he is now expected by many to be Gonzaga's best player this year.

    Willis will probably never get a chance to start at Kentucky, but he would absolutely be the starting power forward for at least 70 percent of college basketball programsshould he decide to test those waters.

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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