Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' Biggest Reasons for Optimism in 2014-15
To say there's a decent amount of buzz surrounding the Kentucky men's basketball program in 2014-15 is a massive understatement. After making a run to the national title game last season, the majority of Kentucky's rotation players decided to return, in an attempt to finish what may seem like unfinished business.
Coupled with the fact that Kentucky head coach John Calipari is bringing in another star-studded recruiting class, optimism is high for the Wildcats in 2014-15. Expected to be ranked No. 1 in the first preseason poll, Big Blue Nation will have to fight the urge to make bold proclamations the way it did last season.
However, there are more reasons to be optimistic if you're a Kentucky fan heading into the 2014-15 season than just an expected preseason No. 1 ranking. This slideshow will take a look at the biggest reasons to have high hopes as the Wildcats head into the 2014-15 season.
Is the road heading into conference play going to be easy? Absolutely not. But that shouldn't come as a surprise due to Calipari's tendency to schedule tough nonconference opponents.
This season, we know Kentucky will face at least seven 2013-14 NCAA tournament teams before the Wildcats begin SEC play.
So far, it's been announced that the Wildcats will play neutral-site games against UCLA and Kansas, home games against Eastern Kentucky, Providence, North Carolina and Texas while hitting the road against Louisville.
So what is there to be optimistic about when it comes to facing a daunting schedule like this? The fact that Kentucky will be tested early and be forced to play as a team before March means the Wildcats should be plenty prepared when it comes time to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Even better, if the Wildcats can win these games, it will be a boost in confidence for both the players and the fans.
Yes, the players play the game. Yes, it was Aaron Harrison hitting some ridiculous shots to help fuel the Kentucky run to the title game last season. But it's John Calipari's world in Lexington.
It's very easy to argue that Calipari has been the most successful coach in men's college basketball over the last five years. No other coach in America can claim three Final Fours and a national championship over that stretch of time.
Calipari is ultimately the engine of the machine that Kentucky basketball has turned into. He constantly gets his players adjusted to the college basketball game and, quite frankly, is an underrated in-game coach. Too many people claim Calipari just throws five players on the floor and hopes their talent and athleticism ultimately win the game.
However, it's been Calipari making the adjustments to help his team. Whether it's breaking down film or adding a zone defense, it's his call on how the team plays. With him leading the team, there's always a reason to be optimistic as a Kentucky fan.
Yes, the return of Andrew Harrison is huge for Kentucky, but let's not forget the diminutive point guard coming in.
One of the problems with Harrison's size is quicker guards sometimes gave him trouble on the defensive side of the ball.
Enter Tyler Ulis, who stands at 5'9" and weighs 145 pounds. Sure, he doesn't look like a prototypical Calipari point guard, but he plays like one.
Ulis has garnered quite the praise recently, including being called the best freshman in the SEC by Sports Illustrated. SI reiterates how great Ulis is defensively, explaining that he can change a game by coming off the bench to jump the opposing point guard and force them into turnovers.
Ulis is also the definition of a true point guard. The Illinois native constantly looks to distribute the ball and keep his teammates in the flow of the game before attacking his own defender to keep him honest.
Look for Ulis to be the guy Calipari goes to when the Wildcats need a boost of energy.
Last season, the Wildcats relied heavily—almost too heavily—on Julius Randle to carry the load on the offensive side of the ball. Teams quickly picked up on this and often threw double teams on Randle, forcing him to either make moves he wasn't comfortable with or throw a quick pass back out to the wing.
This season should be nearly the exact opposite of what Big Blue Nation saw for most of last year.
With a realistic rotation of 10 players that all can score in a variety of ways, defenses will have to pick their poison when playing Kentucky. Most likely, that will be a zone defense—something Calipari-coached teams are used to seeing.
Again, a zone shouldn't scare Kentucky fans this year, as Tyler Ulis, Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker and even 7'0" Karl Towns are all good shooters from behind the arc. If a team decides to go man-to-man against Kentucky, it will have to decide whether to switch on the pick-and-roll or let a guard try to fight through the bodies of Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see seven or eight different players lead the team in scoring throughout the year, as most games will be determined by specific matchups.