Kentucky Basketball: Josh Harrellson Is Key As the Wildcats Enter SEC Play

Nick WilsonContributor IJanuary 4, 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 31:  Josh Harrellson #55 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after making a three point shot during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center on December 31, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky won 78-63.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats will commence SEC play with Georgia this Saturday, January 8.  They will bring a 12-2 record, and a number 11 ranking into the match-up with their SEC East opponent.  While this year's Kentucky may not have the talent or athleticism of last year's version, most fans should be content with the Wildcats thus far.

Kentucky, once again, has been led by talented Freshmen.  Terrence Jones is a potential top five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.  Brandin Knight is the latest installment in the John Calipari string of elite point guards, and Doron Lamb brings great perimeter shooting to the team.  Also, Juniors DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller bring veteran leadership and solid perimeter defense.

Yet, despite the three phenomenal Freshman, and two veteran wings, Kentucky seemed to be missing something—a legitimate inside presence.  This lack of an inside presence was due to Enes Kanter being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA. 

It appeared as though this year's Kentucky team was going have a ceiling of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.  Thats it, until last week.  Because, last week, Josh Harrellson looked like an all-american candidate. 

Against Louisville, Harrellson (23 points, 14 rebounds) was the best player on the floor, period.  He scored inside; He scored outside; He rebounded, played defense and provided energy in the in state rivalry-game.  The Wildcats, usually led by their Freshmen, looked to give him the ball on offense any chance they got—he made a season-high ten shots out of a season-high twelve attempts, and scored a career high 23 points.

Many people watching this game may have felt the performance was an abberition.  That is, until last night.  Harrellson stepped up and played great again.  Sure, it wasn't as dominant of a performance as the Louisville game—Harrellson had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in 30 minutes against Penn.  Once again though, he was the best big man on the court, a legitimate inside presence.

Harrellson grabbed double-digit rebounds for the fifth time in his last six games.  More substantial than the points and rebounds though, were the minutes.  Harrellson played 37 minutes against Louisville and 30 against Penn.  Harrellson has earned the trust of Coach Cal, and he is staying on the floor because of this.

Kentucky fans around the nation know this team cannot make a Final Four without big-time production from Harrellson.  Last year's team had super-stars in Wall, Cousins and Patterson and still couldn't get there because they lacked three-point shooting.  Cal recruited shooters for this year's team, but without Kanter, a Final Four didn't seem realistic...that is, until Josh Harrellson started playing like an NBA power forward.

If Harrellson can maintain this high level of play, sky is the limit for the 2011 Kentucky Wildcats.