Kentucky's Mix of Youth and Veterans Has Made the 2010-2011 Team Unforgettable

William BlakeCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2011

Josh Harrellson's experience has been priceless to Kentucky this season
Josh Harrellson's experience has been priceless to Kentucky this seasonJ. Meric/Getty Images

There has never been a postseason quite like this. The Virginia Commonwealth Rams have made a shocking run to the Final Four when most questioned whether they should have even been included in the expanded field of 68. The Butler Bulldogs are only the third "mid-major" program to reach back-to-back Final Fours, and head coach Brad Stevens is the youngest coach to reach his second Final Four ever. 

This season has been unusual for the Davids, but it's also unusual for the Goliaths as well. The Connecticut Huskies are the hottest team in basketball right now, having won nine games in 19 days behind the effort of arguably the best player in college right now, Kemba Walker. It would only make sense that the Kentucky Wildcats fit this unorthodox mold.

And boy, they do.

By this point, it's been well advertised that Kentucky is a young team; the Wildcats lost five players to the NBA Draft, as well as three seniors. Three of the six players in their rotation are freshmen, and because of this, Kentucky was very inconsistent and was not nearly as dominant in the Southeastern Conference as it was last year.

The other characteristic of young teams that these Wildcats showed was the inability to close games. They lost six conference games, all on the road, four of which were by two points or less.

Kentucky also struggled without what seemed to be its best recruit, Turkish center Enes Kanter. A ruling by the NCAA on Kanter's eligibility status was dragged out all the way into January, when Kanter was ruled "permanently ineligible" as an amateur. Kanter did not log any playing time this season.

It seemed that Kentucky would have a better shot next season at making a Final Four run, what with five-star recruits Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer all set to suit up for coach John Calipari.

One of the biggest knocks on Calipari as a recruiter is that he goes for the best players, something former coaches Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie didn't do as much. The only problem with going after such highly-touted recruits, as we all know, is that they always have an eye on the NBA.

But the 2010-2011 Kentucky Wildcats have shown a perfect mix of experience and talent, something last year's team lacked as it started just one upperclassman. This year's team is tired of all the comparisons to guys like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and doesn't want to be looked over for next year's dominant class.

Center Josh Harrellson, the lone senior on Kentucky's 10-man roster, played behind guys like Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson last season and practiced with Kanter until he was ruled ineligible. Harrellson, affectionately called "Jorts" by the Big Blue Nation, was always seen as a goofy big man with limited abilities, and was doomed to be compared to last year's big men.

He has been, and the verdict is he has worked harder than all of them. After an incident involving Harrellson's Twitter account, Calipari said he thought very seriously of throwing Harrellson off of the team.

Instead, Calipari forced Harrellson to work out 30 extra minutes for a month, which would drive most players away. But Harrellson embraced the experience, and has become a dominant post player because of it.

DeAndre Liggins, one of Gillispie's best recruits, came to Kentucky with some baggage. He got in Calipari's dog house early last season and missed the first nine games because of it. Liggins soon emerged as a spark off of the bench, and has become the Wildcats' best defender in his junior year.

Darius Miller was the lone starter to return from last year's team. As a junior, he was expected to step into a leader's role. He was very inconsistent for much of this season as well, but was selected as the SEC Tournament's Most Valuable Player, and along with Harrellson and Liggins, is playing his best basketball now.

We've all heard of the freshmen. Brandon Knight is a phenomenal point guard and late-game performer. Terrence Jones has a rare combination of size, length, speed and dribbling ability. Doron Lamb is a deadly three-point marksmen, shooting 47 percent from long-range this season.

Those solid six have been one of the most surprising Kentucky Wildcats teams in history. Of all Kentucky's losses this season, all have been avenged except for Connecticut (which it will get a chance to do this Saturday) and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

This team also got revenge on the West Virginia Mountaineers, the team that knocked last year's team out of the tournament. Before this team's Sweet 16 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes, Kentucky teams were 0-5 against Ohio State teams in the NCAA Tournament.

This team boasts a 29-8 record, which happens to be the most losses by a Kentucky Final Four team ever. Its winning percentage is also the second lowest of Kentucky's 14 Final Four Teams, second only to Adolph Rupp's 1941-1942 Wildcats.

But don't compare these Kentucky Wildcats to last year's team, next year's team, or any other team in the university's storied program. They're making plenty of noise all on their own.