As we head into the 2008-09 season, the Kentucky Wildcats are a big question mark. The only thing that we know about them is that we know nothing at all.
It’s hard to replace 38 points per game, but that's exactly what UK has to do with the departure of guards Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley, and Derrick Jasper. With only one real scoring threat from last year’s team returning, many experts have the Wildcats near the bottom of their top 50 teams.
Things might not be as bad for Kentucky as one might think, though. Patrick Patterson is fully healed from the stress fracture that cut short his freshman campaign, and looks to improve on the 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds that he averaged last season. His 24-point, 11-rebound effort against UMSL this preseason should serve as an indicator of things to come for the Wildcat superstar.
When Patterson went down last spring, something amazing happened to Perry Stevenson. In true Clark Kent fashion, Stevenson put on his Superman cape and became a legitimate inside presence for the Cats. Perry really stepped up his game and seemed to mature right before our eyes.
By the time the Cats bowed out of the NCAA tournament, he had become a force to be reckoned with inside. If he can continue to show the type of play that he did at the end of last season, then he should compliment Patterson nicely, especially in a high-low set.
Joining Patterson and Stevenson underneath might very well be Kentucky’s secret weapon this year: Josh Harrellson. The sophomore transfer is as fundamentally sound as anyone I’ve seen on the court lately. He continues to improve daily, and seems intent on perfection.
His strive for perfection was exemplified in Kentucky’s preseason win over UMSL, when he had 21 points and 12 rebounds in only 16 minutes of play. The 6’10” sophomore will pose a serious match-up problem for many teams, as he is just as comfortable launching a deep jump shot as he is banging underneath.
Offsetting the loss of Joe Crawford at guard is the return of Jodie Meeks. After an outstanding freshman year, Meeks was sidelined with injuries for virtually the entire season last year. Finally healthy, Meeks should add some outside firepower to a team with an already strong inside game. Look for Meeks to provide the veteran leadership that this team will need, and expect him to be the go-to guy (along with Patterson) in the clutch.
Joining Meeks in the backcourt is freshman phenom DeAndre Liggins. Liggins has cat-like reflexes, a great feel for the game, and is an incredibly smooth passer. Although I don’t expect him to score as much as Bradley, I do think that the team will play smoother with him at point.
I have the utmost respect for Bradley, but he was a shooting guard being forced to play at point. Liggins is a true point guard who would rather get an assist than a basket. At 6’6”, he’ll also provide a match-up problem for many teams in the SEC.
With these players, as well as the likes of Harris, Galloway, Porter and others, coach Billy Gillispie has all the key ingredients for not just a good team, but a great one.
Kentucky may start the season as a question mark, but expect them to finish with an exclamation point...surpassing the Florida Gators to finish second in the SEC East behind the Tennessee Volunteers, then going on to win the SEC Tournament and enjoying a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.