North Carolina will have the most talented, complete, game-ready squad in the country on the first day of the college basketball season. It would be hard to argue against that. If the young Kentucky squad can quickly learn to play at the college level and can find some chemistry, however, then they are perhaps the one team in the country with the best shot to outshine the Tar Heels and become the best team on the hard court this year.
In most cases that would seem to be too much to ask of young players in an incredibly intense spotlight. However, no coach in the country is better at getting young players ready in a hurry than John Calipari, and that’s why this team is so intriguing.
2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Outlook
The talent here is staggering—Coach Cal hasn’t lost his recruiting touch. Seven players on this roster are high school all-Americans.
As proof that Calipari must have made a very good deal with the devil years ago, he has yet another freshman point guard with one-and-done potential to lead the way. This time it is Marquis Teague.
Teague isn’t a direct comparison to any of the other point guards in Calipari’s legacy, but he is big and strong, very athletic and decidedly powerful. He’s a ball mover with strong vision, and given the choice he is much more comfortable and effective going for the rim than shooting. He is more than capable of being a top point guard, and teams have accomplished a lot with young point guards. No player will have a bigger impact on what this team can do.
This team is going to be like a living experiment. Can a team thrive with very little contribution from upperclassmen?
There are only two seniors—Eloy Vargas and Darius Miller. Vargas is only likely to see spot duty up front. Miller, the team captain, should start at forward, but it shouldn’t take too long for him to lose that role and revert to a backup as the young guys figure things out. Junior Jon Hood is injured.
The only guy older than a sophomore who will see the floor a fair bit will be Twany Beckham, a redshirt junior point guard who transferred from Mississippi State. He’s a bigger, less-talented version of Teague, so he won’t provide much of a change of pace.
If all goes according to plan, we should see three freshmen and two sophomores starting for this team before the calendar turns a year. It’s like the Fab Five all over again. Or like every Calipari team these days.
Kentucky Wildcats Additions/Losses
There has obviously been some turnover here. Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson entered the NBA draft last year. Knight was selected eighth overall as a freshman, while Harrelson went 45th and Liggins 53rd.
To replace those players Calipari has brought in four freshmen—all five-star recruits.
We’ve already talked about Teague. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a small forward who is very athletic. He plays like a much bigger guy than he is, and that will have to change at the college level, but he has definite lottery potential.
Kyle Wiltjer is big and versatile, and he shoots very well for a guy who is 6'9". He’s the least complete of the four youngsters, though, and the only one more likely to return for a second year than to go pro after this season.
The star of the class may well be Anthony Davis. He has the offensive skills you would expect from a top player, but what really shines is his defensive effectiveness. He needs to fill into his frame, but he’s viewed by many as the top player in his class, and he has a good chance at going first overall in the draft if he develops as expected this year.
2011-12 Kentucky Basketball Schedule
Calipari doesn’t back down from a challenge, and this schedule is no exception.
Three non-conference games jump out of the schedule. They play Kansas early and Louisville on New Year’s Eve. Both games will be big and very good tests, but they pale in comparison to what waits on Dec. 3—quite possibly the best game of the year. That’s when they face North Carolina. If these two teams are still ranked in the top two, then this could be a high-stakes thrill ride.
There are other potentially interesting non-conference games as well—St. John’s, Indiana and Penn State. The SEC may not be quite as easy as it can be, either, with Vanderbilt and Florida both ranked in the top 10 and both on the schedule twice. They face ranked Alabama just once.
2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats Predictions
It’s hard not to get excited about this team with their ridiculous talent and their depth. If they reach their full potential, they absolutely could win it all. I put a lot of faith in experience, though, so I can’t help but be a little skeptical in the end.
I think they will go into the tournament as a No. 1 seed, and I don’t think any team will look forward to playing them. However, in the end I just don’t think they have what it takes to go quite all the way.
Luckily, most of the players on this team will make millions of dollars as pros to ease the pain of falling short in the tournament.
The 9/2 National Championship odds being offered on Bodog for this team seem like a very public number and don’t hold much value, in my eyes.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks Web site.
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