Skip to content

Top 25 Countdown: No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats

Oct 31, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

John Calipari

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 38-2, 16-0 SEC (1st); Won the National Title

Head Coach: John Calipari

Key Losses: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb

Newcomers: Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays

Projected Lineup:

G: Ryan Harrow, So.
G: Archie Goodwin, Fr.
F: Alex Poythress, Fr.
F: Kyle Wiltjer, So.
C: Nerlens Noel, Fr.
Bench: Willie Cauley-Stein, Fr.; Julius Mays, Sr.; Twany Beckham, Sr.; Jon Hood, Jr.

Outlook: As is the norm for this Kentucky program, there aren’t going to be many familiar faces on the Wildcat roster heading into the 2012-2013 season. Gone is just about everyone significant from last year’s team, with all six of Kentucky’s key players getting drafted in 2012.

What that means is, once again, Coach Cal is going to have to build his team from the bottom up, and he’s going to have to do it quickly — in just nine days, he’ll be kicking off the season with a trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to take on Maryland, heading to Atlanta just four days later to take on Duke. The learning curve for this group is is non-existent.

There’s no question about the talent level and NBA potential on this crop of ‘Cats. Nerlens Noel isn’t the second coming of Anthony Davis simply because he doesn’t have the same advanced perimeter skills that Davis did, but that doesn’t change the fact that Noel is a dominant interior force on the defensive end of the floor. He may even be a better shot-blocker than Davis was, and surely his ability on the offensive end will develop as the season progresses.

What’s scary is that, thus far in the preseason, the excitement for this group seems to be more about Willie Cauley-Stein than Noel. Cauley-Stein is seven-feet tall and was a wide receiver in high school, which should give you a bit of an idea of his athleticism. He’s very raw, maybe even more so than Noel, but with those two taking the floor at the same time, opponents may not be able to get a shot off within 10 feet of the rim.

Joining them up front will be Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Poythress is a guy that may have the most potential for success this season, as he seems to be one of the more polished freshmen in the class. He’s a 6-foot-7, athletic combo-forward that has really put on muscle-mass since arriving on campus. He could have the same kind of impact as Terrence Jones did as a freshman, minus the attitude issues. Wiltjer could be the x-factor for this group. He’s by far the best perimeter shooter on the roster, and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-9 forward makes him a tough matchup. The question mark with him is simply how he well he’s going to be able to defend and rebound.

In the back court, Ryan Harrow takes over the point guard role. A transfer from NC State, Harrow spent last season redshirting and practicing every day against Marquis Teague. He’s not the same kind of talent as Coach Cal’s last five point guard recruits, however, and it will be interesting to see just how successful he ends up being in the role. Archie Goodwin will likely be the best perimeter scoring threat. He’s a hyper-athletic, 6-foot-5 slasher that understands how to get to the rim and score. Kentucky may end up needing him to be a guy that averages about 15 points given some of their other question marks offensively. Julius Mays, Twany Beckham and Jon Hood are the other guys that could end up seeing time in the back court.

The biggest question mark I have with this Kentucky group is simple: How well does this roster fit together? Cauley-Stein and Noel are, essentially, the same player — big, tall, athletic shot-blockers that can’t do much offensively besides dunk the ball. But Kentucky’s best lineup is probably going to be with both of them on the floor together because I’m not completely sold on Wiltjer being a good fit for Cal’s system. This is a group that is going to have to thrive on athleticism and defense, especially early in the season, and those are the two biggest weaknesses for Wiltjer.

The problem with leaving Wiltjer off the floor is that he’s really the only guy that is the kind of shooter that cannot be left open; Kentucky has no one to play the role that Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller have the past three seasons. Poythress seems like a better fit at the four than at the three, but he needs to play the three because Kentucky isn’t very deep in the back court. That means that either Cauley-Stein or Wiltjer is going to have to play major minutes unless one of Beckham, Mays or Hood can prove that can be a defensive stopper and three-point marksman.

Predictions?: There’s plenty of talent here, and if there is anything in Calipari’s coaching repertoire that rivals his ability to recruit, it’s his ability to convince elite talents to buy into playing a specific role for the betterment of the team. I don’t doubt that he’ll find a way to get his best five players on the floor at the same time; one of the most interesting subplots to the college basketball season as a whole will be to watch what he does to make that happen. I don’t think that Kentucky is as safe of a bet to win the SEC as a lot of people are giving them credit for simply because I believe Missouri is being severely underrated. That said, as long as Kentucky as this much talent on their roster and Coach Cal making their decisions, they have to be considered a top three team and a national title contender.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Former Providence center planning visits

    May 23, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    A Big 12 and a Big Ten program are among those due who have reached out to the 7-foot-2 Fairfield Prep (Connecticut) product.

  2. Monitoring physicality as important as the shot clock in increasing offensive production

    May 23, 2015, 7:32 PM EDT

    Tad Boyle AP

    Colorado’s Tad Boyle doesn’t like the proposed shot clock change, and he made a good point about the physical nature of college basketball today.

  3. UC Davis, head coach Jim Les agree to contract extension through 2021

    May 23, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT

    Jim Les Jim Les

    Les led the Aggies to a school-record (Division I era) 25 wins and their first Big West regular season title last season.

  4. Four-star 2015 power forward to visit Cal, Texas and Washington

    May 23, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Scott Phillips/NBC Sports Scott Phillips/NBC Sports

    Noah Dickerson had previously committed to Georgetown and Florida.

  5. Max Bielfeldt down to three

    May 23, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The former Wolverine could remain in the Big Ten.

  6. Frank Kaminsky writes a farewell letter to Wisconsin fans

    May 23, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    150523_Kaminsky Getty Images

    The Wisconsin big man averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last two seasons.

  7. Derrick Walton’s foot appears to be better (VIDEO)

    May 23, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The sophomore guard missed the final 12 games of the season.

  8. Rashad Muhammad transferring from San Jose State

    May 23, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT

    AP AP

    He is the younger brother of former UCLA Bruin Shabazz Muhammad.

  9. Nevada lands transfer forward from the Ivy League

    May 22, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    image Getty Images

    Nevada landed an impact transfer that could help at guard after next season.

  10. Arizona announces 2015-16 non-conference schedule

    May 22, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Arizona will have some intriguing home-and-home games to go along with an in-season tournament.

  11. Cliff Alexander opens up on his suspension at Kansas

    May 22, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Cliff Alexander might have returned for his sophomore season if the NCAA had not been involved.

  12. Kentucky promotes former Auburn coach to assistant coach

    May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    Tony Barbee AP

    Kentucky promoted a familiar face for the open assistant spot.

  13. Class of 2016 forward decommits from Nebraska

    May 22, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT

    keanu pinder

    Nebraska loses a commitment who could be headed elsewhere soon.

  14. Georgia, Mark Fox agree to contract extension through 2020

    May 22, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT

    Mark Fox AP

    Fox has led the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournament appearances in his six years as head coach, including last season’s 21-win team.

  15. Former Bradley guard to complete eligibility at Rutgers

    May 22, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    Darius Carter, Zach Brown, Omari Grier AP

    The Rutgers perimeter rotation may be crowded, but there’s plenty of room for contributions as the team won just ten games last season.

  16. North Carolina announces receipt of Notice of Allegations from NCAA

    May 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    UNC now has 90 days to craft a response to the NCAA’s allegations.

  17. Four-star 2016 power forward commits to UConn

    May 22, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    This isn’t the only addition UConn hopes to make to the 2016 class in the very near future.

  18. Duke, Louisville and Kansas among Kentucky’s non-conference opponents

    May 22, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Wildcats will also take on Arizona State, UCLA and Ohio State in non-conference play.

  19. VCU hopes to regain year of eligibility for junior college transfer

    May 22, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwi3otuyzgqyymy0yzdhm2mzntk2mzg5zmrlnzczm2vm AP

    Mohamed and Bakersfield big man Aly Ahmed argued in 2013 that bad advice led to them being ruled ineligible that season at Houston and Bakersfield, respectively.

  20. 6-foot-10 power forward becomes Virginia’s fourth 2016 commitment

    May 21, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The slender forward joins Sacha Killeya-Jones, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy in Virginia’s 2016 haul.