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 Nevada forward Cole Huff free to transfer to non-Mountain West schools in southern California

    Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT

    huff AP

    The number of schools that former Nevada forward Cole Huff is prohibited from transferring to has been cut down to 38 following an appeals hearing Thursday.

  2. Cincinnati, Creighton among eight teams in inaugural Emerald Coast Classic

    Apr 17, 2014, 9:07 PM EDT

    cronin AP

    NCAA tournament participants Cincinnati, Creighton and North Carolina Central part of eight-team field in inaugural Emerald Coast Classic.

  3. Order of protection filed against former Missouri F Zach Price thrown out

    Apr 17, 2014, 8:16 PM EDT

    Missouri_Tigers

    The order of protection filed against former Missouri forward Zach Price by Earnest Ross was thrown out Thursday.

  4. Green Bay, head coach Brian Wardle agree to new five-year contract

    Apr 17, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT

    wardle AP

    After leading Green Bay to a 24-win season, head coach Brian Wardle’s been rewarded with a new five-year contract.

  5. Gonzaga adds forward Domantas Sabonis to solid 2014 recruiting haul

    Apr 17, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT

    Mark Few AP

    Gonzaga’s added a fourth member to its 2014 recruiting class, with the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis making his pledge to join the program.

  6. Houston duo still looking to be released from respective scholarships

    Apr 17, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT

    TaShawn Thomas AP

    Former Houston players Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas met with an appeals committee Thursday in hopes of getting released from their respective scholarships.

  7. Report: Rodney Hood to enter the NBA Draft

    Apr 17, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT

    Rodney Hood Getty Images

    Rodney Hood is following Jabari Parker to the league.

  8. Reports: Missouri’s Frank Haith agrees to take the Tulsa job

    Apr 17, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT

    haith AP

    Is Frank Haith getting out of Missouri before they kick him out?

  9. Kentucky’s James Young to enter the NBA Draft

    Apr 17, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Kentucky is still waiting to hear from four players on their NBA decision.

  10. Report: Jordan Adams to return to UCLA

    Apr 17, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT

    Jordan Adams

    UCLA will be a contender in the Pac-12 next season with Jordan Adams returning to school.

  11. Are the Harrison twins leaning towards returning to school?

    Apr 17, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    With less than stellar reviews from NBA folks, might the Harrisons be leaning towards a return to Lexington?

  12. Jabari Parker is headed to the NBA

    Apr 17, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Parker will be a top three pick in the draft.

  13. Former Murray State guard Zay Jackson headed to Southeastern Louisiana

    Apr 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Jacksons path from Murray State to Southeastern Louisiana is wild.

  14. Ahmed Hill released from his National Letter of Intent to Marquette

    Apr 17, 2014, 11:43 AM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    Hill wrote a nice note to Marquette fans to thank them.

  15. #UMassUnited: Thousands show to support Derrick Gordon during Westboro Baptist Church protest

    Apr 17, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    Photo via MassLive.com Photo via MassLive.com

    Five protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church showed up at UMass on Wednesday. 1,500 students rallied in response.

  16. Michigan guard Caris LeVert to return for junior season

    Apr 16, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT

    levert Getty Images

    Caris LeVert reiterated his decision to return to Michigan for his junior year at the team’s postseason banquet Wednesday.

  17. Report: New Mexico State’s Sim Bhullar to enter 2014 NBA Draft

    Apr 16, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT

    Sim Bhullar, Barndon Ashley AP

    According to a report, New Mexico State center Sim Bhullar will forego his final two seasons of eligibility to turn pro.

  18. USC guard Byron Wesley to transfer for final season of eligibility

    Apr 16, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT

    Byron Wesley, Jarett Upchurch AP

    After leading USC in scoring last season, Byron Wesley announced that he’ll be transferring after graduating this summer.

  19. Arizona State guard Jahii Carson officially entering NBA Draft

    Apr 16, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT

    carson AP

    Arizona State’s Jahii Carson made official the news that’s been known since October: he’ll be entering the 2014 NBA Draft.

  20. Former Northwestern wing Kale Abrahamson transferring to Drake

    Apr 16, 2014, 6:32 PM EDT

    Kale Abrahamson AP

    Former Northwestern guard/forward Kale Abrahamson will finish out his career in his home state.

Featured video

Derrick Gordon says 'Why not me?'