Kentucky Basketball Preview: #25
Overall Rank: #25
Conference Rank: #3 SEC
2007-08: 18-13, 12-4, 2nd East
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Coach Billy Gillispie’s first year at Kentucky did not start out very well, and injuries hit hard, but the Wildcats persevered and reached the NCAA Tournament. After starting off the season 7-9, it looked like the team would miss out on the big tournament for the first time since 1991. Coach Gillispie would not let that happen under his watch. And now Kentucky is building towards a future that is closer to what Wildcat fans have come to expect.
However, to reach that success the team needs to find a couple new leaders in the backcourt. Joe Crawford led the team with 17.9 points per game and Ramel Bradley added 15.9. Those two were the most dynamic scorers on the team and would get it done from anywhere on the floor. Forward Mark Coury, who started 29 games last year, is also gone. Coury was more a starter by title than anything else and only averaged 10.7 minutes per contest. To make matters worse for the backcourt, Derrick Jasper did what we all dream of and left for the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Kevin Galloway and DeAndre Liggins will compete for the staring point guard spot. At 6-6, both have great size for a point guard, and both are not expected to do much in the scoring column. Liggins has more room to grow and should emerge as a well-balanced player, but Galloway gets the early leg up due to his experience. Due to Jasper’s departure, Coach Gillispie is limited in his options at point guard, but Galloway and Liggins can both handle the ball and one of them will emerge as the main guy sooner or later. Donald Williams and Darius Miller will give the team more options on the wing. It is Miller who is expected to develop into a solid scoring threat and could even push for a starting job as a freshman. Junior college transfer Josh Harrellson will provide depth in the paint, especially if the injury bug strikes again.
Who to Watch:
It is the health of Patrick Patterson that has Kentucky fans worried. Patterson missed some time last season, but is expected to be fully healthy for the start of the season after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle. It took a little while for Patterson to adjust to his role on the team, but once he figured out that his role was to save this group, he did just fine. During his freshman campaign he averaged 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. When the ankle injury happened in March, the Wildcats struggled and bowed out in their first games of the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Now that the 6-8 forward is back and ready to go, Kentucky has their main weapon. But there is more in the frontcourt besides Patterson. The 6-6 Ramon Harris is not a big time scorer, but he is a scrappy defender and the type of player Coach Gillispie loves to have on the wing. Next to Patterson under the basket will be Perry Stevenson. The 6-9 junior did an admirable job trying to replace Patterson when he was out and had a few great games. If those two can share the load and work together, the Kentucky frontcourt will be one of the best in the nation. Especially since the athletic A.J. Stewart will be waiting on the bench. Stewart was limited as a freshman, but that experience should help him emerge as a decent contributor off the bench.
If the newcomers do not work out, Michael Porter will be the point guard. He started a handful of contests a year ago, but failed to do a good job keeping the ball out of the opponent’s hands. The star of the backcourt is Jodie Meeks. He missed most of last year with a variety of injuries, but when healthy he is a great scorer. Now that Crawford and Bradley are gone, it will be up to Meeks to pick up a vast majority of that scoring. He is also the only experienced player who is a threat to hit the outside shot and one of the newcomers better emerge as a shooter off the bench or the Kentucky offense could become predictable…not that stopping Patterson is easy even if the opponent knows exactly what is coming.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Kevin Galloway, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Jodie Meeks, Junior, Guard, 8.8 points per game
Ramon Harris, Junior, Forward, 4.2 points per game
Patrick Patterson, Sophomore, Forward, 16.4 points per game
Perry Stevenson, Junior, Forward, 5.9 points per game