Kentucky Basketball Preview: #6
Overall Rank: #6
Conference Rank: #1 Southeastern Conference
2008-09: 22-14, 8-8
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: John Calipari (First year at Kentucky, 445-140 overall)
No starting job is safe at Kentucky. Since Coach John Calipari took the team over, a great recruiting class has turned into easily the best in the nation. Coach Calipari has not only increased the level of talent on this team, but he has also brought with him the confidence to get the Wildcats back where they belong among college basketball’s elite.
Key Losses: G Kevin Galloway, G Jodie Meeks, G Michael Porter
Many consider John Wall to be the best freshman in the nation. The 6-4 guard certainly fills a need on this team as the starting backcourt was relatively ineffective last year and most of them are gone anyway. Fellow point guard Eric Bledsoe will likely work his way into the starting rotation as well, but that is not all Kentucky has coming into Lexington. Jon Hood was the state’s Mr. Basketball last year, but he will have a hard time finding minutes and wing Darnell Dodson is one of the best junior college transfers out there. The frontcourt gets two of the best big men possible in DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton. Cousins is a very polished player for a freshman and is surprisingly agile for a 6-11, 260 pound forward.
With the influx of newcomers, the roleplayers, and even the former starters, will have to battle for minutes. Ramon Harris started 28 games last year, but he is pretty much on the floor for his defense and rebounding abilities. It is Darius Miller who has the potential to blossom into a prolific scorer. After spending his summer at the Under 19 World Championships, the 6-7 wing is ready to average more than 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds…especially in Coach Calipari’s system. DeAndre Liggins had a relatively successful freshman campaign, averaging 4.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds. His ability to do a little bit of everything makes him a very dangerous option.
Patrick Patterson is the star of the frontcourt and was second to the now departed Jodie Meeks averaging 17.9 points per game. Patterson is also a superb rebounder and shot blocker and the influx of talent around him will only make him more dangerous. Perry Stevenson started beside Patterson last year, but that job may be in jeopardy. Stevenson is an athletic big man who will not bang under the basket as effectively as Patterson. Although Stevenson ranked third on the team with 7.8 points per game, he is not a prolific scorer, but he is a solid rebounder and a very good defender. At 265 pounds, Josh Harrellson has the ability to eat up space in the paint, but he can also step outside and hit the mid-range jumper.
Who to Watch:
What this team lacks is a pure shooter. The best option on the team is Dodson, the junior college transfer. He may not make it into the starting lineup and will be used as a spark off the bench and that means it could be up to Bledsoe and Wall to start hoisting up the long balls. Bledsoe is more of a true point guard than Wall. Wall’s best attributes are his speed and ability to get to the basket and he is not really known for his shooting abilities. That is something that he has worked on, but this is a team that had nobody hit more than one three-pointer per game except Meeks.
Finding minutes for all these talented players is one concern, but the bigger issue is the outside shooting. Miller is the best returning shooter and he only averaged 0.5 per contest and hit a mere 32.7 percent of his attempts. Patterson was so effective last year because the opposition had to worry about Meeks and his shooting. If nobody can hit the outside shot consistently, the opposition can pack it in and try to stop the slashing guards and the big guys under the basket.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Eric Bledsoe, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Jon Wall, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Darius Miller, Sophomore, Guard, 5.3 points per game
Patrick Patterson, Junior, Forward, 17.9 points per game
DeMarcus Cousins, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
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