Overall Rank: #28
Conference Rank: #4 SEC
2006-07: 22-12, 9-7, 4th East
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
The departure of Coach Tubby Smith has Kentucky fans looking positively towards the future. The cupboard is not bare for new Coach Billy Gillispie and that makes expectations as high as they usually are in Lexington. The perimeter group is deep and talented and all the questions surrounding this Wildcat squad are in the paint. As long as some of the newcomers can handle opposing big men on the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky will be dancing come March.
Kentucky lost four players and they were all big guys. The most notable is Randolph Morris, who averaged a team high 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Nobody is replacing those numbers. Bobby Perry was his starting mate up front. Perry was not much of a rebounder, but he did average 8.4 points and was able to stretch the defense with his shooting ability. Sheray Thomas and Lukasz Obrzut proved to be viable forwards off the bench last year and that depth will be sorely missed.
Obviously Kentucky needs some frontcourt players and they were very lucky to get Patrick Patterson late in the recruiting process. At 6-9 and 219 pounds, Patterson does not lack in the strength department. He is not a back to the basket player, but he will score in a multitude of ways. He may not do a lot of scoring right away, but he works hard on both ends of the floor and has more than enough talent to make his mark on the program as a freshman. A.J. Stewart and Morakinyo Williams will need to provide some depth up front. High flying wing Alex Legion will try and battle his way into an already crowded backcourt. He has one of the nicer mid-range games to come around in a while and should be able to find some minutes off the bench this year.
Who to Watch:
However, Legion will have to take those minutes away from Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks. Bradley can be very inconsistent, but he is a decent shooter and point guard and averaged 13.4 points and 3.8 assists. Crawford is an explosive scorer and could end up seeing some time at the power forward spot if the frontcourt depth becomes that big of a problem, but Coach Gillispie does not believe in positions anyway. Crawford, like Bradley, needs to become a more consistent scorer. If those guys are having an off night, Kentucky is not winning. Jasper is coming off of a knee injury, but the sophomore is expected to be at full strength by November. Jasper is not a big scorer, but is a quality ballhandler and started 27 games last season. At 6-6, Jasper has the size and rebounding ability to spend some time at the four spot too. The youngster that is a scorer is Meeks. He was the sixth man last year and could find himself in a starting position if Coach Gillispie opts for a more offensive lineup. Either way, Meeks will do plenty of scoring after averaging 8.7 points per game as a freshman.
Besides the freshmen, the frontcourt only has Perry Stevenson and Jared Carter to depend on. Stevenson, a 6-9 Lafayette, Louisiana product, only averaged ten minutes per game as a freshman and averaged 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds. He will be asked to do a lot more than that as a sophomore. The 7-2 Carter only played in three games before dislocating his right shoulder. He may be good for some fouls if things get bad, but anything more than that would be a surprise. The success or failure of this team will come down to a couple things. First, can Patterson and Stevenson step up and at least provide a defensive presence and an offensive threat under the basket? No matter how that works out, this will still be a perimeter orientated team that will likely put up a lot more long balls than the did last year. Crawford, Bradley and Meeks can hit the three ball, but none of them put up numbers that should make the team feel confident in relying on the outside shot. If those numbers can improve, Kentucky will be extremely dangerous. If they stay the same, Kentucky will be in the same boat they were last year; limping into the NCAA Tournament and lucky to win a game.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ramel Bradley, Senior, Guard, 13.4 points per game
Derrick Jasper, Sophomore, Guard, 3.9 points per game
Joe Crawford, Senior, Guard, 14.0 points per game
Patrick Patterson, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Perry Stevenson, Sophomore, Forward, 2.9 points per game