Top 68 Team Previews: #2 Kentucky Wildcats
Terrence Jones passed on the NBA Draft to return to Lexington. (Icon SMI)
By Keith Levinsky
Monday, November 07, 2011
Last Season: 29-9 (10-6)
Key Losses: Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson
Head Coach: John Calipari
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Marquis Teague 6-2 Fr.
SG: Doron Lamb 6-4 So.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 Fr.
PF: Terrence Jones 6-9 So.
C: Anthony Davis 6-10 Fr.
Key Reserves: Darius Miller 6-8 Sr. SF, Kyle Wiltjer 6-9 Fr. PF, Eloy Vargas 6-11 Sr. C
Another year of college basketball, and there is another group of highly touted recruits in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2010-11, Kentucky wasn't just a group of big name recruits. It was a team that made it to the Final Four. The only team that could beat the Wildcats last year was eventual national champion UConn, which squeaked out a one-point victory.
The leading scorer from that Final Four team, Brandon Knight, is gone, but plenty of big-time recruits have arrived to replace him. Somehow Calipari was able to secure three recruits in the top 10 of the ESPNU 100 and four of the top 20. Needless to say, NBA scouts will be salivating watching Kentucky play this year.
Anthony Davis, the prize of the 2011 class, should start at center for the Wildcats. Both Scout.com and ESPN.com ranked Davis the best freshman in the country. He can play any position from the three to the five and ESPN.com calls him "one of the most versatile players in the 2011 class." If the freshman puts on a little weight, Scout.com believes that his "potential is nearly limitless." In his senior year of high school, Davis averaged 32 points per game and 22 rebounds per game.
Not far behind Davis is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the fourth overall recruit in the ESPNU 100 and the best small forward in the 2011 class. ESPN.com and Scout.com both note Kidd-Gilchrist's competitive drive, and ESPN.com says that he has "world-class athletic ability." He may need to work on his jump shot, but he should fill up the stat sheet this year.
While all the hype might be over these freshmen, Kentucky returns three of its top four scorers from 2010-11. Terrence Jones was a first team All-SEC player in his freshman year and averaged 15.7 points per game and an SEC-leading 8.9 rebounds per game. Jones is also a shot-blocking machine as he rejected 72 shots last year. Jones put on weight in the off-season and will clearly be an SEC Player of the Year candidate this year. He could even contend for National Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-9 combo forward is a physical specimen who can handle the ball like a guard and shoot from anywhere on the court.
Doron Lamb returns for his second year in the backcourt after he recorded 12.3 points per game last year. Lamb is a terrific outside shooter, one that opposing teams can never leave open. The freshman class is incredible for the Wildcats, but the return of Jones and Lamb is even more important.
Marquis Teague, the younger brother of NBA point guard Jeff Teague, is the 8th overall recruit and is an incredible open court player who ESPN.com says is "unstoppable in a one-on-one situation." Calipari hopes Teague continues the head coach's tradition of producing lottery pick point guards, a la Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight.
Darius Miller will provide the experience for this extremely talented but young team. Miller scored 10.9 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game last year. He is a versatile athlete who, at 6-foot-8, is able to play and defend multiple positions.
Kyle Wiltjer, the 19th overall recruit in the ESPNU 100, will gain lots of minutes alongside Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. He has spectacular post moves and a great basketball IQ.
Kentucky is essentially a team loaded with NBA lottery picks. Can Calipari turn this young talented group into a national championship team? Kentucky's depth at guard may be problematic, but this team's pure ability makes the sky the limit.