Last night the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats took the floor in front of Big Blue Nation for the first time. The event was surrounded by fireworks, a sea of blue, and even Drake, who quickly proved he wouldn’t be apart of the “platoon rotation” John Calipari will likely implement this season, as he air-balled a shot in warmups. It’s now time to get down to business and answer the big question. Will this team go undefeated?
My simply response is…yes.
I know that doesn’t mean much coming from me. I am a UK homer after all, but let me explain why this team has the best opportunity to be the only team to go undefeated since the 1976 Indian Hoosiers.
In my opinion, the most important thing this team has is experience. That is something that we couldn’t really say last year. Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee, and even Derek Willis can now provide veteran leadership. It’s mot just that these guys are returning, rather what they have endured over their careers. Poythress and and WCS have seen both sides of the spectrum. They have been bounced from the first-round of the NIT, only to come back last year and fall just shy of winning the championship. The other group has been through the struggles of the hype and expectations of playing at Kentucky. Last year was a a textbook story of perseverance. They couldn’t seem to mesh together in the beginning, but then came the “tweak” and they put together one of the most exciting and memorable tournament runs in history.
The other piece to the puzzle is the incoming talent. Once again, Calipari has stacked his team with McDonalds All-Americans. Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, and Karl-Anthony Towns provide a solid group that features sharp-shooting, pressure defense, and rugged rebounding. This will provide the team with incredible depth. A lot of teams out there rotate ten players, but there is a significant drop off in talent. This Kentucky team won’t lose anything if they go to the bench and bring in five new players. This will keep them fresh through each game as well as the entire season.
They may have lost the rebounding of Julius Randle, but the collection of Lyles (6-10), WCS (7-0), Poythress (6-9), Lee (6-9) Towns (6-11) and Johnson (7-0) can fill the void. That front line is again the tallest and most talented in the nation. They feature big men like Lee and WCS who can run the floor in transition both offensively and defensively. This allows them to score easily without having plays called for them. They also provide rim protection as shot blockers. Opposing players will always have to locate these guys before making their move.
If teams decide to slow things down and play a half court basketball, Johnson and Poythress can body-up on players defensively. They can use their strength and athleticism to push defenders around while also being able to block shots. They can also get those tough baskets battling through a lot of contact. Over time these two guys are usually the ones who spark big runs with gritty hard-nosed plays.
Lyles and Towns provide energy and youth. They can use various moves to get to the basket. Towns is the most versatile big man in the nation. Yes, I understand he’s a freshman, but I’ve seen him in person and he’s the real deal. He’s a match-up nightmare. He’s equipped with an array of post moves and a soft touch allowing him to finish around the rim. If you dare push him out to the three-point line he can make you pay there as well. When it’s all said and done he’ll be the best freshman and maybe the best player in the nation.
This team also had a summer trip to the Bahamas where they played against several international teams. They went 5-1 against professional competition. No it wasn’t LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but it was against grown men who were more physical and have a deep understanding of the game. It provides a solid foundation to build on into the season.
Write me off as an irrational UK fan. Tell me I’m a dreamer. Roll your eyes because you hear the same recycled lines from BBN every season. The simple fact is that this team is fully equipped to run the table. The haters can push this aside, but that doesn’t mean it will stop it from happening. Just sit back and enjoy watching the ‘Cats make history on their way to their ninth NCAA title.
Picture from: AP photo/ESPN.com