The Kentucky Wildcats once again start a college basketball season with the top recruiting class in the country. They once again start a season probably as the favorites to win a National Championship. However, as John Calipari enters his fourth season on Kentucky’s head coach, another extremely talented, but extremely young Wildcats’ roster will know just how difficult living up to expectations can be. What can this team achieve in 2013-14?
Calipari has certainly brought the ‘buzz’ back to Kentucky. The Wildcats enter their fourth straight season with an exciting freshmen class. That experience of dealing with young players and finding ways to build chemistry and cohesiveness should benefit the veteran coach and his staff as they prepare for a season where many expect them to start the preseason as the top ranked team in the nation.
It’s surprising to admit this, but even compared to the fantastic recruiting classes that Calipari has produced, the 2013-14 freshmen group might just have been the best. That’s the best even compared against teams that have included the likes of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in 09-10, Brandon Knight; Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb in 10-11; Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist in 11-12, and even last year’s class which included highly-talented duo Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel.
It won’t even be easy for the 54-year old coach to make a decision on who his starting line-up will be. Dakari Johnson is an exciting seven-footer, while twin guards Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison should be the perfect foil in the back-court working in Calipari’s system. Great things are already being said about Julius Randle and his talent as a leader. James Young and Marcus Lee are also joined by in-state players Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis. That’s eight freshmen and the definite starting group isn’t clear and will undoubtedly change during the course of the season.
One advantage that this Wildcats’ roster might just have over last year’s disappointing group is a little extra experience. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress both return as sophomores are useful first seasons. They should bring experience and both showed flashes of fantastic talent in their freshmen years. Holding down starting spots won’t be easy for either player especially as the freshmen gain experience and develop.
Still last year will have taught this basketball program an awful lot. They started the year with a highly-rated recruiting class and ranked #3 in the country. Most expected this team to get better as the season went on and eventually compete hard a national championship. They managed just a 21-12 record, 12-6 in the SEC and capped it all off by getting dumped out in the first round of the NIT tournament.
Even before last season’s debacle, there are clear warnings showing just how difficult winning a national title can be for a young, inexperienced team stacked with future NBA talent. The John Wall led team was dumped in the Elite Eight by a tougher West Virginia team. The Knight and Lamb led team looked to have overcome the previous season’s demons, but ultimately fell in the Final Four against a more experienced and tougher Connecticut line-up. Anthony Davis and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist finally broke Kentucky’s run of falling just short and got Calipari his championship. Still, Calipari and the college basketball program will surely want more.
The task of winning championships with a completely overhauled roster made up of mostly freshmen isn’t an easy one. Calipari has managed to put together top ranked recruiting classes almost at will ever since he signed on to be Kentucky’s head coach. He is 123-26 in pre-NCAA tournament basketball, but winning it all on the big stage is just that bit harder.
Calipari has often spoken about the dream of a 40-0 season. This roster definitely has that potential, especially if they can find a way to get through the first few months of the season. However, avoiding being a disappointment like last season’s team, or even to an extent like the John Wall team will not be easy.
College basketball looks like it will be a tough egg to crack once again in 2013-14. Even a cursory look at some of the top schools suggests that Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida and Kansas are obviously very powerful rosters and there are other colleges that will clearly be seriously competitive.
The sky is definitely the limit for the Kentucky Wildcats in 2013-14. Only time will tell whether they are able to reach and even surpass that limit.