Football may be in the air, but that’s not stopping ESPN’s basketball crew from talking hoops. Myron Medcalf and Eammon Brennan posted a bunch of SEC basketball previews over at the Worldwide Leader, one of which singles out the most important player for every team in the league. Kentucky’s M.I.P., according to Medcalf? Willie Cauley-Stein:
Kentucky: Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein was clearly raw through his first season, but there’s always room in the NBA for a shot-blocking 7-footer who averaged 2.1 BPG and 23.6 MPG last year. Cauley-Stein, however, should blossom in his second year. It’s a boost for John Calipari, who will have an athletic big man with some experience next to his fleet of McDonald’s All Americans. Cauley-Stein’s offense was limited last season, but the Wildcats will have multiple players who can fill up stat sheets. His defensive tools and ability to score in transition could be the elements that push Kentucky to the top of NCAA pyramid in April.
There’s no doubt that Willie will be a crucial component to the Cats’ success next season, but I’d argue that there are a few other players that are even more important to Kentucky’s chances, namely Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle.
Last year, we saw how much a team can suffer from poor point guard play; all of Calipari’s squads live and die by it. For one reason or another, Ryan Harrow couldn’t lead the team like it needed to be led, and as a result, the Cats spiraled out of control. It’s interesting to see how well Archie Goodwin has played in the NBA summer leagues so far, which makes you wonder what his freshman year would have been like with a different point guard calling the plays. The Cats will be under a much steadier hand in Andrew Harrison, aka Stone Cold Killer, whom Cal has described as an alpha male with mind-blowing skills. Harrison, like Julius Randle, was built to lead, and his game is much more suited for the dribble drive offense than recent Cal point guards. Because of Cal’s system, Andrew Harrison may be more crucial than anyone.
My other candidate for M.I.P. is the man that’s apparently already leading the way: Julius Randle. Randle is a beast. After seeing the picture of him from Instagram over the weekend, I’m convinced he’s the basketball version of Za’Darius Smith. Aside from Nerlens last season, few players stepped up to provide any kind of leadership. That has already changed. Randle possesses has the will-to-win and the competitiveness it takes to not only lead the team, but dominate games. John Robic told us a few weeks ago that he has an “MKG-like motor,” and we know how crucial MKG was to the 2012 squad. From what we’ve heard so far and seen in Randle’s high school performances, he will not stand by while his team fails. That sounds pretty important to me.
Who’s your pick for “M.I.P.”?