We all know preseason polls are just numbers, so pre-preseason polls are practically worthless in terms of predicting results. But who am I to withhold basketball news this time of year? Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News ranks his top 25 for the 2012-13 season, and the Wildcats checked in at No. 5 on his list.
1. Indiana Hoosiers
2. UCLA Bruins
3. Louisville Cardinals
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Why they’ll finish here: How about because they always do? “Always” being a relative term, of course. John Calipari has been at Kentucky three years, and each of those teams earned a No. 1 seed, reached the Final Four or both. This will be the least-experienced group he has coached with the Wildcats, but power forward Kyle Wiltjer and small forward Alex Poythress have star potential, and center Nerlens Noel will be an overwhelming defensive force on day one.
Why they might not: Calipari’s most obvious problem is having to rely on players less gifted than he’s usually had to accommodate at Kentucky, whether it’s transfer shooting guard Julius Mays or veterans Jon Hood and Twany Beckham. The Wildcats won the title with seven guys, but they can’t go just with five.
Key player: Point guard Ryan Harrow, a transfer from N.C. State, has much less ability than the playmakers Calipari is accustomed to employing. That’s a tough standard, of course. Harrow doesn’t have to be as good as Derrick Rose; he has to be good enough to run the Wildcats against Siva and Tennessee’s Trae Golden and the like.
Everything DeCourcy says seems to be accurate enough. It is true that Calipari has a little bit less than he usually does in terms of depth, but he has a tremendous track record of getting more out of his players than most expect. He also has a way of getting his players to play to the moment, and with guys like Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Nerlens “gtta get #9” Noel, it doesn’t seem like they’ll need a whole lot of motivation from Cal.
Where he seems to stray is in the third paragraph. Ryan Harrow having “much less ability than the playmakers Calipari is accustomed to employing” seems a bit off base. Harrow is a stud, and has had an entire year of practice with a National Championship winning team. Harrow is going to come in and know the system and be able to run the show from the get-go. Not many other Calipari point guards can say that. If you want to argue Harrow has less size fine, but he more than makes up for that with his quickness and ability to score from anywhere. Not to mention what his knowledge of the offense and instinctual ability will do for him.
Outside of Kentucky, newcomer to the Southeastern Conference, Missouri checks in at No. 12 in the rankings, and Florida at No. 16. They are the only other SEC schools in the rankings. Rounding out the top ten are Michigan at No. 6, NC State at No. 7, Duke at No. 8, Syracuse at No. 9, and Arizona at No. 10.
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