48% of Americans are jealous.
Now that Nerlens Noel’s letter of intent is officially in, the Cats have a four-man recruiting class that’s being hailed as the nation’s best by every major recruiting site. The great news, or terrible news if you’re any other school, is that it can only get better with the potential signings of Anthony Benntt, Amile Jefferson, Torian Graham, or one of the other talented-yet-uncommitted players. I personally have the feeling that we signat least one more guy to give us a solid seven-man rotation come tourney time, and any of those three sound fine to me. Right now though most of the attention seems to be on Bennett, a strong 4-man that plays something like Terrence Jones.
So say we sign Mr. Bennett… in addition to making us very happy, does that also make us the consensus preseason number one team in the country?
In Cal’s time here, he hasn’t started a season ranked number one. Please don’t think for a second that I’m complaining; I’d rather be number one at the end of the year than at the beginning. I just think that given the talent he’s had on his teams, it’s a pretty curious thing. This year, though, of all years, could be the year that “streak” ends. So who stands in the way of that obstacle? Some familiar faces.
The Hoosiers have a legitimate claim for the number one overall spot next year, and that has as much to do with Cody Zeller coming back as it does with the NCAA having an overall down year next year. Remember, this time last year, elite players like Terrence Jones, Harrison Barnes, and Jared Sullinger were all deciding to come back. This year, nobody has shocked fans by deciding to return. I think the effect of the lockout was pretty apparent, and loaded college basketball with an exorbitant amount of talent last season. Kentucky was at the top of that, but they weren’t alone. Next year, though, there’s no such abundance of talent. All those players that stayed last year are leaving, and many freshmen that just got to their schools are following their lead. Not just our guys, but Austin Rivers, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal… they’re all gone. And schools like Indiana are the ones who will benefit.
I actually would put Louisville above Indiana, if only because their style of play is less likely to be doomed by an “off-shooting” night. Defense wins championships, and that’s all the Cards will do next year. Seriously, they may average 5 3-point attempts a game, and that’s if Pitino’s feeling generous. They’re more athletic than the Hoosiers, but maybe not as athletic as we’ll be. Blackshear is particularly nasty. The bottom line is, they’re almost this coming year what we were this past year: a Final Four team that only lost a couple guys, looking to go further in the tournament. Only difference is we added an absolutely loaded recruiting class in between. Still, it could be a tough out.
This is sort of a long-shot, but I wanted to give them a mention because I do think they’ll be good next year. If Bill Self can take last year’s Jayhawks to the title game, he can do it again with next year’s team. Ultimately, no Thomas Robinson = not preaseason top 3. But still good.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: sign Bennett, or maybe one of the other guys, and we start the season at number one. Don’t sign him, and we’re at #3, behind #1 UofL and #2 IU. It’s really that simple. The great news is, Cal and the Cats don’t need to start number one to have an easy path to get there. If we keep the Indiana series, we’d just have to beat both of those teams in the non-conference schedule, as we should, and we’ll roll into SEC play with that “best-in-class” tag.
If that makes it sound easy, well… I’ve learned not to underestimate these Kentucky teams. Unlike the 48% in the picture above.
Seriously, screw those guys.