Eamonn Brennan of ESPN loves nothing more than a good list, and perhaps a cup of warm coffee in the morning. Today he brought us another list– complete with five offseason storylines in the SEC. Brennan’s number one storyline focuses on our very own Kentucky Wildcats. Brennan has a positive outlook on next year’s team and clearly sees another successful SEC season in store for Calipari and company.
1. Life is good in Lexington: At any other program, with any other coach, when you win a national title and send your six best players to the NBA draft, you are not supposed to compete for a national title 12 months later. But this is not any other program, or any other coach. This is Kentucky as led by John Calipari, a finely tuned college hoops machine.
After harnessing the insane talents of Anthony Davis and the team-first ethos of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — the NBA draft’s No. 1 and No. 2 overall selections — Calipari has cleared the “one-and-dones can’t win a title” hurdle, if it existed in the first place. So now what? Naturally, Calipari reeled in another talented recruiting class — the No. 2 class in the country, according to RecruitingNation, the first time in four years Kentucky hasn’t been ranked No. 1 — that includes the No. 1-ranked player in the class, center Nerlens Noel, and top-15 recruits Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin. Sophomore power forward Kyle Wiltjer, a top-20 recruit in 2011, will take on a much larger role, and former NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will step in at point guard.
Is Calipari’s latest refresh as good as Davis & Co.? Doubtful. Then again, few teams are. What’s certain is that the Wildcats will again be ranked in the top five to start the season, will defend like crazy and are a clear threat — if not the outright favorite — to repeat as national champions. Indeed, the state of Big Blue Nation is strong.
The rest of Brennan’s top 5 included the new SEC additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, Frank Martin as the surprise coaching hire of the offseason for South Carolina, the new coaches for LSU and Mississippi State and the relative unknown new group of players ready to fill the big shoes left by Vanderbilt’s most recent NBA/graduation departures.
I think Brennan nails it with his list of storylines. All eyes will be on Kentucky to start the season to see just how well the new crop of freshmen talent can blend together on the floor. Coming off of a national championship, Kentucky will garner plenty of attention. Brennan’s list got me thinking about a few other storylines/players that personally, I think Kentucky fans will be curious to keep an eye on as the season gets under way. Although we will surely be focused on our own team and the stories generated right here in front of us, it’s hard to imagine us not at least taking a peek around at a few familiar names…
1. Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA- Regardless of where you stand on Muhammad’s decision to attend UCLA next season, I think it’s safe to say that many Kentucky fans will at the very least be curious to see just how good he might be. Muhammad and Noel were the two top players in the 2012 recruiting class and are both expected to be major impact players next season, potentially vying for the top spot in the 2013 NBA draft. Add to the hype around Muhammad the fact that Kentucky was in play for his services until the very end, and I think that a few members of Big Blue Nation might stay up past their bedtime a time or two to catch a glimpse of Muhammad. And that packed arena he dreams of…
2. Alex Oriakhi and Missouri’s pack of transfers- Alex Oriakhi was expected to pay a visit to Kentucky before making his final college decision after transferring from a flailing UCONN. Before Calipari and his staff could woo Oriakhi to Lexington, he pulled the trigger to attend a new SEC foe, Missouri. Oriakhi will be joined by a large group of transfers and a few strong returning players for Frank Haith. I think Kentucky fans will want to keep an eye on Missouri, who might be one of the few teams in the SEC capable of giving Kentucky a challenge for the league title.
3. Anthony Bennett- Word circulated this afternoon that Anthony Bennett will in fact be eligible to play for UNLV next season, following a waiting game that extended long enough to stir a few worries in Las Vegas. Bennett was a name that Kentucky fans followed with great interest for about a month, as we all clamored for another big man to add some punch alongside Nerlens Noel. Now that we’ve begun to hear the great reviews coming out of the Craft Center about Willie Cauley-Stein, Bennett’s decision to attend UNLV rather than Kentucky seems a distant memory. I will still be curious to see how he performs next season after becoming so familiar with his name this spring.
Will any of you be interested in the above players next season? Or are you the “out of sight, out of mind” type?