One of the most popular questions people have been asking me PC (Post-Championship) is if the Cats can repeat. After diving into recruiting profiles, predictions, and stats with a few friends and receiving glazed over glances in return, I’ve learned to reply with a short and sweet “we’ll see.”
It’s one of the drawbacks of the one-and-done lifestyle: great rewards followed by great goodbyes, and the even greater unknown. Whereas we used to be able to spout off a starting lineup of returning players filled in with the occasional talented freshman who we hope will rise to the challenge, our off-seasons are now dedicated to research. Instead of replaying game tape to dissect a veteran’s shooting stroke, we pore over YouTube hoop mix tapes and the occasional, glorious pick-up game report. All of this is fine; it’s second nature by now, right? Thanks to social media, we form bonds with new players at an almost frantic pace. Nerlens Noel? He hasn’t even moved here yet and he’s a superstar. Unlike any (incoming) player before him, Noel reciprocates our passion for all Cats everything, tweeting daily rap lyrics with the closing line “I gotta get #9,” shaving the team’s logo in his beloved high-top fade, and preaching the Big Blue gospel to recruits far and wide.
But what about the rest of the new Cats? Drew linked this in the afternoon notes, but I think it bears another look: today, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan breaks down next year’s team and predicts how they’ll rank against their Championship-winning predecessors. Not surprisingly, he says the defense will be centered around a new face with a familiar talent:
But by now, we know Calipari’s teams, and what he does to get them to defend like mad almost as soon as they take the court, and it’s safe to expect a similar defensive trajectory for his new-look squad. That starts with Noel, a massive interior presence who specializes in blocking shots. Many recruiting analysts believe Noel is already a better shot-blocker than was Davis, who set all kinds of team and conference records as a freshman. Noel is a different sort of player than Davis, a more traditional big man who’s been big all his life (as opposed to Davis’s freakish high school growth spurt), but it’s safe to expect him to provide a similar role on defense: When Kentucky’s guards and forwards are beat off the dribble, Noel will be there to cover it all up.
The bigger questions are on offense, where Calipari has proved amenable to changing his system based on the needs of his current group of players. Noel is far rawer offensively than was Davis, but Calipari has a pair of talented incoming wings in small forward Alex Poythress and shooting guard Archie Goodwin, the No. 3- and No. 4-ranked players at their positions, respectively. He will also have former NC State transfer Ryan Harrow inheriting point guard responsibilities, and the lone holdover from the 2012 rotation, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, stretching the floor with his shooting.
While the rest of next year’s squad remains shrouded in uncertainty, one thing is for sure: this team will center itself around defense early on, and the offense will develop over time. Like last season, it will take the new batch of players a while to find their roles, and the team time to develop an identity and chemistry of their own. Whether or not that is as easy for them as it was for last year’s group will decide whether or not we bring home number nine.