This year’s team is still figuring out its identity. It would be a bad thing if it were March and this were the case, but it is early-January and they have plenty of time, and conference play, to find themselves. The talent is undoubtedly there, but so is the youth. One superseding the other in a given game basically decides the fate of this team. We’ve seen flashes of a potentially great team but we’ve also seen a team that could be one-and-done in tournament play. It’s up to the players to decide how they want to be remembered and how far they would like to go in March. Regardless, the talent and coaching of the Wildcats has ESPN’s John Gasaway sold. He thinks Kentucky is a dark-horse contender to win a National Championship.
Kentucky (9-4, unranked)
I know what you’re thinking. Calling the defending national champions — a team that has reached the Elite Eight in each of the past three seasons — a “dark horse” is an abuse of the term. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just play by them. And at this writing UK is still, incredibly, unranked. (I thought surely that would change after the Wildcats played Louisville into the 40th minute at the KFC Yum! Center a week ago. I was mistaken.) John Calipari’s team is clearly a work in progress on offense, but the one thing that hasn’t changed since last season is interior defense. It’s still more or less impossible to make a two against this team. And I’m not embarrassed to say I’m old enough to remember 2011-12, when I watched Kansas ride a sputtering offense (meaning it sputtered during the tournament) and incredible D all the way to the national championship game. Just saying.
So, don’t fret. With Cal working on Alex Poythress’ assertiveness, Ryan Harrow becoming a floor general, and Noel and Cauley-Stein protecting the paint at a crazy clip, this team could end up special in a couple months.