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How this Kentucky team ranks vs. Calipari’s others in experience

Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky ten years ago, “experience” has become a tricky term. With freshmen flocking to the league after only one season, sophomores become veterans, juniors become restless, and seniors become practically unheard of. We’ve seen teams with little to no experience and teams with the perfect blend of experience and talent, a recipe that’s almost impossible to replicate.

With four players returning from last year’s Elite Eight squad, how does this Kentucky team compare to the rest? I combed through the archives and crunched the numbers to measure each Calipari team’s “experience” in terms of returning minutes and production. Not surprisingly, Cal’s best teams are towards the top.

Team Returning Minutes Returning Scoring
2014-15 65% 59%
2009-10 62% 57%
2011-12 50% 54%
2018-19 33% 32%
2013-14 32% 31%
2019-20 37% 27%
2016-17 31% 24%
2015-16 22% 14%
2010-11 18% 13%
2017-18 12% 7%
2012-13 7% 7%

The 2011-12 national championship team, which paired elite freshmen with core veterans, rounds out the top three. Behind that is a cluster of teams in the 30s, including last year’s Elite Eight team, the 2013-14 national runners up, the 2016-17 Elite Eight team, and, interestingly, this year’s team; in fact, if you rank the seasons by returning minutes, this year’s team ranks fourth behind the 2011-12 squad. As John Calipari told the media earlier this week, having guys come back — especially your starting point guard — is a luxury these days.As you can see, the 2014-15 team whips all others, returning 12 players from the 2013-14 squad that went to the national championship game and 59% of its scoring. No wonder they almost went 40-0. The 2009-10 team is a bit of an anomaly because it was Calipari’s first season, but the numbers show how valuable Patrick Patterson was and make you dream (for probably the millionth time) of what could have been had Jodie Meeks stayed for another season.

“It’s nice to have players back. We have four really quality players back. The last time we had four players back who were quality players like that was 2014-15.”

He’s right. For the first time since 2014-15, Kentucky will return four players who averaged double digits in minutes and 3.8 points or more per game. And that’s not counting grad transfer Nate Sestina and Kerry Blackshear, should he join the fold.

On the flip side, it’s also not surprising that Cal’s least experienced teams have been the least successful. We all know what happened with the 2012-13 team, which ranks last. The leading returning scorer on the 2017-18 team was Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged only 4.6 points per game the season prior. It’s odd to see the 2010-11 team so low on this list, but the fact that they made it to the Final Four shows you just how talented Brandon Knight was and what a jump Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, and Darius Miller made with another season under Calipari.

Here’s the team-by-team breakdown:

Calipari Era Teams Ranked By Experience (Returning Scoring)

1. 2014-15 – Final Four

Returning players: 12 – Tod Lanter, Brian Long, Sam Malone, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, EJ Floreal, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis

Top returners:

  • Aaron Harrison, Sophomore – 13.7 ppg, 32.6 mpg (3rd leading scorer in 2013-14)
  • Andrew Harrison, Sophomore – 10.9 ppg, 31.7 mpg (4th leading scorer in 2013-14)
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Junior – 6.8 ppg, 23.8 mpg (5th leading scorer in 2013-14)

Returning minutes: 5,218/8,075 minutes (65%)

Returning scoring: 1,773/2,992 points (59%)

2. 2009-10 – Elite Eight

Returning players (in order of class): 7 – Perry Stevenson, Mark Krebs, Ramon Harris, Josh Harrellson, Patrick Patterson, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller

Top returners:

  • Patrick Patterson, Junior – 17.9 ppg, 33.7 mpg (2nd leading scorer in 2008-09)
  • Perry Stevenson, Senior – 7.8 ppg, 28.1 mpg (3rd leading scorer in 2008-09)

Returning minutes: 4,491/7,200 minutes (62%)

Returning scoring: 1,513/2,669 points (57%)

3. 2011-12 – National Championship

Returning players: 7 – Darius Miller, Eloy Vargas, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Jarrod Polson, Stacey Poole, Jon Hood (redshirted 2011-12 season)

Top returners:

  • Terrence Jones, Sophomore – 15.7 ppg, 31.5 mpg (2nd leading scorer in 2010-11)
  • Doron Lamb, Sophomore – 12.3 ppg, 28.4 mpg (3rd leading scorer in 2010-11)
  • Darius Miller, Senior – 10.9 ppg, 31.0 mpg (4th leading scorer in 2010-11)

Returning minutes: 3,820/7,625 minutes (50%)

Returning scoring: 1,545/2,845 points (54%)

4. 2018-19 – Elite Eight

Returning players: 6 – Jonny David, Brad Calipari (redshirted 2018-19 season), Jemarl Baker (redshirted 2017-18 season), Quade Green, Nick Richards, PJ Washington

Top returners:

  • PJ Washington, Sophomore – 10.8 ppg, 27.4 mpg (3rd leading scorer in 2017-18)
  • Quade Green, Sophomore – 9.3 ppg, 25.6 mpg (5th leading scorer in 2017-18)

Returning minutes: 2,456/7,425 minutes (33%)

Returning scoring: 908/2,840 points (32%)

5. 2013-14 – National Runner-Up

Returning players: 7 – Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Tod Lanter, Brian Long, Sam Malone, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress

Top returners:

  • Alex Poythress, Sophomore – 11.2 ppg, 25.8 mpg (2nd leading scorer in 2012-13)
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Sophomore – 8.3 ppg, 23.6 mpg (7th leading scorer in 2012-13)

Returning minutes: 2,159/6,650 minutes (32%)

Returning scoring: 748/2,396 points (31%)

6. 2019-20 – ?

Returning players: 5 – Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery, Zan Payne (redshirted 2018-19), Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards

Top returners:

  • Ashton Hagans, Sophomore – 7.7 ppg, 28.5 mpg (6th leading scorer in 2018-19)
  • Immanuel Quickley, Sophomore – 5.2 ppg, 18.5 mpg (7th leading scorer in 2018-19)

Returning minutes: 2,742/7,450 minutes (37%)

Returning scoring: 763/2,806 points (27%)

7. 2016-17 – Elite Eight

Returning players: 7 – Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Isaiah Briscoe, Jonny David, Isaac Humphries, Dillon Pulliam (redshirted 2015-16 season)

Top returners:

  • Isaiah Briscoe, Sophomore – 9.6 ppg, 32.2 mpg (4th leading scorer in 2015-16)
  • Derek Willis, Senior – 7.7 ppg, 18.6 mpg (5th leading scorer in 2015-16)

Returning minutes: 2,250/7,275 minutes (31%)

Returning scoring: 691/2,861 points (24%)

8. 2015-16 – Second Round

Returning players: 6 – Alex Poythress, EJ Floreal, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Tyler Ulis

Top returners:

  • Tyler Ulis, Sophomore – 5.6 ppg, 23.8 mpg (8th leading scorer in 2014-15)
  • Alex Poythress, Senior – 5.5 ppg, 20.3 mpg (9th leading scorer in 2014-15, but only played 8 games due to injury)

Returning minutes: 1,727/7,785 minutes (22%)

Returning scoring: 410/2,900 points (14%)

9. 2010-11 – Final Four

Returning players: 4 – Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Jon Hood

Top returners:

  • Darius Miller, Junior – 6.5 ppg, 21.2 mpg (5th leading scorer in 2009-10)
  • DeAndre Liggins, Junior – 3.8 ppg, 15.2 mpg (7th leading scorer in 2009-10)

Returning minutes: 1,411/7,675 minutes (18%)

Returning scoring: 403/3,012 points (13%)

10. 2017-18 – Sweet 16

Returning players: 7 – Jonny David, Dillon Pulliam, Brad Calipari, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard, Hamidou Diallo (redshirted 2016-17 season)

Top returner: Wenyen Gabriel, Sophomore – 4.6 ppg, 17.8 mpg (8th leading scorer in 2016-17)

Returning minutes: 890/7,625 minutes (12%)

Returning scoring: 238/3,225 points (7%)

11. 2012-13 – NIT

Returning players: 5 – Twany Beckham, Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood, Kyle Wiltjer, Sam Malone, Brian Long

Top returner: Kyle Wiltjer, Sophomore – 5.0 ppg, 11.6 mpg (7th leading scorer in 2011-12)

Returning minutes: 567/8,000 minutes (7%)

Returning Scoring: 208/3,095 points (7%)


Moral of the story? We like to measure Calipari’s teams by the talent level of the freshmen, but these numbers show the veterans are equally important.


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

14 Comments for How this Kentucky team ranks vs. Calipari’s others in experience

  1. J. Did
    9:06 pm June 6, 2019 Permalink

    “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”.

  2. FakeDickeyV
    9:24 pm June 6, 2019 Permalink

    Wow awesome article! Puts the importance of returning experience into perspective

  3. Big Sexy
    12:23 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    Looks like we can count on a 30 win, Elite 8 season. Can we bet on that in Vegas?

  4. Big Sexy
    12:37 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    The 3 best teams had the most returning minutes and points. 3 of the 4 teams that returned the least are the only teams that didn’t at least reach the Elite 8. Damning evidence that “one and done” is not the best option.

  5. CahillsCrossingNT
    5:59 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    Very nice piece here. Well done.

  6. dave1964
    8:40 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    Unless Blackshear commits it will be a long season Richards has to be one of the worst bigs Cal has had and returning point production is nonexistent.

    • katmandue2you
      9:30 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

      Doesn’t mean he can’t make a huge leap forward. I agree that Richards production has been far short of his potential. But should the lightbulb come on he has the physical tools to impact the game in a bigtime way.

  7. nicky
    8:57 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    Mrs TT must be a mathematician in real life…??

  8. Ridge Runner
    9:29 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    Great article indeed. However, I’m a bit concerned this particular year on how well the talent level moves up from all that experience. Let’s just say I’m not as confident as other years listed on the report. Hoping I’m wrong for sure.

    • Ridge Runner
      9:32 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

      “Talent level moves up” isn’t a good phrase, my apologies. Basically I meant how much that experience improves would be a better choice of words.

  9. makeitstop
    10:30 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

    I could be proven wrong – hope I’m not – but I think the returning minutes is a better indication of returning talent. And who u have coming in is just as important. Nick’s freshman numbers were better – my rough math says if u use those numbers we are closer to 40% of returning minutes. Quade used minutes then left, so it’s a little skewed, as well. And u weren’t going to move Reid Travis out of that lineup. Bottom line is in terms of returning talent they probably have the 3rd most behind the 2012 and 2015 teams. And the incoming talent is solid. They hv experience at guard, which is most important and an actual post presence on D that was missing from the early exit teams. I think they set up pretty well and fall a little shy of the two great teams but mostly bc there’s no KAT or AD. Take them out and they match up pretty well.

    • makeitstop
      11:02 am June 7, 2019 Permalink

      I’d agree that 09/10 was an anomaly bc apart from Patterson the returning minutes were nowhere near as important as the incoming talent, so talent wise, next years group has the sizable edge in returning talent… Maxey may not be Wall but he’s good and there’s no Boogie, but returning talent is better.

    • bigblue2284
      12:38 pm June 7, 2019 Permalink

      The way to predict a team is by Elite talent. The guys who stayed are not elite and not going to make huge strides, they are what they are. The guys coming in aren’t elite, good but not elite. Cal’s most successful teams have had elite level talent Wall, Cousins, Davis, MKG, Townes ect. Could they end up in a final four? Sure. Will it be another ugly season and an ok tournament run? Most likely. This is the rinse and repeat cycle we are in, it was exciting and fun initially because it felt like we were building a dynasty to topple UCLA. Now it’s just stale and burned out.

    • Bird88
      6:43 pm June 7, 2019 Permalink

      Lol! Maxey and Whitney both are elite. Both are likely lottery picks. If a freshman lottery pick isn’t elite then what is? Plus this article doesn’t even factor in the experience of Nate Sestina.