A lot of people are looking back at the “what-ifs” of this year’s recruiting class. I’d rather look forward to see what the Cats need in 2016 to continue their Death Mobile-like dominance over college basketball.
After Calipari penned the death of the platoon earlier this week, it’s safe to assume Cal will return to a traditional 8-man rotation. However, it’s much tougher to assume who will fill the rotation and crack the starting lineup. The Cats have five players who have played significant, competitive minutes. With four new recruits likely getting their fair share of PT, Kentucky can go 9-deep.
There’s a lot of things to consider:
1. Does Poythress play the 3 to allow Lee/Labissiere to share the 4/5?
2. How does Caipari balance the guards?
3. Can the Kentucky guys step into bigger roles as Juniors?
I believe a “Yes” answer to #3 is the difference between a “pretty good” team to another Calipari team threatening for a Final Four, the fifth(!) in seven years.
There’s no denying 2016 is somewhat of a transition year. There’s been large departures every year since Calipari has arrived, but this year’s mass exodus of seems a bit more disheartening because few and far between thought about life after the Harrison Twins and Co.
Compared to transitions in Kentucky basketball’s past, this one won’t be quite as painful. In my lifetime the Cats have been through two near-death experiences: Kentucky’s Shame on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Billy Gillespie era. The Cats aren’t exactly in the same dire straights, but each transition has a common denominator: in-state players as difference-makers.
The Unforgettables are the epitome of in-state greatness in the modern era of Kentucky basketball, with four blue-bloods taking Duke to the brink in “The Last Great Game.” Mason County Sweet 16 Champion, Darius Miller, went through only God knows what with Billy Gillespie before holding together a team as a Senior during a National Championship run. For the ’16 Cats to have similar success, they need quality production from Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis.
Entering a third year in the program, it’s time for “The Other Guys” from Cal’s 2013 Super Class to emerge from the shadows as leaders and consistent contributors. Both guys have showed they can dabble in a little bit of this and that; Hawkins’ quickness and defense, Willis’ deep ball and post-entry passes. Both guys have plenty to prove; Hawkins’ shot, Willis between the ears. Likely entering as role players off the bench, nothing is more important than providing energy and proving competence during difficult moments. Dominique has been there before, keeping the magical 2014 tournament run alive with his defense against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. But can they get it done on a daily basis?
The Cats could survive with only seven, but success is exponentially more imminent if Dominique and Derek can be heroes for the Bluegrass state. I’m confident they won’t disappoint, making this year a lot more fun than many may think.