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The Good, The Great and The Unknown

 

(FoxSports.com)

For the first time since John Calipari joined the ranks at Kentucky, Calipari will enter the 2014-2015 with more “knowns” than “unknowns.” Calipari is returning key players at almost every position from this past season’s national runner-up finish, while also adding four new pieces to the puzzle. Even without knowing exactly how the incoming freshmen will pan out in the immediate future, Calipari is returning a strong enough core group of players that this team can be successful no matter how long it takes and how many contributions it gets from the new faces. As we head into a long (but not as long as usual, thankfully) off-season, let’s take a look at some of the good, the great, and the unknown…

 

The Good

A versatile offensive big man in Karl Towns: Dakari Johnson provides the muscle down low. Willie Cauley-Stein provides the freakish athleticism and defensive versatility. Now Karl Towns adds a 7-footer who possesses the unique ability to step away from the basket offensively, equipped with 3-point shooting ability and the potential of a nice mid-range jumper. Towns could make for an interesting tog in a pick and pop scenario.

MOST people are at least chilling out with the 40-0 talk: Of course there will still be some people who can’t stand shelving the 40-0 talk, but after the roller coaster of last season– it seems that most people are trying to be at least slightly more realistic with expectations. Even as high as the expectations are, I think most of us learned our lesson from last year.

Slice! : Losing Orlando Antigua was certainly a blow to the recruiting system John Calipari has set up at Kentucky, but the anticipated new hire, Barry “Slice” Rohrssen appears to be a worthy replacement. If nothing else, the man certainly has some spunk– and an acting career. And a cool nickname.

Ability to move to a smaller 3-guard line-up: Kentucky struggled at times last year against teams with multiple small/quick guards (ex: UCONN). Even though James Young was a formidable 3rd guard, the Harrison twins are so tall that having guys like Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis who can hopefully pester the smaller guards from other teams will be a benefit. Think of the defensive combinations Kentucky will have at guard with the Harrison twins, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis AND Dominique Hawkins.

A 2nd year point guard for the first time: If we’ve learned anything over the last 5 years it is that as Calipari’s point guard goes, the team goes. It took Andrew Harrison a while to figure it out, but when he did– Kentucky flourished. For the first time, Calipari will return a point guard with experience.

Marcus Lee gaining valuable experience during the NCAA tournament run: The silver lining to Willie Cauley-Stein getting injured at the end of the year was the experience a rarely used Marcus Lee gained at the end of the tournament. Those minutes and that confidence should provide a huge boost for Lee moving forward.

Willie Cauley-Stein being hungry after missing the bulk of the tournament run: The OTHER silver lining to WCS’ injury is the fact that WCS seemed genuinely sad that he wasn’t a part of the incredible run that team went on to the national championship game. Willie is hungry. And that’s a good thing.

The Rupp schedule next season: After a season that lacked some pizzazz on the home-schedule front, Kentucky will have a more exciting home schedule this season for the fans. Any time North Carolina comes to Rupp, it’s a great environment and a great game. The addition of a Big 12 opponent (potentially Texas) and Providence makes for a well-rounded non-conference home slate.

Defensive versatility: I mentioned it above with the guards, but throw in the combinations defensively with big men and Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles, and Kentucky can throw a number of looks at teams.

 

The Great

Returning 6 key contributors from a National Championship Runner-Up team: How many teams make a run to the national championship game and then essentially return 5 “starting caliber” players (the Harrison twins, Poythress, Dakari Johnson and WCS)? That’s a luxury most teams don’t have.

Having a month of extra practice before the season starts: We saw how much that Canada trip helped the 2011 Final Four Kentucky team. This team already has experience, but an extra month of practice and playing against potential international competition will significantly move along the 4 incoming freshmen.

What hasn’t this group of returning players been through/seen? The returning players from this year’s team will have just about seen it all. Adversity? Check. Injuries? Check. Low points? Check. High points? Check. A deep NCAA tournament run? Check. Experiencing what it’s like to be a UK player when things go well? Check. Experiencing what it’s like to be a UK player when things don’t go well? Check. Entering the season with high expectations? Check. What haven’t they seen?

Two NBA-quality juniors: It’s not necessarily rare to have sophomores return who will eventually play in the NBA, but to have 2 juniors who will almost certainly be in the NBA one day (WCS and Poythress) is a nice advantage.

Better than NBA-length inside: Some NBA teams would croon at the length Kentucky has down low with three 7-footers.

Depth, depth, depth: Kentucky’s 11th and 12th men (as one might predict now) could be Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis. Those two guys would likely start at almost any other SEC school in the league, with the exception of perhaps Florida. Kentucky’s practices will be unreal next season with 10 potential future NBA players lining up against one another every day.

The potential tournament path: Kentucky could find itself playing in Louisville, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. That’s a travel dream for Kentucky fans, who will travel well regardless. The Big Blue will be more than a mist.

 

The Unknown

Who replaces James Young’s outside shooting/instant offense? Aaron Harrison proved throughout the season and especially in the tournament that he can hit the outside shot, but Kentucky will miss Young’s 3-point contributions and instant offense from last season. Young hit crucial 3-pointers and also provided a spark for Kentucky whenever the offense seemed stagnant. Kentucky has loads of talent coming in, but who will become a reliable outside shooting threat? Booker? Towns? Willis?

Will the Harrison twins thrive without the best individual player on the team needing the ball as much down low?

At times last season it looked like it was tough for the Twins and Julius Randle to co-exist on the court with all 3 playing at their best. The Twins might thrive with a difference make-up on this team.

Alex Poythress taking THE step: Alex Poythress became a big-time player during Kentucky’s NCAA tournament run, making some of the biggest offensive and defensive plays in the most crucial moments. Poythress took steps all season toward becoming a great contributor, but he has a chance this season to be even more than that. Will Poythress become the go-to guy, or one of the main go-to guys on this team? I think it’s out there for the taking.

The rotation/minute breakdown: It’s better to be in a coaching situation where you have to figure out how to spread out minutes with so much talent than to have to try to find talent to fill the minutes. With that said, the biggest question will be how Calipari decides to work the rotation with so many good players. Not the worst problem to have… at all.

Dominique Hawkins’ offense and Derek Willis’ defense: Hawkins is an excellent defender who desperately needs to add offensive weapons to his game to see more minutes. Willis is a great offensive weapon who desperately needs to add a defensive presence to his game to see more minutes. It may not have a huge effect on minutes this season, but for the future– these two areas have to improve for these two Kentucky guys.

Who will lock up the “3 spot?”: Kentucky has so many tools on this roster, but the one thing it lacks is a “true 3.” Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will have their chances to lock up that position.

Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

24 Comments for The Good, The Great and The Unknown



  1. JHK
    3:11 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Booker start at the 3 rather than Poythress or Lyles.



  2. Mc
    3:25 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Agree with JHK. It may be Aaron Harrison with Booker at the 2 since it could be interchangeable. A lot of teams run 3 guard sets.

    Also, I’d say that Lee is a starting caliber player. You also mentioned that Hawkins and Willis could potentially start for every SEC school in the league (redundant). Wouldn’t they then be starting caliber players?

    I think Hawkins was a contributor at points.

    In terms of replacing Young, aside from what you said, Lyles can step out and knock down some shots. Ulis will knock down some 3’s. Andrew will progress on his shooting too.



  3. nitynite
    3:31 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    “the Harrison twins are so tall that having guys like Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis who can hopefully pester the smaller guards from other teams”

    Devin Booker is 6′ 5″ or 6′ 6″, the same as the Harrisons. I doubt he will be much help guarding guys like Napier.



  4. Jimbob
    3:33 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Poythress needs to be the 3-man, and he needs to be the guy who can consistently knock down the 3pt shot. Just like he became more confident in the tourney with his inside offense and his great defense, he needs to become more confident with his 3pt shot…and he has always been a great 3pt shooter, but it hasn’t translated consistently in games. If he gets there, then the sky is the limit for this team.



  5. Billy G
    3:35 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Why not 5 on 5 off with nthis deep a team? Seems like you could wear a team down with that type of intensity. Anyone can sweat blood for a few minutes.



  6. Beer Me
    3:40 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Lyles is not a 3. For the love of everything holy. he is 6’10 250lbs. A good athlete, but not the type of lateral quickness to defend the 3.



  7. Will
    3:41 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    For what it’s worth, James Young was 4th on the team in 3pt% behind both Harrisons and Jarrod Polson. He did seem to hit key 3’s, but wasn’t consistently a great shooter.



  8. MJ4UK
    3:43 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Cabbage



  9. KitKat
    3:44 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Has the time and date been set for Big Blue Madness? Time to get in line!



  10. Albie Demarco
    3:44 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Straighthoops has a great, positive article on our boys: http://straighthoops.com/one_and_not_done.html



  11. justme
    4:25 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    A few things I would like to point out about the incoming freshmen:
    1) Towns and Lyles are good free throw shooters, so in late game situations they won’t hurt us when other teams are fouling us on purpose. Cal will be able to sub out Dakari and Willie who were liabilities for us at the line this year and put Towns and Lyles in the game to negate opposing teams using that strategy.
    2) All of our incoming freshmen have been good at passing the ball against top competition in high school and AAU ball. After a period of adjustment to D-I, I believe we should see improvement in that area as James and Julius both were weak in that aspect of the game. Some of the passes I’ve seen Ulis and Towns make have left me speechless.
    3) They can all shoot the ball and have great reputations for being team players.
    It will be interesting to see how long it takes for this team to develop chemistry with each other and who takes on a leadership role. Fun times are ahead.



  12. STEVE!
    4:36 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    I like Marcus Lee’s athleticism, but I think an Unknown is how he will get minutes next year unless he develops an offensive game. He didn’t play any last year because he was stuck behind Dakari and WCS. That hasn’t changed, and Towns and Lyles seem to be more of the Power Forward type, with their outside shooting ability. I would hate to see somebody with Lee’s ability stuck on the bench again all year. The inside game will be less crowded in 2015-16. Does anyone think he would accept a redshirt yrear if offered?



  13. bosshogg24
    4:54 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Booker will not start, I am glad that some of you guys aren’t coaches! Lyles is a 4 not a 3, Poythress will start at the 3.



    • UKBlue1!
      5:17 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

      Agreed. Now its up to Poythress to get his motor going for a full 20-25 minutes every game. His freshman year he disappeared on the court. The tournament run we saw a totally different player, he in my opinion was one of the main reasons we did so well in the NCAA.



    • Mc
      7:10 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

      A lot of people said James Young wouldn’t start too. AP will get the first crack at it obviously. However, if he is unable to shoot consistently from outside he’ll move into a similar role as this year. The one good thing for him, is we have Lyles, and Towns that are capable of playing outside which would give us someone else who can shoot consistently outside of 15 feet. Having them, may allow him to stay at the 3. Currently, AP has the game of a 4, but should be a 3. I hope he can work on his game and fill the 3 spot. Otherwise, just like Billy Donovan did every time AP came in and played the 3, they’ll run a collapsed zone and force that lineup to shoot.



  14. The Good
    5:21 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Hello the great and the unknown. Nice to meet you.



  15. Trey Lyles
    5:45 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    I can play the 3?



    • Mc
      7:15 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

      I don’t think he will much, but I do think he’ll get some run at the 3 to “steal” a few minutes since we’re so stacked at the 4/5. He did okay guarding Stanley Johnson in the Jordan Brand Classic. He was burnt a few times, but he’s not going to see many players better than Stanley next season.



  16. JVice
    6:03 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Swoon, not croon. To croon is to sing.



  17. James in Ann Arbor
    6:52 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    Sporting the UK gear in A2!!! The locals just stare and shake their head.



  18. DirtyDave
    7:37 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    This gonna be fun to watch! So many things coach will be able to do scheme wise. Fact that both Towns and Lyles can take their man outside and make a few threes opens up the box where guys like Poy a capable slasher and the twins can operate. The middle was always clogged up with Randle always drawing the doubl/triple teams so slashing was more like crashing . Lower your head and see if you can get the foul.look for the oop to make a come back. I expect the defense to be at a full tilt game long so we can sub without much drop off. That’s all I have to say about that right now



  19. Trey lyles
    10:46 pm April 29, 2014 Permalink

    I need to get this off my chest. KSR NEEDS TO STOP SAYING TREY LYLES CAN PLAY THE 3. That is rediculous. He is a 4 not a 3. Poythress booker Willis or even Aaron will trade off at the 3. Quit making stupid statements. Lyles can’t shoot a 3 at a high %. Doesn’t have good enough skills to thrash to the rim. Just stop. Ok I’m done.



    • Mc
      2:24 am April 30, 2014 Permalink

      I’m not saying he’s going to play on the perimeter, but I do think he’ll do well between 15-18 feet out. However, he can keep teams honest by knocking down a few 3’s. I believe he shot in the mid 30% range. He may steal a few minutes at the 3 because their is a log jam at the 4/5. Obviously he is a 4.

      http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Trey-Lyles-7157/

      Notice his strengths…



  20. A
    2:02 am April 30, 2014 Permalink

    Aaron can easily replace Young. He shot better in every way. Better from the 2, better from the 3 and better from FTs. Young won’t be missed. Randle however will. But we are so stacked in the frontcourt somebody will step up, Probably several somebodies.