College basketball will always be preluded with the idea that the underdog can fight for another day. It precipitates the rise of an unknown team from small-town, America and gives them a chance at momentary grace with the upset of a legend.
This year, that small name team was Robert Morris University. The legend: last year’s champion Kentucky Wildcats.
The Wildcats’ 2012-13 season sunk to an all-time low after they were looked over by the NCAA committee for a chance to defend their title in the NCAA Tournament, and subsequently were upset by Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. Despite a horrible finish and one of the worst moments in John Calipari’s career, this is my guarantee the Wildcats will be back and better than ever next year.
Outside of Nerlens Noel, a consensus top-five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, all of their starters from this season could be returning. With a star-studded cast that includes Alex Poythress, Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein there shouldn’t be a team in the conference that can top the club. But for Kentucky Wildcat fans it gets even better.
Even though all of the aforementioned players have been leaning towards entering the NBA Draft, Goodwin’s initial comments following the loss to Robert Morris makes many think otherwise. The freshmen don’t want their careers in college basketball to end on such an embarrassing note. They want to come back and play for a championship.
The Wildcats could also be bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball’s history. Top recruit Julius Randle (No. 3 in ESPN 100) recently committed to “Big Blue Nation.” Next year’s phenomenal freshman will join the Harrison twins (Andrew and Aaron), two of the country’s best guards, a more than skilled swingman in James Young, and one of the best overall center prospects in Dakari Johnson. This could go down as one of the greatest recruiting classes, and could, in turn, develop one of the greatest college teams in the modern era.
Throw in the possibility of adding another Class of 2013 prospect or two, and Kentucky could have as many as 11 or 12 former five-star recruits on its roster. This would not only overload the team in talent but it would make an unbeatable squad, a pseudo-Monstars-esque Space Jam-like club that could only be imagined in the deep annals of a Stephen King novel. The Wildcats would be scary. But if not controlled properly, they could easily have a repeat season.
There also has to be a separation of playing time, something Calipari really hasn’t dealt with at Kentucky. When you have a team where almost every player has the potential to become a future NBA All-Star, certain characteristics jump in the way of every winning effort. The chemistry between players will be a key turning point if Kentucky plans on making a long run next March.
That future could produce numerous complaints. Calipari can’t promise them all 25-30 minutes per game. But on the other side of things, this could lead to a high level of competition in preseason to fight for spots, and would be a good indicator of the strength and longevity of Calipari’s team. One thing’s for sure, next year’s squad will be a tremendous upgrade from this year’s unmotivated squad of freshmen that seemed unwilling at times to play for the defending champion coaching staff.
Alex Kline, who runs the Recruit Scoop on Rivals.com, actually doesn’t see this year’s freshmen coming back.
“I don’t see them coming back at all,” Kline says. “Based on that, I think Kentucky is on course to win a national championship in 2014 with the talent and depth they have. Depth is the key word here. They need depth in case of injury this year. Had Nerlens Noel stayed healthy, Kentucky likely makes the tournament and becomes a threat to everyone.
“So although Johnson and (Marcus) Lee will be in the post; Young and Randle will have on the perimeter; and the Harrison twins will have at the guard position, I feel as if their backups will be the key to each game. If injury or foul trouble happens, it could hurt this team just as it could hurt any team. They have the talent, and I’m sure they will mesh well after a while, but no one can avoid the unavoidable.”
Still, no matter what happens with this year’s freshmen, it will be an intriguing season watching the “Big Blue Nation.” Behind one of the strongest classes to ever come through college basketball, it is highly unlikely that Kentucky isn’t cutting down the nets this time next year. The only thing more improbable than Kentucky not getting to the Final Four is the Sixers making the playoffs this year. Fans can only dream.
Should this year’s freshmen leave for the NBA or stay for next year?
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