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2013-14 Season Analytical Writings
In what has become the standard operating procedure for Coach Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats, his 2013-14 version will be a substantially new team for the 5 th season in a row. Coach Calipari will build the 2013-14 edition around twelve (12) scholarship players and four (4) walk on players. However, that is only part of the news, because of the 16 total players, nine will be incoming freshmen (Eight Scholarship and One Walk on), and of the returners, Seniors Hood (Injury Plagued Career) and Polson (Former Walk on), and Sophomores Cauley-Stein and Poythress are the only returning players with any significant playing time. Unlike 2011-12, when returners Lamb and Jones both had viable Final Four experience, experience at that level will not exist in 2013-14 except for the bit roles that Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson played in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Last year, Coach Calipari discovered his team was short handed with respect to scholarship players (only 9). This fact limited Coach Calipari's ability to use the bench as a motivational and teaching tool. Then, when the team lost its heart and soul (Nerlens Noel's Season Ending Injury at Florida), Coach Calipari's options for the 2012-13 team virtually disappeared. Following the Noel injury, the team limped to the finish line losing six of their last 10 and four of their last five games. In the process, UK fell out of the NCAA field for the first time during the Calipari era.
Despite the team's obvious handicaps, it did manage two very impressive wins in their limp to the finish line in beating Missouri and Florida (both at Rupp). However, the humiliation at Tennessee, the inability to get a single win in the SEC Tournament, and the embarrassing first round NIT loss to Robert Morris dwarf if not destroy the comfort of those wins.
Coach Calipari has shown us that it is not the number of players that determine the quality of the team, but the quality of the players who log significant game minutes. However, the 2012-13 experience demands a modification of this view because there is clearly a critical mass of capable players that Coach Calipari must have on his roster to provide the him the coaching options and flexibility to use the bench as a motivational tool. Last year's team did not have that critical mass. By all accounts, Coach Calipari is adjusting his recruiting and coaching philosophies to this new reality. For that reason, this year's team should be a factor in March and April, when the games matter most.
Most UK observers believe that the 2011 and 2013 rosters were thinner than desired because Coach Calipari wanted to have room to accommodate the bumper crops of recruits in the 2011 and 2013 classes. The 2010-11 Cats struggled through the entire regular season, but it eventually found its identity, responded to Coach Calipari's teaching, and finished with a strong post-season drive to a Final Four appearance. The 2012-13 Cats also struggled through the regular season, but when the team lost Nerlens Noel in game 24 at Florida, any hope for a similarly strong finish disappeared.
Of course, in college basketball, each year provides a new and unique mix of players. Gone from the 2013 team are Seniors Twany Beckham (who did not play significant minutes due to injury) and Julius Mays (transfer into the program a single season). Also gone are Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin as first round selections in the 2013 NBA draft. Two other players will not return to the 2013-14 UK team. Starting point guard Ryan Harrow has transferred to Georgia State, and sixth man Kyle Wiltjer has transferred to Gonzaga.
The returning players from the 2012-13 team are Redshirt Senior Junior Jon Hood, Senior Jarrod Polson, Sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, and Junior walk-ons Lanter, Long, and Malone. Coach Calipari has added to those four “veterans” nine incoming freshmen, including six (6) of the top ranked thirteen (13) players in the 2013 class. This fact is cited by those who regard the 2013 freshman class as greatest recruiting crop ever assembled at UK, and perhaps the greatest recruiting class ever assembled, anywhere. This recruiting class includes:
Julius Randle (02 Rank in class)
Aaron Harrison (03 Rank in class)
Andrew Harrison (04 Rank in class)
Marcus Lee (09 Rank in class)
James Young (11 Rank in class)
Dakari Johnson (13 Rank in class)
Derrick Willis (64 Rank in class)
Dominique Hawkins (173 Rank in class, but whose star rose to glory in the 2013 Kentucky High School Tournament), and
Walk-on E. J. Floreal
So, let the comparisons begin:
1. How will this team compare to last year's team?
2. How will this team compare to the field next season?
I am sure that folks will frame the 2012 vs. 2013 comparisons in many ways. Here is mine.
PG: Harrow v Andrew Harrison
The John Calipari history with point guards has become mythical, if not fully legendary, but Ryan Harrows tenure in that role did nothing to advance that legend. His timidity, coupled with what appeared from the outside looking in to be conflict between coach and player resulted in a team languishing without the leadership that Coach Calipari demands from his point guard position. Last year at this time, the common thinking was that Harrow will not measure up but his redshirt experience against Teague would at least allow him to hit the ground running with respect to his point guard responsibilities. Not! We do not know whether Andrew Harrison can approach the standards set by Rose, Wall, Knight, and Teague, but there is little doubt that Andrew Harrison will provide leadership on the floor that Harrow never delivered. HUGE ADVANTAGE 2014 .
C: Noel v Cauley-Stein
Nerlens Noel was the heart and soul of the 2012-13 UK Basketball team. When the season began, he was timid as he learned how to play at the collegiate level, and adjusted to the speed of the game. However, with each new game, his confidence grew, and by mid-season, he was showing his teammates and the nation how to defend the goal. He shared time with Willie Cauley-Stein and at times they shared space on the court. However, Willie Cauley-Stein had less basketball experience, less basketball acumen when they both arrived. Like Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein grew into a comfort zone by the end of the season, and his return to for his sophomore year will provide the Cats a post man with signifricant experience. In Coach Calipari's four years, his post has been manned by DeMarcus Cousins (An emerging NBA beast), Josh Harrellson (A success story unlike many in the game), and Anthony Davis (Perhaps the greatest player to ever were Wildcat Blue). So, Nerlens Noel is a difficult case to assess fairly. He is not Anthony Davis. He is not DeMarcus Cousins. But, he is Nerlens Noel, and he was formidable in the lane. Willie Cauley-Stein will probably not measure up to that recent lineage of post players. Advantage 2013 , but not by as great a margin as many will presume and the UK post will be adequately manned in 2014.
SG: Goodwin v Aaron Harrison
At the off guard position, Archie Goodwin faced two problems. He was following Eric Bledsoe (who could get to the rim through traffic and finish as if he were a 5 star SEC running back, and Doron Lamb, who for two seasons gave UK the reliable perimeter threat that allowed him to operate effectively in the lane. No one can question Archie Goodwin's ability to get to the rim, but he failed to show an ability to consistently finish once he arrived there. Some say he did not understand the game well enough. Some say he was selfish. Some say his game suffered because he lacked the support at the point, and the wings, that blessed Bledsoe and Lamb while at UK. I believe that his game suffered because of his supporting cast, as evidenced by his first round NBA draft selection and the early reports out of his Phoenix practice camp. However, given the supporting cast that will bless the 2014 Cats, and Aaron Harrison's familiarity with the 2014 point guard, Aaron Harrison will find that his game will have ample opportunity to flourish. His perimeter game is stronger than Archie's, and with the frontcourt players on this team, any ability that Aaron has to work inside the lane will be an added bonus, much like Lamb provided Huge Advantage 2014 .
SF: Poythress v Poythress
Last year, Alex Poythress was something of an enigma, and I believe that was a combination of his playing at the PF position when his bundle of talents are more suited to the SF position (see above). Couple that with a disappearing act after one of the most impressive early season sequence of games as any UK freshman has ever enjoyed and I conclude that the UK team did not get as much production from Poythress in 2013 as it should have, or expected. Regardless, Poythress as a Sophomore will be better than Poythress the freshman. Alex Poythress made 4 of 9 attempts after the Noel injury, and 10-24 over the first 24 games. Alex Poythress will find more opportunities to use his perimeter game in 2014, and his ability to get to the rim, and post up smaller opponents will allow him to display his full game as a Sophomore. The amount of improvement we get from Poythress in 2013-14 may determine how deep the Cats can advance in March. Advantage 2014 .
PF: Wiltjer v. Randle
A year ago, Kyle Wiltjer figured to play a significant role for the team based on the experience he could have delivered from the 2012 Championship run. Coach Calipari moved Kyle Wiltjer from a fixture at the perimeter, waiting for the pass out from the lane to a player that posted up smaller opponents. However, without the attention that Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Lamb, and Terrence Jones demanded from opposing defenses, Kyle Wiltjer found it much more difficult to get his shot. After Nerlens' injury, Kyle only made 6 of 30 three point attempts over the last 9 games, while he had made 49 of 120 shots from the arc in the first 24 games. Randle comes to campus as the #2 overall recruit in the nation, and he should not only be more comfortable on the floor than Kyle Wiltjer ever appeared. I believe Randle will adapt to the collegiate speed without much difficulty. Clear Advantage 2014 ..
Hood, RS Jr: v Hood, RS Sr Advantage 2014
The 2014 team will be stronger in its starting five across the board, and the 2014 Kentucky bench will be deeper and stronger across the board, with the exception of replacing the experience of Julius Mays.
Who can really say with confidence who the starting players will be once October and November arrive. However, when a team's primary problem is defined by finding playing time to keep all the very gifted players engaged, the program is in top form as compared to last year when everyone in the world knew that Coach Calipari only had 7 players, regardless of the difficulties they were having. What a difference a year can make.
I believe that the 2013-14 Kentucky team will begin the season as a top 5 team, if not the pre-season #1 team in the nation. Other top rated teams in the pre-seaosn will include defending champion Louisville, Michigan State, Kansas, and Duke. This team will be young, as has become the trademark for the Calipari era at UK. However, the 2014 Cats will begin with more experience due to Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning for their sophomore seasons, and Polson and Hood back as seniors. I expect the 2013-14 version of the Wildcats will mature and grow up at a pace similar to the 2011-12 championship team. If you recall, that team needed about 20 games before their game exploded and carried them to the championship.
In the 2011 edition of this analysis, I fearlessly forecast that the 2011-12 team had a legitimate opportunity to traverse its regular season without a defeat, which it did but for its only stumble at Assembly Hall by 1 point, to a very solid Indiana team. I do not foresee the same opportunity for an undefeated regular season campaign in 2013-14, but Coach Calipari and his players have discussed, indeed embraced this possibility openly during this off-season as a central team goal for the 2013-14 season. However, the non-conference schedule is formidable with road games at Baylor and North Carolina, a neutral court encounter with Michigan State in the third game of the year, and the Louisville Cardinals at Rupp Arena. Since it is that time of year for gazing into the crystal ball, I believe the Cats will be favored to beat every non-conference opponent except the game at North Carolina (3 ½ dog) and Michigan State (Statistical Push).
In the expanded SEC, with 18 regular season games, I believe there are three road games for which the outcomes cannot be predicted as probable Kentucky wins prior to the season, at Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Of these, I believe UK will be the underdog in Gainesville (7 ½ Pts) and Columbia, Missouri (4 Pts). In Nashville, I see that game as a statistical pick-em. Based on this pre-season analysis, these Cats could lose as many as five games [2 non-conference and 3 SEC] going into the post season (26-5 or better). If the Cats split the two “pick-em” games, the regular season record would improve to 27-4. This team will be one of the legitimate contenders to compete in the Final Four for their third time in the last four seasons, and could be in the title hunt come April.
For those who see the 2012-13 results as a harbinger of bad times ahead for Calipari's Cats, I simply fail to understand how these critics can completely discount (ignore) the record of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 Calipari teams, which is what they must do to use only 2013 as the defining season for the future. The projections described above are based on a projection to 2014 based on a weighted average of the 2010 through 2013 performance measures. While this projection method gives 2013 slightly more influence than 2010, 2011, or 2012, the projection does not ignore those other seasons. If the “average” of the 4 prior years proves valid, the 4 to 5 losses will occur. However, if the 2014 Cats out perform this projection model in 2014, demonstrating that the 2013 results are really an outlier of the available database, then this team will have a legitimate chance of meeting the coach and players goal of a 31-0 regular season.
Thank you Coach Calipari for bringing us #8, and keeping this program in the hunt for #9.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks