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2014-15 Season Analytical Writings
The 2013-14 season ended on a high note, with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament's championship game against Connecticutt. However, the season also ended on a somber note with a loss in that game after what appeared throughout the tournament to be a run governed by destiny. With the close of the season, the chatter began immediately about which and how many of those 2013-14 players the Cats would lose to the NBA draft. Nearly everyone expected the personnel loses to be deep, just as it had been following the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons given the post season tournament success, and the appearance again in the final four and the championship game.
As has become the custom since Coach Calipari's arrival, the recruiting effort had already prepared to the rebuild that was clearly anticipated with four (and the potential for additional late recruiting signings) of the very best that the 2014 high school class had produced. The entire nation had learned the Kentucky routine. Yes, the Cats did lose two freshmen from the 2014 team to the NBA, Julius Randle and James Young.
However, Coach Calipari, the Big Blue Nation, and the entire basketball world was shocked when Alex Poythress decided to return for a Junior season. His decision was followed by Willie Cauley-Stein's decision to stick around for another year to enjoy the college life, get his degree, and go for the "ship". Then Dakari Johnson announced his decision to stay, followed by the capstone of all recruiting accomplishments for 2014-15 when the Harrison Twins decided to give it another year at UK.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches, Coach Calipari has been clear that he and his cohorts had been required to cope with the loss of 4 or more of their top performers in the past, and he and his staff would also learn to cope (adjust) to the return of 5 players that many agreed would have been first round or very high second round NBA draft selections. Add to that mix, returning players Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins, and Derek Willis, that is 8 returning players who logged significant time, and offer tremendous promise of major contributions this season and beyond.
John Calipari's method has identified 7 to 8 players to work into the game play rotation after allowing the players some freedom to demonstrate their game time worthiness in October and November. These 8 returning players could easily fill that bill. Oh my, what then can Coach Calipari do with the four incoming freshment: Devin Booker a sharp shooting guard, Tyler Ulis, a point guard's point guard, Trey Lyles, a 6-10 forward who can play either of the forward positions, and Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6-11 center/forward with experience in international championship competition while still in high school.
Oh my, what a difficult situation. Oh my, what will Coach Calipari do?
Well, the first thing Coach Calipari did was schedule an international trip for August. Not the usual scrap book filler with a few games against ready-made patsies, but 6 games over 8 days against quality international teams and European professional teams loaded with experienced high D-1 former basketball players. The next thing he did was pull out the creative new ideas book, and decided to play those 6 games with two platoons, essentially equal playing time for each of 10 players (Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles could not play due to injuries). The next thing Coach Calipari did was arrange for an NBA combine at the Craft center for scores of NBA player personnel experts and scouts to allow each player on the roster to display his skills prior to the season to eliminate that distraction from the course of the season. But, Coach Calipari's response to his embarrassment of riches does not end here, please keep reading.
The Bahamas experiment worked so well, that the 8 days in August sent shock waves throughout the college basketball world. Those shock waves hit resonance during the NBA combine, allowing those shock waves to remain loud in all corners at the end of October as this team prepares for its annual Blue-White game on Monday night.
Usually, I do not write about the Blue-White game, and wait for However, the Blue-White game should be the most interesting inter-squad basketball game in the rich history of UK basketball, and perhaps the most significant "scrimmage" ever for any college basketball team. Some say that Kentucky's two platoons may well be the best two college teams in the nation as this season prepares to open. It will be the only game that any player log more than 28 minutes until next season.
Kentucky sits atop every pre-season poll, save one. One rating service owner said that anyone who does not put this Kentucky team in the #1 slot does not know college basketball. While no one could have imagined higher expectations than the expectations that preceded last year's season, with the talk of 40-0, and all the talk about that great recruiting class. However, the expectations are even higher today for the 2014-15 season than they were at any time prior to the 2013-14 season. Yet, there is NO fantasizing about a 40-0 season. The anticipation has extended beyond fantasy, if that is possible.
Yes, Coach Calipari was not done with his response to the quality of his team. The next thing that Coach Calipari has done for the 2014-15 season is load up the non-conference schedule with challenges for his team. Kansas, Providence, Columbia, Texas, UNC, UCLA, and Louisville will present ample tests of this team's metal. Add to these sever non-conference tests, SEC trips to Florida, Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri, LSU and Georgia, and a home encounter with Florida, the Cats will have no less than 14 games out of 31 in which they must be ready to play to avoid losses. The story for the other 17 regular season games should be about the final margins.
Will this team be stronger than last year's team? If they are any stronger, there are only two games on the schedule that should be in real jeopardy: At Florida and at Louisville. If either of those teams have any slippage from last year's quality, this UK team should be able to get both of those road wins as well.
The sun is shining bright on our old Kentucky home, and it's basketball time in the Bluegrass. The Blue-White game is the first step on a journey that I believe will end with UK's ninth hung in the rafters at Rupp.
Go 4 Nine In '15!!!!!
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks