If you were to listen to most people talk about Kentucky basketball for the 2015-16 season, you would think the sky is falling in Lexington.
Guess that normally happens when a team loses its top seven players to the NBA Draft just a year after going 38-1 and losing in the Final Four. But, things are different in Kentucky. There’s still a ton of McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and one of the best coaches in the game patrolling the sidelines.
But, there’s plenty to be excited about if you’re a fan of Kentucky. Just take a look at the 2010-11 team that made the Final Four and won the SEC Tournament thanks to the likes of a Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. The Wildcats lost their top four players from the year before in John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. That team only went six deep, with no true backup center, relying on Eloy Vargas for that role.
This team is much better than the 2010-11 team. People are starting to forget the Wildcats still signed the top point guard in the class of 2015 and the top center in the class of 2015. Joining them is a tough-minded wing from Chicago and a knockdown shooter, who has experience playing at the collegiate level.
Yesterday while guest hosting on Kentucky Sports Radio’s podcast, college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein made a great point that should settle Big Blue Nation down. He said, “The one thing people need to remember is, often times under John Calipari, people have been spoiled with talent and they forget role players are valuable.”
On the same show assistant coach Tony Barbee said the coaching staff hopes to add one or two more pieces before the start of the season. There are still two big names out there – Jamal Murray and Thon Maker – who a lot of people think will play college ball next season.
Murray is the important one. “Jamal Murray would change the landscape of Kentucky dramatically,” Rothstein said. “He would be a real, real threat to change things.”
While Murray is deciding between Oregon and Kentucky as well as what year he’ll start college ball, there is plenty of talent on the Wildcats’ roster. More importantly, there’s ultra-competitive and one of the best pure point guards in the country in Tyler Ulis.
That could be the main difference between the 2015-16 version and the 2010-11 version of Kentucky. The second team under Calipari had to deal with little veteran leadership, relying on junior Darius Miller. Yes, there was senior Josh Harrellson and junior DeAndre Liggins, but they weren’t used a ton before the year started.
This coming year there will be the perfect mix of leadership. See Ulis, senior Alex Poythress and junior Marcus Lee. Poythress has seen the highs and lows of college basketball, making the NIT, battling injury and getting moved to the bench as a starter.
So, Kentucky fans. Take a deep breath. You guys will be fine next year, starting with another preseason top-5 ranking and the favorites to win the SEC.