Kentucky made a historic run a season ago, finishing the regular season slate a perfect 31-0 before winning the SEC tournament and then advancing to the Final Four. With a 38-1 record, the Wildcats’ 71-64 loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four was the lone blemish for what was one of John Calipari’s most impressive years to date.
Calipari was inducted into the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame last month as he joined Mike Krzyzewski, Larry Brown, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino as the sixth active coach enshrined.
The seventh-year Kentucky coach is used to losing key players year and year out, but he’ll have to adjust quickly after a school-record seven players bolted to the NBA. In 2012, he six players declared for the draft including current NBA phenom Anthony Davis. The Wildcats failed to make the tournament the following season for just the second time since 1991.
The hope is that there won’t be a repeat like that this season with an almost entirely unrecognizable team in place.
Outside of that season where Kentucky finished with a 21-12 record and appeared in the NIT, Calipari has put together a 190-38 record in six years. That includes an impressive 82-20 showing in SEC play. The Wildcats won it all in 2011, finished as the NCAA Runner-up in 2013, appeared in the Final Four in 2010 and 2014 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2009, Calipari’s first year in charge.
Cal says despite the work they have to do, his team is made up of a bunch of good kids who want to learn and to get better.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 7, 2015
It’s been a heck of a run for Kentucky under Calipari. Yes, the Wildcats are bringing in top tier talent, so it makes Calipari’s job a little easier, but winning breeds success and with each new recruit coming into the program it will only build up the school’s legacy even more.
Kentucky finished this offseason with an NCAA-high eight recruits tied with Washington. However, Calipari’s freshmen group ranks No. 1 by almost every media outlet including 247 Sports. That consists of three five-star recruits in center Skal Labissiere and guards Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. Also, don’t forget four-star recruits, center Isaac Humphries and guard Charles Matthews.
Only two players from a season ago that averaged five points or per game are back with this new-look unit: Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis and senior forward Alex Poythress. Ulis averaged 23.8 MPG in 37 appearances while the lone senior this season, Poythress averaged 20.3 MPG in only eight games.
Ulis and Poythress are expected to be key leaders as Kentucky is facing a large youth turnover. The Wildcats still have six juniors led by solid defender Dominique Hawkins and forward Marcus Lee. Unfortunately for Hawkins it was announced on Monday that he’ll miss at least the next four weeks, but should return in early November.
The bottom line is, as long as Kentucky has Calipari running the show, it will be a contending program. Even with this revamped group, the ‘Cats are still the favorite to win the SEC and are a team that should make a very deep run into the tournament.
Labissiere, Murray and Briscoe are only freshmen, but the trio have to be licking their chops after seeing what Calipari has done for his previous freshmen stars, who are now flourishing at the next level.
Even though the names are different, the Wildcats are filled with too much talent once again and they shouldn’t go down easy to any opponent they face this season. The majority of NCAA teams struggle mightily when losing their top players, but not down in Kentucky with Calipari and their ability to recruit great talent.