As Kentucky fans debate whether this season's crop of decorated newcomers can meet or exceed the accomplishments of last year's freshman-driven team, John Calipari is doing his best to temper expectations.
The Kentucky coach wrote in an open letter to fans on his official website last week that the Wildcats "may be the worst rebounding team playing basketball today" and they have some "awful freshman habits" that need to be fixed or eliminated. Not only does Calipari not expect to enter conference play undefeated the way last year's team did, he also believes a few early losses could be productive.
Where we stand right now with toughness and rebounding, we probably need to struggle early because only a crisis brings about change. I hate to lose - you all know I hate to lose - but at times it's necessary for a team like this to take its knocks early in order to get them to realize the importance of rebounding and defense.
It's always difficult to evaluate how much of what Calipari says is spin and how much is truthful, but there's probably some legitimacy to what he's saying here.
For every top-ranked recruiting class that produces the way Kentucky's did a year ago, there's one like UCLA's vaunted 2008 class that fizzles and fails to live up to lofty expectations. And even if Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and the rest of Kentucky's young players prove ready to make an immediate impact, it's likely that rebounding and interior defense will be a weakness unless the NCAA restores 6-foot-11 Enes Kanter's eligibility.
Ultimately, most of the preseason projections for Kentucky seem reasonable thus far.
If Kanter plays, the Wildcats are a Final Four contender based on their enviable wealth of young talent. If Kanter sits out, the Wildcats are still an SEC East contender but their place in the national picture is dicier.