November 08, 2013
On the verge of the season officially tipping off for Kentucky, here are 10 things I'm excited/curious to see this year (in no particular order, really, just as they came to my head while writing):
10. That Michigan State game. The earliest meeting of No. 1 and No. 2, barely over a weekend away. We'll get to see just how close Kentucky is to being the team to beat in college basketball, right here, right now.
9. Julius Randle's perimeter game. He's already smooth working outside-in after being self-admittedly uncomfortable playing like that. Remember how Anthony Davis was a bit raw at the beginning of the year? Randle could take the same quantum leap and challenge for national Player of the Year as he gets better and better from outside.
8. Kentucky's defense. For years, stretching back to the his final two teams at Memphis, Calipari has coached his teams into being elite (as in top-15) defenses. That stopped last year. Without a Noel/Davis type to protect the rim (Cauley-Stein is a facsimile but not quite at their level), Calipari must get his freshmen on the perimeter to fully buy in to that side of the ball. And if/once they do, watch out. With that speed and length, this defense could be terrifying for opponents.
7. Rolling through SEC play. The 2012 title team really started to look like the juggernaut it was in conference play, blowing out almost every team they should have blown out and closing out tight games against good opponents the way a true contender should. By January, this team should be rounding into top form. Can the Cats challenge an undefeated SEC schedule again?
6. The Cauley-Stein/Dakari split. Two really talented players, two really different playing styles. Cauley-Stein will finish lobs and run with the rest of the fast-paced team; Dakari is a bulldozer down low who Calipari will want to feed on the post. Does one emerge over the other as the better complement to the rest of the roster, or do they remain in a 50/50 split?
5. Andrew Harrison's return. While the exhibition games were a bit underwhelming, we haven't seen this team with its starting point guard who's considered one of the 25 best players in the country right now. Calipari said Andrew "makes this team different." Just how much "better" can he make them?
4. James Young's steals. I had no idea Young was that active on the perimeter. He still needs some work guarding on-the-ball, but his instincts for when to swipe at the dribble and when to play passing lanes is fantastic. Will he be assigned to the other team's best player? And could he challenge Rajon Rondo's school record for single-season steals (87)? Young would have to average about 2.5 steals per game to break it.
3. Alex Poythress' production. His sophomore campaign already has lots of question marks. Are we in for a repeat of last year or is he ready to make a jump? From what I've seen, I'd bank more on Poythress remaining an enigma and ending up as nothing more than the 7th/8th man, an overqualified solid rotation piece who fills in at SF/PF depending on who's out at any given time.
2. Marcus Lee's minutes. One of the more mysterious players on the team right now. He didn't play in the first half in either of the exhibition games, and Calipari said it was because he needed to check out other guys. Does that mean he knows what Lee will provide and use him as a significant rotation player? Or does it mean he knows what Lee doesn't provide -- he mentioned that Lee doesn't have the skills to be a power forward right now -- and there's simply too much crowding in the front court for him to get anything more than 5-7 minutes per game?
1. History. No team has ever won the championship since 1986, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, with less than 36 percent of its previous team's point production returning. Kentucky brings back 31 percent. Can the Cats make history and become the team least reliant on returning pieces to ever win the title?