Five and Five: North Carolina’s Strengths and Weaknesses Against Kentucky

Posted by KCarpenter on December 2nd, 2011

The big game is tomorrow, and even if it’s probably not going to be “The Game of the Millenium,” there will be an unbelievable amount of talent on display as two contenders go head-to-head in Lexington. Right now, let’s take a good hard look at North Carolina and outline some strengths and weaknesses. (ed. note: the Kentucky analysis is here)

Strengths

  • North Carolina Matches Up With Kentucky: Kentucky has one of the most freakishly athletic line-ups in the country. They are taller, longer, faster, and stronger than just about any team in the country. In North Carolina, the Wildcats meet a team that won’t feel over-matched on the basis of sheer athletic talent. The dominating performances that Kentucky has had early in the season will be harder to replicate against a very athletic Tar Heel team.
  • North Carolina Can Contain Terrence Jones: The two times that Jones has faced North Carolina, he hasn’t been able to dominate games. In fact, he’s struggled against the Tar Heels. Last December, Jones went three of 17 from the field on his way to a nine-point, six-rebound game. In the Elite Eight, he was also quiet with 11 points and seven rebounds, and turned the ball over four times. As talented as the team is, Jones is still Kentucky’s leading scorer and a bad game from him could hurt the Wildcats.

Jones Has Struggled Against The Tar Heels

  • Depth: So far this year, Kentucky has used a very shallow rotation that leans heavily on the starters while giving plenty of minutes to the experienced Darius Miller and using Kyle Wiltjer in spot minutes. North Carolina, by contrast normally goes eight deep with its standard rotation with spot minutes going to Justin Watts, Desmond Hubert, and Stilman White. With such a talented team, it makes sense that Kentucky’s rotation is pretty shallow, but there are two ways that this can hurt the Wildcats. Against North Carolina’s up-tempo attack, players tend to get tired more quickly, and often need rest. If Kentucky doesn’t pay attention, they may find their best players going into the final minutes with tired legs. Worse, a shallow rotation is vulnerable to foul trouble, something North Carolina excels at creating. Last December, four Kentucky players fouled out against North Carolina, including three starters. John Calipari will have to carefully calibrate the level of physicality he wants his players to bring on defense, or he might find his team in crunch time with his best players out of the game.
  • Experience: As a young team, North Carolina doesn’t often get to play the experience card, but against the youth of Kentucky, the Tar Heels seem like grizzled veterans. Starting a senior, two juniors, and two wise-beyond-their-years sophomores in Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall, this UNC team expects to play more cohesively and with better chemistry than their young adversaries who are still trying to learn each other.
  • Payback: Kentucky was the team that ended North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament run. After North Carolina’s loss last Saturday, Kentucky supplanted the Tar Heels at the top of the polls. The Wildcats have taken what North Carolina felt belonged to them and that’s a powerful motivation. Beyond team feelings, it seems like Zeller has a personal vendetta against Kentucky. Of course, the wry and stoic big man seems unlikely to get worked up by, well, just about anything, but it was in the Kentucky game during Zeller’s freshmen year that he broke his wrist. Since then, he’s always played well against Kentucky, whether in back-up minutes in 2009, or in a starring role in 2010 and 2011. Last December, Zeller scored a team-high 27 points on 13 shots while collecting 11 rebounds and five blocks. In the losing effort in March, he managed 21 points on 12 shots, nine rebounds, and four blocks.
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A Quick, Fake Summary: St. John’s Cannot Hide or Ever, Ever Escape

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 1st, 2011

Most folks wouldn’t be surprised if St. John’s lost tonight; any young team without their head coach in attendance would be rightful underdogs visiting a #1 team on their home court. It also wouldn’t be surprising if Kentucky finished the game with lot of blocks. They’ve been swatting them at an excellent pace for most of this early season. But the combination of Red Storm youth and Kentucky defensive length and intensity created the perfect environment for freshman forward Anthony Davis to wreak havoc.

Davis accumulated eight blocks through the second half of Kentucky’s 81-59 victory tonight. Kentucky fans in Rupp Arena were openly cheering for Davis to tie or break Kentucky’s single-game block record (nine, shared by Andre Riddick and Sam Bowie). When referee Jim Burr called a questionable body foul on Davis denying the ninth block, it was like a pitcher on a no-hitter in the 8th inning giving up a bloop single. Davis subbed out with 4:44 left in the game with 15 points and 15 rebounds and having outshined his teammates on the national stage.

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Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: St. John’s @ Kentucky

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 1st, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Gerald Smith and Patrick Prendergast are going one-on-one to break down St. John’s trip to Rupp Arena to face Kentucky.

Gerald Smith: They’re young now, they’re wild now and they want to be free; Kentucky and St. John’s have got the magic power of freshmen in them! The Johnnies gathered the third-best recruiting class in the nation which included Maurice Harkless, D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer. The Wildcats managed yet another number one recruiting class of Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer (7.8 PPG while averaging 16 minutes per game) has been the slowest to adjust to the speed and complexity of coach John Calipari’s system. The other freshmen have been crucial from the beginning: Kidd-Gilchrist (12.5 PPG while averaging 30 minutes per game), Teague (11.7 PPG while averaging 30 minutes per game) and Davis (12.7 PPG while averaging 25.7 minutes per game) have powered the Kentucky machine to triumphs over Top 25 Kansas and an experienced and well-defending Old Dominion squad.

Its Fresmanpalooza in Lexington (credit: BB Times)

These Wildcats freshmen starters aren’t without their faults. Davis is still learning how to play as a collegiate-level forward who should be more effective in the post. Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump-shooting will be a thorn in his side most of the season. Teague is experiencing the normal growing pains of Calipari point guards: Forcing too many plays which lead to turnovers or bad offensive sets.

Which St. John’s freshmen have been the fueling their team so far this season?

Patrick Prendergast: First off, it is a shame that St. John’s coach Steve Lavin will not be on the sideline for the game as he continues in his recovery from prostate cancer surgery. His presence would have added to the allure of this one. If St. John’s, a team that has not played well of late, can hang in there with the more talented Kentucky team as they did with Arizona and Texas A&M, this has the potential to be an extremely entertaining game as it is difficult to see the Storm go out of character and try to slow the game down to offset Kentucky’s need for speed.

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Breaking Down the Play: Kentucky’s Post Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 29th, 2011

Breaking Down the Play is a regular feature during the season to provide in-depth analysis on the Xs and Os of an SEC team. Today’s Breaking Down the Play goes in depth on Kentucky’s ability to feed the post for a variety of options.

Kentucky’s ability to feed the post provides the Wildcats with a variety of options out of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. The Cats were not establishing a post presence in their first several games of the year, but in the last two games they have made the inside out game a bigger part of their offensive strategy. In fact, Kentucky has run a designed play to give Terrence Jones the ball in the low post on the first play of the game in both of their last two contests. Kentucky has been extremely effective when making a pass to the post because of at least three different offensive options that open up for the Wildcats.

Below are the three plays from the game against Portland that showcase Kentucky’s options out of the post in the Dribble Drive offense:

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Can Kentucky Become A Team? Does It Need To?

Posted by nvr1983 on November 23rd, 2011

The old adage is that for many great teams the whole is greater than the sum of their parts, but for this year’s Kentucky team the opposite may be true. While John Calipari and the rest of Big Blue Nation hopes that this changes by the end of the season, the team’s performance early on indicates that this may not be the case. If the Wildcats continue to excel as individuals playing well in moments, but doing so inconsistently, the question is whether these Kentucky Wildcats are loaded enough to win a title by relying on their extraordinarily talented parts as opposed to becoming an efficiently functioning team. We have seen plenty of instances where supremely talented teams fail to live up to their potential because they rely on spectacular individual performances rather than cohesive play as a unit. However, few college basketball teams have boasted this amount of talent (all five Kentucky starters could be selected in next year’s NBA Lottery), particularly in an era where much of the top-level talent spends so little time in college.

Are The Wildcats A Group Of Individuals Or A Team?

The suggestion that the Wildcats function more as a talented group of individuals rather than a team should not be taken as a condemnation of Kentucky’s basketball team or John Calipari’s coaching methods even if some within the Big Blue Nation will take it as such. It is more a reflection of the extraordinary talent on this team and the lack of experience (outside of two seniors, the rotation is essentially two sophomores and four freshmen). You can make a compelling argument that the Wildcats still have ample time this season to come together as a team, but an equally compelling argument can be made that the skill sets of the players in their rotation tend to overlap so much that it is unrealistic for Calipari to put a rotation of his five best players on the floor and not have at least one of the players be somewhat redundant. As a result, it is unlikely that Kentucky will use all five players on the court at their optimal level, particularly on offense.

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Inconsistencies in SEC Preseason Awards Overshadows Positives

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 10th, 2011

The SEC Men’s Basketball Coaches Preseason All-SEC Awards were released yesterday, and they demonstrate the ridiculousness of preseason awards by demeaning the entire process. In a season where there is more talent in the SEC than any year in recent memory, the inconsistencies among the coaches’ decisions is troubling. The 2011-12 SEC Coaches first and second teams are as follows:

First Team All-SEC

  • G Dee Bost, Mississippi State
  • G Kenny Boynton, Florida
  • C Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
  • F JaMychal Green, Alabama
  • G John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
  • F Terrence Jones, Kentucky
  • G/F Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
  • G Erving Walker, Florida

Hey, Where Are the Freshmen SEC Stars Like Brad Beal?

Second Team All-SEC

  • F Reginald Buckner, Ole Miss
  • G Doron Lamb, Kentucky
  • G Darius Miller, Kentucky
  • F Tony Mitchell, Alabama
  • F Marshawn Powell, Arkansas
  • G Trevor Releford, Alabama
  • G Gerald Robinson, Georgia
  • F Renardo Sidney, Miss. State
  • F/C Patric Young, Florida

I have three major issues with this list:

  1. An All-Conference award team should consist of five players. Not eight. Not nine. Five. This is not an environment where everyone receives a trophy, and we should honor as many players as possible. Placing eight players on the first team and nine on the second team devalues the prestige of receiving the honor in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
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The 2011-12 ProZach Awards

Posted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @zhayes9.

Every August, ESPN college football guru Kirk Herbstreit releases his Herbie awards, a grab bag of honors and predictions about the upcoming season covering everything from quickest running back to hardest-hitting linebacker. The Herbies are so popular they even resulted in their own half-hour show hosted by Herbstreit and Erin Andrews. With no equivalent in the hoops world, I volunteered to step up to the plate. Some of these awards are Herbie knock-offs, some are 100% original and all are intended to be fun. Whether they look ridiculous by March…well, the jury is out. Here are this year’s Pro-Zach awards, passing out happy pills since 2011:

Washington's Terrence Ross is ready to make the leap

All-Next Chapter

  • Team Irreverence: Players Who Don’t Get Enough Respect – GOLD: Rodney McGruder (Kansas State), SILVER: Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion), BRONZE: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
  • Shhh, Don’t Tell: Best Kept Secrets – GOLD: C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), SILVER: Alex Young (IUPUI), BRONZE: Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts)
  • Forwarding Address: Top Transfers – GOLD: Mike Rosario (Florida), SILVER: Royce White (Iowa State), BRONZE: Brandon Wood (Michigan State)
  • Fresh Approach: Top True Freshmen – GOLD: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), SILVER: Austin Rivers (Duke), BRONZE: Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
  • Off and Running: Ready To Take It To The Next Level – GOLD: Terrence Ross (Washington), SILVER: Keith Appling (Michigan State), BRONZE: Michael Snaer (Florida State)

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Kentucky’s Forgotten Man: Eloy Vargas

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2011

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats are the media darlings of the SEC and perhaps the entire country. There are already countless stories about the talents of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. There are plenty of anecdotes about the leadership of senior Darius Miller. The media likes to talk about the pressure on Marquis Teague to follow in the footsteps of the lineage of great point guards who have played before him in John Calipari’s system. There is even a documentary on HBO focusing on the life of a Kentucky freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But you probably won’t find another story about the importance of Eloy Vargas’ impact on the Kentucky Wildcats. Until now.

Eloy Vargas could be called upon to do significantly more for the Wildcats this year

The media overlooks Vargas because it is easy to do. But Kentucky fans don’t forget him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Throughout most of his playing career, Kentucky fans wish they could forget about Vargas.

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SEC Morning Five: 10.25.11 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 25th, 2011

  1. The Southeastern Conference’s official preseason media poll was released yesterday. You know what that means: Time for Nerdfightin‘! It is hard to argue against Kentucky being picked as the overwhelming favorite to win the conference championship. Receiving 18 (of 23 total) first-place votes, the Wildcats topped Vanderbilt (four first-place votes), Florida (one first-place vote) and Alabama (no first-place votes). South Carolina was voted the last place team.
  2. Also ripe for your nitpickin’ and message board forum fighting: the media’s All-SEC Teams. Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones was voted SEC Player of the Year and joins Vandy’s John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, Alabama’s JaMychal Green and Mississippi State’s Dee Bost on the First Team All-SEC list. Three more Kentucky players — senior Darius Miller, sophomore Doron Lamb and freshman Anthony Davis — join Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli and Florida’s Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker as members of the six-player Second Team All-SEC. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish threw the first nerdfight punch when he complained that Anthony Davis (like former Kentucky player John Wall before him) should be on the preseason First Team since Davis is arguably the most-talented player in the conference. We tend to agree and wonder why if there can be a six-member Second Team why there couldn’t be a six-member First Team?
  3. Hope you didn’t miss our piece on Christian Laettner‘s appearance in Rupp Arena last night. Another player with more recent Kentucky history made an appearance during the Big Blue All-Stars exhibition game: Former Wildcat Enes Kanter. The Turkish-born Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for accepting benefits above an allowable amount while part of Turkish club team Fenerbahce. At last, Enes was freed, but his first game at Rupp was slightly underwhelming. Kanter looked out-of-sorts with the pace of the game and his NBA peers. Eager to involve the big man, All-Star teammate Rajon Rondo tried working with Kanter on several pick-and-roll plays; Kanter was surprised at the speed of Rondo’s bounce passes and lobs. Eventually Kanter settled into cleaning up offensive rebounds, made some mid-range jumpers and finished with 14 points and 10 boards. But his performance was not the kind of dominating debut Kentucky fans were hoping to see of the highly-sought big man.
  4. Free Missouri! The school seemingly wants to join SEC Expansion 2011: ALL YOUR TEAMS ARE BELONG TO US. Though in a meeting of Big 12 presidents and athletic directors Monday evening, Mizzou did not formally withdraw from the conference. Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told the Kansas City Star that, “a strong desire for the University of Missouri to maintain its Big 12 affiliation was expressed” at the meeting. Yet when asked after the meeting about the Big 12, Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton said, “I wish them the best and all that. So we’ll see where that goes.” Sounds like where that is going is the SEC offices in Birmingham.
  5. One of Missouri’s concerns about a move to the SEC is how it would affect Kansas City. The Big 12 will likely no longer hold its annual basketball tournament in KC. When Mizzou’s Board of Curators directed Brady Deaton to explore other conference options, they gave him explicit instructions to set up a holiday tournament for Kansas City. There is some pessimism regarding the success of a team-oriented tournament; ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote, “few power-six schools play in these non-exempt two-game tournaments anymore. … Most non-elite tournaments have shut down because of the difficulty of scheduling these games.” We think the next best option is to make a semi-home conference game in Kansas City with a familiar foe: Texas A&M. The two schools could promote the game as “The Battle for the Greener Pastures“.
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SEC Morning Five: 10.20.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 20th, 2011

  1. LSU took an 11-day summer trip to Italy, which Tigers’ coach Trent Johnson is hoping will translate into improved play this year. The Tigers won all six games they played in May, but more importantly, were forced to fine tune an offense that ranked last in the SEC in scoring average at 62.2 PPG in 2010-11. LSU played with international rules which meant they adhered to a 24-second shot clock. Johnson said, “you play international rules and the game is basically all about offense with a 24-second shot clock. They do not like to guard you, and they like to get real physical with you, so it put us in some very adverse situations.” With returning leadership and the benefit of extra practice over the summer, LSU is hoping the overseas trip will benefit the Tigers’ team this year, although Italy has not led to positive results for all of its visitors recently.
  2. Festus Ezeli’s six-game suspension has opened the door for other ‘Dores to step up with additional playing time. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said 6’11” redshirt freshman Josh Henderson and 6’9″ senior Steve Tchiengang will see extra minutes. Stallings has been impressed with Henderson’s progression thus far saying, “he’s a surprisingly good rebounder for a guy that’s not real fast. He’s gifted as a passer, he’s one of those big guys that has vision.”
  3. Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones knows an SEC team will cut down the nets this April. Jones wrote with conviction that the Kentucky Wildcats will win the 2011-12 National Championship. He didn’t say might win it or could win it. He said will. His three reasons why? Well, if you’re that interested, then give it a read over at Grantland. Jones put into words the general sentiment in Lexington and around Big Blue Nation that this is the year for the Wildcats. Kentucky has the “it” factor with more talent than ever before and John Calipari is a coach who has come close so many times in the past that the ball will eventually bounce his way.  Something tells us the people in Chapel Hill are feeling the same way!
  4. Speaking of Kentucky, John Calipari’s teams haven’t exactly been known for their senior leadership. 6’7″ senior Darius Miller is trying to change that as he enters his second year as the leader of yet another group of talented incoming freshmen. Miller reflected on his leadership abilities saying, “last year, I think I struggled with [leading] early on. I’m more comfortable with it now, honestly.” Freshman point guard Marquis Teague agreed that Miller looks out for the rest of the guys saying, “he gets everything organized for practice, makes everything happen on time. He’s like our big brother.” Kentucky will need Miller’s leadership both on and off the court to meet the always-high expectations of Wildcat fans.
  5. The University of Florida student newspaper discussed the tempo of Billy Donovan’s Gator teams. Despite a perception of the Gators playing run and gun basketball, the 2010-11 team ranked 290th in the nation in adjusted tempo. And who doesn’t love KenPom stats? With the departure of strong front court players who were physical in the post and the addition of two dynamic guards making the back court even stronger this year, the Gators plan to push the basketball in transition and create turnovers with their patented press. Donovan plans to play three or even four guards at a time. Point guard Erving Walker said, “being that we have a lot more depth and knowing that in the past Coach Donovan liked to press a lot, I think we’ll be a much more fast-paced team.” The Gator guards just need to make sure the Florida bigs can keep up.
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SEC Practice Reports: Post-Madness Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 17th, 2011

Midnight Madness* (9 PM Madness just doesn’t have the same ring to it) brings excitement and fanfare, but more importantly, it symbolizes the beginning of the college basketball season. Two-a-days have officially begun, and the only thing sweeter than the return of basketball is knowing that you don’t have to run wind sprints tomorrow at 6 AM. And if by some odd circumstance you do find yourself running drills early in the morning, at least you don’t have to do it again in the afternoon like all twelve of our SEC basketball teams.  Here is an initial report from basketball practices around the SEC:

  • Florida coach Billy Donovan has been impressed with the decision making from 6’6” Casey Prather. Donovan said, “He’s made more of an impact the first two days of practices and really hasn’t even looked to score. He’s actually been more productive in practice offensively by taking a whole less amount of shots.” He also believes that 6’7” Will Yeguete’s rebounding skills will be key for the Gator’s frontline this year. Donovan said, “Will continues to be a guy that’s going to have to help us on the backboard rebounding-wise. I think I said the first day I thought one of my concerns was losing Chandler (Parsons), Vern (Macklin) and Alex (Tyus), we lost a lot of rebounding. And we’ve got to be scrappy around the glass.”
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari stressed using the floater as an effective tool in the UK offense. Even in the case of a miss, it draws the defender up and leaves a big man open for the rebound. Cal said, “It’s the best shot in the Dribble Drive. That’s a great shot for us.” Everyone knows the Cats have athleticism, but it sounds like Kentucky will be blessed with some good shooters as well. CoachCal.com editor Eric Lindsey wrote, “Saturday was the best I’ve seen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shoot the ball. During a timed drill, he frequently strung together streaks of five or more 3-pointers.” And even more encouraging for Cat fans, Lindsey wrote, “in that same drill, Darius Miller hardly missed. I didn’t see what the clock was set to -– it was only a few minutes -– but it sounded like Miller led everyone with 61 makes.” And if you like watching players get “posterized,” then there’s UK’s athletic freshmen Anthony Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist taking turns dunking on each other. First Davis dunks on Kidd-Gilchrist:

And then Kidd-Gilchrist returns the favor:

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on September 14th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Recruiting rankings are a tricky science. For every Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Tyreke Evans that rightfully hold fort among the upper echelons of nearly every recruiting publication, there’s a Gerald Green, B.J. Mullens or Lance Stephenson that fades into the abyss rather than catapults into the spotlight. Scouts spend countless hours on the recruiting trail and still whiff just as often as they discover the next diamond in the rough. When rankings, lists, stars or other overly effusive praise is heaped upon immature 16 or 17-year olds, throwing caution to the wind is usually a good strategy.

If the recruiting gurus have it right this time around, then the incoming class debuting at Kentucky this fall may be the best of John Calipari’s coaching career.

No, Marquis Teague has not directed his first half-court set. Anthony Davis hasn’t dunked over SEC-caliber big men. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t defended an explosive scorer on the wing, nor has Kyle Wiltjer had to fight for a rebound against 270-pound centers. But there’s a reason why the most respected in the recruiting world have these four incoming freshmen all placed in the top three at their respective positions, and surely we’re going to see those reasons sooner than later on Rupp Arena’s hallowed hardwood.

Throw in another future lottery pick in Terrence Jones, the purest of pure shooters in Doron Lamb, a do-everything senior starter on the wing in Darius Miller and a coach that patches together top-10 defensive teams year in and year out despite absurd turnover, and there’s plenty of reasons why most have Kentucky one line under North Carolina as the 2011-12 season approaches.

Of course, it’s only a ranking, a number, a list. What really counts begins in November.

Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas represent the lone seniors for Kentucky

Team Outlook: Kentucky is loaded with talent and, unlike last season, blessed with depth. Whereas Josh Harrellson, not exactly a model for prime conditioning, had to play upwards of 35 minutes per game deep into Kentucky’s run to the Final Four a season ago, Calipari has the luxury of shuffling Davis, backup center Eloy Vargas and even the 6’9 Wiltjer at the center position. Davis’ upside is nearly unlimited, drawing Kevin Garnett comparisons because of his versatility, mid-range capabilities and rebounding instincts. Calipari also has a plethora of capable wings at his disposal. Kidd-Gilchrist is the most complete incoming freshman in the country and the sophomore Jones is a future top-ten pick who showed glimpses of stardom before fading in the second half of his debut season. Doron Lamb shot a remarkable 49% from three despite the consensus that freshmen struggle to make shots and he’s almost an afterthought given the incoming freshmen and Jones’ return. The real test will be whether rookie Marquis Teague can continue Calipari’s point guard assembly line. There may be headaches and learning moments early, but given Calipari’s track record, Teague should prove himself more than capable.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8. Possibly engrained in his line of thinking from days at UMass and Memphis where non-conference duels often provided stiffer tests than in January and February, Calipari has always scheduled aggressively and this season is no different. It’s a perfect storm for a predominantly young Kentucky squad with both North Carolina and Louisville, two teams most consider top-10 outfits, traveling to Rupp. Their SEC/Big East Challenge opponent is also at home against a likely-overwhelmed St. John’s team. The possible road/neutral tests: Kansas in NYC, Old Dominion in Connecticut and a true road game at Indiana. Although the Hoosiers appear to be making slow strides back to relevance on the floor and major leaps on the recruiting trail, I suspect Kentucky will dispatch the upstart Hoosiers in similar fashion to their contest two seasons ago.

Cupcake City: Major props should be extended to Calipari for testing his team regardless of their youth, but, like any other coach from a blue-blood program, buy games are part of the equation. Out of the schedules I’ve seen thus far, the order of Kentucky’s slate is the most appealing from a strategic standpoint (unlike, say, Michigan State, who opens with some teams named North Carolina and Duke). Kentucky welcomes Marist as a warmup for Kansas. They mix in Radford and Portland before St. John’s, UNC and Indiana. They take their foot off the gas to avoid burnout before the intensity that Louisville provides. It’s precisely how I’d structure my schedule as a coach of an elite program with sky-high expectations.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s the game of the century. Okay, maybe that’s ridiculous hyperbole, but barring an unforeseen upset, Kentucky will welcome North Carolina to Lexington for a possible national title preview that will feature as many as nine first-round draft picks, two coaching celebrities that manage the most recognizable programs in the nation and a national TV audience on CBS. Keep an eye on how the wily veteran Miller handles the daunting task of defending Harrison Barnes and if Davis can hold his own down low against Carolina’s length.

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