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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A Quick, Fake Summary: Kansas Couldn’t Beat Pitfall and Got Tired of Tryin’…

Posted by Gerald Smith on November 16th, 2011

Kentucky‘s freshmen entered Madison Square Garden and thought they were playing a different game. Maybe they pretended they were wearing McDonald’s All-America jerseys as each player tried to make plays one-on-one. Kentucky’s offense broke against a physical Kansas defense over and over. Freshman guard Marquis Teague had six turnovers and looked like he was button-mashing in NBA Live. Thanks to a superhuman effort by Terrence Jones and a Wildcat-wide defensive effort, Kentucky remained tied 28-all at halftime.

Coach John Calipari reminded his team at halftime they should be playing a different game. (No official word from the locker room if Calipari blew on the cartridge and held the reset button while powering on.) Kentucky entered the second half playing more team-oriented basketball and applied pressure to collect a 11-2 run. Later the Wildcats blew open the game when Doron Lamb (17 points on 3-5 3FG) and Darius Miller (five points, four assists in 20 minutes off the bench) exploited Kansas’ packed-in defense with a three-point barrage. Recovered as if expending an energy tank, Teague calmed himself and allowed no further turnovers. Freshman Anthony Davis (14 points, seven rebounds, six blocks) showcased his incredible talents and proved he could contribute offensively and defensively against stronger and thicker competition.

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Big 12 vs. SEC: Previewing the Kentucky vs. Kansas Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 15th, 2011

The Champions Classic pits two of the most storied programs in college basketball in one of the most anticipated matchups of the early season. This clash features #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats taking on the #11 Kansas Jayhawks in historic Madison Square Garden. The environment is sure to be electric as two of the nation’s marquee teams come together with a lineup of extremely talented players. The game will feature star power forwards as Kentucky’s Terrence Jones takes on the Jayhawk’s Thomas Robinson. The best of the Big 12 will meet the king of the SEC. It’s Kentucky vs. Kansas. And we have everything you need to know to prepare for the their inaugural Champions Classic game.

History of the Rivalry

This section was written by Gerald Smith. Gerald is an SEC microsite writer and the SEC Correspondent for Rush the Court.

Despite the thousands of games both teams have played over a century of competition, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have faced each other only 25 previous times. Kentucky leads the overall series 19-6, but Kansas has won the last three games and five of the last eight dating back to 1985. From 1969 until 1990, the teams faced each other yearly in December. After Kansas’ 150-95 drubbing of Kentucky’s probation-limited team — which prompted a public tirade from Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino —  the schools elected not to renew the series. The schools agreed to a home-and-home series for 2005 and 2006; Bill Self’s Jayhawks won both games against Tubby Smith’s Wildcats and the regular-season series lapsed yet again.

KU Ripped UK in the 2007 NCAA Tournament

Great games dot the all-time series. In December 1973, Roger Morningstar (father of just-graduated Jayhawk, Brady) scored 20 points to give KU its first victory over UK. On New Year’s Eve in 1984, Kentucky forward Kenny Walker dominated with 37 points and 19 rebounds as Kansas lost 92-89. KU legend Danny Manning had 30 points in the losing effort. Kentucky and Kansas played twice during the 1998-99 season: A Kentucky victory in the Great Eight and another matchup in the NCAA Midwest Regional Second Round. Wildcats forward Scott Padgett drained a three-pointer to force overtime and led his team to a 92-88 victory. Jayhawk Ryan Robertson scored 31 points in a valiant effort to extend Kansas’ season.

Tuesday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden is the 23rd time that one or both of the teams were in the Top 25 when playing each other. Kansas is 12-6 overall in MSG; Kentucky is 10-3. KU coach Bill Self is 3-1 all-time against the Wildcats and 1-0 versus UK coach John Calipari — in the 2008 National Championship game that happened for Kansas but didn’t actually happen for Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. Calipari is 0-3 all-time against the Jayhawks. The two coaches were nearly on the same coaching staff: Calipari was an assistant coach at Kansas from 1982-85, then Self joined coach Larry Brown’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1985-86. Of course, KU and UK are tied all the way back to legendary coach Phog Allen and former Phog assistant turned UK coach Adolph Rupp.

Why Kansas Will Win

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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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SEC Morning Five: 10.27.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2011

  1. In last night’s annual Kentucky Blue vs. White game, Sophomore Terrence Jones went off for 52 points setting a record for most points scored in the intra-squad scrimmage. While just an exhibition game, the barrage of points has to be encouraging for Wildcat fans hoping for a new and improved Jones. Freshman Anthony Davis guarded Jones for most of the evening, but it didn’t seem to matter who was on him as he scored from just about everywhere on the court. Jones was 24-31 from the field, finishing with 16 rebounds and six assists. Scrimmage or not, 52 points is impressive. Jones displayed an ability to score in a variety of ways — knocking down threes, taking it strong to the rim and even finishing with his much-discussed right hand. Eight Kentucky players scored in double figures overall as freshman Kyle Wiltjer finished with 27 points on 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc and sophomore, Doron Lamb also scored 31 points.
  2. Memphis coach Josh Pastner has a message for all SEC teams — don’t ask to play his Memphis Tigers in a non-conference game. Pastner says it won’t happen on his watch. He singled out Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida as teams he does not want to play in order to avoid giving a recruiting advantage for those looking to recruit in Memphis. He says the solution, however, is simple. Invite Memphis to play in the SEC. Pastner says, “That will solve everything. You don’t have to ask me; we would play twice. If you’re coming in here, if you want to play Memphis, go to your presidents and vote Memphis in the SEC. That’s the easiest way to do it. If you’re asking me for a non-conference game, it’s not going to happen.” Pastner is either making a good case for Memphis to be considered for expansion to the SEC or he is setting the Tigers up to be the most hated non-conference rival by the entire league.
  3. Several SEC teams will be taking part in secret scrimmages over the next couple of weeks to prepare for opening games. Why the secrecy? Well, nobody seems to know, but you may want to delete your browser history if you click on the link. Better safe than sorry. The SEC teams taking part in the secrecy and their mysterious opponents are: Virginia @ Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech @ South Carolina, LSU @ Rice, Arkansas-Little Rock @ Ole Miss, Georgia @ Clemson, UCF @ Florida and Western Kentucky vs Alabama. Anybody with super-spy abilities, we need video and/or pictures. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.
  4. Ole Miss junior Murphy Holloway has been cleared to play immediately for the Rebel Black Bears. Holloway played two seasons for the Rebs before transferring to South Carolina to care for his daughter. After sitting out a year with the Gamecocks, Holloway decided to transfer back to Mississippi. He had to apply for a waiver with the NCAA to avoid having to sit out another year. The waiver was granted and Holloway will be allowed to play this season. He provides an immediate post presence for Ole Miss as he averaged 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in his sophomore year. Andy Kennedy’s squad will get an impact player with SEC experience.
  5. Tennessee‘s athletic program boasts that their men’s basketball coaching staff has more than 5,000 career college basketball points during their playing careers. In fact, they claim to have more than 1,000 more college points than any other Division I staff. Here’s to hoping that this sets up an SEC coaching staff battle between former players. Rod Strickland vs. Anthony Grant. Orlando Antigua vs. Cuonzo Martin. Billy Donovan vs. John Calipari. John Pelphrey vs. Darrin Horn. Tony Barbee vs. Tracy Webster. Rick Stansbury vs. Kevin Stallings… Okay, maybe not that last one. Having a coaching staff with this much experience can give the Tennessee players a slight boost of confidence, but shouldn’t be much of an advantage otherwise. It is fun to think about a pick-up game of epic proportions at the next SEC media days. Battle royale style.
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SEC Morning Five: 10.26.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2011

  1. Mississippi State’s big man Renardo Sidney is still talking about his transformation into a good citizen. He spoke to the Starkville media and had this to say, “I think I’ve done changed more than I ever did since my first two years. Attitude’s done got better, my work ethic’s gotten better.” Everyone rest assured, Renardo Sidney has “done got” better. Sidney has even seen a counselor to help with anger issues. He said, “they taught me how to keep my anger inside, count to ten. I’m not crazy, but sometimes I get overheated.” If you don’t trust Sidney then just listen to Arnett Moultrie, who had this to say about his teammate, “he’s like a whole new different person. His attitude has changed a whole 360.” See, I told you so… Sidney is back to his old ways. Although a 360-degree change is probably more accurate, I believe Moultrie probably meant to say that Sidney has done a 180-degree turnaround.
  2. Expansion-apocalypse is still upon us. With Missouri heading to the SEC and West Virginia heading to the Big 12, nobody seems to be sure what will happen next. But if you find yourself complaining about conference realignment, just think, at least the SEC doesn’t have to endure TCU basketball. A TCU to the SEC discussion is an interesting tidbit that came from Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in his article entitled “Missouri needs to say no the SEC.” Engel cites “a couple of TCU sources” as saying, “the SEC inquired about TCU.” Really? Why? As if he could read my mind, Engel goes on to say, “seriously. Not kidding.” Still don’t believe him? Not sure I do either, but you can check out the article here for further confirmation.
  3. Ballin’ is a Habit released their much anticipated “All-Name Teams” and the SEC had a significant amount of representation. Congratulations to Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli for making the All-Name Team Honorable Mention. In the “That’s-Not-a-Real-Name Team” category, Mardracus Wade of Arkansas made the first team while his teammate Julysses Nobles made the fourth team. The SEC must be disappointed to not be represented on the “All-Sounds-Like-a-Disease Team” or the “All-SEC Frathouse Team,” despite the award being named after the conference. Also, special shout-outs to Stacey Poole of Kentucky for making the Second Team “All Gender Confusion” list and Steve Tchiengang of Vanderbilt for Second Team “All-Awesome-Last-Name-Team.” Congratulations to all award winners, including several other SEC players. Please leave your snubs list in the comments section for the ultimate nerdfight.
  4. The Lexington Herald Leader‘s Jerry Tipton spoke with Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb who said he is playing as a backup point guard in practices. Lamb said, “I like it. I’m getting better at it.” Teammate Terrence Jones noted Lamb’s improved ballhandling skills while endorsing him as the leading candidate to relieve freshman Marquis Teague. Lamb is working hard to improve his game. He said, “I’m working way harder after practice, before practice. I get here an hour early before practice. After practice I’m the last one to leave.” That is exactly what Kentucky fans want to hear.
  5. Set your DVR’s for HBO. Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is featured in an HBO Sports Documentary called “Prayer for a Perfect Season.” His high school basketball team, the St. Patrick’s (NJ) Celtics, were the subject of the documentary because of their quest for an undefeated 2010-11 season. The film, which premiered last night, focuses on the lives of Kidd-Gilchrist and Derrick Gordon, a Western Kentucky University commitment, as well as the pressure and difficulties of playing for a team in search of the perfect season.  It’s the perfect movie to pass the time while waiting for college basketball to begin.
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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.’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: 10.19.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 19th, 2011

  1. Jason King wrote his first article since joining the ESPN crew on what he knows about college basketball. He wrote, “The Big East will (again) be the country’s top conference this season, but I’m more excited about the SEC. Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are Final Four contenders, and no team intrigues me more than Mississippi State.” I couldn’t agree more. It will be a great season to be an SEC basketball fan.
  2. Gary Parrish of CBS turned in his 50 player ballot for the Naismith Award. Lots of SEC love as ten conference players made the list, including five Kentucky players. The SEC list consists of Brad Beal (Florida), Dee Bost (Mississippi State), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), JaMychal Green (Alabama), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Terrence Jones (Kentucky), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt) and Marquis Teague (Kentucky). If you love lists, and since you’re reading one now I bet you do, you will love the excellent coverage at as they have also unveiled a list of the Top 100 players in college basketball and a Preseason All-America list. Of course, the SEC is well represented on both with Vandy’s Jenkins placing as a first team All-American. However, it was Jeff Goodman’s placement of Terrence Jones on his fourth team All-America list that sent mobs of angry Kentucky fans Goodman’s way. Goodman placed Thomas Robinson of Kansas on his first team over Wildcats Anthony Davis and Jones. I ask you, loyal SEC fans, is the best power forward in the country from the SEC?
  3. Not sure whether to add ESPNU to your cable package? Well, ESPN released its television schedule with more than 1,450 regular season and Championship Week games across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN4… sorry, I got carried away. The release is a 23-page document with 11,122 words in it, so make sure you have a couple of hours to go through it all. Just want the highlights? College Gameday will visit the SEC once in Nashville for the Kentucky/Vanderbilt matchup on February 11. Super Tuesday returns with a Big Ten/SEC doubleheader on ESPN, and an ACC/SEC doubleheader on ESPNU. That should make your decision on ponying up a few extra bucks for the U a little easier. Finally, the SEC Tournament semifinals and championship games will be televised nationally on ABC.
  4. It was initially believed that Florida may violate NCAA rules by using two basketballs during game action to ensure they have enough shots to go around for their ball-hoggin’ backcourt, but a Gainesville Sun article says Billy Donovan is impressed with the unselfish behavior of his guards. He pointed out that point guard Erving Walker has taken the third fewest shots on the team in the early going of practice. Donovan said, “he has really tried to grasp and understand who he is playing with on the floor. His assist to turnover ratio has been really good. I think he has an idea of the challenges in front of him.” Donovan has challenged his point guard to lead the SEC in assists this season. We’ll have to wait and see if Walker accepts that challenge, but he seems to be distributing the ball well in the early going.
  5. Kentucky fans who have been clamoring for more Dribble Drive Motion Offense will finally get their wish. On his website, John Calipari wrote his six observations from the first six days of UK’s practice. In number six, Cal wrote, “this may be a Dribble Drive team. Instead of using it 30 percent of the time, we may use it 70 percent of the time. They’re reacting quickly and they’ve got a feel for what’s going on. They’re doing pretty good with it.” The outspoken head Wildcat has never been one to hand out too much praise for his Wildcat teams, especially early on, but he’s been nothing but positive to start out this year. He even agreed with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall when Hall said that this year’s team is “way ahead of where we were a year ago.” That’s great news for Cat fans who will be quick to remind us that last year’s Final Four team wasn’t too shabby.
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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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