|Terrence Jones :: Bob Kupbens/Icon SMI |
A couple of years ago, Kentucky coach John Calipari assembled the most heralded recruiting class in Wildcats history, with four players jumping to the NBA after one year. Last season, with a team less star-studded but more experienced, he coached the Wildcats to their first Final Four since 1998.
Now Calipari has a team with some of the same hype as his first Kentucky squad but some of the same intangibles as the second. "We've got a good blend of veteran guys and young players," Calipari says. "We've got some length, got a little bit of everything."
No player exemplifies that versatility more than 6-foot-9 sophomore Terrence Jones, who passed the NBA Draft to return for a second season at Kentucky.
Jones led the SEC in rebounding last season, was seventh in scoring and was the league's Freshman of the Year. He's bulked up to 252 pounds and could use his size to be more physical, though Kentucky still lacks a true bruiser in the mold of DeMarcus Cousins. Instead, the frontcourt focus will be on athleticism, much of it provided by 6-10 freshman Anthony Davis.
Kentucky will get frontcourt depth from newbie Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-9 sharpshooter. And Calipari hopes that senior center Eloy Vargas can provide some rebounding and inside presence.
Freshman point guard Marquis Teague will start, making him the fifth consecutive first-year guard to play the point for Calipari. Teague is an explosive finisher and a deft distributor who should complement shooting guard Doron Lamb, back for his sophomore season after leading the SEC in three-point percentage as a freshman.
The third backcourt spot likely will go to senior Darius Miller, who has 71 starts in three seasons, but he'll be pushed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-7 freshman who can provide defensive toughness and offensive versatility.
Junior Jon Hood is expected to miss the season with a knee injury, so Kentucky will look to sophomore Stacey Poole for backcourt depth. Twany Beckham, who transferred from Mississippi State at the semester break last season, could be a defensive stopper when he becomes eligible in the second semester.
Once again, Calipari will have to blend a core of talented newcomers with established veterans. After struggling in the regular season in 2010-11, Kentucky caught fire in the postseason and made the Final Four based largely on the strength of its team defense.
Calipari's cupboard is loaded with offensive weapons and it's his best mix yet of talent and experience at Kentucky.
If this team can replicate last season's defensive intensity -- and if Teague is ready to hit the ground running like his point guard predecessors -- the Wildcats have all the ingredients for a repeat run to the Final Four with a legitimate chance at an NCAA title.
Twany Beckham (G, Jr.): Transfer from Mississippi State will back up Teague.
Anthony Davis (F, Fr.): Projected starter in the frontcourt with guard skills.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (F, Fr.): Likely to be the Wildcats' sixth man.
Marquis Teague (G, Fr.): Will start at point guard out of the gate.
Kyle Wiltjer (F, Fr.): Has a post-up game but should primarily serve as a zone-buster from three-point range.