Commentary

CBB Summer Buzz: Kentucky

Key holdovers and a stacked recruiting class could lead the Cats back to Final Four

Originally Published: August 8, 2011
By Ian Gordon | ESPN Insider
Terrence JonesNick Laham/Getty ImagesTerrence Jones has been hitting the weight room this offseason.

Insider knows you're hot for hoops during the summer, so we're bringing you a closer look at a few of the high-profile programs before most freshmen have even moved into their dorms. We continue with Kentucky on Monday.

Kentucky Wildcats
2010-11: 29-9, (NCAA tournament - Final Four)

A year after watching more than 75 percent of its offense leave for the NBA, Kentucky fans weren't sure what to expect in John Calipari's second year as head coach. The team that Calipari had put together -- including freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb -- was highly regarded, sure, but it didn't quite have the same cachet as the high-octane group that had reached the Elite Eight the year before, led by John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.

And while it took some time for the coaching staff to figure out how to best utilize last season's wave of newcomers, the unusually deliberate Wildcats (210th in tempo last season) reached the Final Four on the strength of their outside shooting (making 39.7 percent of their 3-pointers, good for ninth-best in the country), steady ballhandling (turning the ball over on 16.1 percent of possessions, 10th-best nationally) and stingy defense (ranking 15th in the country in adjusted efficiency, according to kenpom.com) -- all while playing with essentially a six-man rotation.

With Knight now waiting out the NBA labor standoff, sophomores Jones and Lamb will team with senior Darius Miller to anchor another up-and-coming Kentucky squad. But that doesn't mean they won't have plenty of freshman help. "I've never let anyone have the attitude of 'It's my team now,'" Calipari says. "That's why I play young kids. And the guys know: The best players are going to play."

Kentucky's incoming class, rated No. 1 in the country by ESPN Recruiting, includes three players (No. 1 Anthony Davis, No. 3 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and No. 7 Marquis Teague) in the ESPNU top 10, and another (No. 18 Kyle Wiltjer) not far behind. Not only will this quartet allow Calipari to try out a variety of lineups, but Kentucky also will now have the bodies to go eight or nine deep. "We're longer at a lot of positions, and more physical at some," Calipari says. "We're going to have to play differently this year."

In Calipari's first two seasons in Lexington, the Wildcats made it to the Elite Eight (losing to West Virginia) and the national semifinals (losing to Connecticut). Will Year 3 finally yield Kentucky's first title-game appearance since 1998?


To read the rest of Kentucky's summer preview, including sneak peaks at Kentucky's elite group of incoming freshmen, you must be an ESPN Insider.