Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Loaded freshman class and key sophomores could again be a title formula

Updated: October 24, 2013, 10:22 AM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider

Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-SteinMark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsFreshmen or not, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein must step up this season.

Kentucky Wildcats

2012-13: 21-12 (12-6 SEC)
In-conference offense: 1.05 points per possession (5th)
In-conference defense: 1.01 points allowed per possession (10th)

Kentucky's churn rate on elite talent under John Calipari has been remarkable. Calipari hasn't even been on the clock in Lexington for a couple thousand days yet, but he's already signed 20 top-40 prospects during his tenure.

The Wildcats have signed more top-25 players over the past five seasons than 28 entire Division I conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12. And more than one-quarter of all top-10 prospects nationally over the past five classes have signed with Kentucky. None of which kept UK out of the 2013 NIT, of course, but over the long haul you'll take your chances with that level of talent.

Now, about that NIT season. In 2012-13 Kentucky ranked No. 10 in SEC play for points allowed per possession, and as I wrote those words or even formed that thought in my head with regard to a John Calipari defense I shook my head in bewilderment. What we saw in 2012-13 was simply not possible. Year in and year out, Calipari puts a defense on the floor that's comprised of the nation's top recruits and, incidentally, punishes opposing offenses. Last season, only the first part of that description held true.

Nerlens Noel's season-ending knee injury on Feb. 12 was the final straw, of course, but even with the soon-to-be lottery pick in the lineup, this was not a vintage Calipari D. Up to that point, UK was allowing SEC opponents to score 0.96 points per possession -- pretty good defense, about on par with what we saw from Arkansas or Vanderbilt but not as good as what Alabama was doing, much less Florida. And "about like Vanderbilt" is not customarily the most apposite adjectival phrase when the subject is defense under Calipari. Last season will go into the books as an extreme outlier.


To read the complete 2013-14 preview article on Kentucky, plus gain access to previews for every Division I college basketball team, you must be an ESPN Insider.