10 Questions for the cats

UK men 10 questions

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2012 

If Ryan Harrow falters, who becomes UK's point guard?

If UK decides to keep a point guard on the floor, two guys who didn't play much last season would get the call.

Twany Beckham (44 minutes) and Jarrod Polson (31 minutes) combined for 75 minutes of point guard play last season. In two seasons for Mississippi State, Beckham got credit for 68 assists and 60 turnovers. As for Polson, he's shown a pass-first mentality even when the home crowd implored him to shoot in the final moments of a game long decided.

If UK decides not to use a player with the label of point guard in relief of Harrow, a byproduct of talent means others can get the ball up court or initiate offense.

Coach John Calipari has spoken of Kyle Wiltjer as an initiator of offense as a so-called point-forward.

Other than Wiltjer, who will be the reliable perimeter shooters?

There's a reason Calipari has spoken of opponents packing a zone defense into the lane against Kentucky. Besides trying to limit the eponymous strategy of the dribble-drive offense (driving to the basket), a zone would invite UK to rely on perimeter shooting.

Besides Wiltjer, heretofore a catch-and-shoot artist from the perimeter, UK must prove its capability from three-point range.

Julius Mays is the logical candidate to complement Wiltjer. He made 38.6 percent of three-point shots in three earlier college seasons (84 of 218).

Otherwise, UK players can claim only a collective 20 of 99 (20.2 percent) accuracy from three-point range on the college level: Harrow 12-54, Hood 7-30, Beckham 1-13 and Polson 0-2.

How good are the chances that Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky will be ranked 1-2-3 at the end of the season? If so, in what order?

As teams that lose to Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky probably will say this coming season, they're rated high for a reason. Indiana (four) and Louisville (three) return seven of a possible 10 starters from last season.

Kentucky is, well, Kentucky. Last season's national championship validated its reliance on so-called one-and-done players. There are no limits on what freshmen can achieve.

The stars are aligned: Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo for IU. Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng for U of L. Another No. 1-rated recruiting class for UK.

But here's a cautionary note: Indiana was picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten last season. Louisville finished seventh in the Big East. Anything can happen.

How big a factor is the lack of a veteran presence?

Anthony Davis' domination — which led to National Player of the Year honors — overshadowed UK's invaluable experience last season.

It wasn't just that Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb played the previous season (in Miller's case, the previous three seasons). They had the experience of a Final Four run that included soul-searching victories over Princeton, West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

Miller, who famously passed up a clutch shot at Mississippi as a junior, became Mr. Clutch as a senior.

Calipari's first UK team had the steadying influence of Patrick Patterson.

More than ever, Calipari will live by his credo to prefer talent rather than experience.

Who provides the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist heart and soul?

Calipari has spoken of Archie Goodwin possessing the attributes and perhaps the will to be a defensive stopper.

That's the easy part of being this season's version of Kidd-Gilchrist. Not often has UK had a player with the knack for making winning plays. Again and again, he made the key defensive stop, secured the needed rebound, hustled for the loose ball.

Maybe only Rajon Rondo in the last 20 years seemingly came out of nowhere to make such plays.

Charlotte Bobcats Coach Mike Dunlap captured what MKG meant when he noted how a poor stat line (1-7 shooting, three turnovers, just two rebounds) did not prevent teammates from rallying to the player's side against St. John's.

It might take a collective effort to fill that void.

Should UK fans worry about depth?

While UK fans always have something to worry about, depth shouldn't be a concern.

A serious injury would hinder UK's status as a national contender. In Calipari's first three seasons, the Cats have been immune to injury. Has even a sprained ankle occurred?

Assuming that good fortune continues, there's no need to fret about depth.

Calipari prefers to play six or seven players. He's noted how no less an authority than John Wooden advised him to play fewer rather than more players. A short rotation strengthens cohesion, the Wizard of Westwood said.

Six UK players averaged 26 or more minutes last season. Was fatigue ever an issue?

Calipari touts his habit of shorter practices as the season unfolds.

Who can argue?

After the last three seasons, what should be considered a good season?

Calipari has set quite a standard, even by Kentucky's standard. In his time as coach, UK has a record of 102-14. The Cats are 51-0 at home. Appearances in the Elite Eight and Final Four and an NCAA championship make anything much less than significant on a national level seem substandard.

Calipari hit the ground running as UK's newly hired coach in 2009.

While some (blush) believed he would have a honeymoon as Billy Gillispie's successor here and did not need to win big right away, Calipari disagreed.

Calipari was right. He made a big immediate statement, punctuated by five first-round draft picks in what he proclaimed was the greatest night in the program's history.

So far, it's been a continual re-defining of greatness.

Is Nerlens Noel the next Anthony Davis or the next Andre Riddick?

Until Davis, Kentucky had never had a National Player of the Year. So it seems far-fetched to expect a second Davis in two seasons.

Calipari has discouraged such thinking while acknowledging the inevitability of back-to-back. Noel is "only" projected as the No. 2 pick in next year's NBA Draft (Draftexpress.com) or No. 4 (NBAdraft.net), so he's not quite Davis, according to that measurement.

Being another Riddick wouldn't be bad. He ranks fourth on UK's list for career blocks (212) and fifth in career blocks per game (1.7). As with Davis and, for that matter, Riddick, UK wants Noel to protect the basket area.

Winning and losing require a collective effort.

Will UK fans get to see a lot of Wiltjer's hook shot?

Wiltjer gave UK fans a thrill by taking — and making — a hook in Big Blue Madness. No doubt the old-fashioned maneuver created back-to-the-future thoughts.

Calipari has spoken of Wiltjer being a more effective low-post scorer, which suggests more hooks.

The UK coach evoked the name of Larry Bird in describing how Wiltjer can initiate the offense as a trailer when transition offense is not available. Of course, Bird could be a punishing low-post scorer, shooting hooks with either hand.

Wiltjer, whose father, Greg, was a low-post college player, can shoot the hook with either hand. But UK wants more versatility still, envisioning him as a perimeter shooter, driver and passer.

Among this freshman class, who will be back in 2013-14?

Maybe Willie Cauley-Stein. But anyone expecting a UK freshman to return as a sophomore hasn't been paying attention. Wiltjer is the exception that proves the rule.

What Calipari calls a players-first program — sounds better than reliance on one-and-done players — is making NBA dreams come true as quickly as possible.

If recruiting analysts are correct, Cauley-Stein will need more than one season of development.

The personable big man acknowledged that he wondered if he was good enough to play for Kentucky when the recruiting process began.

Calipari has gushed about Cauley-Stein's development. Now that he wears contact lenses, basketball should no longer be "blurry."

Who knows? He might see himself in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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