Five random predictions for Kentucky basketball 2015-16:
1. Jamal Murray will be the star. Much of the preseason attention has been on Skal Labissiere and with good reason. Labissiere is tall and talented and there was some lingering consternation concerning his eligibility status until the NCAA saw fit to bestow full approval. Labissiere will be an important piece in John Calipari's newest machine.
Ah, but Murray will end up being the star. The Canadian was late to the Kentucky commitment party but showed his considerable gifts in international competition. The 6-foot-4 guard was so good there was talk he might even skip his first collegiate semester so he could play on the Canadian National Team. Thankfully for Big Blue Nation, Murray instead pledged his allegiance to the Commonwealth flag.
2. Alex Poythress will go out with a bang. No one expected the Clarksville, Tenn., native to be around for a rare fourth season in Calipari's one-and-done world, but circumstances and bad luck intervened. Ups and downs characterized Poythress's UK career until a torn ACL sat him down for good early in his junior season.
Now's the time for Poythress to be fulfilling his billing. He's the graybeard on this team, the go-to guy for institutional knowledge. The guess here is that the role, as well as this team's makeup, will fit him well. Plus, he's healthy. Now is his time to shine.
3. No one will long for the platoons. Least of all Calipari, who used the strategy/gimmick last season to keep his ridiculously deep team happy, healthy and at least partially satisfied. Calipari preached sacrifice and, as Willie Cauley-Stein said late in the year as only WCS could say it, "It's easy to sacrifice when you're winning."
Truth be told, however, Calipari has never been a 10-deep type of guy. He likes a rotation of seven to eight players, reliables he can count on when the going gets tough and the game is on the line. This roster will play more to his sensibilities in that area.
4. Outside shooting will be the biggest problem. This team has plenty of scorers. Murray can certainly score. Tyler Ulis, probably the nation's best point guard, can score. Freshman Isaiah Briscoe can score. Any team that is expected to start three guards is expected to get offense out of those guards. Plus, as with nearly all of Calipari's teams, this team should be able to score off its defense. Blocked shots on one end lead to easy baskets at the other. These Cats will push the tempo.
Whether this team has a knock-down shooter is another question, however. Junior-college transfer Mychal Mulder was welcomed on board for specifically that purpose. But jucos often experience a lingering adjustment period. And if opponents employ sagging defenses that force Kentucky to make perimeter shots, do the Cats have a zone-buster in their midst? We shall see.
5. The law of averages will rear its ugly head. Let's be clear here, what Calipari has done since parachuting in to save Big Blue Nation from the mediocrity of Billy G(illispie) has been beyond ridiculous. A national title. Four Final Four trips in just six seasons. Nineteen NBA first-round draft picks — and isn't that what it's all about. Never mind; don't answer that question.
Of all those accomplishments, the most amazing is the run of Final Fours. You just don't do that. Not in this watered-down period of parity and short-term stars. By the time a coach builds a roster good enough to sustain success, the stars clock out for a shot at play-for-play. Or at least the coaches not named John Vincent Calipari.
And yet a working knowledge of the universe tells us the statistics normally return to the mean. As talented and capable as this UK roster looks to be, the guess here is that it will be difficult to make a third consecutive Final Four trip. Sooner or later, the string has to stop. Doesn't it?