It's that time of year where teams are playing no name schools left and right. You occasionally get an upset or a competitive battle but for the most part you get made for Sportscenter highlights from freshman who you've never heard of outside of what some recruiting analyst tells you.
Just as we have been doing whenever Kansas plays, Kentucky's "A Sea of Blue" has been kicking the tires and discussing what identity the Wildcats will have in 2011-2012. Who are the leaders? What do the freshman look like? How does this team fit into the National picture? etc.
Glenn Logan, manager of "A Sea of Blue", was kind enough to provide us a few answers to some of my questions heading into this one. Who should we watch? Who guards Thomas Robinson? Is this Calipari's best opportunity since arriving in Lexington? And of course, is it UK or KU? I'd like to think we're the only KU and I've always believed that they referred to themselves as UK but you here that piece butchered by the media constantly.
Anyway, on to the questions and if you want to check out the Kentucky view of things, head on over and check it out at "A Sea of Blue".
Unfortunately for Kansas we are faced with the loss of the Morris twins and Josh Selby heading into this one. It's unfortunate obviously because none of the NBA early entries are playing a minute of basketball and this game could have been a HUGE matchup. That said, Kentucky lost a few but also had the good fortune of seeing some of their talent shun the NBA for another run at a title. Does that make this Kentucky team the deepest and best equipped to win the title since Calipari's arrival in Lexington?
Wouldn't it have been fun to have both teams back intact from last year, minus the seniors? That would have been something.
I wouldn't call this team the deepest, but it probably is the best equipped to win the NCAA Tournament. 2009-10 was arguably deeper at every position, but the quality of that depth wasn't as good. This year's team has the advantage of being interchangeable at many spots, which makes minimizes the need for being 2 deep at every position.
It certainly helps that we have a couple of talented returners this year because of the sheer number of freshmen who will be seeing minutes. Continuity is important, and even though we have always managed to have some, this year we seem to have just a little more than the last two.
Calipari is known for his freshman stars. Who are the newbies this year and which one do you expect to have the biggest impact in this game?
There are four freshmen, all top-25 national high school players, who have matriculated to Kentucky this year: Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Kyle Wiltjer. All four were McDonalds All-Americans.
Any of these guys could have the biggest impact, but all will have a major impact at some level. Kidd-Gilchrist has consistently been our best all-around player early in the year. He hasn't done it with scoring, necessarily, although he has scored plenty. But he is an excellent defender, rebounder, and ballhandler, and at 6'8", he has been able to play four positions from the 2 to the 5.
Davis is the biggest matchup problem, and he and Kidd-Gilchrist run the floor better than any two players their size I have seen. Davis can handle and shoot like a guard and is as tall as a center. He has blocked a ton of shots, many of them 3-pointers, because of his absurd length, athletic ability and ability to play on the perimeter. If he gets anywhere near the rim on the run, the result has been a dunk 100% of the time.
Marquis Teague is in the most difficult position as the point guard, and is still learning to be what Calipari wants him to be. Teague wants to get involved in scoring, and Calipari wants him to distribute. Defensively, he has been surprisingly good, but has a tendency to pick up the cheap foul, and one place where Kentucky has very limited depth is at the point guard spot.
Wiltjer has come off the bench, but at 6'9" he is a knock-down 3-point shooter and has a deadly jump hook in the paint with either hand. He is a remarkably capable defender despite his relative lack of athleticism, and has been a stronger rebounder than I expected.
Thomas Robinson is probably the marquee player for the Jayhawks heading into this one. Who do you expect to matchup with him and why?
I'm not quite sure. I think Jones, because Davis is a little light and not really strong enough to guard Robinson in the post. Gilchrist will probably share that duty as well, and despite not being as big, he has crazy athleticism and defensive intensity.
Doron Lamb and Terrance Jones are the big returning names. Are they the definitive leaders of the Wildcats or do you see someone else taking that role?
I would say the leader so far has been Kidd-Gilchrist, the freshman. Nominally, you would expect senior Darius Miller to be the leader on the floor, but so far, I don't really think he has embraced that role completely, despite his stated determination to do so. He is just a quiet guy, and it's hard to lead when you don't say much.
It seems quite a few teams have been experiencing the early season growing pains this year. Any of that in Lexington?
A few. We played a poor first half against Marist, particularly defensively. Marquis Teague is not quite embracing the pass-first role as much as he could be. Davis is a little softer than I'd hoped when it comes to being strong with the ball. Terrence Jones was involved in a car accident at 2:30 AM and wound up getting the whole team put on curfew. Other than that, things have gone swimmingly so far.
UK or KU? As in, what do you call Kentucky?
UK. We are the University of Kentucky. It's hard for me to understand people's confusion on this point, but then again, I am a Kentucky partisan and hardly an objective observer.
UK or KU? As in, how do you see this one playing out.
UK also, in a tough one. Kansas is more experienced, and that matters, particularly early in the season. Self would have been able to put in more stuff by now than Calipari has trying to coach three freshman starters. But Kentucky has a significant talent advantage, and KU's depth is questionable and not nearly as flexible as UK's.
I would not be shocked to see Kansas win this game, though. If the game were played in March, I'd pick UK by a lot, but right now, I think Kansas has a good shot to pick us off. But I'd still peg Kentucky as the favorite by 5-8 points. If it comes to a late-game situation, the edge definitely goes to Kansas.