The Buzz vs. Reality: How Good Will Kentucky Basketball Be?

With football looming so close, why, you ask, am I talking basketball?  Because I must.

The other day, we had a FanPost that descended somewhat into the expectations game.  How good can a team, a team for which at least three and likely four of its starters and and a total of five new players who have never played one minute of college basketball, but will be logging major minutes next year, possibly be?  Fortunately, fairly recent history provides us with some suggestions.

The last time there was a recruiting class in college basketball of the magnitude of Kentucky's 2009 class, it was known as the "Fab Five," and they played for Steve Fisher at Michigan.  Michigan successfully recruited Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson in 1991.  The rankings of this team were as follows:  Chris Webber #1, Juwan Howard #3, Jalen Rose #6, Jimmy King #9, and Ray Jackson #84.  This is obviously slightly higher than Kentucky's recruiting class, which goes like this:  John Wall #1, DeMarcus Cousins #2, Daniel Orton #22, Eric Bledsoe #23, Jon Hood #40, but it is still roughly comparable.

So just how good were the Fab Five back in 1991-92.  Well, they reached the Final Four, and played in the national final against Duke, who wound up winning 71-51.  Michigan did not get there by an easy path, either -- they were a six seed, and they beat the #11, 14, 2 and 1 seed in the southeast region to get there.

The Fab Five did not set the the Big 10 on fire in 1991-92.  Their record stood at 21-14, with nine conference victories against nine losses.  But as you might expect, that Wolverines team got better and better as the year went along, and they peaked at the right time.

The difference between the 1991-92 Michigan team and the 2009-10 Wildcats is quality depth.  Michigan had very little to go with the Fab Five.  Kentucky is sporting a roster of high school stars that breaks down like this:

Rivals.com 5- star players -- 5 -- John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Patrick Patterson
Rivals.com 4- star players -- 5 -- Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Perry Stevenson, Darnell Dodson, Jon Hood
Rivals.com 3- star players -- 2 -- Ramon Harris, Josh Harrellson
Unranked -- 1 -- Mark Krebs

Michigan's team had nothing like this kind of talent available to them, and yet they still managed to earn a Final Four in both 1992 and 1993.

Of course, the Fab Five wound up embroiled in a huge scandal that saw several of them testify before a federal grand jury of one Ed Martin on charges of money laundering, gambling, and other sins.  You can read all about that here.

But this article is not about comparing the two squads, but trying to get a read on the likely performance of Kentucky from a roughly similar situation some years back, and figuring out what reasonable expectations for the 2009-10 program look like.

I think it is reasonable to expect this team, barring injury, to win between 28-30 ball games.  There are 33 regular season and one guaranteed SEC tournament game on the schedule.  You can figure that out of UConn, North Carolina and Louisville, there is likely at least one loss in there.

Looking further down the schedule, we could reasonably expect up to five losses in the conference schedule -- at Tennessee, at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, at Florida, and at least one other, possibly at Vandy or LSU, or a home loss to somebody.

If all this comes to pass, UK should be 27-6 going into the tournament.  Assuming UK wins at least one of those games, that will place them at 28-7 going into the NCAA.  Barring a first round upset, UK should be no worse than 29-8, and should wind up much better than that, assuming they win more than just one game in the NCAA and SEC tournament.  My expectations are for no less than 33+ wins and single-digit losses.  Barring major injury, I will be disappointed, at least somewhat, if that does not wind up the case.  The level of disappointment will obviously depend on the level of adversity that the team faces.

So if someone tells you that they will be satisfied with 25 wins this season, they are kidding themselves -- they won't and shouldn't.  This team should win at least 25 regular season games.  How far they go from there will depend on the chemistry and teamwork they are able to create over that season.

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