I think predictions are interesting, particularly when it comes to sports. The combination of player skill, coaching, and inherent randomness in the games creates a rich arena for thinking about the future. Coach Cal always has a lot of turnover in his roster but this year it is even more pronounced and that makes this season particularly fascinating to me. With that in mind, I polled the ASoB writers to get their thoughts on some "Big Picture" questions about what the upcoming season will look like for the Wildcats.
1) What will UK's overall record be this year? What will their SEC record be? What seed will they get in the NCAA Tournament?
Glenn Logan: 33-6, 16-2, #1 seed
Ken Howlett: Start off with an easy question, why don't you? This is always hard to predict, but I'll go with 29-9 overall (2011 'Cats' record, also), with a 10-3 non-conference record, 14-4 league mark. I figure if Kentucky wins either the SEC Tournament or regular season title (which I believe they will do), they'll be in line for a No. 2 or No. 3 seed; UK's nine (predicted) losses are probably too many for the 'Cats to earn a one-seed.
jc25: 27-4 (15-3). I see a surprise loss to Baylor coming off a more difficult than expected win at Notre Dame. But I'd definitely take wins against arch-rivals Duke (in Atlanta) and at Louisville. Back-to-back conference road games at Florida and Tennessee look like a doozy, and I'll take one or two more mulligans somewhere. Let's go positive and say one. That translates to a 1 seed in the tournament..and another Final Four run. Hey, don't stop believin'!
Alex Scutchfield: My best guess is Kentucky is looking at a 25-6 regular season. They will lose a couple of games early, and some SEC road games. I'm backing into my numbers here, but to be consistent that means they'll be 12-4 in the SEC. After winning the SEC Tournament, they'll end up with a #2 seed playing their first two games in Dayton. Some may see that as pessimistic, I don't mean it that way. Some growing pains are to be expected. This will be a very exciting, fun team.
JLeverenz: 31-7, 13-5, and a #2 seed. I see this year as very similar to 2010-11 but without the trip to the Final Four. Certainly the Cats can get that far, but with so many unknowns I wouldn't expect it right now.
2) Who will be the team MVP?
Glenn Logan: Archie Goodwin
Ken Howlett: I really think, right now, Archie Goodwin has a chance to have a monster year. His motor is the strongest on the team (right now), and he's just a scorer. A finisher. Of course, someone like Willie Cauley-Stein or Nerlens Noel or Alex Poythress, or maybe even Kyle Wiltjer, could also have monster seasons.
jc25: Alex Poythress is a man-child and will not only be Kentucky's MVP, but also the best freshman in the country. Yes, over Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Austin, and anyone else you care to counter with.
Alex Scutchfield: I don't think he'll have quite the impact Anthony Davis did, but I still expect Nerlens Noel to be Kentucky's MVP. I do not, however, see him being the leading scorer. I'd look for Noel to put up in the neighborhood of 10 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks a game. That may not sound like a ton of production, but on a balanced team that probably won't need him to score and has other rebounders, it is important production. I'd also bet on all those numbers rising at tournament time.
JLeverenz: I think Noel is the easy answer here, but I am going to go with Kyle Wiltjer. He was a solid offensive player last year and with an expanded role in the offense he is going to put up some really nice scoring numbers. The only question is whether he'll be able to do enough other things to complement it.
3) Who is the most intriguing player on the team?
Glenn Logan: Willie Cauley-Stein
Ken Howlett: For me, it's easily Cauley-Stein. As he continues to receive coaching from Calipari and Kenny Payne, and go up against Nerlens Noel every day in practice, I expect he's going to become a force on both ends of the floor. The kid is so athletic, his movements so fluid, once he gains confidence, watch out. And really, it's hard not be excited about UK's big men. We've seen over the last three years Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Harrellson, and Anthony Davis all improve over time. And Cauley-Stein's ceiling, because of his unusual athleticism, is outta sight.
jc25: I'm very curious about what Ryan Harrow will bring to the table. As we well know, Calipari's teams are heavily dependent on point guard. This will be the first year since Memphis' 2006-07 season that Calipari isn't breaking in a freshman "1". Harrow already has one NCAA year under his belt, and also had a full year of practice running against last year's National Champions. He may not be as talented as a guy like Brandon Knight or as physically gifted as a guy like John Wall, but that experience may prove invaluable as Harrow tries to lead a young, green team this year.
Alex Scutchfield: There are several good answers to this question, but I'm going with Willie Cauley-Stein. Usually when a 7 foot player is ranked only 40th in his high school class, there is some major deficiency (usually a lack of quickness, coordination or footwork). I was shocked to see how fluid and athletic he was. If I had been told he was a top five high school player, I would not be at all disappointed with what I'd seen so far. As it is, I'm astonished. He could be a beast by the end of the year. It seems like he has already come a long way in a short time.
JLeverenz: For me it's Ryan Harrow. We know how well freshmen point guards play under Cal and Harrow has the advantage of learning the system for a year as well as some experience against good competition from his days at NC State. I am really interested to see what kind of a difference that makes in how he performs in comparison to Cal's freshmen guards, especially early in the season. (note: I swear I wrote this before reading jc's answer - great minds and all)
4) Last year the team featured an incredibly balanced offense with nearly 6 players averaging double figures. That was a change from the two years prior in which offensive possessions were more concentrated with a couple players (Wall/Cousins in 2010, Knight/Jones in 2011). What will the offense look like this year: balanced like last season, or with a couple of go-to guys like 2010 and 2011?
Glenn Logan: Less balanced than last year, more balanced than 2010, 11
Ken Howlett: The answer to the question lies in what UK's sixth (and maybe seventh) man does this year, scoring wise. I see all of UK's starters averaging double-figures, with Ryan Harrow hovering around that 10 ppg mark. So with Harrow, Goodwin, Noel, Poythress, and Wiltjer starting (my best guess, anyway), and averaging double-digit points, that leaves Cauley-Stein, Julius Mays, and Jon Hood coming off the bench. Minutes played will factor into scoring averages, but I feel WSC and Mays will both have the opportunity to play serious minutes, therefore, score points. So yeah, I see the potential for very balanced scoring, which I prefer over a two or three man scoring show.
jc25: I see a very balanced offense, especially since Calipari has a lot of positional flexibility on the roster. We already saw inklings of a "twin towers" lineup on ESPN's Kentucky All-Access, but Poythress and Wiltjer can flex between the 4 and 3, and Goodwin can play three positions. I also wouldn't be surprised to see substantial minutes for not only Mays, but also Hood and Beckham, as Calipari experiments with his backcourt. There is no elite all-around scorer on this team, but there are plenty of weapons at Calipari's disposal. I expect him to properly deploy them whenever one or two get hot.
Alex Scutchfield: I see this as another balanced team. Kyle Wiltjer is capable of being a 17-18ppg scorer, but I'm not sure he'll play enough minutes for that to happen. Alex Poythress is another guy who could break away from the pack, but like all of the freshmen, will probably have on and off nights. All in all I see Poythress, Goodwin, Wiltjer, Noel and sometimes Harrow carrying the load. This team should have at least seven contributors, and I wouldn't be surprised to see all seven average 6.0ppg or more. On paper, this is Cal's deepest Kentucky team.
JLeverenz: I expect the team to go back to the way it was in Cal's first two years. Originially I thought Harrow and Wiltjer would dominate the offensive possessions early with one of the freshmen taking an expanded role in conference play. After the exhibitions though I now believe that Goodwin and Wiltjer will be hoisting a plurality of the shots this year.
5) He won't be Anthony Davis, but Nerlens Noel should be one of UK's top defenders this year. Which player (not Noel) will also be a top defender?
Glenn Logan: Archie Goodwin
Ken Howlett: Goodwin and Cauley-Stein.
jc25: It's not just about patrolling the paint. Calipari does a great job teaching his perimeter guys to be great lockdown defenders: think about the defensive effort put forth by guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. To me, Archie Goodwin looks like he's got the size and athleticism that will really take to Calipari's coaching. If Goodwin plans on staying on the court ahead of Mays, Hood and Beckham, Goodwin has got to lock down the opponent's best perimeter player, and I think he is up to the challenge.
Alex Scutchfield: Archie Goodwin impresses me with his defensive potential and moxie. He seems like a smart player who will buy in right away to what Cal is trying to do on defense. I can see him making guys miserable on the perimeter with his athleticism and hustle. Of course, Cauley-Stein should also stamp a few foreheads with his blocks and may team with Noel at times to make the team very hard to score against. I'm excited Poythress too. He has the body to be a bruiser and being an intelligent guy, he knows the way to Cal's heart more minutes is through the defensive end.
JLeverenz: I think the easy answer would be either Willie Cauley-Stein since he plays the position that naturally has the biggest defensive impact and has the skill to take advantage of that fact. I am going with Poythress though - I think his size and versatility will make him a valuable defender in the same way that Liggins and Kidd-Gilchrist were used the last two years.
6) How many times does Coach Calipari tell the fans some variation of "be patient, this is a young team"? (yes, this question was mostly for fun)
Glenn Logan: A googolplex. If I have to come up with a real number, maybe 25-30
Ken Howlett: How high can you count?
jc25: I'm not sure he didn't say it a hundred times on Kentucky All-Access already. But if you want a number: seven-eleventy.
Alex Scutchfield: Sixteen. One for each loss and at least ten more times throughout November and December.
There you have it. Now it's your turn! What do you think the season holds for the Cats?