Kentucky Basketball: Trying to Reason With the End of the Season

This is the best possible way to end the season, but the thing is, it still ends.

Are you having trouble letting go? As a Kentucky fan, many of us seem to have trouble letting go of the season that just ended. Perhaps, although it's hard to say without first-hand knowledge, its a bit like going into withdrawal from some kind of addiction. This will be the first Saturday without college basketball since mid-November, and even though the Masters is an option for some of us to feed our sports fix, college basketball is what many of us live for. And now it's over.

Of course, it's a bit different when you end the season at the top of the heap than when it ends short of the goal, and at Kentucky, the goal is always the same. Expectations differ -- few people would have considered last year's team a likely Final Four participant, let alone a national champion, particularly in the middle of February. Expectation vary somewhat as to what the ultimate outcome will be, but the goal is always the NCAA Tournament championship.

At this point in time, we have a fair but incomplete idea of what the off season will bring. We are universally certain that Anthony Davis will move on to be the #1 draft pick in the NBA, Kentucky's second #1 in three years (Has that ever happened before?). It also seems very likely that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones will be in the first round. I feel that it is unlikely that Jones will stay for a third season, but it is theoretically possible since some mocks have him going late in the first round, while others have him firmly in the lottery.

Doron Lamb could also return, as he is universally considered a second-round pick, but to be honest, I'm not really sure he can improve his draft status to first round if he does return. It is possible that next year's draft will be weaker in the two-guard area (I don't know, though, I have not analyzed it), but if it isn't, he may have a better chance this year at sneaking into the first round.

There is also the question of Marquis Teague. Both the mocks that I put the most stock in have him going late in the first round, and while there is really no doubt he could improve that status with another year at Kentucky, it's definitely unclear that he will. He and Lamb probably need to compare notes, because Archie Goodwin is definitely good enough to take the starting 2-guard spot and could wind up leaving Lamb coming off the bench depending on who else matriculates to UK.

If Shabazz Muhammad, who wants to play the off guard in college despite his "developing" (recruiting code for inconsistent) perimeter game decides to come to Kentucky, It would really be no trouble at all for UK to go to a 3-guard lineup with Poythress at the 4 and Willie Cauley, Nerlens Noel, or Alex Oriakhi at the pivot. Anthony Bennett could also serve in that role, more or less interchangeably with Poythress. At this point, it still seems likely to me that Kyle Wiltjer will be coming off the bench next year, but in a significantly enhanced role.

Since we are speculating on the shape of things to come, we might as well look at what happens if Davis, MKG, Jones, Lamb, and Teague all leave early, which is certainly a possibility although I really do think at least one of the last three will stay another year. But if they all go, we would be looking at the youngest Kentucky team of Calipari's tenure. Assuming that Muhammad and Noel both come, the starting lineup could feature all freshmen except for Ryan Harrow at the point. The same would happen probably if Bennett comes and Noel does not, but it would change the shape of the team somewhat.

If Muhammad does not come and Noel does, Poythress could move to the 3 and Wiltjer into the starting 4 spot. Oriakhi could also fill in the pivot of Noel doesn't come. In all of these scenarios but the ones including Oriakhi, Kentucky still fields an exceptionally young but talented team consisting mostly of freshmen.

There are other recruits, like Amile Jefferson, who plays in the Derby Classic high school all-star game tonight, who could pick UK and further impact the lineup next year, with or without some or all of the aforementioned recruits. There are really too many scenarios to examine in detail, but I'm pretty sure the Kentucky coaching staff has a pretty good idea who they are likely to get and who they aren't. Some of the decisions are no doubt waiting to hear from the present UK players, but others like Muhammad and Noel, who are declaring their college choices next Wednesday, are not

No matter what, unless we have a surprising number of players returning, next year's team will be young even by Kentucky standards. There will be no more Darrius Millers or Patrick Pattersons with years of experience at UK to provide a touch of experience. Even with that said, though, one thing remains certain -- the talent level that Coach Cal continues to bring in will make Kentucky a very competitive and even dangerous team who can, at any time, force their way onto the biggest stage of all.

As a Kentucky fan, what more could you want? Well, yes, we'd all like to see some continuity, but the NBA has made that all but impossible. This is the world we live in, and unless the NBA can be persuaded to rethink their draft policy, it will be the world we live in for some time.

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