The last immediate Kentucky Wildcats recruiting domino fell yesterday with Amile Jefferson's commitment to the Duke Blue Devils. There are still more potential 2012-13 Wildcats out there in the form of potential transfers and decommitments, but we are going to forget about them for the purposes of this article and take stock of what we have.
Returning from last year's NCAA Tournament championship squad appear to be, in order of likely playing time next year:
Kyle Wiltjer -- We all know the who, what and why of Kyle. He is a deadly perimeter shooter, perhaps the most dangerous perimeter shooter in college basketball next year. Last year, Wiltjer was 35-81 (43%) from 3-point range, but from the beginning of the SEC season on, he was 22-43 (51%), and in the post-season he was 6-12 (50%). For a comparison, J.J. Redick, considered to be one of the best 3-point shooters in NCAA history, shot under 40% his freshman year from three, although he did play significantly more minutes even as a frosh, and that does matter some.
So it looks to me like 43% is about the floor for Wiltjer from the arc, and he will only improve from there. You never know, of course, but Wiltjer is going to be a Redick-like threat from outside next year, and could even be more dangerous than Redick was until his senior year. But what we don't know is how much the rest of his game will develop. Wiltjer has a long way to go to become a post threat or a threat off the dribble, but if he can simply learn to rebound and learn to defend his position, it would be enough to more than double his minutes from last year. Wiltjer will most likely be the starter at the small forward position, although he may be forced to guard the 4.
Jon Hood -- Hood had an ACL injury last summer that sat him out all of this year, which means he will most likely be granted a medical redshirt if UK requests one, and whether they do or not may depend upon how well he plays in 2012-13. When Jeff Sheppard went on the shelf for one year, he came back a different player, and there are some strong similarities between Hood and Sheppard. If Hood can develop a reliable perimeter shot and better ballhandling to go along with his size and athletic ability, he can become a major contributor next year.
But what we don't know is probably more extnsive than what we do. We have no idea how well he recovered from his serious knee injury, and as far along as medicine has come in the last decade, some players never really recover from that injury to anywhere near full effectiveness. We have to just wait and see, and hope for the best.
Twany Beckham -- Beckham showed signs in rare spot duty last year, particularly on defense. Beckham is not an offensive threat as a shooter (although he can score at the rim), but he showed some strong defensive skills, and his primary uses were as a rebounder and an energy defender. That role may have to expand next year, but probably not too much. Despite his preference for the point guard position, Calipari has shown no inclination whatever to put him there, although that may change this year due to our lack of depth in that spot.
Jarrod Polson -- Polson played little more this year than his freshman year, but he could see more time in 2012-13 because of his experience and maturity. Polson is still not the kind of player any Kentucky fan would want to depend on for major minutes, but he is a Kentucky boy and he's likely to try to make the most of every second on the floor as he reaches upper-class status.
I'd be surprised if Polson sees many more minutes next year than this one, but you never know. He'll be competing with Beckham for emergency minutes.
Walk-ons Sam Malone and Brian Long -- I mention them because they are part of the team, but I'd be surprised to see them play other than at the end of games.
Ryan Harrow -- Harrow will be a junior this year if he's on schedule, but could play three more years at Kentucky under the NCAA 5-4 rule. Harrow is a lightning-quick point guard with an outstanding handle and remarkable floor vision. Harrow is also a terrific athlete, can shoot the ball with range, and is generally the kind of player Kentucky needs at point guard. He is a little slight in build, but he is long for his size and can really fly up and down the court, as well as find people from all sorts of angles. Think a smaller John Wall, except for one thing -- his left hand. Wall had an outstanding left hand, but Harrow's needs a lot of work. Still, when it comes to breaking you down off the dribble, Marquis Teague doesn't have anything on Ryan Harrow. He will be the starter at point guard next year.
Julius Mays -- Mays is a graduate-student transfer from Wright St. Raiders via the N.C. State Wolfpack. Mays played for the Wolfpack in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 season, and averaged an identical 4.7 ppg both games. He then transfered to Wright St. and was a significant contributor, playing 78% of minutes and averaging 14 ppg. He's considered a good ballhandler and passer, but only an average athlete and defender. He could possibly play the role Doron Lamb played this year in terms of a backup point guard, but he is very unlikely to start, although he will see significant minutes.
Nerlens Noel -- Noel is a shot-blocking machine, considered even better than Anthony Davis in that particular skill coming out of high school. He is an astonishing athlete for his size and will have an immediate impact as a rebounder and around-the-basket scorer. He is not bulky enough to post up strong centers, but like Davis, he is very quick, agile, and has a jump hook with either hand, so he need not be too close to the basket to score in the post.
Noel is considered to be very raw offensively outside of his hooks, and has no face-up game to speak of, unlike Davis. But he will be just as dangerous as Davis off the pick and roll, and will learn to be a similar type of game-changer if not the multidimensional threat that Davis became. Noel will almost certainly start in the pivot.
Alex Poythress -- Poythress is a polished scoring power forward who is flexible enough to play some three. He has an good perimeter game out to the college three. Poythress really can't get his own jump shot from deep off the bounce, though. He is much like Terrence Jones in that regard, mainly utilizing a set shot from the perimeter. Like Jones, Poythress is a slasher and excellent finisher at the rim, and is probably even more athletic than Jones was, although he lacks the great ballhandling skills. Poythress will be the starting 4, but will probably end up guarding a lot of 3-men, depending on how well Wiltjer's defensive skills mature.
Archie Goodwin -- Goodwin is a remarkable athlete, maybe the most athletic player on the team. He is a terror in transition in the mold of John Wall and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, capable of finishing with either hand and as fast as any wing player ever to play at Kentucky. Goodwin is not a great 3-point shooter, but can make the shot with good consistency and can get his shot whenever he needs to. He has every skill necessary to be a lock-down defender, and his handle and passing are good enough that some services considered him a combo guard in high school.
Willie Cauley -- Cauley is an athletic big man with a significant upside. He is not the athletic freak that Noel is, but he is very athletic and has terrific feet for a young prospect, can finish and rebound above the rim, and run the floor. He will need time to reach his true potential, so Calipari is likely to bring him along as slowly has he can. Still, with Kentucky's relative dearth of front-court talent, he is likely to see some time in relief of Noel.
This is an educated guess, but to me, next year's rotation looks something like this:
|Power Forward||Alex Poythress||Wiltjer|
|Small Forward||Kyle Wiltjer||Goodwin/Poythress/Hood|
|Shooting guard||Archie Goodwin||Mays/Hood|
|Point guard||Ryan Harrow||Mays/Goodwin|
I don't think that Kentucky is quite as flexible with their lineup this year as they were last year, but it's pretty close. By my lights, Kentucky is currently looking at an eight-man rotation, although guys like Beckham and Polson could find a few minutes here and there. But realistically, this is just about what we would expect, and even if we don't get another player, I think Kentucky is just fine.
I think some people expect Mays to get a lot of minutes, but I really don't think he'll get that much. The last two years, we've had the luxury of Doron Lamb, a true combo guard who could sub for the point almost seamlessly, and this year, I expect the 'Cats to need an extra player for those minutes.
This is potentially the deepest rotation Kentucky has played since 2010-11 when guys like Perry Stevenson got some minutes along with DeAndre Liggins and Ramon Harris. It looks to me like next year's Wildcats will need more players, primarily because Noel and possibly Wiltjer are going to be more foul-prone than Davis or Jones were. Noel is physically even more gifted than Davis, but he lacks the basketball IQ, something that is rarely mentioned in connection with Davis but was actually one of his biggest strengths.
That's how I see it as of now. What do you think?