Kentucky Basketball: A Stab At Next Year's Starting Five

USA TODAY Sports

These are the guys I think, sight unseen, will start for Kentucky next year.

Now that we have reached a "dead period" in college sports (except softball, which, as of this writing, is still alive for Kentucky), I was thinking today of the possible starting five for the Wildcats next year.

In my opinion, the best group, without seeing them play together, looks like this:

  • Point guard: Andrew Harrison

    There really isn't much to pick from here. While Dominique Hawkins is very good, he's not as good as Harrison.

    Strengths: Size and strength. At 6'5"/205#, this is a big point guard in the mold of Derrick Rose. Andrew also has a great shooting touch from outside, but what really separates him from most college point guards is the way he continuously probes the paint. He's a willing passer always looking for the ally-oop or open wing shooter.

    Andrew also possesses a deadly crossover and a good first step, although it's not quite Rose-worthy. Also unlike Rose in his Memphis days, Andrew can really shoot the ball from the perimeter.

    Weaknesses: He's a freshman, with a freshman mind and body. Despite his NBA-ready size, he is still fresh out of high school. He's quick for his size, but smaller guards will get by him. Defensively, he must improve his intensity and learn how to be effective guarding smaller, quicker players.

  • Shooting guard: Aaron Harrison

    The twins have played together all their lives, and there is no realistic possibility they won't on next year's team.

    Strengths: Aaron is a good shooter and prototypical college 2-guard with good size, superior strength and outstanding athleticism. He can shoot from the perimeter, but also finish inside, and uses his body well inside. He's also a willing passer, almost as willing as his brother. Defensively, he is a capable defender and because he will be guarding bigger players, is quick enough to stay in front of most of them.

    Weaknesses: Youth, inexperience, and some inconsistency shooting the ball. He shot it poorly during the all-star season and turned the ball over a bit more than he should. Like his brother, his body is not yet fully mature.

  • Wing forward: Alex Poythress

    I don't know for sure that he'll be able to beat out James Young for this spot, but I suspect he will. Poythress has an extra year, and that will matter.

    Strengths: Poythress will be big for the position in college, but just about right at the next level. He can shoot the ball with range, drive to the basket, and rebound. He can also post up smaller players with his superior size and strength.

    Weaknesses: Poythress was a poor defender last year, and a relatively indifferent offensive player. Last year he deferred too much, and when he chose to be aggressive was often too aggressive, committing a number of charges, especially on the baseline. He has to learn to pull up for the easy jumper instead of trying to force the play. Poythress is also a below-average ballhandler for the 3-spot, and that could be the one disadvantage that Young could leverage to take the spot from him.

  • Power forward: Julius Randle

    Randle is the prototypical NCAA Division I power forward at a tall 6'9" and 240# right now. He could easily be 250# by the time Kentucky plays their first exhibition.

    Strengths: Randle is a big body that knows exactly what to do with it. Unlike Poythress, who played more of a face-up game, Randle is a genuine multidimensional guy who can face up, post up, or slash like a small forward. He's well above average athletically, but where he really shines is with an NBA-ready physicality. He is a superior rebounder who will give the effort to get them.

    Randle craves contact, and isn't intimated by anybody. He is a fairly willing passer, but can also take games over with his physicality and dominating presence inside. He finishes with genuine rim-rocking authority off the break, and runs the floor with gusto.

    Weaknesses: Randle is really only an average defender, and most of it is effort. He tends to play an AAU style matador defense which must be coached out of him. He is a good, but not great ballhandler, and sometimes tries to do too much with the ball in his hands. He's used to being the #1 option, and he'll have to learn to back off that tendency a bit.

  • Center: Willie Cauley-Stein

    If nothing else last year, WCS proved that he is truly an athletic marvel at 7" and 250#. Cauley-Stein can do things that few other centers not named Nerlens Noel can do, and an extra year is likely to make him into the kind of player that we really needed last year.

    Strengths: Length, speed, and athleticism. WCS has remarkable athletic gifts, good hands and astonishing speed for someone so tall. He finishes with authority close to the basket, and began developing some real post moves at the end of last year. He can rebound very well, and handles the ball very well for someone his size. When he gets out on the break, he is remarkably fast and finishes extremely well.

    Defensively, WCS can be dominant, but can also struggle where he lacks a quickness advantage. He commits too quickly to the block, and lacks the explosiveness that allowed Noel and Anthony Davis to wait for the shot to leave the player's hand.

    Weaknesses: Cauley-Stein's free throw shooting and lack of touch in general really held him back last year offensively. He is very raw as a basketball player, and it really showed in games where he was forced to be a primary offensive option. His tendency to bite on pump fakes make him somewhat foul-prone. He also tends to let up defensively after about 20 seconds or so.

    WCS also doesn't crave contact yet, and yields too easily to more physical players, getting pushed around more than a player his size should be.

This is preseason starting lineup, but I am fully aware that a case can be made for at least two more front-court players, and possibly three. So much depends on what happens over the summer break, but if I were to pick five off this team to start, sight unseen, these would be the guys.

I really do believe the strength of next year's team will be in the front court, although the back-court will be very good with the Harrison twins, Young, Jon Hood, Hawkins and Jarrod Polson.

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