Kentucky Basketball: Hollis-Jefferson Says Arizona Has "the best starting five in the country."

Donald Miralle

Is Arizona's starting five better than Kentucky's next season? Maybe, but Kentucky has the edge overall.

Arizona Desert Swarm, the SB Nation Arizona Wildcats blog, points to a Twitter kerfuffle that broke out recently over starting lineups. Returning Arizona player Rondae Hollis-Jefferson asserted on Twitter that Arizona would have the best starting five in the nation next season:

Predictably, some Kentucky fans responded with derisive tweets, and a debate ensued, which you can follow at the ADS post above. ADS had their own analysis of the assertion:

Arizona’s starting lineup – if we project it to be T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski – has age, experience, versatility and the defensive edge on the Wildcats. That’s arguable but not foolish to say.

No, it’s not foolish to say, although I have to question the "versatility" part. Kentucky’s starting lineup, if you project it based on last season, might look something like this:

  1. Andrew Harrison
  2. Aaron Harrison
  3. Alex Poythress
  4. Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. (I disagree with Trey Lyles in the four spot)
  5. Dakari Johnson

This is a very versatile lineup indeed, with plenty of shooting, ridiculous size, and excellent athleticism.  It could be even more versatile by moving Devin Booker to the two and Andrew Harrison to the  three, creating maximum perimeter shooting. Having said that, there is no real debate that based on last year’s stats, Arizona would be the superior defensive team, whereas Kentucky is likely to be better offensively, but not by a big margin.

There are two reasons I have Towns at the four rather than Lyles. Lyles is injured, and he’s going to fall a bit behind guys like Towns. For the same reason, I have relegated WCS to the second team. Even when he was healthy, Dakari Johnson managed to take the starting spot from him around mid-season. The second reason I think Towns starts is the flexibility he offers the offense - you can’t guard him on the perimeter with a smaller player, so he’s going to take a big player away from the basket, leaving Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson to do what they do best against overall smaller players.

To be honest, its really unclear who will man the four and five spots, as the competition will be most fierce for those two positions. Given all this uncertainty and the more clear picture we have of the western Wildcats, I’d say Hollis-Jefferson’s position is quite defensible.

Where Kentucky will be better is practically everywhere else. The Wildcats next season will come at opponents in wave after wave of size and talent. They can also do some very creative things with their size, like move Karl Towns outside on offense where he’ll have a huge advantage on almost every big player in the nation with his combination of size and shooting. Kentucky can do that without sacrificing rebounding due to a multiplicity of 6‘9"+ big players.

Frankly, I’m willing to concede that Arizona’s putative starting five is likely to be considered the best due to their experience, age, and proven defensive ability. At the same time, I assert that Kentucky will be better everywhere else. I can live with that, because let’s face it — Kentucky didn’t have the best starting five in the country last year, either. Yet in the end, the team was more, or at least equal, to the sum of their parts.

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