I can feel the chill in the air and I see colored leaves swirling around unseen excitement. The Big Blue Nation crackles with energy in bars, buses and message boards. Everyone studies harder and debates louder. And in a few short days, we will begin our favorite pastime anew; second guessing and insulting any college basketball commentator who dares speak ill of our beloved Wildcats.
(Disclaimer: The "On Notice" image is for humor effect and is not a serious dig at anyone listed.)
So as sharpen our tongues and harden our hearts, we also break into analysis and raise our hopes for the season. It is often said that winning is "expected" at Kentucky. However, most of us know what our team is capable of accomplishing due to our (sometimes unhealthy) dedication to the sport. We know talent and the difference between good and bad execution. Sometimes we think we know basketball as well as the "experts" because we spend a lot of time immersed in the same roundball world. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we know more, which isn't necessarily true in every dispute we have with Dick, Digger and the rest.
Everybody -- experts or not -- are and will be talking about our injuries and our youth. Surely the experts will expect Patterson, Meeks and Stevenson to contribute to the Wildcats success. But who are they overlooking; the unexpected Wildcats who improving play helps the team when the starters are on the bench? Perhaps now is the time to address the possible ways our youth can help with the injuries.
And boy howdy, we need the help. At the very beginning of this SEC Media Days audio stream, Coach Gillispie addresses the current situation. He mentions Derrick Jasper has only been able to practice one day this week due to swelling in his knee. Jared Carter is still worried about his shoulder. Joe Crawford is nearly 100 percent. Mike Porter still hasn't been cleared for practice yet. Patrick Patterson is still out with an Internet-based heart deficiency. (Ha ha! Just kidding, Patrick's got an upper respiratory virus.)
While most should be ready for the season, the injuries to our most effective ball-handler (Jasper) and our one of the few big men we have (Carter) may be persistent through the season. These injuries help highlight that this team will soar or sink with what I call our Youngsters -- the talented freshmen and sophomore classes that make up 15 of our 18 players. Some of the players of this group will be challenged to step into solid contributor roles. Some of the Youngsters -- like Jodie Meeks & Perry Stevenson -- are expected to contribute in starting roles.
But what about the unexpected players that need to fit into roles that either were not available last year or are especially needed this year? Ultimately, these unexpected contributors make the difference between winning and losing. For example, it was Meeks and Michael Porter who announced their arrival as contributors in last year's victory in Louisville. For the new season, let's discuss who could be considered the most crucial Youngster for the backcourt and the frontcourt. Keep in mind what we don't know yet -- like Coach Gillispie's planned starting rotation or his preferred offensive/defensive sets this year.
We are very inexperienced in the frontcourt this season; our lone non-Youngster, Jared Carter, should be considered a Youngster considering he's played in only 20 games the last two years. Ramon Harris is expected to be the swingman extraordinaire when we run standard 2-guard sets. Jared, Stevenson and blue-chipper Patterson are expected to be anchoring our inside and baseline games. We know that all four's activity in the game will be dictated by fouls -- more so for Patterson, who is likely to pick up those sloppy freshman fouls while trying to be one of our primary scoring options.
Mark Coury, the logical substitute for Patterson, could be the unexpected frontcourt hero. Despite not seeing much action last year, he has made a name for himself in spring and fall practices. Reports have him working with the "first team" players often in practices. If Patterson gets into early foul trouble, Coury could see a lot of time in the secondary role, which may lead to some surprising production.
Meanwhile, in the backcourt, we can expect Meeks and Porter to be the primary understudies for seniors Crawford and Bradley. Meeks improvement as a player -- especially his defense -- may allow him to see a majority of minutes each game. In 3 or 4-guard lineups, Meeks could be moved to a natural shooting guard position while Crawford exploits the small forward position. Porter will probably be called on to set up plays on the floor when Bradley is forced to the bench.
Coming off the bench, Alex Legion could be the unexpected backcourt contributor. Still raw on defense, Legion could be put in the game early in the season for his uncanny shooting touch. As the season progresses, I could see Alex increasing his defensive skills and finding more time on the court. In the same way Jodie Meeks did last season, Legion could move from "learning on the court" into "valued bench contributor".
So, my fellow Wildcat experts, who do you expect to be the unexpected Youngster that may make Kentucky win some of those close games this year? I'll be eagerly awaiting your comments.Update [2007-10-26 16:16:56 by TheFakeGimelMartinez]: This expert needs to know the difference between backcourt and frontcourt. Maybe I should add myself to the On Notice list. D'oh!