Thus far, the Billy Clyde Gillispie era at Kentucky has shown a great deal of renewed excitement, energy and forward momentum, especially from a fanbase clearly feeling freed from the albatross that was the eternal Tubby debate.
But what can we honestly expect once the hubbub of the first few weeks is over?
Big Blue Nation has taken its licks from the national media for their grandiose expectations to not be mediocre (/sarcasm), and now will settle in to see what the new guy accomplishes. After all, beyond the excitement of recruiting rumors and theoreticals ("Legion! Lucas! Patterson! They'll all come because we're Kentucky!"), John Q. Wildcat now must approach the Billy Gillispie hiring for what it is: a job.
Gillispie has grabbed a 2009 verbal committment from guard G.J. Vilarino, by all accounts a good kid with great upside. But he's not going to set foot in Rupp Arena in uniform for a long time. And knowing how fleeting recruiting is, maybe never.
Thus, the more pressing issue is what to expect from Gillispie and the players Tubby Smith left behind.
Coach Clyde seems to be telling recruits he'll run more, something that music to every UK fan's ears, but reminds them a lot of the promise Tubby seemed to make every preseason (whether you think he meant it or not). Gillispie will have the guards to run, but will rely on a frontcourt as thin and unseen as Kate Moss after a weekend "hitting the slopes" in Ibiza.
Having senior leaders in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley will help, but a shoulder injury to Jared Carter left no junior class, and of the freshmen, Jodie Meeks is the most vocal and likely leader.
Stringbean forward Perry Stevenson could be the starting center in a quick, lean lineup, but that's all academic right now. My point is that there's talent remaining, just not much of it. And what talent there is seems to be either someone we've not seen enough of, or a couple of guys we feel like we've seen more than enough of.
How Gillispie molds his first team at UK will be telling. Count me as someone who believes that the whoosh of emotion that the Kentucky fanbase can generate when motivated can be the difference between a few wins and losses. Will the energy last through the summer, especially if Gillipsie is unable to convince Patrick Patterson or Jai Lucas to matriculate?
In many ways, barring a surprise, this year's Wildcats look like a team in severe need of a mission. Be it chip-on-shoulder or win-it-for-coach, without more talented bodies, especially up front, this team is likely to struggle mightily at times. Even with Gillispie's penchant for quick turnarounds, the Smith regime left only a few half-empty boxes of cereal in the cupboard, and none of them Wheaties.
Kentucky fans, portrayed as spoiled brats generally, will be put to the patience test. But it's a test they've passed before. When probation took everything away, the crowds at Rupp Arena -- fueled by a new coach and a promise (delivered) of a breakneck, gritty bunch of underachievers -- became a part of the action, coaxing a 14-14 record out of a team that shouldn't have won 7 games.
Now, albeit with far more to work with, the scenario is similar. Florida is the top dog, Tennessee has its core back, Georgia is a year older and Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU could allbe decent. How much room does the new guy have to wiggle if it takes a while to get old 'Cats to learn new tricks?
With Smith here, the expectation was a Sweet 16 pretty much every season. More than anything, falling short of that the last two years got Tubby into his predicament.
Now, the expectations are far different. Does Gillispie get a grace period that his predecessor had used up? If Gillispie -- who has never coached an Elite Eight game -- can't muster up more than a .500 SEC record and a similar 8-12 seed in the NCAAs, is the season a disappointment?
I don't have answers to these -- there can't be any, really, until we know who's on the team and how they respond to the new pressures. But it's certainly out there, that sense of unknowing.
Gillispie is clearly working hard trying to shore up (premium) the aforementioned holes. Whether he's fruitful in doing so remains to be seen.
Given the nature of big time college coaching, and of the Kentucky situation in particular, you'd have to think he's asking himself many of these same questions.