As I've noted previusly, it seems more likely than not that the current roster is what we will see on the floor (or near it) come summer and fall practice. Barring a major surprise, the guard-heavy lineup we anticipate seeing has its pluses and minuses, of course. But most importantly, it's what we got.
So as we stare into the crystal ball for next fall, beyond the individual talents of the returning/arriving players, what will new coach Billy Gillispie bring in terms of tempo, style of play and rotation?
Jerry Tipton recently caught up with Jodie Meeks, last year's top freshman, and pondered this very question.
If Meeks' version of events is true, and there's no reason to think otherwise, Wildcats fans can expect an emphasis on speed, versatility and an outside-in approach. This is in part by necessity, of course, as the bulk of Kentucky's experience and strength resides in the backcourt.
In addition to Meeks (8.7 ppg in 2007), seniors-to-be Ramel Bradley (13.4, 3.8 apg) and Joe Crawford (14.0, 4.0 rpg) likely offer the best chance for consistency and victory. If one slots incoming frosh Patrick Patterson (6'8", 235) in the frontcourt, as is expected, then two scenarios emerge.
The first, and the subject of Tipton's article, is a fast-paced team that features four guards and one mobile big man, with no true back-to-the-backet center. Meeks references the Golden State Warriors, this season's NBA playoff darlings, who gimmicked their way past the top-seeded Mavs in the first round, principally on the backs of conscience-free three-point barrages and uber-point Baron Davis. But, as Tipton also acknowledges, the Cats lack a true point guard, instead relying on combo types Bradley and Meeks, with the tall and athletic, but less than confident, Derrick Jasper (3.9, 2.8 apg) an option as well.
The most probable fifth starter -- if one slots Meeks, Bradley and Crawford alongside Patterson -- would be either Jasper, incoming freshman shooter Alex Legion (6'4", 210) or a surprise choice like the under-used Ramon Harris (6'7", 220) or fellow sophomore Michael Porter (1.5 ppg).
Jasper started 27 games, and he offers a small forward's size, with a strong full court game. It was Jasper that generally pushed the offense upcourt best on the break. The California native's reluctance to take open shots, however, seemed to metastasize as the season wore on. And by the NCAA tournament, teams were daring him to shoot, and he rarely took them up on that dare. Legion is an interesting possibility, but freshman are notoriously hard to advance judge, even those with pedigrees like Legion's (Oak Hill Academy).
If none of the backcourt returnees is truly ready to step into the lineup, the other prominent scenario begins to take shape.
Returning frontcourt players Perry Stevenson (2.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and Jared Carter (redshirt due to injury) will likely factor into this scenario, along with incoming freshman A. J. Stewart (6'7", 210).
If Meeks, Bradley and Crawford start, along with Patterson, the only traditional lineup possible would be the 7'2" Carter in the paint. This would free Patterson up for more play facing the basket, as well as offering a more conventional inside-outside strategy. This lineup, however, assumes that Carter is both fully recovered from his shoulder woes and effective. It also asks Carter to play more minutes in a few games than he has likely played in his entire career to this point.
One interesting possiblity is teaming the long, lean Stevenson with Patterson up front, effectively ceding the deep paint, but giving the Cats a chance to run the floor -- both are strong on the break -- and pound the glass for putbacks and garbage buckets off the weakside.
Like Carter, however, it's unknown how the lanky Stevenson would react to major minutes. He looked better in his limited minutes than departed seniors Sheray Thomas and Lukasz Obrzut, but also seemed to lack stamina and bulk enough to play anything close to a true center.
My personal favorite lineup is this last one, however, which offers a speedy, but still tall enough, cadre of guys, but which leaves untested players like Stewart, Harris and the other freshman recruit, center Mike Williams (7'0", 270), as the only real frontcourt substitutions on scholarship. Walk-on Mark Coury showed up a few times last year, but counting on him for any real minutes seems a hazardous thing to do.
But after a few years of static, rather uninspired, game planning, it's at least exciting to think about the many possiblities that having this still talented, but limited, cast of characters offers. Gillispie has shown in the past a knack for using the players he has to maximum potential rather than simply slotting players into a pre-existing system.
If Gillispie can find the right combination of players, and locate a spark or two from the unknowns off the bench -- early reports have the staff high on Harris' potential, if nothing else -- this next edition of the Wildcats could be an entertaining and exciting bunch. Whether that translates to wins will ultimately depend on the players themselves.