I have mostly eschewed basketball news lately in favor of football. There has really not been that much to tell except some comments on recent pick-up games, which I and most of the Big Blue Faithful have learned to place very little stock in. Thus, at most, you have a few links to news reports and little else.
But in the last week or so, Rivals has begun releasing its top 65 teams for the 2008-2009 season, and Kentucky weighs in at #40 (Free). Now, I know a few Wildcat fans will want to take umbrage with this, but realistically, that is a very reasonable pre-season ranking for this team. Do I believe we deserve to be better? Well, yes, the fan in me really does, but when I take off my Big Blue shades, I see things that would give a neutral observer reason for concern:
- Patrick Patterson, as good as he is, lost 6 months of basketball. He has only been able to do rehab and some lifting, which will help, but the part of his game that makes him what he is, i.e. running, jumping, and competing, has been denied him lo these many months. That will definitely cause his development to be set back a bit. How much we won't know for a while, and he will be good, but just how good is a question mark.
- Jodie Meeks also lost some time. I don't think it has been nearly as bad for him as for Pat, but there will be some lingering effects come October. He is in a position that must step up and deliver, as he is the primary back court scoring threat this year unless someone shows up out of the blue.
- Point guard situation -- even with Liggins, there are questions to be asked. Is Liggins good enough to be an SEC starter right out of the box? How much can Galloway and Porter help? Freshman point guards are not something any SEC team would want to take the floor with in most seasons. Liggins will have a big say in how successful this team will be.
- Scoring -- that is, by far, the biggest concern of those who look at Kentucky pre-season. After losing two 20 point per game guards and replacing them with unproven players (except Meeks), do we have enough perimeter scoring? I actually think we can replace them by committee, but we'll have to see how that works out.
But there are also reasons for optimism, and as an optimistic fan, I will tell you that these are more in my mind than the concerns:
- Flexibility -- we have six athletic players in the 6'5" - 6'8" range, all of whom are interchangeable at two positions and three of whom are interchangeable at three.
- Defense -- this team is far, far more capable of being a lock-down defensive team than last year's was, and last year's team was pretty darn good defensively.
- Built to run -- This team is deep, athletic and will be able to run, and DeAndre Liggins loves to advance the ball with the pass. The prospect of seeing our fast break this year excites the heck out of me.
- Built to rebound -- This is the tallest Kentucky team 1-5 I can ever remember. There is no reason for an opponent to ever get an offensive rebound. We should dominate the defensive glass, and could dominate the offensive glass as well.
- Decent depth everywhere -- With the exception of off guard, unless Williams is way better than I expect, we are a deep team, and that depth is decent.
I do not, as a fan, believe that there are 39 teams better than us in the NCAA. But I also know as an analyst that there are many unanswered questions, and it's usually best when ranking teams to err on the side of what you think you know. We know so little about so much of this year's team, a ranking between 30 and 40 makes sense intellectually, even if it does "angry up" my blue blood a bit.