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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Finding The Sweet Spot

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Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are the first players ranked in the top 25 out of high school to return for a second year under coach Calipari at Kentucky.
Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are the first players ranked in the top 25 out of high school to return for a second year under coach Calipari at Kentucky.

We're officially past the signing deadline for the 2011 recruiting class, but three players who have expressed interest in Kentucky and are still undecided -- DeAndre Daniels, Tony Woods and Ryan Harrow -- are still waiting to make a final decision.  Regardless, Kentucky now knows generally what the roster will look like for next year, and FortyYearCatFan has laid it out in this FanPost.

The question we will be examining today is, where is Kentucky's sweet spot, vis-a-vis scholarships, under John Calipari?

Only one of the last two years did Kentucky have a full compliment of scholarships, and that was in Coach Cal's first year.  Last year, Kentucky got by with 10 players, only six of whom played for 10 minutes per game or more, and those six players averaged over 31 minutes per game between them.

The previous year, Calipari spread the minutes out much more, with nine players averaging 10 minutes or more, and his top six players averaging just over 26.5 minutes per game.

The current roster contains 12 players including two potential walk-ons -- Jarrod Polson and Twany Beckham -- so Kentucky could make room for as many as three more players, although that seems unlikely to happen.

When you look at how Calipari plays his reserves and at the relative talent+experience level of the previous two teams, the 2011-12 team seems to represent the "sweet spot" for Kentucky.  There are enough talented players to see significant minutes well past the top six, and the backups would appear to be either good enough or experienced enough to earn around 10 minutes per game this coming season.

I think this is why many recruits are looking elsewhere at this point.  Kentucky does not generally involve itself with recruits below the Rivals 5* level very much.  Kentucky has recruited some lower ranked players under Calipari -- Stacey Poole, Eloy Vargas and Marcus Thornton come immediately to mind -- but for the most part, UK is attempting to bring in as many top 25 players as possible.

I think the sweet spot for Kentucky under coach Calipari will be 10-11 scholarship players with a walk-on or two who can earn a scholarship.  Calipari has shown relatively small interest in recruiting four-year players, which is where all but the highest 4-star players will wind up. 

The new NBA collective bargaining agreement might change that, but for the moment, it seems to me that getting more than 10 or 11 high-quality players on scholarship might be the exception rather than the rule at Kentucky.  Also, given Calipari's propensity so far to play only a limited rotation, it is entirely possible that better players will feel that they could wind up buried on the bench, much like Stacey Poole and Jon Hood.