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Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Launch 2012 NCAA Title Defense Friday

This Friday is no ordinary Big Blue Madness. It is the first time in 14 years that a Kentucky team has mounted an NCAA Tournament championship defense.

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Big Blue Madness is this Friday, October 12. Every Kentucky fan knows this. But what we may have forgotten is that this Big Blue Madness is not like any other we have had for over a decade. This year, BBM represents the first time since 1998 that Kentucky has launched an NCAA title defense.

I don't know about you, but for me, this is a big deal. No, it isn't nearly as big a deal as winning an NCAA Tournament title, but at the same time, the very thought that you are going into the season as the DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS ought to at least cause a slight quickening of the pulse or thrill of excitement.

Speaking of excitement, that's something the Big Blue Nation is unfortunately starved for right now. While the rest of the SEC save possibly Arkansas, Auburn, and Vanderbilt are focused on football, much of the Kentucky fan base has decided that football just isn't happening for them this year, and rightly so. But just as we are all about to perish from boredom and frustration, John Calipari mounts his Blue and White steed and leads another group of young studs into Rupp Arena to save the day. Just in time.

At this point, I think the excitement for basketball season could hardly be any higher. The Wildcats have almost a brand-new team, but like every year of John Calipari's 3-year reign, they are a brand-new team of superbly talented high school all-Americans. Like the other teams before them, they will have to learn how to play the college game, but that growth is a big part of the excitement.

Let's take a very brief, one-paragraph look at the newcomers, and their likely role on the team:

Alex Poythress: Starter. Versatile power forward who loves to play the game inside and out. Not a major 3-point threat, but a guy who can score from anywhere on the floor and defend 3 positions.

Archie Goodwin: Starter. Big guard who can swing to the small forward and even the point guard, where he will likely do significant backup duty. Slasher who finishes at the rim, but has to work on his perimeter game. Goodwin can guard three or four positions, and swaps ends almost as fast as John Wall.

Nerlens Noel: Starter. Center/PF who can guard 3 positions. Best shot blocker, talent-wise, ever to attend Kentucky, but he does it differently than Anthony Davis, to whom many compare him. Extreme athleticism, but not nearly as skilled as Davis. Raw offensive game, but capable of using both hands equally well, a rare and underrated skill. Runs the floor like nobody else.

Willie Cauley-Stein: Starter/early reserve. Cauley-Stein is a true 7-footer with length and athleticism any coach would envy. Has a face-up game out to about 10 feet, and runs the floor as well as any player on the team other than Noel. Good footwork for a young player, and willing to accept contact. Can really finish close to the basket.

Ryan Harrow: Starter. The point guard transfer from the N.C. State Wolfpack that had to face Marquis "Pit Bull" Teague every day in practice last year. Harrow is a smooth, quick player who has excellent handles and a nice shooting stroke. He isn't tall at 6'2", but he has excellent athleticism and terrific court vision. Harrow's slight frame is a departure from the beefy Teague, and he doesn't have the scoring mentality of Knight or speed of Wall, but he is possible quicker off the first step than either one of them.

Julius Mays: Early reserve. Mays could best be described as a scoring point guard. He led Wright St.Raiders last year in assist rate and 3-point shooting percentage. Mays scored 20 points or more 10 times last season, his biggest output being 33 points against the Ill.-Chicago Flames. Mays figures to add depth and significant perimeter shooting to this year's Wildcats team, as well as experience -- Mays has been playing college basketball since 2006.

I included Harrow because he didn't play at all last year, and has never put on the Blue and White for a game.

This year's team does not look, at first glance, as dominant as last year's The biggest reason is the lack of overall bulk, because even though Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer have good overall size both in terms of height and bulk, the team as a whole is rather slight, although they may be longer, effectively, even than last year's team when you consider that they have 3 significant players at 6'10" and over.

It will be exciting to see these players scrimmage together a bit on Friday, and hopefully from there, we can begin to figure out how they might fit in with a particular game plan. One thing you have to like about Coach Cal is his lack of dedication to any particular offensive scheme.

When he came here with the dribble-drive motion, it was a scheme invented for high-skill players, but not actually a team of high school all-Americans. During his very first year here, Calipari discovered that he could not be wedded to his innovation and get the most out of his basketball teams, and every year, he has adapted the offense to suit his personnel. We can look for that again this year. Who knows, the DDM might actually be the best scheme to run this year, but looking at this team, I rather doubt it.

Anyway, we'll get more information on that in the coming days. The good news is, except for those fans who are particularly wedded to the football team (which is relatively few people in Kentucky), the excitement is about to return for the Big Blue Faithful. We're not abandoning the football team, but we darn sure aren't going to wallow in misery, either -- there's plenty to be excited about with the men's and women's basketball teams, both of which will be in evidence on Friday.

Hold on to your butts. It's almost here ...