The Duke Blue Devils are the story of college basketball in the early going, and rightfully so. They return a veteran group, including Grayson Allen, whom many believe to be the best player in college basketball, along with an elite recruiting class of freshmen that followed only the Kentucky Wildcats in the rankings.
According to experts, Duke's depth is what will set them apart from the rest of college basketball. In every preseason poll, Duke is at the top and every other team is looking up at them hoping to be able to compete.
There's no doubt that Kentucky's core players, Bam Adebayo, Derek Willis, Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, and Isaiah Briscoe, are as good or better than any starting five in the country.
But what if I told you that the bench is just as dangerous? What if I told you that Kentucky's starting five and their reserves are every bit as good as Duke's? This isn't the 2014 Platoon team, but John Calipari has options and an arsenal that is being overlooked by the experts. And I think he is 100% fine with that.
Hawk is a senior and has been in Cal's system longer than any other player besides Derek Willis. He has played with and practiced against some of the most elite guards in college basketball over his course of time at Kentucky: The Harrison Twins, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, and Jamal Murray, just to name a few.
While Briscoe gets the due credit as the team's best defender, Hawkins is right there with him. He is a pitbull and is quick enough to hang with the fast guards and strong enough to hang with the tough guards. He can play the point, the wing, and shooting guard. He's as athletic as anyone on the team, and his shooting touch is greatly improved. After all, without his three-point shooting, the ‘Cats may have not taken down Louisville in Rupp last season.
His leadership will be just as valuable as his ability to give relief to all three of Kentucky's starting guards.
Last season was Mulder's first at Kentucky. As a JUCO transfer, he found it difficult to crack the line-up. Outside of a good game on the road against LSU, he was almost a non-factor last season. And really, the ‘Cats didn't need him. His specialty was shooting, and Cal had that in spades with Murray, Ulis, and Willis.
This could be the season Mulder breaks out. In practice and in the blue/white game, he was hitting three-pointers at will. His athleticism is underrated, and he is better at getting to the basket than many think.
Willis is the team's best shooter, but if Mulder can give the ‘Cats another option as a shooter, then he will see playing time due to the fact that shooting is supposedly a weakness. Calipari has been heavy on his praise with him during the preseason.
If Mulder can come in and give Kentucky 6-12 points per game, then that is just one more player other teams will have to account for and another threat from beyond the arch.
SKJ was Kentucky's lowest rated recruit and the youngest player on the team. It was thought that he would be the seventh or eighth man off of the bench and that he would need more time to develop to the speed of the college game.
But he's been the surprise of the preseason. SKJ is more athletic than we thought and he is as offensively polished as a big man that we have seen since Trey Lyles. He can shoot, he can finish at the rim, and he can slam home alley-oops.
He also looks to be a dog on defense as he continues to battle with Bam and Isaac Humphries every day at practice.
He was once thought to be a multi-year player, but if he continues his upward trend, he may be one of the many ‘Cats turning pro after this season. He has the ability to play both the center and power forward positions.
If Killeya-Jones is ahead of the curve, then Gabriel is a bit behind compared to the other freshmen. Gabriel is an extremely long and athletic player that Cal wants to put on the wing for his defense and his mismatch ability on offense. The narrative was that he would battle Derek Willis for a starting position, but that doesn't seem to be the case right now.
It is still early in the season, and I wouldn't count him out just yet. He is a unique player, and there aren't many guys like him in college basketball. Even if he is used specifically as a defensive stopper and for rebounding, he will still be a vital part of this team going forward.
And if his offense comes along, then that is just icing on the cake.
The big Australian is in his second year at Kentucky, and his body already looks completely transformed. Last season, he played limited minutes due to lack of conditioning and speed. But Hump has put in the work and is ready to contribute in a big way.
He has soft hands and a nice shooting touch for a seven-footer, but his new found ability to run the floor and his ability to set the best picks for guards will earn him minutes in relief for Bam this season.
He showed flashes of what he could be last season and with an improved game there is no telling how good he can be.
Wynyard is still a bit of a mystery. He didn't play one minute last season, and we still have yet to really see him thanks to an injury that he sustained during the NBA combine.
The ‘Cats are absolutely loaded with big men, and it is doubtful that we will see much of him unless there are injuries or foul trouble. From all accounts, he is not up to the level that his fellow post players are at the moment. Any playing time he can add will just be a bonus for UK.
Let the national media continue to fall over themselves for Duke and their loaded team; John Calipari has one too. For once his guys aren't looked at as the premier college basketball juggernaut as the season begins. Just look at Cal's expressions and listen to how he talks about his guys. He likes his team and maybe more than he has at this point in the season since 2014 and any time before that.