In the weeks and months leading up to the start of practices in October, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest teams, players and stories for the 2014-15 college basketball season. Each team has one burning question we’ll take a look at.
Having too many good players on a basketball team? Is that even possible? Is that even a problem?
Yes, it is definitely possible and, yes, it can certainly be a problem. A problem that every college coach in the country would love to have, but it’s is also one that Kentucky’s John Calipari has heading into next season.
Coming off of an appearance in the national championship game in April, the Wildcats, once again, enter next season as the early favorites to be ranked No. 1 in most major preseason polls. Calipari lost Julius Randle and James Young to the NBA, but that’s a very small dent to overcome compared to what he’s lost in the last five years after every season.
With those four, along with the returning Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, Kentucky has what some would consider as the best six-man rotation in the country. Some programs would be able to stop there and let the recruits fill needs off the bench, since their starters would take up most of the minutes anyway.
However, since this is Calipari and the Wildcats we’re talking about, this is no ordinary situation.
Along with those six, Kentucky brings in the top-ranked recruiting class (again) featuring top prospects Trey Lyles, Karl Towns Jr., Devin Booker and Tyler Ullis. Right there are 10 names that could all be stars at other schools, but are all paired together to make the deepest, most talented team in the nation.
There really isn’t a weakness on this team. You could insert any of these players into the starting five and be considered the national championship favorites.
That’s nothing new for Kentucky, but it is new for Calipari.
While the sometimes controversial Calipari has had great teams before, he’s never had a roster this loaded with talent or one this deep. All 10 of his core players could be lottery picks in the NBA Draft within the next year or two, just adding to the coach’s professional track record with his players.
Having that many pro prospects is certain to spark the conversations of 40-0 seasons from fans in Lexington again this season, though hopefully they’ll keep those under wraps until they see their team play a game first.
That many highly rated recruits on one team is great, but it also presents a problem. Who plays where for how many minutes and who do you trust on the floor together?
It’s long winded and might feel a little nit-picky, but it’s an interesting conundrum nonetheless. Who does Calipari play? What’s his best starting five? Is he about to bench players that spurned the NBA for him in favor of his highly touted freshmen?
Problems such as these tend to work themselves out over time and through reps in practice, but it’s still a question that will hang over the heads of Kentucky until March.
Not long ago (a year, to be exact), Kentucky had a similar problem when they brought in Randle, Young, the Harrisons and Johnson in their 2013 recruiting class. Having only lost Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin from the previous season, there weren’t a lot of positions of need.
Those five were the main starters from day one with the Wildcats, but it quickly became evident that relying on five true freshmen every season wasn’t going to work out for Kentucky. They hit a wall in December after the win over Louisville and couldn’t recover, treading water as much as possible the rest of the regular season.
Something finally clicked with Calipari’s bunch around the end of March as they took Florida to the limit in the SEC tournament final and marched their way through “The Region of Death” en route to the championship game, which ended in a hard-fought defeat at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies. Having the Harrisons and Cauley-Stein (a potential lottery pick in the 2014 draft) return was huge for the Wildcats as they head into next season, but it’s something that Calipari has to be cautious about.
Calipari is a great coach. He knows how to relate to his players and get the most out of them on the court … at one point in the season or another.
We saw how much they struggled last year despite the immense talent they possessed and things were even worse the year before that coming off of a national championship in 2012. Make no mistake about it; if anybody can get this team to play together, it’s Calipari, but it might not happen right away.
During their non-conference schedule is where the loaded Wildcats will be tested the most. Kentucky will play Kansas in Indianapolis on Nov. 18, their third game of the season — remember, last year’s third game of the season was against Michigan State, which quickly ended the 40-0 talk — and Texas on Dec. 5.
Two very tough, very good teams early in the season. Kansas bring in a vaunted recruiting class of its own and Texas returns almost everybody from a very underrated campaign last season, as well as the No. 2 recruit in the country, Myles Turner.
After that, it’s a deadly three-game stretch, as Kentucky will host North Carolina (an expected top-five team in preseason rankings), play UCLA in Chicago and finish off with a road game at Louisville, which will be bolstered by the return of Montrezl Harrell. UCLA could see themselves in a down year after losing Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine to the NBA, but the rest of those five games listed are very winnable as much as they are very losable.
Calipari is putting his team through the wringer early and often, which is something the team will need to figure out who they are before SEC begins in January.
Kentucky has the players to make a very memorable and incredible season for themselves, but they must figure out who’s playing and how many minutes those 10 players are going to get. They could go with two completely different five-man rotations and see where that takes them, but that wouldn’t really solve anything.
Lyles, Towns, Booker and Ullis will have to prove themselves to be superior to the returning sophomores, juniors and seniors to play over them. They’re very capable of doing that, but them getting playing time because that’s Calipari’s system won’t fly well.
That could spark a surge of transfers from disgruntled players if Calipari’s not careful to manage his players’ time well.
Having too many good-to-great players is not a problem for most teams, and John Calipari can make it work, but it’s still something that could make the otherwise indestructible Kentucky Wildcats vulnerable to upsets early and often. While it could be the greatest team ever assembled in college basketball, don’t be surprised to see the loaded Wildcats stumble once or twice along the way.
Going 10-deep is great and considered a blessing by many, but that’s a lot of bodies and a lot of egos to feed at the same time.