By Ira D. Combs Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
The 2010-2011 Kentucky Wildcats in a nutshell will be short in numbers as well as thin in size but very talented and skilled with several of the 10 players on the present roster. I say 10 players because Enes Kanter's eligibility at this writing is in the appeals process and won't be finalized until late November or early December.
The big question with John Calipari's 2nd team (without Enes Kanter) concerns two categories in particular and what makes them so important and intriguing is that none of the players, nor Coach Cal can prevent or control either. Those two extremely important items that will make a difference in Wildcat fortunes this season are:
#1 - Foul trouble concerns, even playing some zone. Game officials will still have that final call and don't expect any consistency.
#2 - Injury concerns. Simply put, pure luck will have to be depended on.
The margin of error in both these categories will have to be paper thin if the Cats expect to earn enough wins for the NCAA's Big Dance.
I may have raised a few eyebrows by not listing lack of experience as a concern with so many freshmen on the team.
Normally that would be the case but in this day and age of young and extremely talented players entering their college career having played all over the USA on the elite AAU circuit I don't think the experience factor is as much of an impact as in the past until you reach the post season. Also, the experience factor mainly comes into play with guards because they have their hands on the ball 80-90 % of the time in a 40 minute game which usually produces the unforced and erratic turnovers.
UK will put the ball in Brandon Knight's hands when he is in the game and that will be at least 35 minutes a game and having seen him now in Canada for three games and the exhibition season as well he will be the exception to the rule in the fear of experience resulting in turnovers category. Something tells me Coach Cal isn't concerned either.
Listed below is a brief preview of what to expect from each player for this season plus an educated guess of their final record:
Sr. - Josh Harrellson - 6'10"
= Harrellson needs to earn Coach Cal's confidence early and if he does some say his talents may surprise even the so called expert gurus of ESPN. One things for sure, if he can't earn playing time with this roster in his senior year then he has no one to blame but himself. My take on Harrellson is if he is given an honest chance he could give the team a solid 20-25 minutes of inside play a game and possibly the difference between a 16-18 win season and a 20-22 win season. Best guess (4.0 PPG & 5.5 RPG)
Jr. - Darius Miller - 6' 6"
= Miller has not been given his just due in his first two years but rarely does Big Blue Nation give one of its own a realistic evaluation when they put on the blue and white. He has been a roll player his first two years and done quite well in my eyes but the fanbase and some media outlets have been very demanding on him when his coach or team wasn't expecting the same. Now, he will have more responsibility in the all important areas of offensive production and rebounding chores as well. My prediction is that he will not be spectacular like everyone wants but very solid in both areas. Miller's defensive prowess has been somewhat overlooked as well the last two years. Best guess (10.0 PPG. & 5.0 RPG)
Jr. - DeAndre Liggins - 6' 7"
= Liggins like Miller is very versatile in match-ups defensively and should be one of the better rebounding perimeter players in the SEC if not the nation. Liggins' offensive skills have improved immensely the last two years to where Coach Cal's confidence in him as well as his own confidence is at an all time high. Liggins' role once the season gets hits the 8-10 game mark may be like Frank Ramsey's famous role with the Celtics as a Super Sub or 6th man. Best guess (6.5 PPG. & 6.5 RPG)
Jr. - Eloy Vargas - 6' 10"
= Vargas came out of the high school ranks just two years ago ranked in the top 50 nationally by all of the recruiting gurus yet he is still somewhat of a mystery to me. He seems to be soft in the post with a skill set that seems to be lost or not a good match for the UK offense. Hopefully, it's just an adjustment item that will improve more each game as the season matures and his role is defined for this team. Best guess (2.0 PPG & 3.5 RPG)
Soph. - Jon Hood
- 6' 5" = Hood is in similar territory as Harrellson in that he needs to earn Coach Cal's confidence as well as some of his own. The difference is that Hood's game revolves a lot around his ability to shoot from the perimeter while Harrellson can contribute in many other areas to earn playing time. The two preseason games bode well for Hood in the shooting department which should perk up Cal's confidence in him. Best guess (3.5 PPG & 1.0 RPG)
Fr. - Stacey Poole Jr. - 6' 5"
= Another player that is definitely a major mystery to me at this early stage of the season. Poole was listed as the 33rd best player in the nation coming out of high school by Rivals.com yet he hasn't left the bench long enough to draw sweat so far on a team that has only 10 scholarship players. I hate to use the term "rumor" in my column but this comes from a reliable source in that Poole may have expressed his discontent with his projected role on the team to Coach Cal a little to early and got himself in the proverbial dog house similar to Liggins when Cal arrived last year. Hopefully, that will end up like Liggins' scenario sometime this season. Best guess (Not worth a projection until he is out of the dog house and received some minutes.)
Fr. Brandon Knight - 6' 3"
= First of all Knight is what I call a combo guard not a point guard. With that being said you can talk about John Wall's explosiveness and transition skills all you want to, I'll take this kid right now. He shoots better than Wall and he handles the ball much more smoothly (without the turnovers) than Wall. Simply put he's a keeper and plays way beyond a freshman's intelligence with his floor game. Best guess (17.0-20.0 PPG & 4.0-6.0 assist)
Fr. Terrence Jones - 6' 9"
= Once again he has been unjustly compared to a former UK star in Patrick Patterson. Jones has a different skill set than Patterson for the forward position but will make the same impact as Patterson did his freshman year. His ability to face the basket and score from the wing or attack the basket off the dribble makes him much more versatile and not as confined when UK will switch back and forth from a man-to-man offense and a zone offense. The question is, will Jones attack the basket when in defensive rebounding situations like Patterson did? Jones is a keeper and will be part of the one-two-punch with Knight that will carry UK on its shoulders this season. Best guess (17.0-20.0 PPG & 7.5-9.5 RPG)
Fr. Doron Lamb - 6' 4"
= This young perimeter shooting phenom will make you forget all about Eric Bledsoe and without the Bledsoe turnovers that were hard to swallow at times last year. Lamb is more prone to not take a bad or forced shot like Bledsoe. Looks to be a capable backup for Knight at the point for a couple minutes each half. Best thing I like about Lamb is that he seems to be leaning toward a deeper run in college before he thinks about the big bucks. Best guess (8.5 PPG & 2.5 APG)
Fr. Jarrod Polson - 6' 2"
= I've said it many times since last March and I'll say it one more time: I'm so glad Elisha Justice gave Coach Cal the cold shoulder in the eleventh hour recruiting process last April because it opened up the door for both Justice and Polson to play at our state's two elite Div. 1-A basketball programs. Also, Justice was made to play for a Rick Pitino coached team and Polson suits the UK situation and Coach Cal as it stands today perfectly. Both have sacrificed many hours to get to this point in their hoops careers. Enjoy the ride guys, your life is set forever now just don't screw it up by listening to those peers who are actually jealous of you and try to make you leave for lack of playing time. Best guess (Clean up minutes this year but don't be surprised if he comes through occasionally in late game situations when foul troubles put him on the floor.)
Fr. Enes Kanter - 6' 11"
= (Will post a profile if he ever gets out of the NCAA jailhouse)
FINAL ANALYSIS - (3 SCENARIOS)
#1 - WITHOUT KANTER
- If the stars are aligned right for the Cats this season in the injury and foul prone areas I can see this team pulling out 22-25 wins and a respectable showing in the NCAA but they will go through some growing pains and poor shooting performances that will result in 8-10 defeats.
#2 - WITH KANTER
- All bets are off and it's a whole new team and ball game. Cats may not put up the regular season number of wins 35-3 like last year but will be a solid threat to make a Final Four appearance by March because they will be a better shooting team with more intelligent guard play.
#3 - Bad luck scenario
- Don't know if Coach Cal carries a rabbit's foot or buckeye in his left pants pocket or not but he better pull every good luck charm he has out of the closet because if Knight or Jones either one goes down to an injury it could be a bleak and fruitless season afterward. Not to mention even if they stay healthy, they still have to deal with the inconsistency in today's college basketball officiating that can play havoc with this team. Trust me when I tell you this because I sit right under the basket on the opposite end from the UK team bench and the Cats don't get the breaks at Rupp Arena that Alabama and those super powers of SEC football get on the gridiron. If either one of these scenarios take root during the season Coach Cal could end up dealing with a season like ol' Roy Williams experinced down at North Carolina last year.
But those Coach Cal and UK haters better take their shots this year because starting in 2010-11 ole Cal and his Cats may start a run that will rival his ex-buddy ole Rick's during the 90's.
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