The University of Kentucky men's basketball team has great tradition and the Wildcats, according to Gary Parish of CBS Sports on Aug. 18, has enhanced their reputation as one of the favorites to claim the 2015 NCAA national championship after going 5-1 during their Bahamas tour.
Kentucky played a tough six game-schedule in eight days against professional-level teams. The Wildcats, who went into their final exhibition game undefeated, played Puerto Rico’s National Team (twice) as well French professional team Chalons-Reims and the Dominican Republic National Team two times apiece.
It was the Dominican Republic that prevented Kentucky from heading back to the mainland with a perfect record. The Wildcats fell to the Dominicans (63-62) on a Jack Michael Martinez fall-away bucket with 2.6 seconds on the clock. Kentucky played the whole exhibition series without two key big men, 7-foot junior Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-foot-10 freshman Trey Lyles. Both Cauley-Stein and Lyles are recovering from injuries.
"We kind of died," head coach John Calipari said following the loss to the Dominicans. "We didn't have it physically."
The Wildcats were also without sensational junior forward Alex Poythress, who led the squad in scoring and shot 75 percent (27-of-36) from the field during the exhibition tour, most of the second half of the final game.
"He was exhausted," Calipari said. "I told him before the game, with the way he played yesterday, play five minutes today. Play 10 minutes today. Don't go out there and not play. Don't hurt your team. Just don't play. We've got other guys that want to play. So he was tired. He just pulled himself, which was fine."
Kentucky is a very talented team – starting with Poythress and including Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Cauley-Stein – and is very young. Poythress and Cauley-Stein are the only upperclassmen to likely earn significant time on the court this season. The Wildcats also have four sensational freshmen with Trey Lyles, Karl Towns Jr., Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. All four of the freshmen were among the top-25 recruits in 2014 according to rankings by ESPN. Throw-in sophomores Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis and the Wildcats are 12-deep. And the difference in talent between the top-10 players is minuscule.
Having so much depth with equal talent (relatively speaking) is both positive and negative.
On the positive side, with 10 potential starters, the Kentucky can easily endure a few injuries during the season and not likely miss a beat. The depth also gives Calipari the option of using a “five-in, five-out” rotation which he discussed using with Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker.
"I think so. I think so. There may be games it's difficult to win [doing that]. The only ones that are the most important to win are those last six. So, yeah. And I think what happened here was, the greatest thing is everyone had a chance to show they should be playing more or less, they should be playing or not playing. You can't say, 'Well, I've never had an opportunity.'"
"I also think that when you two-platoon and you have guys playing 20 minutes, which is plenty of time, the reality of it is three or four more minutes a half [in a normal rotation]. Just play harder. You get more done, you're more efficient. So playing 20 minutes a game, everybody had their time. And I think every guy shined."
If the Wildcats use a two-platoon system, the starters will likely be the Harrison twins, Poythress (small forward), Johnson (power forward) and Cauley-Stein (center). The second group will likely be Ulis (point guard), Booker, Lee, Lyles and Towns Jr.
The problem, with playing time, will likely occur when Calipari uses Ulis along with the Harrison twins. The problem of using this lineup would be getting the Wildcats six frontcourt players enough playing time. Ulis, the Harrison twins, Booker and Hawkins – who will see limited playing time – are the only players likely to be in the regular rotation who are guards. Senior guards Brian Long, Tod Lantner, Sam Malone along with sophomore E.J. Floreal are also guards on the roster but will not see much playing time.
Ulis is coming off a fabulous Bahamas tour. He averaged 7.7 points, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 20 minutes per game on the trip while shooting 60.0 percent from 3-point range. Even more notable is that Ulis was on the court in crunch time in both of the Wildcats’ close games.
If everything goes well, could the Wildcats go 40-0? Stay tuned.