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The Harrisons' return keeps expectations sky high in Lexington
As usual, Kentucky will have talent, and Kentucky will have guards.
Now, Kentucky will have experience.
On Friday, Andrew and Aaron Harrison announced they would return to Kentucky for their sophomore seasons, meaning only Julius Randle and James Young will head to the NBA Draft from a team that reached the national title game.
The return of the Harrisons to a roster that also returns Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee and adds another highly regarded signing class means Kentucky again will be a national title contender, and probably a preseason No. 1.
Before Friday, Kentucky already knew it would have one of the most imposing frontcourts in college basketball, and now it has guards to match. That won’t make this a unique team for Calipari in Lexington. Instead, the experience will.
Calipari will have four players who started at least 18 games, five sophomores and two juniors to go with three freshmen who were McDonald’s All-Americans.
Expectations at Kentucky will be sky-high again. Here’s why Kentucky will be a preseason No. 1 and why the Wildcats might not live up to that ranking.
|2014-15 Kentucky Roster|
|PG Andrew Harrison (6-6/215, So.)*|
PG Tyler Ulis (5-8/150, Fr.)*
SG Aaron Harrison (6-6/218, So.)*
SG Devin Booker (6-5/180, Fr.)*
SG Dominique Hawkins (6-0/193, So.)
|F Alex Poythress (6-8/239, Jr.)*|
F Marcus Lee (6-9/215, So.)*
F Trey Lyles (6-10/245, Fr.)*
F Derek Willis (6-9/209, So.)
C Willie Cauley-Stein (7-0/244, Jr.)
C Dakari Johnson (7-0/265, So.)*
C Karl Towns (6-11/240, Fr.)*
Three things that will scare opponents
• Talent. Count them: Nine McDonald’s All-Americans on Kentucky’s roster. One more and Kentucky could host its own intrasquad McDonald’s All-American game. Kentucky had six McDonald’s All-Americans last season, and one of them, Marcus Lee, didn’t see much playing time until he was an X-factor in the Elite Eight against Michigan.
• Size. Kentucky likely will have the biggest frontcourt in the country with two seven-footers (Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson) and two freshmen 6-10 or taller. When Kentucky “goes small,” the 6-8 Alex Poythress and 6-9 Marcus Lee may be in the lineup. The Wildcats were second in the country in offensive rebound rate last season, largely thanks to Cauley-Stein.
• Experience. Kentucky needed the entire regular season to round into form in part because of the freshman-laden lineup. The Wildcats in 2014-15 will have plenty of experience to go with all that talent. The Harrisons, Johnson and Lee are sophomores, and Cauley-Stein and Poythress will be juniors. This will be John Calipari’s most experienced team in Lexington since 2011.
Three things to scare Kentucky
• Point guard. It always starts with the point guard for Calipari, and for him, he’ll have rarity in a point guard with experience in the system. Andrew Harrison, though, struggled until the NCAA Tournament. Will he continue that level of play though the course of the season? Calipari will have a McDonald’s All-American as a backup point guard (Tyler Ulis), but he probably entertained the idea of starting until Friday.
• Playing time. Calipari often talked of the issue of his team coming together through the course of the 2013-14 season. Now, he’ll have an even deeper roster of players who could start — and star — for any team in the country. Calipari will have to find a way to keep everyone satisfied, especially his all-star frontcourt.
• Expectations. Kentucky’s dream of 40-0 didn’t last out of November, and the Wildcats couldn’t even make easy work of the SEC. This group would probably have high expectations even if Kentucky returned from a round-of-64 loss in the NCAA Tournament. Making the title game, largely on the improved play of the Harrisons, only raises the bar. This team may be a preseason No. 1 again. How will Kentucky handle potentially unreasonable expectations for the second consecutive year?