– Last season was nothing short of a disaster for the defending champion Wildcats. There was talent, though not as great as many anticipated, a crucial season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel, and a lack of chemistry and cohesion among the team, most evident in their season-ending NIT 1st
Round loss to Robert Morris. Noel and Archie Goodwin moved on to the NBA, and perimeter threat Kyle Wiltjer transferred, but John Calipari did what he does best – put together a recruiting class which arguably topped all of his others. Led by high school All-Americans Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle, the Kentucky freshmen all provide a potential impact at every spot on the floor. The key, as has been for all of Kentucky’s freshman-dominated teams, is going to be team chemistry, and the impact of the returning players. In this case, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein will need to simultaneously put last season behind them, embrace their new teammates (even if they end up sacrificing minutes), and continue to improve. Even at its worst, I won’t expect an implosion like last season, but no matter how talented, the team needs time to come together and find an identity.
– Kansas lost all 5 starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, but there is a chance that this team may be even better than that group. It starts with last year’s #1 high school player and potential #1 NBA Draft pick, Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins will bring a special blend of athleticism and talent to Lawrence, along with some lofty expectations. Wiggins is not the only freshman to watch here, as Kansas’ class was widely considered #2 to the Kentucky class discussed above. Center Joel Emblid is long and athletic, and while raw on the offensive end, he should be able to help replace the rim-protecting ability of Jeff Withey. Wayne Selden has the body to attack the rim from the perimeter, and Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene will provide some depth to the backcourt. The key to the Jayhawks’ season may rest with the returning players, especially Perry Ellis, who impressed many with his play this summer. Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, and Memphis transfer Tarik Black will all need to contribute in the frontcourt, especially in Big 12 play.
Check back for Part 2 tomorrow.