SEC Still Chasing The Wildcats

Nerlens Noel

Despite losing all five starters from its NCAA championship team to the NBA, another set of outstanding freshmen makes Kentucky the team to beat

Coming off a national championship in the 2011-2012 season, a certain amount of drop- off can be expected for a program. However, this season Kentucky finds itself back in the top five nationally with the top-rated recruiting class in the nation for the fourth straight season.

Kentucky should be the team to beat again in the SEC because of this recruiting class and a mix of transfers and a couple of returnees that will fill the holes left vacant by the seven players who were drafted or graduated this past season.

The 2012 recruiting class is led by 6-11 center Nerlens Noel. Noel is a shot-blocking machine, along the same lines as Anthony Davis. Noel's presence in the paint will make defending on the perimeter a much easier task for the young Wildcats. Noel also rebounds the ball well and has shown the ability to make face up shots when left open.

Joining Noel in the front court is fellow freshman big man, Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley- Stein, also 6-11, is known as a big-time athlete who even played wide receiver for Olathe High (KS.). Combining with Noel should produce the best shot-blocking duo in the SEC and maybe the nation. Cauley-Stein has been the most surprising player on the team during the off-season. His abilities weren't fully known until this summer when he showed more offensive punch than expected to go with his defensive prowess.

Kyle Wiltjer returns as well. He's Kentucky's leading returning scorer at only five points per game. The 6-9 sophomore is a solid three-point shooter, who with added strength, will become more of an inside presence with his patented jump hook this year. Wiltjer's ability to consistently make the three-point shot will spread the floor for Kentucky's dribble drive as well as allow him to go to the basket more.

The final piece of the front court is forward Alex Poythress. Poythress may be Kentucky's leading scorer this season, but could also prove to be the most versatile defender on the roster as well. At 6-8, 215-pounds, Poythress can defend three positions on the court and can cause offensive match up problems for anybody trying to check him. Poythress is an athlete who can score going to the rim, but can also make the perimeter shot enough to keep his defender honest.

In the backcourt, the Wildcats will have a freshman playing big minutes, but a couple of players who have already played meaningful collegiate minutes will also be on the floor for John Calipari's team this year.

Point guard is always a key position for Kentucky and Ryan Harrow, a sophomore transfer from North Carolina State, has already shown the ability to compete at a high level. After sitting out a year as a transfer, Harrow knows the system and is ready to take over where Marquis Teague left off. Harrow is a pure point guard who gets his teammates involved, but can put points on the board when necessary.

Joining Harrow in the backcourt is senior Julius Mays. Mays transferred from Wright State, where he averaged 14.1 points and 2.5 assists as a junior. Mays (6-2, 190 pounds) provides another outside scoring threat, but also handles the ball well enough to back up Harrow at point guard. Mays also brings much-needed experience to another young Kentucky team.

Finally, another five-star prospect, Archie Goodwin, is an explosive guard who can score going to the rim or making shots on the perimeter. Goodwin also has ball-handling abilities that make him an option at point guard. Additionally, his 6-5, 210-pound frame make him a viable option as a small forward.

Kentucky's team should be a stout defensive unit that can suffocate most opponents. The Wildcats will likely have a seven-man rotation, but junior forward Jon Hood could also get some playing time coming of the bench and provide leadership for this young team.

Too much youth can lead to a team's downfall, but John Calipari has been able to mold his young teams into national title contenders. There's no reason to believe he can't do the same with this edition of the Wildcats as well.

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