So, Big Blue Nation, what do you think of Coach Cal’s latest creation? Not too bad, are they? For those that watched the taming of Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in Madison Square Garden, you saw a defensive display reminiscent of the 2015 Wildcats. You know, the one that had a guy named Karl and twins named Aaron and Andrew. For those that didn’t watch, well, I don’t want to hear your excuses. It was November, it was the Champions Classic and not even a new episode of The Walking Dead should mess with your Wildcat basketball time. (Though I will admit, as a Walking Dead fan, Negan is pretty awesome and terrifying.)
I know it is early–probably too early to be making big predictions. College basketball is still a month away from conference play. In between, Kentucky faces the likes of Kansas, UCLA and that team 82 miles west of Lexington that smells funny (if you don’t know who I’m talking about, well, we’re probably not Facebook friends...) But based on Coach Cal’s glorious body of work, his introduction and dominating use of the one-and-done rule and the never ending talent that seems to never stop making its way to Lexington, I believe it’s fair to predict this Kentucky team has all the makings of a national championship year.
Size? Yep. We have a guy named Bam that jumps higher than Superman and pities no fools in the paint. Speed? Yep. De’aaron Fox’s speed compared to the rest of college basketball’s point guards is like comparing a Lamborghini to my first car, a 1986 Chevy Spectrum–I think you get the picture. Guard play? Isaiah Briscoe is the best penetrator in all the land that has corrected his free throw woes from last year. Malik Monk is as athletic as any guard in the country and can fill up a stat sheet faster than a Duke fan defending Grayson Allen’s tripping. Depth? This year’s squad goes 8-9 players deep, a welcome change from last season’s 6-7 players Coach Cal had at his disposal.
But what are the possible pitfalls? Haven’t we heard this song and dance before? Is there anyone we’re forgetting that could help bring a title back to Central Kentucky?
Shooting: If there is one possible Achille’s Heel, it is shooting. Kentucky hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire from behind the three point line. Except for Malik Monk’s explosion against Michigan State, three point shooting has been spotty so far, at best. If teams zone Kentucky and the offense is sputtering, it could be a trip to the loss column.
Mychal Mulder: The Canadian-born junior college transfer arrived at Kentucky with the reputation of a dead eye three point shooter. Unfortunately, Mulder got behind Tyler Ullis and Jamal Murray last season and didn’t get much time on the floor. Mulder is getting more minutes this season and has been the most consistent deep threat so far. He could be the key to a win or two this season.
Derek Willis: The senior is Kentucky’s best three point shooter. Keep being Kentucky’s best three point shooter, Derek!
Injuries: Stay away, far far away, injury bug. Especially from Dominick Hawkins. The senior was due a breakout season until injuries slowed his season down. Hawkins is a Calipari rarity: a seasoned senior guard that can shut down an opponent’s best player.
LUCK: Winning a national title is kind of like winning a fantasy football championship. You can work hard, study and be prepared all you want, but in the end, you need some good breaks along the way. A good call here, a great March Madness seeding there… all this adds up!