2011-2012 Record: (38-2)
Head Coach: John Calipari
Duke plays Kentucky Tuesday Nov. 13 in Atlanta.
With one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, Kentucky, the 2012 NCAA national champions, is out to prove again that teams can rebuild year after year around players likely to be one-and-done. The Wildcats were ranked No. 3 in both the AP poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll entering the 2012-2013 season. Nine of the team’s 13 players are either sophomores or freshmen, but do not be fooled by the team’s youth.
Standout 6-foot-10 freshman and the No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class according to ESPN, Nerlens Noel, scored 15 points in his first exhibition contest as a Wildcat. Noel, a forward from Everett, Mass., is hard to miss on the floor. Not only does his flattop give him a few extra inches, putting him well over seven feet, but his athleticism, jumping ability and sheer length make him a daunting presence for opponents. Noel not only has outstanding shot-blocking ability, but is also praised for his coachability.
Other notable classmates of Noel’s include two other consensus top-10 recruits, 6-foot-4 guard Archie Goodwin and 6-foot-7 wing Alex Poythress, who was the subject of some controversy in Durham during his recruitment when Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made a potentially illegal phone call to the Tennessee native.
Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot forward ranked inside the top 40, rounds out yet another standout recruiting class for Calipari. The lone returner from last year’s crop of freshmen—6-foot-10 Kyle Wiltjer, who shot 43 percent from beyond the arc—will add a dangerous presence inside and out for Kentucky. Sophomore Ryan Harrow, a slick 6-foot-2 point guard, will be eligible to take the reins of the offense this season after transferring from N.C. State.
Talent will not be an issue for the latest version of Calipari’s constantly changing roster, but depth might be. Calipari is used to having at least a couple of veteran players to join his usual crop of elite freshmen, but this year, sophomore Wiltjer is his only returning contributor.
One thing that needs to go right: All the young guns develop from a talented group of individuals into a cohesive team. Calipari has a knack for reconstructing Wildcat teams each year despite building them around outstanding freshmen simply stopping through on their way to the NBA.
One thing that could go wrong: The recruiting class proves not to be talented enough to overcome the lack of veteran experience. Calipari’s class of 2012 is not as stacked as some of his past classes, so there is not as much room for error.
The starting five: small forward Alex Poythress, power forward Kyle Wiltjer, center Nerlens Noel, shooting guard Archie Goodwin and point guard Ryan Harrow.