Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Must Deal with Transition Within Their Transition

Vinny HardyCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2013

Dec 4, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22), guard Archie Goodwin (10) and forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) walk on the court after a timeout in the game against the Samford Bulldogs at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Samford 88-56. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats' entire season has been one of transition. They had to adjust to being the defending national champions even though their roster looked nothing like the one that cut down the nets last April.

All of last year's starters have moved on. Kyle Wiltjer was the most experienced player coming back.

The transition of this year's incoming freshmen has been an ongoing process that hasn't gone as seamlessly as it did for their predecessors from a year ago.

To make matters about as worse as they could possibly be, freshman center Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL in UK's loss at Florida.

For a team devoid of legit leadership, Noel was gradually transitioning into one. 

When it came to encouraging or imploring the team from the sideline, Coach Cal has been operating in high gear. On a scale from one to 10, Cal's exhortation level has been right around 27 all season long.

He's done all he can to pull as much effort, heart and determination out of the club as he possibly can. Everyone will be asked to step up. 

For those who followed Kentucky closely, you know that Nerlens was emerging as a leader. From day one, his play has spoken for itself.

I'm sure you also noticed that any time encouragement was given among the players on the court, Noel was the one giving it the majority of the time.

He will be sorely missed.

There is no good  segue as far as moving the focus to things on the court. Things will be really challenging for the Cats from here on out.

The first test will come on the road against Tennessee (13-10, 5-6 SEC). Point guard Trae Golden is back from a hamstring injury and played well against Vanderbilt. Jordan McRae had 26 points for the Vols in the Rupp Arena back on Jan. 15.

Jarnell Stokes is on a tear, he's had double-doubles in his last six games.

It was about this time last year when UT unveiled Stokes to the SECLife in the paint will no doubt be much easier for him this time around.

Willie Cauley-Stein, UK's other big man, and the rest of the Wildcats can expect Tennessee and every other team they play to be relentless in attacking the rim.

It will be interesting to see if they can make the transition and accept the challenge.