The Kentucky Wildcats suffered through an embarrassing season in 2012-13, falling short of the NCAA tournament and losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. That ignominious end proved that recruiting one-and-done players is a high-wire act to say the least.
Nevertheless, they have reloaded with a multiplicity of top recruits and enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked No. 1 yet again in the AP and coaches' polls.
Recruiting players out of high school is certainly something of a crapshoot, but head coach John Calipari and his staff have blown other schools out of the water yet again with their recruiting, the bitter end to last season notwithstanding. Perhaps the greatest thing about the one-and-done strategy is the chance to start anew in virtually every single season.
2012 provides an excellent example of the Wildcats' ability to catch lightning in a bottle. They won a record 38 games and captured the title before watching Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb all depart early for the NBA draft. 2013 is better left forgotten, but Wildcats are stacked with the pieces to capture another championship in 2014.
This summer, Kentucky bid adieu to freshmen Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin, but it reigned supreme with its recruiting work yet again. The Wildcats have clearly shaken off last season's devastation and reloaded for another national championship
The Wildcats snagged backcourt twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison, plus guard James Young. They also boast a trio of bigs in Marcus Lee, Julius Randle and Brooklyn's own Dakari Johnson.
All six players are 5-star recruits, per Rivals.com. Eric Bossi of Rivals.com opined that this "could be the most highly ranked recruiting class of all-time," with Kentucky hoarding six of the top 20 recruits, according to the site's rankings.
Still, the voters for the AP poll did not seem entirely convinced, with the Wildcats getting 27 first-place votes to barely edge Michigan State with 22. Louisville, Duke, Kansas and Arizona follow closely behind. Also recall that Kansas landed the coveted Canadian Andrew Wiggins, one of the few elite recruits that whom Kentucky did not grab.
No. 2 Michigan State appears to have adopted the opposite strategy from Kentucky, yet it still poses the biggest threat to the Wildcats' title hopes. The Spartans return all three of their leading scorers from last season in seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne and sophomore Gary Harris.
This college basketball season could easily become a referendum on continuity versus monopolizing top recruits each year.
Coming on the heels of a devastating 21-12 season, Kentucky will need to excel in order to validate its one-and-done tactics. The Wildcats brought in three 5-star recruits last year, per Rivals.com, but it turned out they were only one Nerlens Noel knee injury away from being a team that couldn't even win an NIT game.
This year, Kentucky not only has six new five-star recruits, the Wildcats also return a 5-star forward from last year in Alex Poythress. They have all the resources and no excuses for falling short of a national title. Anything less than an appearance in the Final Four would be counted as abject failure, not only for the team but for the overall one-and-done method.
Poythress laid down a gauntlet for the team when speaking to Kentucky Sports Radio in October, stating: "The sky is the limit for this team, so why not aim at 40-0? We might as well try to do it, right? Why not? What's stopping us?"
I would imagine the only things stopping the Wildcats would be their completely new starting lineup and the 40 straight games they must win to do it, but setting lofty goals can sometimes be a good thing.
The Wildcats kick off the year against UNC-Asheville on Friday seeking to go undefeated. Perhaps they should just avoid the NIT tournament as a first step, but all indications point to their impending supremacy.