Kentucky Basketball: Offseason Storylines for Wildcats Fans to Follow
Is there such a thing as the offseason for Kentucky basketball? After a great run to the national championship game, the Wildcats made news quickly after due to the majority of their players deciding to stay in Lexington for another year.
With the influx of talent coming in, yes, Kentucky has another loaded freshman class. It will be joining forces with a team that finished with a No. 2 ranking, so expectations and anticipation for the 2014-15 season are through the roof. While it may seem like nothing can go wrong or that everything seems to be set in stone for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, there is plenty to keep an eye on.
So while you count down the days until Big Blue Madness arrives at Rupp Arena, here's a look at what you need to stay updated on during the offseason for Kentucky.
Coming Back from Injury
For the second straight season, Kentucky lost one of its most important post players due to an injury. In 2012-13, Nerlens Noel tore his ACL during the regular season, sending Kentucky into a downward spiral ending in the NIT.
This year, the Wildcats lost Willie Cauley-Stein to an ankle injury suffered in the Sweet 16 against Louisville. While the fate was opposite of what happened with Noel, Cauley-Stein still had to get surgery and was on crutches for a couple of weeks.
The biggest advantage on Kentucky's roster this season is the frontcourt, where the Wildcats are absolutely loaded. Joining Cauley-Stein this year are sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee along with freshmen Karl Towns and Trey Lyles. Therefore, Cauley-Stein doesn't need to push anything during rehab and can work on getting back his strength at a pace that both he and the doctors are comfortable with.
Cauley-Stein is vital for Kentucky's success due to his ability to protect the rim defensively and provide an athletic center that can switch on opposing screen-and-rolls. However, he's not the most important Wildcat to be returning from injury.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari recently had hip surgery; however, he is expected to be back on the sidelines in a couple of weeks.
Welcoming a New Face
Gone is one of the staples of Kentucky basketball over the last five years in assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who decided to become the head coach at South Florida. Taking his place on Kentucky's bench is Barry Rohrssen, who was previously an assistant coach at Pittsburgh.
Antigua was one of the best, if not the best recruiter in the country. He commonly made the bond with the players and played a key role in Kentucky's commitments. Antigua also brought valuable experience as a former Division I player at Pittsburgh and recently as a head coach of the Dominican Republic national team.
With the Wildcats in the mix for a lot of top-ranked players in the class of 2015, it will be interesting to see if the same results happen under Rohrssen. The former Pittsburgh assistant coach and actor—Rohrssen made an appearance in Glengarry Glen Ross—fits in perfectly with the CEO-type approach to recruiting that Calipari uses.
Yes, the class of 2014 has yet to move to Lexington, but it's never too early to take a look at what will be coming in two seasons from now. After all, the coaching staff is already out there recruiting and locking up commitments for 2015.
The Wildcats already have a commitment from the No. 12 player in the class in Charles Matthews from Chicago. Matthews is a 6'6" shooting guard who can do a little bit of everything and has been compared to players like Bradley Beal, Gary Harris, Evan Turner and even Paul Pierce.
The biggest name to keep an eye on out on the recruiting trail is Malik Newman. Newman is a 5-star combo guard from Mississippi who is known as the best scorer in the class of 2015. College coaches from all over the country are drooling over Newman, and he's picking up offers seemingly daily.
Other important names to watch for are Stephen Zimmerman, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo.
Kentucky should be the deepest team in the country next season and might be the deepest team in decades at the college basketball level. There are realistically 12 players who could be seeing the floor for the Wildcats next season.
The obvious position battle is going to be in the crowded frontcourt. Calipari and staff are going to have to find a way to split minutes among Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. Also in that mix could be Alex Poythress, who can play the small forward position but excels better at the power forward spot.
Don't be surprised to see Johnson continue to start at the center position like he did this previous year with Towns starting at the power forward spot. Towns is the most versatile of the big men due to his ability to stretch the defense by being a decent shooter from behind the arc. With that skill, expect him to be on the floor to let someone like Johnson work one-on-one in the paint.
While it was expected Aaron Harrison would be the starting shooting guard thanks in part to his play during March, ESPN's Eamonn Brennan says Devin Booker could challenge Harrison for that spot. Brennan talks about how Booker is a talented enough player to warrant starting if one of the Harrisons regress.
Another battle to watch would be toward the back end of the rotation. Can Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins crack into the rotation this year after playing sparingly as freshmen? I wouldn't be surprised if they are used the same way due to the depth this year, but it will be interesting if Calipari goes to Hawkins the way he played Jarrod Polson in the past.