The University of Kentucky Wildcats' much-heralded basketball season has almost arrived. The Wildcats are back with blazing new uniforms, along with second-year coach Billy Gillispie.
The Wildcats are deeper this season than in recent years, even with the departures of Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, and Derrick Jasper.
Coach Gillispie picked up some key freshmen and transfers last offseason.
Point guard DeAndre Liggins, standing at 6'6", is one of the most heralded freshmen of the 2008 class. He is a smart and very talented point guard and was one of the top point guards of the 2008 class. Look for Liggins to start just a few games into the season.
Freshman Darius Miller, another very highly touted player, won Kentucky's Mr. Basketball last season as a senior in high school. He is a very talented, smooth, and smart player. He will step in and produce greatly.
JUCO transfers Josh Harrellson and Kevin Galloway will also step in this season. Harrellson is a big man, standing at 6'11", that can not only play inside but can also step out to the perimeter and drain the long ball. Galloway will also step in and help greatly at the point guard spot.
Let's not forget about Kentucky's returning All-SEC players in Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks.
Patterson, coming off a dominant freshman season that ended prematurely due to an ankle injury, will be the Cats' workhorse once again. He is in the top five big men in the country and the best in the SEC. Look for him to average 20+ points a game and double-digit rebounds. He is a dominant force inside.
Jodie Meeks is returning at 100 percent for his junior season. Meeks was injury-plagued all season long and hardly played any last season. He will be a key factor in the Cats' young backcourt. He is very athletic and has a sweet stroke from the outside.
Without a doubt, the Wildcats' strength this season will be the frontcourt play, led by Patrick Patterson. The Cats possess one of the best frontcourts in the SEC with Patterson, Perry Stevenson, and JUCO transfer Josh Harrellson. This front line will put fear into the eyes of the SEC this season.
On the flip side, the Cats' weakness this season will be its young guard play. The Cats return Jodie Meeks, but other than Meeks, highly touted freshman DeAndre Liggins, JUCO transfer Kevin Galloway, and junior Michael Porter will taking over the point guard spot. Porter will start the first few games due to experience, but expect Liggins to eventually overtake Porter for the starting spot.
Kentucky has a very manageable non-conference schedule as well, with games at No. 1 North Carolina and No. 3 Louisville being the highlights of the schedule. Other key non-conference games are Miami (FL), Kansas State, and West Virginia or Iowa (whichever we play in the Las Vegas tourney).
Key games in Kentucky's SEC schedule are the two Florida games, Tennessee, Vandy, Alabama, and LSU. Florida is very young but extremely talented. Tennessee is once again a top team in the SEC. LSU is picked to win the SEC West, and Alabama has one of the best players in the SEC in Ronald Steele.
Kentucky should lose no more than three to four games in non-conference play, possibly fewer. Expected losses are to UNC, UL, and possibly Miami. Those three games are very winnable though.
Kentucky should lose no more than three to four SEC games as well due to the SEC being a little down this season. I expect losses to be @ Florida, @ Tennessee, and possibly LSU. Once again, all those games are very winnable though.
Overall, I expect Kentucky to finish with, give or take, six to eight losses in the regular season once everything is all said and don, to go along with a very deep run and possible SEC Championship in the SEC Tourney and a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This year's Kentucky team will begin the return to excellence for Kentucky basketball!
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