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November 4, 2009
Does talent trump experience? How you stand on that question likely determines what you think about Kentucky's chances of winning the SEC. On paper, the Wildcats are the clear-cut favorites. If freshman guard John Wall is as good as advertised - and clears up his eligibility issues - he should team with Patrick Patterson to give Kentucky arguably the SEC's two most talented players. The question is how the Wildcats' vaunted freshman class will mix with returning upperclassmen Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris. A few of these freshmen are projected "one-and-done" players. Will they buy into the team concept for new coach John Calipari?
Kentucky got a lift when Patrick Patterson opted to return to school for another year.
Patterson's decision to return to school instead of entering the draft gave Kentucky's title hopes a huge lift. He led the SEC in field-goal percentage (.603) last season and was the only player in the conference to rank among the top five players in both scoring (17.9, fifth place) and rebounding (9.3, third place). The Wildcats are expecting major improvement from Darius Miller, a part-time player last season who spent the summer on the U.S. men's under-19 world championship team. Kentucky also got some needed height with the arrival of 6-11 forward DeMarcus Cousins, the No. 2 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. He and Patterson could form a devastating low-post duo.
Derrick Rose led Calipari's Memphis team to the national title game in his lone college season. Tyreke Evans replaced Rose and was the nation's best freshman last season. Kentucky fans are counting on Wall, Calipari's new point guard, to be every bit as good as Rose and Evans. Wall might have more potential than those two lottery picks from Memphis. Wall, the No. 1 prospect in the nation, wasn't the only highly touted guard to sign with Kentucky. The Wildcats also got a commitment from Eric Bledsoe, the No. 3 point guard prospect. That might seem like an embarrassment of riches, but Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense can make room for two point guards in one lineup. The big question is who will step up as the outside shooter now that Jodie Meeks has departed.
If Meeks had stayed in school, Kentucky had a legitimate shot to open the season as the nation's top-ranked team. Meeks' departure leaves more room for doubt, but this still looks like the best team in the SEC. This may be the most talent Kentucky has had on one roster since those mid-'90s teams that won two national titles and reached a third championship game. The Wildcats' youth may hurt them at times, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Kentucky advanced to the Final Four. These freshmen are just that good.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.