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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Uncharted Territory in Lexington

Coach Calipari and Kentucky have made a habit of recruiting one and done players and quickly churning them to the NBA. Coach Cal doesn't rebuild afterwards, he just replaces them with another star studded recruiting class. For some, it may seem unfair. For others, they were fine with hating Kentucky and being happy their favorite college team has players that stick around for their senior season.

Tonight was an unexpected ending to an unexpected season. Kentucky loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. It was bad enough they were playing in the NIT to begin with, but a loss at Robert Morris is no way to go out. It certainly isn't the best way to make your final impression on NBA scouts. Following the loss, a dejected Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress both announced their intentions of coming back next year saying "they are not ready for the NBA".

An astute observation and a correct one, as most likely their first stint in the NBA wouldn't come until they spent a year or two playing in empty D-League arenas - a far cry from the life they are currently living in Lexington.

Prospects are always emotional after a loss and often say things they don't mean, but the way Poythress and Goodwin acknowledged the fact they have plenty of work to do, it sounds like they may be back in Lexington. Don't think they aren't a 100% decided yet though - wait until they have time to get away from the media and have runners/agents in their ears. First round promises, the money, loss of playing time, the thought of going through another painful year at Kentucky - the fear of the unknown can get to you.

You see, Kentucky has a new wave of one and done players coming in next year. Goodwin and Poythress now if they stay, are not guaranteed to start next season. How many guys pondering the NBA also have to worry about coming back to school and not receiving minutes? This is the worst fear for the freshman and puts them in unprecedented territory. No they are not ready for the NBA - but will another season in Lexington help their stock if they are coming off the bench? Will they grow more from being in the D-League or under another year of Coach Cal?

The show will continue in Lexington with or without this seasons underachieving crew. The Harrison twins, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, and potentially Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle make up yet another #1 Kentucky recruiting class. And this one is REALLY good, arguably the best class yet.

Coach Cal blamed lack of depth for struggles this year. Not in the sense that he didn't have enough fresh legs to keep his team from getting worn down, but because he didn't have the threat of benching one of his inconsistent freshman in order to motivate him. Coach Cal said his team was "almost hijacked" from his control.

Next year, they shouldn't have that problem. They'll go at least 9 deep with their incoming freshman plus Wiltjer, Polson, and Hood. The hope is obviously that the rest come back so former walk-ons don't have to play again and even if just a couple of guys come back - they shouldn't.

The Wildcats of 2013-14 are fine - they are early favorites to be preseason number one and have a more competitive group coming in, led by an outstanding point guard. But what does this mean for Kentucky in the future? The blueprint for their success now has a mark against it. Incoming recruits looking to go one and done may now have to wonder what will happen if players from the previous group don't make the jump to the NBA. There is a trickle down effect that this failed group of UK freshman could start.

If Goodwin and Poythress stay, someone like Aaron Harrison or James Young may not get a chance to play big minutes. They are both top 10 recruits and also potential lottery picks for 2014. Lack of playing time for them would cause them to potentially have to spend another year in college. Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson could suffer the same fate if their plans were to leave school after one year.

This could make Kentucky even better in years to come if they don't lose everyone from year to year. It could also cause recruits to think twice about committing to be a Wildcat. Most likely, it will slightly weaken their recruiting classes but help their team overall as they slowly start to cycle through players more like a regular team. More than anything, this could give Wildcats a chance to see a little more continuity from year to year. While this season was a major letdown for the fans, there could be a silver lining in this at the end of the day.

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What do the draft stocks look like of Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley-Stein look like?

First of all, this article doesn't pertain to Nerlens Noel. He is on his way to a top 5 selection in June and his time in Kentucky is done.

Poythress and Goodwin have showcased lottery potential sporadically throughout the season, but it would be really hard for a lottery team to gamble on either of them at this point. Thats at least what convention wisdom says. Then again, in a draft lacking star talent, Goodwin and Poythress still offer an extremely high ceiling. That potential word for either of them is still there.

Although its crazy to think, Poythress and Goodwin would both be first round picks still in June if you ask me. Thats a reason enough for most prospects to make the jump, but Poythress and Goodwin would both need to also understand that they won't be first round picks because of what they can do now. They will spend at least a year in the D-League and even more years afterwards on the bench. But if they go back to Kentucky, they may not be risking a lot because they will still have that potential attached to their names as well as a chance to live up to that potential and become a lottery pick.

Willie Cauley-Stein also has been discussed as a first rounder, but he's even more raw than his fellow freshman and could fall into the second round. He has to come back next year.

Ryan Harrow is stuck. He already sat out a season transferring and is running out of time to make an impact. Problem is, he is the one guy that won't have a chance to start next year. Playing time will be sparse. But Harrow would go undrafted if he enters the draft. He will be 22 in April which would put him at 23 for the 2014 draft. He'll be 24 for the following draft following a senior season that he may actually have a shot to start - or may not. Harrow could choose not to enter the NBA Draft and go straight to the D-League - preserving his eligibility to enter the draft the following year (this is the route Anthony Stover and Glen Rice Jr had to go this season). Whatever he decides to do, Harrow will have a tough road ahead of him.

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Kentuckys potential 2013-14 Depth Chart?

PG - Andrew Harrison/Ryan Harrow/Jared Polson
SG - Aaron Harrison/Archie Goodwin
SF - James Young/Alex Poythress/Jon Hood
PF - Marcus Lee/Kyle Wiltjer/Derek Willis
C - Dakari Johnson/Willie Cauley-Stein

Whatever way you want to arrange who starts/comes off the bench, that is an extremely deep team. You can argue who sits or starts all day - but the point is Coach Cal will have the OPTION of who starts and sits. And that is a luxury he didn't have next season.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kentucky could be SCARY next year.

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