Kentucky does have a lot of talent despite losing Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins to the NBA off last year’s Final Four team.
So how do media members who cover the Wildcats regularly feel about the season? I asked WLEX-TV sports director Alan Cutler (twitter.com/cutler18), Kentucky radio play-by-play voice Tom Leach (tomleachky.com and twitter @tomleachUK), Kentucky Sports Radio founder and talk show host Matt Jones, WLEX-TV sports anchor Mary Jo Perino, former UK basketball All-American and college basketball analyst Kyle Macy and WLAP-AM sports talk host Dick Gabriel for their thoughts:
Question: Do you consider Kentucky a national title contender this year. Why or why not?
Leach: “Absolutely. Kentucky has the talent it takes to win it all and John Calipari has clearly demonstrated his skill in getting new players to mesh into his system and his returning team seamlessly.”
Jones: “Yes, I do. I think four teams are a lot better than everyone else, UK, UNC, UConn and Ohio State. One of those teams will win the national championship and I think Kentucky has as good a chance as any of them.”
Cutler: “Anyone who doesn’t consider UK a national title contender either doesn’t know basketball or has something against UK. It’s obvious that they are.”
Lemond: “I absolutely think Kentucky is a national title contender this year. I really think Kentucky and North Carolina are clearly the two best teams in the country, and I feel like it’s not even close. I believe there is a big gap between UK and North Carolina and everyone else. Kentucky has more talent than they had last year. With Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb all returning, the foundation is there for another championship run.”
Perino: “Absolutely. After making it to the Final Four last year with the team they had, this group will have big time expectations. This team should have a lot more depth and as we’ve seen, that’s not a necessity, but it sure helps. The talent level will certainly be enough to contend for a national championship.”
Macy: “Yes, Kentucky should be a major player in the NCAA tournament. From the last two seasons Kentucky fans have learned that great talent trumps age/experience in today's game. Chemistry becomes the main variable.”
Gabriel: “Of course; the moment Terrence Jones made his decision to return, the odds became very short on Kentucky returning to the Final Four. Once you’re there, anything can happen.”
Question: Which freshman are you the most anxious to see play and why?
Jones: “I am most excited about Anthony Davis, because I think he has the potential to be a star. His combination of height, athleticism and versatility is very rare. It is as if a young Kevin Garnett actually decided to go to college. Plus, I think he breaks the single season blocks record this year.”
Cutler: “Davis. Davis. And Anthony Davis. The last time UK had anyone that tall that could run the court like this, with a ton of talent, Sam Bowie was playing. That’s before Sam got hurt. People forget how he could run and do things very few that tall could do. Davis should be a lot of fun to watch.”
Lemond: “Probably Marquis Teague. I know Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis will probably end up being lottery picks, but Teague is the guy that can make it all happen. I’ve always been a strong believer that it all starts with the point guard. Coach Calipari has obviously had unbelievable success with his point guards, and I think Teague will have the same success as Brandon Knight and John Wall had at Kentucky.
“Being a former Hoosier myself, Teague is just another great guard from Indiana to take his skills to Kentucky following in the footsteps of Kyle Macy, James Blackmon, Jim Masters, Sean Woods and others.”
Perino: “Definitely Anthony Davis. I’m excited to see his inside/outside game. I’m really expecting him to live up to the hype.”
Macy: “Not sure how you pick just one. With all the hype leading into the season from this recruiting class, I look forward to seeing how each makes the adjustment. If I have to pick one, I will choose Anthony Davis. Some have already picked him first-team All-American”
Gabriel: “Anthony Davis, because Twany Beckham has said he’s already a better shot-blocker than Renardo Sidney. If that’s the case, he’ll give Kentucky a defensive presence as good or better than what it had with Patrick Patterson in the middle.”
Leach: “Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, because even though Anthony Davis is the highest-rated player, the people I've talked with who know Kidd-Gilchrist's game well say he'll be the best college player — because of how hard he plays.”
Question: Who will be Kentucky’s best player this year?
Lemond: “This is a great question because the best player may not necessarily be the ‘most valuable’ player. I think Doron Lamb may end up being the leading scorer, but the best overall player might end up being Anthony Davis. He has point guard skills in a big man’s body. Word out of early workouts is that Davis is not only very talented down low, but can also hit 3-pointers. Wow! I guess there is a reason why many observers feel like Davis could end up being the first pick in the NBA draft next year.”
Perino: “Anthony Davis/Terrence Jones … I’m torn.”
Macy: “I would like to see the best player be Terrance Jones or Darius Miller. Their skill level is as good as any and they also possess experience, which would be a bonus!”
Leach: “I'm going with Terrence Jones. With a year of development of his game and maturity under his belt, I look to see what we saw in Maui last year on a more consistent basis.”
Jones: “That is a tough question. Doron Lamb will be the leading scorer, Darius Miller the most important player, Terrence Jones the team MVP and Anthony Davis the most talented. ‘Best’ usually means most talented, so I will take Davis, but any of those four could be the answer.
Question: Who will be Kentucky’s most valuable player this year?
Lemond: “The most valuable player may not be the leading scorer, he may not be the best player, but as far as ‘valuable’ goes, it has to be Terrence Jones. Since Anthony Davis will more than likely play the five, Jones will have to handle the power forward spot and provide the much needed inside muscle that is lacking on this team.
“Josh Harrellson was able to handle the middle last year, and I’m not so sure Davis is tough enough to handle the inside game in the SEC. So not only will the Cats need Terrence Jones to provide a much-needed inside presence, but he’ll also have to showcase his inside-outside game at the four and be a much-needed leader in the locker room.”
Perino: “Darius Miller. It’s his year to be a defensive stopper, an offensive force and a leader.”
Macy: “Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His versatility will often place the ball in his hands in late game situations. How he handles these situations by scoring, passing or just directing will have a major impact on the Cats success.”
Leach: “Marquis Teague, even though if he makes the rookie transition into Calipari's system as successfully as John Wall and Brandon Knight did, we may not pay as much attention to his value as we would if he fails on that mission.
Jones: “Terrence Jones will be the MVP, but I will give a shout-out to Mike Gilchrist as well. The difference between this team being very good and potentially great is whether he is as good as we thought coming out of high school. If he is a superstar, this team will not lose more than three games all year.”