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Kentucky basketball: From the post West Virginia depression to trendy Final Four pick again


I have to admit, my head is still spinning from the last 26 hours or so. It’s hard to grasp how quickly this 2010-2011 squad went from “an ok team” to a trendy final four pick once again.  John Calipari has taken the Big Blue Nation on a whirlwind ride ever since the disappointing loss to West Virginia.

Shortly after that loss came the news of five NBA defections and then the recruiting week where Kentucky lost both C.J. Leslie and Terrence Jones in a span of 48 hours.  Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague were on board for 2011 and most Kentucky fans were prepared for an “OK” 2010 and a sensational 2011.  Now with the commitments of Eloy Vargas and Terrence Jones, the Wildcat Nation has gone from lowered expectations to a full fledged feeding frenzy in the quest for national title number eight.

And it’s not just Kentucky fans feeding the hype.  ESPN has awarded Kentucky the top recruiting class in the land for the second straight year and had this to say:

After losing five players, including most of last year’s freshman class, John Calipari went out and simply reloaded. Guard Brandon Knight (Coral Springs, Fla./Pine Crest), No. 4 in the ESPNU 100, could play either guard spot for the Wildcats, but he’ll probably be expected to run the show immediately. But don’t overlook his ability to score — he is good off the dribble, can catch-and-shoot and has range to 22 feet. Terrence Jones (Portland, Ore./Jefferson), No. 10 in the ESPNU 100, is the West Coast’s best player. At 6-9, he presents matchup problems and can score and rebound as well as anyone in the country. European import Enes Kanter (Turkey/Stoneridge Prep) burst onto the scene with his play in the Jordan Brand Classic’s International Game, and at 6-9, 240, he has the physical traits and a feel for the game to be a star. This class is so good players like versatile wing Stacey Poole (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) and Doron Lamb (Laurelton, N.Y./Oak Hill Academy) are almost afterthoughts, but they would be stars in any other class.

ESPN’s Scout Inc’s recruiting expert Paul Biancardi held a live chat this afternoon in which inevitably, the question of Kentucky came up and Biancardi was asked his final four picks for next season and without batting an eye, answered:

Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Butler.

Biancardi has been the first pundit to utter the Final Four word for this year’s squad as most had Kentucky around 12-15 before the additions of Vargas and Jones.  I think these additions make Kentucky definitely top eight material for sure, but the coaching job that Calipari did last year gets lost in the abundance of talent.  Like last year, Cal will have to mold virtually a brand new team with a handful of returning players.

There is one big difference however.  There is no Patrick Paterson to rely on as a leader so it will be up to Darius Miller as the most experienced returnee to step up and act as the leader and as the glue that keeps everything together.

As good as last year’s class was however, there are those that feel this year’s edition is even better if possible.  One thing that last year’s squad had was chemistry and that team seemed to genuinely like each other and feed off of each other.  Kentucky’s newcomers are familiar with each other however and Brandon Knight seems to be the one that is stirring the drink this season.

Knight is friends with Stacey Poole though their battles in Florida over the years.  He played on a national championship AAU team with Eloy Vargas.  And he played with Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb in the McDonald and Nike Summit all star games.  He even predicted after he committed that he thought Jones and Lamb would join him at Kentucky.  So he has an early start on the chemistry factor already which also bodes well for this class.

I’m not ready to declare Kentucky a Final Four team, but I am starting to get the feeling that this is going to be a very enjoyable season for Wildcat fans.

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