USA Today has released the preseason coaches poll, and to the surprise of very few the Kentucky Wildcats are ranked No. 1. The Wildcats have brought in arguably the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history, adding Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young and Dakari Johnson (among others) to team with incumbent stars Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Kentucky will be very young and inexperienced, but no team in the country can match their overall talent level.
The voting coaches have recognized this, with Kentucky getting 16 of the 32 first place votes. Archrival and defending national champion Louisville was second, with 10, while Michigan State was second overall in the poll. This is just a preseason poll, but it adds to the pressure that John Calipari and his young team face this season. Kentucky’s fan base will not be satisfied with anything less than a national championship, and the team will have NBA scouts following them around like teenage girls at One Direction concert.
Calipari will be tasked with keeping out the distractions and shaping this young team, and it will be a challenge to find minutes for all his young stars. The Wildcats believe they are capable of winning a title, but this team has a lot of work to do before then. Developing a rotation and learning how to play together are obviously at the top of the list, and it will likely take them some time to work through those issues.
Somebody is going to be left out when it comes to minutes and especially shots, and it will test the maturity of these 18 and 19 year olds as they try to handle being something other than the unquestioned superstar for the first time. While these concerns are at the forefront for Kentucky, they should not prevent this team from reaching its goal.
If Kentucky played Michigan State right now, I would probably go with the Spartans. However, after the Wildcats have a full season to learn to play with each other and develop skills, they will have the advantage. They make take a little time to figure things out, but by the end of the season this team should be nearly unstoppable.
Kentucky is starting the season at No. 1, and they are the clear favorites to finish it that way.