Last season, the Kentucky Wildcats had one of the most disappointing seasons in school history. The Wildcats began the season ranked as No. 3 in the country and didn’t even make it to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. As if not making the NCAA tournament wasn’t bad enough, they lost out in the first round of the SEC tournament to the Vanderbilt Commodores and the first round of the NIT to the Robert Morris Colonials.
This season, things will be different. Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein are returning along with a new top freshmen-recruiting class. Freshmen Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and James Young are outstanding basketball players who will immediately succeed at the collegiate level. Kentucky’s roster looks more like an NBA team than an NCAA team.
On top of their immense talent, the Wildcats have the hardest nonconference schedule in the SEC. They face a potential group of Final Four contenders in the Michigan State Spartans, the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Louisville Cardinals and the Baylor Bears before they have to run an extremely tough gauntlet in SEC play.
With their schedule giving their young stars a trial by fire, Kentucky has a legitimate shot at winning the 2014 NCAA tournament; however, I don’t believe they will win the SEC tournament. The SEC team that has performed the best in the NCAA tournament hasn’t won the SEC tournament the last few seasons, and I expect that trend to continue with Tennessee, Florida or LSU coming out on top.
John Calipari’s team will not disappoint two seasons in a row. Expect the Wildcats to come out strong early in the season and be one of the No. 1 seeds going into the NCAA tournament.