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UK’s Starting Five Headed to the NBA

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Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Wheels are actually round?!?!? Fire is actually hot?!?!? And the national champion Kentucky Wildcats will have a whole new look in 2012-2013. Oh, that…yeah.

The ‘Cats’ starting five–Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Jones, and Lamb–all declared for the NBA draft on Tuesday evening while sitting next to a very proud and beaming Coach John Calipari.

Why does he seem to be prouder, seem to be beaming brighter than in years past? Well, it might have something to do with the knowledge that when he goes out on the recruiting trail from this point forward, he can add, “Oh, and we can win national titles with freshmen at UK” to his portfolio of magic.

But, hold the phone. UK wasn’t just freshmen in 2011-2012. We have no way of knowing, but I’d bet that championship banner would be hanging somewhere else if a couple of sophomores named Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb hadn’t stuck around for year two.

Yes, it was one of the youngest starting line-ups to ever win the title, and there’s no one better at getting young guys to buy into a system than Coach Cal. But, next year,  instead of 60 percent freshmen, the starting five will likely be 80 percent freshmen (Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress) plus either Kyle Wiltjer, the lone returnee, or–more likely since he’s a point guard–N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow. Wiltjer and Harrow will be sophomores.

So age-wise, it’s about the same make-up. But Harrow and Wiltjer aren’t at the talent level of Jones and Lamb. So, it’s wait and see. Oh, wait a minute, for Big Blue Nation, it’s “can’t wait to see.” If it were anyone but John Calipari coaching teenagers year in and year out, I would say there’s no shot at repeated appearances in the Final Four.

But next season appears–at least at this early juncture–to be a free-for-all. ESPN’s resident Bracketologist and tournament guru Joe Lunardi has some sort of metric he’s devised–there’s a job for everyone–that predicts how strong a team SHOULD  be based on the talent that will be available. Based on this figure, his top four for next season are Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, and Kentucky–in that order.

But he also believes that there are roughly 18 teams that could jockey for a #1 seed in next season’s tournament. It’s incredibly–INCREDIBLY–difficult to win back-to-back titles. But if next season really does wind up being that wide open, why not look for another championship run from a coach who clearly knows how to mold young talent in short order?

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