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Kentucky Fans Keep Fingers Crossed as Deadline Approaches

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at ArkansasTo be a fan of the Kentucky Wildcats has been a very up and down experience these last few months. First there was the euphoria of bringing in perhaps the greatest collection of freshmen ever assembled in one recruiting class with Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and James Young. This led to a preseason #1 ranking and a lot of discussion about a possible 40-0 season and ninth National Championship. Then they started playing games.

This led to a rather disappointing regular season that saw UK lose nine times and finish six games behind the Florida Gators in the SEC regular season standings. Some of the losses were really embarrassing such as losing twice to the Arkansas Razorbacks, once apiece to the LSU Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks and a couple of double digit losses to the Gators. As the post season began, many UK fans were hoping all these freshmen would leave early. But a funny thing happened…

When the SEC Tournament began, these same Wildcats, who had a loss and a very lucky one point overtime win against the Tigers, met them on Friday night and thumped them rather easily. Hmm. Then on Saturday they whipped the Georgia Bulldogs rather handily before meeting the #1 Gators for the championship on Sunday. This game went right down to the last possession before Young slipped and the Gators hung on for a 61-60 win in a game they led in the second half by as much as 14 points.

Then it was on to the NCAA Tournament. The Kats were seeded #8 in the Midwest Region out of 16 teams. In the Round of 32 they met an unbeaten #1 seeded Wichita State Shockers and won in a thriller. They took that momentum all the way to the Championship Game with wins over the arch rival and defending National Champion Louisville Cardinals, the other team from last year’s National Championship Game, the Michigan Wolverines in the Elite Eight and the best team in the Big Ten, college basketball’s best conference, the Wisconsin Badgers, all in thrilling fashion. Suddenly Wildcat fans were loving these guys. They were going to play for the championship.

Just as UK fans want these guys to stick around though, they are leaving. At least some of them are. Lee has announced he will return, but Randle and Young are already gone. Still undecided are the Harrison twins and Johnson as well as sophomore Alex Poythress, who have five more days to make up their minds. In a typical Calipari year, there would be no problem as there would be McDonald’s All Americans galore coming in to replace theses guys should they leave. That is not the case this year though.

Unlike past seasons where it was nothing unusual to see Kentucky’s name next to about half of the top 10 players on Rivals.com’s Top 150 list, this year there is but one, #8 ranked Trey Lyles. They also have the #11 player, center Kari-Anthony Towns. But the next player is all the way down at #30, guard Devin Booker. Now three of the top 30 is a good class, but not if they are the best players on the team. There are several teams with two or three of the top 30 players coming in. Duke for example, has three of the top nine. North Carolina as three in the top 30. Arizona, Florida, and Ohio State each have two. In none of those programs though are these incoming freshmen going to be expected to carry much of the load.

If the Harrisons leave, that leaves the back court bare. Hello Mr. Booker. If Johnson and Poythress take off, then the front court will be left to Willie Cauley-Stein, who is more of a shot blocking specialist than offensive force, and Lee who has had one great game against the Wolverines and that’s about all. So this is white-knuckle time in Lexington. In five days we will know if it is going to be another period of euphoria or disappointment for the Big Blue Nation.



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