Coach John Calipari's latest NBA Draft class has declared their intentions for the next step, leaving the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats without Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague; this more-than-talented lineup accounted for 188 of the team's possible 200 starts this past season. And it's no wonder- each player ranks at the top, or near the top of their respective position in the 2012 NBA Draft: Davis is the top overall player on our Board and is obviously our top power forward, Kidd-Gilchrist is a spot behind him as the top-rated small forward, Jones, the versatile sophomore, is one of the top three or four players at his position depending where a front office sees him in their lineup (small forward vs. power forward), and rounding out the bunch, Lamb and Teague are in the top-five of their backcourt positions. Add in veteran swingman Darius Miller, and Kentucky could account for six of the first 30 picks on Draft night.
So where does this leave UK in its chances to repeat its title defense? Not with empty cupboard despite the loss of its six most important players. The lone returnee that will make an impact right away is forward Kyle Wiltjer, the fifth-ranked power forward in last year's class, who just so happened to be stuck behind a masterful frontcourt rotation of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones in his first season. Wiltjer has a combination of size at 6'9" and tremendous skill, as he serves mostly as a threat on the perimeter, but does show some finesse moves inside. Wiltjer will team up in the frontcourt with Calipari's latest commit, Nerlens Noel, a long elite-shot blocking presence in the middle with a raw offensive game; the sky is the limit for this youngster as he is expected to follow in Davis' footsteps and be the top big man in the Draft in 2013. Willie Cauley, another lean shot-blocking big with an unpolished offensive game will back-up both the power forward and center positions.
On the wing, first-year-eligible transfer Ryan Harrow, a speedy 5'11" point guard (from NC State) will run the offense in a more efficient manner than Teague did this past season. He utilizes his speed and change of direction well to create separation between him and his defender and knock down a jumper or create opportunities for his teammates. While he didn't shoot particularly well in his first collegiate season with the Wolfpack, Harrow excelled with his court vision and decision-making, posting one of the higher rates of assist ratio and assist-to-turnover ratio in the ACC. His development in becoming a more well-rounded threat with his jumper will be crucial as his two starting wing-mates aren't the greatest of shooters.
Alex Poythress has been a prospect on the rise as of late with some new-found confidence to go along with developing NBA frame at 6'7", 215 pounds. He's a great athlete that attacks the basket non-stop on the offensive end and is becoming much more diverse with more consistency from his jumper. Archie Goodwin, a skinny 6'5" guard will play alongside Harrow and Poythress; he's long, just as athletic as Poythress who can attack the rim or spot-up on the wing. With some added strength to his frame and a bit more accuracy from the perimeter, Goodwin will be a future first-rounder as well.
The young Kentucky Wildcats will again be the favorite in the SEC, but they will be challenged by a Florida Gators team that returns three starters in Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy.