When practice started in October there was a lot of talk about how John Calipari was trying to repeat his 2012 success at Kentucky with his 2014 team. That 2012 team was led by freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague and won the national title. This year’s edition is led by Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young finds itself in the Final Four, but it wasn’t an easy ride.
The Kentucky season has been a roller coaster which seems a little funny to say for a team that is 28-10. During the pre-season and the non-conference portion of the schedule the hype for the expectations for the team were extremely high after a 13-3 start with the three losses coming at the hands of nationally-ranked Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina by an average of just 4.6 points.
When SEC play began expectations and excitement for the team was tempered a bit when they were swept by Arkansas and lost to LSU and South Carolina. Talk then turned to the fact that the 2012 team had veteran leadership in Darius Miller and Doron Lamb that the 2014 team doesn’t have. Jarrod Paulson is the only upperclassman to be in the top 10 on the team in minutes at just 8.7 minutes per game. The other nine consists of seven freshmen and just two sophomores in Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
After a 61-60 loss to Florida in the SEC title game and defeating three of last season’s Final Four participants, #1 seed and undefeated Wichita State and 2013 title-game combatants Louisville and Michigan the thought that this team could repeat the success of 2012.
The freshmen on this team seem to be gelling at the right time. Randle, Young and the Harrisons are growing up into more than freshmen right in front of the eyes of the college basketball world. The growth could be seen in their 75-72 win over Michigan in the Midwest Regional final that saw the Wildcats play seven freshmen, with just Poythress being the only non-first-year player to see the floor. Big man Cauley-Stein missed the game due to injury but that allowed freshman Marcus Lee to play a season-high 15 minutes (he had played a total of 16 minutes since Feb. 4th) and contribute 10 points and a season-high eight rebounds in the game that saw Aaron Harrison hit a game-winning three pointer with 2.3 seconds to play.
There have been may peaks and valleys in Kentucky’s season. Just like a roller coaster they are at the peak of a climb and with two more wins they will all be screaming at the top of the lungs as the ride comes to an end.