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Wesley Eversole: Cats must answer several questions before rebounding from NIT loss

Now that the University of Kentucky men’s basketball season has ended following a 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, there are several questions that need to be answered before the Cats can move forward to the next season.


Ryan Harrow and Jon Hood look on from the bench as UK loses to Robert Morris in the NIT. (Photo by Jon Hale)

The first and probably the most important question is which players will stay and which players will leave. At this point, the only player that is almost guaranteed to leave is Nerlens Noel, especially after missing the last nine games of the season with a torn ACL. Beyond that, there is no guarantee that any of the players on the team are ready for the NBA.


Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein could be drafted on potential, but none of them have proven they are capable of playing consistently at a high level.


If any of those players do decide to leave, that brings us to our next questions: Who will replace those players, and are they better than the players we have right now?


According to Rivals.com, Kentucky’s 2012 recruiting class included just one player who was ranked No. 1 at his position (center Nerlens Noel). The remaining players were ranked second (power forward Alex Polythress), fifth (shooting guard Archie Goodwin) and ninth (center Willie Cauley-Stein), respectively, at their positions.


UK’s 2013 recruiting class includes three players who are ranked number one at their position by Rivals.com: shooting guard Aaron Harrison, point guard Andrew Harrison and power forward Julius Randle. Shooting guard James Young is ranked second at his position, power forward Marcus Lee is ranked fifth, power forward Derek Willis is ranked twenty-fifth and center Dakari Johnson is not ranked at his position. Johnson reclassified as a senior after the most recent position rankings were released.


If we use an inverse point system (i.e., 25 points for a No. 1 ranking, 24 points for No. 2, etc.), the 2012 recruiting class would have 86 points while the 2013 recruiting class would have 121 points. By all indications, the recruiting class Kentucky will be bringing in next season should be, at least on paper, more talented than the previous class.


The next question that needs to be asked is how difficult is the schedule next year? While we will have no idea how good or bad teams will be next season until we know what players are staying and which players are leaving, we do know that next year’s schedule will include its fair share of tough games. Kentucky will be competing in the Champions Classic for a third consecutive year, this time against Michigan State.


Kentucky will also play Providence at the Brooklyn, N.Y., Barclays Center. The Cats will travel to North Carolina and will host Louisville. As for the conference schedule, we do know it will consist of 18 games (two games versus five opponents and one game versus eight opponents). Kentucky is guaranteed to play Florida twice as the league designated “permanent rival.”


What we do not know is whether the SEC will be better than it was this year. The conference only got three teams (Florida, Mississippi and Missouri) into this year’s NCAA Tournament, its fewest number of tournament teams since 2009. The league does appear to have some strong incoming talent. According to Rivals.com, the SEC boasts six of the top thirty 2013 recruiting classes: Kentucky (No. 1), Florida (No. 5), LSU (No. 6), Arkansas (No. 17), Missouri (No. 19) and Alabama (No. 29). If those incoming freshman can play up to their full potential, the SEC should be a much improved conference next season.


One final question that needs to be answered is this: Can Kentucky prove that this season’s disappointing finish was an anomaly and return to glory next season? I believe they can, but whether they will remains to be seen.


Wesley Eversole is a 2011 graduate of the University of Louisville’s sport administration program. He enjoys a lifelong love of sports, especially UK basketball and football. You can read more about Eversole’s pursuit of his life goals while living with Asperger’s Syndrome here.

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