By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM KENTUCKY-NORTHWOOD
1. GROWING PAINS
Kentucky coach John Calipari has again assembled an extremely talented roster, but one thing this team really lacks is experience. There are going to be noticeable struggles early as this unit finds their identity and style. Calipari has always been a master at molding teams together in a short period of time, and we’re confident that will happen again — but the Kentucky team you see early in the season against Maryland and Duke will be vastly different from the one playing in February and March.
2. ARCHIE’S ARSENAL
Archie Goodwin may wind up being Kentucky’s best player — he’s that good. The 6-foot-4 and 1/2 combo guard can score in a number of different ways and looked comfortable from the opening tip against Northwood. A tenacious competitor, Goodwin should excel in a number of ways for the Wildcats as a scorer, distributor and lockdown defender.
3. ALEX THE GREAT
No player on Kentucky looks more ready for the NBA than Alex Poythress. The Wildcats’ freshman forward is a legit 6-foot-7 and is built like an adonis. If Poythress becomes nastier as the season progresses, this team could reach another level. Think a smaller version of Tim Thomas.
4. DUAL THREAT
As expected, Calipari played long stretches of Thursday night’s game with Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein together in the frontcourt. Coaches may normally worry about using a 7-footer and a 6-foot-10 guy in the game at the same time, but these two are different. Long, agile and super bouncy, Noel and Cauley-Stein are athletic enough to guard multiple positions and switch on ball screens. They’ll be fine together for long periods.
5. NERLENS THE NEGATOR
Noel is unlike any player college basketball has seen in quite some time. The freshman big man single handedly keeps opponents out of the paint with his presence, and he’s agile enough to guard just about any position on the floor. While he still has a way to go offensively in terms of developing a low post game, Noel is more than capable of averaging double-figure rebounds and three to four blocks each time he takes the floor. This is the likely top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
There’s no questioning Kentucky’s overall talent, but their lack of veteran leadership could prove to be a factor early in the schedule. With so many unproven commodities on the Wildcats’ roster, there’s no way to predict how they’ll handle their first adverse situation or the first time they get down by a large margin. Still, Goodwin, Noel, and Poythress are major talents, and the combination of Noel and Cauley-Stein could be devastating in terms or protecting the rim. There’s a lot of molding to do with this team, and that’s just the kind of challenge Calipari relishes. He’ll have them playing their best basketball when it matters most — in March.
Everyone is talking about Indiana, but is Kentucky still the team to beat in college basketball? Sound off with your thoughts and comments in the section below…