Record: 29-10 (12-6 in SEC)
Second Round: Defeated #9 Kansas State 56-49
Third Round: Defeated #1 Wichita State 78-76
Sweet 16: Defeated #4 Louisville 74-69
Elite 8: Defeated #2 Michigan 75-72
Final Four: Defeated #2 Wisconsin 74-73
Kentucky has figured it out. Being the preseason #1 in the polls, there was an extreme amount of hype around this Wildcats team and to everyone, they were a disappointment in the regular season. But here they are. After a one-point loss to #1 Florida in the SEC Championship game, analysts started to get the feel that Kentucky could do something special come tournament time and they sure have. They have gone through one of the toughest roads to get to this Championship game, including beating three teams from last year’s Final Four: Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan. Freshman guard Aaron Harrison has been "Mr. Big Shot" as he has hit late go-ahead threes against Louisville, Michigan, and then Saturday night against Wisconsin.
Coach John Calipari scheduled a fairly difficult nonconference slate so these heralded freshmen got a sense of how the competition was going to be at this level. Kentucky was scheduled to play in the Champions Classic against Michigan State, a game at AT&T Stadium against Baylor, a trip to see Roy Williams and North Carolina, and then finally the in-state rivalry against Louisville. Kentucky lost to then #2 Michigan State 78-74 but that is when we all knew that Freshman forward Julius Randle was going to be an absolute beast as he had 27 and 13 on 9-14 shooting. Against then #20 Baylor, Randle again led the way with 16 points but the Wildcats lost 67-62. On their trip to North Carolina, Freshman guard Aaron Harrison scored 20 points on 8-12 shooting in a 82-77 loss to the Tar Heels. Their only signature nonconference win was the one that matters the most to "Big Blue Nation" as they defeated rival Louisville 73-66 behind Freshman guard James Young’s 18 point, 10 rebound performance.
In conference play, it was tough for the Wildcats to pick up signature wins against someone besides Florida in the SEC. In their home contest against Florida, Kentucky lost 69-59 despite Freshman guard Andrew Harrison scoring 20 points. At Florida, the Gators dominated Kentucky, winning 84-65. Randle did all he could do for the Wildcats, scoring 16 points with 10 rebounds. Kentucky also suffered some losses that we did not expect them to lose: Arkansas (twice), LSU, and somehow South Carolina. But all that doesn’t really matter now does it?
Statistically, Kentucky stands in very good ranking when it comes to points and rebounds. They average 76.4 PPG which ranks 46th in the nation and averages 41.3 RPG which ranks 5th in the nation. Not only are they ranked extremely high in total rebounds per game, but they are also tied for 5th when it comes to offensive rebounds per game with 14.7. The Huskies are going to have to hit the glass.
Seven players for Kentucky get significant minutes with Sophomore "Forward" Willie Cauley-Stein ruled out for the Championship game. Six of those players are ESPN100 commits, five in the top nine, making it the best Freshman class for a team since the Fab Five at Michigan. Five of those players are five-star recruits, and the sixth is a four-star recruit. We will now take a look at those six Freshmen along with one returning player from last year’s team:
# 30 Julius Randle, Freshman, F, (6-9, 250 pounds): The #1 ranked Power Forward in this year’s recruiting class, he leads the team in both points and rebounds at 15.1 PPG and 10.5 RPG while shooting 50.1% from the field. Randle is averaging 15.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG thus far in the tournament while shooting at 50%. He scored 16 points with 5 rebounds in their Final Four victory over Wisconsin.
#1 James Young, Freshman, G, (6-6, 215 pounds): The #3 ranked Small Forward, he is second on the team in points with 14.2 PPG to go along with 4.2 RPG. Young is a three-point threat as he is 80-230 on the year for 34.8%. He is averaging 9.8 PPG and 4.6 RPG in the tournament while shooting 7-16 from long range. Young had 17 points and 5 rebounds in their Final Four victory over Wisconsin.
#2 Aaron Harrison, Freshman, G, (6-6, 218 pounds): The #1 ranked Shooting Guard, he has hit big shot after big shot for Kentucky in this tournament. Over the course of the year, he averaged 13.9 PPG, which ranks third on the team while shooting 36.1% from three. He is the team’s second leading scorer in the tournament at 14.4 PPG and is 14-25 from deep. Harrison only had 8 points in their Final Four victory, but hit the game-winning three-pointer.
#5 Andrew Harrison, Freshman, G, (6-6, 215 pounds): The #1 ranked Point Guard, he leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game while also averaging double figures with 10.9 PPG. He is not much of a shooter as he only shoots 36.8% from the field, but he will shoot the three-pointer as he is 31-90 on the year. Harrison is averaging 11.6 PPG and 5.0 APG and 4.0 turnovers per game in the tournament so far. He had 9 points and 4 assists in their Final Four win over Wisconsin.
#44 Dakari Johnson, Freshman, C, (7-0, 265 pounds): The #2 ranked Center, he is the team’s fifth starter and only averages 5.2 PPG and 3.9 RPG. While he does not score much, Johnson does shoot at a high percentage of 57.6%. He is averaging 7.2 PPG and 3.8 RPG in the tournament his far on 16-24 shooting. Johnson had 10 points and 7 rebounds in their Final Four victory over Wisconsin.
#22 Alex Poythress, SOPHOMORE!!!, F, (6-8, 239 pounds): One of the few players from last year’s team, he is third on the team in rebounding at 4.5 RPG while also scoring 5.9 PPG. He also shoots at a high percentage, making about half of the shots he takes. Poythress is averaging 6.2 PPG and 3.6 RPG while shooting 13-17 from the field. He had 8 points and 7 rebounds in their Final Four victory over Wisconsin.
#00 Marcus Lee, Freshman, F, (6-9, 215 pounds): The last of the ESPN100 recruits, he played sparingly in the regular season but has come along strong since the injury to Cauley-Stein. Lee scored 10 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in their winning effort over Michigan to get to the Final Four. He only had 4 points with 1 rebound in their Final Four victory over Wisconsin.
Kentucky is coached by the one and only John Calipari who is in his fifth season with Kentucky where he has compiled a 151-36 record. Known for constantly recruiting one-and-done players, Calipari has made it work. In his first three seasons with the Wildcats, he led them to the Elite 8, Final Four, and a National Championship in 2012. Before Kentucky, he coached at Memphis for nine years where he went 214-67 (some of the wins were vacated thanks to Derrick Rose). Calipari led Memphis to the NCAA Tournament six times, including the National Championship game in 2007-08. Before Memphis, he had a brief stint as the New Jersey Nets coach where he was eventually fired 20 games into his third season as coach. Before the NBA, Calipari coached at UMass for eight years from 1988-1996 where he went 189-70. He led UMass to the NCAA Tournament five straight years including the Final Four in 1995-96.