Kentucky talk dominates college hoops

BY foxsports • November 7, 2009

Until the games start next week there is still one topic that dominates all hoops talk - Kentucky. Yes, Kansas was the runaway No. 1 choice in the preseason Top 25. And sure, the Jayhawks had two players on the preseason All-America team. But it's Kentucky that's generating all the buzz. With one of college basketball's storied programs now being run by John Calipari, what else are people going to talk about? It's the marriage of a program starving for big-time success to a coach looking for that elusive national championship. Calipari, who took Massachusetts and Memphis to the Final Four only to see both appearances wiped out as part of NCAA probations against the programs, will start his first season with the Wildcats with a team that will try to get Kentucky back in the NCAA tournament. "When I first got the job, (the expectation) was going to the Final Four," Calipari said. "Then a month later it was, 'We are going to win all the league games.' Then a month ago, winning the games by 10, and now winning all the games by 21." With such lofty expectations, he'll be counting on junior forward Patrick Patterson, a member of the preseason All-America team, and freshman point guard John Wall, who must sit out two games and repay almost $800 in expenses incurred during unofficial visits to schools during high school. "(Players) are held to a higher standard than other players across the country, and so am I as a coach," Calipari said of Kentucky, which fired Billy Gillispie after two seasons. "You are held to a different standard. That is the privilege of being here. Things that go on over (at other schools) just cannot go on here." That's what has Calipari and Kentucky front and center, stealing the attention from Kansas. The Jayhawks received 55 of 65 first-place votes in the preseason poll, and senior guard Sherron Collins and junior center Cole Aldrich were both on the preseason All-America team. Coach Bill Self has almost everybody back from last season's team that reached the round of 16 after winning a fifth straight Big 12 title and adds a topflight recruiting class led 6-foot-6 Xavier Henry. "If we get to jelling, I think we'll be one of the toughest teams to beat in the country," Collins said. "I love having the pressure on my shoulders." Last season's Final Four all return enough players to be ranked in the top 12. Defending champion North Carolina saw its top four scorers head for the NBA but it is loaded in the frontcourt - where Tyler Hansbrough dominated for four years - and relying on Larry Drew II to run the show for the first time. Connecticut will be a lot smaller with Hasheem Thabeet gone, but point guard Kemba Walker will have the Huskies running. Villanova must replace Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson, two senior role players, and find someone to score with Scottie Reynolds. Michigan State has Big 10 player of the year Kalin Lucas back to lead a team that needs someone to step up in the frontcourt. Last season's entire All-America team - Hansbrough, Blake Griffin of Oklahoma, DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh, James Harden of Arizona State and Stephen Curry of Davidson - all moved on. And some of this season's biggest names might be making only one-year appearances - Wall, Henry, Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech and John Henson of North Carolina. There was movement among coaches, as usual, but the 33 changes were 30 less than last season and the lowest since 1993-94. In addition to Calipari going from Memphis to Kentucky, other prominent names making a move were Sean Miller from Xavier to Arizona, Tony Bennett from Washington State to Virginia and Kevin O'Neill to Southern California after a one-year hiatus in the NBA after leaving Arizona. He replaces Tim Floyd, who resigned suddenly in June amid allegations of breaking NCAA rules. Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, most recently the president and coach of the New York Knicks, takes over a program at Florida International that has made one NCAA appearance and has lost at least 20 games three of the last four seasons. The Panthers open the season at North Carolina on Monday. That might not be one of the games to circle on the must-see calendar this season, but the Tar Heels are always in two of them, the season series with Duke. Among the many good early season matchups is Kentucky-Connecticut at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 9. With Calipari facing Jim Calhoun, this is a coaching rematch of the hotly contested UMass-UConn games in the late 1990s.