John Calipari

John Calipari makes a comparison for his new Kentucky team

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Expectations will be high for Kentucky as we near the start of the 2013-14 season. Probably ridiculously high, actually. But when you add six McDonald’s All-Americans to a roster that returns former McDonald’s All-Americans like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, people tend to demand championships.

And in Lexington, championships are all that really matter.

Now that five of the eight incoming freshmen for Kentucky are on campus and working out with the team, head coach John Calipari has a better idea of where this team full of elite talent stacks up to his previous teams at Kentucky.

Calipari already noted that Poythress and Cauley-Stein have had to raise their level of play by now squaring off against newcomers Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson — each of whom are the No. 1 player at their position according to some recruiting analysts.

But while many will want to compare this group to the 2012 national championship team, Calipari told Kyle Tucker of USA Today Sports that it’s more like another team he previously coached at Kentucky.

“I compare this team more to our team my first year (2010) than I compare them to the 2012 team,” Calipari said. “This will be probably a team that won’t be a great, great execution team, because there’s so many new guys like our first team, yet a team that physically can do things – athletically, physically, skill-wise – to beat teams even though they’re not the greatest execution team.”
This Kentucky team in 2013-14 will certainly have the talent — and unlike last season, the depth — to compete for a national championship but it will likely all depend on how all of that talent co-exists and plays as a team.

It will take time for so much talent to learn to play together, but Kentucky is one of a number of riveting subplots to monitor as we get closer to next season.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.