The Nets moved to Brooklyn, helped in part by minority owner Jay-Z, and got a cozy new home in The Barclays Center. Jay-Z is close with Kentucky coach John Calipari, so it only makes sense that Cal’s Wildcats make their season debut in the building, right?
The defending national champions open their title defense against Maryland and coach Mark Turgeon who is looking forward to a much better season than their 17-15 mark last year. The Terrapins lost leading scorer Terrell Stoglin, but get back talented project Alex Len (6.o ppg, 5.4 rpg last year) and guard Nick Faust (8.9 ppg, 2.1 apg). Pe’Shon Howard (6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) can also stuff a stat sheet. He also has the luxury of a great recruiting class, led by Shaquille Cleare. With Stoglin on to the NBA, it’ll all come down to who shows themselves as the leaders on the court for this team.
Kentucky had the same kind of NBA-bound turnover they’ve had every season under Calipari, having to replace their top six players, including five underclassmen that went in the first round of the NBA Draft. And they replace them with another top-flight recruiting class. Nerlens Noel makes his long-awaited debut, as does Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, along with the two new transfers Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays. All those players will be the team’s top six, followed by the only returning impact player off last season’s team, Kyle Wiltjer. It’s going to be the first game of another season of team’s trying to contain a bunch of athletes in the dribble-drive motion offense.
Unlike the first two previews, in a stunning turn of events, this game will be played inside. So no, weather won’t be a factor. Expect a lot of energy early and often, though I’d expect the highlighted matchup a lot of people will be seeing will be Noel against Len. Noel, who looks totally capable of handling himself down low, anyway, will be thrown to the wolves early, taking on a 7-footer that knows his way around the block.
If Maryland can contain the slashing ability of Goodwin and Poythress and make Kentucky rely on outside shooting, which hasn’t exactly been a consistent strong-suit of a Calipari-coached Wildcat team, they might have a shot. If Kentucky is able to get out and run early, goodnight, Maryland.
David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.