SEC Hoops Preview 2004-05: Kentucky

Head coach Tubby Smith lost seniors Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels and Cliff Hawkins from a team that finished 27-5 last season. Yet Kentucky always manages to reload, and Smith will be bringing in what most services rank as the nation's top recruiting class. There's no question the Wildcats will be good... but good enough to satisfy their legions of demanding fans? VeeMan dissects the Big Blue. (Part 10 of 12)

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Coach: Tubby Smith (eighth season)
2003-04 Record: 27-5, 13-3 SEC

Returning Players

NAME CLASS MPG PPG %FG %3P %FT RPG AST
Kelenna Azubuike Jr 28.9 11.1 47.6 39.8 76.3 5.0 1.1
Chuck Hayes Sr 31.0 10.7 53.3 25.0 68.1 8.1 3.0
Ravi Moss Jr 6.1 1.7 52.0 47.4 60.0 1.2 0.5
Sheray Thomas Soph 6.5 1.7 59.3 ---- 54.5 1.1 0.3
Bobby Perry Soph 6.1 1.3 22.6 17.6 70.0 1.5 0.2
Lukasz Obrzut Soph 6.5 1.2 44.4 ---- 66.7 0.8 0.1
Josh Carrier Sr 8.1 1.2 27.8 28.6 33.3 0.9 0.3
Brandon Stockton Jr 5.7 1.0 36.8 30.8 85.7 0.4 0.4
Shagari Alleyne Soph 3.3 0.8 40.0 ---- 33.3 0.7 0.0

Players Lost

NAME MPG PPG %FG %3P %FT RPG AST
Gerald Fitch 29.8 16.2 43.1 40.1 76.0 4.0 1.4
Erik Daniels 30.0 14.5 58.1 30.4 62.9 6.1 2.8
Cliff Hawkins 30.8 10.3 42.3 33.7 71.0 2.9 5.2
Antwain Barbour 17.0 5.0 40.3 28.3 68.4 2.5 0.9
Bernard Cote 5.6 1.3 41.2 36.4 70.0 0.4 0.2

New Players (rankings from PrepStars)

Patrick Sparks 6-1 Junior Transfer, Western Ky
Randolph Morris 6-11 Freshman #12
Rajon Rondo 6-1 Freshman #24
Joe Crawford 6-4 Freshman #25
Ramel Bradley 6-3 Freshman #91

Roles

Sparks is expected to take over point guard duties, but could be pressed hard by freshman Rondo, with Stockton (5-9) a third option. On the wings will be Kelena Azubuike (6-5) and another freshman, Crawford, with help from Ravi Moss (6-2), Josh Carrier (6-5), Sheray Thomas (6-7), Bobby Perry (6-7), and Bradley. Chuck Hayes (6-6 but nearly 250 lbs) will be at the high post and Morris at the low post, backed up by Obrzut (7-1) and Alleyne (7-3). Several of this group won't play much.

Scoring

Sparks (13.3 ppg and 5.9 assists per game as a sophomore at Western Kentucky) and Azubuike are the only established outside scorers in this group, but Rondo, Crawford, and Perry may come along. All three freshman guards can go to the basket, as can Azubuike and Sparks. Inside, Morris is sure to be a scoring force from the beginning and Hayes will get his points.

Rebounding and Defense

Hayes and Morris will get the lion's share of the rebounds, with significant aid from Azubuike and Crawford. Morris will provide a shot-blocking presence and Obrzut will help, but Alleyne looks like a candidate for an early transfer. Team defense will have to develop, but there is tremendous quickness in all three freshman guards.

Question Marks?

Will Coach Tubby Smith be able to mould an effective unit from a team with so little experience? The ability is there but many of the players who will see the most time are strangers to each other. Although there is a full complement of 13 scholarship players (plus walk-on Moss), depth is not guaranteed because Stockton, Carrier, Alleyne, Thomas, Perry, and Obrzut have not proved out in the past.

Overall Prospects for 2004-05

Kentucky came up with the top-rated freshman class in the country (according to PrepStars) and has a quality transfer player (Sparks) coming in. Tubby Smith is a very resourceful coach, at least until he gets into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky always has the mystique and winning attitude going for it. The Wildcats are likely to finish somewhere between first and third in the East, but second is the likeliest spot. Of course, as always, they will get to the Big Dance, but may not have the experience to go far.


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