SEC BASKETBALL PREVIEW: The Kentucky Wildcats

This is the next in our continuing preview of the 2002-03 SEC Men's basketball season. Today, hoops expert VeeMan gives us a preview of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Returning Players

                           MIN  PPG  %FG  %3P  %FT  REB  AST

           ------------------------------------------

Keith Bogans Sr            876  11.6 39.4 31.7 67.0 138  78

Cliff Hawkins Jr           827   7.1 39.1 31.1 60.5  84 137

Gerald Fitch Jr            759   9.9 45.5 34.5 69.6 151  44

Jules Camara Sr            555   6.1 48.3 ---  70.6 129  21

Marquis Estill Sr          538   8.9 62.7 40.0 69.8 134  17

Chuck Hayes So             532   5.9 46.5 27.3 73.8 143  32

Erik Daniels Jr            391   3.7 41.8 15.8 54.8  84  35

Josh Carrier So             67   1.1 23.8 15.8 50.0   4   7 

Players Lost

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Tayshaun Prince           1064  17.5 46.8 34.0 70.3 204  53

Rashaad Carruth            332   5.5 42.6 35.1 66.7  25   5

J.P. Blevins               281   2.1 34.1 31.6 100.0 21  15

Marvin Stone               124   5.3 44.2  ---  55.6 36   7

Adam Chiles                 85   0.7 21.1 11.1  40.0 11  14

Jason Parker Did not play due to injury 

New Players and Rank in PrepStars

Antwain Barbour 6'5" Junior (#2 in junior college)

Brandon Stockton 5'11" Freshman (#159)

Bernard Cote 6'9" Freshman (#148)

Kelenna Azubuike 6'6" Freshman (#23) 

Strengths

(1) Considerable experience returns, but there are two big question marks in this area: Cliff Hawkins, 6'1" point guard, is academically ineligible in the fall semester, and will have to get his studies back on track; Gerald Fitch (6'3") clearly had trouble getting along with teammates at times.

(2) Despite the loss of Parker (6'8", 250 lbs), who was dismissed from the team on August 30, there is considerable size represented by: 6'11" Camara; 6'9" Estill; 6'7" Daniels; 6'7" Hayes; and Cote. Kentucky should still be a good rebounding team, considering that Fitch is a remarkable rebounder for his size, and Bogan is a strong 6'4".

(3) The #8 ranked group of newcomers, according to PrepStars. The signing of Azibuike in the spring definitely upgraded the crop. 

Weaknesses

(1) Point guard is a questionmark because of the uncertain status of Hawkins who, anyhow, wasn't a steady performer. The duties could fall upon freshman Stockton and Barbour, who is definitely a shooting guard.

(2) Team chemistry was a big problem last year. Although two of the biggest problems (Carruth and Chiles) are gone, one of them (Fitch) returns. If Fitch's behavior continues to be as erratic as it was in the late stages of 2001-2002, it is likely that he will be shuffled off the team.

(3) Mediocre outside shooting and erratic free-throw shooting helped hold Kentucky to a somewhat disappointing 22-10 record last year. Barbour is the best hope to improve the three-point shooting, although Carrier (6'5"), who played very little in 2001-2002, was supposed to be a long-range bomber. 

Keys

(1) Can Coach Tubby Smith keep the players pulling together? (2) How will the point guard situation be resolved? (3) Will the Cats have the firepower of old? 

Near Certainties

(1) Smith will be brutally criticized by the Kentucky fans if the Cats don't have a better record than they had in the last two seasons. (2) Camara and Estill will block a lot of shots. (3) Free-throw shooting will continue to be a problem. 

Prospects for 2002-2003

Kentucky will have the edge on Georgia in the battle for second place in the SEC East. Both teams have some serious questionmark players (Hawkins and Fitch for Kentucky) and the order of finish between the two may depend upon how these situations are resolved. The Wildcats should make the NCAA tournament and win a couple of games if Tubby Smith finally gets control of his players. 


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