November 20, 2010

How good is University of Kentucky without Kanter?

The NCAA’s ruling last week that Kentucky center Enes Kanter is “permanently ineligible,” sent shockwaves through college basketball.

Kanter was found to have received more than $33,000 in extra benefits while he played for a Turkish professional team as a teenager.

The Wildcats are appealing the ruling.

That leaves John Calipari, for now, without a dominant big man and raises the question: How good will UK be without Kanter, who is projected to be a top-five pick in next summer’s NBA draft?


Talent-laden Kentucky might be the one team in the country that could weather the loss of this level of talent and still be considered a national-title contender. Look at the way freshmen Terrence Jones (25 points, 12 rebounds), Brandon Knight (17 points, five assists) and Doron Lamb (20 points on 7-of-10 shooting) got off in the opener against East Tennessee State. The Wildcats shot 50 percent from 3-point distance, a great equalizer against anyone. That’s the good news. The less favorable report: forwards Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas were non-factors, combining for two points against ETSU. The SEC East is going to be a heck of a lot tougher than last year with Florida a true threat, Tennessee solid and Georgia lurking as a possible contender. The lack of an inside game is likely to present issues night-in and night-out for Calipari. And let’s face it, even with DeMarcus Cousins in the middle a year ago, Kentucky fell short of national championship expectations. Expect the Wildcats to finish second in the SEC East, win two games in the NCAA tournament and be mad in March once again.


Even without Enes Kanter, I still expect Kentucky to contend with Florida for the SEC East title before making a decent run in the NCAA tournament. And when I say decent, I’m talking about the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight – but not the Final Four. Kentucky is still ultra-talented with players such as freshmen Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, all of whom are expected to start. Upperclassmen Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins should have breakthrough seasons. Still, a lack of an inside presence will make it tough for Kentucky to become an elite team. My guess is that Kentucky will be outrebounded in at least half of its games against SEC opponents. Coach John Calipari will likely be forced to use a four-guard lineup. Whether they’re starting or coming off the bench, forwards Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas will have to play major roles, and that’s not good. Even if Kanter had played, I’m not convinced the Wildcats would’ve been good enough to contend for the NCAA title. But they definitely won’t now. Calipari needs to convince this talented crop of freshmen to stay another year so they can benefit from the presence of recent signees Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer, both of whom are forwards. The 2011-12 season has the potential to be a great one for Kentucky. This season, however, will be just average.

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