Wiedmer: Indiana, Louisville may test all-new UK in 2013

Wiedmer: Indiana, Louisville may test all-new UK in 2013

April 4th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Kentucky head coach John Calipari cuts down the net after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kansas Monday, April 2, 2012, in New Orleans. Kentucky won 67-59.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NEW ORLEANS - His first national championship newly won, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari stood in the bowels of the Superdome early Tuesday morning discussing his team's future.

"If this was 1985, I'd have everybody back and I would have said our goal is to go undefeated next year," Cal said following the Wildcats' 67-59 win over Kansas.

"But it's not 25 years ago. We've got a few good kids coming back, but we need to find a few more good ones to play with them next year."

Ah, next year. Not to put this season to bed too quickly, but if Kentucky's best players do the expected and exit en masse into June's NBA draft -- to satisfy a new NCAA rule, players must declare by Tuesday -- Calipari will be forced to sign an almost completely new team to fill out his roster.

"We want to have six players drafted in the NBA's first round -- never been done," Calipari said. "I want them to realize their dreams. That's what being a players-first program is all about."

Thus do the Big Blue Nation's dreams quickly shift from the eighth NCAA title, which Cal's Cats just won, to the number of prep All-Americans who may replace them.

Yet if the rumors are true, that the UK coach is about to ink his fourth straight No. 1 class, next season could center on the Wildcats program as much as this season.

In play for Kentucky are unsigned recruits Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammed, rated by most scouting services as the top two prep players in the country.

A stunning athlete and shot blocker, the 6-foot-10 Noel is often seen as the next Patrick Ewing, a defense-first post player who many believe could actually block more shots than 2012 Final Four most outstanding player Anthony Davis.

Then there's the 6-6 Muhammad, the MVP of last week's McDonald's All-America game. The versatile and athletic offensive machine has been expected to commit to UCLA for months, but many believe he'll now join Noel at UK, ultimately encouraging power forward Anthony Bennett to come along as well.

Such a trio joining a group that already includes Alex Poythress (of Clarksville, Tenn.), 6-10 Willie Cauley and guard Archie Goodwin could possibly make UK a preseason No. 1. After losing at least four of five starters from a title team.

So who else could get there?

Start with Indiana. The Hoosiers beat the Wildcats early in the season and scared them in the NCAA Sweet 16 round. Forward Christian Watford could skip his final season to head for the NBA, yet either way the Hoosiers should have both the talent and experience to compete seriously for a spot in the Final Four.

Second up should be Louisville, which fell to the Wildcats one game shy of the national championship game. The Cardinals will have experience, gifted recruits and a coach in Rick Pitino determined not to allow his program to fall any further behind the Cats, given its four straight losses to UK since Cal came to Lexington.

Then there's Kansas, which loses Tyshawn Taylor and likely Thomas Robinson from its national-runner-up squad but has a strong recruiting class on board and shooting guard Elijah Johnson back for a senior year, along with fellow senior and shot-blocking maestro Jeff Withey. It's not much of a reach to envision the Jayhawks and Wildcats meeting again a year from now inside the Georgia Dome in the 2013 NCAA title game.

Before he finally left the Superdome to celebrate with his team, Calipari said something that might be more disconcerting to the rest of the college game than trying to get a shot past Davis this season.

"Before I leave coaching, I want to coach a team that goes 40-0," said Cal, whose champs went 38-2. "The reason is, they say it can't be done."

They also said you couldn't win it all with one-and-done freshmen. Then UK beat KU and headlines proclaimed: "Won-and-Done."

At least one blueprint for how to finish No. 1 has changed. If Cal's ability to turn those one-and-doners in four months or less into a well-oiled, unselfish machine doesn't, everyone not wearing UK Blue could be playing for second more times than not over the next decade.