Kentucky basketball forward preview: Depth, size and Lyles

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The average height of the listed frontcourt for Kentucky basketball’s first NCAA championship roster in 1948 was approximately 6-foot-3.

Flash forward 67 seasons to the upcoming 2014-15 Wildcat campaign and the average height of Kentucky basketball’s frontcourt is 6-foot-9. Kentucky basketball

Clearly, college basketball has evolved since the Adolph Rupp-domination days, both emblematically and literally.  The 1982-83 University of Houston Phi Slama Jama team had an overall frontcourt with an average height of 6-foot-7, making them one of the most terrifying teams of the 1980s.

Now, Kentucky is the most intimidating team in college basketball.  Referring to the 2014-15 Kentucky basketball roster, let alone the frontcourt, as “big” is a colossal understatement.  The Wildcats will have more skyscrapers than Hong Kong in the frontcourt to go along with a towering group of guards (minus Tyler Ulis.)

Because of the vastness of the Wildcat frontcourt, it is prudent to first examine the forward positions.  Head coach John Calipari will be searching for replacements for NBA first-round-bound forwards Julius Randle and James Young.

With the return of junior—yes, junior—forward Alex Poythress, sophomore Marcus Lee and the addition of incoming freshman Trey Lyles, Calipari will certainly have options.

Small Forward

6-foot-8 Alex Poythress vs. ?

The Alex Poythress Project is still under way, but if Poythress’ play in the NCAA Tournament is a sign of things to come, the 2014-15 season could be his best.  The idea that Poythress could bolt for the NBA after the regular season last year was preposterous.  However, after his stellar play in March, the image of Poythress shaking NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand at the NBA Draft was calibrating. Kentucky basketball

Poythress’ stats were never astoundingly impressive last season. Compared to his freshman season, Poythress played seven less minutes per game, shot a worse percentage from the field and from the free throw line, grabbed less rebounds and averaged just 5.9 points per game.

Despite all of this, Poythress probably would have been drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft.  Why?  Poythress still has incredible potential that is currently being tapped.  Contrary to the statistics, Poythress improved last season, especially in the NCAA Tournament.

There is perhaps no fan of Poythress more vocal than Calipari.  Against Louisville in the Sweet 16, Poythress was instrumental for the Wildcats because of his freakish rebounds and dunks.  Calipari repeatedly told the world that Poythress “won the game.” But as in each game last season, Poythress did it off the bench.  For Poythress to become the starting small forward for Kentucky basketball, he must improve his offensive game. Kentucky basketball

I predict Poythress will provide high energy and timely dunks, swat jump shots and grab crucial rebounds for the Wildcats at an even higher rate, but like last season, off the bench as the sixth man.

Poythress may remain the sixth man because of incoming freshman Devin Booker.  The 6-foot-6 Booker is listed as a shooting guard, but with the departure of 39 percent of the team’s offense in the form of Randle and Young, Calipari may look for someone to provide scoring for the first unit.

Booker may be exactly who Calipari needs, but even more importantly, who Poythress needs.  Booker may push Poythress to become the consistent, scoring small forward he is capable of being, and to prove me wrong in my prediction.  I hope he does.

Power Forward

Marcus Lee vs. Trey LylesKentucky basketball

Marcus Lee was an afterthought.  Up until the final buzzer sounded during the Elite Eight game against Michigan, Kentucky fans were wondering what happened to the mohawk-adorning all-American freshman.  Then Lee reminded the nation that Kentucky had six freshmen who were former high school all-Americans.

Lee kept Kentucky alive in the first half against Michigan.  For the first time all season, Calipari could not keep Lee off the bench, because Michigan could not keep Lee off the glass.  Lee had four put-back dunks in the first half alone and finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes.

6-foot-10 Lee is a high-energy player, a decent defender and appears to possess an invisible trampoline underneath his feet, but could definitely benefit from improving his strength in the off-season.

Lee catapulted himself into the spotlight against Michigan, which could have catapulted him into the 2014-15 rotation for the Wildcats, but it will be difficult for Calipari to keep Trey Lyles out of the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-10, Indiana Mr. Basketball Lyles is the number two power forward and number six overall player in the 2014 class. 1386989124003-17-Tech12132013- Lyles can stretch the defense with his jump shot, either fading away or off the dribble.  Lyles is even more deadly near the basket because of his shot-blocking and rebounding ability.

As a senior at Arsenal Technical High School, Lyles averaged 23.7 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Lyles is a huge, well-rounded player who can provide toughness and grit for a team that just lost one of the toughest players in college basketball.  I foresee Lyles stepping right in and replacing Randle in the starting lineup at the power forward position.

With Poythress fighting for the starting small forward position and Lyles appearing to be the front-runner to succeed Randle at power forward, is there any guarantee that an upperclassmen could start in the frontcourt for the Wildcats?

Junior Willie Cauley-Stein, who certainly lacks offensive skills but has the athleticism to play power forward, could compete with Lyles.  However, the other three-headed battle is for the center position, which also features a freshman and a sophomore, and may be where Cauley-Stein needs to place his focus.

Calipari certainly has his hands full this summer. The only easy thing Cal may have the ability to manage is his hair.  With all kinds of capable frontcourt players on the roster, including two—wait for it—juniors, Calipari has options.  Like a rebound, the forward positions are totally up for grabs.

The starting forwards for Kentucky basketball will fight for those positions with heart and determination, but standing 6-foot-8 or taller will also not hurt their chances.

 

To read the shooting guard preview for Kentucky basketball, click here.