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September 7, 2008


Head coach: Billy Gillispie
Last season: 18-13 overall, 12-4 in SEC.
Postseason: Earned at-large bid to NCAA Tournament. Lost 74-66 to Marquette in first round.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

With the graduations of Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, the Wildcats lose a ton of production and a bevy of experience and leadership. Each played in more than 125 games during his four-year career. One or the other led UK in scoring last season in 23 of its 31 games. Crawford was the team's leading scorer and was second in assists. Bradley was the leader in assists and was third in scoring.

Forward Patrick Patterson had a huge freshman season when healthy.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Kevin Galloway, 6-6/Jr.
Junior college transfer
G Jodie Meeks, 6-4/Jr.
8.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg
F Ramon Harris, 6-6/Jr.
4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Patrick Patterson, 6-8/Soph.
16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg
F Perry Stevenson, 6-9/Jr.
5.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg
TOP RESERVES
G DeAndre Liggins, 6-6/Fr.
True freshman
F Darius Miller, 6-7/Fr.
True freshman
Coach Billy Gillispie won't be able to match that kind of experience or production this season as he mixes in some newcomers with a hopefully healthy Jodie Meeks. Meeks was limited to 11 games last season because of various hip injuries, and he averaged 8.8 points - not the expected jump from a solid freshman season in which he averaged 8.7 points. If he's healthy and with the amount of shots that should go to him in the absence of Bradley and Crawford, it's reasonable to expect Meeks to average around 15 points per game - possibly more.

Newcomers Kevin Galloway and DeAndre Liggins, two players who are similar in size and style, will share playing time at point guard. Both are 6-6, long and athletic, and they are pass-first guys. Neither is much of a threat to shoot from the perimeter, but they can penetrate and score or make plays. Both will get plenty of minutes, and expect one to emerge by the time the SEC season starts.

FRONTCOURT

Last season, Patrick Patterson was one of the SEC's best low-post players in the league as a freshman. His work ethic and relentlessness gave the Wildcats something to hang their hat on until they found their rhythm in SEC play after stumbling in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Patterson scored in double-figures in 23 of his 25 games, and he had six double-doubles. He played all 50 minutes in a double-overtime victory over then-undefeated Vanderbilt, posting 23 points and 12 rebounds.

The Wildcats might have gone further in the postseason if not for Patterson's season-ending surgery for a stress fracture in his left ankle. It sidelined him just as the calendar turned to March.

If there were the hint of a silver lining to Patterson's injury, it was the increased load it put on Perry Stevenson. In Patterson's absence, Stevenson posted three of his four double-doubles for the season and averaged 11.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. If Stevenson comes anywhere close to that on a consistent basis, UK becomes exponentially better.

The other starter up front is returnee Ramon Harris. He made 25 starts last season but was little more than a role player, taking only about three shots per game and averaging 4.2 points. He'll be pushed by four-star prospect Darius Miller, an excellent leaper who can finish at the rim and help on the boards.

OFFENSE

The Wildcats will dump the ball to Patterson in the post as often as they can. They also will try to spread the floor to create driving lanes for Galloway and Liggins. The primary threat on the perimeter is Meeks, but the Wildcats look a little thin as far as outside shooting goes.

DEFENSE

Is the glass half empty or half full? There is talent in Patterson and Meeks, but has Kentucky lost too much with the graduations of Bradley and Crawford and the transfer of Derrick Jasper? Gillispie proved last season that he could get things figured out, even after an abysmal start. Part of that is getting players to buy in with a new coach. The Wildcats have no reason to start as slowly this season. The non-conference schedule has some excellent teams, but it has its fair share of cupcakes. Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 13, UK plays all 10 of its games in the Bluegrass State - eight in Lexington and two in Louisville. If UK doesn't go at least 10-5 before the start of the SEC season, it would be a disappointment. This is a team that should win 20 regular-season games, push Tennessee and Florida in the SEC East and find its way back to the NCAA Tournament.
Gillispie favors a hard-nosed, physical man-to-man defense. He instilled it with great success in his first season in Lexington. The Wildcats ranked second in the SEC in scoring defense (65.6 ppg).

SHOES TO FILL

Bradley and Crawford. When one wasn't on his game, the other was. When they were both on, the Wildcats were tough to beat. They took a lot of pressure off Patterson.

MUST STEP UP

Meeks. The expectations were sky high after a freshman season in which he averaged 8.7 points and hit 44 3-pointers. He has to forget the injury-plagued sophomore season and be everything everyone expected he would be.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Galloway/Liggins. It's either going to be Galloway or Liggins. One of them will be the starting point guard and have a chance to make a major impact.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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