By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky is not ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll for only the second time in John Calipari’s tenure at UK and in most preseason polls is ranked behind SEC foes Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
While Kentucky fans believe coach John Calipari’s team will be better, Tom Hart of the SEC Network/ESPN thinks the preseason rating is about right.
“What the media has gotten away from is where there was always this automatic ranking with Alabama first in football and Kentucky first in basketball. I do not doubt John Calipari and his freshman-dominated team can be top five, but Kentucky basketball has disproved a lot of theories the past few years. People are looking at Kentucky with more doubt now,” Hart said.
“Kentucky basketball under John Calipari typically is a much different team in February and March than it is in November. Youth just needs time to grow into being away from home and the demands of college life in general while they are also growing as players.”
Hart also understands that Calipari does not put pressure on his team as much or worry about winning every game in November and December like some coaches do.
“He’s more worried about March and because of injuries to UK’s big men and so many freshmen, Kentucky will hopefully be a much different team in March than when the season starts,” Hart said.
Most SEC teams are older than Kentucky as COVID exception years have allowed players 23-24 years old to still be playing college basketball.
“That is a huge advantage for teams with experience,” Hart said. “If there is a six-year age gap, usually the older guys will have a huge advantage.”
Hart expects Tennessee to be “very good” with the talent it brings back and is “fascinated” by what Texas A&M will do with SEC preseason player of the year Wade Taylor back.
“He’s a dynamite player but they still have to prove it to me. (Coach) Buzz (Williams) is a great motivator and unique coach and I think he’s a smart coach but he’s had more misses than hits when you expect them to compete at the highest level.”