LEXINGTON — The Kentucky Wildcats move into the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week in Atlanta still, alarmingly, searching for answers.
The SEC event starts Wednesday with the bottom sludge of the conference playing terrible basketball, while Kentucky draws a double bye into Friday’s quarterfinals. The Wildcats play at 7 Friday night against the winner of the Alabama-LSU game.
Going into post-season play, here’s my grade for these Wildcats individually, along with key stats and my prediction on whether the respective players will leave for a shot at the NBA Draft this spring. I’m not judging whether these players SHOULD leave, only if I believe they will — the latter based only on a hunch:
Julius Randle, freshman forward (15.4 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) — Grade: B.
I can’t give Randle, a wondrous talent, an A because I have this nagging feeling that there’s more in his tank of talent than we saw this winter.
Look at his play the second half against Michigan State and then this past Saturday for a five-six minute stretch of the second half at Florida.
I’m just not sure that Randle, like a lot of his teammates, is much better now than at the beginning of the season.
It may well be that I’m completely unfair in this assessment. Randle has consistently been double and triple teamed, in part, because his teammates have consistently let him down.
Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t be surprised if Randle is more effective next season in the NBA than he has been this season in the college game, because he won’t get the double/triple teams in the NBA that he’s consistently seen this year.
Odds that Randle will leave UK this spring for the NBA: 99 percent. Randle could eventually be an NBA star.
Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomore center (7.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 blocks per game) — Grade: C.
A shame. The 7-foot-1 Cauley-Stein is an A-B player who has had a C season. So much athleticism, so much skill, great guy, but a C contributor simply because he’s so inconsistent. Honestly, if I was an NBA team looking for a big man on this UK roster, I might opt for teammate Dakari Johnson.
Odds Cauley-Stein will leave for the NBA: 70 percent. He could make a roster. Congratulations.
Alex Poythress, sophomore forward (6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) — Grade: C.
Again, a B player having a C season. There was a stretch of a half dozen games midway through the season when Poythress looked like UK’s MVP, but he’s slipped back since.
Odds Poythress will leave for the NBA: 50 percent. Not sure he could make a roster unless he finds intensity and improves his perimeter shot.
James Young, freshman forward (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg): Grade — C.
All together now, a B player having a C season. In UK’s first exhibition game, vs. Transylvania, I led my column with a salute to Young’s jump shot, saying I was surprised when he missed.
I’m not anymore. I just don’t know what’s happened there.
Odds Young will leave for the NBA: 75 percent. I have a gut feeling the 6-6 Young will find his confidence, make an NBA roster next season and eventually be a productive 2-3 guy in the league.
I cannot defend my gut feeling.
Andrew Harrison (10.8 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3 rpg) — Grade: B.
In my book, Andrew Harrison has gotten a bum rap ... a victim of hype. If he was from, say, Switzerland, rather than Texas, I believe our feelings about him would be much more positive than they have generally been.
I cringe when Andrew drives inside and throws up a wild shot, but I always wonder if that’s a matter of bad judgment or selfishness, or if he’s merely following the orders of John Calipari.
I suspect Andrew is a good guy who cares much more than he’s given credit for.
Odds Andrew will leave for the NBA: 50 percent. I don’t believe he could make an NBA roster this coming season, which just means he’d go overseas for more development.
Aaron Harrison (13.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) — Grade: B-.
Aaron obviously hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been consistently pretty good, which on this UK team qualifies as profuse praise.
Odds Aaron will leave for the NBA: 40 percent. Very unlikely he can make an NBA roster this year, but he also could go overseas and make a decent living. If he returns to UK, I believe Aaron would at least make an NBA roster after one more college season.
Dakari Johnson (4.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg) — Grade: B.
Johnson has C skills at this stage, but an A attitude. I love this guy because he plays so very hard and never seems to lose his spirit for the fight.
Odds Johnson will leave for the NBA: 30 percent. I think Johnson would be drafted in the second round this spring and make an NBA roster, just based on potential. But with one more year at UK, he’s a sure fire first-round pick.
Last: I have no idea what freshman forward Derek Willis, freshman center Marcus Lee or freshman guard Dominique Hawkins are thinking about their future at Kentucky — the media access to these guys is very limited — but if I was any of the three, I’d be angry. All three should have played more this season, and if I was them, I’d wonder if it’s going to get any better.
It might be a different story if Kentucky was 31-0 and ranked No. 1. But the Wildcats are 22-9 and unranked, looking at an eight seed. Willis, Lee and Hawkins deserve better.