Thursday brought some terrible news to the number one ranked Wildcats. The team learned that junior forward Alex Poythress was lost for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Poythress sustained the injury without contact in practice on Thursday will shooting a lay-up. It will go down as a freak injury for Kentucky’s oldest starter. The question is can Kentucky shake off this injury and continue to play as the best team in the nation?
It will be a tough task but my initial thought is no. Poythress was a valuable cog in the system John Calipari runs which features two different lines of players that Coach Cal rotates in throughout the game. The two usually get mostly equal playing time. So when looking at Poythress’ numbers, it doesn’t look like Kentucky is missing much with him gone. The forward was only averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. When you factor in that he was only playing about half of every game, those numbers start to count a bit more. That becomes a chunk of that platoon’s effectiveness. This blow to the starting line hurts more than the numbers will show.
So that would be that, except then you look at Kentucky’s remaining schedule. The Wildcats only have two games remaining against ranked opponents. Coach Cal’s squad plays a UNC team on Saturday that has been struggling recently to score points. Kentucky has one of the nation’s best defenses and has routinely blown out opponents who cannot find a way to keep pace. The country’s top team then will travel to fourth-ranked Louisville for the battle of Kentucky in late December. That could be the only game Kentucky loses all year in the regular season. After that, they begin SEC play and the SEC does not have a single ranked team outside of the Wildcats. The only other difficult games on this schedule would be in a week against a high-scoring UCLA team or in early February when Kentucky travels to Gainesville to take on Florida. The Gators have lost a couple of close games early in the year but will be tough to beat on its home court.
Looking at this, the loss of Poythress definitely hurts the Wildcats but I still think college basketball’s deepest team will be a top-four team come Selection Sunday in March, earning a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. I think this team is still the safest bet to make the Final Four. I don’t know if Kentucky is all but a lock to win a National Championship anymore. The games coming up in the next two weeks will let us know how well Kentucky can adjust to not having Poythress. I think this team has enough talent to make up for it. Now we just have to wait and see.