Jon Rothstein: ‘Ceiling For Kentucky Isn’t Even Close To Being Reached’

There are a lot of really good teams in college basketball this year. Duke (8-0), Arizona (10-0) and Louisville (9-0) are all undefeated and ranked in the top four.

But there’s a reason that Kentucky (11-0) received 65 out of 65 first-place votes in this week’s AP Poll.

That reason? This could be the most talented team college basketball has seen in the last 20 or 30 years – and maybe even longer than that.

“Well, let’s look at this really from a talent perspective,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein said on Tiki and Tierney. “Before Alex Poythress got injured last week and tore his ACL, Kentucky had nine McDonald’s All-Americans – and that didn’t include Willie Cauley-Stein, who’s been unequivocally Kentucky’s best player. Right now, you have a team that has eight McDonald’s All-Americans and Willie Cauley-Stein – because they don’t have Alex Poythress anymore. So even though you lost a guy that was a consensus top-20 player coming out of high school and somebody that would have been a first-round pick, it doesn’t really affect you because you have so much talent surrounding him.”

Yes, the balance of this Kentucky team is remarkable. Cauley-Stein (10.7 points per game), Aaron Harrison (10.2), Dakari Johnson (9.2), Devin Booker (9.1), Karl-Anthony Towns (8.5), Trey Lyles (7.8) and Andrew Harrison (7.6) are all averaging north of 7.5 points per game – and none plays even 25 minutes per contest.

Kentucky has played three ranked teams this season: then-No. 5 Kansas, then-No. 6 Texas and then-No. 21 North Carolina. Average margin of victory? A robust 19.3 points.

“Here’s one thing that the college basketball fan needs to take into consideration,” Rothstein said. “Prior to Alex Poythress getting injured, John Calipari was not putting out on the floor his best possible lineup to win a basketball game. He was putting lineups on the floor to placate the 10 members of his rotation because he had to get everybody minutes. Because let’s face it: In the platoon system that he was using, Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles were power forwards who were masquerading as small forwards. Now all of a sudden, you’re seeing some spot time for Trey Lyles at small forward, but you’re going to see more of a conventional-type perimeter, which could really, really affect Kentucky’s explosiveness at the offensive end of the floor. You’re going to see more Tyler Ulis at the point and Andrew and Aaron Harrison on the wing, and you’re also going to see Devin Booker play alongside the Harrisons.”

Booker, in case you were wondering, is shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range and was a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown in Kentucky’s 84-70 win over the Tar Heels this past Saturday.

“John Calipari told me last Saturday after they beat North Carolina that (Booker) could be the best first-year shooter that he’s ever coached,” Rothstein said. “So I think the ceiling for Kentucky isn’t even close to being reached from what we’ve seen so far through 11 games.”

Indeed, it’s only mid-December, and already everyone else could be playing for second place.

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