By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
9:57 AM EDT, April 3, 2012
The next time college basketball fans see Kentucky, the newly crowned national champions will look a lot different.
So will the team the Wildcats will be facing – Maryland.
Neither the countdown nor the buildup for their Nov. 9 matchup at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., has yet to begin, but it’s interesting to speculate what each team will look like.
It’s a given that Kentucky will be starting nearly from scratch, as John Calipari’s teams seem to do on a now yearly basis.
Gone will be Final Four Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis, as well as fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is expected to go either right behind Davis at the top of the NBA Draft or possibly no worse than No. 3.
Considering the way NBA general managers have drafted off Calipari’s teams in Lexington, most if not all of this year’s starting lineup -- sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, as well as freshman Marquis Teague -- could be earning seven-figure paychecks next season. (OK, you can stop your snickering about them getting a small bump in pay from this year.)
As for next season, Calipari’s recruiting class is currently rated as low as 20th in the country – below Maryland according to some – but that could change dramatically if Nerlens Noel, a shot-blocker in the mold of Davis, and Shabazz Muhammad, a do-everything wing player like Kidd-Gilchrist, decide to play in Lexington. They are rated by many as the top two prospects in the country, and Anthony Bennett, another Kentucky recruit, is not too far behind.
(Quick side note on Noel: the five-star prospect's brother, Rodman, was a four-star defensive back who committed to Ralph Friedgen's Terps program in 2010. When Friedgen was dismissed and secondary coach Kevin Lempa wasn't retained, Noel and Maryland parted ways. He later signed with North Carolina State.)
If anything, the Terps will have a more experienced team going into next season’s opening game. While Mark Turgeon’s first recruiting class has Maryland fans excited – particularly 6-10 center Shaquille Cleare, who has drawn comparisons to Davis – there are probably not any one-and-doners in the bunch. But Maryland will have the athleticism and frontcourt depth to at least hold their own with the young Wildcats.
It will certainly be a statement game for the Terps as they look to get back in the Top 25 and eventually the NCAA tournament. An interesting subplot to the showdown at the Barclays Center, future home to the Brooklyn Nets, is the fact that Kentucky and Maryland appear to be the frontrunners for the Harrison twins, the junior guards from Houston (who played with Cleare on their father’s AAU team).
Oh, what the heck, let the countdown and buildup begin to Nov. 9.
Only 220 days to go.
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