Many college basketball teams that spend an entire season in the top 25 would consider their season a success; however, the Kentucky Wildcats are not just another team.
Coming off a season in which they won both the SEC regular season and tournament championships, as well as finished No. 2 in the AP rankings and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats find themselves three games behind Florida in the SEC East standings.
However, Kentucky has many positives to look at as it enters its matchup against Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena this Sunday. The Wildcats have won five of their last seven games since beating Tennessee at Rupp Arena and thrive on the talent of young players who continue to flourish as the season continues.
UK coach John Calipari's reputation for recruiting one-and-done recruits has brought success to Kentucky, as a strong recruiting class in 2009 brought in the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe, all of whom were first-round, NBA draft picks last summer.
The key contributors to the Wildcats' success this season are once again their freshmen. The Wildcats' leading scorers are point guard Brandon Knight and power forward Terrence Jones. Both players were key contributors to Kentucky's win on Tuesday over Vanderbilt.
"(Knight) wouldn't have been in the game a year ago, but he was good," Calipari said. "I thought Brandon, with a six-foot-seven guy guarding him, did a pretty good job. Terrence (Jones), the walks, some of those missed baskets, but here's the greatest thing: I had two freshmen on national television in a huge game go to the line and make both free throws. Think about that. Think about what we're asking our freshmen to do."
Both Knight and Jones have emerged as the leaders of a young Kentucky basketball team and have gained an understanding of how to close out close games and get the wins this season according to Calipari.
"When you are up three points with a couple seconds left, you have to find a way to dig down and make sure you come out with a win," Knight said. "Knowing that, we can do what we just did and can give our whole team confidence. It gives us a lot of confidence, because it was the first time we were able to get a win like this. Now we know what we need to be doing in situations like this."
In their earlier game against the Vols, the Wildcats will match up the freshman Jones against UT's top freshman, Tobias Harris. The biggest problem for the Wildcats is their lack of depth off the bench.
Calipari usually uses only a few players off the bench, while the Vols have a much more experienced bench. However, the Wildcats' strength comes in the play of Knight against the Tennessee point guards. Much of the Wildcats success has come from Knight, whereas the Vols have not seen the same result from their point position.