Kentucky has four heralded freshmen on its roster, but no returning starter to lead them like last year's squad benefited from — rookies and consensus All-Americans Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had veterans such as Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb as mentors.
"Last year's team was a little unique in that, they had some vocal guys right away that would talk and scream and yell and get the other guys to talk," Calipari said of the team's communication earlier this season. "We had to get them to where they talked and they took great pride in who they were and what they were about as a team. We're trying to get us to that point but it's taking time."
Star freshman center Nerlens Noel, leading a recruiting class including 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, often set the tone for Kentucky with energy and standout shot-blocking skills. He was leading the nation with 106 rejections before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 12 that shifted the Wildcats' fortunes.
After he was sidelined, the Wildcats were a .500 team.
Kentucky struggled even with the 6-foot-10 Noel in the lineup. The Wildcats started this year ranked No. 3 behind Indiana and Louisville, but fell out of the Top 25 after going 4-3 to start the season.
They climbed back into the rankings at No. 25 on Feb. 11 before Noel tore his ACL in a loss at Florida the next night. Kentucky went 4-4 without him, including a 30-point drubbing at Tennessee and three other double-digit losses away from Rupp Arena.
Ultimately, those losses outweighed the Wildcats' quality wins over Florida and Missouri and finishing second behind the Gators during the regular season to clinch the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament.