ESPN – Alex Poythress tore the ACL in his left knee during Thursday’s practice and will miss the rest of the season for top-ranked Kentucky, the school announced Friday morning.
A date for surgery has not been set, but recovery typically takes six to eight months.
Kentucky plays No. 21 North Carolina on Saturday.
Poythress’ injury causes a major shakeup to Calipari’s two-platoon system, where the 6-foot-8 junior was averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
Big blow for the Wildcats on Thursday as junior forward Alex Poythress suffered an ACL tear in his left knee and will be out for 6-8 months. Poythress is only averaging 5.5ppg and 3.8rpg, but those numbers are down because of Kentucky’s extreme depth. Only one player on the entire roster is scoring double figures (Willie Caulie-Stein, 10.8ppg). The biggest issue for Coach Calipari here is that he’s losing his most experienced player and defensive anchor. Poythress turned down a chance to enter the draft last year (yes, he would have been drafted) to come back and win a title. Knowingly sacrificing minutes and stats, he still came back.
As you’ve probably heard, Calipari has been using a 5-man platoon system this season in favor of the usual man-for-man substitutions. Poythress has been a constant in these platoons, mixing in with different shifts and leading his young teammates on defense. The Wildcats no longer have that luxury and now the de facto leader is fellow junior and Kentucky veteran Caulie-Stein. Willie is a damn good center and future first round pick, but this goofy mofo ain’t leading UK to the promise land. It’s time for the Harrison twins, and a few others, to step up defensively and vocally.
My money is on undersized rookie point guard Tyler Ulis to take the reins as the team’s “glue guy.” A 5’8 firecracker from Chicago who exudes contagious energy on the floor, Ulis has displayed a high basketball IQ for a freshmen point guard. He’s lightning quick and can flat out light it up. But most importantly for UK, Ulis is a dynamic passer with great court vision. On a roster full of giants and scorers, he’s the one guy who can create for everyone else. He flew under the recruiting radar for a while because of his (lack of) size, but he was a well known commodity is Chicago high school hoops circles. Calipari has a history of guiding young Chi-town products towards stardom and I think we’ll see Ulis take his game to the next level as he gets more comfortable. There’s a lot of Chris Paul in this kid; he might be the most important piece of UK’s success this season.
With Poythress out, Saturday’s matchup against UNC is even more interesting. I still think UK wins, but I’m much less inclined to bet on the Cats if they’re favored by more than five points. This game will go a long way in determining who is going to fill the void as the defensive floor general.
As for Poythress, hopefully all goes well throughout the rehabilitation process and he comes back next year stronger than ever. The kid is a workhouse and physical specimen so I have no doubt that he’ll bounce back. This type of injury makes you realize how circumstantial the life of an athlete can be. A guy who was considered one-and-done or a a two-year player, tops, will now be Cal’s first blue chip recruit to spend four seasons at Kentucky.
P.S. – If UK survives the non-conference schedule undefeated they could easily run table, given that it’s a down year for Florida and the rest of the SEC stinks, but I’m not sold on them winning it all. I think they lose at Louisville on December 27th. If that doesn’t happen, the Cats aren’t beating the Cards for a second time in March (or April). They’l have a tough time with Duke in March, too. Jahlil Okafor can eat UK’s bigs for dinner, and Tyus Jones is better than any guard on Kentucky’s roster. A second game against Kansas in the tournament will be tough too, although I would probably still pick the Cats there. Every team in the country has a lot of room to improve right now, but Kentucky’s problems are unique. With so many talented players getting important minutes, the Wildcats championship hopes depend on how well the different units can gel together and execute defensively. Duke and Louisville are further along at this point, but UK has the most upside if they can put it all together come springtime.
P.P.S – Hella long P.S.