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Can John Calipari and Kentucky overcome striking out in spring recruiting?

Next year's Wildcats will still be one of the most talented teams in the country, but it won't be like last year.

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Let's be upfront with the first thing you need to know about Kentucky's 2015 recruiting class: Every other coach in the country would love to have it. The four-man class John Calipari has coming in for next season is ranked No. 2 overall by 247 Sports. It features two consensus five-star players, a four-star wing and a three-star shooter. The haul is impressive:

  • Skal Labissiere is either the No. 1 or No. 2 player in the class of 2015, depending on whom you ask. Kentucky couldn't have found a better replacement for Karl-Anthony Towns. Labissiere is a 7-footer with shooting touch, athleticism and shot blocking ability. He's skinner than Towns, and more of a face-up player than a post-up bully. He could be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
  • Isaiah Briscoe is a bulldog of a lead guard. The New Jersey product is a stout 6'3, 200 pounds, and has the explosive scoring ability to carry a team offensively for an entire game. He was a McDonald's All-American, competed in the Nike Hoops Summit and was ranked as the No. 13 player in the class by ESPN.
  • Charles Matthews won't be a one-a-done like the highly touted Chicago products who came before him (Anthony Davis, Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, ect.), but he's a do-it-all wing who should be able to grow under Calipari and contribute for four years.
  • Mychal Mulder, a JUCO transfer, shot better than 46 percent from three-point range last season. He gives Kentucky the shooting it lost when Devin Booker declared for the draft.

So, why does a recruiting class as stacked as this one still feel like a vague disappointment? Why did Calipari's declaration that he'll never platoon again feel like spin control?

At Kentucky, the rules are different. After landing seven McDonald's All-Americans in the class of 2014 and reloading with Towns, Booker, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles last season, Calipari has raised expectations on the recruiting trail to such an absurd degree that even the No. 2 class in the country feels like a down year.

Can Kentucky recover from this? It's a more legitimate question than you might think.


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When the McDonald's All-American Game was played in Chicago on April 1, eight of the game's 24 players had yet to pick a college. Waiting to commit is an advantage the best recruits in the country are allowed, giving them the ability to see who leaves for the NBA, who transfers and how the coaching carrousel turns before making a decision.

At that point, Kentucky was 38-0. Days earlier, the Wildcats had beaten Notre Dame in a heart-stopping finish. They were on their way to the Final Four and they were the heavy favorites to win it all.

You know how the rest played out. Kentucky lost a nail-biter to Wisconsin, its top seven scorers declared for the NBA and suddenly Calipari had a lot of holes to fill.

It seemed like everything would be fine. There were enough blue chip prospects still on the table, and Calipari had proven himself to be the ultimate closer. Over the next month, each prospect would come off the board one by one.

First, Thomas Bryant picked Indiana. Then Caleb Swanigan picked Michigan State, Ivan Rabb picked Cal and Stephen Zimmerman picked UNLV. Malik Newman picked Mississippi State, Brandon Ingram chose Duke, Cheick Diallo went with Kansas and, finally, Jaylen Brown committed to Cal last Friday.

Against all odds, Kentucky was shut out in the spring period.

Calipari quickly pivoted to add Mulder, and he made a late push for Shaun King, an athletic forward from North Carolina, who eventually chose NC State.

Going after a JUCO player and a guy who can't be found on recruiting rankings told you everything you needed to know about Kentucky's new reality. This is supposed to be a program that runs on blue chips. Next season, Cal's Wildcats will be a few blue chips short.

That's not to say Kentucky is doomed -- not at all. Things will just be different. The overwhelming depth and talent advantage the Wildcats had last year will be gone. In its place will be a tighter rotation -- probably seven or eight guys --made up almost exclusively of elite-level talents. Kentucky will still start the season ranked in the top 10. Most agree the 2015-16 season is wide open, which means Kentucky should have another shot at the Final Four.

If nothing else, this year's mild disappointment in recruiting just goes to show how special last season's team was. Maybe Calipari will bounce back with a loaded class of 2016. Maybe he'll just have to made it work with a couple McDonald's All-Americans instead of a roster full of them.

Kentucky isn't going anywhere, but it won't be competing for undefeated season next year, either. With LSU loading up with blue chip players and Texas A&M turning in one of the country's most surprising recruiting classes, the SEC won't be a cake walk, even with Billy Donovan off to the NBA.

If that counts as a disappointment, maybe the bar was always set a little too high.