Patterson's decision affects three lineups
Get ready for a little Villanova-brand basketball in Lexington, Ky., the kind of attacking, guard-heavy, prolific perimeter scoring the Wildcats flourished with two seasons ago.
Kentucky's signing of 6-foot-8 Patrick Patterson on Wednesday allowed the Wildcats to get at least one power player in the post. That signing made new coach Billy Gillispie feel even more at ease to unleash a potential four-guard lineup at times during his first season with the Wildcats.
Granted, there don't appear to be any Randy Foyes or Allan Rays (or, who knows, even a Kyle Lowry) on the squad, but the Kentucky guards still will get their share of points.
"We'll be an attacking team; we'll attack the basket, different than we've played in the past," Gillispie said Thursday. "I'm learning the personnel as we go. I haven't had too many days to evaluate.
"We could play four guys at once, no question about it, and I definitely think we will. We'll be a fast team, a chance to be a real fast team."
The beauty of the Wildcats' frontcourt is that all the players are mobile. Gillispie envisions Patterson and returnee Perry Stevenson (the Wildcats also have Jared Carter back from an injury and signees A.J. Stewart and Mike Williams) running quite easily with the guards.
"Stevenson has some perimeter skills and Patrick can play with a real fast team, so can Carter," Gillispie said.
Gillispie said he had seen Patterson earlier in the year and last summer when he was the head coach at Texas A&M. And even though he wasn't going to get him (at A&M), he loved Patterson's persona.
"He's the perfect type of guy for me, a tough and athletic player," Gillispie said of the Huntington (W.Va.) High forward. "He plays real hard and should show leadership qualities from day one. We had a gigantic need [for him]."
The Wildcats lost Randolph Morris to the NBA after the season (because he went through the draft after his freshman season two years ago, he was a free agent). That's why it makes even more sense for Patterson to choose the Wildcats in this era of "I want to play as a freshman." Patterson's other two finalists were Florida and Duke. Each has at least one returning post player who is expected to be a major contributor (for Florida it's Marreese Speights and for Duke it's Brian Zoubek).
That's why getting Patterson was so key for Kentucky. It allows Gillispie to forge ahead for the first time (his two previous jobs were at UTEP and Texas A&M) with a ready-made roster to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth and possible conference title.
"There's no question this is absolutely different than the other two [jobs]," Gillispie said.
Meanwhile, how did Patterson's decision affect his other two finalists?
Florida: The Gators won't change too much without Patterson. Sure, they needed his size, his rebounding, his body and toughness inside. But Patterson's addition wouldn't have changed their primary problem -- experience. The two-time defending champs still will be strong from positions 1 through 4 (that's point to power forward) but will lack overall experience.
Gators assistant coach Larry Shyatt (and head coach Billy Donovan) isn't sure how the Gators will play next season but expect it to be much faster than last season, since they can't hunker down and feed Al Horford or Joakim Noah in the post.
Shyatt said the perimeter will be strong with signee Nick Calathes at the point, sharing the position with classmate Jai Lucas, and returning junior Walter Hodge, as well as signees Chandler Parsons, Adam Allen and returning sophomore Brandon Powell. The interior options are limited; expect the Gators to go smaller at times with returnees Dan Werner and Jonathan Mitchell as well as signees Alex Tyus and the one true post player in Speights. Speights had his moments during the title run when he held his own against stronger and more experienced players. The expectation is that he will shine with the focus on him in the post next season.
Patterson would have taken a ton of pressure off him and allowed the Gators to be more traditional, with Patterson at power forward and Speights in the post. Now they'll at times have to go smaller at the wing alongside Speights. But experience is still going to be the biggest issue for this squad as it tries to hang with Kentucky and Georgia (possibly Vandy) behind Tennessee in the SEC East. Of course, the Gators don't know yet whether they have a defender and game changer like Corey Brewer, or a 3-point dagger shooter like Lee Humphrey, a leader like Taurean Green or an invaluable sixth man like Chris Richard.
Duke: Losing out on Patterson was a rare occurrence for Duke. Usually Duke gets the player it covets. But this was a late charge as sophomore forward Josh McRoberts decided to stay in the NBA draft. There was certainly a need for Patterson inside to give Duke, like Florida, a traditional frontcourt.
But the Blue Devils are still incredibly high on Zoubek. The 7-foot rising sophomore played in 32 games last season and averaged 3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds behind McRoberts.
"We're expecting a big summer development from Brian," Duke assistant coach Chris Collins said. "We believe he's going to be a very good player and like all big guys, like Aaron Gray [the outgoing senior at Pitt], it just takes time."
Zoubek will be the main low-post threat for the Blue Devils, but they've got other smaller but still viable options inside such as rising sophomore Lance Thomas, junior-to-be David McClure and highly touted signee Kyle Singler, who can play a few different positions.
"We'll go with more swing-type players," Collins said.
Duke expects to be "very strong" with its seven perimeter options that include signees Nolan Smith and Taylor King (Singler will play plenty facing the basket), rising senior DeMarcus Nelson, junior-to-be point Greg Paulus and returning sophomores Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson. The seventh player in the rotation likely will be rising junior Martynas Pocius. Scheyer, Singler and Nelson could end up leading this team in scoring with Paulus another strong option in the top five. The sleeper here is Henderson, who could end up really blossoming as a sophomore into one of the top talents on this team.
"We have high hopes for Kyle and Taylor to shoot the ball to stretch the defense and help us score, which was a challenge for us last year," Collins said.
Patterson obviously would have helped Zoubek on the boards, an area that will likely be the responsibility of such athletic wings as Nelson and Henderson and forwards like McClure and Thomas.
"We've got a lot of talent to be successful," Collins said. "We don't have a physical low-post presence beside Zoubek."
That's where Patterson would have fit in, next to Zoubek, or for Florida, next to Speights. Instead, he's now the focal point in Lexington, where he'll be the primary post scorer on a team loaded with guards, which sounds a lot like Florida and Duke, too. Maybe it all worked out for everyone -- especially those in Kentucky -- so the Wildcats could have their primary post man, too.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.