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October 31, 2012John Calipari can go big. He can go quick. He can throw his best shooters on the court at once.
The Kentucky basketball coach has a plethora of potential lineups from which to choose. And if recent practices are any indication, he might try every one of them in Thursday's exhibition opener Thursday against NAIA power Northwood (Fla.).
"You'll probably see a whole bunch of different lineups, I'm guessing," freshman forward Alex Poythress said.
It's an educated guess.
Calipari has been tinkering with lineup combinations since last week's Blue-White scrimmage, during which he scrambled second-half lineups, brewing up a few different concoctions.
He's been doing it in practice since, Poythress said, and Calipari "switches it around whenever he feels that he needs to." Starting with one five doesn't mean that's where you'll finish a practice session, and Poythress said Calipari has tried at least "four or five different lineups."
"Cal has been doing a great job of trying to get as many lineups together as possible so we can really get comfortable playing with each other, because there's so many new guys out there," forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "So it's not been one specific lineup. He's been really good at getting a lot of lineups together."
That versatility could keep UK's opponents guessing.
For now, the Wildcats are equally uncertain.
The three players available for interviews on Wednesday said Calipari's given not a hint as to who might start Thursday night at Rupp Arena.
"I honestly couldn't tell you," guard Julius Mays said. "Lately we've been practicing all different lineups so I don't know what he's went with or set his mind (to), but it could be possibly Archie (Goodwin), Ryan (Harrow), Alex, Nerlens (Noel) and Kyle or maybe Willie (Cauley-Stein) might start or maybe I might start, I don't know."
The possibilities are virtually limitless.
Calipari could go big with the 6-foot-10 and 7-foot Noel in the same lineup. He could put his best shooters - Wiltjer, Mays and Harrow - on the court at the same time to stretch the floor. He can slide Poythress from small forward to power forward, giving a bigger, slower defender a nightmare mismatch.
And what impressions have these countless combinations made on Calipari?
"None, really," Calipari said.
That's because Kentucky's defense is "awful right now," Calipari said, no matter the combination of players. At one point, Calipari said, he put Noel, Cauley-Stein and the 6-foot-7 Poythress in the same practice lineup and their team gave up three straight offensive rebounds.
"So then why am I playing you three?" Calipari said. "What are we talking about here?"
Still, Calipari sees some benefit in his lineup options. He remains intrigued by the possibility of playing Noel and Cauley-Stein together and promised that fans will see that combination at some point on Thursday.
Calipari said he's instructed Noel to slip to the paint defensively any time Cauley-Stein is away from the basket - and vice versa - so that the rim is protected no matter Kentucky's defensive alignment.
"So you're always going to have someone like 7-foot standing near the goal," Calipari said. "And then you tell the other guys, 'Make them drive.' How about that for genius basketball?"
That big lineup - Noel, Cauley-Stein and Poythress along with 6-2 Mays and 6-5 Goodwin - is among those Calipari has tinkered with the most, his players said.
"It was a big lineup in and he made us get more aggressive on defense," Mays said. "I think that was a good lineup but there's multiple lineups he's tried that have been very effective."
And for now, Calipari will keep trying them. He won't allow players to foul out of Thursday's exhibition, meaning he'll have the flexibility to play any player any number of minutes he wants - and in any spot on the floor.
"What I'm tinkering with is combinations," Calipari said. "So trying to figure out when these guys are in together how do we play? When that group is in together, how do we play? That's what we're trying to do."