Unexpected returnees have UK primed for title No. 9




Sunday was the last day for early entrants to declare their NBA draft intentions, so we now have a pretty good idea of whose rosters were restocked and who was left scrambling. Familiar names dot the top of the list, and I added my thoughts on the big four Indiana schools. Behold: the Never-Too-Early edition of the Top Freking 10 teams for 2014-15.

Abbreviation key: GS=graduating senior; EE=NBA early-entrant; TR=transfer; JC=junior college player; INT=international player; (#)=incoming freshman’s place on 247sports.com’s class of 2014 rankings.

 

1. KENTUCKY

Key departures: Julius Randle (EE), James Young (EE), Jarrod Polson (GS)

Key returnees: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee

Key newcomers: Trey Lyles (8), Karl Towns Jr. (10), Devin Booker (23), Tyler Ulis (30)

Analysis: John Calipari could have envisioned one, maybe two of the Andrew Harrison-Aaron Harrison-Willie Cauley-Stein-Alex Poythress-Dakari Johnson quintet returning to Lexington, but all five? Given the 40-0 hype coming into this past winter, I didn’t think the hullabaloo surrounding the ‘Cats could get any larger, but with five major contributors coming back off a national title appearance – Calipari now has nine, count ‘em nine McDonalds’s All-Americans at his disposal next winter – the pressure will really be on to deliver national title No. 9. … Kentucky, second in the nation in rebound margin and blocks in 2013-14, will be obscenely deep in the frontcourt, with veterans Cauley-Stein, Poythress, Johnson and Marcus Lee supplemented by the additions of Indiana Mr. Basketball Trey Lyles and the floor-stretching Karl Towns Jr. It’s inevitable that someone will be the odd man out in the rotation, and it will be interesting to see how Calipari handles that crisis when it eventually happens.

 

2. DUKE

Key departures: Jabari Parker (EE), Rodney Hood (EE), Tyler Thornton (GS), Andre Dawkins (GS)

Key returnees: Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee

Key newcomers: Jahlil Okafor (1), Tyus Jones (5), Justise Winslow (12), Grayson Allen (33)

Analysis: The crown jewel of Duke’s top-ranked recruiting class, Jahlil Okafor is a taller, more athletic version of former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger and immediately becomes the best center in college hoops. Last summer for Team USA’s U19 squad, Okafor – playing alongside future teammates Rasheed Sulaimon and Justice Winslow – averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds as the Americans went 9-0 to win the U19 World Championship. … Tyus Jones, attached at the hip with Okafor during their recruitment, is cut off the block as stud Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. … Coach K will have to get the Blue Devils, ranked 116 in Kenpom.com’s defensive efficiency rankings, to play better defense if a Final Four run is in order next spring.

 

3. ARIZONA

Key departures: Aaron Gordon (EE), Nick Johnson (EE)

Key returnees: T.J. McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Gabe York

Key newcomers: Stanley Johnson (6), Craig Victor (34), Parker Jackson-Cartwright (57), Kadeem Allen (JC), Dusan Ristic (INT)

Analysis: The Wildcats, Kenpom’s top-ranked defensive team this season, should still be a defensive powerhouse in 2014-15, even without the versatile Aaron Gordon and athletic Nick Johnson. Reading over scouting reports of incoming freshman wing Stanley Johnson, he seems like very a similar player to Gordon. Johnson appears to be a better shooter, but can’t match Gordon’s handle. … The return of Brandon Ashley, averaging 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds before a foot injury ended his season in early February, restocks the frontcourt. Arizona darn near made the Final Four sans the 6-8 sophomore, falling in the Elite Eight to Wisconsin. … If he doesn’t start over Gabe York, Kadeem Allen will bring firepower to what will be a deeper Zona squad. The 6-3 Allen, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining after transferring in from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, averaged 25.9 points last winter en route to being named the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Player of the Year.

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