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Never-Too-Early Top Freking 10: Kentucky on top


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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.

 

4. WISCONSIN

Key departures: Ben Brust (GS)

Key returnees: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig

Key newcomer: Ethan Happ

Analysis: The loss of Ben Brust, the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made, will hurt the team’s floor spacing, but with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes and Josh Gasser ready to make another Final Four run, the Badgers are the prohibitive favorites in the Big Ten. … Incoming frosh Ethan Happ is a 6-8 small forward whose measurables and stats don’t jump off the page, but that could be said of just about every Wisconsin player who wound up being a star under Bo Ryan.

 

5. NORTH CAROLINA

Key departures: James Michael McAdoo (EE), Leslie McDonald (GS)

Key returnees: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt

Key newcomers: Justin Jackson (9), Theo Pinson (15), Joel Barry (25)

Analysis: Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Barry form 247sports’ third-ranked recruiting class. ... Jackson, a 6-7 small forward out of Houston, will bring a welcome shooting touch to a team that ranked 339th in the nation in 3-pointers made. … Point guard Marcus Paige really took off late last year, notching 22.3 points per game and hitting 11 triples in UNC’s last four tilts.

 

6. KANSAS

Key departures: Andrew Wiggins (EE), Joel Embiid (EE), Tarik Black (GS)

Key returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason, Jamari Traylor, Conner Frankamp

Key newcomers: Cliff Alexander (3), Kelly Oubre (7)

Analysis: For most schools, losing Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, two surefire top-5 picks in the June NBA draft, would set the program back two seasons. But Kansas simply reloads with banked talent and more incoming studs. ... KU’s two-man 2014 class is a doozy. Cliff Alexander plays like a young Dwight Howard – dunking and blocking everything in sight thanks to an impressive combination of athleticism one simply cannot teach. And Kelly Oubre can step in immediately at small forward and replace some of the lost production from Wiggins.

 

7. TEXAS

Key departures: None

Key returnees: Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley, Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert

Key newcomer: Jordan Barnett

Analysis: Everyone is back from a surprise bunch that finished 24-11 and saved Rick Barnes’ job. The development of forward Jonathan Holmes (12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds) and point guard Isaiah Taylor (12.7 points, four assists) will add consistency to a team that alternated wins and losses in its last eight games.

 

8. VIRGINIA

Key departures: Joe Harris (GS), Akil Mitchell (GS)

Key returnees: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, London Perrantes

Key newcomer: B.J. Stith (59)

Analysis: There’s nothing eye-catching about the Cavaliers’ returnees in terms of points per game averages and things of that sort, but it’s putting the right pieces into the puzzle that made Virginia the regular and tournament champions of the ACC. Well, that and a defense ranked fifth in the nation by Kenpom. … B.J. Stith, an incoming freshman shooting guard, is the son of Bryant Stith, the school’s all-time leading scorer. No pressure, kid. If you’re wondering, Ralph Sampson, who won three national player of the year awards for the Cavaliers in the early 1980s, is fourth on the all-time UVA scoring list.

 

9. VILLANOVA

Key departures: James Bell (GS)

Key returnees: Darrun Hillard II, JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Echefu, Josh Hart

Key newcomers: Phil Booth (79), Mikal Bridges (82)

Analysis: Darrun Hillard II, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono provide plenty of ammo for the 3-happy regular-season champs of the Big East. The Wildcats shot 855 3-pointers last year, the fourth-most of any team in the country.

 

10. SOUTHERN METHODIST

Key departures: Nick Russell (GS)

Key returnees: Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy, Ben Moore, Yanick Moreira

Key newcomer: Emmanuel Mudiay (2)

Analysis: The Mustangs would’ve been an NCAA tournament team last year they had not played a nonconference schedule that ranked 295th in the country by CBS. ... The addition of Emmanuel Mudiay, an imposing physical force as a 6-5 point guard, makes Larry Brown-coached SMU the favorite in the American Athletic Conference.

 

>>Checking in with Indiana's four major college basketball programs.

Indiana

Key departures: Noah Vonleh (EE), Will Sheehey (GS), Evan Gordon (GS), Jeremy Hollowell (TR), Austin Etherington (TR)

Key returnees: Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea.

Key newcomers: James Blackmon Jr. (29), Robert Johnson (50), Max Hoetzel, Jeremiah April, Tim Priller

Analysis: James Blackmon Jr., whose exceptional scoring abilities I saw firsthand last summer during the Indiana-Kentucky Junior All-Star game at Greenfield-Central, should come in and start right away next to Yogi Ferrell in the backcourt. ... The recent additions of Jeremiah April, a seven-foot prep school prospect, and 6-9 stretch forward Tim Priller, are key because the Hoosiers had zero depth behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in the frontcourt. … The transfers of Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State) and Austin Etherington (Butler) pale in comparison in terms of effect on the program to the defection of assistant coach Kenny Johnson to Louisville. Johnson was instrumental in netting Blackmon Jr., Noah Vonleh, Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams, Robert Johnson and former IU standout Victor Oladipo.

 

Purdue

Key departures: Ronnie Johnson (TR), Terone Johnson (GS)

Key returnees: A.J. Hammons, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, Raphael Davis

Key newcomers: Isaac Haas (85), Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias

Analysis: I was shocked A.J. Hammons decided to return to school. He’s been through off-the-court trouble in West Lafayette, and is no longer a spring chicken, turning 22 on August 27. … The departure of Ronnie Johnson opens the door for Brebeuf point guard P.J. Thompson, an AAU teammate of Mt. Vernon star CJ Coleman, to get early playing time backing up Bryson Scott.

 

Butler

Key departures: Khyle Marshall (GS), Elijah Brown (TR), Erik Fromm (GS)

Key returnees: Kellen Dunham, Alex Barlow, Kameron Woods, Andrew Chrabascz

Key newcomers: Roosevelt Jones, Tyler Lewis, Kelan Martin, Austin Etherington, Tyler Wideman

Analysis: Roosevelt Jones isn’t technically a newcomer, but he didn’t play in 2013-14 following a wrist injury suffered last offseason. … Point guard Tyler Lewis is eligible in 2015-16 after playing two seasons at NC State. … Austin Etherington, a Hamilton Heights product, earned his bachelor’s degree in three years at IU, so he can play immediately and has two seasons of eligibility left.

 

Notre Dame

Key departures: Eric Atkins (GS), Garrick Sherman (GS)

Key returnees: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson

Key newcomers: Bonzie Colson, Martin Beben

Analysis: Jerian Grant decided to not follow his brother, Syracuse forward Jerami, to the NBA draft and will be back in South Bend. Grant was suspended for the rest of the season in late December for an “academic matter.” He was averaging 19 points at the time. The Irish (15-17) went 7-13 without Grant.

 

Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at gfreking@greenfieldreporter.com.

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