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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: It’s about that time for college hoops

It’s about that time when college basketball will be in full effect, which means it’s time to preview how the landscape of the game looks around the nation. Right off the bat, a pair of Wildcats come to mind at the top of the college hoops ladder: the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats and the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats.

Kentucky is fresh off a national championship appearance, losing to UConn 60-54, and unquestionably has the most-talented roster in the nation. Kentucky head coach John Calipari usually recruits in waves, because he knows players are likely one-and-done. Well, Calipari recruited in waves, but those players who were likely one-and-done returned this year.

As a result, Calipari will implement a platoon system where five players will sub in for the starting lineup. It’s not common at the collegiate level, but Kentucky has a bench unit that could start on the majority of other Power-6 teams.

The 10 members of that platoon system are: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein, Tyler Ulis, Dakari Johnson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Marcus Lee and Devin Booker.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the Kentucky Wildcats are the most talented team in the nation from top to bottom, and they have as good a chance as anyone to go undefeated this season.

The Arizona Wildcats may have lost Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, but this year’s squad is deeper than last year’s team ever was. By combining a highly ranked recruiting class with a group of experienced returnees, it’s no surprise these Wildcats are ranked No. 2.

Behind a defense that figures to be one of the best in the nation, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has a squad talented enough to bring home the program’s second national championship.

Rounding out the rest of the top five are the Wisconsin Badgers, the Duke Blue Devils and the Kansas Jayhawks.

Wisconsin advanced to the Final Four last season and returns almost everyone, including skilled big man Frank Kaminsky and crafty wing Sam Dekker. Kaminsky may have averaged just 13.9 points per game last year, but the 7-footer came up huge in the tournament and led the Badgers on their deep run.

Duke may have lost super freshman Jabari Parker, but Mike Krzyzewski recruited a great group of freshmen to replace the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The class, headlined by Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, complements a young Duke roster that has just one senior who figures to play meaningful minutes, Quinn Cook.

No team in the nation lost more top-level talent than the Kansas Jayhawks did. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were the Jayhawks’ two best players and ended up as the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks in the 2014 NBA draft, respectively. That doesn’t even account for the loss of Tarik Black and Naadir Tharpe.

Luckily for Kansas fans, Bill Self is one of the best recruiters in college basketball. Self hauled in another top-10 recruiting class, headlined by power forward Cliff Alexander and small forward Kelly Oubre.

The fact that Kansas is still No. 5 in the nation shows just how great of a coach and recruiter Self is.

The rest of the top 10 is full of powers like No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Florida and No. 8 Louisville. All three programs are hoping to advance deep into the tournament and have the talent to do it. UNC has do-it-all point guard Marcus Paige, Florida has a handful of talented guards and Louisville has physical specimen Montrezl Harrell.

The rest of the top 25 is full of established mid-majors, such as the No. 11 Wichita State Shockers, No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs, No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones, No. 15 VCU Rams and No. 24 Harvard Crimson. Mixed in between those mid-majors are traditional powers, including the No. 17 Connecticut Huskies, No. 18 Michigan State Spartans, No. 20 Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 23 Syracuse Orange and No. 24 Michigan Wolverines.

Of that group, Wichita State, Gonzaga and Michigan seem most likely to crash the national championship party, as each team has the talent to make some noise.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is apparent: It’s college basketball season. Sit back, relax and prepare yourselves for one hell of a ride.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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