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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: UA basketball should be top Wildcats

Rebecca Marie Sasnett
Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat during Arizona’s 2014-2015 Red and Blue Game at McKale on Saturday. The Red team won 53-46 against the Blue team.

On Halloween, the AP is expected to rank the Wildcats preseason No. 1 in men’s basketball, but it might be the wrong Wildcats.

Arizona is ranked No. 3 by Fox Sports, Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports, No. 2 by the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, Blue Ribbon and ESPN and No. 1 by the Sporting News. Kentucky is No. 1 in all of those except, of course, for Sporting News.

Preseason rankings don’t mean much, but remember, Kentucky was preseason No. 1 in the AP poll last year and made it to the national championship game. Arizona was sixth and lost in the Elite Eight, so maybe, just maybe, these two are on a collision course for another national championship game in Indianapolis.

Kentucky is loaded, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. UK returned all its stars from a national runner-up team last year except Julius Randle and James Young.

Meanwhile, Arizona lost two key players early to the NBA, Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.

According to ESPN, Kentucky had the No. 2 recruiting class this year and Arizona had the sixth best. Last year, ESPN ranked Kentucky’s recruits No. 1 and the UA’s fifth and had Kentucky’s class ranked second and Arizona’s third.

Kentucky’s roster features four freshmen, seven sophomores, two juniors and three seniors.

Meanwhile, the UA has four freshmen, three sophomores, five juniors and four seniors

Of those Arizona seniors, forward Drew Mellon is a walk-on, forward Ryan Anderson is ineligible this year after transferring from Boston College and forward Matt Korcheck won’t play much. The other senior is point guard T.J. McConnell, who is in his fifth year.

Kentucky’s top-two point guards, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, are a sophomore and a freshman, respectively. Harrison started 39 games last year and Ulis is a five-star recruit according to ESPN, but a fifth-year senior like McConnell is the better leader for a team.

UA head coach Sean Miller is excited about McConnell, the first returning starting point guard he has ever coached.

“I can’t believe in a point guard more than I believe in him,” Miller said.

Kentucky will also rely heavily on those freshmen. Arizona’s starting lineup figures to be two juniors, a senior, a sophomore and a freshman; the only freshman the Wildcats need is Stanley Johnson, the MaxPreps National Player of the Year.

Dusan Ristic can push junior Kaleb Tarczewski at center, forward Craig Victor can provide energy off the bench and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will give McConnell some time to rest during games, but this sixth-rated class is mostly reserves.

The biggest impact these rookies will have is on practices, making the competition for playing time brutal. This season will be a continual war for the gold jersey, which the UA player who does the best in practice gets to wear.

Meanwhile at Kentucky, John Calipari is going to employ a platoon system of two groups of five players.

If the platoon system works, it would be great for college basketball — impatient players would be less compelled to transfer. But if it worked before, people would be doing it. Line changes aren’t anything new; hockey has been doing it for ages.

It sounds like the royal blue Wildcats are eliminating that practice competition; all of those McDonald’s All-Americans will just get to play and not battle it out like the navy blue Wildcats.Arizona will sorely miss Nick Johnson and Gordon, but it returns junior forward Brandon Ashley, with whom it was 21-0 last year.

The UA is loaded and looks like a better bet to win the national championship than Kentucky. In fact, Calipari and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said Arizona should be No. 1 on an ESPN podcast.

After all, Calipari’s a bit of an expert on Wildcats.


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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