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College Basketball Preview 2014-2015: 1. Kentucky Wildcats

1. Kentucky Wildcats (29-11 in 2013-2014, lost in National Championship Game) 
Willie Cauley-Stein

Projected Lineup:
G Aaron Harrison -- Sophomore
G Andrew Harrison -- Sophomore
F Alex Poythress -- Junior
F Trey Lyles -- Freshman
C Willie Cauley-Stein -- Junior
Sixth Dakari Johnson -- Sophomore

Once more expectations were extremely high in Lexington, Kentucky, to nobody's surprise. The Wildcats were bringing in the nation's top recruiting class (one that included stud prospects Julius Randle, along with the Harrison twins) and also had a number of veterans back (Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress). While youth and turnovers caused serious problems for Kentucky early, the Wildcats figured it all out at the right time of the season. They would go on a mad tournament run, one that included victories over Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, who were all Final Four teams in 2013. Well the run was impressive, a tough loss to Connecticut in the national championship motivated a number of Wildcats to return, including the Harrison twins, big men Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, along with forward Marcus Lee, who could be in store for a breakout season. Join that up with another fantastic recruiting class and once more, big things are expected for Kentucky.

BACKCOURT: Few incoming freshmen were as hyped as the Harrison twins were entering 2014. NBA scouts raved about their size, ability to attack the rim, and leadership ability. But, both struggled throughout much of last season. Both of the Harrisons were prone to mistakes, not too surprising for young newcomers granted the reigns of the offense. Though, they managed to figure things out and there was no denying how good they were in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Aaron, in especially, found his clutch gene and made two huge shots against Wisconsin in the Final Four and Michigan in the Elite Eight. It will be interesting to see how the pair matures this upcoming season. If they can develop a consistent jumper they have the chance to be scary; quick, deceptive ball handlers with the size to get to the rim and finish, reminds me of John Wall. John Calipari landed two stud guards in freshman Tyler Ulis and smart, hard-working shooting guard Devin Booker. Ulis might not see a ton of action this season, but there is loads of potential there. The extremely quick 5'9" ball handler is excellent in transition and moves well side to side. He has the chance to be a great defender; he has very quick hands the athleticism to keep up with some of the nation's top guards. The loss of wing scorer James Young hurts, but Booker could possibly make up for it. Young showed excellent versatility last season, proving to be a dangerous sharpshooter who can also was a great jumper and was around the rim often. While Booker isn't the shooter that Young was he has the chance to grow into one because he has a very quick release and has the long arms to extend over defenders. Depth could be a relative concern in the backcourt, as Calipari will almost certainly lean heavily on sophomore Dominique Hawkins, who has the potential to grow into one of the nation's top defenders. Hawkins saw action in 33 games lasts season and proved to be the team's most consistent defender. Hawkins excels on the defensive side because of his high basketball IQ, and his long arms.

FRONTCOURT: This is the best frontcourt in the entire nation, it is loaded with depth and impressive length, along with experience, something that has obviously been in short supply in Lexington in the Calipari era. Junior center Willie Cauley-Stein showed significant improvement when he was healthy last year, but he still has a long way to go. The seven-footer isn't the shot blocker that Anthony Davis nor Nerlens Noel were in their time with the 'Cats, but he is awfully good. Even though he isn't the most mobile big man in the world, his long arms allow him to make key blocks. Though, he really has to improve offensively. He still needs to get stronger to compete with some of the nation's top big men and he also has to develop a better touch all around the rim. Joining Cauley-Stein will be sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. Johnson does an excellent job of carving space on the low block, and he looked really good in the NCAA Tournament last season. He has the chance to be absolutely dominant on the boards, Lee will also certainly help on the glass as well. Lee, who showed real flashes last season, and he will be a great help on the offensive glass. He will most of his points on put backs and plays right around the rim, but he could really develop a more effective mid range, which would make his a pretty scary offensive weapon. Also returning is athletic wing Alex Poythress, who has struggled with consistency in his collegiate career. He is a great rebounder for his size, as he has the strength to really find space on the block. He will also be a major factor on the offensive glass, but it will be interesting to see if he can improve his jumper. Well all those vets will obviously make some important plays for Kentucky, NBA scouts are much more excited about the two newcomers in this recruiting class. Forward Trey Lyles is a rapidly improving prospect, who is rated as the No. 2 forward in this year's recruiting cycle. He has excellent shooting range with a long wingspan to help impact as a shot blocker. Center Karl Towns Jr. also has scouts drooling. The 6'11" big man is gifted with superb versatility. He moves extremely well for his size, has long arms and legs, is a physical specimen who also has a pretty developed mid range jumper.
Aaron Harrison
Trey Lyles, No. 2 PF in 2014 Class, Indianapolis, Indiana
Karl Towns Jr., No. 3 C in 2014 Class, Metuchen, New Jersey
Devin Booker, No. 3 SG in 2014 Class, Moss Point, Mississippi
Tyler Ulis, No. 4 PG in 2014 Class, Matteson, Illinois
(ratings, locations all according to ESPN)

This is a different breed of a Kentucky team. They have the experience, smarts and versatility that they have certainly lacked the last couple of years. With a scary frontcourt that has very impressive depth, and the expected improvement of the Harrison twins, this Kentucky team is the best team in the nation. If some shooters can emerge to stretch the floor for the Wildcats' talented big men, this team will score early and often. If Calipari can keep his team from struggling with complacency, the Wildcats will once more be playing in the National Championship game, this team hoisting the trophy.

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