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Incoming Kentucky freshmen confident they can repeat as national champs

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Kentucky is one of those programs that reloads as opposed to rebuilding, with the 2011-12 group hanging the program’s eighth national title banner.

And the incoming class isn’t backing away from the expectations that come with putting on the Kentucky jersey.

If anything, based on what their three representatives at the Jordan Brand Classic had to say to the Sporting News the freshmen will embrace the challenge.

Three of John Calipari’s incoming freshmen are five-star recruits: Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress, with 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein completing the group (right now).

“You’re following in the footsteps,” Poythress said. “They’re setting the standard high, so you’ve got big shoes to fill. And I feel that we can fill them.”

Noel noted that one of the biggest factors in his decision to choose Kentucky was the success that this past season’s young team experienced, providing a clear signal to other blue-chip prospects that a quick stop in college can also include a national title.

“Just the success they had with younger players going out there and winning a national championship, that’s not easy with five or six freshmen,” Noel said. “Just seeing what they did with that, and what coach Calipari does is real successful, and I think I can go there with Archie and Alex and Willie and be successful the same way there were.”

But the one key aspect of the national championship team that this incoming group will need to replicate is their team chemistry.

It’s been believed that having so many players who seem focused on getting to the NBA quickly can lead to individual agendas usurping the team goal, but that never happened with Calipari’s 38-2 squad.

“We’re going to be able to work together,” Goodwin said. “I know we are because (Noel is) a team player and I’m a team player and Alex is a team player and Willie’s a team player. There are going to be a lot of amazing things that happen.”

There’s still room for more talent in Lexington, and with that in mind both Goodwin and Poythress began to work on uncommitted forward Anthony Bennett following Noel’s decision.

Land Bennett and Kentucky will have more than enough talent to make a run at a ninth national title. But as their eighth national champion displayed, chemistry is just as important as skill.

Photo credit: Mark L. Baer/US Presswire

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: