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2014-15 Season Preview: Kentucky’s loaded rotation leads nation’s best front courts

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Karl-Anthony Towns is just one piece of a loaded Kentucky front court. (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

High-level big men aren’t a dime a dozen, and with that being the case the programs that have the benefit of multiple interior options tend to do well in college basketball’s most important month. Below are our ranking of the top front courts in the country heading into the 2014-15 season, with factors such as skill level, production and depth being considered. And just like last year, a certain SEC plower claims the top spot.

1. Kentucky: Similar to last season, juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are the most experienced pieces in John Calipari’s interior attack. However unlike last year they’ve got company, with a slimmer Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis back in Lexington as well. Add in two projected lottery picks in freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and the end result is the most talented and deepest interior rotation in college basketball. And Willis, who would see playing time for a lot of other programs, is expected by many to be on the outside looking in with regards to Kentucky’s expected “platoon” despite playing well during the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas.

2. Texas: Rick Barnes was assured of having one of the best front courts in the country when everyone, including Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, decided to return after helping lead the Longhorns back to the NCAA tournament. And then he received a verbal commitment from one of the best big men in the Class of 2014 in Myles Turner. The Longhorns have both depth and talent inside, and they’re experienced as well. Among the other returnees are center Prince Ibeh and forward Connor Lammert, and freshman Jordan Barnett’s no slouch either.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats will have to account for the departure of Aaron Gordon, but Gordon spending just one year in Tucson was expected to be the case from the moment he committed to join Sean Miller’s program. The Wildcats have a nice balance of depth, experience and talent, with starters Brandon Ashley being juniors and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson entering his sophomore season. Add in freshmen Stanley Johnson (he’s listed as a forward but is likely to see time at the two) and Craig Victor, and the end result is a group that is one reason why Arizona is expected to be a national title contender.

4. Kansas: No Joel Embiid for the Jayhawks, but while Bill Self and his staff will have to account for that loss they don’t lack for options. Junior Perry Ellis is one of the best players in the Big 12, and he’ll lead the way in a rotation that doesn’t lack for talent despit not have as many options as the teams above. Jamari Traylor has been in Lawrence for a couple years now, as has Landen Lucas, and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson gives them another options with Division I experence. And then there’s freshman Cliff Alexander, who arrives on campus as one of the most dominant players in the Class of 2014.

5. Wisconsin: The tandem of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky was outstanding last season, with the latter’s virtuoso performance in the Elite Eight getting the Badgers to their first Final Four since 2000. Dekker’s in line to put together a breakout junior season, and senior Duje Dukan and Nigel Hayes will fill out the rotation for the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten.

MORE: The nation’s top perimeter attacks

6. Duke: There’s no denying the fact that the Blue Devils add the best big man in the Class of 2014 in the form of freshman Jahlil Okafor, who did just about whatever he wanted at the prep level. But he isn’t the only freshman who arrives in Durham amidst much acclaim, with Justise Winslow expected to factor into the rotation as well. Amile Jefferson provides intangibles for Duke, who needs one of either Marshall Plumlee or Semi Ojeleye to take a step forward in what will be a competitive ACC.

7. LSU: The Tigers lost Johnny O’Bryant III from last year’s team, but it can be argued that pieces currently at Johnny Jones’ disposal fit together better despite not having their leading scorer and rebounder. Jordan Mickey was one of the SEC’s best freshmen in 2013-14, and classmate Jarell Martin may be the one who benefits most from O’Bryant’s early departure. LSU also adds 7-footer Elbert Robinson III, slender Aaron Epps and burly 6-foot-6 banger Brian Bridgewater to their front court rotation.


8. Louisville: The Cardinals will play their first season in the ACC with one of the most explosive athletes in college basketball in junior power forward Montrezl Harrell. The question: who will step up alongside the All-America candidate? Rick Pitino has some young talented options at his disposal, including sophomore Mangok Mathiang and freshman Chinanu Onuaku.

9. Gonzaga: Mark Few lost Sam Dower from last year’s WCC champion squad, but he gets to slide Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer into the rotation. And Wiltjer isn’t the only talented new addition, with Domatas Sabonis also expected to compete for minutes. They join junior 7-footer Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season.

10. SMU: The Mustangs return one all-conference selection in Markus Kennedy, and after being less than 100 percent for much of last season senior Yanick Moreira is coming off of an impressive summer with Angola’s senior national team. SMU also adds Xavier transfer Justin Martin, who adds versatility to the front court ranks, and senior Cannen Cunningham gives them additional depth and experience.


  • 11. Colorado: Josh Scott may be the best center in the Pac-12, and Xavier Johnson’s no slouch either.
  • 12. UCLA: The Bruins won’t have Jonah Bolden, but they will have fellow freshman Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh, and junior Tony Parker is back as well.
  • 13. North Carolina: If Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson take a step forward, this ranking will turn out to be too low.
  • 14. Memphis: Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols lead the way for a group that should see a major increase in post touches.
  • 15. Virginia: No more Akil Mitchell, but Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey return for the reigning ACC champions.
  • 16. Iowa State: Georges Niang leads the way with Dustin Hogue and Daniel Edozie being experienced options as well. Freshman Giorgios Tsalmpouris could help, and the mid-year addition of Jameel McKay will be big.
  • 17. Syracuse: Losing C.J. Fair hurts but Rakeem Christmas returns, Tyler Roberson could be a breakout candidate, and freshman Chris McCullough is a newcomer to keep an eye on.
  • 18. Iowa: Starters Aaron White and Adam Woodbury, and reserves Jarrod Uthoff and Gabe Olaseni all return to Iowa City.
  • 19. Florida: Chris Walker’s an enticing talent who had the benefit of a full offseason with the program. Dorian Finney-Smith is their best bet from a consistency standpoint, and transfers Alex Murphy and Jon Horford will help as well.
  • 20. NC State: Like UNC, this ranking could turn out to be too low by the end of the season. BeeJay Anya’s in far better shape than he was last season, and players such as Jordan Washington, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu will be factors as well.

The Chase for 180: A quest to find college basketball’s best shooter

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180”. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. No college basketball player accomplished that feat last season, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott did become a 180 shooter, with his 49.0% 3PT making up for shooting “just” 87.5% from the free throw line.

Below, listed in alphabetical order, are ten returning players likely to merit consideration this season. Later this month, we’ll begin providing weekly updates tracking this.

1) Sean Armand (Iona): 161.2 
2012-13: 16.6 ppg, 43.5% FG, 40.9% 3PT, 76.8% FT

Prior to Stephen Curry knocking down 11 three-pointers against the Knicks in February, who held the Madison Square Garden record for most three-pointers made in a game? That would be Armand, who’s back for his senior season after averaging 16.6 points per game in 2012-13. With Lamont “Momo” Jones out of eligibility, there may be more shot opportunities for Armand and he has the skill needed to take advantage.

2) Travis Bader (Oakland): 166.6
2012-13: 22.1 ppg, 39.4% FG, 38.6% 3PT, 88.6% FT

The field goal percentage is a little low, but keep in mind that Bader is asked to do a lot for the Golden Grizzlies on the offensive end of the floor. Bader finished the 2012-13 season with a shot percentage of 29.2%, leading Oakland in that statistical category by more than five percentage points. He’ll certainly get shots up, and if he can knock them down at a higher clip he’ll be a fixture on the list.

3) Jeff Elorriaga (Boise State): 159.1
2012-13: 10.2 ppg, 44.4% FG, 44.7% 3PT, 70.0% FT

Much of the attention during the preseason has been heaped upon Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks and with good reason, as those two are the feature offensive options for the Broncos. Don’t forget about Elorriaga, who has turned into one of the Mountain West’s best perimeter shooters. The question for Elorriaga: how many free throws will he attempt after shooting just 40 in 2012-13?

4) Corey Hawkins (UC Davis): 171.6
2012-13: 20.3 ppg, 47.4% FG, 40.0% 3PT, 84.2% FT

The son of Hersey Hawkins can light it up, as evidenced by his 41-point outing in a win at Hawaii last season. The junior, who began his collegiate career at Arizona State, reached double figures in 26 of the 28 games he played in. And in Big West play Hawkins shot 53.7% from the field, 52.5% from three and 81.1% from the foul line.

5) Tyler Haws (BYU): 174.1
2012-13: 21.7 ppg, 48.3% FG, 38.1% 3PT, 87.7% FT

Haws will be an All-America candidate this season, due not only to his ability to find (and create) quality looks but to also knock them down at a high rate. Haws dropped 42 on Virginia Tech last season, shooting 14-for-15 from the field (6-for-8 3PT) and 8-for-9 from the foul line. Failing to reach double figures just twice in 2012-13, there will be no shortage of quality looks for Haws this year.

6) R.J. Hunter (Georgia State): 158
2012-13: 17.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 36.5% 3PT, 77.6% FT

Hunter’s presence is one big reason why the Panthers are capable of winning the Sun Belt in their first season in the league. With a year of experience under his belt, Hunter should be even better-equipped to deal with the different looks opponents will show. And don’t underestimate the impact that Ryan Harrow’s arrival can potentially have on the quality of shots Hunter finds within the GSU offense.

7) Doug McDermott (Creighton): 191.3
2012-13: 23.3 ppg, 54.8%, 49.0% 3PT, 87.5% FT

McDermott is also one of the best players in the country, returning to Creighton to take on the new challenge that is the Big East. And while the level of competition is raised, McDermott will continue to find quality looks within the Bluejay offense. As a junior McDermott failed to shoot at least 40% from the field in just six of Creighton’s 36 games, and given how many shots he attempted (518) that’s rather impressive.

8) Preston Medlin (Utah State): 168.5
2012-13: 47.4% FG, 39.3% 3PT, 81.8% FT

Medlin played in just 16 games last season due to a broken wrist, but he’s healthy now and will once again be primary scoring option for the Aggies. Like McDermott he’ll have to get used to tougher competition, as Utah State makes the move from the WAC to the Mountain West, but he’ll be fine. As a sophomore (2011-12) Medlin shot 49.6% from the field, 42.8% from beyond the arc and 80.1% from the charity stripe.

9) Nik Stauskas (Michigan): 175.4
2012-13: 11.0 ppg, 46.3% FG, 44.0% 3PT, 85.1% FT

We’ve seen the videos of Stauskas’ shooting exploits, and he’s proven to be quite the marksman in game action as well. The Ontario native worked hard to expand his game during the offseason, and if the end result proves to be more quality looks from inside of the arc Stauskas will be a fixture on this list.

10) C.J. Wilcox (Washington): 160.1
2012-13: 16.8 ppg, 41.9% FG, 36.6% 3PT, 81.6% FT

By the time Wilcox’s senior season ends he’ll be Washington’s all-time leader in made three-pointers, and he can score from anywhere on the floor. But Wilcox’s staying power on this list could come down to how some of his teammates perform offensively; if they prove to be consistent threats the fifth-year season will reap the benefits in the form of higher percentage looks.

Five freshmen to keep in mind

1) Jabari Bird (California)

2) Conner Frankamp (Kansas)

3) Aaron Harrison (Kentucky)

4) Jabari Parker (Duke)

5) James Young (Kentucky)’s Top 100 Players: The Countdown

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The college basketball season officially kicks off on Friday, and at this point, we’ve given you just about all the season preview content that you can handle. We’ve counted down our Top 25 teams, we’ve released our Preseason All-Americans, we’ve ranked players at each position and we’re five leagues away from releasing previews for every conference.

What’s left?

Our Top 100 Players countdown.

Over the course of this week, we’ll be counting down our Top 100 list over at the official College Basketball Talk twitter account, @CBTonNBC. We’ll be embedding the tweets here as we go. So bookmark this page, follow CBT on twitter, and join us in the conversation using the hashtag #CBTtop100: