Top 25 Countdown: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

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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 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 1 Kentucky.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: John Calipari

Last Season: 29-11, 12-6 SEC (t-2nd), lost in the national title game to UConn

Key Losses: Julius Randle, James Young

Newcomers: Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker

Projected Lineup

G: Andrew Harrison, So.
G: Aaron Harrison, So.
F: Alex Poythress, Jr.
F: Karl Towns, Jr.
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Jr.
Bench: Tyler Ulis, Fr.; Trey Lyles, Fr.; Dakari Johnson, So.; Marcus Lee, So.; Devin Booker, Fr., Derek Willis, So.; Dominique Hawkins, So.

They’ll be good because … : They’re loaded.

I mean, we all know this by now, right?

I’m not breaking any news here, am I?

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Nine guys on this roster are McDonald’s All-Americans. As many as eight of them could end up being first round draft picks whenever it is they turn pro. We could talk about the fact that John Calipari is being forced into trying a platoon system in an effort to make sure that everyone on his roster is happy with their minutes, but if you really want to get a sense of how deep this Kentucky team is, think about Derek Willis: He’s a 6-foot-9 forward that was, at one time, a top 30 recruit in the country. No. 115, according to Rivals, in the final Class of 2013 rankings.

Derek Willis would start for all but about 25 teams in the country.

He’s essentially a walk-on with the Wildcats.

Think about that.

But they might disappoint because … : There are a number of concerns that I have about this Kentucky teams, so lets roll them out in bullet form:

  • First and foremost, I’m not convinced that the platoon system is actually going to work. When Kentucky faces teams that they should beat — Grand Canyon and Buffalo and Boston U. — it will be effective because the Wildcats simply are that much more talented. But what happens when they square off with teams that can actually beat them? Will Coach Cal be willing to give Marcus Lee or Trey Lyles their full rotations if they aren’t playing well? Will he be willing to play crunch time minutes without his five best players on the floor? If someone sees their minutes cut, will Cal be able to keep the peace in the locker room?
  • There is no natural small forward on this team. There are, however, six guys that play the four and the five spot. Alex Poythress is the guy that’s being forced into the role, but his natural position is as an undersized power forward. Lyles is really skilled for a power forward, but he’s a four through and through. Lee is, obviously, a four. The best lineup that Kentucky fields might end up having three guards on the floor. Who gets their minutes cut if Cal plays, say, Tyler Ulis and the Harrisons?
  • Karl Towns is better than Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein. Trey Lyles is better than Poythress and Lee. Ulis may be the best point guard on the roster. What happens if the freshmen end up getting all the minutes?
  • And lastly, I think that the Harrisons are going to have big years. I think that Aaron will be the team’s best perimeter scorer and Andrew will take control of the team at the point guard spot. But there’s no guarantee that they make that leap.

Outlook: It’s not going to be easy for Coach Cal to keep everyone happy. It’s not going to be easy for him to maintain the chemistry in the locker room. It’s not going to be easy for him to convince a kid that expects to be a first round pick that sitting on the bench in college is a good thing for him just because it’s a good thing for the team, but it’s what Cal is going to have to do.

But I will say this: Coach Cal’s issues are enviable. Having to keep everyone happy because there are too many good players is a much, much better problem to have than finding a way to win with guys that simply aren’t good enough.

Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the SEC title. Anything less than a league title and a trip to the Final Four would be a disappointment.

Oklahoma lands commitment from four-star prospect Jalen Hill

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Lon Kruger continues to assemble a monster 2019 recruiting class.

The Sooners received a commitment Thursday from Jalen Hill, a four-star wing from Las Vegas, to bolster a group that already is among the best in the country.

Hill chose the Sooners after visiting earlier this month. He had also visited TCU and had trips scheduled to DePaul and St. John’s. He also sported offers from Oregon, Arizona and Illinois. The 6-foot-7 small forward announced his decision at his school Thursday.

“I thought that it was just the best fit for me,” Hill told Rivals. “The the players over there are great and I just loved the coaching staff, really. They let you rock over there and let you be you.”In terms of everything else, they didn’t have a lot of wings coming back at that position. They compared me to Buddy Hield a little and said they might use me as a shooting guard and as a small forward.”

Hill averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in the EYBL with the Las Vegas Prospects. He’s the latest edition to Oklahoma’s 2019 class that already includes two top-100 prospects. De’Vion Harmon, a top-50 point guard from Texas, committed to Kruger and Co. last November while Victor Iwuaker, a top-100 forward also from Texas, pledged earlier this month. It’s a consensus top-10 class.

It’s hard to call Kruger underrated given the success he’s had in the college ranks and his stint in the NBA, but even with that recent Final Four run and the Trae Young Experience last year, the Oklahoma coach rarely seems to get his due as one of the top coaches in the country. He keeps winning – both on the floor and the recruiting trail.

Gonzaga lands commitment from top Lithuanian prospect

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Gonzaga has landed their third commitment in the Class of 2019, as Martynas Arlauskas, a 6-foot-6 Lithuanian wing, announced that he will be heading to Spokane for college instead of signing a professional contract.

Arlauskas ranks 42nd in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports, although he does not show up in their composite rankings; not even recruiting outlet ranks foreign prospects in their top 100. He spent last season played with the second division team from BC Zalgiris, one of the biggest clubs in Lithuania. He averaged 5.2 points as an 18-year old.

The last player Gonzaga recruited from Lithuania was Domantas Sabonis.

A skilled perimeter that is at his best playing on the wing, Arlauskas is the third member of Gonzaga’s 2019 recruiting class, joining Anton Watson, a top 50 prospect from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, and three-star guard Brock Ravet.

Oklahoma lands four-star 2019 forward Victor Iwuakor

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Oklahoma landed its second four-star prospect in the Class of 2019 on Wednesday as forward Victor Iwuakor pledged to the Sooners.

The 6-foot-7 Iwuakor is a long-armed, undersized forward who has the strength and motor to still compete against other players on the interior. Rivals rates Iwuakor as the No. 116 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, as he joins top-40 point guard De’Vion Harmon in Oklahoma’s group.

Iwuakor is a great start to rebuilding Oklahoma’s frontcourt as they have a lot of scholarships to work with in this class. Now with two four-star prospects in the fold, head coach Lon Kruger is continuing to recruit at a high level — which is also a good sign that they’re capitalizing on Trae Young’s successful season becoming a top-five pick. Oklahoma was in a recruiting battle with Baylor and Texas Tech for Iwuakor, as all three schools received official visits, but the Sooners were able to pull the promising forward out of Texas.

Report: Oklahoma State’s Michael Weathers, arrested and suspended

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Oklahoma State has suspended potential go-to player Michael Weathers indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with felony grand larceny and knowingly concealing stolen property.

According to a police report obtained by CBSSports.com, Weathers is accused of stealing a wallet with a debit card and credit card, among other things, from a local bar called J.R. Murphy’s on Sept. 9. The estimated stolen value is $85, according to the incident report. Weathers was released on recognizance bond on Sept. 10 and arraigned Sept. 11 as a preliminary hearing for the case set for Oct. 1.

A transfer guard from Miami of Ohio, the 6-foot-2 Weathers was the MAC Freshman of the Year following his season with the RedHawks in 2016-17. He put up 16.7 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks per game as the stat-sheet stuffing guard was expected to be a major contributor for the Cowboys this season. Weathers often had his practice performances praised by Oklahoma State coaches last season while he sat out a transfer year.

If Weathers misses any sort of significant time from this, then it will undoubtedly hurt the Cowboys’ perimeter rotation as he could be facing a suspension. We’ll have to see how everything with this plays out in court, but Weathers being suspended indefinitely so close to the start of the season doesn’t help Oklahoma State.

Tennessee beats Duke to commitment for five-star prospect

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Tennessee’s Rick Barnes is up to his old recruiting tricks.

The man that brought the likes of Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford to Texas, the coach that is currently the reigning SEC regular season championship, has gotten things going in the Class of 2019 as five-star guard Josiah James committed to Tennessee on Wednesday.

James picked the Vols over Clemson and Duke. He visited Tennessee the first weekend of September and took a trip to Clemson last weekend before cancelling his visit to Duke and announcing his commitment.

A top 15 prospect in the Class of 2019, James is a 6-foot-6 left-handed combo-guard. He’s more of a smooth athlete than he is super-explosive, but he has a strong frame that can absorb contact, the vision to create for teammates and the tools to be a switchable and versatile defensive piece. He needs to get more skilled — he’s not a great shooter, and while he is a good passer and creator, his handle could stand to get better if he truly wants to be a lead guard — but the potential is there for James to blossom into a first round pick one day.

James is the third commitment for Tennessee in the Class of 2019, joining a pair of three-star forwards in Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines.

This has been an incredible 12-month stretch for Barnes.

In his third season as the head coach of Tennessee, he took the Vols to a share of the SEC regular season title with a team that didn’t have a single player on the roster that was a top 100 prospect in high school. Everyone of significance from that team returned to the program, meaning that Barnes now has a preseason top 10 team heading into the 2018-19 season.

And now he’s beating out the likes of Duke and Michigan State for a five-star, potential one-and-done player?

Impressive.