1. Should wildly talented Kentucky advance directly to the “One Shining Moment” platform?
Yes, but let’s play the season anyway.
The Wildcats should be fabulous. Remember the 40-0 talk of last year? That was silly, as was amplified by three losses before Christmas.
It’s less of a ridiculous notion this year, with so many future pros on the roster, coach John Calipari created a platoon system, two teams to handle his nine McDonald’s All-Americas. The pipeline of talent backed up when Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein opted to return this season.
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That was added to another monster recruiting class that included three who earned five stars from Rivals.com: Karl Towns Jr., Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis.
“What I’m doing is right for these kids,” Calipari said. “Will it change? Will it morph into something else? Probably will. But right now … I’m trying to make sure that I’m taking care of every one of these kids. That they’re eating first.”
2. Who nips at Kentucky’s heels?
Arizona, Wisconsin, Duke and Kansas round out the consensus preseason top five and all have national championship ambitions.
The Badgers have the most returning star power, led by forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, and the others will combine veteran talent with tremendous recruiting classes.
The Wildcats lost lottery pick Aaron Gordon and Pac-12 MVP Nick Johnson but welcome versatile Stanley Johnson. Arizona has popped up as the contradictory preseason No. 1 in some circles.
Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said earlier this week he expects 7-foot top recruit Jahlil Okafor to be gone after this season, giving him a year to work with the likes of Quinn Cook.
Gone from Kansas are the first and third picks in last year’s draft, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden will help break in freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre.
3. Who wins the state championships of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma?
Good games within state borders could be spread throughout the Heartland.
If the contenders from those states were seeded as a group, it might go:
2. Wichita State
3. Iowa State
7. Kansas State
8. Oklahoma State
10. Northern Iowa
Why pick 10? That’s how many schools from the states reached the NCAA Tournament.
4. Which storied program endured a more arduous off-season, North Carolina or Indiana?
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean has suspended three players for four games each, and another player, Devin Davis, remains hospitalized after sustaining a serious head injury when teammate Emmitt Holt ran into him with a car. Both players, in their late teens, had been drinking.
Two other players, Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams, are suspended for violating team rules. Sources told ESPN the infraction was failed drug tests.
But nothing tops North Carolina’s woes. The findings from an independent review that found nearly two decades of academic fraud, including no-show classes taken by athletes, has rocked the university that has prided itself on its academic reputation.
The academic misconduct is among the worst in college sports history, experts have said. How will the Tar Heels be punished, pending the NCAA’s investigation? Possibilities include postseason bans, scholarship reductions and perhaps vacating NCAA championships in 2005 and 2009.
Such penalties would be devastating to one of the nation’s elite basketball program.
5. Will one player hoard the national player of the year trophies?
That’s been the case in recent years. Creighton’s Doug McDermott swept the Wooden, Naismith, Oscar Robertson and AP player of the year awards last season. Michigan’s Trey Burke, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette have cleaned up on the hardware since 2011.
Heading into this season, it’s not somebody’s award to lose. Plenty of candidates will get an early look, like North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige, Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, and Wisconsin’s big man Frank Kaminsky.
And freshmen like Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl Towns Jr., and Kansas’ Cliff Alexander should have huge seasons.
As for off-the-radar candidates, keep an eye on West Virginia guard Juwan Staten, Nebraska wing Terran Petteway and pair of Wichita State Shockers, point guard Fred VanVleet and shooting guard Ron Baker.