The preseason college basketball coaches poll was released today, with Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Louisville, and Texas — in that order — making up the top 10. As we look forward to the 2014-2015 regular season tipping off in less than a month, here are three things we learned from the unveiling of the first rankings (which you can find in their entirety here), as well as why those things are important.
1. Kentucky is No. 1.
For a second straight year, the Kentucky Wildcats begin the season as the No. 1 team in the land. Last year, John Calipari’s team started on top of the polls, fell completely out of the rankings after dropping three of their last four regular-season games, then got hot in late March and made a run all the way to the national title game as a No. 8 seed before falling short against Connecticut. The 2014-2015 edition of Kentucky looks — on paper, at least — scary good, with six of last year’s top eight scorers coming back, including twin starting guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison and familiar names like Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Dakari Johnson.
Throw in a quartet of McDonald’s All-American freshmen — Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Tyler Ulis — and the top team in the country should be talented, deep, and nearly unguardable. The bigger question around Kentucky doesn’t seem to be if UK is good enough to cut down the nets this coming spring, but rather how will John Calipari get enough minutes, touches, and shots for each of the stars he’s developing? If Coach Cal can successfully mold the old guard and the new blood into a complete, cohesive team, look out for the Wildcats.
2. The ACC could be the nation’s best conference, and the Big Ten the deepest.
The Big Ten is better-represented than any other league in the initial rankings, with six of the Top 25 teams coming from Jim Delany’s conference: No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 18 Michigan State, No. 20 Ohio State, No. 21 Nebraska, No. 23 Michigan, and No. 25 Iowa. The Big Ten is looking for its first national championship since 2000, and while the league put three teams in the Elite Eight a year ago, the title drought ultimately continued.
Although the Big Ten has the most teams in the rankings, it’s a different conference that appears to have the best teams. The top half of the coaches’ poll has a significantly pro-ACC slant: The Atlantic Coast Conference boasts four of the first nine schools listed, with No. 3 Duke, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 8 Virginia, and newcomer No. 9 Louisville among the elite. (No. 24 Syracuse also cracked the top 25, giving the ACC a total of five ranked teams.) Three of those top-tier programs have won it all in the past half-dozen years with their current coaches, so no one will be surprised if an ACC team once again takes home the hardware in April.
3. The best programs simply keep reloading.
The top four picks of the 2014 NBA Draft this summer were all freshmen: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Parker (Duke), Joel Embiid (Kansas), and Aaron Gordon (Arizona). While perhaps an average program couldn’t handle losing a superstar with three years of eligibility remaining, Kansas, Duke, and Arizona are anything but average programs. As the saying goes, these bluebloods of college basketball don’t rebuild — they reload. So it should come as no surprise to find this trio of anything-but-decimated ballclubs in the top five of the 2014-2015 preseason poll.
Yes, the No. 3 Blue Devils lost Parker, but Coach K is bringing in top recruits Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow. Sure, the No. 2 Wildcats no longer have Gordon, but they added highly-regarded freshman Stanley Johnson. Okay, No. 5 Kansas will be without Wiggins and Embiid, but no need to feel sorry for Bill Self with first-year players Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre headed to Lawrence. In all, half of Rivals’ top 12 recruits in the class of 2014 will be playing for Kansas, Duke, or Arizona this year.
Bottom line: The rich just keep getting richer. Stars come in. Stars play a year. Stars become top draft picks. Stars get replaced on campus by new stars. It’s the circle of life, college basketball style. The Devils, Wildcats, and Jayhawks will be just fine.