A few months removed from his McDonald's All-American Game appearance, Julius Randle is now the top player on the nation's preseason No. 1 team.
It’s certainly a change compared to last season’s finish for the Wildcats. But any memories of the Robert Morris loss in the NIT were subdued when coach John Calipari signed one of the greatest recruiting classes in NCAA history.
The AP’s No. 1 ranking only magnifies the spotlight on Julius Randle & Co., a group that might face an unattainable level of expectations throughout the year. But this proves that youth was not a deterrent for voters who picked Kentucky over Michigan State (second), reigning national champ Louisville (third) and Duke (fourth). Andrew Wiggins and Kansas are ranked fifth, followed by Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Florida to round out the top 10.
A few quick thoughts:
Who should be No. 1? You could make a case for Michigan State. Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris comprise one of country’s best trios and have a ton of experience and talent. Louisville adds some talented recruits to a team that lost key pieces, but will still be one of the best squads in the country, especially with Chane Behanan returning at some point this season.
But Kentucky deserves it. I get the arguments. “They haven’t proven anything.” “The Wildcats were hyped last year and lost in the first round of the NIT.” But we've never seen anything such as this. No team has ever entered a year with this much projected NBA talent. These polls are about expectations and they’re certainly high for this Kentucky squad. Even higher than they were for the Kentucky team that won a national title in 2012. These Wildcats have the talent to justify them and a No. 1 ranking.
Biggest surprise? Wichita State at No. 16 and Ohio State at No. 11. Both have lost key players (Malcolm Armstead and Deshaun Thomas, respectively), but the Shockers handled the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament and then, they nearly knocked off national champion Louisville in the Final Four. I don’t think it’s crazy to give Wichita State top 10 consideration.
Biggest snubs? No mention of a Creighton team that will enter the season as a Big East title contender with All-American Doug McDermott and veteran Grant Gibbs leading the way for the Bluejays. No Tennessee or Indiana, either. All three are certainly in the Top 25 mix.
Too high? Gonzaga might be high at No. 15. That’s the same Gonzaga squad that lost one of America’s top frontcourts when Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris left the scene after last season. That will be difficult to replace.
Too low? The voting deadlines might have preceded the news that Joseph Young will be eligible for Oregon. The Ducks could move up a few spots from No. 19, but this slot isn’t worth a major protest.