College Basketball Nation: Karl Towns Jr.

Position battles: Centers

May, 16, 2014
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CHICAGO -- Julius Randle is gone, but he wouldn't mind watching the Kentucky big men battle in the fall.

"Yes, there's going to be some competition," Randle said at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. "But Coach [John Calipari] will figure it out."

Randle wasn't going to return next season. He was a one-and-done player from the moment he arrived, looking like a chiseled NBA veteran. He was the one big man who didn't need seasoning. But the rest did. Toss in newcomer Karl Towns Jr., and the Wildcats have as many bigs as any team assembled recently.

Randle's favorite to replace his low-post ability? He's leaning toward sophomore to-be Dakari Johnson.

"He's very good in the low post," Randle said. "He's got a nice touch. It's hard to move him down there."

Randle should know. He had to tussle with Johnson in the low block in practice every day. Now, Johnson will take Randle's role as the player whom the others try to knock off in the post -- for position and, possibly, playing time.

ESPN.com is examining position battles this week. Here are some center battles to keep an eye on:

Kentucky: Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee versus Karl Towns Jr.: Yes, there are veterans -- three of them -- returning against the young pup. Calipari could figure out how to play all four of them at some point during a game. Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Lee all had their moments in which they shined. Johnson has the best chance to be in the low post, Cauley-Stein can be the top shot-blocker and Lee is a bit of an X factor among the group. Now, enter the newcomer. Towns can do a bit of everything, but he doesn't need to be the primary option. That's key for him and rare for a high-profile Kentucky player. This isn't even mentioning Trey Lyles and Alex Poythress, who are more positioned to play smaller forward positions next to the bigs. This team is loaded.

North Carolina: Kennedy Meeks versus Brice Johnson. Meeks is much more of a physical specimen. He can be immovable at times in the low post. Johnson has more finesse to his game. The two of them can play together, but they could take turns sharing the focal point in the middle, depending on the opponent or the flow of the game. They have a chance to both average double figures and nearly seven or eight rebounds per game. If that happens, the Tar Heels could be a force in the ACC and beyond.

Texas: Cameron Ridley versus Myles Turner. Ridley made himself into a real threat last season. He was nearly a double-double player (he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game). Ridley could progress even more next season. The Longhorns nabbed a late-recruiting season coup in Turner. Turner is too good, too effective to not be on the court. The key for coach Rick Barnes will be whether he can play the two as a tandem. If he can't, then who is on the court when the game matters most is more of a competition than the overall minutes. Regardless, both players can help Texas take a huge leap next season.

Gonzaga: Przemek Karnowski versus Kyle Wiltjer. Karnowski is the traditional post player. He can be difficult to move around, and his offensive game continues to develop. Wiltjer can certainly play with Karnowski because he's slender and is much more of a face-up player. The two can be an effective high-low tandem, but if there is a need to see who is on the floor late, then that is also, like with Texas, where the real competition begins. Wiltjer had a year to get stronger, but he won't turn out like Kelly Olynyk. Wiltjer is still going to be skill first, strength last. Karnowski needs to be the opposite for the Zags to find the right balance.

LSU : Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey versus Elbert Robinson. The Tigers have a chance to make the NCAA tournament because of the decisions of Martin and Mickey. The two were effective double-figure scorers last season playing with Johnny O'Bryant III. Now, toss in the newcomer Robinson. He'll need to find minutes as well. Coach Johnny Jones can't play all three together, but the minutes will need to be divided up. These are good problems to have, and with 15 fouls to expend among the three, the Tigers are one of the few teams in the SEC with the numbers to hang with Kentucky's frontcourt.

Arizona: Kaleb Tarczewski versus Brandon Ashley. Tarczewski was one of the most improved players in the country last season. Give him another summer and he should really be a regular to score in the post. But he has to command the ball even more next season without the presence of Aaron Gordon. Ashley is coming off a foot injury that sidelined him for the second half of the Pac-12 season. He will play with Tarczewski, but if there is any question who would demand more minutes, then that can be a highly competitive battle in practice. It might be moot for coach Sean Miller since the two can coexist, but dividing up the frontcourt minutes will still be an interesting decision for the staff.

Class rankings analysis: Nov. 6 

November, 6, 2013
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We are one week away from the national signing period for men’s basketball. Seven of the top 17 recruits in the country are still on the board. Here's the latest on some schools rising and falling in the ESPN class rankings:

Class rankings analysis: Oct. 9 

October, 9, 2013
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In the latest edition of the 2014 recruiting class rankings, UNLV moves in, while last year's title-game participants, Michigan and Louisville, move up. Here's a look at the latest moves and trends in the rankings:

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Who'll end up with 2014's top class? 

October, 8, 2013
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With only eight of the top 20 prospects in the ESPN 100 currently committed and a number of high-profile national programs like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke all still looking to make their mark in the Class of 2014, there is still a huge amount of unpredictability with only five weeks before the early signing period.

With major dominoes like Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Cliff Alexander and Tyus Jones all yet to drop, the only certainty is that there will be major movement to our ESPN class rankings before it’s all said and done.

With that in mind, we asked our team of experts to give their take on which team will end up on top when the smoke clears:

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Video: Towns commits to Kentucky

December, 4, 2012
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Karl Towns Jr. of St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.), the top player in his class, made his commitment to Kentucky on Tuesday morning. He also announced that he would be re-classifying to the class of 2014.
1. UNLV coach Dave Rice said that heralded freshman Anthony Bennett isn’t eligible yet and won’t be in summer school. “He’s been admitted to UNLV, but the NCAA clearinghouse eligibility center is still evaluating him. It’s not unusual. But we’re very optimistic that he’ll be here in late August." The 6-foot-8 Bennett, a native of Ontario, finished his high school at Findlay College Prep in Las Vegas. Bennett is projected to be an impact player for the Mountain West Conference favorites. Bennett would play alongside Mike Moser and give the Rebels one of the top frontcourts in the West. Rice also said assistant coach Stacey Augmon has a standing offer to be an assistant under Mike Dunlap with the Charlotte Bobcats. But he said Augmon is on the road recruiting for UNLV this weekend and hasn’t made a decision.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t usually need too many advantages, but it’s hard not to see him gaining one in the recruitment of No. 1 2015 player Karl Towns Jr., after coaching him on the Dominican Republic national team. Towns plays at St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J., but he had a chance to play under three of the Kentucky staffers with Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland coaching alongside Calipari. Calipari went into the Dominican experience with the goal being to get to the Olympics and increase the basketball culture in the national program. But he might ultimately benefit most with one of the best players available in the coming years.

3. Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin is projected to be the replacement for Perry Jones III and the most impactful freshman in the Big 12 outside of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. The 7-foot center was a major get for Baylor coach Scott Drew, especially since he was from Arlington. Georgetown, Houston, Texas and Kentucky were all recruiting him. Drew has had a chance to work him out. “He’s really skilled, a really good pick-and-roll player,’’ said Drew. “His size is unbelievable. And he’s gotten stronger.’’ Austin will need to be more than PJ3. He needs to find his inner Quincy Acy and become a force inside.

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