Should Kansas or Kentucky be preseason No. 1? It really might be too close to call
The Jayhawks and Wildcats both have experience, top-shelf talent and depth
that stated Kansas and Kentucky should be first and second, in either order, in every preseason ranking published between now and October. Put simply, I agree with him -- primarily because the Jayhawks and Wildcats, more so than any other teams, seem to have the required mix of top-shelf talent, experience and depth to cut nets in April.
But the question remains: Which school should be No. 1?
Kansas or Kentucky?
I initially believed it should be Kansas. But then five-star point guard, and UK also secured a commitment from Stanford graduate-transfer Reid Travis, so I moved the Wildcats . It seemed like the obvious thing to do. But then, just last week, Lagerald Vick surprisingly announced he's returning to Kansas, which gives the Jayhawks another experienced double-digit scorer. And now I don't think things are nearly as clear-cut as they appeared before that development.
Kansas or Kentucky?
Honestly, I've gone back and forth and looked at it from every possible angle. There's no wrong answer, I don't think. But in an attempt to find the right one, I decided to break things down in a variety of ways and really take a close look. And what I found is that Kentucky seems to have more pure talent based on the fact that its roster features seven former five-star recruits, according to 247Sports. Kansas has just two. Plus, according to ESPN NBA Draft expert Jonathan Givony, the Wildcats are expected to have more first-round picks in the 2019 NBA Draft than the Jayhawks. So it's reasonable to label Kentucky the more talented team.
But, obviously, talent isn't everything.
If it were, I'd make Duke a part of this conversation because the Blue Devils have three projected lottery picks in R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson. But Duke doesn't have a single returning player who averaged even 4.0 points per game last season. And no team returning so little of relevance has ever won a national title regardless of the quality of the incoming recruiting class. Perhaps Duke will be the first. I wouldn't rule it out. But history is not on the Blue Devils' side.
Kansas or Kentucky?
The Wildcats are returning three players who combined to average 25.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season -- namely PJ Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards. Washington got 10.8 of those points. Green got 9.3. And those two players returning -- combined with the enrollment of Travis, who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game at Stanford last season -- means Kentucky should be less-reliant on freshmen than usual and have meaningful roster balance. Worth noting: Three of the top six scorers on the 2010 UK team that finished 35-3 were non-freshmen. Three of the top six scorers on the 2012 UK team that finished 38-2 (and won the national title) were non-freshmen. Three of the top six scorers on the 2015 UK team that finished 38-1 were non-freshmen. And I would assume three of the top six scorers on this season's UK team will also be non-freshmen.
My opinion: That's a good sign.
But Kansas also has excellent non-freshmen.
The Jayhawks are returning two players -- Udoka Azubuike and Vick -- who averaged more than 12.0 points per game last season. Combine them with Memphis transfers Dedric Lawson and KJ Lawson, and Cal transfer Charlie Moore, all of whom are eligible after sitting out last season per normal NCAA transfer rules, and Kansas has five players who have previously averaged more than 12.0 points per game at the high-major level.
Kentucky only has one.
So Kansas has more quality experience. But Kentucky owns the superior recruiting class -- evidence being that, according to 247Sports, the Wildcats have three top-15 freshmen, and five top-40, while Kansas has just one top-15 freshman, and only three top-40. But it should be pointed out that the best NBA prospect on either team is Quintin Grimes. And he plays for ... KU.
Kansas or Kentucky?
I hoped I would have a real conviction about Kansas as No. 1 or Kentucky as No. 1 by the time I finished this exercise that's doubling as a column. That was the plan, at least. I was going to let Norlander tell you Kansas and Kentucky should be No. 1 and No. 2 in some order, then I was going to tell you the correct order. But here's the truth: I don't feel strongly about it either way. I can easily talk myself into Kansas or Kentucky. And I don't ever remember being this conflicted when it comes to picking a preseason No. 1.
One minute I think it's Kentucky.
The next I'm leaning toward Kansas.
So, for now, I've decided to leave Kentucky No. 1 and Kansas No. 2 in the Top 25 (and one). But, really, they should be considered 1A and 1B. There's really not much difference between them or their potential. And that's why I suspect they'll split the majority of first-place votes when the Associated Press poll is released in October.
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