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Sun-Times college basketball preview

You don’t have to like Kentucky — the one-and-done factory that’s more chock-full of blue chips than ever in 2014-2015 — but you have to respect the heck out of the program’s eagerness to take on all comers.

The preseason No. 1-ranked Wildcats have utterly no fear, a reflection of their controversial coach, John Calipari. They’ll take on No. 5 Kansas in Indianapolis on Nov. 18 and No. 8 Louisville on the road on Dec. 27. They’ll host 10th-ranked Texas on Dec. 5 and, eight days later, sixth-ranked North Carolina.

Kentucky — more talented than any other team by a country mile — will do anything it takes to win another national championship. That means boning up on its bona fides long before its Southeastern Conference cakewalk gets underway.

If you remember the Wildcats’ run to the national championship game a season ago, then surely you remember the Harrison twins, guards Aaron and Andrew, as well as frontcourt studs Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee. It’s scary — they’re all back. And they’re joined by a golden group of freshmen: skyscrapers Karl Towns and Trey Lyles, point guard Tyler Ulis and wing Devin Booker.

It’s merely one of the greatest collections of players in the history of the college game.

A half-dozen teams that could win it all*

(*Otherwise known as the Sun-Times’ Top 6.)

1. Kentucky. But we told you about that already.

2. Wisconsin. The Badgers should dominate the Big Ten this season. They have arguably the two best players in the league in center Frank Kaminsky and forward Sam Dekker, and all the shooters and dribble-drivers they’ll need to ring up 30-plus victories.

3. Arizona. There won’t be a better defensive team. Point guard T.J. McConnell is a bad man, and big fellas Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski will steal your lunch and eat it, too.

4. North Carolina. This isn’t all about point guard Marcus Paige, who is as strong at his position as anybody. Big man Kennedy Meeks reformed his body in the offseason, forward Brice Johnson will be better and there are three McDonald’s All-Americans to kick it into high gear.

5. Duke. The Blue Devils will be younger than possibly ever, with the whole shebang centering around Whitney Young post man Jahlil Okafor.

6. Kansas. Well, hello, Cliff Alexander. The Curie post man will have plenty around him, starting with guard Wayne Selden Jr. and forward Perry Ellis.

Ranking the conferences

The Big Ten was second to none last season. News flash: It ain’t anymore. The top five leagues:

1. Atlantic Coast. Add Louisville to North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Syracuse, and it starts to get ridiculous.

2. Big 12. Kansas is Kansas. Texas has leaped forward, and don’t sleep on Iowa State and Oklahoma.

3. Big Ten. Will Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan — all ranked 18th or lower in the Top 25 — do their parts?

4. Southeastern. You’ve got Kentucky, you’ve got Florida … and you’ve got bupkis.

5. Pac-12. Arizona probably won’t be challenged this season.

Sun-Times All-Americans

Marcus Paige, 6-1 guard, junior, North Carolina

Fred VanVleet, 5-11 guard, junior, Wichita State

Montrezl Harrell, 6-8 forward, junior, Louisville

Georges Niang, 6-8 forward, junior, Iowa State

Frank Kaminsky, 7-0 center, senior, Wisconsin


Twitter: @slgreenberg