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Kentucky Basketball: Each Projected Starter's Top Priority in 2014-15

Bobby ReaganFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

Kentucky Basketball: Each Projected Starter's Top Priority in 2014-15

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Kentucky basketball will have a new look for the first time in the five-plus years that head coach John Calipari has been in Lexington. A ton of players are returning following a successful season.

    The Wildcats return three starters in Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson while also returning three key players off the bench, with Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress all deciding to return for another season. While that may seem like a different look for Kentucky, something hasn't changed.

    Calipari has brought in another loaded recruiting class, which includes Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles, Karl Towns and Devin Booker, who were all McDonald's All-Americans.

    To say there's a wealth of talent in Lexington this season is a vast understatement. In fact, trying to predict the starting lineup to begin the season is difficult enough, let alone trying to guess the entire rotation.

    Nevertheless, that's what this slideshow will attempt to do. We'll take a look at the projected starters and determine how their roles will help Kentucky get back to the national championship game. 

Andrew Harrison: Mr. Do It All

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Andrew Harrison is going to be the guy with the keys to the car this season. As a freshman he started 39 games at point guard and became a dominating player down the stretch for Kentucky once he found his groove on the court. 

    This season should see more of that player than the one who struggled early on. 

    Harrison won't need to lead the team in scoring but rather work on getting every player involved before taking the game over with his size and ability to finish at the rim. Last season when Kentucky made its run to the title game, he did just that during the tournament games. 

    He recorded at least four assists in the six tournament games while also hitting key buckets to help Kentucky advance. With a year of playing with a majority of the players around him, he should be comfortable with his teammates to involve them early on.

    Harrison also must be ready to play off the ball, something he rarely did last season. It wouldn't be outrageous for Calipari to play both Harrison and Tyler Ulis together, with Ulis as the more traditional point guard. Therefore, Harrison needs to continue to keep defenders honest by being an effective shooter from behind the arc. 

Aaron Harrison: Scorer

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    It would be cliche to have Aaron Harrison be the one who hits a big shot, because that's all he seemed to do in March for Kentucky. Besides hitting three game-winning three-pointers in the tournament, he also scored in double digits in eight of his last 10 games.

    Much like his brother, expect that output to continue into the 2014-15 season. In fact, expect it to be easier for Harrison to score this season, due to opposing defenses having to worry even more about Kentucky's size in the paint. 

    At 6'5" he still has the ability to draw the mismatch at the 2-guard position to either shoot or blow by his defender and finish at the rim. Harrison, who seemed to get stronger as the season went on, showed flashes of his creativity and strength in the paint to finish over opposing big guys.

    He finished third on the team in scoring last season by averaging 13.7 points per game. The two leading scorers are gone, so by default you should see a bump in his scoring average. Don't be surprised to see Harrison lead the team with 16 points per game this season. 

Alex Poythress: The Versatile Highlight

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    Alex Poythress will never be the loudest guy on the court, and you'll never see him get into a trash-talking event with an opposing player.

    But what you will see from him is a series of one-handed alley-oops. He's unafraid to try to dunk over anyone on the opposing team. He has a body made for dunk contests at 6'7" with long arms and the ability to jump out of the building.

    There's a reason never to look away when he's on the court.

    It's not all offensive highlights for Poythress either. He is going to be the versatile defender who can guard pretty much all five positions. His speed and athleticism let him stay with guards, while his length and strength allow him to battle in the paint with post players.

    Poythress isn't afraid to challenge any shots and is going to be a key component in Kentucky's shot-blocking party this season. 

    He will need to be versatile this season due to his ability to play both the small and power forward positions. He needs to be ready to play either one so that Calipari can adjust his lineup for matchups, which means look for Poythress to regain his shooting form from his freshman campaign. 

Karl Towns: The Stat-Sheet Stuffer

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    There aren't too many 7'1" players who have range that stretches beyond the arc, boast an array of post moves, can grab rebounds and block a ton of shots. Then again, there's a reason Karl Towns was heavily recruited and played on the Dominican Republic national team when he was only 15.

    Towns, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, is coming off a season that saw him average 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game while leading his team to a New Jersey state title. What might be most impressive about his stat line is the fact he shot 66 percent from the field, 82 percent from the free-throw line and 51 percent from behind the arc.

    This should translate at the collegiate level. On top of that, he has experience playing against the best talent in the world when he played against the United States Olympic team in 2012. 

    Towns is going to be a unique player to watch, with his ability to play numerous positions because of his shooting touch and ball-handling skills. He will often have a mismatch and can be used in a pick-and-pop setting. When teams are running zone, he will be looked at to hit jumpers.

    It will be hard to take Towns off the floor due to his skill set, so there will be no reason to be surprised if he ever records a triple-double. 

Dakari Johnson: The Post Bully

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Dakari Johnson cemented his position in the starting lineup halfway through the 2013-14 season, and he'll be used in the same role for the 2014-15 year. 

    He is a huge body that knows how to get position and make a quick move to the bucket. At 7'0" and 265 pounds, he takes a toll on opposing defenders who try to battle with him for position and prevent him from finishing at the rim. 

    With Kentucky having plethora of big guys, Johnson won't have to play large stretches of minutes, which will keep him in better condition and more able to deliver contact in the post. He will be used to wear down opposing players while putting up modest points as a three-headed center with Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee.

    Defensively, he won't block a ton of shots, but his size will force teams to alter their shots in the paint. More importantly, his job will be to grab rebounds and use his fouls to make opposing guards earn their points at the stripe. 

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