Predicting the Winners of College Basketball's Top Position Battles for 2014-15

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 9, 2014

Predicting the Winners of College Basketball's Top Position Battles for 2014-15

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    Position battles are one of the most popular talking points in any sport's offseason. Here, we're tackling months' worth of those arguments by predicting the winners of position battles at 20 of the top college basketball programs in the country.

    Who replaces Shabazz Napier at Connecticut or Nick Johnson at Arizona?

    Who will start at point guard for such iconic programs as Duke, Kansas and Syracuse?

    How in the world is John Calipari going to keep all of those big men happy at Kentucky?

    Most of these questions will gradually be answered over the final two months of the offseason, but we're not nearly that patient.

Connecticut's Shooting Guard

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    The Candidates: Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr., Rodney Purvis, Terrence Samuel

    Might as well get this party started by figuring out what the defending national champions, UConn, plan on doing without Napier.

    Ryan Boatright moves from starting shooting guard to starting point guard. I can't imagine anyone arguing against that.

    But who takes Boatright's spot at shooting guard?

    It has long been assumed that Purvis will be the man for the job, but the McDonald's All-American transfer from North Carolina State will have a good amount of competition.

    Calhoun averaged 11.1 points per game while starting all but one of them during the 2012-13 season, but he lost his three-point stroke before subsequently losing his starting job near the end of last December. Who's to say he can't rediscover the shot (and defensive intensity) that made him one of the highest-rated shooting guards of the 2012 recruiting class?

    And what about Samuelthe freshman guard who scored in double figures twice in the NCAA tournament after failing to do so at any other point during the season? Didn't he do enough last year to earn an increased role for the 2014-15 campaign?

    We can't very well sleep on Connecticut's JUCO transfer, either. Cassell shot 33.3 percent from three-point range while sinking 2.4 triples per game last season at Chipola College. He also averaged 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game, which would pair nicely with Boatright to once again give Connecticut one of the best backcourt duos on both ends of the court.

    (Cassell would have been a pivotal piece of Maryland's rotation by now if he hadn't been ruled ineligible before the 2012-13 season.)

    Purvis will likely win the battle, but Connecticut has a lot of options. Even if Kevin Ollie goes with a three-guard starting rotation and bumps Daniel Hamilton from his presumed spot as starting small forward, three very capable players will be on the wrong end of a timeshare.

Florida's Small Forward

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    The Candidates: Brandone Francis, Devin Robinson, Dorian Finney-Smith, DeVon Walker

    Michael Frazier II will almost certainly start at shooting guard for the Florida Gators, as will Chris Walker at center.

    But what Billy Donovan plans on doing at either of the forward positions is a bit more uncertain.

    If Jon Horford comes in from Michigan and claims the starting power forward job, that leaves these four players battling for one spot in the rotation. Will Yeguete started every game last season for Florida, and considering Horford is basically a bigger version of Yeguete, it's hardly a stretch to assume he'll start.

    As Florida's top 2014 recruit and the No. 7 small forward in this year's recruiting class, according to the ESPN 100, Robinson is a popular choice to start at small forward, but that's hardly a guaranteeespecially given the poor luck that the No. 7 small forward has had in recent classes.

    Kuran Iverson held that honor last year, and he didn't even average 10 minutes per game for Memphis. Devonta Pollard was the No. 7 small forward in 2012's class, and he was one of Alabama's least valuable (and most checkered) players before transferring to junior college. Michael Gbinije was in that spot in 2011 and barely saw the court for Duke before going to Syracuse.

    Before that it was Florida's Casey Prather, and it wasn't until his senior year that he finally became a key contributor for the Gators.

    We're not saying that Robinson is cursed or even remotely unlikely to succeed, but nothing is guaranteed.

    Even ignoring that possible jinx, though, Finney-Smith seems most likely to start at small forwardassuming he isn't already starting at power forward. He played just under 26 minutes per game last season as Florida's sixth man, and four of the five starters from that team graduated this summer.

    The dark horse in this race is Francis if Donovan decides to go with a three-guard rotation that can shoot the lights out, but the smart money is on Finney-Smith for the time being.

Southern Methodist's Second Big Man

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    The Candidates: Cannen Cunningham, Justin Martin, Ben Moore, Yanick Moreira

    Deciding on a second starter in the paint could be the final step left in SMU's surprising emergence as one of the 10 best teams in the country.

    The Mustangs were already going to have Nic Moore, Emmanuel Mudiay and Keith Frazier excelling along the perimeter and Markus Kennedy manhandling opponents in the post, but that fifth spot was going to be the weak link.

    With Justin Martin deciding to transfer in from Xavier, however, that no longer appears to be the case.

    As a combo forward for the Musketeers, Martin (6'6") averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 37.3 percent from three-point range. When they want to go with a smaller lineup, he's a pretty obvious choice to play the stretch 4.

    Will he start, though?

    Both Moreira and Ben Moore played very well last season in the paint, albeit sparinglyneither averaged more than 15 minutes per game in his first season at SMU. Cunningham was also a very useful backup, leading the team in block percentage but only playing 12.9 minutes per game.

    Honestly, this feels like the type of situation where three of the four players will evenly split one position, while the other serves as Kennedy's reserve. After all, 10 different players averaged at least 12 minutes per game last season for Larry Brown.

    My guess is that Moreira starts at center, if only because he's the tallest of the bunch. had Moreira listed as the second-best JUCO transfer last summer, and he was doing a fine job of fulfilling those expectations over the first month of the season before fading a bit and subsequently tearing his MCL.

    He didn't do much of anything once he returned to the lineup, but perhaps a full offseason of healing that knee will be enough for him to start and average 16-18 minutes per game this year.

Arizona State's Point Guard

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    The Candidates: Jonathan Gilling, Tra Holder, Shaquielle McKissic, Chance Murray

    This one wouldn't sting quite as much if Jahii Carson had actually been drafted last month. His decision to pointlessly forgo his final two seasons in college leaves Arizona State in quite the pickle.

    Calaen Robinson's decision to transfer to Portland State didn't help matters, either. Robinson didn't get to play much last season for the Sun Devils, but he did average 6.8 assists and 3.5 steals per 40 minutes during his limited time on the court.

    As a result, Herb Sendek has to decide whether he wants to start a freshman, a rarely used shooting guard or his starting small forward or power forward from last season as this year's point guard.

    Either McKissic or Gilling would seem perfectly capable of playing point forward. Both players averaged better than 2.5 assists per game last season, while maintaining an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.0 or better. If he had enough assists to qualify, McKissic's 2.96 assist-to-turnover ratio would have been 14th-best in the nation.

    By starting one of them at point forward, though, Sendek would be paper-thin at the actual forward positions, forced to start Eric Jacobsen and Willie Atwood in the post and pray that they can both play close to 40 minutes per game.

    So let's assume that McKissic and Gilling remain at their positions from last season and continue to add a few assists per game, while letting a freshman do the bulk of the ball-handling.

    The ESPN 100 doesn't think very highly of Holder, ranking him as the 56th-best incoming PG, but 247Sports has him in the Top 25in the same general range as potential highly major starters such as Devonte Graham, Lourawls Nairn, Dominic MaGee, Edmond Sumner and Anton Beard.

    He doesn't necessarily need to be Carson 2.0, but if Holder can play relatively error-free ball as a freshman, the Sun Devils could be a lot better than we initially thought.

Texas' Big Men

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    The Candidates: Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert, Cameron Ridley, Myles Turner

    All five of these players would be capable of starting at power forward for a major program like Texas, but that's simply mathematically impossible.

    The most obvious starter of the bunch is Ridley. He scored in double figures, was one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the country and drew fouls like moths to a flame.

    Whether he technically starts at power forward or center depends on what Rick Barnes plans to do with Turner.

    Turner is one of the top-rated centers in the country, but that hardly means he's automatically going to come in and supplant an established starter in the lineup.

    Joel Embiid was the top center last year, but it was a month into the season before he replaced Tarik Black in the starting five. Dakari Johnson was the next-best center, and he didn't crack into the starting rotation until February.

    If Turner does start, that means Holmes is either moving from power forward to small forward or dropping out of the starting five altogetherwhich seems unlikely, as he's the only noteworthy senior on the roster and was the most offensively efficient player on the team.

    Of course, No. 2 on the team in O-rating was Lammert, and heaven only knows where he and Ibeh are going to fit into this beautiful mess. Lammert has been tragically underrated over the past two seasons because he doesn't do a whole lot of scoring, but he is efficient with his shots and is an above-average rebounder.

    My guess is that Holmes, Ridley and Turner all startbumping Demarcus Holland from small forward to shooting guard and sending Javan Felix to the bench.

    Turner may technically be labeled the center because he's 7 feet tall, but don't be surprised if Holmes and Ridley play essentially their same game as last season, while Turner has the freedom to play on the perimeter as the biggest small forward in the game.

Illinois' Shooting Guard

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    The Candidates: Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Aaron Cosby, Ahmad Starks, Malcolm Hill

    As I wrote two weeks ago in the projected Big Ten standings for 2014-15, the Illini have guards for days. Thus, they have a plethora of options at shooting guard.

    Here's what we can very safely count on with Illinois' rotation for next seasonNnanna Egwu will start at center, and Rice will start somewhere.

    Everything else is pretty well up in the air, but let's make a few educated assumptions.

    Assumption No. 1: Rice does not start at shooting guard. Though he was the team's top scorer last season, he shot just 29.5 percent from three-point range in 2013-14 and 24.1 percent in 2011-12. He's only 6'4", but he's much more of a small forward than a shooting guard.

    Assumption No. 2: Abrams starts at point guard.

    Jaylon Tate had a higher assist rate last season, but Abrams is the senior who has been starting at point guard for the past two seasons. That might not be enough to guarantee Quinn Cook the starting job at Duke, but Abrams doesn't have a Tyus Jones waiting in the wings. Also, like Rice, Abrams has shot worst than 30 percent from three-point range in his collegiate career.

    Assumption No. 3: John Groce decides not to go with a four-guard starting lineup. There will certainly be stretches of games where the Illini play small ball, but they'll start games with either Leron Black, Austin Colbert or Maverick Morgan at power forward.

    Both Hill and Nunn were highly rated shooting guards in the incoming class of 2013, but both Cosby and Starks shot 40 percent from three-point range during the 2012-13 season before transferring to Illinois. I might make the wrong guess, but there really is no wrong answer here for Groce. Any of those four would be a suitable starter.

    (The more I think about these options, the more I realize having Illinois in eighth place in the Big Ten was a huge mistake. This team could easily finish in the top five in that conference.)

    I'm going with Cosby because he offers marginally more in the "secondary ball-handler" department than the other three options, but Nunn and Starks will absolutely give Nigel Hayes some fierce competition for Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.

Syracuse's Point Guard

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    The Candidates: Michael Gbinije, Kaleb Joseph, Ron Patterson

    Whoever gets the job is going to have some pretty big shoes to fill. Between Jonny Flynn, Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis, the point guard position at Syracuse has evolved into a factory for first-round draft picks.

    If we were putting odds on these, Patterson's chances of becoming the starting point guard are about as good as Boston College's chances of winning the ACC this year.

    Patterson was brought in as a shooting guard and did nothing to dissuade that classification by hoisting a three-pointer for every 2.8 minutes on the courtbarely less frequently than Marshall Henderson's 2.5 minutes per attempt.

    However, it's not like Trevor Cooney is going to play point guard. If Patterson is going to get regular minutes as a sophomore, the 6'2" guard will have to learn how to play the point.

    The only other in-house option is Gbinije. The 6'7" hybrid guard/forward averaged 3.3 assists and 2.0 steals per 40 minutes last season, but as is the case with Jonathan Gilling at Arizona State, moving him to the point just leaves a gaping hole at one of the forward positions.

    If Jim Boeheim is going to give a starting job to someone who has done nothing yet at the D-I level to prove he deserves one, doesn't it make more sense to go with Joseph at point guard as a freshman and keep Gbinije at small forward rather than playing either Tyler Roberson or B.J. Johnson in Gbinije's normal spot?

    We definitely think Joseph gets the job, but letting a freshman start at point guard with no real backup plan and no other established leaders on the team is a dangerous game. Last year, Ennis had C.J. Fair, Nigel Williams-Goss had C.J. Wilcox, Cat Barber had T.J. Warren and Andrew Harrison had all of the supporting talent a player could ask for.

    Who's helping Joseph when the going gets tough?

Michigan's Big Men

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    The Candidates: Max Bielfeldt, Kameron Chatman, Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson

    The Michigan Wolverines will have a very intriguing dichotomy this year.

    Between Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, they have one of the best backcourts in the entire country.

    But the frontcourt might want to spend the first month of the season wearing "Hello! My name is" stickers on their warm-ups.

    Michigan fans have long since talked themselves into Donnal being ready to dominate after a season in the weight room, Doyle and Wilson being underrated studs who will surprise everyone and Chatman being the best thing since sliced bread, but the rest of us are withholding judgment until the big men actually accomplish something on a D-I court.

    I will say this much for the bunch, though: Donnal has undeniably gotten much stronger in the past 12 months. And when you're 6'9" in the Big Ten, strength and endurance are about as important as footwork or a mid-range jumper.

    Also, I'm pretty sure the Wolverine faithful are onto something with Doyle. He averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game last year as a senior on what was otherwise a pretty lackluster varsity team, as outlined by Max Preps. He could be a diamond in the rough.

    The biggest question in play here is how small is John Beilein willing to go?

    Both LeVert and Irvin are 6'6" and could feasibly man the forward spots at times, while letting Walton and Spike Albrecht handle the backcourt duties, but let's go ahead and assume we're looking for a three-guard, two-forward lineup.

    Donnal will start at the larger of the two forward spots, with Doyle serving as his primary backup. They may swap as the season progresses, but you have to like Donnal's chances of starting in November after spending last season practicing against the likes of Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan.

    And at the other forward spot, Chatman has to be considered the early favorite to play the stretch 4. One of the top things that scouts have raved about Chatman is his versatility.

    Even though he might be a little undersized for a traditional power forward, he should fit in nicely as the replacement for Glenn Robinson III.

Georgetown's Small Forward

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    The Candidates: Aaron Bowen, Reggie Cameron, Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White

    Whether Copeland is actually a candidate at small forward for Georgetown will depend on Joshua Smith. If the long-maligned big man gets his head on straight this season and starts at center, it bumps Mikael Hopkins to power forward and creates an even bigger logjam at small forward.

    Should that happen, the versatile 6'9" Copeland would start at small forward as a freshman.

    But let's go ahead and assume Smith doesn't start, and Copeland gets to play power forward with Hopkins at center.

    Of the remaining four names on the list, who has the edge?

    Bowen received better than 20 minutes per game last season, but he spent much of that time at power forward either in relief of Nate Lubick or when Lubick was the de facto center with neither Hopkins nor Moses Ayegba on the court.

    Cameron played 13.3 minutes per gamemostly at small forwardbut didn't really offer anything better than Bowen, shooting much worse from the field than Bowen and serving as one of the worst rebounders and shot-blockers on the team.

    But Cameron was a freshman and didn't really break into the rotation until midway through the season after Smith's suspension when they suddenly just needed eligible bodies on the court. Might he improve considerably as a sophomore?

    Peak and White are both freshmenand fairly highly rated ones at thatbut it's not like they're coming in and trying to replace an incumbent starter. If either one impresses in camp, he'll have a good shot at starting.

    Because of thatand because the Hoyas are pretty devoid of three-point options beyond D'Vauntes Smith-Riveramy money is on Peak earning a starting job. He may even start at shooting guard and slide Jabril Trawick back to small forward where he spent pretty much the entirety of the 2013-14 season.

Arizona's Shooting Guard

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    The Candidates: Kadeem Allen, Stanley Johnson, Elliott Pitts, Gabe York

    This one really comes down to whether Sean Miller would rather go with a traditional lineup or simply put the five best players on the court.

    Johnson is an incredible talentarguably one of the most NBA-ready players in this year's recruiting class.

    But a consistent three-point shooter he is not. Johnson is more of a wrecking ball who can get to the rim and the free-throw line.

    With Nick Johnson gone to the NBA and T.J. McConnell a pass-first point guard, Arizona wouldn't have much of a perimeter game with Johnson starting at shooting guard. Talented as the Wildcats may be with Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski on the court together, it's easier to stop big men when you can pack it in unafraid of three-point shooters.

    In football terms, opponents would have the option to put eight or nine men in the box to stop a great running back without worrying about being beaten by the quarterback.

    (If Johnson doesn't start at shooting guard, you can add Arizona small forward to the list, as he and Hollis-Jefferson battle for minutes at that position.)

    Instead of starting Johnson at shooting guard, look for Arizona to go with Allenthe 2014 JUCO POY.

    To be fair, Allen isn't exactly a three-point assassin, either, shooting just 30.5 percent from downtown last season, but he averaged 25.9 points per game over the past two years for Hutchinson Community College. The 6'3" combo guard adds an element to the lineup that probably won't be there when Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are on the court instead.

    Arizona will definitely go with a four-bigs lineup on a pretty regular basis, but we should see Allen in there from the opening tip more often than not.

North Carolina's Shooting Guard

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    The Candidates: Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Marcus Paige, Theo Pinson, J.P. Tokoto

    (I'm listing Paige as an option at shooting guard, but that only happens if Roy Williams decides to start Britt or Joel Berry at point guard, which I find pretty unlikely.)

    Rather than trying to figure out North Carolina's best option at shooting guard, the question here is really "Who is North Carolina's second-best small forward?"

    In my humble opinion, Tokoto did more than enough last season to earn a spot in the starting lineup, but it was nowhere near enough to be the starting shooting guard. In his two seasons, the man is averaging one made three-pointer for every 141.9 minutes on the court.

    As such, let's pencil Tokoto in for the starting small forward spot and give Jackson the honors at shooting guard.

    Standing 6'7", Jackson is built like more of a small forward than a guard, but unlike the argument against Stanley Johnson on the previous slide, Jackson shot better than 37 percent from three-point range last year in high school, per Max Preps.

    Jackson should have little trouble coming in and filling the role that the Tar Heels were hoping P.J. Hairston would play last season.

Ohio State's Small Forward

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    The Candidates: Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, Sam Thompson, Kam Williams

    The Ohio State Buckeyes have a good chance to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten this year, but they already have one position that is a bit of an offensive liabilityAmir Williams and Trey McDonald at center.

    They can't afford to get duds out of their starting small forward and expect to actually win basketball games.

    Here's looking at you, Sam Thompson, because it's no accident that Thad Matta looks dejected in the above picture.

    Thompson is way too athletically gifted to be averaging less than 8.0 PPG, but lo and behold, that's exactly what he has done in each of his past three years for Ohio State. Every now and then he'll erupt for 18 points, but Thompson had 12 games last season with four or fewer points, despite playing at least 16 minutes in every single game.

    That's simply inexcusable and unacceptable now that the three leading scorers from last season are gone.

    Thompson will have every opportunity to prove that he deserves to remain in the starting lineup as a senior, but I expect Matta to have a short leash, given the number of other quality options available.

    Both Bates-Diop and Tate are rated among the 15 best incoming small forwards in the nation. Matta proved during the 2011-12 season that he has no issue with burying highly touted freshmen on the bench, but that was a team led by Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford and Aaron Craft that spent the entire season ranked in the Top 10.

    Bates-Diop and Tate might not startespecially in Novemberbut expect them to receive a much larger chunk of playing time than LaQuinton Ross did as a freshman.

    There is another choice, though, and I think Loving has a real shot at becoming the starter.

    He only averaged 10.9 minutes per game last year as a freshman, but he put up 16.1 points per 40 minutes, despite shooting 21.9 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from three-point range over the final two months of the season.

    Loving showed a lot of promise early in the year and was a significantly better source of rebounds and free-throw attempts than Thompson.

    The Buckeyes will likely open the season with Thompson starting at small forward, while using Loving as a backup for Anthony Lee at power forward, but Loving will be in the starting lineup by the start of conference play, unless Thompson finally decides to deliver on three years' worth of unfulfilled potential.

LSU's Frontcourt

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    The Candidates: Brian Bridgewater, Darcy Malone, Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, John Odo, Tim Quarterman, Elbert Robinson

    Whether Martin (6'9") and Mickey (6'8") start isn't even up for debate. It's really just a question of which two of the three non-guard positions they will occupy.

    Save for Johnny O'Bryant III, Martin and Mickey were arguably the two most important players on the roster last season. Martin started 25 out of 34 games last season as a freshman, and Mickey started all 34 in his first collegiate season.

    Considering how much the LSU Tigers lost this summer, suggesting that either of those forwards would move to the bench would be ludicrous.

    Should they serve as the power forward and center, Quarterman could conceivably start at small forward. He came in last season as a 6'5" point guard, but LSU is adding Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray via the transfer marketboth of whom should start in the backcourt.

    But I suspect the Tigers will want to go the bigger route by keeping Martin at small forward and starting 6'11" Robinson as a freshman.

    Both ESPN and 247Sports have him rated as the sixth-best incoming center. It's highly unlikely that he'll be able to come in and seamlessly replace O'Bryant in the rotation, but he should at least be capable of providing useful minutes as the third member of a strong frontcourt.

    If Robinson doesn't pan out, plan B may be a hodgepodge of misplaced hopes and dreams.

    Malone (7'0") played sparingly last year as a freshman, but he managed to commit one foul for every 2.8 minutes on the court. Odo (6'9") averaged just 5.2 minutes per game last season as a JUCO transfer and committed quite a few fouls in his own right, averaging 6.9 per 40 minutes.

Duke's Point Guard

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    The Candidates: Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon

    Two months into last season, this would have been a laughable proposition. Cook was averaging 13.6 PPG, 6.1 APG and had a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, and Sulaimon was hopelessly chained in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse at Duke.

    But Jones averaged 8.1 APG, 2.7 SPG and shot 44 percent from three-point range as a senior in high school. Cook lost his starting job around the end of January. And Sulaimon averaged more assists than three-point attempts toward the end of last season.

    Now it's a three-horse race with no clear-cut favorite.

    Sulaimon is definitely the longest shot out of the three by a considerable margin. But it wouldn't exactly be unprecedented if he did win the job.

    During the 2007-08 season, junior Greg Paulus was the starting point guard, while sophomore Jon Scheyer experienced a decrease in playing time after a very productive freshman season. The following year, Paulus came off the bench, and Scheyer led the team in assists.

    Surely, the more likely outcome is that Jones starts at point guard and continues to build on the relationship that he has had with Jahlil Okafor over the past few years.

    There's a chance, though, that all three of these players end up in the starting rotation.

    Jones may supplant Cook at point guard, but Cook did make 37.1 percent of his 175 three-point attempts last season. If Krzyzewski wants some experience on the court with Jones and Okafor, he could start Cook at shooting guard and slide Sulaimon over to small forward, bringing Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow off the bench as super freshmen.

    Needless to say, Coach K has plenty of options and should have fun with all that versatility.

UCLA's Center

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    The Candidates: Wannah Bail, Jonah Bolden, Tony Parker, Thomas Welsh

    Considering the mass exodus of early entrants to the NBA, it might be tempting to assume that UCLA is going to be hurting for depth next season.

    In actuality, Steve Alford still has more big men than he can possibly need.

    Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Norman Powell should all start in the backcourt, and Kevon Looney seems like a lock to start at power forward as a freshman. That leaves four players battling for the final spot in the rotation.

    Parker might be the early favorite to start at center, but it's only by the slimmest of margins. He started each of the first nine games last season, and that was enough for Steve Alford to decide to bring him off the bench for the rest of the year.

    Granted, the Wear brothers who knocked him out of the rotation have since graduated, but there's no denying that Parker lost favor with his new coach in a hurry. If either Bail, Bolden or Welsh impresses in camp this autumn, it wouldn't take much for one of them to land a starting job.

    Of the three, Welsh is most likely to pull it off. The 7'0" giant is still growing into his body, but he was one of the most improved big men over the past year, coming out of just about nowhere to make the McDonald's All-American team.

    Whether or not he starts may really just come down to how young Alford is willing to go.

    Powell will certainly provide some veteran leadership as a senior, but it might be a bit much to start Hamilton, Looney and Welsh without any of them having played a D-I game.

    Expect a repeat of what we saw last year: roughly one month of Parker in the starting rotation before coming off the bench for the rest of the season.

Iowa State's Small Forward

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    The Candidates: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Daniel Edozie, Dustin Hogue, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader, Georges Niang, Matt Thomas

    Enough options at Iowa State for you?

    Monte Morris will start at point guard, but just about every other position is up in the air, leaving small forward as a dumping ground for all the leftovers.

    At shooting guard, Fred Hoiberg could go with Dejean-Jones, Long or Thomas. At power forward and "center," he has his choice from the other five guys listed above.

    As was the case earlier with Illinois, let's figure this thing out with a series of educated assumptions.

    Assumption No. 1: Dejean-Jones didn't leave UNLV to become a backup for one season. Maybe he skipped town because he knew the Rebels were going to be a train wreck this year with Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch (unsuccessfully) declaring for the NBA draft, but it's hard to imagine anyone going from leading scorer at a program like UNLV to a cozy spot on the bench.

    Assumption No. 2: Niangfully healthy after suffering that broken foot in the tournament—and Hogue will both start. Both forwards averaged 30 minutes per game last season and are the two leading scorers among returning players.

    Assumption No. 3: Nader is eligible to play, but he doesn't start. Nader was suspended indefinitely for a DUI arrest on which he later pleaded not guilty.

    Even before that little legal hiccup, though, Nader didn't have the numbers at Northern Illinois to suggest that he belonged in the starting rotation. The 20.5 points per 40 minutes were certainly nice, but the 33.7 percent shooting from the field and 27.7 percent from three-point range are disconcerting.

    So let's assume Dejean-Jones starts at shooting guard, Niang plays power forward and Hogue plays center. You can label them however you want. Positions at Iowa State are exceptionally fluid. But that leaves Edozie, Long, McKay and Thomas battling for the fifth and final spot.

    My guess is that Hoiberg gives the job to Long. Nader and McKay will likely back up Hogue and Niang, Edozie only played 5.8 minutes per game last season, and Thomas wasn't nearly as efficient from the field as Long was last year.

    Regardless of the final decision, it's pretty clear that the Cyclones will get along just fine without DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim.

Louisville's Center

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    The Candidates: Akoy Agau, Jaylen Johnson, Anas Osama Mahmoud, Mangok Mathiang, Chinanu Onuaku, Matz Stockman

    It's a pretty common practice in major league baseball to draft a ton of pitchers and just hope that maybe 20 percent of them actually develop into something.

    Apparently, Louisville's Rick Pitino is translating that theory into college basketball terms by loading up with as many big men as possible.

    In this year's recruiting class, Pitino adds four players who are 6'9" or taller. In addition to that massive quartet, he already has 6'8" Agau and 6'10" Mathiang battling for the spot in the frontcourt not already occupied by Montrezl Harrell.

    Neither Harrell nor anyone from this list is a viable candidate to play small forward, so this is legitimately a case of six players battling for one job.

    Of the incoming freshmen, Onuaku seems most likely to immediately contend to start at center. Mahmoud and Stockman are both taller than 7'0", but they're also very thin and probably at least a year away from being strong enough to log legitimate minutes at the D-I level.

    Said Pitino of Onuaku on 84 WHAS (via Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal), "Very long body, but he's not in shape. Once he gets in shape, he'll be doing things he's never been able to do in his life."

    Mathiang has to be the early favorite, though. Having logged nearly 15 minutes per game last season, he has already earned his keep on the court alongside Harrell.

    Regardless of who the Cardinals go with, there will be a fair amount of work that needs to be done. At least with Mathiang, the process has already begun.

Indiana's Small Forward

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    The Candidates: Devin Davis, Robert Johnson, Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams

    Yogi Ferrell will start at point guard, and James Blackmon Jr. should start at shooting guard, but the options at forward and center are a bit tougher to nail down.

    An already short list of options for Indiana got even shorter last month when Peter Jurkin decided to transfer. Jurkin joins Noah Vonleh, Jeremy Hollowell, Austin Etherington and Luke Fischer on the list of players 6'6" or taller whom Indiana didn't have to lose this summer.

    Davis is just 6'7" and a candidate at small forward, but he may well be Tom Crean's best option at center. Unless Hanner Mosquera-Perea suddenly evolves as a junior or an unheralded freshman emerges as a viable starter, we pretty much have to assume that Davis and Williams start at power forward and center in one combination or the other.

    That leaves Robinson as the most likely person to replace Will Sheehey's spot in the rotation.

    Robinson spent most of last season in the backcourt with Ferrell, but he was labeled as a small forward out of high school. And it's not like he did much to fulfill the role of shooting guard, making just three three-pointers all of last season.

    Johnson will spend time backing up both Blackmon and Robinson, but he is unlikely to really compete for either starting job. Blackmon might be the best shooter in this year's class, and if Crean is going to go with a slightly undersized small forward, it's going to be the one who averaged 17 minutes per game last season.

Kansas' Point Guard

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    The Candidates: Conner Frankamp, Devonte Graham, Brannen Greene, Frank Mason, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

    A few of the names on the list for Kansas are definitely shooting guards, but Greene and Mykhailiuk have a much better chance of breaking into the starting lineup as a point guard than they do of playing their way ahead of a fully healthy Wayne Selden Jr. at shooting guard.

    With Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Perry Ellis presumably occupying the other three spots in the rotation, one might as well consider all five of these guards as options to take over the point guard spot that Naadir Tharpe vacated.

    Despite that opening rant, let's immediately remove Greene from the discussion. He averaged just one assist for every 18.4 minutes on the court last season and averaged less than five minutes per game over the final six weeks of the season. If he was going to make a run at a starting job, we would have seen something by now.

    On the flip side of that coin, Frankamp and Mason both got a good amount of playing time toward the end of last year. Frankamp even averaged 21.5 minutes and 11.0 points per game in the NCAA tournament after failing to log more than 17 minutes or six points in any other game during the year.

    But Mason was more of a point guard than Frankamp ever wasFrankamp had more than three times as many three-point attempts as assistsand Mason was the guy that Bill Self turned to when Tharpe was either suspended or otherwise in the doghouse. Of the returning players, he is most likely to win the job.

    We would be remiss, though, if we didn't consider Graham an option to start as a freshman. After that (way too public) debacle with getting out of his NLI with Appalachian State, he'll have a chip on his shoulder to prove that he belongs at a high-major program.

    It won't be a big enough chip to earn a starting job at Kansas, though. Freshmen simply don't start at point guard for Bill Self. Be it Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Aaron Miles, Elijah Johnson or Tharpe, Self has always entrusted the primary ball-handling duties to someone with at least a full year of D-I ball under his belt.

    As such, Mason will start at point for Kansas this year.

Kentucky's Entire Frontcourt

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Candidates: Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Trey Lyles, Alex Poythress, Karl Towns Jr., Derek Willis

    We started with the 2014 champs, so it only makes sense to finish with the favorites to win the 2015 title, Kentucky.

    In case you haven't heard, John Calipari not only has options for each of his starters in the frontcourt, but he also could decide on a dedicated understudy for each of the starters and still have one quality big man left over to serve as the best practice-squad player in the nation.

    Here's how unfair this situation is to the rest of the world: Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman had four of these seven players in the top 19 of his 2015 mock draft without Trey Lylesthe No. 6 overall incoming recruit, according to ESPN—even being one of them.


    Let's start out at center, which is arguably the easiest decision to make. Johnson had already supplanted Cauley-Stein on the depth chart before the ankle injury that prematurely ended Cauley-Stein's season and left his health for the start of this season in question.

    Towns may be one of the best incoming centers in the country, but it's far more likely that Calipari goes with Towns at power forward than starting him instead of Johnson.

    In fact, let's go ahead and lock that up. Johnson starts at center and Towns starts at power forward. I'll even go so far as to assign Lyles as Towns' primary backup with Cauley-Stein doing the same for Johnson.

    From the remaining three options, no matter what the Wildcats do at small forward, it won't be very small.

    Poythress (6'8") was James Young's backup at small forward last season, but that doesn't necessarily give him the inside track to becoming the starter this year. That's especially true considering the way Lee (6'9") exploded onto the scene in that tournament game against Michigan.

    Small forward is the biggest tossup of the bunch, but I think Lee gets the job, and Poythress returns to the role of super sub he played last season.

    And as for poor Derek Willis, he'll be lucky to play more than the 39 minutes he received last year. But he'll probably get over it by having one of the best seats in the house for Kentucky's return run to the Final Four.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats and rankings are courtesy of (including ESPN 100), 247Sports and (subscription required).

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


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