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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Who Else Will Contend for the 2015 NCAA Championship?

Just like last year, Kentucky will spend this offseason considered to be, by most, the favorite to win the NCAA championship in men’s basketball. Unlike last year, that assumption won’t be based on the supposed talent of 8 incoming freshmen, but instead on the actual abilities of 6 sophomores and 2 juniors (and, of course, the supposed talent of 4 freshmen).

On Tuesday, I wrote about the need for Kentucky fans to keep next season’s expectations in check, noting that in sports anything can happen and often does. With that in mind, here are 3 teams that could ruin the party in Indianapolis next April:

Duke: Yes, they lose almost 48 points a game with the departures of Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Tyler Thornton, Andrew Dawkins, and Josh Hairston. But incoming freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones will replace much of that lost point production and Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon scoring averages will also likely increase. What makes Duke dangerous next season is Okafor and Jones are upgrades over Parker and Hood.

The unknown for Duke is whether their interior defense will be better than last season. Parker was not an inside defensive threat and they were exposed inside several times. A team with significant size (hey, like Kentucky!) could derail Coach K’s championship plans.

Arizona: The Wildcats fell one game short of making it to the Final Four, losing to Wisconsin in the Elite 8. For much of the season, they looked like the best team in college basketball. Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon won’t be easy to replace; in fact, if both had stayed in Tucson, Arizona would likely be everyone’s second choice to win it all next year. But Sean Miller has a strong nucleus of players returning, led by Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, to go along with the third best recruiting class (according to Rivals).

The unknown for Arizona is whether Stanley Johnson can replicate the kind of freshman season Aaron Gordon had. Johnson does it all: scores, rebounds, passes. If he can do it at a high level his freshman year, the Wildcats can make a deep run in the tournament before Johnson leaves for the NBA. If not, Sean Miller might come up just short, again.

Texas: An overachieving team that finished fourth in the Big XII before losing to Michigan in the Round of 32 returns nearly everyone and adds a difference maker in 5-star Myles Turner (to go along with 4-star SF Jordan Barnett), Texas has the….

Who am I kidding?

No coach gets less out of more than Rick Barnes. He wasted Kevin Durant’s only year in college. The Longhorns were destroyed in the second round by USC. Texas isn’t a championship contender next season, not as long as Rick Barnes is their head coach.

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