ARLINGTON, Texas — Kentucky is expected to lose several star players to the NBA Draft over the next few weeks, but that won't temper outside expectations for next season.
In the hours after Monday night's national title game loss to UConn, many national media outlets unveiled early rankings for the 2014-15 college basketball season.
Most of those rankings outright acknowledged that UK is likely to lose sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and freshmen Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison to the NBA. Still, all of those rankings pegged the Cats as a top-10 team for next season.
If those five players leave — along with seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood — UK will still have an impressive group next fall.
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Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis are expected to return to the frontcourt, alongside incoming McDonald's All-Americans Karl Towns Jr. and Trey Lyles.
The backcourt would consist of Dominique Hawkins and two more All-Americans — point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker.
That would be a roster of nine scholarship players, seven of whom played in the McDonald's game before coming to Kentucky.
And there's still the possibility that Coach John Calipari could add another perimeter player. Huntington Prep's Montaque Gill-Caesar is expected to reclassify to 2014 after his AAU season this summer. UK could also go the graduate-transfer route that landed Julius Mays in Lexington last season.
As it stands, the Cats will be expected to do big things again in 2014-15.
The Sporting News ranked them the highest — No. 2 in the country behind Arizona, though the national outlet did acknowledge that the lofty expectations might hinge on the return of the Harrison twins, something many others see as unlikely.
ESPN ranked Kentucky at No. 3. USA Today and NBC Sports both had the Wildcats at No. 5. CBS ranked UK at No. 7 in the country for next season.
Three of those five national outlets had Arizona at No. 1, and the other two put Duke in the top spot.
UK's current players offered no hints about their NBA plans after Monday's loss, and Calipari said he would sit down with each player individually in the coming days to evaluate their professional prospects.
"I kind of stay out of the decision making," Calipari said. "I just get them information. So we'll see. I have no idea because I haven't talked to them and none of us have talked about that.
"But now that the season's over, it is about the players. It's no longer about the program. It's no longer about the team. It's about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. ... Now it's about them."