UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky voted No. 1: 'Let's prove them right,' Calipari says

L-R: Kentucky Wildcats center Dakari Johnson (44), Kentucky Wildcats forward Derek Willis (35), Kentucky Wildcats forward Trey Lyles (41), Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15), Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22), Kentucky Wildcats forward Marcus Lee (00), Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) joked around during the UK men's basketball team photo day held in the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Thursday September 04, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
L-R: Kentucky Wildcats center Dakari Johnson (44), Kentucky Wildcats forward Derek Willis (35), Kentucky Wildcats forward Trey Lyles (41), Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15), Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22), Kentucky Wildcats forward Marcus Lee (00), Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) joked around during the UK men's basketball team photo day held in the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Thursday September 04, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

A summer exhibition tour in the Bahamas and a nationally televised NBA combine gave rival coaches ample opportunity to witness what the Kentucky Wildcats have to offer this season.

Apparently, those coaches are sufficiently convinced.

Their votes anointed the University of Kentucky men's basketball team as the No. 1 team in the USA Today preseason coaches poll released Thursday.

The Wildcats, who finished last season as the NCAA Tournament runner-up to national champion Connecticut, received 24 of a possible 32 first-place votes from the coaches. The remaining first-place votes went to No. 2 Arizona (three votes), No. 3 Duke (two votes) and No. 4 Wisconsin (three votes).

Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Louisville and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari told USA Today his squad could downplay the lofty preseason expectations. But there's another approach, the coach said.

"The other side of it is, 'Let's prove them right. Let's strive to be the best team out there,'" Calipari said.

USA Today's outlook for the Wildcats described UK this way: "John Calipari has an embarrassment of riches in Lexington. Nine McDonald's All-Americans. Just one basketball. Finding minutes and touches for everyone on this talent-rich roster could be the toughest challenge."

Calipari told USA Today this "embarrassment of riches" was not what he expected this season.

"I never expected my guys to return like they did," Calipari said. "I've never had to coach this way, playing so many guys. It's the only way to do it right so these kids get the chance they deserve. But there's a real challenge here. They have to become great teammates. Can they share? Can they sacrifice? Can they handle adversity together?"

The only Southeastern Conference team other than Kentucky in the poll is Florida at No. 7.

Defending national champion Connecticut starts 2014-15 at No. 15.

Louisville, which finished 31-6 last season and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Kentucky in the round of 16, comes in at No. 9.

The Wildcats were voted No. 1 by the coaches for the second year in a row. Last season, UK received 16 of 32 first-place votes.

Kentucky is 152-37 in five seasons under Calipari, with three Final Four appearances and one national championship.

Twelve players return from a Kentucky team that finished 29-11 last season and made a surprise run to the NCAA Tournament title game.

UK will take on five of the preseason top 25 teams in 2014-15: No. 5 Kansas (Nov. 18), No. 6 North Carolina (Dec. 13), No. 7 Florida (Feb. 7, March 7), No. 9 Louisville (Dec. 27) and No. 10 Texas (Dec. 5).

The Wildcats' nine McDonald's All-Americans, include returnees Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee along with newcomers Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Also back is junior 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who blocked 88 shots and was named to the All-Southeastern Conference Defensive Team before missing the final three games of the Wildcats' postseason run with an ankle injury.

Poythress, a junior forward, led the Wildcats by averaging 11.8 points during their six-game Bahamas trip this summer. Towns (11.0) and Aaron Harrison (10.3) were also double-figure scorers in Nassau. Towns (6.5) and Poythress (5.7) led the squad in rebounding. Andrew Harrison and Ulis led UK with 31 and 24 assists, respectively.

The Associated Press preseason poll, voted on by the nation's college basketball media, comes out Oct. 31.

USA TODAY COACHES POLL

The top 25 college basketball teams in the USA Today preseason coaches poll (Listed with points received and last season's final record. First-place votes in parentheses):

1. Kentucky (24) 785 29-11

2. Arizona (3) 746 33-5

3. Duke (2) 715 26-9

4. Wisconsin (3) 706 30-8

5. Kansas 654 25-10

6. North Carolina 598 24-10

7. Florida 568 36-3

8. Virginia 519 30-7

9. Louisville 507 31-6

10. Texas 479 24-11

11. Wichita State 471 35-1

12. Villanova 439 29-5

13. Gonzaga 423 29-7

14. Iowa State 323 28-8

15. Connecticut 292 32-8

16. Virginia Commonwealth 259 26-9

17. San Diego State 251 31-5

18. Michigan State 241 29-9

19. Oklahoma 237 23-10

20. Ohio State 223 25-10

21. Nebraska 156 19-13

22. Southern Methodist 149 27-10

23. Michigan 139 28-9

24. Syracuse 128 28-6

25. Iowa 56 20-13

Others receiving votes: Harvard 47; Stanford 47; Kansas State 37; Pittsburgh 36; Utah 26; Memphis 25; Minnesota 18; UCLA 15; New Mexico 11; Oregon 9; Louisiana Tech 8; Colorado 8; Arkansas 8; Dayton 6; Providence 5; Notre Dame 5; Massachusetts 4; Georgetown 4; Illinois 4; Texas-El Paso 4; Florida State 3; Baylor 2; George Washington 1; Miami (Fla.) 1; Toledo 1; Saint Mary's 1.

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