UK Men's Basketball

Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona present biggest challenges to a ninth Kentucky title

Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky (44) blocked a shot by Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during first half action of the NCAA Final Four semi-finals Saturday April 5, 2014 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky (44) blocked a shot by Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during first half action of the NCAA Final Four semi-finals Saturday April 5, 2014 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Kentucky is the consensus favorite to break into a happy dance at the end of national championship night, but that doesn't mean there aren't other reasonable candidates on college basketball's marquee dance floor.

Wisconsin Badgers

Last year: 30-8, lost to Kentucky in Final Four

Preseason ranking: No. 4 coaches' poll

Coach: Bo Ryan (704-224)

Top players: Frank Kaminsky (7-0, Sr.), Sam Dekker (6-9, Jr.), Traevon Jackson (6-2, Sr.)

Why they're dangerous: Were it not for Aaron Harrison's dagger three not long before the final buzzer in last year's Final Four, the Badgers would have been playing Connecticut for the title. That memory, plus NCAA tourney experience, plus talent, plus coaching, plus one of the nation's most precise offenses should put the Cheeseheads in prime position once again. Wisconsin may not trump Kentucky's talent, but it does have the experience edge.

Duke Blue Devils

Last year: 26-9, lost to Mercer in Round of 64

Preseason ranking: No. 3 coaches' poll

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (983-306)

Top players: Jahlil Okafor (6-11, Fr.), Tyus Jones (6-1, Fr.), Justise Winslow (6-6, Fr.)

Why they're dangerous: No team led primarily by freshmen can win the national title, well, wait a minute, oops. John Calipari would like rebuttal time. Now it's Coach K who has a stable full of diaper dandies who by March could very well be in position to lead the Blue Devils up the ladder with scissors in hand. Krzyzewski doesn't have Kentucky's depth, but he may turn that into a benefit by concentrating on his rookies.

Arizona Wildcats

Last year: 33-5, lost to Wisconsin in Elite Eight

Preseason ranking: No. 2 coaches' poll

Coach: Sean Miller (249-95)

Top players: Brandon Ashley (6-9, Jr.), Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0, Jr.), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6-7, So.)

Why they're dangerous: Sean Miller is a pitbull of a coach and the Wildcats reflect the personality of their head coach. Arizona led the nation in defensive efficiency last season and there is no reason to believe they won't be as stingy this time around. Without Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, Miller will have to ramp up the offense, but Arizona defends to the point where it can frustrate even the most talented foe, and that could include Kentucky.

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