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UK basketball gets plenty of love in early rankings for 2016-17

Isaiah Briscoe could be one of the returning players who joins a standout freshman class to lead Kentucky back to the top of the rankings in 2016-17.
Isaiah Briscoe could be one of the returning players who joins a standout freshman class to lead Kentucky back to the top of the rankings in 2016-17. The Associated Press

No sooner had Kris Jenkins’ wondrous shots slipped through the net in Houston, igniting eruptions all over the City of Brotherly Love, if not America, than college basketball gurus started dropping their way-too-early top-25 lists for 2016-17.

This is crazy, of course. We don’t even know which players will opt for the NBA Draft yet or which players will wind up staying on campus for next season. We must look ahead to what’s next, however. So let’s look ahead.

▪ Our friend Eamonn Brennan at ESPN puts Kentucky at No. 3 behind No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Villanova.

“Another Way Too Early Top 25, another offseason roster overhaul, another obvious top-five spot for Kentucky,” Brennan writes. “The standard operating procedure in Lexington, Kentucky, continues apace. Good thing, too, not only because burly forward Bam Adebayo could bring some “man” to 2015-16’s underwhelming frontcourt, but because the concept of replacing both Jamal Murray (one of the nation’s best pure perimeter scorers) and Tyler Ulis (one of the nation’s best players, full stop) would be all but unthinkable for any coach not named John Calipari. If Ulis decides to return for his junior year — unlikely, but not totally impossible — well, look out.”

Spoiler alert: I don’t see Ulis coming back.

▪ Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News ranks Kentucky at No. 1 ahead of Duke at No. 2. He has Louisville at No. 5.

“Jamal Murray has already announced he’s leaving school after an outstanding freshman season,” Fagan writes, “and even if Ulis, (Skal) Labissiere, (Marcus) Lee and (Isaiah) Briscoe follow him out the door, Kentucky probably will have the best team in the country.”

▪ Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports’ The Dagger has Duke at No. 1, followed by Kentucky at No. 2 and Villanova at No. 3. He is not as high on Louisville, putting the Cardinals at 11th.

“While Kentucky’s frontcourt was the weak link this past season, the rugged, physical Adebayo could help change that,” Eisenberg writes. “He should be a double-double machine in the paint and an ideal complement to the sweet-shooting (Derek) Willis.”

▪ Gary Parrish of CBS Sports also has the top three as Duke, Kentucky and Villanova. You have to go all the way down to No. 22 to find Louisville on Parrish’s list.

“That Kentucky’s recruiting class is ranked ahead of Duke’s even though Duke’s features two future top-five picks says all you need to know about the quality of Kentucky’s prospects,” Parrish writes.

▪ Writing for SB Nation, Mike Rutherford joins the Duke-Kentucky-Villanova top-three chorus. Louisville is No. 5 on Rutherford’s list.

“For the first time in the John Calipari era, a Kentucky team which made the NCAA Tournament fell short of making it to at least a regional final,” writes Rutherford. “With another top-rated recruiting class on its way to Lexington, that’s unlikely to happen again in 2016-17, regardless of how many current Wildcats wind up joining Jamal Murray in this June’s draft.”

▪ Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk says Kentucky is likely to be 1b behind Duke’s 1a. He has Louisville at No. 10.

“The Cardinals are another team that are going to be better than I realized next season,” Dauster writes. “They lose Damion Lee, but expect (Donovan) Mitchell, (Deng) Adel, (Raymond) Spalding and (Anas) Mahmoud to all take significant steps forward.”

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