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John Calipari has Kentucky’s next defensive stopper

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1. Wenyen Gabriel could emerge as Kentucky’s lock down defender

Some of John Calipari’s best teams have always featured one guy that he could put on the opponent’s best offensive player regardless of position.

At Memphis, he had Antonio Anderson.

At Kentucky, he’s had both DeAndre Liggins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

And now, he has Gabriel.

The 6-10 freshman has freakish length and the ability to guard five positions.

While much of the early season hype surrounding the Wildcats has been linked to either its star-studded perimeter of De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Isaiah Briscoe or the presence of freshman Bam Adebayo inside, Gabriel could wind up emerging as a key piece due to his intangibles.

A five-star recruit out of high school, this kid doesn’t have the same ilk as some of the other players in Kentucky’s freshman class, but that doesn’t mean he can’t carve out a defined role on a team that looks primed to again be one of the best in the sport.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino speaks to fans during a celebration for their run in the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament championship, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

2. Louisville’s off-the-court issues haven’t slowed down its recruiting

The Cards may have been under investigation by the NCAA, but that hasn’t hampered their ability to attract quality talent to the KFC Yum Center.

On the heels of an NCAA postseason ban, Louisville secured its fourth verbal commitment of the 2017 class on Sunday when four-star forward Lance Thomas pledged to Rick Pitino.

Thomas is the fourth four-star commitment in the class joining Malik Williams, Darius Perry, and Jordan Nwora. The 6-11 Williams is a consensus top-50 recruit by most scouting services.

Surprising?

Not really.

Regardless of the issues that have surrounded Louisville’s program over the past year, the bottom line is simple: kids want to play for Pitino and they want to play in the ACC.

The Cards’ program is second-to-none in terms of its facilities and going to Louisville ensures that you’re going to be coached by a Hall-of-Fame coach and you’re going to be play in the best conference in college basketball.

It’s the same way the Cards got current freshman V.J. King a year ago and it’s the same way that they’re going to continue to get elite players moving forward.

December 19, 2015: Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean during the Crossroads Classic NCAA basketball game between the Indiana Hoosiers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.  (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

3. People need to be patient with Indiana’s offense

The Hoosiers averaged 83.0 points last season en route to the Big Ten regular season title and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Don’t expect the same thing to happen this year.

With Collin Hartman’s status unknown for 2016-17 due to a non-contact knee injury, Indiana is now starting a new year without five players — Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Nick Zeisloft, Max Biefeldt, and Hartman — that combined to make 228 three-point shots last season.

The Hoosiers made 345 shots from deep in total a year ago.

Indiana has the pieces to again be an upper echelon Big Ten team, but expecting to see the type of spacing, continuity, and efficiency that last year’s Hoosiers played with out of the gate would be nothing other than false expectations.

It’s going to take Tom Crean some time to mold the clay on the offensive side of the floor just as Indiana’s defense was far from a finished product last year during the first two months of the season.

30 October 2015: Duke's Luke Kennard (left) and Florida Southern's Sheldon Zablotny (44). The Duke University Blue Devils hosted the Florida Southern College Moccasins at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina in a 2015-16 NCAA Men's Basketball Exhibition game. Duke won the game 112-68. (Photograph by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire)

(Photograph by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire)

This and That:

– Several NBA scouts told FanRag Sports that Duke sophomore Luke Kennard shined during last week’s “pro day” in Durham. The 6-6 lefty averaged 11.8 points last season as a freshman and should be a major piece for the Blue Devils once again. Kennard may be unsung nationally, but he’s going to score an awful lot of points for Duke this season.

– The comparison for UCLA junior Thomas Welsh is former Utah and NBA big man Michael Doleac. Like Doleac, Welsh has terrific pick-and-pop ability at 7-feet and is an extremely efficient offensive player. The California native averaged 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds last season for the Bruins while shooting an impressive 59.0 percent from the fieid.

– The intriguing prospect that stood out after watching UConn practice last week in Storrs? 6-8 freshman Vance Jackson. A versatile forward with deep range, Jackson can extend the defense and play multiple positions. This kid will be a quality rotation piece for Kevin Ollie and the Huskies.

– I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Saint Louis’ decision to hire Travis Ford was one of last spring’s most underrated coaching hires. Ford has immediately flipped the Billikens’ roster and should have this program in position to be an upper tier Atlantic 10 team a year from now.

– Things are aligning for Kansas State to have a bounce back season. The Wildcats have a manageable non-conference schedule, with their toughest game potentially being Maryland if they advance to the finals of the Barclays Center Classic over Thanksgiving Weekend. Bruce Weber’s squad should have an excellent chance of beginning Big 12 play with a very capable record.

– Pitt has four starters back from last year’s team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament and was picked to finish 12th in its conference. Welcome to the ACC in 2016-17.

– Arkansas started three players — Dusty Hannahs, Dustin Thomas, and Moses Kingsley — with a combined 13 years of collegiate experience during its exhibition game last Friday as well as two junior-college transfers in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. The Razorbacks are exceptionally old and that’s the primary reason why I think this is the sleeper team in the SEC.

– Creighton’s Greg McDermott told FanRag Sports this week that Ronnie Harrell has made major strides since last season. The 6-7 Harrell only averaged 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds last year as a redshirt freshman, but could be a key cog as a stretch power forward if and when the Jays opt to play small.

– More proof that scrimmages and exhibition games are meaningless: Iowa lost to Augsustana (Division II) a year ago, but wound up beating Michigan State twice during the regular season. Things don’t get real until Nov. 11th.

– One of the highlights of spending the last four weeks on the road during the preseason? Watching Princeton practice last Monday with former Tigers head coach Pete Carril. 86 years young and still sharp as a tack.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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