Wisconsin, Kentucky, among nation's best up front

Associated Press

November 12, 2014

 
In this April 5, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker (15) shoots over Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison during the first half of an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin is No. 3 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25.

MADISON Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky's inside-out game won't take opponents by surprise this year. Getting named a preseason All-American kind of takes away any element of surprise that the jump-shooting big man may have had left.

Double team Kaminsky and Sam Dekker can make opponents pay just as dearly from just about anywhere on the court just like Kaminsky.

This is the predicament that opponents of the third-ranked Badgers must face all season.

Coach Bo Ryan likes big men who can stretch the floor and shoot the 3. In Kaminsky and Dekker, he may have his best frontcourt tandem yet in his 14th year in Madison.

"I think we do fit the mold in a sense," Dekker said, "but at the same time we add a little bit of dynamic of our own skills."

A look at some of the top frontcourts in the country for the college basketball season:

      

In this Jan. 12, 2014, file photo, Arizona forward Brandon Ashley, left, puts up a shot as Southern California center Omar Oraby, center, and guard Julian Jacobs defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles. Arizona lost two key contributors from that team: Guard and leader Nick Johnson, and athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon. And yet, the Wildcats are considered on the short list of favorites to win this season's national title.

WISCONSIN: The 6-foot-9 Dekker grew about an inch and added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason to weigh in at 230 pounds. He impressed this summer at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James skills camps. Dekker suffered what the team termed a minor lower left leg injury that sidelined him for the final few weeks of the preseason, though he is expected to be ready for the regular season.

Fortunately, the Badgers are deep up front beyond Kaminsky and Dekker.

Nigel Hayes, the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman last season, has been working on his jumper. He already has the athleticism to make nifty baseline moves to the bucket. Six-foot-10 senior Duje Dukan is a hard-working reserve who can hit jumpers, while sophomore Vitto Brown and freshman Ethan Happ have the talent and potential to crack the rotation at most other programs.

      

Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, left, blocks the shot of Georgetown's Gerald Coleman during the second half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 121-52.

ARIZONA: Goodbye Aaron Gordon, hello Stanley Johnson. The athletic, 6-foot-7 Johnson could be a one-and-done phenom for the Wildcats, who were already fortified with the return of 6-foot-9 junior Brandon Ashley from a broken foot. Seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski averaged 9.9. points last season, while 6-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson averaged 9.1 points.

DUKE: Speaking of freshman phenoms, the 6-11, 270-pound Jahlil Okafor is the latest presumed one-year wonder for the Blue Devils. Okafor has already been called "a dominant player" by coach Mike Krzyzewski. A preseason All-American before playing a college minute, Okafor averaged 24 points and 11.3 rebounds as a high school senior. Amile Jefferson, a 6-9 junior, also returns in the frontcourt for Duke.

In this Jan. 25, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky (44) slam dunks the ball late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Kaminsky was selected to The Associated Press preseason All-America NCAA college basketball team Monday, Nov. 3, 2014.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats keep stockpiling first-year talent, with 6-11 Karl Anthony Towns and 6-10 Trey Lyles joining a frontcourt that already has returning 7-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Add the 6-9 Marcus Lee and 6-8 Alex Poythress, and the Wildcats have the numbers to substitute in the frontcourt as if they were a hockey team tinkering with line changes.

LOUISVILLE: Not to be outdone by their in-state rivals, the Cardinals boast preseason All-American forward Montrezl Harrell. The athletic, 6-foot-8 Harrell averaged 14 points and 8.4 rebounds last season. He worked on his jumper this offseason. Coach Rick Pitino wants another returnee, 6-5 senior forward Wayne Blackshear (8.2 points) to be more aggressive this year.

TEXAS: Don't mess with Texas in the paint. The stocky Longhorns already return 6-10 center Prince Ibeh, 6-8 forward Jonathan Holmes and 6-9, 285-pound forward Cam Ridley. Prized recruit Myles Turner, a 6-11 forward, could end up being the best of the bunch. The freshman can block shots and hit 3s. Coach Rick Barnes has so much depth he has said he has tinkered in practice with a lineup using four forwards to go with point guard Isaiah Taylor.