Obviously, these rankings are definitely going to change over the next few months, with early-entries, coaching changes, etc. I will have a fresh set of revised rankings after the NBA Draft, but, until then, this is what the college basketball scope looks like heading into the offseason.
1. North Carolina: One of the most improved teams in the country from start to finish, the Tar Heels are my favorite to cut down the nets next spring. They lose All-Conference forward David Noel, but the nation's #1 recruiting class brings in more than enough reinforcements. According to several recruiting outlets, UNC has the #1 point guard (Tywon Lawson), the #1 shooting guard (Wayne Ellington), and the #1 power forward (Brendan Wright) coming in. Add that to the nation's top returning post player in Tyler Hansbrough and one of the most versatile scorers in the country in Reyshawn Terry, and you have a team capable of winning the title. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention two more returning starters in Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller and several other players that saw considerable time off the bench. If the young players develop enough, look for this team to be the National Champion next April.
2. Florida: The defending National Champions return all five starters and only stand to get better with the additional year of experience. So why not the preseason #1 spot? To put it simply, there is too much parity in college basketball for a team to repeat. However, they have more than enough talent returning not to be near the top of the polls all season long. Joakim Noah could come into the season as an All-America candidate, while Corey Brewer was one of the best all-around players in the country down the stretch. Al Horford has great potential down low, and Taurean Green is a solid point guard. Lee Humphrey is an excellent shooter on the wing. Moreover, the Gators return several bench players that played a key role in their title run.
3. Kansas: Similar to North Carolina, the Jayhawks were one of the most improved teams in the country from how they started to the way they finished the regular season. Kansas returns their top seven scorers, and also bring in one of the best point guard recruits in the country in Sherron Collins. Brandon Rush, if he decides to stay, could develop into one of the best players in the nation if he becomes more aggressive. Mario Chalmers improved in leaps and bounds as the season went on, and could be a star. Julian Wright is one of the most versatile forwards around. Throw in Russell Robinson, a very good all-around guard, and a host of post players, and KU has what it takes to make a Final Four run.
4. UCLA: Another young team that improved as the season wore on, and was playing their best basketball at the end of the year. If they carry the momentum from their Title Game run over to next season, the Bruins could make a repeat Final Four run. Of course, it all depends on what the star backcourt of Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo decide to do about their NBA futures. Afflalo is likely to stay, but Farmar could decide to go early. If they return, UCLA has the best backcourt in the country. Moreover, on the perimeter, Josh Shipp returns from injury. Up front, Luc Richard Mbah a Mboute could develop into an All-Pac-10 player. If the inside players give the Bruins solid production down low, look for UCLA to take the conference title again.
5. Memphis: In most seasons, the top teams in the Pre-Preseason Poll are not completely filled with teams that were young a season ago and developed into a very formidable club as the season wore on. But that is just how this season is shaping up. Memphis is another team just like the aforementioned four--they started off somewhat slow but improved steadily until March. However, the Tigers lose All-American Rodney Carney on the wing. He could be tough to replace, but Memphis has loads of athletic wings to take his place. Darius Washington is a scorer at the point (if he stays), while Shawne Williams could become a dominant player (if he stays). Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts are very good wings that can score and defend. Andre Allen came on strong in the postseason. Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier anchor the interior. Don't forget about incoming point guard Willie Kemp, either. Memphis will dominate Conference-USA once again.
6. Ohio State: They lose four starters, including the Big Ten Player of the Year. So why the high praise? Just look at the recruiting class. Greg Oden is being regarded as the next dominant big man in the world of basketball. He will more than enough as a replacement for Terence Dials. His high school teammate Mike Conley was one of the best point guard recruits and Daequan Cook was the third McDonald's All-American on the squad. Throw in David Lighty, an athletic wing, and the Buckeyes should be stocked for a couple years. Add the incoming players to a group of returnees including point guard Jamar Butler, super sixth man Ron Lewis, and post man Ivan Harris, and OSU fans will quickly forget about the loss of all the players from this past season.
7. Texas: What many considered one of the two most talented teams in the country this past season could be in the running for a national title again. However, that depends on the status of P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Longhorns already lost to Brad Buckman to graduation; if Tucker and Aldridge both go pro, Texas could have a down year in the Big 12. However, if one stays (I see Tucker returning), expect the Longhorns to compete against Kansas for the league title. The incoming players will give them a boost as well. Kevin Durant has emerged as the clear-cut #2 player in the class behind Greg Oden and could be a star next season. D.J. Augustin will also give the Longhorns solid play at the point. As for the returnees, Daniel Gibson is one of the better guards in the Big 12, while A.J. Abrams has a lot of potential. Mike Williams will have to have a big season next year up front.
8. LSU: This past season, John Brady took a young team that started three freshmen and had no true point guard in the lineup to an SEC title and a Final Four berth. He will have a lot more talent to deal with next season. However, that all depends on what Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis decide to do. Thomas has the chance to be the #1 pick in the next Draft, while Davis is likely to go in the first round. If both stay, LSU could make another deep Tournament run. For now, I expect Thomas to go and Davis to return for another year. Also up front, Tasmin Mitchell can do a variety of things at the small forward spot. Garrett Temple is an athletic wing, while Magnum Rolle and Darnell Lazare are two more very good forwards. Add that to the fact that point guard Tack Minor returns from injury and Marquette transfer Dameon Mason is also elgibile. Another big year should be in the makings for LSU.
9. Georgetown: Surprised to see the first Big East team at #9? Don't be. The country's best conference this past season is going to have a down year next season. However, Georgetown will be the best that the Big East has to offer--and that is plenty good enough. The Hoyas return one of the best frontcourt combos in the country in versatile forward Jeff Green and improving 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. They also get an influx of more talent up front in the form of Indiana transfer Pat Ewing, Jr. and five-star recruit Vernon Macklin, as well as inside-outside recruit DaJuan Summers. The perimeter loses a lot, but Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp should be solid in the backcourt.
10. Wisconsin: The Badgers collapsed down the stretch and were blown out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Arizona. However, they should be much better next season. Likely Preseason All-America Alando Tucker will be back, and his ability to get points in a variety of ways will be crucial. Kammron Taylor is a very good scoring point guard, while Brian Butch is a nice inside-outside big man. Michael Flowers and Jason Chappell also return as starters, while Marcus Landry, if academically eligible, will give the Badgers a player that can create his own shot. The incoming backcourt duo of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes will help out Wisconsin's depth and scoring ability on the perimeter.
11. Texas A&M: Texas A&M? Yes, the Aggies could contend for a Big 12 title next season. Acie Law IV is going to be one of the best point guards in the country, while Joseph Jones is a very good big man. Josh Carter and Dominique Kirk are solid on the perimeter, and Antanas Kavaliauskas and Marlon Pompey provide scoring and rebounding in the paint. Watch out for A&M next year.
12. Villanova: While the Wildcats lose All-America guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray, they should be competitive again. Curtis Sumpter returns from a knee injury, and Kyle Lowry (if he stays) and Mike Nardi will form a very good backcourt. Will Sheridan is a solid big man, while Dante Cunnigham and Shane Clark are developing forwards. Forwards Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena lead a nice recruiting class.
13. Pittsburgh: This is banking on Aaron Gray smarting up and returning to school instead of entering the NBA Draft. If he goes pro, drop the Panthers a few slots. Either way, Pitt is loaded on the perimeter. Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon are crafty scorers, while Antonio Graves and Keith Benjamin are solid. Up front, Sam Young and Levon Kendall are good rebounders and all-around players.
14. Arizona: With the loss of two players that never lived up to their potential in Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers, Arizona will be better off. Mustafa Shakur looked better towards the end of the season, and Marcus Williams was one of the best freshmen in the country. The return from injury of Jawann McClellan and the arrival of Chase Budinger should bolster the perimeter, while Ivan Radenovic and Kirk Walters are back down low.
15. Connecticut: They potentially lose five starters, but I am confident that Josh Boone will return to school after realizing he's not ready for the NBA. Even without him, UConn has talent. Jeff Adrien could breakout down low, while Craig Austrie has proven himself at the point. Incoming forwards Curtis Kelly and Stanley Robinson could both start immediately, while Jerome Dyson is a scorer on the wing.
16. Wichita State: Maybe I'm high on the whole mid-major thing, but the Shockers sure look impressive. They return four starters from a Sweet 16 team. Kyle Wilson and P.J. Couisnard are excellent forwards, while Sean Ogirri is an outstanding shooter on the wing. Matt Braeur and Karon Bradley anchor the backcourt. Incoming forward Arbry Butler will provide athleticism in the frontcourt.
17. Boston College: A distant second behind the top ACC team, the Eagles will still be competitive without All-American Craig Smith and senior leader Louis Hinnant. Jared Dudley is one of the top forwards in the country, while Sean Marshall is a good defender and shooter. Tyrese Rice has potential in the backcourt, and Sean Williams is an exceptional shot-blocker up front. Al Skinner's teams are always tough to beat.
18. Alabama: After being forced to play shorthanded last season due to injuries, the Crimson Tide will be back in the SEC race after an offseason to recover. Ronald Steele is one of the top three point guards in the country, while Jermareo Davidson is a double-double threat down low. Richard Hendrix should dominate the low post with a year under his belt and Alonzo Gee should be a very good scorer.19. Duke: The Blue Devils this far down? Yes, especially if Josh McRoberts enters the NBA Draft as is expected. Without him, Duke only returns Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson from last season's rotation. Both are solid players, but they are going to need a lot of help. Gerald Henderson was one of the best shooting guard recruits, while Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek will also contribute immediately.
20. Southern Illinois: Another Missouri Valley team in the Top 20. The Salukis play outstanding defense and return all five starters and every contributing player from last year's MVC Tournament Champion team. Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young form a very good backcourt on both ends of the floor, while Matt Shaw is a versatile forward. Randal Falker anchors the low post. As long as coach Chris Lowery is back, SIU will be a tough team.
21. Florida State: The Seminoles were on the bubble this past season, but should be comfortably in the Big Dance next year. Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson form one of the conference's best inside tandems and can carry FSU. Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann also return as starters in the backcourt. Add to that group Auburn transfer Toney Douglas and the Seminoles should have the goods to make a run in the ACC.
22. Louisville: The Cardinals didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season and they lose star guard Taquan Dean. So why the optimism? Well, to put it simply, Louisville is loaded. Juan Palacios and David Padgett are a very good inside duo, while Brandon Jenkins and Terrence Williams form a solid perimeter tandem. Moreover, Rick Pitino is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
23. Syracuse: As long as the Orange find a suitable replacement for Gerry McNamara, they should be fine. Five-star recruit Paul Harris will help on the wing, while Eric Devendorf should be a go-to-guy on the perimeter. The key will be the frontcourt play of Terrence Roberts, Demetris Nichols, and Darryl Watkins. If those three play to their potential, Syracuse will not fall at all. If they don't, 'Cuse will be an also-ran in the Big East race.
24. Georgia Tech: An 11-17 team this past season, the Yellow Jackets return their top seven scorers and bring in two of the top recruits in the country. Javaris Crittenton is a super-scorer at the point, while Thaddeus Young is a future NBA star. Tech also returns an excellent inside-outside duo in shooter Anthony Morrow and inside force Ra'Sean Dickey. Jeremis Smith is a big-time rebounder down low.
25. Washington: For the second season in a row, the Huskies lose four key players from a Sweet 16 team. And, once again, they will bounce back strong. Justin Dentmon is developing at the point and Ryan Appleby is a good shooter. Jon Brockman could be an All-Pac-10 forward. Lorenzo Romar also brings in an exceptional class. Spencer Hawes is the #2 center behind Greg Oden, and Quincy Poindexter is a scorer on the wing.
Ten Other Teams to Watch:
- Xavier: A-10 Tourney Champ adds OU transfer Drew Lavender to a deep and talented team.
- Hofstra: Best backcourt in the mid-major world should keep the Pride in the national eye.
- California: If Leon Powe returns, the Golden Bears will be in the thick of the Pac-10 race.
- Oklahoma State: Top ten scorers return and Cowboys bring in very good recruiting class.
- Tennessee: Shooter Chris Lofton and coach Bruce Pearl should keep Vols competitive.
- Marquette: Dominic James could be one of the best PGs in the country next season.
- Michigan: NIT runner-up has nice inside-outside combo in Courney Sims and Dion Harris.
- Gonzaga: If Adam Morrison stays, move Zags into the Top 20. If not, Zags will still win WCC.
- Indiana: As long as D.J. White and Robert Vaden stay, Hoosiers will be tough in Big Ten.
- Kentucky: If the perimeter players play to their ability, Kentucky will be in the SEC race.