College basketball is still five months away, but with all the high-profile coaching changes complete, transfers having made up their mind (including one last night), and the NBA draft situation sorted out, here’s what your Preseason Top 25 looks like for the 2011-2012 season. There have been some obvious changes since we did this exercise in April.
1. North Carolina – What a sick projected lineup: Marshall at PG, Strickland at SG, Barnes at SF, Henson at PF, Zeller at C. There’s depth. There’s a star freshman coming off the bench. There’s experience.
2. Ohio State – You’ll see UK No. 2 on most lists, but I’ll ride with the Buckeyes and their awesome trio of Sullinger, Buford and Craft. They’ll miss Deibler terribly, but dominate the Big Ten.
3. Kentucky – Best freshman class in the country, plus Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller stuck around. Don’t have a pure center (Harrellson will be missed), and I envision some veteran vs. freshman squabbles.
4. Syracuse – On paper, they’re stacked. They’ll miss Rick the Ruler inside, but perhaps Fab Melo or freshman Rakeem Christmas will fill the offensive void inside. Good luck with the backcourt rotations, Jimmy.
5. Duke – Three Plumlees, a Curry, and Austin Rivers. I’d say the Top four teams are very, very good – like 30-win good – but the chasm between them and the pack opens up with Duke.
6. Louisville – 2nd best team in the Big East has some holes inside – will the freshman be ready for the rigors of the Big East? – but is strong on the perimeter.
7. Memphis – After Kentucky, the Tigers have the best collection of individual high school talent in the country. Individual is the key word. Expect much drama coming out of Memphis. Ceiling: A title.
8. Connecticut – The recent departure of Jamal Coombs-McDaniel from the program hurts, but Jeremy Lamb will be the centerpiece, and their frontcourt (Olander, Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith) might be the best in the Big East.
9. Vanderbilt – 2nd best team in the SEC, no doubt.
10. Michigan – I probably should have dropped them more when Darius Morris stayed in the draft, but I’m a believer in Beilein ball.
12. Pittsburgh – I wrote the Panthers off after they lost three seniors and Ashton Gibbs declared for the draft. But Gibbs (16.8 ppg) returned to school, Robinson and Woodall aren’t bad, and the recruits are solid.
13. Florida – The Gators have no post players, but a terrific collection of guards.
14. Xavier – Best team – by far – in the Atlantic 10 returns a lot of talent, led by Tu Holloway.
15. Kansas – Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are all that’s left from a loaded team, but in what will be a down year in the Big 12, that may be enough to win the league crown.
16. Cincinnati – Bearcats’ return their best four players, who should be able to at least match last year’s 26-win season.
17. Wisconsin – Jordan Taylor is the team’s best returning player. I’m thinking the Badgers are 3rd or 4th in the Big Ten.
18. Missouri – Why so low for a team that returns its six best players? Because they’ve got a new coach (Frank Haith).
19. George Mason – See Missouri.
20. Butler – Shelvin Mack’s loss to the NBA is a damaging one, but I’ll never leave a Brad Stevens-coached team out of the preseason Top 25 again.
21. Gonzaga – Lost leading scorer to graduation and point guard to college football, but Elias Harris and Robert Sacre are enough to get the Zags’ another WCC crown & NCAA berth.
22. Arizona – Omitted last time around, and actually had the Wildcats 12th last night before the Momo Jones transfer news hit. Yeah, they have a Top 5 class – assuming Josiah Turner qualifies – and the Pac-10 will be garbage, but they’re a year away from going on a run like they did in March.
23. Texas A&M – See Missouri, George Mason (well, kind of).
24. UCLA – The NBA defections (Honeycutt, Lee) sent them spiraling, but I guess the Bruins will be OK this year – mostly because the rest of the Pac-10 will be so dreadful.
25. Villanova – Wildcats lost three key seniors, but bring back a strong backcourt of Wayns and Cheek. If Yarou develops quickly, and Sutton/Armwood provide key minutes, they should win 20 games again.