A college basketball preseason Top 25 for the 2012-2013 season in April? What about transfers? Late NBA defections? Recruiting stunners? We’ll adjust this list in a few weeks when all of that is sorted out. We did this exercise last April and three of the four teams that played in the Final Four last weekend were in the top seven. The only team omitted was Kansas. Remember how much you screamed about the omission of Arizona? Good times.
1. Indiana (27-9, Sweet 16) – Nobody brings back more than the Hoosiers, who lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual champ Kentucky. Their top five scorers are back (as long as Christian Watford stays), along with potential 1st team All-American Cody Zeller (if he hasn’t left for the NBA yet, he’s staying, right?). There are two highly-touted recruits coming in. If Watford leaves, still Top 3; if Watford and Zeller depart, the Hooisers are still 15-25 material.
2. Louisville (30-10, Final 4) – Lose seniors Kyle Kuric & Chris Smith, but one could argue their best four players return (Siva, Dieng, Behanan, Russ Smith). Toss in
Swopshire and Blackshear, plus Buckles and Marra coming off injury, and the Cardinals will definitely be the class of the Big East. [UPDATE: Buckles’ knee injury in January could keep him out all next year, too.]
3. North Carolina (32-6, Elite 8) – We covered the Tar Heels last week, and they’re this high based on the assumption that Roy Williams is able to convince Alex Oriakhi to go to Chapel Hill and James Michael McAdoo sticks around. Yes, Oriakhi only had modest numbers the last two years at UConn, but he’s a center, something the Tar Heels won’t have without him. There’s a reason everyone’s trying to land him. Without Oriakhi and McAdoo, UNC isn’t a Top 20 team.
4. Kentucky (38-2, National Champs) – They’ll lose Davis, Jones, MKG and maybe even Teague to the NBA. Senior Darius Miller graduates. But you know how Calipari rolls – he’s going to try and reload with 5-star recruits – maybe he’ll land Shabazz Muhammad, the country’s top senior. Lamb (he’s staying, right?) and Wiltjer are poised for big seasons, too. Note: I’d venture a guess that there’s a small chance Calipari leaves, depending on who wins the lottery, er, Anthony Davis.
6 Michigan (24-10, First Round) – Lofty ranking contingent upon the return of point guard Trey Burke, who is flirting with the NBA. Without Burke, they fall down into the teens.
7. Florida (26-11, Elite 8) – They’ll be losing their best talent, Brad Beal, and taco-stealing PG Erving Walker. But a bachcourt of Boynton and Rosario, while small, can score. With Murphy, Prather and Young returning, that’s a very sound frontcourt. Depending on what happens with Kentucky recruits, the Gators could be the best team in the SEC.
8. Memphis (26-9, 1st round) – So far they’ve only lost Witherspoon (graduation) and Will Barton (NBA), and if nobody else leaves, they’re still bringing back seven of their top nine players. Same deal as every year for Josh Pastner – the roster is teeming with talent, but can Memphis play as a team?
9. Syracuse (34-3, Elite 8) – The Orange lose four starters – Joseph and Scoop to graduation; Waiters and Melo to the NBA – but should still be a Top 3 team in the Big East. I’ll guess the starters: Triche, Carter-Williams, Fair, Southerland and Christmas. Talented, but they lack a takeover scorer, though.
10. Creighton (29-6, 2nd round) – Four of five starters return, including their top two reserves. Doug McDermott, a first-team All-American, probably could get this team to the Elite 8. The Blue Jays will be the nation’s best mid-major and perhaps in the mix for a 3-4 seed in March.
11. Kansas (32-7, Title Game) – Lose their best two players in Taylor and Robinson (NBA), but they bring three pivotal role players back (Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey). Can Withey develop an offensive game and turn into an 18-10 guy? Bill Self has two quality recruits coming in, so yet again, the Jayhawks will be near the top of the Big 12.
12. Baylor (30-8, Elite 8) – Losing Jones and Acy will hurt. Their top frontcourt reserve, Anthony Jones, graduates, too. But the backcourt of Jackson/Heslip is back, as are their top two guard reserves (Bello, Walton). If Quincy Miller stays, he’ll be the go-to guy, but he’ll need help. If Miller returns and incoming freshman (7-footer Isaiah Austin) is good as advertised, the Bears could win the Big 12.
13. Maryland (17-15) – This is extremely optimistic, but the Terps return a ton, and I’m expecting big leaps for Len and Howard.
14. Butler (22-15, NIT) – Lose senior guard Ronald Nored, but they’ll be adding Arkansas transfer transfer Rotnei Clarke. So your four top scorers are back, plus one of the country’s best 3-point shooters? Let’s just pencil in Brad Stevens for a deep NCAA run.
15. San Diego State (26-8, First Round) – Top three scorers are back for the Aztecs, who could be as high as a 4-seed in March. With UNLV’s Moser leaving for the NBA, Jamaal Franklin of SDSU might be the best player in the conference. [UPDATE: Moser was going. Then, he decided to stay. Doesn’t change my SDSU prediction, but I’d go Moser > Franklin.]
16 Tennessee (19-15, NIT) – Four starters are back from a team that started to look pretty good in February. Jarnell Stokes, who had a nice 2nd half of the season, could be a 1st team All-SEC candidate.
17. Michigan State (29-8, Sweet 16) – Impossible to replace Draymond Green, but the Spartans do return Payne (whom I really like), Dawson (nice freshman year) and Appling. Strong recruiting class should have the Spartans battling for 3rd in the conference (unless Burke leaves Michigan, then 2nd place is wide open).
18. Arizona (23-12, NIT) – Solid returning pair in Hill and Nick Johnson plus strong recruits (some are calling it the top class) = narrowly the best team in the Pac-12? The frontcourt will be fine, but they’ll have some issues at guard. Especially if Turner doesn’t return.
19. UCLA (19-14, NIT) – Only in the Top 25 because of Kyle Anderson, a super-recruit who probably will be enough to get them to the NCAA tournament. The Ware twins didn’t do much last year, but there’s still room for improvement. We’ve hammered Howland since last summer, and it’ll be interesting to see if the recruits end up at UCLA or bolt for … Kentucky?
20. Ohio State (31-8, Final 4) – Losing Sullinger and Buford will hurt, but if Deshaun Thomas leaves for the NBA, they’re not nearly this high. Smith and Craft are a nice place to start, but guys like Ravenel, Sibert and Weatherspoon did absolutely nothing this season. All were nice recruits, but can they go from being non-factors to playing 30 minutes a night and contributing significantly in the Big Ten? This is under the assumption Thomas leaves for the NBA. If he stays, they Buckeyes are Top 10.
21. Marquette (27-8, Sweet 16) – Lose their top two players (DJO, Crowder) but Blue and Mayo are two nice guards to build around. If Gardner can lose 10 pounds, why can’t he be a 16-9 guy next year? The 290-pounder averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 19 minutes a night. Typical unheralded recruiting class by Buzz Williams … full of guys who will make recruiting pundits look silly in two years.
22. Miami (20-13, 9-7, NIT) – Four starters – including their two leading scorers plus space-eater Reggie Johnson inside – are back from a squad that beat Duke in Cameron. Could be a sleeper in what might just be a decent year in the ACC.
23. Harvard (26-5, First Round) – Lose two starters, but Tommy Amaker’s got a strong roster and even some ready-to-play recruits coming in. Should be able to win a game in the tourney next March.
24. BYU (26-9, First Round) – Lose two starters, but if you’re a Carlino fan – he was awful against Iona, but otherwise had a solid year in Provo – and you like Davies, expect another NCAA trip out of the Cougars.
25. Duke (27-7, First Round) – It’s more of a slap in the face to put them here then leave them out, right? If you’re looking for reasoning, we explored matters here.