NCAA Preseason Top 25Hello ya’ll, I’m Gus Elvin and I’ll be your College Basketball writer and expert here at TSHQ. For my first installment, I’m going to preview the national hoops landscape with my very own preseason Top 25. With a lot of major programs losing players early to the draft, one program that was able to convince their star underclassmen to stay was the reigning National Champion Duke Blue Devils. For this reason I kick off my top 25 rankings with the Duke Blue Devils ranked #1, the same spot they occupied in the end of season poll last April.
1.) Duke-The Blue Devils and Coach Krzyzewski surprised many experts last season on their run to the National Title, but this year the Blue Devils will not sneak up on anyone. With Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back in the fold the Blue Devils have two potential All Americans heading their effort to repeat as National Champs. Add in Seth Curry who is eligible after sitting out last year after transferring from Liberty, and freshman point guard extraordinaire Kyrie Irving (Ranked 3rd in this year’s incoming freshman class) the Blue Devils look like the team to beat in both the ACC and the country as long as they can get steady interior play from Miles and Mason Plumlee.
2.) Michigan State- Kalin Lucas comes back from injury strong as the Spartans rally around Tom Izzo’s decision to stay at Michigan State and make a run at another Big Ten Title. With steep competition such as Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans will have their work cut out for them but with a multitude of tournament experience and a veteran point guard like Lucas, State will win the Big 10 once again. The Spartans return Dryamond Green and Durrell Summers along with Lucas, and look for big man Delvon Roe to have a breakout season as long as he can stay healthy. Three top 100 recruits, Keith Appling, Russell Byrd and Adreian Payne more than make up for the graduation of Raymar Morgan and the dismissal of guard Chris Allen, as Tom Izzo will once again have the Spartans dancing late in March.
3.) Ohio State- This is a bit of a surprise here especially considering the early departure of Naismith award winner Evan Turner, but the buckeyes return everyone else and have brought in a top 5 recruiting class. David Lighty is back, along with John Diebler and Williams Buford, add in stud freshman center Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes should be contending for a Big 10 Title. Look for Buford to become a star in his junior campaign and as long as freshman point guard Aaron Craft can manage the game the Buckeyes will be a force to be reckoned with nationally.
4.) Villanova- With the Big East wide open at the top Jay Wright’s Wildcats have the best chance to win the conference. Corey Fisher is poised for a breakout season and as long as last years’ freshman class of Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and Mouf Yarou progress the Wildcats will minimize the loss of star Scottie Reynolds and be one of the beasts of the Big East.
5.)Kansas State-KU’s reign at the top of the Big 12 will come to an end as the Wildcats return Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels and add an effective big man in JUCO transfer Fred Asprilla. Pullen who had a great offseason training with the USA national team will have an increased scoring burden with the loss of Denis Clemente, but Pullen should be up to the task and the Big 12 will remember to “fear the beard” when they play in Manhattan.
6.)Pittsburgh-The Panthers are one of the most consistent programs in the nation and this year is no different Ashton Gibb is poised to become a star and with Gilbert Brown and Brad Wannemaker back the Panthers should have a very good team, maybe a team good enough to final reach the Final Four.
7.) Kansas-Yes Kansas lost Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry to the NBA, but this is still Kansas and the Jayhawks still are loaded with talent. Assuming Josh Selby will be cleared to play by the NCAA the Jayhawks should have a legitimate chance to defend their Big 12 Title as long as they can take care of rival Kansas State.
8.) Syracuse- The Orange lose three key contributor’s from last year,(Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku, but bring in a top 5 recruiting class and still have players like Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson in the fold. With Joseph expected to ascend as the go to option and ESPN top 50 recruits Fab Melo, Dion Waters and CJ Fair all expected to see a lot of minutes, the Orange should be a very exciting team and one of the deeper teams in the land.
9.)Florida- After an up and down season , Florida brings everyone back .Electric point guard Kenny Boynton is poised for a huge season and with wing players like Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and sparkplug guard Earvin Walker, the Gators on paper are one of the best teams in the land. Florida has had consistency issues in the past few seasons but I see no reason Bill Donovan and Gators shouldn’t be the class of the SEC.
10.)Illinois- The Illini return everyone from a team loaded with potential, but the key for the Orange Crush will be how Demetri McCamey continues to progress at the point. McCamey is a super talented scorer but has a tendency of forcing shots and failing to distribute the ball to his teammates consistently. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale give Illinois two very capable big man and with Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson a year older, there is a lot to be excited for in Champagne.
11.) Gonzaga-The Zags once again are the best team on the west coast and with Robert Sacre and Elias Harris Gonzaga will once again run through the WCC. Gonzaga as always play a tough non conference slate (Kansas State, Illinois, and Xavier to name a few) but that will have “America’s team” battled tested come March.
12.) Missouri-Kim English should contend for Big 12 player of the year and with speedy players like Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon, Mizzou should be exciting to watch. Mike Anderson will have his “40 minutes of hell” in full force as the Tigers will look to turn over the rest of the Big 12 and get out on the fast break.
13.)North Carolina-After a tough season the Tar heels will turn to unanimous top 5 recruit Harrison Barnes and with the development of Larry Drew and John Henson, and a healthy Tyler Zeller, UNC should be back in the dance after last season anomaly.
14.) Baylor-The Bears lost guard Tweety Carter and Ekpe Udoh but their star Lacedarius Dunn is back and as long as his legal trouble does not interfere the Bears will be back in March once again. Dunn has a new partner in crime as prize recruit Perry Jones joins the Bears who desperately need an interior presence to replace the loss off Udoh to the NBA.
15.) Temple –The Owls should be one of this season’s biggest surprises, as they return one of the nation’s leading rebounders in big man Lavoy Allen and exciting point guard Juan Fernandez. With Ramone Moore expected to play more minutes and the return of Michael Erik, the Owls will be the favorite in the A-10 and should make some serious noise nationally with big games against Georgetown, Villanova and Maryland in the non conference schedule.
16.) Butler- Losing Gordon Hayward early to the NBA was a huge loss to a Butler team who with Hayward would have been a top 10 team but without him are still a top 25 squad. Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard will pick up where they left off last season and Butler’s signature defense and clutch shooting will make Hayward’s departure less notable in Indianapolis.
17.) Kentucky – losing the Big 3 freshman Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe will hurt but the arrival of Gatorade Player of the Year Brandon Knight should ease some of the pain on Big Blue and Coach Calipari. If Turkish recruit Enes Kanter is allowed to play this season(investigation that he received benefits from University ) Kentucky will have a legitimate post presence but without him they lack size and will be hard pressed to make up for the loss of essentially their whole offense to the NBA.
18.) Washington- The PAC 10 is down once again but Washington has emerged as the early favorite to take the conference. The Huskies lose forward Quincy Pondexter but return guards Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton. Look for sophomore Abdul Gaddy to have a breakout season, as the Huskies will rely on him to pick up his scoring with the loss of Pondexter.
19.) Purdue-Like many experts I had the Boilermakers in my top 5 this season until the devastating injury of forward Robbie Hummel. All is not lost for Purdue though as with all Big 10 performers Etwaun Moore and Jajuan Johnson the Boilermakers are still a top 25 team. The team will miss Hummel who is done for the season but expect Kelsey Barlow to replace the loss of Keaton Grant and the Boilermakers to claw out games with the tough defense coach Matt Painter preaches.
20.) Memphis-After narrowly missing the tournament in their first season under Josh Pastner, the Tigers will rebound with the help of a top 5 recruiting class. The Tigers bring in two exciting players in Will Barton and Joe Jackson; add that to the emergence of Wesley Witherspoon as a star the Tigers should return to the glory they enjoyed under Coach Cal.
21.) Virginia Tech-Malcolm Delaney flirted with the NBA but returns to Blacksburg for his senior season, and along with Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson, the Hokies should be a tournament team. Virginia Tech in recent years has had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday but this year will be different as Delaney will have the Hokies in the tournament field with plenty of room to spare. Look for the Hokies to challenge North Carolina for second place in the ACC behind Duke.
22.) Georgetown- Greg Monroe is gone to the NBA, but Chris Wright and Austin Freeman are back for John Thompson III. The Hoyas will miss Monroe inside, but with Wright, Freeman and Jason Clark, Georgetown should hit a lot of three pointers and be in the upper echelon of the Big East Conference.
23.) Wisconsin-Individual names don’t seem to matter at Wisconsin as year in and year out Bo Ryan finds a way to have the Badgers contending in the Big 10. John Leuer is back as their go post presence and with Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil back the Badgers will be hovering around the top 25 for the majority of the season.
24.) Tennessee- Scotty Hopson will have a breakout season in Knoxville and with the addition of stud freshman Tobias Harris, Tennessee will be back in the tournament. The Vols might struggle out of the gate with a tough non conference and the saga surrounding head coach Bruce Pearl but come February and March Tennessee will be right in the thick of things in the SEC.
25.) Seton Hall- This is not a misprint, with a lot of teams capable of earning this spot; I went with a bit of surprise here. The Pirates return Big East leading scorer Jeremy Hazell and former blue chip recruit Herb Pope. Pope who collapsed at practice this spring has received the go ahead to play and with Hazell form a formidable one two scoring punch. Add in Keon Lawrence and Jeff Robinson and Ole miss transfer Eniel Polynice and the Pirates have an upstart team under new coach Kevin Willard. Remember you heard it here first the Pirates will surprise people and make the tournament out of the tough Big East.
Other teams to watch: BYU, Texas, San Diego State, Goergia, West Virginia, Florida State, Maryland, Minnesota, Dayton, Richmond, Xavier, Connecticut, Mississippi State, UNLV, Murray State, NC State, Colorado, St .Johns , Wichita State, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Loyola Marymount and Arizona.