By Gus Elvin
With the 2011-12 college basketball season over, it’s time to look ahead to next season and take an early look at some of the top teams. It’s preseason top 25 time, and with the deadline for the NBA Draft passed and most of the top high school seniors committed for next season, here is my top 25. Although it’s early to even start think about next season, here goes nothing as I give you my projected top 25 teams for the 2012-2013 season.
1.)Indiana-After 3 tumultuous seasons, Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers experienced a revival last season as IU rose from the ashes with a 27-9 record that culminated in a Sweet 16 berth. While Tom Crean and IU had a great season in 2011-2012, they could be even better next season as almost every key player returns led by Christian Watford and Cody Zeller. IU also welcomes in a top 10 recruiting class, making the Hoosiers an early favorite to win the Big Ten. IU will not only be the frontrunner in the Big Ten but maybe nationally as the Hoosiers have a strong returning nucleus in Zeller, Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey and add 3 consensus Top 100 recruits in Indiana products Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Parea. IU also returns Maurice Creek who missed all of last season with an injury but as a freshman in 09-10 averaged 16.4ppg, including a memorable 31 point exhibition against then #4 Kentucky. IU does lose point guard Verdell Jones III to graduation but with Hulls, Remy Abell and the freshman Ferrell expect IU to improve on last season’s momentum and compete for a nation title.
Key Departures: Matt Roth, Verdell Jones III
Key Returnees: Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey, Derrick Elston, Remy Abell, Maurice Creek(Injury)
Key Additions: Jeremy Hollowell, Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Masquera-Parea
2.) Kentucky- If Kentucky is going to repeat as National Champs they are going to have to do so with a group of all new faces. Kentucky will be forced to start from scratch once again, as the Wildcats lose their top 6 scorers, as Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb all have declared early for the NBA Draft, while Darius Miller is set to graduate in May. That’s the bad news for the Wildcats, but all is not lost for UK, as John Calipari welcomes in another top 5 recruiting class, headlined by top overall recruit Nerlens Noel. Noel the prize of this year’s class is a game changer as a shot blocker and will look to fill the void vacated by the Naismith Award winner Anthony Davis (14.3ppg, 10rpg, 4.6bpg). Noel is not alone though, as Kentucky brings in 3 other top 50 recruits in Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley and are also still in play for the #1 ranked power forward in this year’s class, Anthony Bennett. UK also adds former NC State point guard Ryan Harrow and brings back reserve Kyle Wiltjer (5ppg, 43%-3pt%). Wiltjer, who is really the only meaningful returnee for the ‘Cats, came on late in the season a year ago as a 3-point threat and is a former McDonald’s All-American. UK will not be nearly as good as they were a year ago, but this team should still be inside the top 10 because of their tremendous recruiting class led by Noel, Poythress and Goodwin. UK once again has a very inexperienced but very talented roster and with an already huge class and the potential for more (Bennett), the Wildcats are ranked in this spot on raw talent alone. UK will miss Anthony Davis tremendously, as I expect this team to be a lot more vulnerable than last year’s squad but UK remains one of the national favorites despite their youth and inexperience. While UK is bound to take a step back, don’t expect them to fall very far as the Wildcats once again have the young talent to contend for a title under Coach Cal .John Calipari has shown he can get the most out of his freshmen, so don’t expect a rebuilding year in Lexington as these young ‘Cats are talented and hungry to build on the success of last year’s team.
Key Departures: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller
Key Returnees: Kyle Wiltjer
Key Additions: Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley, Ryan Harrow (NC State)
3.) North Carolina State-How does a team go from NCAA bubble team, to a Sweet 16 team, to a 2012-2013 Preseason Top 10 selection? Well that’s the story of NC State, as the Wolfpack bring almost everyone back from a team that came up just short in the Sweet 16 against the eventual runner up (Kansas) and also welcome in a unanimous top 10 recruiting class. Mark Gottfried’s got things cooking once again in Raleigh, as NC State is a program on the rise, as the Wolfpack figure to be a serious contender in 2012-13. NC State’s biggest strength is their frontcourt, as the Wolfpack can play with anyone down low, led by the powerful duo of C.J. Leslie (14.7ppg, 7.3rpg) and Richard Howell (10.8ppg, 9.2rpg). In the backcourt, the Wolfpack also are in good shape, as they bring back leading assist man Lorenzo Brown (12.7ppg, 4.5rpg, 6.3apg) and sharpshooter Scott Wood(12.4ppg, 41%-3pt%) and add 3 key freshmen. NC State doesn’t just add 3 freshmen, they add 3 McDonald’s All-Americans, as point guard Tyler Lewis, wing T.J. Warren and off guard Rodney Purvis give Mark Gottfried one of this year’s best recruiting classes. NC State also is in the running for 2 more top recruits, as Amile Jefferson (ESPNU #25) and Torian Graham (ESPNU #90), are both considering “taking their talents” to Raleigh, North Carolina. The key cog of this class is Purvis, an explosive “slasher” from Raleigh who chose to stay home rather than attend a traditional basketball power like Connecticut, Memphis or Ohio State. Purvis who is coming off Jordan Brand Classic co- MVP honors with a 22 point performance, is the athletic wing NC State sorely lacked a a year ago, and is a major reason the present and the future of NC State basketball looks so bright. NC State has a great combination of talent both young and old and if they can gel as a team, this is a squad that could be the favorite in the ACC.
Key Departures: C.J. Williams, Alex Johnson, DeShawn Painter (transfer to ODU)
Key Returnees: C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell, Scott Wood
Key Additions: Tyler Lewis, T.J. Warren, Rodney Purvis
4.) Michigan-Last season Michigan had a chance to be great if Darius Morris had returned at point guard, this season the same could have been said about the Wolverines if Trey Burke came back . The difference is that unlike Morris, Burke unexpectedly did decide to return to school and because of tht the Wolverines are one of the teams to beat nationally. Trey Burke and backcourt mate Tim Hardaway return to lead a Wolverine team that won 24 games and a share of the Big Ten title. The Wolverines also add some pieces in recruiting as John Beilein brings in his best recruiting class ever, as 3 ESPNU Top 100 recruits are heading to Ann Arbor. That class is headlined by a couple of Indiana products as 6-10 Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson Jr. both got out of the Hoosier state and made their way to Ann Arbor. McGary instantly gives the Wolverines something they have lacked in recent years as he is a physically intimating and aggressive post player who has a lot of raw ability and potential. Robinson a smooth scoring wing also is a huge addition for the Wolverines, as the “Big Dog’s” son will help improve a sometimes offensively challenged team that averaged just 66.5ppg and shot a mediocre 35% from 3-point range. Look for Trey Burke to build on his fantastic freshman season and Tim Hardaway Jr. to bounce back from an off year and if Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford can rebound the basketball(311th last yr), the Wolverines should be a top 10 team. Michigan will not be the prettiest team in America but with added size (McGary) and skill (Robinson), the Wolverines should be an improved offensive team. In addition to rebounding, this team’s other flaw could be a void of senior leadership as Michigan loses Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, 2 tremendous leaders who were the glue to this team last season.
Key Departures: Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz, Carlton Brundidge
Key Returnees: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Matt Vogrich
Key Additions: Glen Robinson Jr., Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas
5.) Louisville-The Cardinals’ figure to be strong once again as the nucleus of last year’s Final Four squad returns, while the Cards also bring in 2 impact newcomers in Luke Hancock and Terry Rozier. The one key loss for Louisville is Kyle Kuric, but look for the George Mason transfer, Luke Hancock to slip into the role vacated by Kuric. Hancock who sat out last season, averaged 10.9ppg, 4.2rpg and 4.3apg as a sophomore in 2010-11 for the Patriots, and will remind Cards fans of Kuric because of his similar athletic ability and 3-point shooting prowess. In the backcourt the Cards should continue to be explosive as high octane guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith return to give Louisville maybe the quickest backcourt in all of America. The rapidly improving Gorgui Dieng (9.4ppg, 9.1rpg, 3.2bpg) is also back for Rick Pitno, as are sophomores Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan. Blackshear is a guy to watch on this team, as the former top recruit missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, before playing limited minutes over the past 15 games. Louisville is always tough because of their stout pressure defense and 3-point shooting but this year the Cardinals will be even tougher as they have a very solid frontcourt of Dieng, Behanan, Blackshear and Hancock. Look for Peyton Siva and Russ Smith to continue to mature in the backcourt and with new addition Luke Hancock and a finally healthy Wayne Blackshear, this Cardinal team has a whole lot of potential. Hancock is the x-factor for this Louisville team as he will be tasked with replacing the leadership, 3-point shooting and explosiveness of the now graduated Kyle Kuric. A projected starting 5 of Siva, Smith, Hancock, Behanan and Dieng, sounds awfully good to Rick Pitino and should give the Cardinals one of the elite teams in the Big East,
Key Departures: Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, Jarod Swopshire (Northwestern)
Key Returnees: Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Wayne Blackshear, Mike Marra, Chane Behanan, Angel Nunez
Key Additions: Luke Hancock (George Mason) Terry Rozier
6.) Florida- Florida does lose some key pieces, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal to be more specific, but a lot of talent returns to Gainesville led by Patric Young and Kenny Boynton. Beal is a tough loss as the standout freshman would have made Florida a Final Four contender had he returned, but don’t be so quick to dismiss the Gators. Boynton now a senior is the leading returner for the Gators, as the sharpshooting guard knocked down 110 3-pointerslast year (41%) and averaged a team high 16.3ppg. Boynton is not alone in the backcourt as returning role players Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin figure to play more of a role, as will freshmen sharpshooters Braxton Ogbueze, Michael Frazier and Dillon Graham. Florida also brings back forwards Patric Young (10.2ppg, 6.4rpg) and Erik Murphy(10.5ppg, 42%-3pt%) and still have their sights on the top ranked forward in the 2012 class, Anthony Bennett. Young is a key player for this squad as Florida needs him to play big both offensively and defensively, on an otherwise very small team. The Gators like to go small and rely on the 3-point shot but in order for that to work Florida needs Young to control the glass and pose a threat on the interior. Even without Beal and Walker expect don’t expect Florida to take a step back as their 3-point shooting (38%) and backcourt depth will make them one of the elite teams in the SEC. Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin have proven they are capable of being big time players, and will be counted on to be just that this season. Right now Florida’s weakness is size, as they will once again be a perimeter oriented team that relies on guard play for success. If Florida can get Anthony Bennett it could put this team over the top but right now the Gators should be a very good team that will live and die with the 3-point shot.
Key Departures: Bradley Beal, Erving Walker
Key Returnees: Kenny Boynton, Patric Young, Mike Rosario, Scottie Wilbekin, Erik Murphy, Will Yeguette
Key Additions: Braxton Ogbueze, Michael Frazier, DeVon Walker, Dillon Graham
7.) Ohio State- At first glance many will question this selection, as I have the Buckeyes ranked awfully high for a team that loses its 2 best players in Jared Sullinger and William Buford. Despite losing Sullinger and Buford, I expect OSU to be very good again next season as they bring back breakout tournament star DeShaun Thomas(15.4ppg, 5rpg) and point guard Aaron Craft. While Thomas’ potential and play during the NCAA Tournament are the main reasons the Buckeyes are ranked so highly, OSU also brings back a lot of young talent as OSU’s heralded 2011 recruiting class figures to leave their imprint on this season. This class of Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross will be the key to the Buckeyes success in 2012-2013, as after a year of sporadic play and learning, this group is ready to assume greater responsibility. In particular look for Ross to emerge as after sitting out most of last season because of grades, the sophomore wing could be poised for a breakout season. Ross is a gifted scorer both inside and out and with a year of learning under his belt and increased playing time I expect the stud sophomore to have a coming out party in his first full season in Columbus. OSU also brings back Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.1ppg, 4.5rpg), who came on late last season with a 17 point performance against Cincinnati and an 18 point outing against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. Expect more of that from Smith next season as he, DeShaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross give the Buckeyes 3 formidable scoring options surrounding Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. The Buckeyes will miss Jared Sullinger and Williams Buford but with DeShaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross expected to slide into their roles, the Buckeyes shouldn’t fall off to much and should remain a player in the Big Ten title race.
Key Departures: Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jordan Sibert, JD Weatherspoon`
Key Returnees: DeShaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams,
Key Additions: None
8.) UCLA- After a season full of disappointment and drama, UCLA basketball is happy to start anew and that’s what the Bruins will do this season. UCLA if they are to have a bounce back season will rely heavily on freshmen as top recruits Shabazz Muhammad (ESPNU #2), Kyle Anderson (ESPNU #5) Tony Parker(ESPNU #26) and Jordan Adams(ESPNU #41) look to rekindle some of that Westwood magic. Muhammad, who in my opinion is the best incoming freshman in this year’s class, instantly makes UCLA a factor out west as the smooth scorer is as good as advertised. Muhammad in the past few weeks has taken the MVP’s at the McDonald’s All-American gamee, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoops Summit, and is expected to be the Bruins’ go to scorer even as a freshman. Muhammad’s partner in crime figures to be Anderson who has also starred at the recent high school basketball showcases and has demonstrated ability as a gifted passer and outside shooter. The cupboard isn’t barren at UCLA either as both Travis and David Wear return, as does the enigmatic Joshua Smith. Smith is the big question mark for UCLA, as will the 6-10, 305lb center be the dominant player he was in stretches as a freshman, or the player who last season seemed disinterested and out of shape. If Ben Howland can get Smith motivated and in playing shape, he can be as dominant a force as we have in college basketball and greatly aid UCLA’s efforts to bounce back this season. Add in solid returners Norman Powell, Anthony Stover and Tyler Lamb and North Carolina transfer Larry Drew and the Bruins have a talented roster that is capable of winning the Pac-12. I have UCLA this high because of their freshmen, as Muhammad, Anderson, Parker and Adams are immediate impact guys who will help UCLA have one of the biggest turnarounds in 2012-13. UCLA will be fun to watch this season as Shabazz Muhammad can really play, and will guide the Bruins back to the NCAA’s after a year hiatus. One other player to watch this season will be freshman center Tony Parker. Parker who chose UCLA over home state school Georgia, is an extremely skilled and polished player for his age but like Smith will have to monitor his weight and improve his conditioning. The late signing of Parker gives UCLA one of the top 2 recruiting classes in the nation and all that skill and talent will make the Bruins the top threat out of the Pac-12. UCLA will be much better than last season but just how good depends on how much of an impact their freshman make and how committed Joshua Smith is to his conditioning and the UCLA program.
Key Departures: Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson
Key Returnees: Tyler Lamb, Travis Wear, David Wear, Norman Powell, Anthony Stover, Joshua Smith,
Key Additions: Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Jordan Adams, Larry Drew(UNC)
9.) Baylor- Over the last few years we have been witnessing the “Golden Age” of Baylor athletics, as the football and men’s and women’s basketball programs have soared to new heights. Once the laughing stock of the Big -12, the Bears have become a power as the men’s basketball program has reached the Elite 8, 2 of the last 3 seasons, the football team is coming off a 10 win season, and the women’s basketball program is coming off their 2nd ever National Championship. Expect the good times to continue to roll at Baylor as the men’s hoops team at first glance looks to be a serious player, despite recent penalties. The Bears do lose Quinc Acy (graduation) and Perry Jones III(NBA Draft), but almost everyone else is back as Quincy Miller, Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip bolster a team coming off an Elite 8 appearance. Well, that was supposed to be the case but recently Miller, reconsidered his decision to return to Waco for his sophomore year and now has decided to enter the NBA Draft. The loss of Miller is a crippling one for Scott Drew and the Bears as with Miller, this team was a top 5 team nationally in my opinion, but without them fall all the way to around 15. In addition to their returning backcourt of Jackson and Heslip, the Bears also have a few aces in the hole, as little used reserves Deuce Bello and Gary Franklin are expected to make more of an impact, in addition to incoming freshman Isaiah Austin. Bello (3.3ppg, 10.2mpg) a former top recruit, is an explosive athlete with a lot of potential, while Franklin became eligible mid-season after transferring from Cal, where he averaged 8.2ppg in 13 games as a freshman. The most important player for Baylor will likely be Austin, a 7 foot freshman from Arlington, Texas who many consider the best NBA prospect in this class. Austin should replace Perry Jones, as the 7-footer is a tremendous athlete, who can score from inside or outside, handle the ball like a guard, who also has become a dominant shot blocker on the interior. Austin has major upside and if he transitions to the college game early on, Baylor could be one of the better teams in all of the land. With a veteran backcourt of Jackson and Heslip, and the young but talented frontcourt of Austin and fellow freshmen Ricardo Gathers, the Bears remain the best team in Texas for the time being. Baylor has a lot of potential and even with Quincy Miller declaring for the Draft, the Bears remain my favorite to win the new look Big 12. Isaiah Austin is as good as advertised and with a very good 3-point shooting team (38%), and a veteran backcourt of Jackson and Heslip, don’ rule out Baylor even though they lose their frontcourt of Acy, Jones and Miller.
Key Departures: Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, Anthony Jones
Key Returnees: Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin, A.J. Walton, Corey Jefferson
Key Additions: Isaiah Austin, L.J. Rose, Ricardo Gathers
10.) North Carolina- How good of a program is North Carolina? Well consider that the Tar Heels lose their top 4 players from a year ago (Zeller, Henson, Marshall, Barnes) but are still ranked in almost every college basketball expert’s preseason top 25. Part of that is respect, but most of that is due to talent as Carolina brings in heralded recruits Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, and returns a plethora of former McDonald American role players who will step into a leading role this season. The player most people are excited to watch is James Michael McAdoo, a sophomore who in John Henson’s absence last season thrived. McAdoo who averaged just 5.4 points, and 3.9 rebounds last season, is expected to explode this season, as a late season run had scouts drooling about him in the NBA Lottery. Also back for North Carolina are guards Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston, who all will be expected to assume larger roles this season, after a year in which they were primarily role players or out with injury. Although none of these players have gaudy statistics, they are all extremely talented and former big time prospects, who with increased playing team should have a chance to display their ability. The Tar Heels should also get immediate help from their freshman class as point guard Marcus Paige(ESPNU #23) and power forward Brice Johnson(ESPNU #34) are expected to be major players from day 1. North Carolina will be young and won’t wow you with big names, but their freshmen and key returning role players are all at North Carolina for a reason and will embrace the chance for more playing time and an increased role.
Key Departures: Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall
Key Returnees: Leslie McDonald, James McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland, Stilman White,
Key Additions: Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Joel James, J.P. Tokoto
11.) Missouri- A historic loss to Norfolk State in round 2 of the NCAA Tournament put a damper on one of the best seasons in Missouri basketball history, as the Tigers won 30 games and the Big 12 Tournament Championship in their 1st year under Frank Haith. Missouri will look to build on their tremendous season in year 2 under Haith, as the Tigers move from the Big 12 into the SEC. The bad news for Missouri is they lose 3 key players from last year’s team, as Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe have all used up their eligibility. On the other hand, the good news for Missouri is that they will not be entering the SEC empty handed, as Michael Dixon Jr, Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers return, in addition to the arrival of 3 impact transfers in Alex Oriakhi(UConn), Keion Bell(Pepperdine) and Ernest Ross(Auburn). All of 3 those newcomers should become immediate factors, as Bell (18.9ppg) and Ross (13.1ppg) both led their respective team in scoring in 2010-201, while Oriakhi was a key cog in Connecticut’s 2010 National Title run. Missouri also brings in Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, but Brown a very highly regarded high school prospect a year ago, will not be eligible until mid-season after transferring from Oregon after just 2 games. Missouri will rely heavily on these transfers next season as the Tigers will try and replace the 51 points and 18 rebounds they lose to graduation. Missouri will be one of the top tier teams in the SEC, as an electric backcourt of Dixon, Pressey and Bell and an improved frontline of Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, make the Tigers a preseason top 25 pick. Missouri does not have the backcourt depth they has a year ago but with more size and the return of Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey, look for the Tigers to have another big year. People forget just how good Laurence Bowers (11.6ppg, 6.1rpg) is and if he is fully recovered from his injury, look for the senior to have a huge season in Lawrence. I expect the Tigers to be very good again next season as Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey give Mizzou one of the best backcourts in America, that when combined with a healthy Laurence Bowers and a quartet of high division1 transfers, should make Mizzou a national threat.
Key Departures: Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Ricardo Ratliffe, Steve Moore, Matt Pressey
Key Returnees: Michael Dixon Jr., Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers,
Key Newcomers: Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Ernest Ross (Auburn), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Jabari Brown(Oregon), Dominique Bull, Stefan Jankovic, Ryan Rosburg, Negus Webster-Chan, Quantel Denson, Tony Criswell
12.) Michigan State- The Spartans will definitely take a step back this season without the services of All- American Draymond Green(16.1ppg, 10.4rpg. 3.6apg) but don’t expect it to be a rebuilding year in East Lansing as Tom Izzo’s Spartans return a lot of key players and also bring in a highly ranked recruiting class. It’s hard to project how MSU will fair without Green, considering he did everything for the Spartans whether it be rebound, score, pass or most important lead. Next year without Green the Spartans will need other players to ascend to these leadership positions, so expect Keith Appling, and Branden Dawson to become more influential both with their play and in the locker room. Appling a junior should be poised for a breakout season as after a solid sophomore campaign (11.3ppg, 3.9apg), Appling will emerge as the Spartans go to offensive player. Another player who is expected to make a huge jump this season is Branden Dawson, who after a mediocre and injury shortened freshman season should make good on all that promise that surrounded him before his arrival last fall. Dawson who averaged in incredible 28.7 points, 18.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists as a high school senior, has unlimited potential and now that he is healthy should thrive and be a focal point of the Spartan offense. MSU also returns talented sophomores Brandan Kearney and Travis Trice, as well as the frontcourt combo of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. As good as these returnees are, the biggest key to the Spartans’ success maybe their talented group of newcomers, led by Gary Harris. Tom Izzo brings in another top 10 ranked recruiting class, as Gary Harris, Kenny Kaminski, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello are all projected to be part of the Spartans rotation next season. Harris should be one of the top freshmen in the country next season, as the high octane shooting guard is a dangerous slasher who can fill it up as a scorer. Tom Izzo consistently has MSU competing near the top of the Big Ten and with Keith Appling and Branden Dawson returning and an impact freshman like Gary Harris entering the fold, expect the Spartans to be a very solid team once again. MSU may struggle early to find their identity without Draymond Green but by season’s end expect this young group to hit their stride and be one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the Big Ten.
Key Departures: Draymond Green, Austin Thornton, Brandon Wood
Key Returnees: Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Brandan Kearney, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, Russell Byrd
Key Additions: Gary Harris, Matt Costello, Kenny Kaminski, Denzel Valentine
13.)Creighton- One of the top mid-majors in the country last season, the Creighton Bluejays should retain that status, as most of a team that won 29 games, the Missouri Valley postseason Championship and an a NCAA Tournament game returns. The key returnee for Creighton is Doug McDermott, as the forward put off the NBA for now to return to Omaha for his junior season. McDermott this past season had one of the most efficient seasons we have seen in a while, as the coach’s son finished 3rd in the nation in scoring at 23.2ppg, and shot 60 percent from the field, 49 percent from 3-point range and led the ‘Jays in rebounding at 8.2 per game . McDermott this season will be expected to do more of the same as the Bluejays success will hinge largely on the play of their star forward. That does not mean Creighton is a 1-trick pony though, as Creighton has a very deep roster led by Gregory Echinique, Gran Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge. The Bluejays will miss graduated point guard Antoine Young (12.1ppg, 4.5apg), but look for former Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs and backup Josh Jones to guide this team to another MVC title. The Bluejays were one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation last season (42.4%), and with 7 guys returning who shot upwards of 36 percent, expect the ‘Jays to be among the nation’s elite once again from beyond the arc. This team is more than just Doug McDermott, and next season with a tremendous supporting cast and a star like McDermott, the Bluejays could be a sleeper Final Four team.
Key Departures: Antoine Young
Key Returnees: Doug McDermott, Gregory Echinique, Jahenns Manigat, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge, Avery Dingman, Josh Jones, Austin Chatman
Key Additions: Isaiah Zierden, Andre Yates, Tevin Calhoun
14.) Kansas- The Jayhawks once again lose an awful lot as National POY candidate Thomas Robinson (17.7ppg, 11.9 rpg) and All Big-12 guard Tyshawn Taylor(16.6ppg, 4.8apg) are both gone. Despite losing their 2 stars, Kansas projects to be very good as almost everyone else from last year’s NCAA runner up returns. The most important returnees are Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, 3 players who played key roles during Kansas’ tournament run. Kansas also brings in some new faces as they welcome in a 2012 freshmen class that includes Perry Ellis, Anrio Adams and Andrew White that ranks among the nation’s top 10. Kansas’ also finally gets 2 top players from their 2011 freshmen class in uniform, as Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor are both eligible after sitting out last season because of academics. Kansas doesn’t have a lot of names that jump off the page but the talent is there and a year from now many of these “unknowns” like Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore will be household names. I don’t have Kansas as high as many other prognosticators, but I can’t deny that they have a very young and talented roster and if players like Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey take that next step, the Jayhawks could be better than the 14 ranking I give them in my preseason poll. I understand that Kansas has a lot of talent and that Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore have the potential to be game breakers but I just can’t overlook the fact that Kansas relied so heavily on Robinson and Taylor. Robinson and Taylor carried Kansas all of last season and with those players gone, I think there are some questions surrounding this team both in terms of scoring and leadership. Bill Self can flat out coach and will have this team in the NCAA Tournament once again, but don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks fail to meet the high expectations, as remember this team is very young and loses 2 All-Conference performers. The Jayhawks will be good but how good depends on how quickly their freshmen adjust to the college game, and how Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey transition from role players into #1options.
Key Departures: Thomas Robinson, TyShawn Taylor, Connor Teahan
Key Returnees: Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Naadir Tharpe, Kevin Young, Justin Wesley
Key Additions: Perry Ellis, Ben McLemore, Jamari Taylor, Andrew White, Laden Lucas, Anrio Adams, Zach Peters.
15.) Arizona- The Wildcats were a flat out a disappointment last season, as ‘Zona failed to live up to of lofty preseason expectations and missed the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in 3 years. Most of the preseason hype surrounding the ‘Cats was due to their highly touted recruiting class of Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson. One year later those expectations have tapered off a bit as Johnson transferred early on and Turner struggled and has recently decided to transfer after an ineffective and suspension filled season. The good news for Sean Miller is that most of last year’s team is back as Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes all return and are joined by ESPN’s #2 ranked recruiting class. Arizona hopes this year’s class fares better than last years as Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Gabe York all come to Arizona with big time potential. The play of these freshmen will determine how good Arizona will be but with top 20 recruits all taller than 6-8, the Wildcats have lofty goals. The key for Arizona will be point guard, as Nick Johnson, Jordin Mayer and even point forward Solomon Hill will be relied on to run the offense without Turner. Although at 6-6 Hill may not look the part of a point guard, he has very good vision and showed last season he could run the team effectively as unorthodox as it seems. While Hill is Arizona’s best player, the 2 players I am keeping an eye on are Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom. Johnson a highly touted recruit had a marginal season, in relation to expectations as the freshman averaged 9 ppg but shot only 37 percent from the floor. Parrom on the other hand is finally completely healthy, and after a season in which he battled a couple of injuries, including a gunshot wound, Parrom is just itching for the season to start. Sean Miller is too good a coach to not win at Arizona, so after a sporadic year look for the Wildcats to bounce back as Arizona returns the majority of their talent and also brings in a terrific freshmen class. If Arizona can figure out the point guard situation, they will be very good team, as a nucleus of Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and the freshmen Ashley, Jerrett, York and Tarczewski should have the Wildcats competing with UCLA and SDSU for “best in the west” status. As a final note, Arizona figures to be in the running for Xavier transfer Mark Lyons (15.2ppg,2.8apg), who was recruited to play for Xavier by former Musketeer and current Arizona coach Sean Miller. Lyons would be eligible immediately because he is set to graduate this spring and would seemingly fill Arizona’s void at point guard.
Key Departures: Josiah Turner, Jesse Perry, Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender,
Key Returnees: Nick Johson, Solomon Hill, Jordin Mayes, Kevin Parrom, Angelo Chol
Key Additions: Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Gabe York
16.) San Diego State- While most of the Fab 5 has moved on from playing basketball(except you Juwan Howard), their coach is still going, as Steve Fisher returns for his 14th season as head coach of San Diego State. Fisher now 67, is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, as he has built San Diego State into a national contender and has guided the Aztecs to an 85-20 record and 3 NCCA Tournament appearances over the past 3 seasons. This season expect more of the same as SDSU returns its’ top 4 scorers in Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, James Rahon and Xavier Thames. Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.4 point and 7.9 rebounds and teamed up with Tapley to give SDSU one of the higher scoring backcourt tandems in the country. SDSU also welcomes some new talent into the fold as transfers Dwayne Polee (St.John’s), James Johnson (Virginia) and J.J. O’Brien join the fold, as does top 50 recruit Winston Shepard and 3-point marksman Matt Shrigley. SDSU will be one of the best in the West once again, and with Franklin and Tapley retuning this team has the makings to make a Sweet 16 and maybe beyond.
Key Departures: Garrett Green, Tim Shelton
Key Returnees: Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, James Rahon, Xavier Thames, DeShawn Stephens, LaBradford Franklin
Key Additions: Dwayne Polee (St. Johns), J.J. O’ Brien(Utah), James Johnson(Virginia), Winston Shepard, Matt Shrigley, Skylar Spencer
17.) Minnesota-This is a team, I think many analysts are sleeping on as the Gophers look to build on an impressive NIT run (lost in title game) and bring back Trevor Mbakwe, who was granted a 6th year of eligibility after an ACL tear ended his season after just 7 games. Mbakwe who was an All-Big 10 performer as a junior in 2010-11 with averages of 13.9 point and 10.5 rebounds, and was a dark horse All-American candidate entering last season, before his injury. Mbakwe, immediately gives Minnesota that post presence they lacked a season ago, and makes Minnesota a contender in the Big 10 and a preseason top 25 pick. Minnesota also returns a very young but very good backcourt of Austin Hollins, Julian Welch and Andre Hollins and vastly talented and vastly improved Small forward Rodney Williams (12.2ppg, 5.6rpg). Andre and Austin Hollins(unrelated) gave us a preview of things to come in the NIT as Andre averaged 15ppg in the tournament, while Austin chipped in averaging 11 ppg. Minnesota is still very young outside of Mbakwe and Williams, but with a year of experience under their belt, expect the young Gopher backcourt to continue to make strides and have Minnesota back in the NCAA Tournament.
Key Losses: Ralph Sampson III
Key Returnees: Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins, Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, Joe Coleman, Maurice Walker, Elliott Eliason
Key Additions: Wally Ellenson, Charles Buggs
18.) Syracuse- My Orange figured to be very good again this season with everyone returning outside of Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, but some academic trouble surrounding Fab Melo and the skyrocketing of Dion Waiter’s draft stock, leaves the ‘Cuse without 4 players from their rotation. Waiters is the key loss, as the sophomore was becoming one of the best players in college hoops and would have become the focal point of this team, had he returned. Despite losing what turns out to be 4 of their top 6 scorers, Syracuse will compete in the Big East because of their depth and incoming freshman class. Syracuse’s leaders next season figure to be Bradon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland and little used freshmen Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams. Christmas and Carter-Williams are 2 players to watch as both were used sparingly for most of the season but both should become key factors this year. Carter-Williams who like Christmas is a former McDonald’s All-American, was expected to be an impact freshmen but because of Syracuse’s depth was relegated to mostly cheerleading duties. This season Carter-Williams figures to be your Syracuse starting point guard and with all that talent and a year of learning, look for Carter -Williams to step in admirably. Syracuse also adds another McDonald’s All-American as bruising center DaJaun Coleman, a Syracuse area product, who figures to make an immediate impact as the center of that famous 2-3 zone. Also look for freshman Jermai Grant to have an impact from day 1, as the top 50 recruit, comes from a basketball family (Harvey, Horace, Jerai, Jerian) and should be a spark off the bench. Another dark horse people are not talking about with this team is Trevor Cooney. Cooney a top 100 recruit a season ago, redshirted last year for the Orange but this season figures to be a factor as a 3-point shooter, and will remind Syracuse fans of one of their favorites Andy Rautins. Syracuse will need Brandon Triche , C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams to take that next step but the talent is definitely there in Central New York and with some impact newcomers and a few key returnees the Orange should be a top 20 team most of the season.
Key Departures: Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo
Key Returnees: Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland, Baye Keita
Key Additions: DeJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant, Trevor Cooney(Redshirt)
19.) Texas- The Longhorns lose J’Covan Brown(20.1ppg, 3.8apg), but pretty much everyone else returns from a team that won 20 games and only lost 3 games by more than 10 points a season ago. Texas came up just short a lot last season and that was partly due to their youth (6 freshmen), but this season with their freshmen a year older and year wiser, look for the Longhorns to pull out a lot of those close games. The key returner for Texas is at point guard as Myck Kabongo(9.8ppg, 5.3apg) returns for his sophomore season after flirting with the NBA Draft. Kabongo a pass first point guard has a lot of ability and with added experience look for him to emerge as one of the top floor generals in college basketball. Kabongo is surrounded by several of his peers as fellow sophomores, Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond all figure to improve as sophomores. Rick Barnes also went out and killed it out the recruiting trail once again as Texas brings in a top 5 class with 4 ESPNU Top 100 recruits. The prize of that class is undoubtedly Cameron Ridley, as the 6-10 McDonald’s All-American is the #8 ranked recruit by ESPN and should be an immediate factor for the Longhorns in the post. Ridley, a true center is an imposing presence at 230lbs and his length, power and athleticism will make him one of the top centers in the Big 12 from day 1. Texas also brtings in some depth in recruiting as Prince Ibeh figures to back up Ridley, and freshman Javan Felix will fill in at point guard behind Kabongo. Texas will need to replace the scoring of J’Covan Brown, but with plenty of different options, Texas may endure a case of addition by subtraction, as Brown’s shot selection and score first mentality often times disrupted the flow of Texas’ offense. This is a team filled with freshmen and sophomores but talent trumps experience and with Kabongo, Lewis, McClellan and the freshman Ridley this team figures to be better than they were a season ago. Texas also should shoot the 3-pointer better this season as the young ‘Horns only shot 32 percent a year ago, a percentage much lower than their talent and personnel would suggest.
Key Departures: J’Covan Brown, Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene, Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall)
Key Returnees: Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes, Jaylen Bond
Key Additions: Cameron Ridley, Javan Felix, Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert
20.) Duke- It’s rare to see Duke this low in the preseason polls but honestly on paper this is about where the Blue Devils belong as Duke loses their best player(Austin Rivers) and is coming off of a 1st round loss to Lehigh where I think they were exposed a bit. One thing we can count on with Duke is that they will remain one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, as Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins are already proven 3-point shooters and impact freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has a reputation as a talented scorer who can stroke it from downtown or get to the rim. Duke will miss Austin Rivers as he was really their only reliable penetrator a season ago, but with a veteran frontcourt of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly and a pair of deadeye shooters in Curry and Dawkins, the Blue Devils will be a tvehreat in the ACC once again. Mason Plumlee as much as I have belittled him in the past has a chance to have a breakout season as he has improved his game every season and has elite athleticism. Duke also will look for reserves last year like Quinn Cook and Josh Hairston, to step up and redshirts Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee to make contributions in the absence of Rivers and graduated forward Miles Plumlee. Sulaimon is a key figure for Duke as he and Quinn Cook seem to be Duke’s only capable penetrators, and Duke will need someone to play the role Austin Rivers did a season ago. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins will need to be more consistent as seniors but with a very good shooting lineup and the Plumlees in the paint Duke will float around 15-20 in the rankings for most of the season. Duke also is still in contention for top 25 recruit Amile Jefferson out of Philadelphia and if the Blue Devils could add him, they would greatly bolster their frontcourt depth and add another slasher to help their interior scoring totals. Don’t underestimate Duke under Coach K as this team had a lot of talent that was waiting in the wings and now gets a chance to prove it, due to graduation and early departures.
Key Departures: Austin Rivers, Miles Plumlee, Michael Gbinije
Key Returnees: Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, Quinn Cook
Key Additions: Rasheed Sulaimon, Marshall Plumlee (Redshirt), Alex Murphy (Redshirt)
21.) Memphis-The Tigers to me are in a similar situation to Michigan State, albeit to a lesser degree, as they lose a player who did it all for them last season in Will Barton(18.1ppg, 8.1rpg, 3apg). Barton who has declared for the NBA was a major player in everything Memphis did a season ago, and it’s tough to project this team without seeing the Tigers play without their scoring and rebounding leader. Despite losing Barton, I project the Tigers as a top 25 team, as Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black and Will Barton’s brother Antonio lead a talented group of returners. Josh Pastner has also picked up where John Calipari left off in terms of recruiting, as Memphis also brings in 3 talented newcomers in McDonald’s All-American forward Shaq Goodwin, Oak Hill product Damien Wilson and JC transfer Geron Johnson. Memphis to me may be the most athletic team in the entire nation and with a lot of talent back from a team that won 26 games and a C-USA Championship, I expect the Tigers to be just as good as they were a season ago. Adonis Thomas and Joe Jackson are the 2 keys for me as Memphis will look for Thomas to emerge as their go to scorer, while Jackson gets another year under his belt running the team as the team’s point guard.
Key Departures: Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon, Charles Carmouche
Key Returnees: Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black, Adonis Thomas, Antonio Barton, Ferrakohn Hall, Stan Simpson, D.J. Stevens,
Key Additions: Shaq Goodwin, Damien Wilson, Geron Johnson(JC)
22) UNLV- The Rebels reinvented themselves last season under Dave Rice as they went from a stout defensive unit that struggled to score under Lon Kruger, to a run and gun offensive squad that still played good defense. This year I would expect that trend to continue as the Rebels bring back a lot of talent from last year and also add some big time newcomers in Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch (eligible after first semester) and ESPNU Top 100 recruit Katin Reinhardt. The biggest reason UNLV is in my preseason top 25 though is the return of Mike Moser(14.1ppg, 10.6rpg), who thought about declaring for the draft but thought better of it and returned to Vegas. Moser might as well be nicknamed “Mr. Double-Double”, as the sophomore who started his career at UCLA, tallied 15 double- doubles during his first season at UNLV. UNLV also returns a lot of other key players as Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and Quintrell Thomas also return for head coach Dave Rice. UNLV will miss graduated scorer Chace Stanback and point guard Oscar Bellfield but with a lot of talent returning, a new style and some impact transfers, expect the Rebels to compete with SDSU and New Mexico for the Mountain West crown. The #1 ranked power forward Anthony Bennett, who played at nearby Findlay Prep in Vegas is also still considering UNLV. Bennett who has UNLV in his final four schools would immediately impact this team both offensively and defensively and move this team up in my poll to around 11 or 12. Bennett or no Bennett this team will be very entertaining and very good as Dave Rice has a team that could make some noise nationally led by Moser and Marshall.
Key Departures: Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Kendall Wallace, Brice Massamba
Key Returnees: Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins, Quintrell Thomas, Carlos Lopez, Reggie Smith
Key Additions: Bryce Jones(USC), Khem Birch(Pitt), Katin Reinhardt,
23.) VCU- I slept on VCU last year, I admit it but I am not going to make the same mistake this season as Shaka Smart has proven he can coach with anyone and has the right players in place to execute his killer pressure defense. The Rams return everyone outside of leading scorer Bradford Burgess(13.3ppg), led by Juvonte Reddick, Briante Weber and Darius Theus. The Rams won’t have any big time scorers but collectively this high energy and clutch group of guards gets the job done, and next year with another year of tournament experience, I think the Rams can be even better. This team really impressed me in the CAA Tournament and the NCAA Tournament and with Smart at the helm and his system in place, this program is only on the upswing. VCU even made up for the one loss Burgess, by signing his younger brother Jordan, an ESPNU Top 100 player, who figures to play a similar role to his older brother. Pressure defense will be the key once again to Commonwealth’s success but in the CAA, a 1 or 2 bid league, there is not too much room for error.
Key Departures: Bradford Burgess
Key Returnees: Briante Weber, Darius Theus, Juvonte Reddick, D.J. Haley, Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenburg, Traveon Graham
Key Newcomers: Jordan Burgess, Justin Tuoyo, Mohammad Alie-Cox
24.) Stanford- Another one of the teams that impressed me down the stretch in the Pac-12 tournament and later in the NIT, the Cardinal have reached a point where they will need to win for Johnny Dawkins to keep his job. This will be Dawkins’ 5th year in Palo Alto and although the team has made strides both on the floor and in recruiting, the Cardinal still don’t have an NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it. I think that changes this season as the NIT Champs return everyone of note outside of Josh Owens(11.6ppg, 5.7rpg), and have the experience and momentum of a NIT title to build upon. Stanford next season can put out a team with Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle in the backcourt, Anthony Brown or freshman Rosco Allen at small forward, Dwight Powell at power forward and John Gage or freshman Grant Verhoeven at center. That’s a pretty solid group and if you factor in the way Bright and Randle played during the NIT and the upside of Dwight Powell, this could be your dark horse to win the Pac-12 next season. Dawkins once again did a terrific job in recruiting, bringing in talented wing Rosco Allen and under the radar center Grant Verhoeven, but Dawkins will need to get results on the court to feel comfortable about his job security. Stanford has done nothing yet in terms of the NCAA Tournament or the Pac-12 but an NIT title could be a springboard for a big season for the “Ivy of the West”.
Key Departures: Josh Owens, Andrew Zimmerman
Key Returnees: Aaron Bright, Dwight Powell, Anthony Brown, Chasson Randle, Josh Huestis, John Gage, Gabriel Harris
Key Additions: Rosco Allen, Grant Verhoeven and Christian Saunders.
25.) Notre Dame – Rounding out my preseason top 25 is the Irish, who return everyone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team led by Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley. Notre Dame could be ranked even higher than 25, as the Irish are still awaiting on the NCAA’s rulings on Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin. Abromaitis and Martin have both appealed for a 6th year of eligibility and if one or both are granted that extra season, the Irish could be the 2nd best team in the Big East behind Louisville. Rck ight now we have to assume Notre Dame will not have either Abromaitis or Martin but that doesn’t mean the Irish won’t be good as Notre Dame thrived this season without their injured star Martin and return a gifted backcourt of Atkins and Grant. With Jack Cooley() back at center and sophomore wing Patrick Connaughton on campus for his 2nd season, expect the Irish to be a top 25 team. Notre Dame is always tough at home, and play a difficult tempo to match under Mike Brey, so I anticipate another 23-25 win season for Notre Dame. Notre Dame also adds a few talented newcomers, led by Cameron Biedscheid, an athletic wing who should vie for playing time early next season. Notre Dame like usual doesn’t jump off the page, but this group will be very to matchup against because of their tempo, defensive intensity and sound fundamentals under one of the best coaches in America, Mike Brey. Notre Dame will be good, but if Tim Abromaitis is granted a 6th year of eligibility the Irish become a National Player and rise 7 or 8 spots in this poll.
Other Teams to Consider: Gonzaga, Kansas State, Tennessee, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Miami, UMass, Florida State, Butler, Saint Mary’s, Maryland, Colorado, Temple, New Mexico, BYU, Illinois, Davidson, Belmont, Oklahoma State, Drexel, Murray State, Lehigh, Rutgers