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Early Projection: Top 25 NCAA Teams

Thu, 07/31/2008 - 11:36pm





Tyler Hansbrough


1. North Carolina
2. Pittsburgh
3. Michigan State
4. Duke
5. Connecticut
6. Gonzaga
7. Notre Dame
8. UCLA
9. Texas
10. Tennessee
11. Oklahoma
12. Purdue
13. Syracuse
14. Baylor
15. Arizona State
16. Louisville
17. Memphis
18. Wake Forest
19. Wisconsin
20. Marquette
21. Miami
22. Villanova
23. USC
24. West Virginia
25. Florida



Team Analysis


1. North Carolina Tar Heels

There are no excuses. This should be the year of the Tar Heel. Nearly everyone returns from a Final Four team, including national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough. And the recruiting class should more than solve any front court depth issues. This team may legitimately have the best front court, back court, bench, starting lineup and overall player in the nation. That's why you will see North Carolina atop every preseason poll.

PG: Ty Lawson / SG: Wayne Ellington / SF: Marcus Ginyard / PF: Deon Thompson / C: Tyler Hansbrough / 6th Man: Danny Green

2. Pittsburgh Panthers

Whether or not swingman Mike Cook is granted an extra year of eligibility, the Panthers are dangerous. This may be the best team in Pitt history, as they are loaded at every position and primed to make a serious run toward the Final Four. Sam Young and DeJuan Blair more than proved themselves down low last season, and toughness has never been an issue for the Jamie Dixon/Ben Howland-era Panthers. The name to look out for, especially if Cook doesn’t return, is Gilbert Brown, who has the potential to provide a legitimate No. 2 scoring threat behind Young.

PG: Levance Fields / SG: Bradley Wannamaker / SF: Gilbert Brown / PF: Sam Young / C: DeJuan Blair / 6th Man: Tyrell Biggs



Coach Izzo & Raymar Morgan
3. Michigan State Spartans

Full disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of the Church of Tom Izzo. The man is an absolute genius. This year, he’s got a squad flooded with potential, led by Raymar Morgan, who should be the absolute frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year. The team also has the depth and size necessary to make a deep run. Nothing should hold back the deepest team in the country. It’s a beautiful thing when a basketball team has a legitimate replacement for every player on the court, something only Michigan State can say this year.

PG: Kalin Lucas / SG: Chris Allen / SF: Raymar Morgan / PF: Marquise Gray / C: Goran Suton / 6th Man: Durrell Summers

4. Duke Blue Devils

Even without a true big man, the Blue Devils should contend for a national title. Gerald Henderson is back to wreck shop and he and Kyle Singler give the Blue Devils perhaps the best forward duo in the nation. This is one of those prototypical Duke teams. You’ll love to hate them, and they won’t stop winning the entire time. Paulus at full health should finally be able to correctly play the villain role and show why he was such a highly-regarded recruit. And newcomer Elliot Williams should step into the hole left by DeMarcus Nelson.

PG: Greg Paulus / SG: Elliot Williams / SF: Gerald Henderson / PF: Kyle Singler / C: Lance Thomas / 6th Man: Jon Scheyer

5. Connecticut Huskies

A couple losses have hurt the Huskies. But few recruit and reload quite like Jim Calhoun. The shocking return of Hasheem Thabeet means this team could scrape the sky, especially if swingman Stanley Robinson comes back to school for the spring, as rumored. A.J. Price is a consummate point guard, and he’s backed up by two others (Craig Austrie and freshman Kemba Walker) who can all play both guard spots.

PG: A.J. Price / SG: Jerome Dyson / SF: Nate Miles / PF: Jeff Adrien / C: Hasheem Thabeet / 6th Man: Kemba Walker

6. Gonzaga Bulldogs

After having his heart stopped by an alleged Austin Daye ACL injury, Mark Few can breathe again. And breathe easy at that. He’s got perhaps the most talented squad he’s ever coached in front of him now. Daye should be a star, as should junior Matt Bouldin. And Jeremy Pargo is the kind of gutsy point guard whose presence can take a team a long way in March. A full season for Josh Heytvelt will be big as well.

PG: Jeremy Pargo / SG: Matt Bouldin / SF: Micah Downs / PF: Austin Daye / C: Josh Heytvelt / 6th Man: Stephen Gray

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Luke Harangody was named Big East Player of the Year. And no one noticed. The Fighting Irish have put together two very talented teams the last two years, but this year they seem poised to finally do something with it all. Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney are perfect foils in the backcourt, with Jackson providing explosive playmaking and McAlarney hoisting threes and scoring with smooth effectiveness. And ’Gody should be terrific, of course.

PG: Tory Jackson / SG: Kyle McAlarney / SF: Zach Hillesland / PF: Luke Harangody / C: Luke Zeller / 6th Man: Ryan Ayers



Jrue Holiday
8. UCLA Bruins

The Bruins were the only team in the NCAA with enough returning and incoming talent to have even appeared as a challenge for UNC, had everyone returned. Even with some huge losses, including top-5 picks Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, the Bruins should be in good shape to make a run at yet another conference title and a fourth straight Final Four. It won’t be as easy this time around, but with the top recruiting class in the country including standout Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison leading the way, who knows?

PG: Darren Collison / SG: Jrue Holliday / SF: Josh Shipp / PF: James Keefe / C: J'Mison Morgan / 6th Man: Malcolm Lee

9. Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns have produced a top-10 pick each of the last three years (LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin). This year, that guy could be Damion James. The forward is part of a very balanced squad that also features sophomore swingman Gary Johnson, who should be ready to bounce back from the health problems he suffered through last year. Forward Connor Atchley could also be primed to break out this year.

PG: Justin Mason / SG: A.J. Abrams / SF: Damion James / PF: Connor Atchley / C: Gary Johnson / 6th Man: J'Covan Brown


10. Tennessee Volunteers

With Ramar Smith and Duke Crews back, the Volunteers would have made a serious push for the No. 2 spot on these preseason rankings. Without them, Tennessee is still a truly elite-level club. They have a number of versatile wings that help make up for a true floor general, and should once again run over their SEC competition.

PG: J.P. Prince / SG: Josh Tabb / SF: Scotty Hopson / PF: Tyler Smith / C: Wayne Chism / 6th Man: Brian Williams



Blake Griffin
11. Oklahoma Sooners

Blake Griffin might be the most talented player in the NCAA this year. And that alone makes Oklahoma a worthwhile team to look at as a contender. The Sooners also add star freshman Willie Warren and return numerous key parts, including Tony Crocker and Blake’s brother, Taylor Griffin.

PG: Austin Johnson / SG: Willie Warren / SF: Tony Crocker / PF: Taylor Griffin / C: Blake Griffin / 6th Man: Ryan Wright

12. Purdue Boilermakers

In one of the biggest surprise stories of last season, the Boilermakers took a very young team all the way to upper ranks of the Big Ten and even won an NCAA Tournament game. Matt Painter is a talented young coach and stars E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, along with a strong returning cast, should pave this team's way right back to near the top of the conference.

PG: Chris Kramer / SG: E'Twaun Moore / SF: Keaton Grant / PF: Robbie Hummel / C: JaJuan Johnson / 6th Man: Nemanja Calasan

13. Syracuse Orange

This team has the talent to really, really go places. The returns of Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins more than make up for the loss of first-rounder Donte Greene. Jonny Flynn is one of the top five point guards in America. He’s got some Chris Paul in him. And Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku are too strong for their own good.

PG: Jonny Flynn / SG: Eric Devedorf / SF: Paul Harris / PF: Rick Jackson / C: Arinze Onuaku / 6th Man: Andy Rautins

14. Baylor Bears

Surprised? Yes, Scott Drew has pulled a team out from one of the most controversial scandals in the history of college sports and made them a legitimate threat in the Big 12. Baylor has all the talent, and freshman Anthony Jones should really add to that. Kevin Rogers is the best player you might not have heard of. If that's not enough, Baylor appears set to add #1 high school senior John Wall next season.

PG: Curtis Jerrells / SG: Henry Dugat / SF: LaceDarius Dunn / PF: Kevin Rogers / C: Josh Lomers / 6th Man: Tweety Carter



James Harden
15. Arizona State Sun Devils

James Harden is the man. He can do anything he wants on a basketball court, which is why I believe he should be a top-3 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Until then, he and Jeff Pendergraph can lead the Sun Devils into a position where they can actually push UCLA for conference supremacy. Oh, what a difference two years makes.

PG: Derrick Glasser / SG: Ty Abbott / SF: James Harden / PF: Rihards Kuksiks / C: Jeff Pendergraph / 6th Man: Jerren Shipp

16. Louisville Cardinals

Admittedly, I’m an annual Rick Pitino skeptic. This year, I’m giving him a little, but not too much, leeway. Samardo Samuels is an animal and Terrence Williams and Earl Clark are do-everything types that often are found on really good teams. Jerry Smith is another quality role player. But the group doesn’t seem to fit together. Who knows? This is one of those teams that could win the NCAA championship or the NIT championship.

PG: Edgar Sosa / SG: Jerry Smith / SF: Terrence Williams / PF: Earl Clark / C: Samardo Samuels / 6th Man: Terrence Jennings

17. Memphis Tigers

The truth of the matter is that this Memphis team is seriously weaker than the past several. But in Conference USA, expect another season of complete domination from the Tigers. Tyreke Evans could prove to be one of the top scoring freshmen in the country on an otherwise defensive-oriented team.

PG: Willie Kemp / SG: Tyreke Evans / SF: Antonio Anderson / PF: Robert Dozier / C: Shawn Taggart / 6th Man: Doneal Mack



Jeff Teague
18. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

This is so much more than a feel-good pick. After proving to be two of the best freshmen in the country last season, Jeff Teague and James Johnson will be joined by arguably the nation’s top recruiting class. The only concern: Al Farouq-Aminu and Johnson clashing a little too much. But players that talented figure it out.

PG: Ishmael Smith / SG: Jeff Teague / SF: James Johnson / PF: Al Farouq-Aminu / C: Chas McFarland / 6th Man: L.D. Williams

19. Wisconsin Badgers

A quick glance at the roster might have one questioning this pick. But Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in America. So what’s he working with? A tough group that surely will dedicate itself to the trudging, defensive game plan Ryan executes every year. In Jon Leuer and Trevon Hughes, there may even be stars in the wings.

PG: Trevon Hughes / SG: Jason Bohannon / SF: Joe Krabbenhoft / PF: Marcus Landry / C: Greg Stiemsma / 6th Man: Jon Leuer

20. Marquette Golden Eagles

The coach has left the building, but nearly all the players stuck around. Tom Crean was undeniably a mastermind of a coach, but he also watched an underachieving team the last two years. This is the last chance for the backcourt of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews to make a real impact. They’re too talented to not take that.

PG: Dominic James / SG: Jerel McNeal / SF: Wesley Matthews / PF: Lazar Haywood / C: Trevor Mbakwe / 6th Man: Maurice Aker

21. Miami Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are getting serious hype from serious sources. ESPN’s Andy Katz ranks them No. 8 in the nation heading into the season. I’m not buying that much stock, but the Hurricanes undeniably return quite a lot of talent. The point guard position is still a bit shaky, though.

PG: Lance Hurdle / SG: Jack McClinton / SF: James Dews / PF: Brian Asbury / C: Dwayne Collins / 6th Man: Jimmie Graham

22. Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is an oddball team filled with guards. It was nearly impossible deciphering a starting lineup for this batch of players. But I am convinced that with Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds handling the ball, the Wildcats should be poised for a solid run in the exceptional Big East.

PG: Corey Fisher / SG: Scottie Reynolds / SF: Corey Stokes / PF: Dante Cunningham / C: Antonio Pena / 6th Man: Shane Clark



Demar Derozan
23. USC Trojans

O.J. Mayo’s influence on the USC program was pretty major for a one year stint. With that said, this team may be a little more balanced if Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson can take the steps both were expected to make last season this time around. Freshman Demar DeRozan should be a force as well.

PG: Daniel Hackett / SG: Dwight Lewis / SF: Demar DeRozan / PF: Keith Wilkinson / C: Taj Gibson / 6th Man: Angelo Johnson

24. West Virginia Mountaineers

It’s tough not to think of Joe Alexander’s departure for NBA waters as an enormous blow. With him, this West Virginia team looked like it was potentially Final Four bound. But there is still a lot of talent to rally around, including glue guy Alex Ruoff and heralded recruit Devin Ebanks.

PG: Joe Mazzula / SG: Alex Ruoff / SF: Devin Ebanks / PF: Da'Sean Butler / C: Kevin Jones / 6th Man: Wellington Smith

25. Florida Gators

Now two years removed from their national championship days, the Gators have continued their reloading process with another top-5 recruiting class, this time spearheaded by forward Eloy Vargas and center Kenny Kadji. If those guys mesh with the already-existing talent, led by Nick Calathes, this Gators team could be reminiscent of the 2005 one.

PG: Jai Lucas / SG: Nick Calathes / SF: Chandler Parsons / PF: Eloy Vargas / C: Kenny Kadji / 6th Man: Walter Hodge

Sleepers:




Patrick Mills
1. Washington Huskies – Starting with star forward Jon Brockman, the Huskies are bringing back most key pieces from a team that underachieved last season. The talent is there, but the discipline was questionable.
2. Kansas Jayhawks – Yeah, they lost almost everyone. But this is Kansas we are talking about here, one of the greatest programs in college basketball history. A deep recruiting class and burgeoning star Sherron Collins will keep the Jayhawks afloat.
3. Saint Mary’s Gaels – One of the surprise stories of last season, the Gaels will once again be led by Aussie guard Patrick Mills and hard-nosed forward Diamon Simpson. That duo alone makes them a threat to Gonzaga’s WCC title.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies – This team is loaded with returnees and young players. Their freshman class looked outstanding last season, and this year expect even more from Jeff Allen and company. The loss of Deron Washington won’t hurt too much.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats – It’s easy to look past the Bearcats and their recent mediocrity, but this program is really starting to come together finally. The Bob Huggins era is in the past now, and guard Deonta Vaughn and freshman Yancy Gates are the present.

Overrated:


1. Arizona Wildcats – The loss of Brandon Jennings is going to hurt. Sure, Nick Wise, Chase Budinger, Jamelle Horne, Jordan Hill and freshman Jeff Withey is a nice starting lineup, but the Wildcats have no depth.
2. Kentucky Wildcats – Some are calling Kentucky a sleeper. Which, in itself, sounds odd. But consider the importance of Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, and it’s tough to imagine too much out of this team, unless power forward Patrick Patterson recovers quickly from his ankle injury.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes – Freshman center B.J. Mullins is being called a No. 1-pick type of player. But the problem is: who gets him the ball? The Buckeyes will rely heavily on relatively unheralded freshman Anthony Crater at the point, a recipe for disaster.
4. Virginia Commonwealth Rams – The return of star point guard Eric Maynor makes VCU an easy pick in the CAA on paper. But I’m not convinced anyone else on the team can step up, with the losses of Jamal Shuler and Michael Anderson.
5. The Atlantic 10 – Last season was good for the A10. They had strong senior classes across the board and a very competitive league. But nearly every team in the conference is weaker this year than last, especially defending champs Xavier.
NathanStacey
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i think you forgot about

i think you forgot about stephen curry and davidson

TPowell1990
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Louisville

ummmm number 16? I guess you missed the games in which Louisville dominated Oklahoma and Tennessee. Seriously this is the biggest joke of a preseason top 25 I've seen so far

Pitt, Duke, Michigan State= all too high

Villanova should probably be a little higher. A Rick Pitino SKEPTIC? I'd say a full out hater myself

basketballJUNKIE
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Are you serious?

Did you randomly draw teams out of a hat? Louisville #16??? Louisville has Final Four written all over it. Then you put two teams (Oklahoma and Tennessee) that Louisville whipped by nearly 50 points combined in route to the Elite 8, ahead of them. Besides Padgett, whom will be replaced by the USA Today POY and #1 rated center, Samardo Samuels, everybody else returns. Including a lottery pick in Earl Clark, and another draft pick in Terrence Williams. You need to trade Louisville with Gonzaga. I suggest you start over.

basketballJUNKIE
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PS- how in the world could

PS- how in the world could you be skeptical of a coach that has taken three different programs to a Final Four? What more does he need to do?

hoopinhard23
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KANSAS

Come on now... Kansas is always going to be a top 25 team. With Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich returning along with a re loaded freshman class there is no way that they aren't somewhere in the top 25. They will be better than Oklahoma and Baylor. Without a doubt better than Florida.

sunshipballoons
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blake griffin

you all get riled up so easily. If Blake Griffin plays up to his potential, then Joseph has Oklahoma considerably UNDER rated.

TATCCITW
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Arguing over projections?

Why argue over projections? If you have you own opinion fine but telling something they're an idiot or criticizing someone over there's is stupid. And Louisville is going to suck next year.

basketballJUNKIE
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QUOTE: "Why argue over

QUOTE: "Why argue over projections? If you have you own opinion fine but telling something they're an idiot or criticizing someone over there's is stupid. And Louisville is going to suck next year."

Awww, poor Kentucky fans. Watching their program sink into irrelevance is really taking it's toll on the fan base. What is it now...4 straight years of being unranked? Prepare to be murdered by 30 in the Hall.

TATCCITW
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I'm not a Kentucky fan so

I'm not a Kentucky fan so swing and a miss there. But you're right, Pitino is the greatest coach ever, he's won what 3 NChampionships since coming back to college at Louisville. Enjoy getting crushed by UConn and ND at home and on the road. Yay we're third in the Big East.

basketballJUNKIE
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Not a Kentucky fan....

but don't say who you are a fan of? Is that because we would stomp a mud hole in your azz too? And the Big East Championship came down to the final game of the season between Louisville and G-Town. But even third place in the BE is easily 1st place in any other conference in America. No shame there.Getting crushed by UCONN and Notre who? The same UCONN we beat in Storrs last season? Talk about swing and a miss. If only we didn't have everybody coming back except Padgett, you would have a point.

justlaxin13
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Really dumb.

Really dude? being 3rd in the BE means 1st in any other conference. So for example the 3rd place team in the big east last year woulda beat texas and kansas in the big 12? really...thats an interesting theory, that 3rd in the BE woulda beat the eventualy NCAA champ more than once during the season. Or that most anylists were wrong when they said teams like USC and UCLA were in the one of the hardest all around conferences this past year. Yep good call...im sure louisville would beat all those aformentioned teams and should have won a title last year by your estimation...but they didnt...so stop saying dumb things like that.

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