NCAA College Basketball Preseason Top 25

October 21, 2010

I’m already in full college basketball mode and today we had our first official coach’s poll, which has inspired me to make my own list, along with the nagging of one of my co-workers. Along with my rankings, in parentheses I have the rankings from various publications in order of my perceived level of validity: Coach’s Poll, ESPN’s Andy Katz, Sporting News, and Lindy’s Sports. I wanted to post my full list, but i’ll add synopsis as time goes on, leading up to the opening game.

1. Duke (1, 1, 2, 1): Here’s your consensus preseason favorite and for good reason. Last year’s champs lose only two key components from this past season in point guard Jon Scheyer and center Brian Zoubek. Zoubek’s absence could be felt as the only knock on Duke is the lack of a big man to roam the post and grab rebounds. I doubt many people would rather have Scheyer over incoming freshman Kyrie Irving though, plus the Blue Devils add former Liberty guard Seth Curry, who averaged over 20 points a game as a freshmen and has bloodlines on his side. Most importantly, Duke returns the services of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, both of whom are legitimate All America candidates, with Singler a possibility for Player Of The Year honors. Duke’s backcourt is absolutely loaded and with Singler on the wing, this is the team to beat in 2011.

2. Michigan State (2, 2, 1, 3): It’d be silly to rank Tom Izzo’s Spartans much lower than this as they’ve reached the Final Four in consecutive seasons and they’ve consistently burned me in my own brackets. The Spartans return all five starters from last year’s Final Four team and Raymar Morgan is their only significant loss. Kalin Lucas has been dealing with an Achilles injury during the off-season and should be ready to play in November. A return to 100% may take some time for Lucas, but at any rate, he should be full speed by March, which is always when Izzo’s teams play their best. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding senior guard Durrell Summers taking a significant leap forward in production, while Delvin Roe, Draymond Green, and Korie Lucious round out a ridiculous starting five.

3. Ohio State (5, 5, 5, 7): No one has ranked OSU as high as I have here, yet everyone seems to think that incoming freshman big man Jared Sullinger is going to make a major impact in his only college season. While no one was as crucial to his team’s success as Evan Turner was last year, the same could ring true of Sullinger in the 2010-2011 season. Losing Turner is a major blow, but his run as Player Of The Year overshadowed an otherwise well-rounded team. Junior William Buford (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rbg, 3.1 apg) put up numbers that look a lot like Turner’s sophomore season and joins fellow guard Jon Diebler as a deadly 3-point duo. The Buckeyes return their other two starters in the frontcourt with seniors Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty. The depth of this team remains a question mark as it relies heavily on untested freshman, but with Sullinger dominating the inside and Buford and Diebler bombing from outside, this team is going to be trouble for just about anyone.

4. Kentucky (10, 11, 8, 14): Again, another team I have ranked higher than anyone else, but betting against John Calipari has proven to be a mistake. No one recruits better than Coach Cal and this year’s class is again the best in the nation. This ranking is highly dependent on the eligibility of freshman center Enes Kanter, whose status is still in question. Much like Sullinger, Kanter has the ability to be a complete game-changer and his availability is probably the difference between a top 5 team and a top 15 team. Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb round out this ridiculous freshman class, while returning players Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins continue to provide support while playing a background role.

5. Kansas State (3, 4, 6, 4): Giants nation and closer Brian Wilson have popularized “Fear The Beard” this baseball season, but Jacob Pullen and Kansas State could argue they originated the concept in early 2010. Pullen returns as the Wildcats biggest offensive threat and should probably get some All America consideration this season. Losing Denis Clemente could be a big blow, but it sounds like Pullen is going to run the point (similar to how Evan Turner ran Ohio State’s offense last year) and that’s not so bad. Curtis Kelley was dominant in the NCAA tournament last year and the Wildcats are going to need him to continue putting up that kind of production to hold onto this ranking. Wally Judge’s development might be even more critical to the team’s success. Highly touted out of high school, Judge was a disappointment in his freshman season, but should look to take a big step forward in the upcoming season. Jamar Samuels was big in a reserve role last year and should move into the starting lineup this season. With Pullen at the helms and continued maturation from Kelley and Judge, KSU shouldn’t be too far off from their dominant showing last year.

6. Kansas (7, 6, 4, 17): Another team ranking that largely depends on the eligibility of one player. For Kansas, that player is point guard Josh Selby, #1 on Rivals.com’s list of incoming freshman. Like Kentucky, Kansas has top 5 potential with Selby playing a full slate, but is probably a top 15-20 team without him. Kansas did lose three players to the NBA draft and graduation, so the question is who is going to step up and replace the production that Sherron Collins, Cole Aldritch, and Xavier Henry, who combined for 40.2 points and 16.3 rbg, provided last year. One obvious answer is junior Marcus Morris, who improved immensely as a sophomore and made Sporting News’ First Team of preseason All Americans. Look for Morris to improve on the numbers (14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) who put up in conference play last year. Outside of Morris and Selby, the Jayhawks will need a legitimate third scoring threat. Tyshawn Taylor averaged 7.2 points a game last year and will probably be the third option this year, with the other Morris twin, Markieff, crashing the boards and providing an additional inside threat. The Jayhawks have enough talent and depth to compete for the Big 12 title, but a lot of that success depends on if Selby is playing or not.

7. Purdue (8, 23, 3, 2): A few weeks ago, there were three teams that clearly stood atop the college basketball landscape: Duke, Michigan State, and Purdue. Owning three seniors with All America potential, the Boilermakers looked poised to make a run at a Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four. And then Robbie Hummel blew out his ACL… again. The question is: how important is Hummel to Purdue’s success? With a skill set that is somewhat similar to Duke’s Kyle Singler, the answer is: pretty damn important. Hummel has had a solid college career, but has constantly been hampered by injuries and one wonders what he and Purdue could have achieved if he was consistently healthy. While the Hummel injury is a huge blow, I’m not so sure the team should go diving in the rankings (ESPN dropped them from #2 all the way down to #23). Most teams would be happy to have two potential All Americans and Purdue still has that in guard E’twaun Moore and center JaJuan Johnson. I’ve been keeping tabs on Johnson ever since he dominated Washington in the 2009 NCAA tournament and he lived up to that performance last year by averaging 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and over 2 blocks a game…. still building strength on what used to be a pretty wiry frame, he can build on those numbers. Moore will aide Johnson in providing leadership and will probably be asked to do the bulk of the scoring with Hummel out. He’s got a great jump shot and will be asked to step up his defensive game with the departure of Chris Kramer. Outside of the big two, Purdue is deep, but inexperienced. Outside of the three seniors, no returning player averaged more than 3.4 points a game and this year’s roster has ten underclassmen. Moore and Johnson have enough talent to keep Purdue in the top ten, but without Hummel it’s extremely unlikely this team has a shot at winning the conference and making a run past the Elite 8.

8. North Carolina (9, 14, 9, 6): I feel risky saying that UNC will be a top ten team after their implosion last year. However, last year they didn’t have freshman Harrison Barnes, a ridiculously athletic wing that received more attention in high school than any other incoming recruit. Barnes is unlikely to experience the growing pains that plagued last year’s freshman class and should make an immediate impact in the ACC. Speaking of last year’s freshmen, no one on the team will be asked to produce more than big man John Henson. Henson averaged 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds a game playing behind departed Ed Davis and Deon Thompson, but will have to carry a much larger load now that they’re gone. It’s not difficult to imagine Henson becoming the ACC’s Most Improved player and he has enough talent potential to be a lottery pick next June. The Tarheels have enough potential star in seven footer Tyler Zeller, who has had some injury problems so far in his career. Even though the Wear twins transferred to UCLA, the Heels still have plenty of McDonalds All American depth on the bench and another potential freshman star in Reggie Bullock. If Henson and Zeller live up to their potential and Barnes is as good as advertised, Duke could have a run for their money in the ACC.

9. Pittsburgh (4, 3, 6, 4): A consensus top five team that I’m not as sold on. Left off everyone’s radar last year, Pittsburgh turned out to be a team to be reckoned with. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker sort of came out of no where to provide some pretty ridiculous numbers. Both those guys are back this year and sophomore Dante Taylor looks to prove that his disappointing freshman season was a fluke. Pittsburgh will be a tough team this year, and probably good enough to win the Big East, but while it’s usually a mistake to underestimate the Panthers, I don’t really see them as a Final Four squad.

10. Gonzaga (12, 8, 14, 16): Gonzaga won’t open the season as a top ten team, but as a nationally relevant mid major school, they’ll be there after running through conference play. The loss of Matt Bouldin hurts, but is easily relieved by the return of Elias Harris, who most projected as a lottery pick after his first week in college. Harris averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds a game as a frosh and is probably the most talented and athletic player in Gonzaga’s history (sorry John Stockton, the game has changed). The Zags have plenty of experience returning with center Robert Sacre and guard Steven Gray providing enough of an offensive threat to keep opposing defenses from zeroing in on Harris. The point guard position is the biggest question for Gonzaga. Demetri Gooden has proven to be unreliable, so JuCo transfer Marquise Carter may be asked to take the reigns. While the WCC has some solid teams from St. Marys and Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga could still run through league play undefeated… but the days of being the tournament’s Cinderella are over and the Bulldogs need to take advantage of what is likely the last year for Harris.

11. Syracuse (13, 10, 7, 21): The Orange return a solid core and add 7 foot freshman Fab Melo to the middle. Also, Kris Joseph could be this year’s Wesley Johnson.

12. Washington (17, 17, 23, 10): This is my team so I’m going to write a bit more about them. First off, the Dawgs are the best team in the Pac-10 and should run through conference play. Then again, I thought that last year and had they to fight tooth-and-nail for a NCAA berth. Losing Quincy Pondexter hurts, but UW recovered from the loss of Jon Broxton last year, and I’m looking for more improvement from Matthew Bryan-Amaning this year. He won’t provide Quincy’s production, but he should improve across the board. The backcourt is still crazy. Isaiah Thomas is underrated nationally, but he does have some glaring flaws. While he’s a great slashing guard, his decision-making needs work. Too many times I saw him drive hopelessly to the basket and come up empty, trying to force a basket through three defenders. If he can learn to dish out when he can’t get off a good shot and improve his outside game, he could be a beast. Venoy Overton is UW’s secret weapon. He’s known as a defensive pest, but he can also score when we need him to. Abdul Gaddy is still a question mark. Watching him as a freshman was painful most of the time. He showed flashes of brilliance every once in a while, but he usually looked uncomfortable on the court. He’s still regarded as one of the best NBA prospects in the Pac-10 and I think it all boils down to confidence for him, so if he can find that, he could be the difference-maker for this club. I don’t know much about Terrence Ross, but word is that he’s going to be a player for us. The Huskies have some depth on the bench. Justin Holliday is another underrated player that is solid defensively and I’m not sure what to expect from 7 foot center Aziz N’Diaye. If he has any type of talent in the middle, the Huskies could be a lot more dangerous than expected.

13. Florida (11, 9, 20, 11): Kenny Boynton had a great freshmen year and the Gators are long on experience and talent.

14. Villanova (6, 7, 11, 13):
15. Memphis (19, 15, 12, 34)
16. Butler (18, 18, 19, 8)
17. Illinois (16, 13, 15, 9)
18. Tennessee (20, 20, 22, 12)
19. Baylor (14, 16, 16, 15)
20. Georgetown (21, 19, 17, 27)
21. Virginia Tech (23, 26, 21, 18)
22. Missouri (15, 12, 13, 33)
23. Wisconsin (24, top 40, 18, 32)
24. Texas (25, top 40, unranked, 20)
25. BYU (27, top 40, unranked, 25)

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