Six McDonald’s All-Americans are coming, and three might start in the frontcourt – power forward Julius Randle, small forward James Young, and center Daraki Johnson. Two will start in the backcourt – Andrew Harrison (PG) and Aaron Harrison (SG). Toss in power forward Marcus Lee, and you’ve got a Fab 5-like haul. This already feels like the 2011-2012 team all over again, with Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer as the holdovers. Oh, did I mention the best player in the Class of 2013, and possibly the best high school talent since LeBron, Andrew Wiggins, is considering UK?
2. Duke Blue Devils (30-6, Elite 8 loss to Louisville.)
The Cook, Thornton, Sulaimon trio of guards could be fantastic … if Sulaimon sticks around (he’s expected to). The frontcourt will miss Mason Plumlee, but freshman Jabari Parker is one of the best high school players in the country, and Rodney Hood, a transfer who starred at Mississippi State two years ago, should put up big numbers. Amile Jefferson looked good in limited action, and if Marshall Plumlee, the third Plumlee, improves like Mason did … the Blue Devils should be headed to the Final 4.
5. Florida Gators (29-8, Elite 8 Loss to Michigan)
Lose three seniors – Murphy, Rosario, Boynton – but Ben Wallace-like power forward Patric Young is returning for his senior year. (Boynton could be addition by subtraction.) Point guard/defensive hound Scottie Wilbekin returns, and so does leaper Casey Prather and emerging freshman Michael Frazier. Their glue guy next year will once again by Will Yeguete. Billy Donovan has two Top 10 recruits coming in. Expectations: 2nd in the SEC, NCAA tournament, 1st/2nd/3rd seed in March, Final Four. The Gators have been knocked out in the Elite 8 three years in a row.
6. Arizona Wildcats (27-8, Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State)
Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons are two significant losses. They were the Wildcats’ best two players in 2012-2013. Kevin Parrom will be missed as well. But, Nick Johnson, arguably the most athletic guard in the country, is back for his junior year. Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, frontcourt freshman who started 21 and 35 games, respectively, are also back. The biggest news came last week: Stud high school senior Aaron Gordon, the younger brother of
New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon Drew Gordon, formerly of New Mexico, is headed to Tucson. He’s a game-changing 6-foot-8 highlight reel who has drawn some comparisons to Blake Griffin. Guard play will be the biggest issue for the Wildcats next season.
Only here based on the assumption Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are returning. If both come back to East Lansing, the Spartans challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten. If one leaves, they’ll drop down to the 10-20 range. If both leave … there won’t be Final Four aspirations.
8. North Carolina (25-11, 2nd round loss to Kansas)
Strickland graduates, but does McAdoo leave for the NBA? Does Bullock? (Strange, random twist: His baby momma is supposedly telling people she hopes he leaves. Don’t ask why or how I know this.) Does Hairston? How’s this – if McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston all stay, and freshman Isaiah Hicks is the real deal, and point guard Marcus Paige improves, I think Top 10 is within reach and the Final 4 is a realistic goal.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (21-12, 1st round loss to Illinois)
Return their top four scorers (and five of their top six players), most notably Spencer Dinwiddie, who will be a junior and could make a run at Pac-12 POY, and Andre Roberson (10.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg). If either bolts for the NBA, put the Buffs in the 20s. I’m assuming both stay, hence the lofty ranking. Colorado enters the season with a legit goal of the Sweet 16, but you’ll see the Buffs pop up on a lot of “Final Four sleeper” lists in November.
10. Marquette (26-9, Elite 8 loss to Syracuse)
Three important players graduate – Cadougan, Otule and Lockett – but as of now, their best player, Vander Blue, is slated to return. Space-eating center Davante Gardner, a junior will return. Todd Mayo, OJ’s little brother, is expected to play a bigger role. Three Top 75 recruits should help Buzz Williams get back to the Sweet 16 (and hopefully, provide some offense).
11. Memphis Tigers (31-5, 2nd round loss to Michigan State)
DJ Stephens, the leaping machine who had two strong games in the NCAA tournament, graduates. Adonis Thomas has made the curious decision to leave for the NBA. Tarik Black is leaving as well. As usual, Josh Pastner has recruited well, with four Top 55 players (according to Rivals) coming in. The question be the same as every year – after dominating
Conference USA that new Big East League, can Memphis make a run in March? There’s too much talent not to make the Sweet 16.
12. VCU Rams (27-9, 2nd round loss to Michigan)
Hope you made a note of everyone who said Shaka Smart made a mistake staying in Richmond. The Rams return five of their top seven players, including leading scorer Treveon Graham (15.1 ppg) and their best defender, Briante Weber. You can book another 25 wins and an NCAA dance ticket.
14. Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-3, 2nd round loss to Wichita State)
The Bulldogs are here if WCC Player of the Year Kelly Olynyk (17.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) returns. If not, drop Gonzaga to “also receiving votes.” Bell and Pangos, a strong backcourt, both return, but the Bulldogs will miss power forward Elias Harris (graduates). Angel Nunez, a transfer from Louisville and Gerald Coleman, a transfer from Providence, should help, too. [EDIT: I had ‘Zags’ because the damn website is GoZags.]
15. Kansas Jayhawks (31-6, Sweet 16 loss to Michigan)
You want to count out Kansas every year, but that’s just silly, because the Jayhawks are always in the mix. Even with the departure of five starters – four seniors and Top 5 pick Ben McLemore – expect Bill Self to do what he does annually: Get Kansas in position to pull off a Big 12 title. How? Not sure. Perry Ellis is a nice forward; Naadir Thorpe will run the point. And four Top 50 recruits enter the picture. Don’t weep for Bill Self.
16. Indiana Hoosiers (29-7, Sweet 16 Loss to Syracuse)
Poor Tom Crean. Back-to-back Sweet 16s would be impressive most places, but the Hoosiers had National Title aspirations. Now, he loses his best shooter (Hulls), his PF (Watford), likely his center (Zeller) and best player (Oladipo). The recruiting class is strong, so there’s that. Pipe dream in Bloomington: Zeller and Oladipo eschew millions to give it another shot. Remy Abell turns into the next Oladipo. The Hoosiers would open in the Top 5. Realistically, the Hoosiers are a Top 5 team in the Big Ten, but one with little/no expectations.
17. UConn Huskies (20-10, Were Ineligible for the NCAA Tournament)
The Napier/Boatright backcourt will once again be filthy – maybe one of the best in the country – but the problem will once again be if they have enough in the frontcourt. I’m not so sure. The big positive for Kevin Ollie is he returns everyone of note.
19. Georgetown Hoyas (25-7, First Round loss to Florida Gulf Coast)
Otto Porter will almost certainly leave for the NBA and be a Top 5 pick. But, there wasn’t a senior on the roster. This team was way ahead of schedule. Hopefully Greg Whittington (12 pp, 7 rpg) gets his academics in order, because he could be the team’s best player next year. Portly center Josh Smith (a transfer from UCLA) could be a double-double guy if he gets his weight issue solved.
20. Notre Dame Irish (25-10, 1st round loss to Iowa State)
Irish lose double-double machine Jack Cooley to graduation, but starters Jerian Grant (13.3 ppg), Eric Atkins (41 percent on 3’s) and Pat Connaughton all return. If Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman can replace Cooley, and incoming freshman Demetrius Jackson shines, the Irish should be NCAA Tournament-bound again.
21. Virginia Cavaliers (23-12, Did Not Make NCAA Tournament)
Cavaliers return their four best players, including Joe Harris, who could lead the ACC in scoring (16.3 as a junior). Seven of their top eight scorers return. The ACC is stacked, but the Cavaliers play formidable defense and should make the NCAA tournament in 2014.
22. Butler Bulldogs (27-9, 2nd round NCAA loss to Marquette)
As long as I’m doing college basketball preseason rankings, a Brad Stevens-coached team will make the list. They’ll really, really miss Clarke and Smith, who were arguably their two best players. Will Dunham emerge as a star? Also, Stevens has two Top 50 recruits coming in.
23. Alabama Crimson Tide (23-13, Did Not Make NCAA Tournament)
Anthony Grant will have his best team next year, as he returns all five starters and should get to the NCAA tournament. I expect the Tide to finish 3rd in a much-improved SEC next year, and Grant to be one of the buzzier names in coaching if quality jobs like Texas, NC State, Maryland or Oklahoma State open up. (If you’re a fan of one of those schools, please, spare me the whining. All of those coaches underperformed in 2012-2013. And I’m not saying any will be fired with a bad year.)
24. Villanova Wildcats (20-14, Lost in First Round of NCAA Tournament to UNC)
Ryan Arcidiacono, one of the best freshman guards in the country, will return to run the Wildcats, and the team’s leading scorer, forward JayVaughn Pinkston, is back too. The question will be what else they get from the two Top 100 freshman Jay Wright nabbed and Rice transfer Dylan Ennis?
25. Boise State Broncos (21-11, Lost in NCAA Tournament Play-in Game to LaSalle)
All five starters are back. Here’s a random call someone will throw in my face next March – the Broncos will be a 10-seed in March and win their first game.
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Oregon (four of top five scorers graduate, but Ducks will still be a tourney team out of the Pac-12), St. Louis (lose three pivotal seniors, but Evans, McCall and Jett are back, and should have the Billikens lingering in the Top 30 all year), La Salle (lose leading scorer Galloway, but almost everyone else is back), Iowa (top four scorers return, Hawkeyes should be dancing), California (four starters back, and if freshman Jabari Bird is the star everyone thinks, the Bears could dance again), New Mexico (Tony Snell leaving early was a dagger, but they should win about 20 games with four starters back), Wisconsin (Sam Dekker is expected to be a breakout star in the Big Ten, and though the Badgers lose a lot, irascible Bo Ryan will find a way to win another 20-25 games).