A 2014-2015 Top 25 before the UConn parties aren’t even finished? Of course. We did this last year after Louisville won the title, and Kentucky was 1, and UConn was 17. Below’s Top 25 (and 10 more!) will be updated after the NBA early entry deadline later this month.
1. Duke (26-9, First Round NCAA Tournament Loss): Regardless of what happens with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood – both are expected to leave early – the Blue Devils have three Top 10 recruits coming in: center Jahlil Okafor, PG Tyus Jones and SF Justice Winslow. Also, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson all return. Okafor will be the program’s first reliable back-to-the-basket option since maybe Shelden Williams or Carlos Boozer. Tough to imagine them jacking 37 three-point attempts in an NCAA Tournament game next year.
2. Arizona (33-5, Elite 8) – Expected to lose two starters in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but return enough to start the season as a Final 4 favorite. Kaleb Tarczewski, the 7-footer, will be a junior; Brandon Ashley was the team’s 3rd leading scorer before an injury ended his season; steady point guard TJ McConnell will be a senior, and their top two bench players return as well (athletic Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and sharpshooter Gabe York). Expect explosive shooting guard Stanley Johnson – rated the 3rd best high school player in America – and two other Top 60 recruits to give the Wildcats more depth than they had last season. After reading this story on JUCO star Kadeem Allen, it sounds like he’ll be a major contributor, too.
3. Wisconsin (30-8, Final Four) – Bo Ryan loses senior leader Ben Brust, but assuming sophomore Sam Dekker doesn’t leave for the NBA, everyone else returns and the Badgers will be a fashionable Final 4 pick. Keep an eye on rising sophomore Bronson Koenig, who was excellent against Kentucky in the Final Four (11 points) and should more than make up for the loss of Brust. On paper, best team in the Big 10.
4. Kentucky (29-11, Lost in National Championship) – They’ll almost certainly lose Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young to the NBA, but Calipari reloads with four Top 50 recruits, led by Karl Towns, an agile 6-foot-11 center from New Jersey. The other three freshman are 6-foot-10 forward Trey Lyles, shooting guard Devin Booker and point guard Tyler Ulis. And don’t forget dunk-happy Marcus Lee will be a sophomore. I think UK opens this high if the Harrison twins and Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson stay. If all four of those players leave, this is still a Top 20 team.
5. North Carolina (24-10, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Up-and-down season will likely only be up in 2014-2015 with the team’s core returning as well as a good recruiting class. Point guard Marcus Paige (17.4 ppg) appears to be staying in school, and should be one of the best players in the ACC . They return size in Brice Johnson (10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and
James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) [Ed. He declared for the draft.] and also promising wing J.P. Tokoto (9.3 ppg). They’re adding two Top 20 recruits in SF Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson. Should be the second best team in the ACC.
6. Kansas (25-10, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Pencil the Jayhawks in for another 25 regular season wins and a Big 12 title, right? Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are going to be Top 5 NBA draft picks, but if Perry Ellis stays, Kansas will open in the Top 10. If the NCAA tournament was any indication, Jamari Traylor should be a player next year. Chicago high school star Cliff Alexander should start from Day 1 inside and expect Top 15 recruit Kelly Oubre to contribute immediately.
8. Virginia (30-7, Sweet 16) – Tony Bennett led the Cavs to ACC regular season and Tournament titles, and came up just short against Michigan State. They lose their best overall player, Joe Harris, to graduation, and another starer (Akil Mitchell, who led them in rebounds), but Top 50 recruit BJ Stith should be an immediate impact player. He’s the son of Bryant Stith, the school’s leading scorer. UVA will win with defense, and the only issue will be who the go-to scorer is. Malcolm Brogdon?
9. Louisville (31-6, Sweet 16) – Disappointing end to the season for the Cardinals, and the Russ Smith era is over. Also out of eligibility – 2013 Final Four MOP Luke Hancock, and center Stephan Van Treese. The big loss will be if Montrezl Harrell leaves for the NBA. Then they’ll have to rely on promising-but-thin Mangok Mathiang inside. The perimeter will be fine, despite the transfer of Kevin Ware. Chris Jones will run point, and Terry Rozier will slide into the Russ Smith role. They’ll need more scoring out of Wayne Blackshear. Four top 75 recruits are highlighted by forward Shaqquan Aaron and guard Quentin Snider.
10. Florida (36-3, Final Four) – Quartet of seniors were pivotal to three straight Sweet 16 runs, and now, they’re gone. Adios Wilbekin, Young, Yeguete and Prather. The Gators advanced to the Elite 8 four years in a row, but never won a Final Four game. Clearly, the team will take a step back, but they’ll still be near the top of the SEC: Kasey Hill will ascend to point guard, Frazier is a good shooter, and Finney-Smith could lead the team in scoring. Maybe center Chris Walker develops into the 15-10 guy he’s capable of being. Several freshman – forward Devin Robinson, and guards Brandone Francis and Chris Chiozza, all ranked in the Top 50 – should contribute. Keep an eye on Eli Carter, the Rutgers transfer, as a potential breakout player.
11. Ohio State (25-10, 1st Round NCAA Tournament) – Will lose four of their top eight players, but a strong recruiting class should keep the Buckeyes near the top of the Big 10. Aaron Craft, sadly, has graduated, and love him or hate him, he was the program the last couple years. Lenzelle Smith departs, and reserve Amedeo Della Valle will play internationally. LaQuinton Ross has left for the NBA. What’s left is a core of high-flying Sam Thompson, streaky Shannon Scott, center Amir Williams and three Top 75 recruits, led by guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Keita Bates-Diop. OSU scored a big victory when Temple’s Anthony Lee decided to transfer to Columbus. He averaged 13-8 last year and is eligible immediately. He’ll start a power forward.
12. Michigan (28-9, Elite 8) – Likely will suffer heavy losses to the NBA draft, with Stauskas, McGary and Robinson all probably jumping. And valuable forward Jordan Morgan graduates. Still, there’s plenty of talent in guards Walton, Irvin and LeVert, but Jon Horford will need help inside. Two promising freshman forwards enter the program – Kameron Chatman and DJ Wilson. And really, should anyone doubt John Beilein? He lost Hardaway and Burke to the 2013 NBA draft and still won the Big 10 title.
14. UCLA (28-9, Sweet 16) – How do you lose three starters and open in the Top 20? Recruiting. Star point guard Kyle Anderson is leaving early for the NBA, and senior twins David and Travis Wear are out of eligibility. Guards Jordan Adams and Norman are a dynamite tandem, and the coach’s son, Bryce Alford, will take over the point guard role. Zach LaVine leaving for the NBA hurts. Center Tony Parker will slide into the starting lineup. And now, the recruits: PF Kevon Looney is rated 13th by rivals, and two others (post player Thomas Welsh and forward Jonah Bolden) are in the Top 75. This could be a dangerous team come March … assuming Steve Alford can shake his postseason coaching woes.
15. Southern Methodist (27-10, NIT) – Six of their top seven players return, but most importantly, Larry “Next Town” Brown landed the No. 2 recruit in the country, forward Emmanuel Mudiay (the Mustangs also signed his brother in a nice package deal). There’s plenty of talent on this roster. Markus Kennedy is a very nice shot-blocker; Keith Frazier (5.4 ppg) is a promising rising sophomore and Nic Moore (13.6 ppg) led the team in scoring.
16. Connecticut (32-8, NCAA Champions) – Lose four seniors from the rotation, including All-American point guard Shabazz Napier. Will they lose coach Kevin Ollie as well? Jim Calhoun seems to think Ollie isn’t going anywhere, but we’ll see what happens if the NBA comes calling. Guard Ryan Boatright will share team-leading duties with forward DeAndre Daniels (or has his stock reached Will-He-Leave levels?) and they’ll have a potential star freshman to work with in LA scoring machine Daniel Hamilton (younger brother of former Texas star Jordan Hamilton). The development of 7-foot freshman Amida Brimah could lead to another deep March run. [Ed: Rodney Purvis, a transfer from NC State, will be eligible next year.]
17. San Diego State (31-5, Sweet 16): Lose their best scorer (Xavier Thames) and best rebounder (Josh Davis) to graduation, but assuming emerging Dwayne Polee II doesn’t leave for the NBA, the Aztecs should be dangerous once again in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Steve Fisher also has a monster recruiting class – forward Malik Pope is rated 17th by rivals, forward Zylan Cheatham is rated 72nd and guard Trey Kell is rated 117th.
18. Nebraska (19-13, 1st Round of NCAA Tournament) – The Cornhuskers return their top four scorers from a year ago, including Terran Petteway, who was one of the best players in the Big 10. There’s a small chance to jumps to the NBA. If they all return, the Cornhuskers should be in the upper crust of the league again.
19. Maryland (17-15, No Postseason) – Unless Dez Wells decides to leave early for the NBA, everyone returns for the Terps, who could contend in the
ACC Big 10. Wells is their best scorer (14.9 ppg) but guys like Seth Allen (13.4 ppg) and Jake Layman (11.7) looked very good at times last season. With solid depth and four Top 100 recruits, the Terps will be dancing in 2015. [Ed: Terps got another big commitment this week.]
20. Villanova (29-5, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Disappointing NCAA Tournament – though they did lose to eventual champ UConn – but the Wildcats should be the class of the Big East next year. Leading scorer James Bell graduates, everyone else is back, plus two Top 100 recruits. Expect another 25 win season for Jay Wright — assuming he doesn’t go anywhere. The Big East went 2-4 in March, lost star Doug McDermott to the NBA and its best coach, Buzz Williams. The conference will be hurting next season, so don’t be surprised if Villanova goes 16-2 again.
21. West Virginia (17-16, NIT Tournament) – Bob Huggins will have a nice squad in Morgantown next year, and he’ll get them to the NCAA Tournament. The biggest impact player is probably Jonathan Holton, a JUCO star who was on the team last year but the NCAA wouldn’t let him play. Elijah Macon was also with the team, but got injured, and then the NCAA prevented him from playing, too. You factor in Holton, Macon, returning players Juwan Staten (18.1 ppg) and you’ve got something to build on.The Mountaineers would have been even stronger if Eron Harris (17.2 ppg) hadn’t decided to transfer.
22. Wichita State (35-1, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Lose four seniors – including leading scorer Cleanthony Early – to graduation, but return the strong trio of Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton. That will be good enough to to be the class of the Missouri Valley Conference. But they really lack size inside to make a March run.
23. UNLV (20-13, NIT) – Return two of their top three scorers from last year’s disappointing team, and Dave Rice adds three Top 40 recruits to the mix including perhaps the best name in college hoops next year, Goodluck Okonoboh. If you’re looking for one of those super-longshots to win the title – maybe 100:1 or so in Vegas this summer – take a flier on the Rebels.
24. VCU (26-9, 1st Round of NCAA Tournament) – Lost two of their top four scorers, but the Rams should have no problem returning to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year under Shaka Smart. Trevor Graham (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) will be a senior, and he’s the team’s best player. Look forward Top 50 recruit Terry Larrier to be an impact player. Melvin Johnson and Briante Weber will create havoc in the backcourt once again. Three freshman – Lewis, Burgess, Alie-Cox – played significant minutes last year and Smart will have a deep team that come March, could be ready for another deep tournament run.
25. Michigan State (29-9, Elite 8) – So low? Hey, Tom Izzo is already complaining about how much his team could struggle next year because he’s missed out on so many recruits. He only landed one Top 150 player (guard Lourawis Nairn) and maybe he’ll have to dip into the JUCO ranks because the departures are heavy: Payne and Appling graduate, and Gary Harris will be a lottery pick, which would mean the team returns only three significant contributors: guards Travis Trice (45 percent on 3-pointers), Branden Dawson (10.4 ppg) and Denzel Valentine (8.1 ppg). The team’s success will hinge on whether or not post players Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski can give the Spartans significant contributions.
… AND 10 WHO JUST MISSED:
26. Colorado (23-12, 1st Round NCAA Tournament) – The team’s best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, only played 17 games due to an ACL injury, but he returns, along with the team’s next three best players – Josh Scott (14.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Askia Booker (13.7 ppg) and Xavier Johjnson (12 ppg). A year ago, I had Colorado 9th, and the Buffaloes had a nice season without Dinwiddie, even beating Kansas (on a buzzer-beater). There should be optimism around the program for next season, but let’s see how Dinwiddie returns from injury.
27. Oklahoma (23-10, 1st Round NCAA Tournament) – Only lose one of their top five players from last year (forward Cameron Clark) so the Sooners should be right back near the top of the Big 12 and in position to get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament. Rising junior Buddy Hield led the team in scoring (16.5 ppg), and the only question for the Sooners will be whether or not they get anything from their raw post players.
28. Syracuse (28-6, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Forward Jerami Grant (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is expected to leave, but Jim Boeheim is praying he stays because point guard Tyler Ennis has already left. They’re losing leading scorer CJ Fair to graduation. Will Cooney be as effective as the No. 2 option instead of No. 4? Can one of the role players – Christmas, Coleman or Gbinije – become a 10-12 point a game contributor? Or maybe incoming PF Chris McCullough is a beast out of the gate and freshman Kaleb Joseph seamlessly fills the shoes of Ennis.
29. Dayton (26-11, Elite 8): Archie Miller has the program on the uptick, and the Flyers should be able to build on NCAA upsets of Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford. They return two of their top three scorers (Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre), as well as key contributors Scoochie Smith, Jalen Robinson and Khari Price. Devin Oliver, the senior who had a great NCAA tournament, will be sorely missed on the wing.
30. Memphis (24-10, 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament) – Josh Pastner loses five senior contributors, including his two leading scorers. Shaq Goodwin wouldn’t test the NBA waters, would he? Goodwin and Austin Nichols could be a nice interior tandem, and perhaps Kuran Iverson, a highly-routed recruit who had a quiet freshman year. Guard play will be the difference in an NIT trip and an NCAA trip. Dominic Magee is the best incoming freshman and Trahson Burrell is an impressive SF junior college transfer.
31. Iowa State (28-8, Sweet 16) – Losses are heavy following one of the school’s best seasons in over 50 years, and you can forget the Cyclones in the Top 25 next year if in-demand coach Fred Hoiberg leaps to the NBA. (The way the Pacers are struggling to end this season, would it shock you if Hoiberg got connected to the Indiana job?) Gone are the team’s two best players, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, but Georges Niang (16.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) returns, and should be one of the best players in the Big 12. He’ll get help from Dustin Hogue (11.6 ppg) and Naz Long (7.1 ppg) but after that … well, let’s just say Iowa State is in the transfer market (again) for impact players. UNLV’s Bryce Dejan-Jones would be perfect.
32. Gonzaga (29-7, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – Lose leading scorer Sam Dower and point guard David Stockton, but return three key players who should lead them to another WCC Title – guards Kevin Pangos (14.5 ppg) and Gary Bell (11.4 ppg) and 7-foot sophomore Przemek Karnowski (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg). Incoming freshman point guard Josh Perkins could start. [Ed. Kyle Wiltjer, the Kentucky transfer, should be an impact player for the Zags.]
33. Baylor (26-12, Sweet 16) – Bears lose two seniors who were crucial to the team’s success: Leading scorer/rebounder Cory Jefferson and the team’s best 3-point shooter, Brady Heslip. The Bears are here now if Isaiah Austin (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.1 bpg) returns. If he leaves for the NBA, they’re not a Top 30 team. His wingmen in Waco will be point guard Kenny Cherry (11.5 ppg) and forwards Rico Gathers and Royce O’Neale.
34. Pittsburgh (26-10, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament) – The Panthers lose their top two scorers, but Durant Johnson and Cameron Wright return. So do ancillary players James Robinson and Michael Young. I’m not sure there was an uglier team to watch last year than Pittsburgh, so hopefully Jamie Dixon comes up with something remotely interesting offensively.
35. Kansas State (20-13, 1st Round NCAA Tournament) – Marcus Foster, the team’s best player, was a freshman, and should guide the Wildcats back into the NCAA Tournament mix.