Now that the NCAA’s deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft has come and gone, it’s time to really get down to business and come up with a legitimate preseason Top 25.
This may change slightly before the season, but here’s my edition heading into the summer.
Send all concerns, complaints and kudos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now that I have time on my hands, I assure you I will respond to every one of them.
Record: 35-5 (national champions) Lose: Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas Key Returnees: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins Newcomers: Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton, Carrick Felix
The moment Singler decided to return for his senior campaign was also the one in which the defending national champs became the clear-cut preseason No. 1. Sure, the Blue Devils have lost their starting point guard, Scheyer, but they’ll replace him with one of the top freshmen in the country in Irving. Look for a major jump from Mason Plumlee off a freshman campaign that began with a broken wrist. Coach K will also get a boost in the backcourt from Stephen Curry’s little brother, Seth, who sat out this past season after transferring from Liberty.
Record: 29-6 (Sweet 16) Lose: Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant Key Returnees: Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow Newcomers: Terone Johnson, Donnie Hale, Anthony Johnson, Travis Carroll
Kramer and Grant will be missed, but the bottom line is that the Big Three — Hummel, Moore and JaJuan Johnson — will all be back. Hummel should be 100 percent after suffering a torn ACL toward the end of last season, and JaJuan Johnson’s decision to return was critical for a team that can now set its sights on a national title. Jackson will be healthy to start the year — unlike a year ago — and expect Terone Johnson, a freshman combo guard, to make an immediate impact.
3. MICHIGAN STATE
Record: 28-9 (Final Four) Lose: Raymar Morgan Key Returnees: Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious Newcomers: Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Russell Byrd, Alex Gauna
Morgan is the lone player who graduates for a team that went to the Final Four and could have won it all with Lucas. Floor leader Lucas will be coming off a torn Achilles’ and Roe’s knee issues remain a concern, but Summers showed the consistency and maturity down the stretch last season that could carry over. Green has established himself as a leader, and Tom Izzo brings in a pair of freshman studs with Appling, a wing, and Payne, one of the most talented big men in the nation.
4. OHIO STATE
Record: 29-8 (Sweet 16) Lose: Evan Turner, P.J. Hill, Kyle Madsen, Jeremie Simmons Key Returnees: William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale Newcomers: Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas, Aaron Craft, J.D. Weatherspoon, Lenzelle Smith, Jordan Sibert
Thad Matta loses the National Player of the Year in Turner, but the Buckeyes will be a Top 10 team regardless. Buford, Lighty, Diebler and Lauderdale — all starters — return, and Matta brings in Sullinger, arguably the best freshman-ready player in the country and a force in the paint. He also adds another talented frontcourt freshman in Thomas. The key could be Craft, a freshman floor leader who will step right in and get minutes at the point. Also, don’t be surprised if Lighty has the ball in his hands more frequently as well.
5. KANSAS STATE
Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight) Lose: Denis Clemente, Luis Colon, Chris Merriewether Key Returnees: Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Dominique Sutton, Rodney McGruder, Wally Judge, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts Newcomers: Freddy Asprilla, Shane Southwell, Will Spradling
The Wildcats will certainly take a hit with the departure of floor leader Clemente, but Pullen will likely return to the point guard spot and he’ll have some experienced frontcourt guys around him in Kelly and Samuels. Senior wing Sutton is also back, and now sophomores McGruder and Judge both have a year under their belts. But the difference-maker could be Asprilla, the FIU transfer who will give Frank Martin the low-post presence K-State lacked this year.
Record: 25-8 (second round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding Key Returnees: Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Taylor King, Mouphtaou Yarou, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek Newcomers: Jayvaughn Pinkston, James Bell, Markus Kennedy
Losing Reynolds and Redding will hurt, but Jay Wright can slide in a couple of guys who are just as talented — if not more so — in the backcourt with Wayns and Cheek. Fisher and Stokes will also be back, and the Wildcats will bring in three freshmen — led by Pinkston, a tough power forward. The other key will be the development of strong and athletic big man Yarou, who missed much of last season with Hepatitis B.
Record: 25-9 (second round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: Jermaine Dixon, Chase Adams Key Returnees: Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson, Travon Woodall, Dante Taylor Newcomers: J.J. Moore, Cameron Wright, Isaiah Epps
The Panthers weren’t expected to do much this past season after losing four starters, but Jamie Dixon performed some magic to the tune of 25 wins. Pittsburgh’s only real loss is Jermaine Dixon, but guards Gibbs and Wanamaker have another year under their belts, and McGhee made dramatic improvement in the past year. The key could be the progress of Taylor and redshirt freshman Talib Zanna up front.
Record: 26-10 (Sweet 16) Lose: Quincy Pondexter, Elston Turner, Clarence Trent Key Returnees: Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs, Darnell Gant, Tyreese Breshers, C.J. Wilcox Newcomers: Terrence Jones, Terrence Ross, Aziz Ndiaye, Desmond Simmons
The Huskies’ lone major loss is Pondexter. That’ll be a hit, but not one that Lorenzo Romar can’t recover from. This ranking is based on Terrence Jones sticking to his commitment to U-Dub. Thomas, Overton and Gaddy — now with a year of experience — will be one of the nation’s top backcourts. Bryan-Amaning finally began to realize his potential down the stretch, while guys like Holiday and Suggs also had their moments.
Record: 23-11 (second round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor, Keith Ramsey, Miguel Paul, Tyler Stone Key Returnees: Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Laurence Bowers, Justin Safford, Michael Dixon Newcomers: Phil Pressey, Tony Mitchell, Ricardo Ratliffe, Matt Pressey, Kadeem Green, Richy Kreklow
Mike Anderson’s system is proven, and now he’ll add a big-time class — including the Pressey brothers, Mitchell and Ratliffe. Phil Pressey is the ideal floor leader for the up-tempo style, and Mitchell can be a star in Columbia. The Tigers lose Tiller and Taylor — a pair of underrated stars who really got after it defensively — but still have guys like English, Denmon and Bowers who have proven themselves.
Record: 21-13 (first round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: Dan Werner, Ray Shipman Key Returnees: Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, Erik Murphy Newcomers: Patric Young, Casey Prather, Cody Larson, Will Yeguette, Scottie Wilbekin
Billy Donovan and the Gators got back into the NCAA tourney after a two-year hiatus. They will be improved this season with the return of everyone of note except for Werner and the addition of Young, Prather and three late signees — Larson, Yeguette and Wilbekin, a backup point guard who will likely become eligible a year early. Boynton should be improved with a year of experience, and the front line will be deep and talented with guys like Parsons, Tyus, Macklin, Murphy and Young.
Record: 33-3 (lost in second round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry Key Returnees: Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson Newcomers: Josh Selby, Royce Woolridge
Collins graduated, Aldrich is leaving a year early for the NBA and Henry departs after just one season in Lawrence. But Bill Self still has solid guards in Taylor, Morningstar, Reed and sophomore Elijah Johnson — and he also added highly touted freshman point guard Josh Selby. The Morris twins are both back, and Withey and Robinson should both receive expanded roles.
Record: 27-7 (second round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: Matt Bouldin Key Returnees: Steven Gray, Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, Demetri Goodson, Kelly Olynyk, Mangisto Arop Newcomers: Keegan Hyland
It won’t be easy to replace Bouldin, but the ‘Zags still have plenty to keep them atop the WCC and be a fixture in the Top 25. Gray and Goodson are a talented and experienced backcourt, while Harris and Sacre give Mark Few & Co. a front-line tandem that matches up with just about anyone.
Record: 24-10 (NIT) Lose: Elliott Williams, Doneal Mack, Willie Kemp, Pierre-Henderson Niles Key Returnees: Will Coleman, Wesley Witherspoon, Angel Garcia, Roburt Sallie Newcomers: Will Barton, Joe Jackson, Jelan Kendrick, Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, Hippolyte Tsafack, Antonio Barton, Charles Carmouche
No one would have figured Memphis to be back on the national map this quickly, but Josh Pastner has loaded up with elite level recruits and will bring in arguably the top freshmen class in the nation. Even with Williams leaving early, the Tigers have an excess of guards. Jackson is a big-time floor leader from the area, Barton has all the tools to be a dominant wing and Kendrick is versatile and productive. Add in Black, an undersized big man, and Crawford — a deadly shooter — and the Tigers could have more talent than they ever had in the John Calipari era. Witherspoon, Coleman and Garcia will also figure into the equation in Memphis.
Record: 21-15 (NIT) Lose: Dominique Keller, Stan Simpson Key Returnees: Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Bill Cole, Tyler Griffey Newcomers: Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard, Crandall Head
The Illini didn’t quite live up to expectations this past season, but they showed glimpses of what they could be. No one of note has gone, while McCamey had a stretch in the middle of the season when he finally “got it.” Now Richardson and Paul have a year under their belts, but the key will be how quickly the incoming freshman — Richmond, Leonard and Head — figure things out.
Record: 30-6 (second round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: Jonathan Tavernari, Chris Miles, Lamont Morgan Jr., Michael Loyd Key Returnees: Jimmer Fredette, Jackson Emery, Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock, Chris Collinsworth, Nick Martineau Newcomers: Kyle Collinsworth, Anson Winder
With the return of Fredette, Dave Rose and the Cougars should be the favorites in the Mountain West. But they do lose two starters — Miles to graduation and Tyler Haws to a mission — along with the transfer of reserve guard Michael Loyd and the graduation of sixth man Tavernari. Chris Collinsworth, a 6-foot-9 big man, returns from a two-year mission after playing nearly 16 minutes a game as a freshman.
16. NORTH CAROLINA
Record: 20-17 (NIT) Lose: Ed Davis, Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson, Travis Wear, David Wear Key Returnees: Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew II, John Henson, Will Graves, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald Newcomers: Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Kendall Marshall
The Tar Heels were a mess this past season, but now Roy Williams introduces a stud in Barnes, the No. 1 freshman in the country, as well as another scorer in Bullock and a point guard in Marshall, who should challenge Drew for starting floor leader duties. Zeller and Henson are back on what has become a fairly thin front line with Davis and the Wear twins gone, but UNC will be fine as long as those two long and athletic big men remain healthy.
Scott Drew loses three starters — seniors Carter and Lomers — as well as Udoh, who had a terrific season in Waco after transferring from Michigan. The good news is Dunn is back and Jones will arrive on campus. The key could be the progress of guys like Acy, Jones, Walton and Dennis.
Record: 35-3 (Elite Eight) Lose: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson Key Returnees: Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Darnel Dodson, Jon Hood Newcomers: Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole
Talk about a dramatic change in personnel. The Wildcats lost five guys to the NBA draft, but UK has reloaded with a terrific freshman class led by Knight — one of the most talented guards in the country. The key, however, could be Kanter — a 6-foot-9 Turkish kid who could be a force in the paint.
Record: 29-6 (first round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Ryan Brooks, Luis Guzman Key Returnees: Juan Fernandez, Lavoy Allen, Ramone Moore, Michael Eric Newcomers: Anthony Lee, Aaron Brown
The Owls won 29 games and return four of their top five scorers from last season. Brooks will be difficult to replace, but Fernandez has a full year of experience and Allen is a threat in the paint. Fran Dunphy did a terrific job this past season, and it’ll likely be more of the same this coming season.
20. VIRGINIA TECH
Record: 25-9 (NIT) Lose: None Key Returnees: Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Dorenzo Hudson, J.T. Thompson, Terrell Bell, Victor Davila Newcomers: Allan Chaney, Tyrone Garland, Jarell Eddie
The key was obviously the return of Delaney, who decided to stay in school after testing the NBA draft waters. Seth Greenberg’s team just missed out on the Big Dance, has five seniors next season and also adds Chaney, a Florida transfer, to the mix.
Record: 26-9 (first round of the NCAA tournament) Lose: David Gonzalvez, Ryan Butler Key Returnees: Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper, Dan Geriot, Josh Duinker, Kevin Smith, Darrius Garrett Newcomers: Derrick Williams, Cedrick Lindsay, Wayne Sparrow
Chris Mooney’s only major loss is Gonzalvez, but he still has the top player in the Atlantic 10, Anderson, to build around. Harper has a world of potential, but the key may be the development of Garrett and whether Geriot can return to the form that made him one of the league’s top players before a major injury.
22. FLORIDA STATE
Record: 22-10 (first round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Solomon Alabi, Ryan Reid, Jordan DeMercy Key Returnees: Chris Singleton, Michael Snaer, Deividas Dulkys, Derwin Kitchen, Luke Loucks, Xavier Gibson Newcomers: Jon Kreft, Ian Miller, Bernard James, Okaro White
The departure of the 7-foot Alabi would normally be a major blow, but the ‘Noles have two talented big guys, Gibson and Kreft, as replacements. Singleton should become more of an offensive focal point, Snaer should step it up with a year of experience and Miller could be exactly what Leonard Hamilton needs at the point guard spot.
Record: 30-5 (Sweet 16) Lose: Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku Key Returnees: Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, DaShonte Riley, Mookie Jones Newcomers: Fab Melo, Dion Waiters
Johnson, Rautins and Onuaku are all gone, but Joseph could emerge as a star in their absence. Triche and Jardine were impressive sharing point guard duties, and Waiters can come in and make an instant impact as a scoring guard. Melo will be a work-in-progress, but he’s big and will give Jim Boeheim another paint presence to go with Jackson and Riley.
Record: 25-9 (first round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Darris Santee, Matt Shaw Key Returnees: Tre’Von Willis, Chase Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Derrick Jasper, Bruce Massamba, Kendall Wallace Newcomers: Quintrell Thomas, Henry Buckley
Lon Kruger returns the majority of his players from a team that won 25 games last season. The backcourt is experienced with seniors Willis and Jasper and a pair of juniors — Stanback and Bellfield. The frontcourt will feature Massamba, Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas and 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez.
Record: 21-14 (first round of NCAA tournament) Lose: Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson, Devron Bostick, Paul Carter Key Returnees: Blake Hoffarber, Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson III, Al Nolan, Colton Iverson, Rodney Williams Newcomers: Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins, Maurice Walker, Oto Osnieks, Elliott Eliason
Tubby Smith loses three of his top seven scorers, but the Gophers should be improved with the maturity of Sampson and Iverson up front along with the return of guards Joseph, Hoffarber and Nolan, who was suspended the latter half of last season. Smith should also have the services of Mbakwe, who didn’t play at all last season because of legal issues, as well as a freshman class that includes big man Walker and Hollins in the backcourt.
Record: 33-5 (national title game) Lose: Gordon Hayward, Willie Veasley, Avery Jukes Key Returnees: Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant, Zach Hahn, Andrew Smith Newcomers: Khyle Marshall, Chrishawn Hopkins, Erik Fromm
With Hayward, you could have made a case that Butler was the No. 2 preseason team in the land. Without him — and fellow starter Veasley — these guys are a fringe Top 25 team. They still have Mack, Howard and Nored, but the loss of Hayward really hurts.
TWENTY MORE TO WATCH (in order of conference): Clemson, N.C. State, Texas, Wisconsin, Northwestern, UConn, West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Xavier, Saint Louis, Dayton, UTEP, San Diego State, Wichita State, Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s, Wofford.