Final preseason top 25 for 2009-10
The Kansas Jayhawks, two years after cutting down the nets and losing their top five players, go into the 2009-10 campaign as the clear-cut preseason favorites.
However, the Jayhawks will have plenty of competition, especially if Bill Self's team doesn't get its act together off the court.
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Here is our final stab at the 2009-10 preseason top 25.
The top three teams separate themselves not just due to talent, but also because of depth. They are clearly the three deepest teams in the nation, while many of the other teams in the top 25 are thin on the bench.
Preseason top 25
It's been a crazy offseason in Lawrence, but the Jayhawks are still the clear-cut No. 1 team in the land to start the season. Collins and Aldrich decided to return to school, and you can make a case that each is the best at their respective positions in the entire country. But what makes this team the front-runner to cut down the nets in Indianapolis is its depth. Everyone of note is back from last season's Sweet 16 team, and head coach Bill Self added a loaded freshman class that includes Henry, a likely one-and-done player, Robinson, an athletic forward, another guard in Johnson and Withey, a skilled 7-footer who transferred from Arizona before ever playing a game. This is a deep, talented group that blends experience and also quality young players.
There's no questioning the talent in Lexington, but the concern is how new coach John Calipari will mesh the holdovers with his guys — the highly touted freshman class that includes Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Dodson and Orton. Wall is the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft, and Patterson and Cousins are as dominant a 1-2 punch in the paint as there is in the nation. Dodson may be as important as anyone since he's the best perimeter shooter on a team that isn't exactly loaded with guys who can make shots from long range. This team is so deep and talented that Orton may not get off the bench with the game on the line.
I'm not sure there's a deeper team in the nation. Some teams talk about being two deep at every position. Rick Barnes' team may truly be three deep. James decided to stick around and that gave Texas the experience it needed. The bigs are led by Pittman and Johnson, but there's plenty of depth with guys like Chapman and Hill. Bradley can do it all as a freshman, while Hamilton can really score from the wing. But neither will be handed minutes with the return of Mason, a senior, and Ward, who was terrific in stretches last season. The key to the team's success will come at the point, where last year's starter, Balbay, will have plenty of competition from Brown and Lucas.
4. MICHIGAN STATE
Tom Izzo will miss his skilled big man, Suton, and the leadership and defense of Walton. However, the Spartans can get back to the Final Four because everyone else returns. Lucas has quickly become one of the nation's elite point guards, Summers has emerged, and Roe will continue to get closer to 100 percent after a major knee injury his senior season in high school. Morgan, when playing well, is among the most talented forwards in the Big Ten, and Allen has shown glimpses of why he was considered one of the nation's elite wings coming out of high school in Georgia a few years back. Michigan State may have to go small with Roe in the middle unless one of its freshman bigs — Nix or Sherman — progresses quicker than expected.
5. NORTH CAROLINA
Just the simple fact that the defending champs have a legitimate shot to return to the Final Four after losing Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington and Green — four starters — is amazing. This team will have no shortage of long and athletic big men with the return of Davis and Zeller and the addition of Henson, but point-guard play will determine how successful UNC is this season. Drew II will likely get the first crack at replacing Lawson, but he's no Lawson. Ginyard returns after redshirting last season and two freshmen guards — Strickland and McDonald — may have to grow up quickly. Look for Davis to emerge as a star up front, and Thompson to become a more consistent scorer in the post without Hansbrough.
6. WEST VIRGINIA
The loss of Ruoff will hurt Bob Huggins, but the Mountaineers will have far more depth and size this season with the return of Mazzulla, the team's starter at point guard until he went down with a season-ending injury after seven games, and the addition of a pair of freshmen big men Kilicli and Jennings. Butler and Ebanks should be a difficult 1-2 punch for anyone to handle, and Jones and Smith are both solid. Mitchell should step right in and become the team's top perimeter shooter.
People on the Main Line — other than 'Nova coach Jay Wright — underestimate the loss of the senior class. However, the Wildcats still return four quality guards in Reynolds, Fisher, Redding and Stokes and also have Peña back in the fold up front. There's also the addition of a stellar freshman class that includes Wayns and Cheek in the backcourt and the ultra-talented Yarou up front. This is a team that certainly has a chance to return to the Final Four.
Mike Montgomery brings back his core of Randle, Christopher and Boykin. That's as good a starting trio as there is just about anywhere in the entire country. Boykin, a Duke transfer, is also back after starting all 33 games a year ago. These guys have a year of postseason experience under their belt and also a year under Montgomery's system.
Brockman was a special player and Dentmon had a strong finish to his career, but incoming freshman Gaddy will waste no time showing he's one of the top pure point guards in the nation and an upgrade over Dentmon. Thomas and Gaddy will be fun to watch in the backcourt, and Lorenzo Romar has some other pieces. However, he'll need someone to step up on the frontline — whether it's Gant or Bryan-Amaning — to soften the blow of Brockman's loss, and he'll also need Pondexter to become more consistent.
For the second straight year, the core of the team remains intact. In fact, all five starters have played together for the past two seasons. The lone significant loss is that of Calasan — a key role guy off the bench. However, if Hummel's healthy, this team will be more effective this season than last year when Hummel struggled through a back injury for much of the year. The one bright spot to Hummel's injury was the emergence of Johnson as a consistent threat in the paint. Jackson and Grant are a solid point-guard duo, Moore is a smooth scorer and Kramer gives the team a lock-down defender and added toughness. Matt Painter has all the pieces and now experience to go with it.
The only significant loss for the Vols came when Negedu collapsed in the offseason and doctors determined his career to be over due to heart concerns. Bruce Pearl has plenty of options, but the key will be whether Maze can take a step and solidify a point-guard situation that has been inconsistent over the last few years in Knoxville. There is no shortage of wings with Smith, Hopson, Prince, Tatum, Tabb and Woolridge, and Chism and Williams should be tough down low.
The Huskies will certainly take a significant hit with the loss of Thabeet to the NBA and also the graduation of seniors Price and Adrien. However, UConn still has a strong backcourt with Walker and Dyson along with Robinson up front and the addition of talented freshmen Oriakhi and Coombs-McDaniel. The wild card may be Majok, who wasn't eligible last season and tested the NBA waters before deciding to return to Storrs.
With Henderson leaving early to the NBA and Williams transferring back home to Memphis, the Blue Devils will take a significant hit and will be heavily dependent on two players: Singler and Scheyer. Duke will face the same question it did a year ago with questionable point-guard play. Scheyer played the point down the stretch last season, and it's likely he and Smith will share the load this season. The late addition of Dawkins, who graduated early, gives the Blue Devils another much-needed backcourt player and also another talented freshman to go along with skilled forwards Kelley and Marshall Plumlee.
Brad Stevens will return all five starters from a young team that won 26 games and lost to LSU in the first round of the Big Dance. Hayward has received plenty of attention and for good reason, but the scrappy, hard-working Howard is equally as important. Hayward, Mack and Nored all have a year under their belt, and Butler is hoping that Smith, a 6-foot-11 freshman, can provide some help in the paint.
15. OHIO STATE
The only loss is that of the 7-foot Mullens, who had unlimited potential but didn't exactly set the world on fire in his one season in Columbus. Thad Matta has a terrific starting lineup and has decided to move the 6-foot-8 Turner to the point in an effort to get his five best players on the court. Lighty is back from an injury that cost him most of last season, Buford is a talented scorer and Diebler is one of the nation's top perimeter shooters, which should make Turner's adjustment to the point a little easier.
The Wolverines went to the second round of the Big Dance and didn't really lose anything of note. Harris, Sims, Douglas and Novak are back, Lucas-Perry will improve and John Beilein will add point guard Morris and a big-time shooter in Vogrich.
17. GEORGIA TECH
Gani Lawal decided to come back after testing the NBA waters, and that'll give Paul Hewitt & Co. a formidable trio of Lawal, guard Iman Shumpert and incoming freshman Derrick Favors, who is one of the elite players in this year's freshman class. The Yellow Jackets also have starting forward Zach Peacock back, and starting guard DeAndre Bell looks like he'll return after missing all of last season with a spinal injury.
No one expected the Illini to accomplish as much as they did this past season. Bruce Weber will lose underrated guards Frazier and Meacham, but he'll bring in a ballyhooed recruiting class headlined by Richardson, Griffey and Paul. McCamey is a quality guard, and Davis and Tisdale have both developed more quickly than anyone anticipated. Weber will need Legion to fulfill his potential or one of his young guards — Richardson or Paul — to make an immediate impact.
The Hoyas struggled last season, but don't expect a repeat performance. Monroe is back and has a year under his belt, Wright has a full season of Big East experience and Freeman remains a big-time scoring guard. Don't be shocked if the loss of Sapp becomes addition by subtraction, and look for Sims and Vaughn to make key contributions up front.
Tubby Smith's team clearly overachieved last season with a bunch of fairly anonymous guys. Everyone returns from last year's 22-victory team that went to the Big Dance, and Smith adds a talented freshman class, which includes arguably the three most talented players on the entire team in White, Williams and Mbakwe.
Sure, the Sooners lost the best player in the country in Griffin. However, Jeff Capel will bring back Warren, who will become the focal point of the team, and add a strong freshman class highlighted by point guard Mason-Griffin and big man Gallon. Warren, Mason-Griffin and Crocker should be one of the top perimeter trios in the league — maybe the country. But the key will be how much Capel gets out of Gallon up front.
The loss of Kenny Hasbrouck and his 14.6 points per game will certainly be felt. However, Fran McCaffery still has four starters back — Ubiles (15 ppg), Franklin (13.6 ppg), Rossiter (10 ppg) and Moore (8.7 ppg) — from a team that has plenty of postseason experience.
This one may surprise some people, but Ogilvy is one of the top big men in the country, Taylor is one of the most underrated around and Beal is a steady point guard with tons of experience. Kevin Stallings also adds the top freshman shooter in the country in Jenkins.
The Musketeers lost a lot — their coach and three starters (and top three scorers) in Brown, Raymond and Anderson. However, new head man Chris Mack still has plenty of talent back. Love gives Xavier experience on the frontline, and the Musketeers will add two guards in Crawford and Lyons who will see extensive playing time.
The Rebels are finally healthy after spending most of their season without three of their top perimeter players — Warren, Polynice and Gaskins — due to season-ending injuries. Warren, who was averaging 19.6 points at the time of his injury, will run the team, and White, a long and versatile guard who emerged last season and was SEC Freshman of the Year, will start alongside Warren in the backcourt. Polynice will likely start at small forward. Holloway (8.4 ppg, 6.6) is solid up front, but the key to the team (other than health) may be 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman Reginald Buckner and whether he can make an immediate impact.
T 25. UCLA
Ben Howland loses three seniors who were critical in their trio of Final Four appearances, and the Bruins also watched Holiday leave after one ho-hum season. However, UCLA still has a young group next season with guys like Gordon, Lee and Anderson set to receive expanded roles, and the Bruins will welcome in a stellar freshman class led by skilled big man Honeycutt and Moser.
Twenty more to watch
Gonzaga: Despite the losses, the Zags still have enough talent and are led by Matt Bouldin.
Dayton: Chris Wright & Co. can challenge Xavier for Atlantic 10 supremacy.
Maryland: Greivis Vasquez's return and the addition of a couple of freshman big men make the Terps a potential top 25 team.
Florida: The Gators were a tough pick, but I'm concerned about their point-guard play with Erving Walker having to log so many minutes.
Louisville: Samardo Samuels will be in the middle with a bunch of solid guards.
Florida State: The Seminoles have a terrific trio of Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton and freshman Michael Snaer.
Syracuse: Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf are gone. However, the Orange still have plenty of talent and will rely on Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson.
Oklahoma State: James Anderson is terrific. The key here will be point-guard play and if someone can replace Byron Eaton.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers return all five starters and plenty of balance from a team that won 23 games a year ago.
Mississippi State: If Renardo Sidney gets cleared by the NCAA, then the Bulldogs are a legitimate top 25 team.
Clemson: Initially, I had the Tigers in my top 25 and I think they can get there, but it'll take some time after losing K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons lost Jeff Teague and James Johnson, but they still have Al-Farouq Aminu to build around.
South Carolina: Devan Downey and Dominique Archie are back for the Gamecocks.
Texas A&M: The loss of Chinemelu Elonu kept the Aggies out of the top 25.
Kansas State: I love their freshman class with Wally Judge and Rodney McGruder.
BYU: The return of Jimmer Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari make the Cougars the favorite in the Mountain West.
Nevada: New coach David Carter has a 1-2 punch in Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson.
Tulsa: Doug Wojcik will rely on his 1-2 punch of Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers return three of their top four players — including A.J. Slaughter — but it'll be tough to replace Orlando Mendez-Valdez.
Richmond: The Spiders return their starting backcourt and also bring back skilled forward Dan Geriot -- who missed all of last season due to injury.