- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, that’s right: After Wednesday’s signing day madness -- Nerlens Noel to Kentucky, Shabazz Muhammad to UCLA, extra extra, read all about it -- we’ve gone and built another extremely early top 25. I know, I know. You’re excited.
The whole “too early” thing isn’t just shtick; it really is way too early to be thinking about next season’s top 25 (as if preseason rankings matter in the first place). This is all just guesswork. Fun, mostly pointless guesswork. But it’s the offseason! What else are we supposed to do?
In any case, you can check out the top 25 here. Not everyone could make the cut, which is where the rest of this post comes in. Here’s a look at some of the best teams that didn’t land in today’s top 25 -- and what they’ll bring to the floor in 2012-13:
VCU: It’s clear the Rams weren’t a one-show pony in 2011; in fact, as coach Shaka Smart is proving, this is a program with staying power. Indeed, with the exception of NCAA tournament play, Smart’s 2011-12 team was considerably better than the one that made 2011’s unlikely run, and that looks likely to be the case again in 2012-13. With star guard Darius Theus alongside returners Briante Weber, Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg and Treveon Graham -- and with Bradford Burgess’s little brother Jordan arriving as a freshman in the fall -- this may be the best HAVOC-style defensive team of Smart’s tenure.
Kansas State: The 2012-13 Kansas State Wildcats won’t make any aesthetically inclined fan’s list of must-see teams. With just one player signed for the class of 2012 -- three-star center Laimonas Chatkevicius -- recruiting isn’t going to get anyone all hot and bothered, either. But boring as the Wildcats may seem, their returning solidity will give them a chance to be effective. Those returners include 7-foot forward Jordan Henriquez and veteran backcourt members Will Spradling, Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez, who was inconsistent but promising as a freshman last season. This group wasn’t all that much to look at in 2012, either, but under former coach Frank Martin, it thrived on rebounding, defense and toughness. Newly hired coach Bruce Weber will love to work with this team.
Tennessee: The 2011-12 Tennessee Volunteers were a rebuilding team -- a post-Bruce Pearl mess, which is what they were supposed to be -- until Jan. 21, and no further. That’s when Tennessee took down Connecticut at home and went on to win 10 of its last 13 games and land the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament, just behind the Kentucky Wildcats. Tennessee’s early season woes prevented the Vols from making the NCAA tournament, but Cuonzo Martin set a clear tone for his new program, one that should carry over -- with a little help from sophomore Jarnell Stokes, whose midseason freshman arrival synced up with the Volunteers’ run -- into his second year in Knoxville.
Saint Louis: Make no mistake: The Billikens will miss Brian Conklin, a 6-foot-6 forward who played more like he was 6-10, with the interior scoring numbers to match. Otherwise, Rick Majerus’ team -- which gave Michigan State a go in the NCAA tournament’s third round -- is back. Kwamain Mitchell, Dwayne Evans, Cody Ellis, Mike McCall and Jordair Jett; these are the players who brought Majerus and SLU back to some measure of national prominence in 2011-12. There’s no reason to expect anything less in the season to come.
Cincinnati: When Yancy Gates faded Xavier center Kenny Frease on Dec. 10, we didn’t know how Cincy’s season would end up. But few would have expected the Bearcats in general -- and Gates specifically -- to so fully turn their fortunes around. Now, Mick Cronin must move on without his powerful senior center. If Cincy lands center Christopher Obekpa, the No. 77 recruit in the ESPNU 100, all the better. (For what it’s worth, many scouts think Obekpa is heading to Providence.) But if not, Cronin can lean on the accomplished veteran backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker.
Five more to watch:
Ohio: The Bobcats lost coach John Groce to Illinois ... and that’s pretty much it. As returning lineups go, you can’t do much better than this. All 10 of Ohio’s rotation players from last season -- which ended in a Sweet 16 finish, lest we forget -- are back in 2012-13, including star guard D.J. Cooper.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles lost their two best players, seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, to the inescapable maw of time. But every main contributor around that star duo will be back, including Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, Chris Otule (coming off a December ACL injury), Todd Mayo and Junior Cadougan. This will remain a talented up-tempo team led by one of the nation’s most tireless coaches in Buzz Williams.
Butler: Will the Bulldogs return to prominence in 2012-13? It certainly looks that way. Brad Stevens’ young team will be without senior guard Ronald Nored, but otherwise will be a year older and wiser next season, while its chief deficiency -- shooting, scoring, offense in general -- should be alleviated by the arrival of sharpshooting Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke. Butler may not get back to the Final Four, but a return to the top of the Horizon League looks likely.
Miami: The Hurricanes were one of a handful of bubble teams left behind on Selection Sunday; in the end, a win at Duke in ACC play wasn’t enough to make up for an otherwise mediocre résumé. But 2012-13 holds some measure of promise. Star guard Durand Scott returns, as do forwards Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji. If the Hurricanes continue to improve under Jim Larranaga, they should be dancing in no time.
Maryland: The Terrapins struggled during the program's first post-Gary Williams season, but the pieces are in place for a step forward in Year 2. Star guard Terrell Stoglin -- one of the ACC's best perimeter scorers -- is back, as is center Alex Len. Meanwhile, coach Mark Turgeon is already reaping the rewards of a renewed focus on elite-level recruiting: ESPNU top 100 players Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman highlight a solid incoming class that should contribute right away.
Honorable mentions: Alabama, Florida State, Pitt, Murray State, Stanford, Saint Mary’s, Iowa State, Xavier, Nevada.