An updated Top 25 for 2013-14
Andrew Wiggins -- the No. 1-ranked recruit in the Class of 2013 -- has yet to pick a school. Former Memphis forward Tarik Black is among a handful of talented transfers looking for a new home, and there are a few highly touted prospects -- UCLA's Allerik Freeman, most notably -- who have been released from their national letters of intent and can play elsewhere.
In other words, we still don't know exactly how the college basketball landscape will look when the 2013-14 season opens this fall. But we're getting close.
The deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA draft has passed. Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore surprised no one by leaving. Marcus Smart, Isaiah Austin and Russ Smith shocked us by staying. Vander Blue, Grant Jerrett, Andre Roberson and Adonis Thomas made us scratch our heads.
Whatever the case, here's a revised edition of the preseason Top 25 poll for 2013-14. I'll be back with an updated version this summer, after Wiggins and others make their destinations known.
1. Kentucky Wildcats: Could the Wildcats really go from first-round NIT losers to NCAA champions? Absolutely. Kentucky's 2013 recruiting class is already being hailed as the best in college basketball history. The haul includes four players (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and James Young) ranked among the nation's top 10 prospects by ESPN.com. The cherry on top could be No. 1 overall recruit Wiggins, who is still trying to decide between Kentucky, Kansas, Florida State and North Carolina. Even without Wiggins, this may be the most talented college basketball team ever assembled. But will it jell? Even though injuries and chemistry issues ruined his most recent team, John Calipari has proved to be excellent at coaching players who plan to spend only a year or two in college. He's great at getting them to play defense and share the ball. It will help that some of Kentucky's key players in 2012-13 (Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer) will return to provide veteran leadership, which is something the program sorely lacked last season.
2. Louisville Cardinals: Rick Pitino's squad will be favored to make a third straight Final Four appearance. Point guard Peyton Siva was the only senior on last season's roster. His leadership will be tough to replace, but Louisville signed two point guards (juco transfer Chris Jones and high school star Terry Rozier) who should more than make up for Siva's absence. Louisville received a huge boost when Siva's backcourt mate, Russ Smith, decided to return for his senior season. Smith, who averaged 18.7 points last season, is a big-time scorer who needs to improve his decision-making. Center Gorgui Dieng left school early for the NBA draft, but forwards Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear are poised for breakthrough seasons along with Montrezl Harrell and Final Four MVP Luke Hancock. The Cardinals will be good enough to challenge Kentucky for the NCAA title.
3. Michigan State Spartans: Derrick Nix (9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds) was the only senior on the Spartans' roster, so Michigan State should be the slight favorite to win the Big Ten next season over Ohio State. Tom Izzo scored huge victories by getting shooting guard Gary Harris and forward Adreian Payne to return for another season. Both were beginning to blossom at the end of last season. Harris will have a chance to form one of the top backcourts in America along with point guard Keith Appling. The twosome combined to average 26.3 points in 2012-13. Even with the loss of Nix, Michigan State -- as always -- will be one of the country's most physical teams in the paint, with players such as Branden Dawson, who could really take off as junior. Izzo's team was good this season -- but a year from now, it could be special.
4. Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller's squad loses three of its top four scorers (Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Mark Lyons) along with promising forward Grant Jerrett, but the Wildcats should still be the class of the Pac-12. Arizona's highly touted 2012 recruiting class started off slow, but post players Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley made huge strides in February and March and should enter next season full of momentum. Shooting guard Nick Johnson (11.5 points) emerged as a leader on the perimeter. He'll benefit the most from the addition of Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, the high-caliber point guard Arizona so glaringly lacked this season. McConnell averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists for Duquesne in 2011-12. Whether the Wildcats are a good team or an elite one will depend on the play of freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Gordon is the second-ranked power forward in the Class of 2013. Hollis-Jefferson is the fifth-ranked small forward.
5. Duke Blue Devils: The Blue Devils' top three scorers -- Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry -- were all seniors last season. Still, as much as their departures will sting, the Blue Devils' roster is far from bare. The biggest reason for optimism is incoming freshman Jabari Parker, a small forward who is the No. 2-ranked prospect in America by ESPN.com. Parker is good enough to make Duke the slight favorite for the ACC title and also a Final Four contender. Parker won't have to do it alone. Point guard Quinn Cook improved as much as any player in the ACC last season and should take it to an even higher level as a junior. Combo guard Rasheed Sulaimon was one of the best freshmen in the nation in 2012-13, averaging 11.6 points while playing nearly 30 minutes per contest. The X-factor could be Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who averaged 10.3 points as a freshman for the Bulldogs in 2011-12. The biggest area of concern for Duke will be replacing Plumlee's presence in the paint, where he snared 10 rebounds and blocked 1.4 shots per game. Duke is hoping to land coveted Memphis transfer Tarik Black to help down low.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes would probably rank No. 2 on this list if leading scorer Deshaun Thomas had opted to return for his senior season. One of the top pure scorers in America, Thomas averaged 19.8 points for the Buckeyes' Elite Eight squad and finished with 1,630 points in three seasons. Still, Ohio State should be one of the top teams in America in 2013-14, as each of the other four starters return. It will be tough for point guard Aaron Craft to play much better on the defensive end than he did this season, but he can certainly become a more efficient shooter. Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott all averaged more than 20 minutes per game. Forward LaQuinton Ross is a tough matchup who contributed 15 points per game during the NCAA tournament. It will be a stunner if Ohio State doesn't challenge the two Michigan schools for the Big Ten title.
7. Florida Gators: The Gators lose their top three scorers in Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton, but if they take a step back, it won't be a major one. Florida could have one of the better front lines in the SEC in rising senior Patric Young (10.1 points, 6.3 rebounds) and incoming five-star freshman Chris Walker, a 6-foot-10, 195-pounder with a versatile offensive skill set. Mix in returning forward Will Yeguete, who was playing as well as any Gator at the end of last season, and Billy Donovan's squad should be strong down low. The perimeter will be solid, too. Signee Kasey Hill is the No. 2 point guard in the Class of 2013 by ESPN.com. He could either share the backcourt with returning starter and defensive standout Scottie Wilbekin, or the two could split time. Either way, it's a nice situation to have.
8. Syracuse Orange: The Orange lose two key seniors from their Final Four team in Brandon Triche and James Southerland, and sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams declared for the NBA draft. But no matter. Jim Boeheim finds ways to keep his team in the NCAA title picture every season, and 2013-14 shouldn't be any different. Leading scorer and rebounder C.J. Fair (14.4 points, 7.1 rebounds) will be back to lead the Orange's transition into the ACC. Small forward Jerami Grant showed flashes of brilliance while stepping in for a suspended Southerland early in conference play. Forwards Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and DaJuan Coleman should step into larger roles. Incoming freshman point guard Tyler Ennis will have a chance to start immediately in Syracuse's depleted backcourt while his classmate, Tyler Roberson, should be a factor in the paint.
9. Michigan Wolverines: Losing point guard and Wooden Award winner Trey Burke makes the Wolverines look a little less imposing entering the 2013-14 season, and the departure of shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. will definitely hurt. But this will still be an incredibly dangerous team more than capable of getting back to the Final Four, thanks to the return of forwards Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. Both players would've likely been first-round picks in this summer's NBA draft had they chosen to leave school early. Rising sophomore Nik Stauskas, a returning starter, is among the country's top outside shooters. Forwards Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford and guards Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht all earned valuable minutes during the Wolverines' run to the NCAA title game and will only improve. Michigan is adding two freshmen -- small forward Zak Irvin and point guard Derrick Walton -- who should step in and contribute immediately.
10. Oklahoma State Cowboys: No player pulled a bigger surprise this offseason than Marcus Smart, who gave up the chance to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft to come back to school. Smart's decision -- coupled by the return of Le'Bryan Nash, another NBA prospect -- makes the Cowboys the favorite in the Big 12. Smart, a point guard, is one of the toughest players in all of college basketball. As a freshman he led Oklahoma State in points, assists and steals and ranked second in rebounds. He needs to work on his shooting accuracy (40 percent from the field overall, 29 percent from 3-point range), but the tone he sets with his leadership and fire is invaluable. Nash, who averaged 14 points last season, is a bit of an enigma at times, but is one of the league's top five players in terms of talent. If he has a breakthrough year, watch out. Shooting guard Markel Brown (15.3 points) is one of the most underrated players in the country and strikes just as much fear into opponents as Smart and Nash. Another shooting guard, Phil Forte, averaged 10.2 points off the bench last season and made 91.3 percent of his free throws.
11. North Carolina Tar Heels: Two of last season's top three players (James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston) opted to return to school while Reggie Bullock entered the NBA draft. That means the Tar Heels will have four starters (two of their leading scorers) back from the team that went 25-11 last season and lost in the NCAA round of 32, and they'll have a few key additions, as well. Not only will incoming point guard Nate Britt add some depth behind rising sophomore Marcus Paige, but highly recruited big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks should instantly compete for playing time in the post. If coach Roy Williams -- who went to a four-guard lineup late last season -- can finally find a reliable center, he can return to his preferred two-post lineup, switch Hairston back to his natural shooting guard slot, and boast a deep, fast veteran team worthy of a top-10 ranking. UNC is one of the schools in the mix for Wiggins. Landing him would obviously lead to a higher ranking in the next preseason poll.
12. Wichita State Shockers: There's a strong chance that next season's Shockers could be even better than the unit that lost to Louisville in this year's Final Four. Losing bruising forward Carl Hall and court leader Malcolm Armstead will hurt, but Gregg Marshall's team will return all of its other key parts. Cleanthony Early, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville, is an NBA-caliber small forward. Ron Baker ignited the Shockers' NCAA tournament run with his prowess from beyond the arc, and point guard Fred VanVleet logged valuable minutes as a freshman backing up Armstead at point guard. Tekele Cotton is a returning starter who helps set the tone defensively. Standout shooter Evan Wessel, who redshirted this season, also returns. Look for 6-foot-9 Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby to replace Hall in the paint. Colby has spent the past season working out with the Shockers, and Marshall couldn't be more impressed. Chipola (Fla.) Junior College transfer Earl Watson will also be in the mix down low.
13. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: There were times last season when the Rams looked like a Final Four-caliber team. Other times, VCU seemed to underachieve. Shaka Smart's squad will be scary next season if it finds the consistency it so glaringly lacked in 2012-13. The Rams will return four of their top five scorers, with 3-point ace Troy Daniels and glue guy Darius Theus being the only key departures. The on-court chemistry between players such as Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Rob Brandenberg and defensive standout Briante Weber (2.7 steals) should be excellent. No wonder Smart spurned overtures from schools such as UCLA and Minnesota. This will be his best team yet.
14. Memphis Tigers: Adonis Thomas, D.J. Stephens and Tarik Black are gone from a squad that went 31-5 overall and 16-0 in its final season in Conference USA. Still, there will be more than enough talent on the roster to make Memphis' transition into the American Athletic Conference a smooth one. The key is point guard Joe Jackson, who averaged 13.6 points as a junior and shot 45 percent from 3-point range. He will be joined in the backcourt by 3-point ace Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson, the Tigers' "energy guy" who sets the tone and keeps his teammates hyped on both ends of the court. Crawford was one of the nation's top sixth men last season. Pastner is hoping forward Shaq Goodwin, who averaged 7.4 points in 20.2 minutes as a freshman, has a breakthrough year. With so many departures, Memphis will rely heavily on its No. 2-ranked recruiting class for success. Look for power forward Austin Nichols and small forward Kuran Iverson to make a quick impact.
15. Marquette Golden Eagles: If the 2012-13 season taught us anything, it's not to count out Marquette. Not as long as Buzz Williams is the coach. The Golden Eagles lost their two top players (Jae Crowder and Darius-Johnson Odom) from last year's squad yet still managed to tie for the Big East title and advance to the Elite Eight. The key player on that team, leading scorer Vander Blue (14.4 points), made what appears to be an ill-advised decision to enter the NBA draft. But almost every key piece of the squad will return in 2013-14. That includes second-leading scorer Davante Gardner (11.5 points) as well as glue guy Jamil Wilson (9.7 points, 4.9 rebounds). Marquette will also add the Class of 2013's No. 3-ranked shooting guard in Memphis native JaJuan Johnson. Rising junior Todd Mayo and incoming freshman Duane Wilson will try to make up for the loss of Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett in the backcourt. Marquette plays as hard as any team in the country, which will make it a threat once again in 2013-14.
16. New Mexico Lobos: Steve Alford is leaving behind quite the team in Albuquerque. In fact, if Tony Snell hadn't declared for the NBA draft, the Lobos likely would've been considered for the top 10. Leading scorer Kendall Williams (13.3 points) will return for a squad that won the outright Mountain West Conference title. Also back is 7-foot center Alex Kirk, who averaged 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Hugh Greenwood blossomed into one of the MWC's top threats from 3-point range, although he needs to improve his accuracy (34 percent). Still, with UNLV and Colorado State taking significant steps back, New Mexico could be in for another outright league title under first-year coach Craig Neal, who UNM fans hope will fare better than Alford in the postseason.
17. Gonzaga Bulldogs: The lasting image college basketball fans have of Gonzaga is the No. 1-seeded Zags falling to Wichita State in the round of 32 last season. But one loss shouldn't spoil an entire season or change the perception of a team. Gonzaga was a top-10-caliber squad all season and could be again in 2013-14. Losing 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk a year early to the NBA draft will definitely sting -- he averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior. Almost equally damaging is the graduation of Olynyk's frontcourt mate, Elias Harris, who is one of the top rebounders in school history. Still, Gonzaga boasts a solid cast of returnees in guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and David Stockton and forward Sam Dower. Coach Mark Few is also excited about the potential of 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 5.4 points as a freshman. More help in the paint could be on the way if either Mike Moser (UNLV) or Josh Davis (Tulane) elect to transfer to Spokane. The Zags are on the radar of both players.
18. Baylor Bears: Disappointed as they were not to make the NCAA tournament, the Bears ended last season on a high note by winning the NIT. Baylor did it in dominating fashion, too, beating its five opponents by an average of 17 points. The loss of point guard Pierre Jackson (19.8 points, 7.1 assists) will hurt immensely, but virtually every other key member of the team returns. That includes forward Cory Jefferson and center Isaiah Austin, both of whom considered entering the NBA draft (Austin was swayed by an injury, a source told ESPN.com). Jefferson caught fire by averaging 21.5 points in the NIT. The 7-foot Austin averaged 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a freshman. He, Jefferson and Ricardo Gathers could form a terrifying front-court tandem, and incoming freshman Ishmail Wainright gives Baylor the long, skilled small forward it so desperately lacked this season. If shooting guard Brady Heslip returns to form and junior college transfer Kenny-Fred Cherry (or sophomore L.J. Rose) can be a serviceable fill-in for Jackson at point guard, the Bears could contend for a league title in what should be a down year for the Big 12.
19. Tennessee Volunteers: The Vols lost five of their first six SEC games last season, but were one of the league's most-improved teams by March. Cuonzo Martin's squad barely missed out on an NCAA tournament bid, but that won't happen in 2013-14, as Tennessee returns all of its top players -- not to mention highly touted freshman Robert Hubbs and forward Jeronne Maymon, who averaged 12.1 points and 8.7 rebounds two years ago before missing last season with an injury. Jordan McRae (15.7 points), Jarnell Stokes (12.4) and Trae Golden (12.1) all averaged double figures in scoring last season, and Stokes snared 9.6 rebounds per contest. Tennessee, which won eight of its final nine regular-season games, will tout as much experience as any team in the SEC.
20. Indiana Hoosiers: This Hoosiers team won't be anywhere near as good as the unit that won last season's Big Ten title while spending a large chunk of the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll. But that doesn't mean Indiana won't be salty in 2013-14. Point guard Yogi Ferrell (4.1 assists) is the lone returning starter after Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo entered the NBA draft, but forward Will Sheehey earned valuable minutes off the bench, and coach Tom Crean couldn't be more excited about the progress of freshman forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The X-factor will be how quickly Indiana's highly touted, six-man signing class adapts to the college game. Headlining the group is Noah Vonleh, who is rated third among power forwards in the country by ESPN.com.
21. Kansas Jayhawks: If there were ever a year to leave Kansas out of the preseason Top 25, this would be it. With freshman Ben McLemore turning pro, the Jayhawks lose all five starters from a team that finished last season 31-6. Kansas, though, has a habit of making its naysayers look foolish. Bill Self has led KU to nine straight Big 12 titles, averaging 30 wins during his 10 seasons in Lawrence. No matter what, he's going to find a way to win. Next season's team will lean heavily on rising sophomore Perry Ellis -- who seemed to be getting more and more comfortable near the end of last season -- as well as returning backups Jamari Traylor and Naadir Tharpe. KU's veterans must provide leadership for a recruiting class that features a McDonald's All-American in Wayne Selden, a talented-but-raw center in Joel Embiid and pair of sharpshooters in Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene. Incoming freshman Frank Mason could challenge Tharpe for the starting point guard job. Kansas will jump up a few spots in these rankings if it's able to land Tarik Black, a bruising forward who would be favored to start. And the Jayhawks will move up significantly if Wiggins picks KU.
22. Colorado Buffaloes: The Buffaloes took a huge hit Sunday when Andre Roberson, who averaged 11.2 rebounds last season, entered the NBA draft despite being projected as a second-rounder. With Roberson, Colorado could've been the one team to challenge Arizona in the Pac-12. This should still be an excellent team. Tad Boyle's squad boasts one of the country's most underrated backcourts in Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, who led the team in points (15.3) and assists (3.0). And freshman forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson -- who combined to average 19.1 points -- should make significant strides as sophomores. Colorado needs to improve its maturity and consistency when it comes to effort and focus. Too many good wins were followed by head-scratching losses. That's the sign of a young team. The Buffaloes won't be able to use that as an excuse next season.
23. Connecticut Huskies: Kevin Ollie did an excellent job under difficult circumstances last season, when the Huskies -- who were banned from postseason play -- had nothing to play for but still managed to go 20-10. It seems safe to assume Ollie's second season will be even better, especially with the return of guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who will combine to form one of the top backcourts in the country. The twosome averaged 33.5 points and nine assists this season. Double-digit scorers DeAndre Daniels (12.1 points) and Omar Calhoun (11.1) also return. Connecticut ranked second to last in the Big East this past season in rebounding. Ollie's team must get tougher in the paint, where it is undermanned.
24. UCLA Bruins: Alford inherited a decent situation in Westwood. Efficient point guard Larry Drew and leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad are gone from last season's Pac-12 championship squad. But versatile guard/forward Kyle Anderson (8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists) opted to return for his sophomore season along with second-leading scorer Jordan Adams (15.3 points). Twins Travis and David Wear were among the conference's most-improved players by the end of the season. Backups Norman Powell and Tony Parker are ready to step into bigger roles. Incoming freshman point guard Zach LaVine will have to mature in a hurry to make Alford's first season with the Bruins a memorable one.
25. Iowa Hawkeyes: The Hawkeyes missed the NCAA tournament last season, but they should feel good about going 9-9 in the rugged Big Ten and finishing second in the NIT. Both were major accomplishments for a rapidly improving program. Don't be surprised if 2013-14 is the season when Iowa really turns the corner. Every key player will return from a team that went 25-13 overall last season. Included in that mix are leading scorers Roy Devyn Marble (15 points) and Aaron White (12.8), who also averaged a team-high 6.2 rebounds. With teams such as Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan losing a lot, the well-coached Hawkeyes have a chance to finish as high as third in the Big Ten while earning an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2006.
Fifteen others on the cusp: Alabama, Arizona State, Boise State, Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, Harvard, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Saint Louis, Stanford, St. John's, Villanova, Virginia, Wisconsin.
Yeah, we know it's May and thus a ways from the 2013-14 season. But have you seen what's in store for us? Returning stars, good freshmen and numerous title contenders. Dana O'Neil »
2013-14 EARLY PREVIEW
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