Tuesday, April 28, 2009
That's right -- a revised top 25 already
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
Believe it or not, the men's college basketball preseason rankings we posted earlier this month are already out of date. A bevy of decisions by underclassmen to declare for the NBA draft will do that to a way-too-early top 25.
That's why a new set of predictions -- during the "testing" of the draft process -- is in order. These rankings will change again once the withdrawal date passes June 15 and coaches, players and fans know exactly who will be on their rosters come fall.
Where top high school point guard John Wall decides to spend two semesters before he goes to the 2010 NBA draft will shake up the top 25 yet again. The decisions made by the players who entered the draft but did not hire agents will have large effects. So make sure to check back about six weeks from now for another installment.
Here's one man's best guess for now
1. Kansas: The Jayhawks stay at No. 1 because Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins turned down declaring for the draft and one of the top high school seniors in the country, Xavier Henry, switched from Memphis to Kansas. KU sure looks like the prohibitive favorite -- the UNC of the 2009-10 season.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans hold firm at No. 2. Nothing has changed; the team is as solid as it was after the Final Four. It didn't lose anyone unexpectedly to the NBA draft, and it is set up for a potential run to Indianapolis next spring.
3. Texas: The Longhorns move up a spot because of the buzz surrounding newcomer Avery Bradley. He shot up to No. 1 on the ESPNU 100 rankings, and fellow incoming freshman Jordan Hamilton isn't far behind. If they're that good, the potential loss of Damion James to the draft won't be as crushing.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels did lose Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, as expected. But Ed Davis stayed, which was what he said he would do at the Final Four. Still, now that it's official, the Heels should have the best front line in the country. If Larry Drew II can be a decent point guard, UNC might just go ahead and win the title again.
5. Purdue: The Boilermakers move up because of some departures from teams that were ahead of them. JaJuan Johnson could have tested the draft but decided to stay another year. Having Johnson back with E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel means the Boilers should be on Michigan State's heels all season.
6. Villanova: The Wildcats drop a tad, as Scottie Reynolds' decision to enter the draft without an agent has resulted in some uncertainty. But the incoming class -- Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and big man Mouphtaou Yarou all are top-25 recruits -- is so good the Wildcats get the benefit of the doubt here. With the departure of three Syracuse underclassmen, Nova should be the pick to win the Big East.
7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers didn't get stung by the NBA draft, as sophomore-to-be Devin Ebanks decided to return to Morgantown. Big-time scorer Da'Sean Butler is back to make West Virginia the runner-up pick in the Big East.
8. California: The Bears move up because of departures from teams that were in front of them and the decision by Patrick Christopher to return to school. Cal is the clear favorite in the Pac-10 with the top backcourt in the West (Christopher and Jerome Randle).
9. Michigan: The Wolverines make for a strong three-team race at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State and Purdue. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims decided to go back to Ann Arbor and weren't tempted by false hope in the draft. As a result, Michigan should have its strongest team in years.
10. Duke: The Blue Devils drop a few pegs from No. 7 to No. 10 because of the departure of Gerald Henderson (assuming he stays in the draft). Not having Henderson means the Blue Devils will lack that athletic wing who can get his own shot. But Kyle Singler is still an All-American, and Jon Scheyer, Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith can keep this crew hanging around the top 10.
11. Butler: The Bulldogs aren't going to intimidate anyone, but they still return the heart of their team, led by Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward. Look out for Butler early in the season at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., where other teams in the field already are trying to avoid playing the Bulldogs in the first round.
12. Oklahoma: The Sooners shoot up six spots from my previous poll, even with the expected announcement from Blake Griffin that he was entering the NBA draft. The top reasons for the climb are the return of Willie Warren on the perimeter and the buzz surrounding newcomers Keith "Tiny" Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin. OU should head a second group in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Texas.
13. Clemson: The Tigers still are bitter from losing to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Trevor Booker's decision to stay was significant in moving the Tigers up six spots. Clemson still has a game-changing 3-point threat in Terrence Oglesby.
14. Tennessee: The Vols drop a spot with the announcement from Tyler Smith, who declared for the draft but didn't sign with an agent. Tennessee still has plenty of depth, however, and a commitment to defense next season could lead to March success.
15. Washington: The Huskies did get arguably the top newcomer in the Pac-10, guard Abdul Gaddy. But losing Jon Brockman's leadership and rebounding, as well as Justin Dentmon's ability to make plays, will be hard to replace. However, the Huskies should be able to be even more disruptive with Gaddy, Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton.
16. Minnesota: The Gophers leap into the middle of the top 25 with a stellar recruiting class and the return of their core players, Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson and Al Nolen. This will be a veteran team that tasted the NCAA tournament this past season and will be primed to stay in the Big Ten race. The Gophers likely will be in the second tier but still an NCAA team.
17. Dayton: The Flyers climb from No. 23 to No. 17 because of departures from teams that were in front of them. Dayton doesn't have that issue, and with the upheaval at Xavier, the Flyers might be the team to beat in the A-10 heading into the fall. Chris Wright, Marcus Johnson and Rob Lowery have the experience of an NCAA appearance to work with this summer. They should be a confident crew come November.
18. Ohio State: The Buckeyes did lose B.J. Mullens, but they also got back top scorer Evan Turner. His decision to return to Columbus helped them jump into the top 25 and will continue to make the Big Ten look somewhat like the Big East of this past season.
19. Illinois: The Illini were upset by Western Kentucky in the first round of the tournament, but they should be primed for a deeper run next season. They should have a stud back in Mike Davis and the experience of reaching the NCAAs to be a factor in the Big Ten -- the sixth team from the conference in this top 25.
20. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs slide with Austin Daye's decision to declare for the draft and the real possibility that he might stay in it. But the Zags still have a solid perimeter with Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson and the potential that Robert Sacre can be a serviceable big. The incoming class of newcomers also is expected to add some scoring pop.
21. Syracuse: The Orange take a huge tumble from the top five to the back end of the top 25 with Jonny Flynn's decision to stay in the draft and the departures of Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf. But Brandon Triche at the point, Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson on the wing, Andy Rautins shooting 3s, and the scoring ability of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku inside make the Orange a top-25 team.
22. Boston College: The Eagles will miss Tyrese Rice or, at the very least, the threat of him going off for a barrage of deep 3s. But BC had many successful runs within games when Rice was on the bench this past season. The return of Reggie Jackson, Biko Paris, Joe Trapani, Rakim Sanders and Josh Southern gives the Eagles an experienced five that will be a tough out.
23. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane have a golden chance to be the team to beat in Conference USA now that Jerome Jordan has decided to stay put. The addition of point guard Donte Medder should take pressure off Ben Uzoh and make Tulsa a more complete team.
24. Pittsburgh: The Panthers re-emerge in the rankings despite losing the top three scorers/leaders of their Elite Eight team, Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields. The rotation of four guards -- Jermaine Dixon, Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown -- should be a tough matchup in the Big East. The key will be how quickly newcomers up front -- namely top-five power forward Dante Taylor -- develop into productive posts.
25. Siena: Coach Fran McCaffery didn't jump for a random job because he knew, even after losing Kenny Hasbrouck, that the Saints have a shot to be an NCAA thorn once again. The rest of the top five -- Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin, Ryan Rossiter and Ronald Moore -- return, and the additions of guard Jonathan Breeden and forward Oderah Anosike have the Saints feeling fairly confident about the 2009-10 season.
A look at who has dropped out (for now) since the initial way-too-early top 25:
Ole Miss: The departure of David Huertas knocks the Rebels down a few pegs. The Rebels were a tenuous pick anyway, as they await the healthy return of guard Chris Warren from a knee injury.
Kentucky: If Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson don't stay in the draft, the Wildcats will not only shoot back into the rankings, but they almost certainly will land in the top 10. They can't be a top-25 team without this duo. However, if a certain point guard were to sign a letter of intent ...
Texas A&M: Even though it sounds foolish for Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis and Chinemelu Elonu to declare for the draft, until they officially return, the Aggies are in rebuilding mode. If they all come back, A&M will have three of its top four scorers back -- all but departing senior Josh Carter.
Xavier: There is too much working against the Musketeers at this juncture, with a first-time head coach in Chris Mack, the loss of seniors B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson, and the possible departure of Derrick Brown, who declared for the draft after averaging 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds this past season. If Brown returns, the Musketeers could be back in the mix.
Mississippi State: Losing Jarvis Varnado, the team's top scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, to the draft for the time being creates too big a hole to keep the Bulldogs in the top 25. If he returns, with the return of senior Barry Stewart and the possible arrival of McDonald's All-American Renardo Sidney, the Bulldogs are a lock for the June rankings.
Disagree with my rankings? If so, you're not alone. My colleague Doug Gottlieb offers up his top 25 here, and our favorite coach, Fran Fraschilla, weighs in with his opinion on both of our rankings here.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.