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Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Rebuilt Hoosiers will join the elite

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The top 25 will change a number of times between now and tipoff of the 2012-13 season.

It might change by Thursday, or certainly by April 10 and then again by April 29 for the two draft deadlines (the first for the NCAA, the second for the NBA). Some of the top players will make their decisions and we'll update it when they do. For now, we're assuming a few things, taking into account the underclassmen decisions and coaching changes and projecting what we think might happen in the next few months.

This is the first crack. It's a combined effort by several of my ESPN colleagues. Try not to take it too seriously. We'll take another swing before long.

1. Indiana

Surprised? Putting Indiana No. 1 isn't a reach, and it speaks volumes about how far Tom Crean has brought the Hoosiers. There was legitimate grumbling in the Hoosier Nation a year ago, wondering whether the rebuilding was taking too long. Well, IU had two of the more significant wins of the 2011-12 regular season and then reached the Sweet 16, where it pushed Kentucky as well as any team. Cody Zeller has to stay put for Indiana to remain No. 1 of course. But if Zeller is back, the Hoosiers -- with nearly everyone returning and joined by another elite recruiting class -- will be right there in the running for a national title.

2. Louisville

The Cardinals reached the Final Four despite a number of injuries and eligibility issues. They showed tremendous resolve and were a terrific team at home. Rick Pitino couldn't be too upset over the loss to Kentucky because he knows this team can be right back here next season. Can you imagine if Indiana and Louisville, near neighbors, are 1 and 2? Could happen. Peyton Siva should be Big East preseason player of the year and UL is only losing Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. Plus, Wayne Blackshaer will be around for a whole season.

3. Kansas

The Jayhawks are projected to lose Thomas Robinson, and they will lose Tyshawn Taylor. But have we learned our lesson not to dismiss anything Bill Self does with this program? Kansas might lose Jeff Withey, but don't be surprised if he stays with more touches coming his way. Newcomers Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore will be instant studs. Kansas isn't going anywhere.

4. Kentucky

The Wildcats likely will lose Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and maybe Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague. One or two might stay. Darius Miller also is gone, and he was one of the best glue guys in the country. But don't think for a second that the Wildcats will dip much at all. The additions of Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley will keep Kentucky near the top again. And just think if Kentucky were to land Nerlens Noel and/or Shabazz Muhammad? If that occurs, don't be surprised to see Kentucky open up at No. 1 in the fall.

5. Ohio State

The Buckeyes have never disappointed under Thad Matta. This team is a consistent winner that is always near or at the top of the Big Ten and in title contention. Next season won't be any different. Jared Sullinger promised Matta two seasons so he could easily depart for the NBA. But should he after the national semifinal? Maybe not. The Buckeyes still have Aaron Craft, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross are going to be studs. Deshaun Thomas should be back, too. If he does return, this team will be in the thick of the title race.

6. NC State

How did this happen so fast? Is North Carolina State really the ACC favorite? Why not. North Carolina and Duke are taking on serious losses, and the Wolfpack overachieved under Mark Gottfried (and top assistant Bobby Lutz) to get to the Sweet 16. If the Wolfpack don't get too giddy about leaving (will C.J. Leslie remain?), they should be the favorite in the conference. Gottfried has one of the top recruiting classes in the country with Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. So get ready, Raleigh. You might just have the ACC favorite.

7. Michigan State

The Spartans lose Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton. But don't ever dismiss a Tom Izzo-coached team. Branden Dawson will be back, and so will Travis Trice. The Spartans don't ever lack for talent and a top-10 freshmen class is on the way. And if you think Michigan State is going to slide under Izzo, you haven't been following the program.

8. Michigan

The Wolverines will be in the top 10 if Trey Burke returns to school. He should. He would join freshman stud Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway Jr., and a loaded class that also includes ESPNU 100 recruits Glenn Robinson Jr., and Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines have had a few defections, and that has disrupted a bit of their flow. But John Beilein has figured out the Big Ten, so Michigan will once again be in the mix.

9. Florida

The Gators have a real shot to be an SEC title contender if Bradley Beal decides to stay put. Patric Young has only scratched the surface of his potential. Losing Erving Walker and his quick shooting might not be such a horrible thing. Kenny Boynton played deep into March two years in a row and should lead this squad. Erik Murphy is maturing and has improved his game. Recruiting is going well as always for the Gators. This program had a minor dip post-2007 but that is clearly no longer an issue.

10. Baylor

The Bears definitely will lose Quincy Acy. But what would happen if Baylor didn't lose Perry Jones III and/or Quincy Miller? This team would be in contention for No. 1. It's unlikely they'll retain both, but Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip should form one of the top backcourts in the country. And the Bears continue to recruit as well as any school. Adding Isaiah Austin is huge. Baylor has become a consistent Big 12 title contender with Kansas and that doesn't appear to be ending.

11. North Carolina

The Tar Heels were gutted by early-entry departures from Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and John Henson. Tyler Zeller was already leaving because he was a senior. But that just opens more minutes for Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, assuming he returns to Chapel Hill. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will step in and deepen this team. Let's not kid ourselves: There's still plenty of talent on hand. The Tar Heels won't be the favorite in the ACC, though, and for UNC that might feel a bit odd.

12. Arizona

The Wildcats had to deal with a number of issues this season from injuries to attrition, but they were still close to mounting a Pac-12 regular-season title challenge and made the NIT. Arizona should lean heavily on Solomon Hill as a lead returnee (along with Kevin Parrom's return), but this will be a team heavy on newcomers. The recruiting class is currently ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN, with Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York heading to Tucson. This team will be young in November but should make its mark in March.

13. Memphis

The Tigers are losing Will Barton, but don't dismiss this team one bit. Memphis was on a roll before landing a bad matchup with Saint Louis in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers didn't get much national buzz in large part because they were in Conference USA and didn't have many stellar nonconference wins. But sleeping on Josh Pastner's crew would be a mistake. The final season of C-USA for Memphis should end in yet another conference title. The Big East beckons, and Memphis will be in the mix once it arrives there as well.

14. Syracuse

Dion Waiters is gone. Fab Melo is, too. Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine were seniors. But the depth of talent is still there with Rakeem Christmas and Michael-Carter Williams, as well as Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair. The addition of big man DaJuan Coleman is huge. Don't expect the Orange to fall off in their likely last season in the Big East.

15. Duke

The Blue Devils lost Austin Rivers after one season. Miles Plumlee also departs. But the returns of Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and Andre Dawkins as well as Mason (assuming he stays) and Marshall Plumlee give the Blue Devils a solid set. If Rasheed Sulaimon delivers as an impact player, the Blue Devils will still be an ACC contender. Also, don't rule out the possibility that the Blue Devils land a key transfer such as Trey Zeigler or Alex Oriakhi.

16. Texas

Myck Kabongo announced he was staying, but J'Covan Brown decided to bolt. That's not a bad trade. The upside for Kabongo exceeds that of the shot-happy Brown. The Longhorns also have quite a class coming in with Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh leading the way. Rick Barnes' recruiting class is currently No. 3 in the ESPN rankings. And Texas was one of the younger teams in the league last season. Losing Missouri will move the Longhorns up within the Big 12 next season, too.

17. Notre Dame

This will be interesting. Whenever the Irish are supposed to be good, there is the potential for a drop-off. Notre Dame exceeded expectations, and now the Irish are a possible Big East favorite? Well, Pat Connaughton, Jack Cooley, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant offer quite a lineup that should succeed in the Big East. Everyone is back in South Bend. Mike Brey said he was calm about this team throughout this season. He needs to keep that attitude throughout next season.

18. Creighton

Doug McDermott is staying, so the Bluejays are the Valley favorites and a top-25 team once again. Greg Echenique returns to anchor the inside. The loss of Antoine Young will hurt the Bluejays but they have proved to be a deep team. This group showed more toughness as the season progressed. Expect it to continue.

19. Gonzaga

The Bulldogs lose Robert Sacre, but if Elias Harris returns -- and he should -- the Bulldogs once again will be the preseason favorite in the WCC and one of the best teams in the West. Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and David Stockton form one of the top perimeters in the region. Sam Dower will only get better as a possible difference-maker. Gonzaga had a poor matchup with Ohio State, but was still within a few possessions to knock off the eventual Final Four team. The Zags will contine to roll on.

20. Kansas State

Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin, who had the Wildcats set up for a continuous run near the top of the Big 12. Weber didn't forget how to coach at Illinois. He is one of the more respected teachers of the game. He just had a bad marriage with the Illini, and it couldn't be repaired. Rodney McGruder should stay and play for Weber since he'll be a senior. The core of this team returns to push the rest of the Big 12. Weber's first season should be a success.

21. Wisconsin

Jordan Taylor is gone. But when should losing one key player be a killer for Wisconsin? The Badgers have Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Ben Brust back for next season. If the point guard position can be settled, there is a good shot the Badgers will be in the thick of the Big Ten race yet again.

22. VCU

The Rams lose Bradford Burgess off another excellent season under Shaka Smart. But Smart stayed because he knows the Rams have a legit shot to be just as good if not better next season. VCU returns everyone but Burgess. This was a team that needed to develop over the course of the season, and it did. Once again, this is another squad that shouldn't be taken lightly.

23. San Diego State

Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said Sunday night that he has a top-25 team. We agree. Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and James Rahon make the Aztecs the team to beat in the Mountain West before SDSU heads off to the Big West. They also add transfer J.J. O'Brien (Utah), James Johnson (Virginia) and Dwayne Polee (St. John's). Fisher will have the Aztecs in the mix nationally, like he has the past four seasons.

24. Tennessee

Cuonzo Martin had the Volunteers on the cusp an NCAA tournament berth in the final two weeks of the regular season. Now, Martin gets Jarnell Stokes for a full season, along with the bulk of his teammates. The Vols will continue to play as hard as any team in the country, as Martin has established an identity of defense and toughness that will serve Tennessee well in the SEC.

25. Missouri

We'd be foolish to count this team out despite losing its top three scorers. (Did anyone catch what Kansas did this season?) Yes, Frank Haith does lose cornerstones Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe, but Laurence Bowers will be healthy after he missed the season with a knee injury and Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey return to give the Tigers a core. With a stellar recruiting class and transfer Jabari Brown, Missouri should have an immediate impact in the SEC race.

Fifteen more on the cusp: Cincinnati, UNLV, Pittsburgh, Alabama, UCLA, Florida State, Stanford, Saint Louis, Marquette, Maryland, New Mexico, Butler, Saint Mary's, Xavier, Nevada.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.