Category archive: Wisconsin Badgers

Mike Bruesewitz stole the ball and went in for a dunk. Then, just like that -- within a matter of maybe two seconds -- his life and career nearly changed.

Inches. Maybe centimeters. He was close, dangerously close, to a plethora of problems facing him -- from nerve to muscle damage to even more.

All he did was try to avoid Wisconsin teammate Josh Gasser, who had caught him from behind. But then Gasser stumbled below him.

"He went right [to avoid Gasser] instead of going forward and unfortunately right was the wrong decision,'' UW trainer Henry Perez-Guerra said.

Bruesewitz, Wisconsin's senior forward and unquestioned team leader, fell on the back side of the basket standard, his right front leg sliced open by metal that was a part of the base.

It was a fluke. Perez-Guerra said he's not sure an injury like this could or would ever happen again.

But there on the floor, in the midst of a team workout on Oct. 9, just three days before practice officially started, Bruesewitz thought immediately his career might be over -- or worse, he may never walk normally again.

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Mike Bruesewitz
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesMike Bruesewitz will miss some time at the start of the season, but it could've been so much worse.

"I saw my bone,'' said Bruesewitz of the wound that ran from the top of his shin bone down. "I didn't go into shock. But in my mind, I immediately thought 'Will I ever play basketball again? Will I walk normal again?' A bunch of things went through my head.''

Perez-Guerra ran to Bruesewitz's aid immediately. He applied pressure with anything he could from gauze pads to practice wraps to towels until an ambulance could arrive. Teammates went to the other end of the court; Gasser never even saw the wound. Meanwhile, Badgers coach Bo Ryan rushed out with Guerra and immediately helped keep Bruesewitz's chest and shoulders down.

"I didn't want him to look at his leg,'' Ryan said. "I was worried he would go into shock.

"If our trainer isn't the best, I don't know who is. Mike was asking would he ever be able to play again, would the skin grow back."

Given the visual aspect of the injury, the player's concern was justified.

"It was sliced open,'' Bruesewitz said. "It looked like a chunk was missing.''

Bruesewitz didn't know how fortunate he was in that brief moment. He didn't cut a tendon or a nerve, something Perez-Guerra said could have caused him to have a drop foot.

"I'll be 65 in December," Ryan added, "and other than a car accident and seeing on the football field a guy breaking his leg with the bone sticking out, I haven't seen quite a cut like this, a wound like this. I hadn't seen it.''

Perez-Guerra said Bruesewitz had very little tissue damage. He said the cut was clean, almost as if it had been an incision made by a scalpel.

Bruesewitz went in the ambulance with Perez-Guerra and Ryan. When he got there, he sat, waiting while a few nurses and doctors assumed he had been stitched up since he had a previous cut above his eye from a few days earlier. Then he was seen and told his injury had to be repaired surgically. Bruesewitz was told the cut was too deep and too severe for him to be stitched without anesthesia. He said it took 40-plus stitches to piece together the long scar that is now going down his right leg.

Bruesewitz was told he could be back on the court in a month to six weeks, time needed to ensure there is no infection or swelling in the area. Late Monday night, Bruesewitz went for a checkup and received the good news that he's on track to return in the middle of November -- assuming the wound continues to heal. Within the last few days, Bruesewitz has been able to ditch the crutches and gets by with just a walking boot.

He said his calf is smaller and weaker due to the inactivity, but he's been doing some upper-body lifting and hasn't missed witnessing a team practice since Oct. 12. Bruesewitz is showering gingerly with a garbage bag over the lower right leg to keep the wound dry and clean.

"We're so careful here and we will err on the side of caution,'' Ryan said.

But the Badgers clearly need Bruesewitz to be a Big Ten contender. Gasser, Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Zach Bohannon and Ben Brust make this one of Ryan's more experienced teams. With highly touted freshman Sam Dekker, Ryan loves the potential of this squad. But they need Bruesewitz.

"He's our leader,'' Gasser said. "He does all the little things for us. He completes our team. He gets every loose ball, is a great defender and a great rebounder and can score a little bit. Without him, we're different. Hopefully we'll come back a little stronger.''

Bruesewitz probably won't be available for the game at Florida on Nov. 14. But it's not unrealistic to think he could return for the next big game, against Creighton in Las Vegas on Nov. 23.

"I keep being asked when we're getting him back,'' Ryan said. "We're thankful we can get him back. This was real close to going the other way. I've seen the stitches, I've seen the dressings, and it looks good for as wide as it was. It's amazing what they can do.''

Bruesewitz was told Monday night that he may only miss the first few games. He'll take playing at any time this season rather than the alternative.

"Everybody says everything can change in a second,'' he said. "All of a sudden I'm playing basketball and then there is a big hole in my leg and I'm wondering if I'll walk normal again. I've had incredible support. I found out I have picked some good friends. I'm really lucky. I'll be able to come back and even play this year. I will still be able to play basketball. I feel really fortunate.''

The gold medal won by the USA men's under-18 team in Brazil last week will reverberate across a number of college campuses in the fall.

The players who won gold -- the majority of whom are set to begin their freshman seasons -- will benefit from the competition and the spirited workouts and playing for Florida's Billy Donovan, Gonzaga's Mark Few and VCU's Shaka Smart.

The U.S. didn't lose a game in the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships and won by an average of 39 points, including beating host Brazil twice.

High schooler Julius Randle, who still has another year at Prestonwood Christian Academy in McKinney, Texas, led the Americans in scoring at 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.

Tennessee sophomore-to-be Jarnell Stokes was second at 14 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.

I asked Donovan for five players he is convinced will have a major impact on their respective teams during their first college seasons.

He didn't hesitate on the first name (tourney averages in parentheses). Marcus Smart, 6-foot-3, SG, Oklahoma State (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg): "I have not been around a player in a long, long time that is as good a competitor. He can shoot the ball better (1-of-10 on 3-pointers), but he's unselfish and an unbelievable leader. He was absolutely terrific. He's a terrific player. He's special. He has the internal qualities to me.''

Jerami Grant, 6-7, SF, Syracuse (5.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg): "He didn't shoot very well (7-of-25), but he'll end up being a Kris Joseph or Wesley Johnson for Syracuse in time. He's rangy, long and can play two different positions. His upside may be greater than anyone else on the team. He's so long and athletic. Once he knocks down shots he'll be really special.''

Sam Dekker, 6-7, SF, Wisconsin (5 ppg, 2.5 rpg): "He was hurt, ended up spraining his ankle, and then someone stepped on his toe and that had to be drained. He was never quite healthy. But he's a warrior. He loves to play. He wants to win. I think he's a really good player. He takes some crazy shots. I just wish I could have coached him. He's going to be terrific.''

Shaq Goodwin, 6-8, PF, Memphis (12.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg): "He's got a chance. He scored 30 points in our first game. He's got a great feel for how to play. He's got a big body. He needs to be a bit more serious. But he played pretty well while he was there. He did a nice job for us.''

James Robinson, 6-3, PG, Pittsburgh (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg): "We weren't sure we were going to keep him. We cut the team from 25 to 14 and then kept guys around to 12. He was originally on the outside looking in. But once we started practicing we saw that he's a winner and a great role guy. He's a typical Pitt player. Jamie [Dixon] will love coaching him. I'm not sure of his impact on the team, but people will say, 'Where did this guy come from?' The kid is a winner. I liked coaching him. He was the same guy every day.''

Donovan had one word for NC State-bound wing Rodney Purvis (7 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and Duke-bound guard Rasheed Sulaimon. That one word? "Relax."

He said Purvis is an exceptional talent but can get too wrapped up in scoring at times. He's an exceptional athlete, according to Donovan, very physical and a really good player, but needs to check the expectations a bit. Donovan said Sulaimon (10 ppg, 3.4 rpg) needs to avoid feeling too much of the natural pressure that comes with being a highly touted Duke recruit. He said he loved Sulaimon's work ethic and enjoyed coaching him but he just needs to chill a bit.

A Sweet 16 appearance elevates a program to the next level.

A Final Four moves it up another notch.

The matchups usually make the difference in getting this far. Talent -- and star power -- also play big roles.

There is a certain level of pressure for all coaches and programs. For some, it's self-induced. For others, it comes from a passionate fan base. Some programs need to reach the Final Four for the season to be considered a success. Some do not.

With that being said, here is our Final Four pressure-meter (1 feels the least amount of pressure and 10 feels the most):

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Perry Jones
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswirePerry Jones' Bears have the talent to reach New Orleans, but they have a big hurdle to clear in the South Region.

Baylor (5): The men's team doesn't need to make a Final Four appearance. The women will take care of that, as they are the favorites to win the national title. But the men's team has the makeup to make this run a rare one. Few teams have length like the Bears do, and it's unlikely that Perry Jones III will stick around for a third season. The reason Baylor doesn't have as much pressure to reach the Final Four, even though it has the personnel to make it to New Orleans, is the bracket it's in. Kentucky could stand in the way of Baylor's potential first men's Final Four appearance. The Wildcats are the clear favorites, so expecting the Bears to advance to the Final Four from the South wouldn't be fair.

Cincinnati (3): Cincinnati has survived suspensions and a bumpy ride in the Big East. The Bearcats thrived at the end of the season and reached the conference title game. Mick Cronin and this crew have exceeded expectations by reaching the Sweet 16. Playing one of the favorites in Ohio State takes more pressure off the Bearcats. This ride now is all about extra credit for Cronin and Co.

Florida (4): The Gators won two national titles in consecutive seasons. It will be hard for any program to duplicate that -- ever again. Keeping a team together like the '04 class for the '06 and '07 titles will be extremely difficult to match unless the NBA draft rules change again. The Gators had an easier road to the Sweet 16 thanks to a depleted Virginia team and playing Norfolk State, which exhausted itself with the stunning upset over Missouri. But the Gators don't need to get to the Final Four. If Florida does reach New Orleans with this flawed group and its suspect inside game, it would be quite a feat. The Gators are the lowest remaining seed in the West, too. Expecting them to get past Marquette and possibly top seed Michigan State would be a bit much.

Indiana (3): Tom Crean has turned the corner in Bloomington. There was legitimate reason to be concerned last season. But Crean recruited exceptionally well, getting a star in Cody Zeller, and he got his players to believe they could win big-time games. The victory over Kentucky will resonate for some time. Reaching the Sweet 16 gives Crean even more credibility and respect in the state. However, for this team to get past Kentucky would be asking too much. No one should expect a win over the Wildcats again. To advance to the Elite Eight and the Final Four would be sensational accomplishments. Even though the fan base expects greatness, Indiana has already exceeded any expectations by getting this far.

Louisville (5): The Cardinals are the "pro" team in town. And like Kentucky, the expectations include Final Four appearances. But Louisville has gone through a slew of injuries, and there was no reason to believe it could maintain a high level of play throughout the season. Still, the Cards survived to reach the Sweet 16 and face top-seeded Michigan State. The most pressure may be felt in trying to keep up with rival Kentucky. The expectation is that the Wildcats will be in the Final Four, so why not join them and create even more frenzy in a hoops-crazed state?

Kansas (9): The Jayhawks have two of the top players at their positions in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Kansas expects to compete for conference and national titles, regardless of personnel, every season. And while Bill Self had to deal with rotation players not being eligible, including top newcomer Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks still won the Big 12 regular-season title for the eighth straight time. Kansas survived against Purdue, but had it not been for a guard meltdown the Jayhawks may be idle right now. Instead, they have new life in the Midwest, thanks to NC State's Sweet 16 run and North Carolina potentially being without Kendall Marshall in the Elite Eight (if the Tar Heels get past Ohio). The pressure has ratcheted up for the Jayhawks. If Marshall is out for this weekend in St. Louis, the Jayhawks are the new favorites in the Midwest.

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireAs the favorite to win the title, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky have to feel the pressure.

Kentucky (10): The Wildcats are the front-runners to win the national title, not just get to the Final Four. Let's be honest, anything less than a title would be a disappointment. No team in the Sweet 16 has as much pressure to get to the Final Four as Kentucky. The Wildcats have the most talent, the national player of the year in Anthony Davis, and plenty of other pro talent on the roster (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb). Darius Miller also played in the Final Four last season. John Calipari has coached in three Final Fours. The Wildcats are playing a team that handed them their only regular-season loss. A possible matchup with Baylor is more than formidable. The Bears can match Kentucky's length and shooting, but Baylor's defense has never been its strong suit. The region still lays out well for Kentucky in SEC-rich Catlanta.

Marquette (6): The Golden Eagles play as hard, if not harder, than any other team in the field. Marquette's beat down of BYU in the second half and its ability to run past Murray State late were quite impressive. Now, the Eagles get a Florida team that it matches up well with since they can defend the 3-point shot. Marquette should be the favorite in this game and has the personnel and the toughness to beat Michigan State or Louisville. A Final Four isn't expected with this group, but now the bracket has opened up a bit with Missouri gone. A loss in the Elite Eight makes more sense, but there is some pressure for Marquette to advance with Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom leading the way. The Eagles have been to a Final Four with Dwyane Wade under Crean. A berth for Buzz Williams would raise his coaching profile.

Michigan State (8): The Spartans lost one of their key rotation players in Branden Dawson in the final regular-season game against Ohio State. But they won the Big Ten tournament title without him and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Draymond Green has been the most valuable player so far in the NCAA tournament and has a legit shot to lead the Spartans to another Final Four. Michigan State expects Final Fours under Tom Izzo, but this team certainly didn't look the part early in the season. It has matured into a title contender. And while the bracket is filled with potential hurdles, the Spartans have the pressure of being a top seed and the expectation of a Final Four appearance.

North Carolina (8): The Tar Heels would have had a 10 in this spot if Marshall didn't fracture his wrist against Creighton and have surgery on Monday. Now, the pressure of reaching the Final Four has dropped a few spots. North Carolina was as healthy as it had been in weeks at the start of the game with the Bluejays. But the Marshall injury makes the Tar Heels extremely vulnerable. Ohio is capable of pulling off another upset. And if the Tar Heels get past Ohio, a revenge-minded NC State team or title-contending Kansas awaits. The Tar Heels were built to win a title. That's why Harrison Barnes didn't opt for the NBA. Tyler Zeller had opportunities, as well. The roster is deep enough to absorb injuries to Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland. Let's see if it can take its worst hit and survive without Marshall or having him only on a limited basis. The expectations for a Final Four may have dropped outside of Chapel Hill, but it hasn't inside the Dean Smith Center. Carolina should expect to be in the Final Four yet again. It's just tougher with Marshall's injury and Kansas potentially looming.

NC State (2): The Wolfpack have far exceeded expectations under Mark Gottfried. NC State was the last team revealed on Selection Sunday. It had to be one of the last teams in the field prior to the four at-large teams that played in the First Four. NC State lost a 19-point lead at Duke, and the Wolfpack couldn't close out UNC in the ACC tournament. But they grinded out wins over San Diego State and Georgetown in their first two games of the tournament. This program has had low expectations for years. The Final Four would be gravy on what has already been deemed a highly successful season. The Wolfpack draw Kansas and if they somehow get past KU (not improbable), they could face a rematch with UNC. One can only imagine the scene in Raleigh if NC State, and not UNC, made the Final Four.

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John Groce
Don McPeak/US PresswireOhio coach John Groce could be walking into a difficult situation if he leaves for Illinois.

Ohio (1): The Bobcats are one of the tournament's great stories. Ohio played one of the more dramatic conference tournament title games when it knocked off Akron in thrilling fashion. The Bobcats got a decent seed at 13 and were matched up against a flawed Michigan squad. Ohio was aggressive and had the more experienced lead guard in D.J. Cooper (vs. the heralded Trey Burke) against the Wolverines. The Bobcats then faced a 12-seed in South Florida that couldn't score and was playing its third game of the tournament. Now, Ohio is playing with house money. The Bobcats have zero pressure in reaching the Final Four. Sure, they are facing a North Carolina team that will likely be sans Marshall. But to expect Ohio to win two more and get to the Final Four would be unfair. Ohio has already made its mark with this Sweet 16 appearance and coach John Groce can likely write his own ticket to a higher-paying job in the Big Ten if he chooses to do so.

Ohio State (9): The Buckeyes would have been a 1-seed if they had beaten Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Jared Sullinger is healthy again, and the personnel hasn't changed. The Buckeyes possess some of the top players at their respective positions in Aaron Craft (top on-ball defender), William Buford (elite shooter) and Deshaun Thomas (a tough matchup as a face-up forward). Ohio State drew an instate rival in Cincinnati. The Bearcats will muck up the game and challenge everything. The top part of the bracket would be just as difficult with either a lock-down defensive team in Wisconsin or an up-and-down transition squad with a pesky zone in top seed Syracuse. But the Orange don't have Fab Melo, so if you were to re-rank the East bracket, the Buckeyes would have to be the favorites. That puts more pressure on Ohio State, and with Sullinger possibly leaving for the NBA, the window to reach the Final Four is now.

Syracuse (9): The Orange were built for a Final Four run. No team had players coming off the bench like Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams. Fair is starting now, but the overall depth is still impressive. Melo's ineligibility knocks the Orange down from a 10. The expectation was Final Four or bust since they started showing their dominance during the Big East season. Syracuse has tremendous versatility with Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph all able to make key shots. The Orange weren't tested by Kansas State after surviving a scare from UNC Asheville. The expectation is that it should beat Wisconsin and play against Ohio State. Syracuse may not be projected to beat the Buckeyes in a possible Elite Eight matchup now, sans Melo, but the pressure is there to get to a Final Four with a group that won't be together next season.

Wisconsin (4): Bo Ryan has never reached the Final Four. But he has had better teams projected to go farther. This squad has improved more than any of the previous teams he's coached at Wisconsin. The Badgers lost three early-season home games, and that rattled their confidence. But it didn't take away their resolve. Wisconsin found its shooting stroke, maintained its defensive intensity and got star-level play out of a role player in Ryan Evans. Jordan Taylor is still the leader and will take -- and make -- the big shots. The Badgers were the more polished team in wins over Montana and Vanderbilt. The expectation to knock off Syracuse isn't high. But if that occurs, then a team they already beat -- Ohio State -- could be standing in their way. The Badgers' last Final Four appearance was in 2000. The fan base is hungry for another run, but it doesn't need one. Ryan would like one, but he knows this may not be his best shot. Still, it's plausible in the current bracket.

Xavier (3): The Musketeers may not have been here had it not been for an A-10 title game appearance. Xavier had to mount a season-long repair project to get to this point. And it worked. Coach Chris Mack deserves as much credit for this run as the criticism he took for the way he initially handled the post-brawl situation. He matured as a coach during the season, dealt with his own knee injury and clearly got his lead guards, notably Tu Holloway, to refocus on the task at hand. Xavier survived Notre Dame by playing smarter than the Irish. It showed more moxie than Lehigh in finishing with a strong kick. No one is expecting Xavier to make the Final Four, even those that projected the Musketeers to do so in November. But Baylor is beatable. Taking down Kentucky would be quite a feat. The pressure is low. Xavier has already exceeded the expectations of a team that once had Final Four aspirations but didn't play that way for most of the Atlantic 10 season. Now that it's two wins away, the pressure is even lower. Xavier has already done well to finish the season on a high.

Ohio State was tabbed as the consensus Big Ten favorite on media day Thursday in Chicago -- and the conference certainly plans to reward the Buckeyes early on in league play.

Examine the conference schedules of the contenders and it's clear that, barring early missteps or injuries, the Bucks should get out to a solid start early on and get out to a comfortable league lead.

Let's examine six of the more interesting schedules in the Big Ten this season:

The favorite

Ohio State

First eight: Northwestern, at Indiana, Nebraska, at Iowa, at Illinois, Indiana, at Nebraska, Penn State
The Buckeyes don't play a ranked team until Michigan on Jan. 29. They should be 8-0 heading into that game.

The middle six: Michigan, at Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, at Minnesota, at Michigan
Clearly there are speed bumps here with the UW road game and plenty of danger spots along the way.

The final four: Illinois, Wisconsin, at Northwestern, at Michigan State
Ohio State has struggled in the past at Northwestern. This could be a dicey finish to the season if these last two games matter. Wisconsin will get its last shot in Columbus, but will it be too late for the Badgers? The Buckeyes also will be in tournament form by the time they get to this stage.

The contenders

Wisconsin

First eight: at Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, at Michigan, at Purdue, Nebraska, Northwestern, at Illinois
There are four road games in here, and none will be easy. The Badgers might have a hard time keeping pace with Ohio State early in the conference race. Nebraska will be up for its first Big Ten home game. Winning at Michigan, Purdue and Illinois will be quite a chore for this team. The Badgers run the risk of being two to three games behind Ohio State.

The middle six: Indiana, at Penn State, Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Michigan State, Penn State
Wisconsin doesn't get much of a break here, either. The Badgers will be looking at a three-game grouping of OSU, at Minnesota and at Michigan State. Keeping pace with OSU in the middle of the conference will be exceedingly difficult.

The final four: at Iowa, at Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois
The Badgers might have to concede the Big Ten title by the time it gets to the road game at Ohio State -- unless the Buckeyes have slipped up. The final two games should give the Badgers the momentum needed to be strong going into the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan State

The first eight: Indiana, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin, Iowa, at Northwestern, at Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota
The Spartans will have to play four of the first six on the road. Michigan State will be road tested by this time with the games against North Carolina in San Diego, versus Duke in New York and at Gonzaga. Still, the environments will be tough. MSU will have to weather this to stay in the race early.

The middle six: at Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, at Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Purdue
Once again, the Spartans have a consistent schedule in which no grouping is free of potholes. They will have to steal a road game in this group to stay in the race.

The final four: at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Indiana, Ohio State
If the Spartans are still in the race, hosting OSU to end the season is a coup. It could also dramatically help MSU's seed potential in the NCAAs. The most dangerous game, though, could end up being at Minnesota. That could turn out to be a pivotal game for both schools.

Michigan

The first eight: Penn State, Minnesota, at Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern, at Iowa, Michigan State, at Purdue
The Wolverines could get off to a contending start with this opening. Don't be surprised to see Michigan, instead of the Badgers, on Ohio State's heels early in the conference season based on this schedule.

The middle six: at Ohio State, Indiana, at Michigan State, at Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State
This is where we'll know whether Michigan is a pretender or contender. The Wolverines get two shots at Ohio State in this group, go to Michigan State and face a possible danger game at Nebraska.

The final four: at Northwestern, Purdue, at Illinois, at Penn State
Michigan could be in the chase and might need another road win here or could be positioning itself well for seeding in the Big Ten tournament.

No favors for the rebuilder

Iowa

The first eight: Purdue, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Ohio State, at Michigan State, Michigan, at Purdue, Nebraska
The Hawkeyes are expected to be improved this season, but the record in the Big Ten might not look that way early with road games at Wisconsin, Minnesota and MSU, plus Ohio State in Iowa City, in the first five games.

The middle six: at Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State, at Northwestern, at Penn State, Indiana
If it still has confidence, Iowa has a chance to pick up a significant number of wins here.

The final four: Wisconsin, at Illinois, at Nebraska, Northwestern
The Hawkeyes are a legit spoiler in this scenario and could have a strong finishing kick to be trouble in the Big Ten tournament.

Can the Cats finally do it?

Northwestern

The first eight: at Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Purdue
Northwestern hasn't had great starts in the Big Ten. This won't be an easy chore with road games at OSU, Michigan and Wisconsin. But that does mean getting three of the toughest out of the way early.

The middle six: Nebraska, at Illinois, Iowa, at Purdue, at Indiana, Minnesota
This is where the Wildcats have to make up ground and mount a bid campaign. Stumble here and the bid-less streak could continue.

The final four: Michigan, at Penn State, Ohio State, at Iowa
The Wildcats have an intriguing finish. OSU will be a struggle, of course, but Northwestern does have a schedule that provides a strong opportunity to impress the committee. The key will be weathering that rough start.

Coaches Stu Jackson and Stan Van Gundy made it cool to be in frigid Madison, Wis., by recruiting NBA-bound talent in the early 1990s.

Coach Dick Bennett gave Wisconsin a defensive identity and ultimately a Final Four in 2000.

And coach Bo Ryan has created a Badgers program that has done what was unthinkable two decades ago -- ensure that Wisconsin is a Big Ten title contender every season.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ryan was set to be inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Friday night, followed by his home state's Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 22.

The reason for Ryan's recent honors is that his run in Madison is starting to become legendary.

"One thing I never realized here was how hungry the basketball people were for a championship and I saw their response to us winning a Big Ten title," Ryan said. "There were so many people that were frustrated for so long here."

The Chester, Pa., native was a one-time Wisconsin assistant under Bill Cofield then Steve Yoder from 1976-84. He then took over at UW-Platteville, winning four national championships at the Division III school. He spent two seasons at UW-Milwaukee before taking over in Madison in 2001 following an abbreviated run by Brad Soderberg, who had replaced Bennett.

The last decade has been nirvana for a Badgers program that was irrelevant in the Big Ten for years. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and others had checked off Wisconsin as a win. No more.

Ryan is being honored for a 10-year run that is remarkable by not just Wisconsin standards. His accomplishments: won over 70 percent of his games overall and in the Big Ten; won over 93 percent of the time at the Kohl Center; captured five Big Ten titles; owns the seven seasons with the most wins in Wisconsin history; coached five AP All-Americans; and most importantly, has made 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.

The Big Ten is no longer the conference of Knight, Keady and Henson. Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Ryan are the benchmarks. Sure, Ohio State's Thad Matta is on track to be discussed in the same sentence on a regular basis. But the conference has been anchored by Izzo and Ryan for the past 10 seasons. Izzo has set the NCAA tournament bar, but Ryan has been in step during the regular season.

"There are only three of us left from when I came in," Ryan said of Izzo and Northwestern's Bill Carmody. "Some schools have changed more than once. The one thing that has helped us is that every guy we recruited has seen us play and accepted what we were willing to do. We've found quicker athletes and done things in our offense. We've never made promises. Everyone comes in here with their eyes wide open. We graduate guys. They pay their dues."

Ryan said that when he was hired, his goal was to be in the upper level of the Big Ten every year.

"There were chuckles," Ryan recalled. "But I've always thought of conference first."

John Calipari's decision to coach the Dominican Republic national team came down to whether or not he could help the island nation improve its international profile on his increasingly crowded Kentucky schedule.

He was told he could.

And now Lexington, Ky., will become an affiliate Dominican home in August.

Calipari returned late Wednesday night from a three-day trip to the Caribbean, where he accepted the post as head coach of the national team, met the local media and Dominican president Leonel Fernandez, and then continued on to a humanitarian mission in neighboring Haiti, which is still reeling from last year's earthquake.

Calipari's initial goal is to help the Dominican Republic qualify for the 2012 Olympics by finishing in the top two in the FIBA Americas Championship held Aug. 30 to Sept. 11 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

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John Calipari
Mark Zerof/US PresswireKentucky coach John Calipari will be bringing a Dominican flavor to Big Blue hoops.

Of course, that is no small task considering the teams in play are host Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Puerto Rico and Canada. Venezuela, Paraguay and Cuba are also in the field. The good news for the Dominican is that it was put in Group A, away from the host Argentines. But it is joined by Brazil.

A finish in the top four will at least put the Dominican in a pool for another qualifying tournament in advance of the London games.

Calipari said Dominican NBA players Al Horford (Atlanta), Francisco Garcia (Sacramento) and Charlie Villanueva (Detroit) all pushed him to be the head coach, but he's not 100 percent certain all three have committed to playing yet.

The team will train at Kentucky in early August and if there is an NBA lockout, Calipari is hoping to have former UK players now in the NBA play an exhibition game against the Dominicans at Rupp Arena. Calipari will also coach the Dominicans in a pre-tournament in Brazil prior to the Olympic qualifier in Argentina.

But there is a larger goal here for Calipari and the Dominican Federation, one that he said he is committed to making: improve the grassroots program for the sport in a nation dominated by baseball.

"They want to recharge basketball in their country and use this as a start to build the basketball," Calipari said. "The NBA guys wanted me to do this. We can train here. Our [Kentucky] guys will be home at that time. But the third thing for me is it isn't just coaching the national team. I don't need another job. I'm fine with the one I have. But like I did with China in helping with their basketball, they want me to help teach their coaches. And that appeals to me. This isn't just about five weeks of work."

Calipari said his work with the Chinese basketball federation while at Memphis and then at Kentucky was a lure for the Dominican federation. Calipari conducted clinics in China and then had a Chinese coach with his team throughout his final year in Memphis.

"They want to help build the foundation in the country and educate the coaches on basketball," Calipari said. "They want me to do what I did with the Chinese and bring in 20 coaches here every year [for practices]."

Calipari finished off his trip with a visit to Haiti, where he visited the region with a doctor from Lexington.

"It was awful and depressing," Calipari said. "There is still devastation with no electricity, no water. It's basically the poorest country in this hemisphere. We're still trying to help with a school down there."

Calipari returned home and will be honored at Dick Vitale's Gala on Friday night in Sarasota, Fla.

Kentucky is expected to be a top-three team in the preseason with the top recruiting class in the country and the return of wing Terrence Jones and senior Darius Miller, despite losing junior DeAndre Liggins and freshman Brandon Knight.

A few other news and notes:

• Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said it was a thrill for the Badgers to get Duke at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge two years ago. The Badgers won the game in a raucous environment and it clinched the Big Ten's first victory in the event. But Ryan has never coached at North Carolina. And if there was one game he wanted to have on this year's slate, it was going to Chapel Hill.

He got it when the pairings were announced earlier this week. The Badgers will play the expected preseason No. 1 Tar Heels on Nov. 30.

"I really respect the Carolina program and needless to say a chance to play one of the top programs in the country, heck yeah, I wanted to do it," said Ryan, whose Badgers should be picked second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State with the return of guard Jordan Taylor. "There a lot of good teams in the ACC and we've played a lot of them, but we had not played Carolina. And they'll probably be No. 1 when we play them."

• The Big Ten concluded its annual spring meetings Wednesday in Chicago and Ryan said the league coaches discussed moving conference games into early December to give the teams a longer Christmas break and avoid jamming in so many games from Christmas into the early part of January.

The ACC and a few others conferences have done that by sprinkling in a few league games in the first or second weekend of December.

The final Big Ten schedule of 18 games hasn't been released yet. The new format with the addition of Nebraska calls for seven home-and-home games and four single games (two home and two away). Ryan said he wasn't sure on the final mockup, but did say that Wisconsin and Ohio State would play twice next season. There aren't geographic pairings in the basketball schedule, so having the projected top two teams play twice is good for the league.

• Ryan said the coaches also talked about endorsing some sort of legislation that would prevent players from transferring -- even after graduating -- without suffering any kind of penalty. A number of players have used the loophole rule of transferring to a school's graduate program for a fourth year of eligibility if they've graduated at the previous school. Michigan State is adding Brandon Wood of Valparaiso for next season. Assuming Wood gets the waiver, he would be eligible right away and doesn't have to sit.

"There should always be a ramification for transferring," Ryan said. "If not, then people will figure out a way. Tom [Izzo of Michigan State] wasn't for it, either."

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan sat down with Bob Cousy recently to discuss the definition of a true point guard.

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Jordan Taylor
Tommy Giglio/US PresswireWisconsin's Jordan Taylor averages close to 18 points and dishes out almost 5 assists per game.

Ryan said Cousy laid out the essential qualities of the position: a player who sees the floor and makes his team better.

"Jordan Taylor is exactly what Cousy was talking about," Ryan said.

So, too, is Xavier's Tu Holloway. Yet, somehow neither Taylor nor Holloway made the list of 10 finalists for the award released Monday.

The finalists include some obvious choices like BYU's Jimmer Fredette, Connecticut's Kemba Walker, Kentucky's Brandon Knight, Villanova's Corey Fisher, Washington's Isaiah Thomas and even Duke's Nolan Smith, who is more of a shooting guard than point, but still can be on this list since Kyrie Irving has been sidelined with a toe injury. San Diego State's D.J. Gay merits inclusion on the list, too, with the Aztecs sitting with one loss so far this season.

Saint Mary's Mickey McConnell is a bit of a push since you could make the argument that Matthew Dellavedova handles the ball as well and has dished it out as much as McConnell (5.7 assists per game to McConnell's 6.3).

But Illinois' Demetri McCamey over Taylor? Illinois is 5-5 in the Big Ten, 15-8 overall, and McCamey is the epitome of inconsistency. His production in Illini losses (five assists and four turnovers in a loss at home to Ohio State; five turnovers and three assists in a three-point loss at Indiana) stands in stark contrast to his more impressive games (21 points, seven assists and two turnovers in a win over Wisconsin).

Taylor leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.88 (101 assists and 26 turnovers). He's turned the ball over only 43 times in 46 career Big Ten games. He's second in scoring in Big Ten play at 20.7 points a game and is averaging 35.5 minutes a game. And he is a tremendous defender, taking on McCamey, Michigan State's Kalin Lucas and Michigan's Darius Morris in key assignments.

But most importantly, Wisconsin is 7-3 in the Big Ten, 17-5 overall and ranked No. 14. No offense to Josh Gasser but it's not as if Taylor has an all-league player next to him on the perimeter. And Taylor has made life a lot easier for Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil.

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Tu Holloway
Icon SMIXavier's Holloway is a shoo-in for A-10 Player of the Year.

"He doesn't turn it over, he makes the extra pass and it's like a hockey assist, he makes the pass to the pass that gets the assist," Ryan said. "He's always thinking about one play ahead. I think Cousy was the same kind of guy, making that pass. He could always see the next pass, two passes ahead. And when teammates relish the time on the floor with somebody, I know the impact he's had on our team."

Taylor should be a first-team All-Big Ten selection. McCamey should not.

And Cleveland State's Norris Cole over Holloway? Cole is having an exceptional season with 20.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game. But the Vikings are 21-5 overall, without a signature nonconference win, and tied for second place in the Horizon (10-4) behind Valparaiso.

Holloway leads the A-10 in scoring (20.8) and free throw percentage (86.6) and is second in assists (5.0). He plays 38.4 minutes a game and is handling a depleted roster. He has scored 20 or more points in 14 games and can drive to the hoop as well as pull up. Saint Louis went box-and-one on Holloway and he got 12 first-half points for Kenny Frease. He then adjusted to score 20 of his 24 points in the second half. He's one of four Division I players averaging 20 points and five assists.

Hofstra's Charles Jenkins isn't on the list for some reason, either, with his 23.2 points and 5.1 assists for the 9-4, 15-9 Pride. But Holloway has the Musketeers at 8-1 and tied with Duquesne atop the A-10 and 16-6 overall heading into Tuesday's game at Georgia.

"His numbers are better than half of the players listed," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "Not sure of the exact criteria but it can't be based on his production."

Not sure, either, but Taylor, Holloway and of course Jenkins should have been listed as Cousy finalists.

Jordan Taylor led Wisconsin with 22 points in the Big Ten opener, a 68-60 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night in Madison. Jon Leuer finished with 16 points.

And while Taylor's steady play at the point is critical to Wisconsin's climb toward contender status in the Big Ten, the Badgers will rise and fall with Leuer.

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Jon Leuer
AP Photo/Andy ManisJon Leuer finished with 16 points in the victory over Minnesota.

There are a number of teams that are relying on one key player this season.

• Junior guard Kemba Walker will determine if Connecticut makes the NCAA tournament. He is clearly one of the frontrunners for national player of the year and Big East player of the year, and he's been one of the most dominating performers in the nation to this point in the season. But if he's off his game, then the Huskies likely have no chance against elite competition.

• Washington State relies heavily on Klay Thompson to be on his game. He has been in nearly every contest. But even when he did score well against Butler (31 points), it wasn't enough to beat the Bulldogs in the Diamond Head Classic final. If Washington State is going to challenge for the Pac-10 title, it will be due to Thompson, even if he gets help from guards Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto inside.

• BYU got a stellar game out of Jackson Emery, but does anyone really believe the Cougars can win the Mountain West if Jimmer Fredette isn't playing at a high level? Fredette is the money player who can change a game with his shot.

• And Boston College's rise as a potential second-place finisher in the ACC is all because of Reggie Jackson. Jackson had the talent to be a star the past two seasons, but he's really blossomed in Year 3. He gets help at times from Corey Raji, Biko Paris and Joe Trapani. But Jackson is the one player on the Eagles who can create good offense out of poor execution.

Leuer has become that kind of player for the Badgers, despite being a big man. "That's a position he has put himself in by delivering,'' Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Wednesday. "It's not like he got all these accolades, and everybody is supposed to move aside. The other guys need to play well defensively, rebounding and scoring-wise but he's a threat, and he gets the attention from the other teams.''

Ryan concurred that Leuer is that "guy," much like Fredette, Walker, Thompson and Jackson. Jackson didn't have his best shooting game against the Badgers in Orlando (6-of-21, 18 points), and the Eagles lost, 65-55.

When Leuer was injured last season, Trevon Hughes was the player the Badgers leaned on to get out of broken plays. Taylor has assumed Hughes' role, but when the offense goes awry, Leuer is the one who can change the direction of the possession. "If he's guarded by a big and someone is helping on Jordan penetrating, then that leaves Jon open,'' Ryan said. "He's a big factor for us. He's tough, hard-nosed. Jon is our go-to guy. We do have one big and one small like that so we're pretty steady.''

The reliance on one player is hardly a new development. But it shows the difference among some of these potential NCAA teams and the ones that are more likely to challenge for the title.

Ohio State has been led by freshmen Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and guards William Buford and David Lighty.

Duke lost the top guard in the country in Kyrie Irving, but having All-Americans Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and role players Mason and Miles Plumlee make the Blue Devils balanced. Kansas, arguably the third team in the race for the national title at this juncture, has an elite lead guard now in Josh Selby and power players in Marcus and Markieff Morris. The Jayhawks don't need just one player to perform to win at a high level.

And that's why Walker, Leuer, Fredette, Thompson and Jackson should be applauded for their play. They are taking on more than most, with the need to be on for every game and provide leadership for their teams.

Editor's Note: Andy Katz's revised top 25 was published on Friday with Purdue at No. 2. With Saturday's news of Robbie Hummel's devastating retorn ACL, Katz has issued an updated version:

1. Duke: No reason to move the Blue Devils. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith had tremendous summers working out with the USA Basketball select team. The buzz around newcomer Kyrie Irving is just as high. The karma is all good in Durham with Mike Krzyzewski winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and the Blue Devils getting a commitment from one of the best players in the 2011 class in Austin Rivers.

2. Michigan State: The Spartans did dump Chris Allen, an indication that the differences between Allen and Tom Izzo were too wide to overcome. But Izzo is feeling quite good about the continued recovery of Kalin Lucas from an Achilles injury. Lucas will be treated carefully in practice over the next month as the Spartans see how much he can push himself. But Izzo is confident Delvon Roe is as healthy as he's been at MSU and fully expects Durrell Summers to be a star and Draymond Green to be a vocal leader.

3. Pittsburgh: The Panthers don't have the star power of the aforementioned top three. But this Panthers team is like an old-school Big East team that has experienced players who have been together and found roles. The summer trip to Ireland provided more positive bonding time for Jamie Dixon's crew as it takes on the role of Big East favorite. There were no flaws this summer, making it more palatable to move the Panthers up a few spots.

4. Kansas State: The Wildcats continue to have a positive vibe from their near brush with a Final Four berth. Kansas State returns Jacob Pullen and an expectation that returnees like Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels will continue to blossom. Clearly the rest of the Big 12 believes in the Wildcats, as well, since they were picked to win the league for the first time.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have one of the top freshmen in the country in big man Jared Sullinger. Sure, they lost Evan Turner, but the rest of the wings return and the buzz on the Buckeyes remains that this team was more than Turner a year ago. If players like William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler can handle the responsibility, the Bucks should be a national contender.

6. Kansas: Moving the Jayhawks up to No. 7 is clearly predicated on Josh Selby being eligible for the majority of the season. KU is waiting for Selby to get his academic clearance from the Eligibility Center. He can practice while this is pending, but Kansas needs him out on the court during the real stuff. There is still plenty of talent in Lawrence -- led by Marcus Morris, who coach Bill Self is convinced will be a star -- but Selby is the key for the Jayhawks to be top-10 good.

7. Villanova: The Wildcats didn't rely on Scottie Reynolds in his last few games as much and they survived. Reynolds' eligibility expired and Corey Fisher is the next one to pick up the mantel. Jay Wright had another solid offseason, coaching the USA Basketball select team. There is an expectation now that Wright's teams won't dip. Like Pitt, Villanova is considered a regular near the top of the league on a yearly basis.

8. Gonzaga: The Zags had quite a summer with Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all playing for their respective national teams. Gonzaga put together arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the country, too. If Demetri Goodson and Steven Gray can elevate their game as lead guards after the departure of Matt Bouldin, the Zags will be deserving of a top-10 ranking.

9. Florida: The Gators return all five starters from last season's No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the addition of Patric Young is surely going to bolster this squad. Young won gold for the USA junior national team this summer and proved to be an invaluable member of that squad. His tenacity, hustle plays and overall team focus means he could be a difference-maker for Florida this season.

10. Syracuse: The Orange move up six spots from the May poll in large part because coach Jim Boeheim is almost never wrong about evaluating and projecting his team's talent. Most of the time he hits on the major contributors and Boeheim said Kris Joseph is ready to be a star. He also expects big man Fab Melo to have a monster season, notably on the defensive end where he can block shots and grab rebounds. While it's hard to see yet where and how much C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters will play, they have already impressed, meaning the freshman class will make this team even deeper.

11. Kentucky: If Enes Kanter's eligibility was a certainty, the Wildcats would move up into the top 10. His amateurism eligibility decision is still to be determined. But what can be stated is Kentucky showed on a trip to Canada that the returning players are up for the challenge of a new role. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins should flourish as John Calipari plays more of his dribble-drive-motion offense. Newcomers like point guard Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Stacey Poole are all ready to make major contributions.

12. Missouri: The Tigers move up a notch, even without newcomer Tony Mitchell, whose eligibility is in question and in a best-case scenario wouldn't be available until the Big 12 schedule starts. But Mike Anderson can't play the role of being underappreciated anymore. Missouri returns Kim English, a healthy Justin Safford, Marcus Denmon and adds a recruiting class that needs to get more love. Anderson is pushing the significance of point guard Phil Pressey and power forward Ricardo Ratliffe. If both are as impactful as projected, Mizzou may be a league title contender.

13. Illinois: My colleague Doug Gottlieb tabbed the Illini to win the Big Ten. I'm not going that far with Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State to contend with. But Illinois has no excuse if this is not an NCAA season at the very least. Bruce Weber can't say enough about how much incoming freshman Jereme Richmond will mean to this team. Add him to an already talented roster that includes Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson and returning lead guard Demetri McCamey and the Illini have their best chance since 2005 to challenge for a conference title.

14. North Carolina: Losing the Wear twins and senior Will Graves, the team's top 3-point threat, meant the Tar Heels had to drop a few slots. The talent is in place up front with the return of John Henson and Tyler Zeller and the addition of the top freshman in the country in Harrison Barnes. But the guard play is still a work in progress and an unknown with erratic Larry Drew II and the still-inexperienced Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald being joined by newcomers Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall.

15. Memphis: The Tigers did get Will Barton eligible after there were questions earlier in the summer once he missed the team's trip to the Bahamas. But all is good now. The Tigers certainly have the talent to be projected higher, but remember they didn't make the NCAAs last season and are leaning heavily on newcomers like Barton, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black. If the Tigers are to be worthy of the top 10, then returnees like Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman will have to continue their improvement.

16. Baylor: This is by far the biggest drop in my poll from May to October. The Bears were probably too high in that original poll. Losing Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter was significant and maybe I was putting too much emphasis on newcomer Perry Jones. But the reason for this drop is LaceDarius Dunn. He is currently suspended from game competition, but was just reinstated to the team to practice and attend class after allegations that he broke his girlfriend's jaw. But the uncertainty of Dunn's availability casts major doubt on whether the Bears can be a serious contender in the Big 12.

17. Washington: Like Jay Wright, there was positive karma with Lorenzo Romar sharing the coaching duties in Las Vegas for the USA Basketball select team. And the guard play is extremely solid with the return of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy, wings Justin Holiday and newcomers led by Terrence Ross. Losing Quincy Pondexter shouldn't be underplayed, though. We'll know early enough about the Huskies when they go to the Maui Invitational with a possible semifinal matchup against Kentucky.

18. Butler: Shelvin Mack had a sensational summer and the buzz continues to build that he's one of the top guards in the country. Mack played on the USA select team and the more confident he becomes, the better chance Butler has of being back in the mix for a deep March run again. Sure, losing Gordon Hayward early to the NBA is hard to take for this group, but if Ronald Nored is healthy enough to be as much of a scorer as he was a defender and Matt Howard adds even more productivity and stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs won't disappoint.

19. Georgetown: The Hoyas return one of the best backcourts in the Big East with Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark. If Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson and newcomers Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham can help offset the loss of Greg Monroe, Georgetown will be in the chase in the Big East. The Hoyas put themselves in position early with another tough slate of nonconference games (going to Old Dominion, Temple and Memphis, to Kansas City to play Missouri, and adding a home game against always-tough Utah State) to gauge where this team will be in January.

20. Tennessee: I probably had the Vols slightly too high in May and the NCAA investigation swirling around the program doesn't help, let alone the self-imposed sanctions against the entire coaching staff that have left a cloud over the season. It shouldn't affect the on-court performance of the players, but it will certainly be a distraction for the coaches as they have to deal with questions throughout the fall. Tennessee still has one of the top newcomers in guard Tobias Harris, and if Scotty Hopson can make shots in bunches, the Vols should still finish in the top three in the loaded SEC East.

21. San Diego State: The Aztecs have quietly gone through the summer with their roster intact, led by one of the more underrated forwards in the country in Kawhi Leonard. Malcolm Thomas is another stud for coach Steve Fisher. If the point guard situation gets settled, the Aztecs should be a top-25 squad. San Diego State challenged itself with five straight games away from home to open the season, including going to Gonzaga before heading off to three games in Oxford, Ohio, as part of the CBE Classic. If the Aztecs survive that stretch, they'll be in a solid position to enter the MWC season as the favorite, fending off BYU, New Mexico and UNLV.

22. Minnesota: The Gophers got two players back that would have certainly helped in March. Lead guard Al Nolen, who became academically ineligible in February last season, is good to go, as is forward Trevor Mbakwe, who sat out last season pending an assault case. Mbakwe is back in the good graces at the school, which stood by him during the case. The Gophers went to Canada in August and returned an even more determined lot. Don't sleep on this squad, especially in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic. Nolen, Mbakwe, Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams are all capable of leading the Gophers to a tournament win and into the top 25.

23. Purdue: On Friday, I ranked Purdue No. 2 and wrote that "the Boilermakers haven't had a single hiccup during the offseason." Less than 24 hours later, Robbie Hummel retore his right ACL during the team's first full practice. The loss can't be overstated. The Boilers still have a pair of All-Big Ten players in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore and are still very much an NCAA tournament team, but it's hard to foresee this being a Final Four contender without Hummel.

24. Temple: The Owls got pushed down a peg by my newfound belief in Minnesota. Temple is still my pick to win the A-10 with the return of Lavoy Allen and guard Juan Fernandez. The Owls once again have a monster schedule that should tell us plenty by January, with an opener against Seton Hall, quality games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, playing Maryland in D.C., hosting Georgetown and going to Villanova. The Owls go to Duke, too, but that's not until late February. Oh, and of course, this team has one of the top coaches in the game in Fran Dunphy.

25. Georgia: I was bullish on the Bulldogs in May and I haven't dropped off in October with the return of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, two of the top talents in the SEC. Georgia also adds Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson, who should open up some scoring on the perimeter. UGA will certainly be pushed in an SEC East that could produce up to five NCAA tourney teams, but the Bulldogs have some summer buzz and momentum heading into that Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando, especially with an opener against Notre Dame.

Who got pushed out of the poll?
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were No. 22 in my May poll, but they lost one of their key rotation players in J.T. Thompson to a knee injury. Of course, the return of Malcolm Delaney means they will be in the hunt for a top-two finish in the ACC and an NCAA berth. But the Hokies weren't an NCAA team last season and losing a key player pushed them down a few spots for now.

A dozen more to watch (in alphabetical order): BYU, Florida State, New Mexico, Texas, UNLV, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Xavier

With the official start of practice Friday night, it feels like a good time to revisit my preseason top 25, which hasn't been touched since the final underclassman decisions were made in mid-May.

Not much has changed near the top. Duke is still No. 1, and will be in the majority of long-standing polls in the mainstream media and fledgling ones across the blogosphere.

But these Blue Devils aren't the 2009 Tar Heels. Duke is unquestionably the national favorite, but it's hardly an intimidating force. The schedule will favor the Devils in every game they play, but if they were to get beat by Kansas State or Gonzaga in Kansas City or by Michigan State at Cameron, or by Butler in New Jersey, no one would stop and consider it a tectonic shift in the season.

As for the rest of the poll, the pair of Big Ten teams at No. 2 (Purdue) and No. 3 (Michigan State) has not moved. But eligibility issues and suspensions over the past five months have forced some changes elsewhere in my top 25. Summer success, injuries and a re-evaluation of some teams has also caused some alterations.

So here is my new poll in advance of the season:

1. Duke: No reason to move the Blue Devils. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith had tremendous summers working out with the USA Basketball select team. The buzz around newcomer Kyrie Irving is just as high. The karma is all good in Durham with Mike Krzyzewski winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and the Blue Devils getting a commitment from one of the best players in the 2011 class in Austin Rivers.

2. Purdue: The Boilermakers haven't had a single hiccup during the offseason. They have been quiet, which is just fine for a team that could be Duke's toughest challenge. Robbie Hummel continues to be on schedule to play this season after suffering an ACL tear in February. JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore join Hummel and offer Purdue the treat of three seniors who are all-Big Ten players. This team is a prime candidate for a spot in Houston.

3. Michigan State: The Spartans did dump Chris Allen, an indication that the differences between Allen and Tom Izzo were too wide to overcome. But Izzo is feeling quite good about the continued recovery of Kalin Lucas from an Achilles injury. Lucas will be treated carefully in practice over the next month as the Spartans see how much he can push himself. But Izzo is confident Delvon Roe is as healthy as he's been at MSU and fully expects Durrell Summers to be a star and Draymond Green to be a vocal leader.

4. Pittsburgh: The Panthers don't have the star power of the aforementioned top three. But this Panthers team is like an old-school Big East team that has experienced players who have been together and found roles. The summer trip to Ireland provided more positive bonding time for Jamie Dixon's crew as it takes on the role of Big East favorite. There were no flaws this summer, making it more palatable to move the Panthers up a few spots.

5. Kansas State: The Wildcats continue to have a positive vibe from their near brush with a Final Four berth. Kansas State returns Jacob Pullen and an expectation that returnees like Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels will continue to blossom. Clearly the rest of the Big 12 believes in the Wildcats, as well, since they were picked to win the league for the first time.

6. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have one of the top freshmen in the country in big man Jared Sullinger. Sure, they lost Evan Turner, but the rest of the wings return and the buzz on the Buckeyes remains that this team was more than Turner a year ago. If players like William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler can handle the responsibility, the Bucks should be a national contender.

7. Kansas: Moving the Jayhawks up to No. 7 is clearly predicated on Josh Selby being eligible for the majority of the season. KU is waiting for Selby to get his academic clearance from the Eligibility Center. He can practice while this is pending, but Kansas needs him out on the court during the real stuff. There is still plenty of talent in Lawrence -- led by Marcus Morris, who coach Bill Self is convinced will be a star -- but Selby is the key for the Jayhawks to be top-10 good.

8. Villanova: The Wildcats didn't rely on Scottie Reynolds in his last few games as much and they survived. Reynolds' eligibility expired and Corey Fisher is the next one to pick up the mantel. Jay Wright had another solid offseason, coaching the USA Basketball select team. There is an expectation now that Wright's teams won't dip. Like Pitt, Villanova is considered a regular near the top of the league on a yearly basis.

9. Gonzaga: The Zags had quite a summer with Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all playing for their respective national teams. Gonzaga put together arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the country, too. If Demetri Goodson and Steven Gray can elevate their game as lead guards after the departure of Matt Bouldin, the Zags will be deserving of a top-10 ranking.

10. Florida: The Gators return all five starters from last season's No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the addition of Patric Young is surely going to bolster this squad. Young won gold for the USA junior national team this summer and proved to be an invaluable member of that squad. His tenacity, hustle plays and overall team focus means he could be a difference-maker for Florida this season.

11. Syracuse: The Orange move up six spots from the May poll in large part because coach Jim Boeheim is almost never wrong about evaluating and projecting his team's talent. Most of the time he hits on the major contributors and Boeheim said Kris Joseph is ready to be a star. He also expects big man Fab Melo to have a monster season, notably on the defensive end where he can block shots and grab rebounds. While it's hard to see yet where and how much C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters will play, they have already impressed, meaning the freshman class will make this team even deeper.

12. Kentucky: If Enes Kanter's eligibility was a certainty, the Wildcats would move up into the top 10. His amateurism eligibility decision is still to be determined. But what can be stated is Kentucky showed on a trip to Canada that the returning players are up for the challenge of a new role. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins should flourish as John Calipari plays more of his dribble-drive-motion offense. Newcomers like point guard Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Stacey Poole are all ready to make major contributions.

13. Missouri: The Tigers move up a notch, even without newcomer Tony Mitchell, whose eligibility is in question and in a best-case scenario wouldn't be available until the Big 12 schedule starts. But Mike Anderson can't play the role of being underappreciated anymore. Missouri returns Kim English, a healthy Justin Safford, Marcus Denmon and adds a recruiting class that needs to get more love. Anderson is pushing the significance of point guard Phil Pressey and power forward Ricardo Ratliffe. If both are as impactful as projected, Mizzou may be a league title contender.

14. Illinois: My colleague Doug Gottlieb tabbed the Illini to win the Big Ten. I'm not going that far with Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State to contend with. But Illinois has no excuse if this is not an NCAA season at the very least. Bruce Weber can't say enough about how much incoming freshman Jereme Richmond will mean to this team. Add him to an already talented roster that includes Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson and returning lead guard Demetri McCamey and the Illini have their best chance since 2005 to challenge for a conference title.

15. North Carolina: Losing the Wear twins and senior Will Graves, the team's top 3-point threat, meant the Tar Heels had to drop a few slots. The talent is in place up front with the return of John Henson and Tyler Zeller and the addition of the top freshman in the country in Harrison Barnes. But the guard play is still a work in progress and an unknown with erratic Larry Drew II and the still-inexperienced Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald being joined by newcomers Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall.

16. Memphis: The Tigers did get Will Barton eligible after there were questions earlier in the summer once he missed the team's trip to the Bahamas. But all is good now. The Tigers certainly have the talent to be projected higher, but remember they didn't make the NCAAs last season and are leaning heavily on newcomers like Barton, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black. If the Tigers are to be worthy of the top 10, then returnees like Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman will have to continue their improvement.

17. Baylor: This is by far the biggest drop in my poll from May to October. The Bears were probably too high in that original poll. Losing Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter was significant and maybe I was putting too much emphasis on newcomer Perry Jones. But the reason for this drop is LaceDarius Dunn. He is currently suspended from game competition, but was just reinstated to the team to practice and attend class after allegations that he broke his girlfriend's jaw. But the uncertainty of Dunn's availability casts major doubt on whether the Bears can be a serious contender in the Big 12.

18. Washington: Like Jay Wright, there was positive karma with Lorenzo Romar sharing the coaching duties in Las Vegas for the USA Basketball select team. And the guard play is extremely solid with the return of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy, wings Justin Holiday and newcomers led by Terrence Ross. Losing Quincy Pondexter shouldn't be underplayed, though. We'll know early enough about the Huskies when they go to the Maui Invitational with a possible semifinal matchup against Kentucky.

19. Butler: Shelvin Mack had a sensational summer and the buzz continues to build that he's one of the top guards in the country. Mack played on the USA select team and the more confident he becomes, the better chance Butler has of being back in the mix for a deep March run again. Sure, losing Gordon Hayward early to the NBA is hard to take for this group, but if Ronald Nored is healthy enough to be as much of a scorer as he was a defender and Matt Howard adds even more productivity and stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs won't disappoint.

20. Georgetown: The Hoyas return one of the best backcourts in the Big East with Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark. If Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson and newcomers Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham can help offset the loss of Greg Monroe, Georgetown will be in the chase in the Big East. The Hoyas put themselves in position early with another tough slate of nonconference games (going to Old Dominion, Temple and Memphis, to Kansas City to play Missouri, and adding a home game against always-tough Utah State) to gauge where this team will be in January.

21. Tennessee: I probably had the Vols slightly too high in May and the NCAA investigation swirling around the program doesn't help, let alone the self-imposed sanctions against the entire coaching staff that have left a cloud over the season. It shouldn't affect the on-court performance of the players, but it will certainly be a distraction for the coaches as they have to deal with questions throughout the fall. Tennessee still has one of the top newcomers in guard Tobias Harris, and if Scotty Hopson can make shots in bunches, the Vols should still finish in the top three in the loaded SEC East.

22. San Diego State: The Aztecs have quietly gone through the summer with their roster intact, led by one of the more underrated forwards in the country in Kawhi Leonard. Malcolm Thomas is another stud for coach Steve Fisher. If the point guard situation gets settled, the Aztecs should be a top-25 squad. San Diego State challenged itself with five straight games away from home to open the season, including going to Gonzaga before heading off to three games in Oxford, Ohio, as part of the CBE Classic. If the Aztecs survive that stretch, they'll be in a solid position to enter the MWC season as the favorite, fending off BYU, New Mexico and UNLV.

23. Minnesota: The Gophers got two players back that would have certainly helped in March. Lead guard Al Nolen, who became academically ineligible in February last season, is good to go, as is forward Trevor Mbakwe, who sat out last season pending an assault case. Mbakwe is back in the good graces at the school, which stood by him during the case. The Gophers went to Canada in August and returned an even more determined lot. Don't sleep on this squad, especially in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic. Nolen, Mbakwe, Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams are all capable of leading the Gophers to a tournament win and into the top 25.

24. Temple: The Owls got pushed down a peg by my newfound belief in Minnesota. Temple is still my pick to win the A-10 with the return of Lavoy Allen and guard Juan Fernandez. The Owls once again have a monster schedule that should tell us plenty by January, with an opener against Seton Hall, quality games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, playing Maryland in D.C., hosting Georgetown and going to Villanova. The Owls go to Duke, too, but that's not until late February. Oh, and of course, this team has one of the top coaches in the game in Fran Dunphy.

25. Georgia: I was bullish on the Bulldogs in May and I haven't dropped off in October with the return of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, two of the top talents in the SEC. Georgia also adds Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson, who should open up some scoring on the perimeter. UGA will certainly be pushed in an SEC East that could produce up to five NCAA tourney teams, but the Bulldogs have some summer buzz and momentum heading into that Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando, especially with an opener against Notre Dame.

Who got pushed out of the poll?
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were No. 22 in my May poll, but they lost one of their key rotation players in J.T. Thompson to a knee injury. Of course, the return of Malcolm Delaney means they will be in the hunt for a top-two finish in the ACC and an NCAA berth. But the Hokies weren't an NCAA team last season and losing a key player pushed them down a few spots for now.

A dozen more to watch (in alphabetical order): BYU, Florida State, New Mexico, Texas, UNLV, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Xavier