Category archive: Temple Owls

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- There are storylines aplenty in the Atlantic 10 this season, led by Saint Louis trying to recover from Rick Majerus' absence and the arrival of mid-major darlings Butler and VCU to create the greatest depth in the league's history.

But what I learned at A-10 media day earlier this month is that the overriding theme this season is all about Philadelphia.

The conference office fled the heart of the league for southern Virginia awhile back, but this season, the league center will be back in Philly.

Saint Joseph's is the preseason pick to win the title, with five starters returning, potentially completing Phil Martelli's long, arduous climb back to the top after his glorious run to the Elite Eight in 2004.

Elsewhere in the City of Brotherly Love, La Salle was the overwhelming selection by the league's coaches when asked by ESPN.com which team will be a legitimate sleeper to be in the hunt deep into February.

Oh, and no one wants Temple to leave.

The Owls, who have been at the heart of the conference since its inception, are off to the Big East next season. Charlotte is leaving, too, as the 49ers head to Conference USA. But Charlotte is no Temple.

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Dunphy
Don McPeak/US Presswire Fran Dunphy's Owls prepare for one final season in the Atlantic 10.

The Owls' departure is sort of like when a close childhood friend had to move to a new school. The good friends, like St. Joe's and La Salle, know they'll still see Temple around, but it won't be the same.

"On a personal level, my best friend in coaching is Fran Dunphy,'' Martelli said of the Temple coach. "To not interact with him here, on the phone talking about various league issues, that will be very different. Temple has served this league with such a positive fashion from top to bottom.''

Martelli said replacing Dunphy with Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart, as well as a newcomer at Rhode Island (Dan Hurley), will soften the blow of losing a league power.

"But it's a difficult blow,'' Martelli said.

And it has been for Dunphy, too.

The veteran coach knows the university had to be concerned about football first. And no one is going to suggest Temple won't be better off by going to the Big East and being on equal footing with its longtime rival Villanova. The exposure will increase and the strength of schedule will kick up a notch. And requiring the Temple basketball team to play nonconference games against MAC schools just never felt quite right.

"We've always been concerned about where the football program was going to be,'' Dunphy said. "This will be great for the university. But the A-10 has been a great home for us in Philadelphia.''

Dunphy said he hopes the Owls will be in the heart of the race at the end of the season, despite being picked fourth.

The Owls still have a preseason first-team all-conference player, Khalif Wyatt; a preseason third-team member, Scootie Randall; and two key transfers, Dalton Pepper (from West Virginia) and Jake O'Brien (from Boston University).

"We're as deep as we've ever been since I've been here,'' said Dunphy, who moved over from Penn six years ago. "We lost some key veteran players [Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez], but we think we can be there at the end.''

La Salle was projected to finish seventh, with the return of preseason second-team guard Ramon Galloway and backcourt mate Tyreek Duren. The Explorers return 71 percent of their scoring and 73 percent of rebounding from a team that finished 21-13 (9-7 in A-10) and reached the NIT.

"They're a team with a lot of firepower that can spread you out with a four-guard look,'' Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "They came out in the first conference game last season and handed it to us. They're building a program that there's no question in my mind that they could be one of the teams that fights for the championship.''

Dayton coach Archie Miller thinks the Explorers could be this season's St. Bonaventure, which tied for fourth in the league in 2012 and advanced to the NCAAs after winning the A-10 tournament.

"[La Salle] didn't get enough credit last year," Miller said. "They've got the personnel to be really good. Their guards are really good. They play a difficult style to play against.''

But to win the title, they'll have to beat fellow Big 5 school Saint Joseph's.

Truthfully, the Hawks may not have been picked to win the conference if Saint Louis' Majerus had been healthy enough to coach. Martelli said he picked the Billikens to win it, and he agreed Saint Louis would have been the choice if it weren't for the coaching situation (although the A-10 coaches are all huge fans of SLU interim coach Jim Crews).

"We have an opportunity in front of us,'' Martelli said. "Our execution has to meet a proper championship level in order for us to expect it to be met. We might get the most [NCAA tourney] teams we've ever had in our league's history.''

The Hawks didn't have a preseason first-team all-conference player, but they dominated the second and third teams with guards Langston Galloway and Carl Jones and forwards C.J. Aiken and Halil Kanacevic.

St. Joe's has had patience with Martelli and the program as it went through hiccups in recent years.

"It has gone similar to the way we built our program in the past,'' said Martelli, who is the dean of the A-10 coaches after 17 years with the Hawks. "We can't overreact to a great day or a bad day. I really believe administratively I've always been comfortable and always said this was the place for me. It fits who I was. I'm about building a program, not a team. I've always felt appreciated here.''

So, too, have the Philadelphia schools in the A-10. And they should dominate the discussion in March if the projections hold true.

The Big East couldn't afford to lose Boise State and San Diego State in football for 2013, so it didn't hesitate to help out their men's basketball programs with marquee nonconference opponents.

When the two schools agreed to become football-only members, there was a promise made about four guaranteed nonconference games in hoops in their first four years as members.

It was never publicly announced, but two of those games will come against new all-sport members Memphis and Temple, the last two programs added to the Big East. The schools for the two other home-and-home series are to be determined with the help of the league office.

The biggest winner in this deal is Boise State, but San Diego State, Memphis and Temple may not be as pleased with the forced partnership.

The Broncos are playing their last season in the Mountain West and are expected (like the Aztecs) to join the Big West in all non-football sports, although that won't be known until that league's presidents vote at the end of the month.

To get two home-and-home series over a two-year period against Memphis and Temple is a coup for Boise, which struggles to get nonconference games regardless of league affiliation.

"I don't care who you are, it's really tough to get home games," Boise State coach Leon Rice said. "Memphis is a perennial top 25 program, and in the last eight years, Fran [Dunphy] has Temple rolling. You can't get those type of teams into Taco Bell Arena. That's terrific."

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Josh Pastner
AP Staff PhotoSafe to say Memphis coach Josh Pastner isn't thrilled with two mandated nonconference games.

For some.

Memphis coach Josh Pastner isn't exactly gung-ho about the arrangement. He's wondering if the Tigers should be getting into guaranteed nonconference games against Boise State and San Diego State or anyone else without knowing how many Big East games the league will play in 2013-14.

"Will it be 20 or 18 or 16?" said Pastner of the future 18-team Big East, which will lose Syracuse and Pitt after this season but is adding Memphis, Temple, SMU, UCF and Houston for men's basketball.

"We have some commitments prior to joining the Big East with other events," added Pastner, who has Memphis in the 2013 Old Spice Classic in Orlando. "We've got a lot of balls we're juggling in our schedule starting next year. We need to have some concrete decisions before we move forward."

In addition, the Tigers' series with Tennessee ends after this season. There will be public pressure to continue the annual rivalry, but it's not a lock. Pastner said he wanted to hold off on renewing the in-state series so he has a clean slate to review the commitments from the Big East.

"Is there going to be an SEC/Big East Challenge? Then you add Boise State and San Diego State? There isn't a lot of room for error," Pastner said.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher didn't want to publicly comment on the subject yet. He has heard about Temple and Memphis being locked in, but Fisher wants scheduling flexibility -- and anticipates being able to lure top 25-type teams to San Diego, even as a member of the Big West.

Of course, Temple and Memphis would fit that criteria quite well as both have been perennially successful programs over the years.

As for the Owls, they do have some recent experience with football-related scheduling mandates. As the school's football team competed in the Mid-American Conference, the men's basketball team was saddled with four MAC games last season, two home and two away.

But Temple could adjust to playing San Diego State and Boise State without having to worry about the MAC games. In conference play, the Owls are swapping two Big 5 teams (Saint Joseph's and La Salle) for one (Villanova), but they will still have to play St. Joe's and La Salle outside the league, along with Penn.

Still, the Owls, Tigers and Aztecs don't even come close to the scheduling problems of Boise State.

Rice said this has been the most challenging year scheduling-wise for him, even going back to his time as a Gonzaga assistant. The Broncos were in conference limbo for so long that it couldn't really schedule any Mountain West, WAC or Big West teams in nonconference games. Boise did commit to a tournament at UNLV in 2013, taking a chance that they wouldn't be conference members at the time.

The Broncos have a return game this season against Big West member UC Santa Barbara, but no Big West teams for 2013-14. They have a four-year deal with Utah and host LSU in a return game of a home-and-home series. They also play at Creighton in the MWC/MVC Challenge and at Michigan State in an exempt one-game event.

"And we have the MWC schedule this year, which will have some top-15 teams," Rice said. "We're trying to build a high-quality non-league schedule. Next year would be one of our veteran teams as we move into the Big West. I wanted to stack the scheduling going into the league, but that hasn't happened yet."

But Rice said he saw "in writing" that Memphis and Temple were locked in for 2013-14. So if they do indeed get in the Big West alongside San Diego State, they suddenly have quality games on the schedule for that season.

Boise State is also expected to get financial help from the Big East to offset any travel costs with the Big West, since all the schools are in California and Hawaii.

For a move that was made strictly for football purposes, it sure seems as if the Boise State men's basketball program will reap the benefits.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After Temple decided to bolt for the Big East, coach Fran Dunphy never even considered the possibility that the Owls wouldn't be allowed to play in the 2013 Atlantic 10 tournament.

And why would he? That's not the way the A-10 operates. The league wanted no part of being bitter and vindictive, especially toward one of its most recognizable and successful programs.

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Don McPeak/US Presswire Fran Dunphy's Owls prepare for one final season in the Atlantic 10.

"I never thought about it,'' Dunphy said as he watched a recent AAU game at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex. "There are a lot of bittersweet feelings from the Temple point of view. I hope we've been great members of the Atlantic 10 over the years. In my six years, it has been a fabulous basketball conference and this year could be off the charts with as many good teams as there are.''

Why will there be so many good teams? Partly because of the bitterness emanating from the Horizon League and Colonial Athletic Association toward its most recognizable and successful programs, Butler and VCU.

Apologists for both leagues will argue that there are bylaws that clearly state if a school announces its future departure, it can't play in a championship. The America East is doing the same to Boston University, which is bound for the Patriot League but will be stuck with one final lame-duck season before departing. Same goes for Old Dominion (C-USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) in the CAA.

The presidents in those respective leagues easily could have voted to put grudges aside and be grown-ups. Instead, they acted like scorned children who didn't get their way and won't have their best teams represent them in the NCAA tournament.

The A-10, meanwhile, was ready to pounce once Temple and Charlotte made football moves for their own perceived athletic department survival. The Owls football team, once tossed aside by the Big East and eventually forced to prove itself again in the MAC, was invited back for the 2012 season to replace West Virginia. Charlotte started its football program up and found a home in a desperate C-USA looking for new members after the Big East's raid of Memphis, UCF, Houston and SMU.

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade couldn't believe Butler and VCU would be available so soon, but with the backing of the A-10 presidents, she led a charge for early entry once those programs were officially banned from their league postseasons.

McGlade said the A-10 CEOs had developed a plan in November 2010 to solidify membership in the event of realignment. The September 2011 move of Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East to the ACC forced the A-10 into a proactive posture. That's when the league sought out Butler and VCU as possibilities (along with Old Dominion and George Mason).

McGlade gobbled up the two recent Final Four teams for the 2013-14 season. When they were possibly available for the 2012-13 season, there was no question that the A-10's welcoming policy of not booting out Temple and Charlotte a year early was going to be enticing.

McGlade had already led the charge to move the A-10 tournament from the dormant atmosphere of Atlantic City to the suddenly vibrant Brooklyn neighborhood where the new Barclays Center was being built. And she had already taken a bit of flak privately from the old guard at the A-10 offices for the questionable move of the conference office to southern Virginia instead of leaving it in more centralized Philadelphia.

But no one seems to be questioning the Atlantic 10 now.

Two programs that have produced three Final Four appearances in the past three seasons have been added. The league tournament moved to a media center and a trendy new spot at Barclays that might rival the Big East tournament in 2013 with the possibility of at least a half-dozen NCAA tournament bids at stake (Saint Louis, Butler, VCU, Temple, Xavier, UMass and St. Joe's, along with a few sleepers).

The Owls will no doubt be in the mix in March -- and for that, Dunphy is grateful.

"I never thought anyone would say to us, 'By the way, you're not allowed to be in the conference tournament.' And it didn't happen and I appreciate that stance from the Atlantic 10,'' Dunphy said.

"Would we have then sped up going to the Big East like our football team this year? I don't know."

The answer to Dunphy's question is probably yes. And that ultimately would have hurt the A-10.

The conference wasn't about to waste an opportunity of having a record amount of bids, even if one of them is from a departing member. And so what if it is? Temple will still be representing the A-10, not the Big East, if it earns a bid.

"I hope we're one of them,'' Dunphy said. "This will be a great challenge for us. But we're really excited.''

How about that? A coach that can't wait for the season, in a conference that is treating it with respect before it departs.

Bravo to the grown-ups in the room. The A-10 gets it. Too bad the other conferences do not.

Why not live in the moment rather than constantly worrying about the future? This is about games and who gets to play in them. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The Atlantic 10 understood that. The CAA and Horizon did not -- and the consequence is that both leagues will slip off the main grid this season, while the A-10 surges way ahead.

When it came to bylaws about departing teams, the Horizon, Colonial and America East didn't buckle.

There are consequences that come along with a departure. Being ineligible for the conference tournament is one of them for these leagues. Butler (Horizon) and Virginia Commonwealth (CAA) accepted that and got to the Atlantic 10 as fast as possible.

What school wouldn't do the same if the opportunity existed? Scheduling, television exposure and tourney access are the most important reasons -- outside of the financial benefits -- for being in a conference.

Take away the ability to play for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and the season can seem like a waste. Postseason bans, such as the one USC had recently and the one Connecticut will endure this season, take the air out of the season -- even if the schools and coaches do all they can to create a new goal of winning a regular-season title.

Even though both would likely be contenders for at-large berths, Butler and VCU took no chances.

Boston University, on the other hand, probably would leave for the Patriot League tomorrow if it could. The Terriers weren't pleased with the decision by the America East to uphold its bylaws, but they are stuck. The current team will have to deal with it.

Old Dominion and Georgia State were hoping the CAA would lift its ban, but it did not. Georgia State went as far as to explore trying to get into the Sun Belt sooner, but that didn't happen.

The Horizon, CAA and America East are actually not the norm historically.

After losing members in the past decade, the Big East, Atlantic 10, Big West, C-USA, Mountain West and WAC have not even broached the subject, much like the Big 12 didn't when it lost members to the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. The Big East didn't block West Virginia from playing in the conference tournament a year ago after it announced its hasty departure to the Big 12. Perhaps the smaller conferences are worried that the league will have only one bid and don't want it to go to the school with one foot out the door.

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Fisher
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSteve Fisher and the Aztecs will get a chance to compete in their final MWC tourney.

But when I asked some of the coaches playing in their final season in a conference, the question was met with near astonishment.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wanted to know if I was joking. San Diego State's Steve Fisher said he hadn't even heard of these conferences not allowing schools to participate. Utah State's Stew Morrill said he didn't think the WAC would do such a thing since previous schools that left weren't treated in that manner. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he would be incredibly disappointed if that occurred. (C-USA took away the conference tournament from the city of Memphis but didn't remove the Tigers' ability to play for the title.)

But what would happen if these conferences turned on the departing teams in 2013? It's too late to change the bylaws and isn't going to happen, but it's still fun to play the "what if" game.

What effect would it have had on the Big East to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse out of the tournament?
A serious blow. The league may be squabbling with the two schools -- and will do so in court with Pitt -- but it needs these two in the conference tournament as long as possible. Syracuse is a natural draw at Madison Square Garden. Taking the Orange out of the Big East would have been a major mistake. The Orange and Panthers still don't have a definitive arrival date in the ACC, but it's likely to be in the summer of 2013.

What would it have done to Syracuse and Pitt for a potential at-large berth?
Likely no issue at all. Both have teams that look like virtual locks for an at-large bid.

What would happen to the Atlantic 10 if Temple and Charlotte weren't allowed in the tournament?
Let's be honest: Charlotte won't be missed on its way back to Conference USA. But Temple's departure will be a hit, as the Owls have consistently been a major part of the A-10 tournament. Not having a Temple presence, prior to the Owls' exit to the Big East, would have hurt the tourney's debut in Brooklyn. Bringing in Butler and VCU will offset the loss, but Temple still is very much associated with the A-10 brand.

What if the Big West banned Pacific?
That would be just cruel. The Big West has had teams leave before, and it might happen again. Plus, this is coach Bob Thomason's final season after a quarter-century at his alma mater, and he said he has a team that could challenge for the Big West title. He has been a loyal member, and Pacific is leaving for the all-private WCC. No harm in letting the Tigers finish up, and it won't hurt the Big West one bit.

What if Conference USA blocked Memphis, SMU, UCF and Houston?
Then C-USA would have a tournament that lacked any sort of buzz. Marshall is a legitimate title challenger to Memphis, and UTEP should be in contention. If the Tigers had been blocked from being in the tournament, after it was taken from the city, C-USA's relevance during Championship Week would have been diminished even more. It's still hard to say how many Memphis fans will travel to Tulsa, Okla., but the Tigers do have a significant following. This was a smart move by the league to not play bitter politics with the departing members.

What would the Mountain West tournament be like without San Diego State and Boise State?
A bit less exciting. The Aztecs have been one of the consistent winners in the MWC with UNLV and New Mexico. Take SDSU, off to the Big West, out of the event in Las Vegas, and the tournament would lose luster. No offense to Boise, but no one would likely notice if the Broncos weren't invited. But SDSU matters a great deal. The Aztecs will be a top-25 team alongside UNLV. Taking them out of the conference tournament would have been a storyline the MWC doesn't need in March.

What would a WAC tournament look like without Utah State and San Jose State?
Not worth it. USU has been the benchmark program in the WAC since Morrill arrived. New Mexico State can't anchor the conference on its own. NMSU needs a rival, and Utah State has been that nemesis. San Jose State wouldn't be missed, but the Aggies' absence would have been a glaring omission in Las Vegas. Rebuilding Utah State will likely need the tournament to get a bid this season, but the WAC was in no position to be punitive. So the Aggies will have one final chance to represent the WAC before it joins SJSU and former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada in the Mountain West.

Saint Louis is in the midst of a Canadian tour, prepping to be the new challenger to Xavier in the Atlantic 10.

The Billikens will be just the latest team to take a turn trying to catch the Musketeers, who finished 15-1 and won another league title last season.

Temple has for the most part remained a consistent challenger. The Owls tied for the regular-season title in 2010 and finished just one game back last season. Richmond has had a recent run under Chris Mooney. Dayton, George Washington, Saint Joseph's and, at times, Duquesne and Rhode Island have flirted with reaching the top of the league.

But let's be honest: The A-10 has become Xavier's world, and everyone else is living in it for the foreseeable future.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see Xavier as a dark-horse Final Four team or even standing at the end," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "The program, the university seek domination. Some schools seek wins; others seek championships. They're seeking championships.

"They are also great front-runners. When they get out ahead of you, they want to crush you."

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Tu Holloway
Frank Victores/US PresswireChris Mack and Tu Holloway will look to lead X to its sixth straight league title.

XU's domination of late has been quite remarkable and is akin to what Gonzaga has done in the West Coast Conference. Xavier has been in the NCAA tournament 10 of the past 11 seasons. The Musketeers have won or shared the league title five years in a row. Two years ago, in Chris Mack's first season after taking over for Sean Miller, the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16. They have made appearances in the Elite Eight.

And ticket sales, according to XU athletic director Mike Bobinski, are at 97 percent capacity with the Muskies drawing an average of 10,098 in an arena that seats 10,250.

"With the world around us, in order for us to stay relevant, we don't try to be good every three or four years," Bobinski said. "We try to be as good as we can be every year. We consciously talk about it."

Bobinski locked up Mack, an X alumnus, with a new seven-year deal after last season. Mack could have entertained serious attempts by Missouri, NC State and Tennessee but declined. Sean Miller, Thad Matta and the late Skip Prosser moved on to better-paying and higher-profile jobs at the time. But Mack stayed put, and the consistency will only help Xavier continue to be the team to chase in the A-10.

Martelli said the Musketeers have created a separation from the others in their ability to get nonconference home games, lining up schools like Georgia, Purdue and Vanderbilt for home-and-home series.

"Not too many A-10 teams can get those games," Martelli said, with Temple being one of the lone exceptions.

The return of Tu Holloway gives the Musketeers a star attraction at the point. Having big man Kenny Frease, Jeff Robinson, Mark Lyons and a healthy Brad Redford returning gives the Musketeers plenty of offensive options.

Saint Louis, with Kwamain Mitchell and Mike McCall leading the way, as well as a talented but young Temple team led by Juan Fernandez, are the two likely challengers to Xavier.

Richmond is now a perennial contender under Mooney, but the Spiders are rebuilding a bit after losing Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot off last season's Sweet 16 squad. Dayton has also been in the mix as well. The Flyers had a coaching change in the spring as Brian Gregory left for Georgia Tech and Archie Miller, a former assistant to his brother Sean Miller at Arizona, was hired to keep the Flyers in the mix. Dayton has the facilities, the support and the history to be a regular contender, but hasn't been a regular in the NCAA tournament like Xavier.

"Our league has to have more promotion," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. "I think this league has been as tough as it's ever been. Xavier has been above everyone else. The players really do develop. But there are some good coaches in this league. I see these Big East teams that win 17 or 18 games, and what's the difference? Our top to bottom deserves more credit. We've won 109 games in five years. There are a lot of teams that don't want to play you home and away."

Baron added in his former team and alma mater St. Bonaventure as a possible sleeper because of the return of seniors Andrew Nicholson and Michael Davenport, two consistent scorers for the Bonnies.

"It's the same old stuff; we all have to overachieve," Baron said. "But the perception should be that this is a helluva league with a lot of good coaches. We don't get the splash."

No one will until there is a consistent challenger to Xavier. Plenty of teams take turns and have significant runs in the conference and in the NCAA tournament. But maintaining that consistency has been the biggest chore.

"We've got a lead dog and a strong middle that's chasing," Martelli said of the conference. "You need universitywide commitment, you need creative scheduling, you need effective recruiting, and you need to catch a break and you need a player who can help get you there. Xavier has handled being the target. But we've had other good teams, and the challenge in our league is to promote a team, like Saint Louis that isn't in our time zone, as a postseason team."

Ultimately, Xavier has, as Martelli said, exceeded its ceiling nearly every season. The rest of the programs have to do so as well to keep up with the Musketeers.

College basketball starts with a heavy dose of weekend games, before ESPN's 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon offers up a slew of must-see affairs Tuesday. But before looking forward, there must be some housecleaning done on a few issues. So here are my first impressions from a sprinkling of games this week:

Pe'Shon HowardAP Photo/Rob CarrPe'Shon Howard made quite a first impression for Maryland this week.

Name to remember: Maryland freshman point guard Pe'Shon Howard

The offseason question for the Terps was who would replace Greivis Vasquez's leadership, moxie and overall late-game magic. The answer came rather quickly toward the end of the College of Charleston game. Howard made not just one, but two big-time shots to beat the Cougars. The second was all Howard, taking the ball down court and hitting a fall-back dagger of a jumper to win the game at the last second. I loved Maryland coach Gary Williams' stunned face as the buzzer sounded. He was obviously relieved, but also had to be thrilled that he had found a player who shares Vasquez's drive to do something special when the game matters most. Howard was an efficient 8-of-11 (2-of-7 at the line, though) in two games this week, scoring 19 points, dishing out 12 assists and snagging five steals.

Illinois can score: The Fighting Illini have been offensively challenged in recent years (who can forget the 38-33 loss to Penn State in '09?). But in two games this week -- albeit against poor competition -- Illinois averaged 81.5 points a game. That bodes well for a team that has plenty of talent that can push the basketball (expect games against North Carolina and at Gonzaga to be high-scoring affairs).

Texas has another stud freshman: Forward Tristan Thompson averaged 14.5 points in two games, but was even more impressive with a 17-point, seven-rebound, three-steal performance in a win over Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.

Pitt will rely on its veteran backcourt to win big: The Panthers played without injured forward Nasir Robinson in the first two games, and the consistency and production of the frontcourt is still an unknown. But Pittsburgh has two players in Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker who have matured into leaders, reliable scorers and money players in the final few minutes. Jamie Dixon can rely on these two to take over a game when needed. They carry themselves as mature young adults, ready to take the baton of leading Pitt to a possible Final Four.

Still-unresolved situations:

• Baylor coach Scott Drew said in a text message Thursday night that there had been no movement on reinstating senior guard LaceDarius Dunn for Friday's opener against Grambling State. The Bears can get by without Dunn for some time since the schedule is soft until Arizona State on Dec. 2 and Gonzaga in Dallas on Dec. 18.

• Kansas coach Bill Self said in a text Thursday night that he was hopeful there will soon be a resolution on the eligibility of point guard Josh Selby. But it didn't sound promising for the immediate future: Friday's game against Longwood and Monday against Valparaiso. Kansas starts the meat of its nonconference schedule with a rugged seven-game stretch -- Ohio, Arizona, UCLA, Memphis in New York, Colorado State, USC and at California. All of those teams, save perhaps Cal, should be in postseason contention. But the game against the defending Pac-10 champion is in Berkeley, which still makes it a difficult stop.

• Minnesota coach Tubby Smith suspended Devoe Joseph for a violation of team rules. The Gophers open against Wofford and then play Siena on Monday before going to Puerto Rico for three games, starting with Western Kentucky. Joseph is one of the better scorers for the Gophers, but this Minnesota team can take at least one suspension (unlike last season's team). In discussing this with the Minnesota staff Thursday night, I got the sense Joseph will be back sooner rather than later as long as he adheres to Smith's rules.

And now a glimpse at the weekend ahead:

Best games

No. 21 Georgetown at Old Dominion, Friday, 7 p.m. ET: The Monarchs are a CAA cofavorite, while Georgetown is a top-five Big East team. The Hoyas, who have lost two of their past three against the Monarchs, will be entering a rocking arena and will have to play well to win. This should have a February feel to it. Clearly, an ODU win will have more shelf life than a Georgetown road win. And the Hoyas have already started the season with one setback, as the school announced Friday that freshman center Moses Ayegba has to sit out the first nine games because someone who wasn't an immediate family member paid for his plane ticket to come to the United States before he enrolled in high school.

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Johnny Moran
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezFresh off charming America in March, Johnny Moran and his UNI teammates open Friday at Syracuse.

Northern Iowa at No. 13 Syracuse, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): Don't be fooled into thinking this is the same Panthers team that upset Kansas. It's not. The Panthers lost too much of that squad to be looked at as a major threat to win at the Carrier Dome. But they will test the Orange zone. How well Kris Joseph emerges as the go-to guy and the impact of Fab Melo along the backline will be interesting developments to track.

Seton Hall at No. 22 Temple, Friday, 7:30 ET: The Pirates have been flying under the radar during all the Big East preseason talk, but still have enough talent to be a major player in the league's muddled middle. Meanwhile, Temple is the Atlantic 10 favorite and the one school at the top of the conference that has had no drama in the offseason. But a loss here at home could start the questions for Fran Dunphy's group.

Sneaky game to watch

Southern Miss at South Florida, Friday, 7 ET: The Golden Eagles project themselves as a real threat to take down Memphis in Conference USA. The Bulls are rebuilding a bit after losing Dominique Jones to the NBA. But USF is still a Big East team that won 20 games last season, so a road win here by Larry Eustachy's crew will go a long way toward earning credibility.

Notable debuts

East Tennessee State at No. 10 Kentucky, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): How well Brandon Knight plays at the point, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones play on the wing and Eloy Vargas plays inside will all be interesting subplots for an Enes Kanter-less Kentucky squad. Don't forget that ETSU has gone to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years. An upset is highly unlikely, but a young UK team had all sorts of problems with teams like Miami (Ohio) and Sam Houston State early this past season.

North Carolina A&T at No. 5 Ohio State, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): The Buckeyes' new stud forward, Jared Sullinger, is being billed as the possible Big Ten player/freshman of the year. Let's see if he lives up to the early-season hype.

Lipscomb at No. 9 North Carolina, Friday, 7 ET: The Tar Heels will be major players if freshman Harrison Barnes is a stud. This is our first look at America's No. 1 recruit, his fellow stud freshmen and a motivated group of UNC returnees.

Chattanooga at No. 20 Tennessee, Friday, 9 ET: The Vols have been the center of controversy this offseason due to the admitted NCAA violations by head coach Bruce Pearl and his staff. Then Tennessee lost an exhibition game to Indianapolis this week and had the critics howling. But the focus can, at least for now, return to the court and the expectations around Tobias Harris in his first game.

Detroit at New Mexico, Saturday, 9:30 ET: The Titans start the season at the refurbished Pit and get to unveil the hyped Ray McCallum Jr. The Lobos will play Tennessee transfer Emmanuel Negedu, who had to have a defibrillator put in his chest after he nearly died in 2009.

Tricky road starts

San Diego State at Long Beach State, Saturday, 7 ET: The MWC favorites begin a five-game road swing to start the season that will take them next to Spokane and then to Oxford, Ohio. Long Beach State is a Big West title contender and a heck of an opening challenge for a team with the highest expectations in SDSU history.

Florida State at UNC Greensboro, Sunday, 3:30 ET: The Seminoles, who fancy themselves to be a possible second-place finisher in the ACC, are going out of their way to challenge themselves this season with interesting road games. Florida State also goes to FIU on Nov. 18 and Loyola Marymount on Dec. 18 before opening up the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu with a true road game against host Hawaii on Dec. 22.

If the Big East is serious about adding TCU as part of its effort to get to 10 teams in football, then it can expect its basketball league to bloat to at least 17 members, according to multiple sources.

According to a Mountain West official, league bylaws demand that a member play in all the major sports, meaning that TCU couldn't ship its football program to an automatic-qualifying BCS conference like the Big East and still keep its men's and women's basketball programs in the MWC.

According to a source, there has been preliminary discussions with the WAC to take TCU in everything but football, much like the WAC was willing to do with BYU. TCU is looking at options if it can't or doesn't want to go all sports in the Big East.

A Sun Belt official said Wednesday that there had been no contact about housing TCU's other sports outside of football. From a purely hoops standpoint, it wouldn't be great news for the Horned Frogs to go down a level in basketball to a one-bid conference, putting its basketball program on equal footing with nearby North Texas.

The Big East hasn't had official discussions with its membership yet about the format of a 17-team or 18-team basketball league, but there have been some internal discussions within the league office, according to sources.

The easy thing for the Big East to do is add TCU to give it a nationally recognized football program and then hope that current member Villanova bumps its football program up from FCS to FBS so that basketball doesn't have to be disrupted. Adding schools like Army or Navy for football-only would work since those schools put their other sports in the Patriot League. Temple might also work since football plays in the MAC, while all the others compete in the Atlantic 10.

Adding TCU and a candidate like Central Florida would move the basketball league to 18 teams, unless the Knights wanted to downgrade their men's and women's basketball programs at a time when they've poured millions into a new basketball facility. Like the Mountain West, Conference USA has a bylaw stating that no member can play sports in another conference. So in that scenario, UCF's other teams might compete in a league like the Sun Belt or Atlantic Sun or Big South.

As for the Big East, the league office is looking at the possibility of what a 17-team basketball league would look like in two years, assuming any invitation extended to TCU would be accepted.

The Big East has an 18-game regular-season schedule that calls for three repeat games under television contracts with ESPN and CBS through 2012-13. The contract is based on a 16-team membership. CBS and ESPN each get a choice of one of those repeat games. If the league were to go to 17 members, the 18-game schedule would remain the same (although the invitations could be put off for two seasons since a team like TCU couldn't join for 2011-12 anyway because of the late notice).

According to a source, in a 17-team league, each program would play every other team (16 games) and then play two repeat games (instead of three). That means a lower-level repeat game for a favorite like Pittsburgh would go away. CBS and ESPN requested Pitt and Villanova play twice and each received a game. The Big East then kept the rivalry of Pitt-West Virginia for another repeat game. Pitt's third repeat game is against South Florida. Under a 17-team, 18-game schedule, this game would go away.

If the Big East had to add two more all-sport members to get to 18, then it gets more complicated in basketball. The league would likely want to keep every team playing each other once for 17 games. That would leave only one repeat game, likely the rivalry game. If that occurs, the Big East would likely have to restructure its television contract with CBS and ESPN since both networks wouldn't get a chance to televise the same matchups during a season.

The Big East tournament would become another matter. According to a source, the conference couldn't add another day in Madison Square Garden to begin the tournament on Monday of championship week. The current tournament format begins on Tuesday. If the membership was determined to include every Big East team, then they would have to consider playing on a campus site for the first round, which would be challenging because a number of schools don't own the buildings (Seton Hall, Providence, etc.) and would have a hard time getting set dates.

The other option is to go back to inviting only 12 teams to New York, which may not be a popular topic among a number of schools, according to a source.

The league office expects a decision on membership within the academic year, but Villanova may have the first move since the Wildcats' decision to upgrade their football program would dictate whether the Big East needs to grab one or two more football members to get to 10.

According to a source, the Big East membership hasn't discussed a split of the football/basketball schools into two conferences. Of course, there are a number of issues with that split -- ownership of the conference funds, who owns the name of the league and a contract with MSG -- that would need to be worked out before anything of that magnitude could occur.

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

Credit Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for giving college upperclassmen more opportunities to not only get seen, but to improve for a quick sojourn in Las Vegas later this month.

The USA Basketball experience at the national team level has become an NBA deal.

But according to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the national team since 2006, Coach K pushed to solely fill the USA Select Team that will compete against the national team with collegiate upperclassmen.

"Hopefully we didn't miss anybody," Boeheim said. "The only reason this is happening is because Mike made sure of it. It's a great thing to get the college guys exposure and a chance to play like this."

Boeheim met with the junior national team committee last month to come up with a roster, combing through some of the nation's elite upperclassmen. Incoming freshmen like Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Kyrie Irving (Duke) have already been on a USA team (Irving just won gold in San Antonio at the U18 tournament last month) or will likely get the opportunity shortly when they're in the NBA.

But giving these upperclassmen a chance to compete for the United States and improve their all-around games this summer was a must. Potential star seniors like Purdue's Robbie Hummel (knee surgery), Michigan State's Kalin Lucas (Achilles) and Northwestern's Kevin Coble (foot) were all still rehabbing and not ready to be invited to the event.

Boeheim said they tried to include all of the top players heading into next season, but there were some omissions like Washington's Isaiah Thomas, Ole Miss' Chris Warren, Michigan State's Durrell Summers, Colorado's Alec Burks and Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney. They all have legitimate gripes for not being on the roster.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who, along with Villanova's Jay Wright, will be a co-head coach during the July 19-24 training camp in Las Vegas, was a bit miffed at Thomas being left off the roster. Still, Romar, who was back from Germany on Thursday after watching the U17 team compete at the world championships, is looking forward to the opportunity to coach an all-star collegiate team for a week.

Despite some omissions, the roster is still a who's who of potential stars for this season:

Lavoy Allen, Temple: Should compete for A-10 Player of the Year honors with Richmond's Kevin Anderson.

William Buford, Ohio State: Should be the go-to shooter for the Buckeyes as they learn to play without Evan Turner.

LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor: Will have to go solo without Tweety Carter in the backcourt, but has Perry Jones instead of Ekpe Udoh to help form an elite outside-inside combination.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Fredette is having a terrific summer so far and his game is improving daily. His shooting will get him drafted and if he can prove in Vegas that he can defend, it will help his stock even more.

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Scotty Hopson
Don McPeak/US PresswireOnce a McDonald's All-American, will Hopson make "the leap" to stardom this season?

Scotty Hopson, Tennessee: Hopson could really step out and show NBA personnel that he can be a deft shooter for the Vols during the season.

Scoop Jardine, Syracuse: This is an interesting selection, but with Boeheim as the chair of the committee it makes sense to give Jardine a shot. He should be one of the better point guards in the Big East.

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: Johnson decided against declaring for the NBA draft and should be one of the top shot-blockers this season as he tries to lead the Boilermakers to the national title.

Jon Leuer, Wisconsin: Leuer's profile continues to rise. He'll be the go-to player for the Badgers, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and an NBA draft pick next year.

Shelvin Mack, Butler: He could and should be one of the top guards in the country. Mack has a pro body and will only increase his scoring load without Gordon Hayward. This is another golden chance to prove to the NBA how good of a pick he will be in a year.

Marcus Morris, Kansas: KU coach Bill Self said Morris is a star in waiting. Morris will get his shot at proving that to everyone in Las Vegas.

Jacob Pullen, Kansas State: Pullen is a shooter and will need to be on the ball even more without Denis Clemente. This should provide good preparation for him.

John Shurna, Northwestern: Shurna got plenty of pop for making the gold-medal-winning U19 team last summer. He continues to grow into top talent in the Big Ten.

Kyle Singler, Duke: Singler enters the season as one of the favorites for national player of the year honors. He made a sound, intelligent choice to remain in school as he rounds his game out even more.

Chris Singleton, Florida State: Singleton is a very solid defender, and if he's a real leader he could be the reason the Seminoles stay relevant this season.

Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith might be the best late-clock shooter on this team and in all of college. If he plays well here, he'll certainly improve his draft profile. He's one of the reasons Duke could win the title again.

Trey Thompkins, Georgia: The Bulldogs are my sleeper pick this season and a lot of it is because of Thompkins. He blossomed for the U.S. last summer and is getting another shot to prove how much he has developed.

Mike Tisdale, Illinois: Tisdale cut late last summer by USA Basketball. He gets another shot to prove he belongs in this group. He's long and lanky as well as a good shooter, but he'll have to prove that he can board and defend against strength.

Kemba Walker, Connecticut: The Huskies will be his team next season. He can fly up court, but has to learn to play under control in order to be an NBA-level player.

Chris Wright, Dayton: Wright flew under the radar a bit and this could give him plenty of opportunities to raise his profile if he can play well during this week.

Tyler Zeller, North Carolina: The Tar Heels will be led by Barnes and John Henson, but Zeller still has NBA skills with his fundamentals, size and reach. But during this week, he needs to prove that he is durable.

You'll notice that no Pitt players like point guard Ashton Gibbs or big man Gary McGhee are on the roster. That's because the Panthers will be in Ireland on a summer trip.

It is unknown as to how many scrimmages this select team will have against the national team, which is prepping to go to the World Championships in Turkey next month.

"This is a great opportunity for these guys to go out and play and get a little bit of structure," Romar said by phone from Cleveland's King City Classic. "They'll be playing against great players."