Countering King's top 25 for 2013-14

April, 29, 2013
04/29/13
10:05
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The early-entry NBA draft deadline has produced a dizzying number of players announcing this past week whether they're staying or going, but there are still key decisions to come, such as where Andrew Wiggins, the top player in the Class of 2013, will play, and where UNLV transfer Mike Moser, a one-year rental player, will finish his college career.

The top 25 is fluid, as it should be in late April, but there are plenty of points to agree with in my colleague Jason King's preseason top 25.

Kentucky's epic recruiting class, combined with the return of Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer, make the Wildcats the preseason No. 1.

Louisville did lose Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, but the return of Russ Smith and the addition of heralded newcomer Chris Jones gives the defending national champs a chance to go for a second consecutive title.

Michigan State brings back a trio that can win the Big Ten in Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.

Arizona returns its core and picked up a remarkable recruiting class, led by late signee Aaron Gordon, that should make the Wildcats the class of the Pac-12.

Losing Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry would normally push a team off the top perch in a league like the ACC. But Duke will add two of the top newcomers in the country in freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer guard Rodney Hood and contend for another conference title.

So, we agree on the top five. And, give or take a few spots, we have agreement on a number of teams such as Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Syracuse, VCU, Wichita State, Marquette, New Mexico, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Memphis, Kansas, Baylor and Colorado.

But then there are differences of teams ranked too low, too high, or not at all.

Teams ranked too low

Oklahoma State Cowboys (My pick -- No. 8; Jason's -- No. 10): The Cowboys return a threesome that will be tough to match by any team in the country, save Kentucky. Marcus Smart will be a top-10 pick in 2014, or whenever he chooses to leave, and Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash played well off of Smart. If the frontcourt can simply handle its responsibilities, then the Cowboys should unseat Kansas atop the Big 12.

Connecticut Huskies (My pick -- No. 14; Jason's -- No. 23): The Huskies have something no team will be able to match entering this season -- an edge, after being denied a postseason trip because of an APR-related postseason ban. Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are returning for a shot to play in the NCAA tournament in 2013-14. They will and should be Louisville's toughest challenger in the American Athletic Conference. Omar Calhoun quietly had a solid freshman season. Kevin Ollie is even more comfortable as a coach, having replaced Jim Calhoun. This should be a top-15 team.

Harvard Crimson (My pick -- No. 21; Jason's -- unranked): The Crimson pulled off one of the two biggest upsets of the tournament by knocking off New Mexico (the other being Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown). This was a Harvard team that won the Ivy League without its two best players the entire season. If Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey return as expected from their one-year banishment, then the Crimson will be loaded with the best team they've ever had in modern times. Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard are all back as double-figure scorers. With Casey and Curry, Harvard will have the potential for five.

Creighton Bluejays (My pick -- No. 23; Jason's -- unranked): Doug McDermott is returning to the Bluejays to play for his father, compete in the new Big East and have another chance to win a national player of the year award. McDermott could be a three-time All-American. Yes, the Bluejays did lose two key players in Greg Echenique and Grant Gibbs (or will he be back?), but point guard Austin Chatman apparently is playing exceptionally well in offseason workouts. The shooting of Will Artino and the overall play of Ethan Wragge has the McDermott clan excited about this team's chance to challenge Marquette, among others, for the Big East title.

Wisconsin Badgers (My pick -- No. 25; Jason's -- unranked): If there is anything to be learned in covering and watching a Bo Ryan-coached team, it's that the Badgers will consistently finish in the top four or five in the Big Ten and be in the NCAA tournament. UW does lose three critical seniors in Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, but when has losing players ever been a crippling proposition for Ryan? There is still plenty Ryan has to work with to keep Wisconsin in the top 25, with Traevon Jackson, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust as primary scorers. Ryan will maximize Frank Kaminsky's potential inside, and there is a legit buzz about incoming power forward Nigel Hayes.

Teams ranked too high

Ohio State Buckeyes (My pick -- No. 15; Jason's -- No. 6): The Buckeyes lost Deshaun Thomas, who was their most reliable scorer this past season. Aaron Craft is back but isn't suited to carry more of a scoring load. When he plays within his limitations offensively, he flourishes. Yes, Craft can make a big shot, as he did in the NCAA tournament to beat Iowa State. But that's one shot. Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott will have to change their roles in Thomas' absence. Scoring is too big of a question mark to put Ohio State in my preseason top 10.

Indiana Hoosiers (My pick -- unranked; Jason's -- No. 20): The Hoosiers are back and will again compete for a top spot in the Big Ten and nationally in the coming years. But Indiana lost too much star power in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, as well as 3-point threats Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, to put it in the preseason top 25. Role players return and the recruiting class will include quality pieces or potential headliners, such as Noah Vonleh, but in this poll, putting IU in the top 25 is a bit generous.

UCLA Bruins (My pick -- unranked; Jason's -- No. 24): The Bruins should be a Pac-12 contender under new coach Steve Alford, but we cannot underestimate the loss of point guard Larry Drew II. He could have been the MVP of the Pac-12 for leading the Bruins to the regular-season title. Not having Shabazz Muhammad may not hurt as much, but he did draw plenty of attention last season. It will be important for the Bruins to find a catalyst early who can run the team.

Iowa Hawkeyes (My pick -- unranked; Jason's -- No. 25): The Hawkeyes played for the NIT title last season and lost to Baylor. The core of the team returns, but the Big Ten is still loaded. The Hawkeyes will need to deal with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin at the very least, and that's before even mentioning Indiana. I could be off on the Hawkeyes, but an NIT run doesn't always translate into a fantastic following season.

My early top 25 ballot:

1. Kentucky
2. Louisville
3. Michigan State
4. Arizona
5. Duke
6. Florida
7. North Carolina
8. Oklahoma State
9. Michigan
10. Syracuse
11. VCU
12. Wichita State
13. Marquette
14. Connecticut
15. Ohio State
16. New Mexico
17. Gonzaga
18. Tennessee
19. Memphis
20. Kansas
21. Harvard
22. Baylor
23. Creighton
24. Colorado
25. Wisconsin

Others to watch: Arizona State, Boise State, Butler, Georgetown, Iowa State, Massachusetts, Ole Miss, Oregon, Saint Louis, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Virginia

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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