Commentary

Crucial decisions lead to new Top 25

Originally Published: April 12, 2012
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Editor's Note: These rankings were updated on April 24 to reflect the draft decisions of NC State's C.J. Leslie, Florida's Bradley Beal and Baylor's Quincy Miller, along with the decision of elite recruit Tony Parker to attend UCLA.

Already another way-too-early Top 25, you say? Well, a lot has changed since the night of the national title game, when we published our initial rankings.

Almost all of the underclassmen have made up their minds concerning the draft -- save for a few who are taking advantage of the extra time allowed by a late-April NBA deadline. The decisions went mostly as expected, but there were a few surprises that caused a shakeup in our poll.

In addition, the top two recruits in the country -- Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) and Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) -- picked their schools of choice on Wednesday night. That obviously had an effect on our second edition (especially for the Bruins).

We also factored in various coaching moves and took an even closer look at the rosters and came up with what we feel is a solid Top 25 for the time being.

That said, we're quite certain you do not agree with everything. The season is still seven months away, so try not to take this too seriously. But if you disagree, let us know about it in the comments section. And check out Eamonn Brennan's analysis of the best teams that were left off of our latest Top 25.

Nothing wrong with a healthy debate as we count down the days during this long offseason.

1. Indiana

Indiana stays put at No. 1 after surviving the draft deadline unscathed. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford decided to stay in school and that means each of IU's top five scorers return from last season's Sweet 16 team, in addition to a top-10 recruiting class. So yes, the Hoosiers will still be the pick in the Big Ten and a preseason favorite for the national title. It took a while, but Indiana is back. Get used to it.

2. Louisville

Louisville didn't have to deal with any draft issues. The Cardinals are as untouched now as they were in New Orleans after losing in the national semifinal to Kentucky. The losses of Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith can't be dismissed, but everyone else returns, Wayne Blackshear will be around for a whole season, Mike Marra and (perhaps) Rakeem Buckles will return from injury, double-digit scorer Luke Hancock arrives from George Mason and Peyton Siva should be the preseason Big East player of the year. No reason the Cards can't make it back-to-back trips to the Final Four.

3. Kentucky

The Wildcats will almost certainly lose Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the NBA, and likely Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, as well. Senior Darius Miller also is gone, and he was one of the best glue guys in the country. So how is Big Blue still No. 3? All about the newcomers. John Calipari has hauled in the nation's No. 1 class for the fourth straight year at UK, led by the nation's No. 1 player, shot-blocking extraordinaire Nerlens Noel. The additions of NC State transfer Ryan Harrow and freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley -- along with a former top recruit like Kyle Wiltjer who will get his chance to shine -- will keep Kentucky near the top again.

4. Kansas

Kansas lost Thomas Robinson as expected, as well as senior Tyshawn Taylor. But the returnees (led by Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson) and the newcomers (led by Perry Ellis and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore) make the Jayhawks once again the team to beat in the Big 12. No matter what the personnel losses are, haven't we learned our lesson not to dismiss this program as long as Bill Self is in charge? Yes. Yes, we have. KU isn't going anywhere.

5. Michigan

After flirting with the NBA, Trey Burke decided to remain in Ann Arbor. That's huge for the Wolverines, who would've had a serious void at the point without the invaluable Burke. He will join Tim Hardaway Jr. and a loaded freshman class that includes ESPNU 100 recruits Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson Jr. and Nik Stauskas. This team is loaded and as long as the newcomers blend in, there's no reason to believe Michigan can't compete at the highest level in both the Big Ten and nationally.

6. NC State

How did this happen so fast? Is North Carolina State really the ACC favorite? Why not. North Carolina and Duke are taking on serious losses, and the Wolfpack overachieved under Mark Gottfried to get to the Sweet 16. It took a little while, but C.J. Leslie announced he's returning, which basically means the entire team returns. In addition, Gottfried has one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in with Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. This program has a lot to look forward to.

7. UCLA

The Bruins might be the most fascinating team of 2012-13. How will this all shake out? Not only is the embattled Ben Howland bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class led by a pair of top-five players (guards Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) and an elite big man (Tony Parker), but also UNC transfer Larry Drew II, who left Chapel Hill in controversial fashion. And who knows what you'll get with a frontcourt that includes the Wear twins and the enigma that is Josh Smith. Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell will also play signifcant roles. This has a true boom-or-bust feel to it. Nothing less than Howland's job security rides on it.

8. Ohio State

The Buckeyes have never disappointed under Thad Matta. This team is a consistent winner that is always near or at the top of the Big Ten and in title contention. Next season won't be any different. The big news from the past week wasn't losing Jared Sullinger. That was expected. But getting Deshaun Thomas to come back means they have a go-to scorer in the frontcourt, even if he likes to score more facing the basket. And the Buckeyes still have Aaron Craft doing all the things Aaron Craft does, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross are going to be studs.

9. Michigan State

The Spartans lose Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton. But if you think Michigan State is going to slide under Tom Izzo, you haven't been following the program. Keith Appling and Travis Trice return, along with a healthy Branden Dawson. The Spartans don't ever lack for talent, and a top-10 freshmen class is on the way.

10. Syracuse

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

11. Baylor

There's no question the late switcheroo from Quincy Miller hurts. The freshman standout announced he was returning to school, but changed his mind just days before the NBA's April 29 deadline. The Bears also lost Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III to the NBA, so that's a big hit to the frontcourt. Still, Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip should form one of the top backcourts in the country, and the Bears continue to recruit as well as any school in the country -- raking in another top-5 class. Adding Isaiah Austin to help fill the void inside is huge. Baylor has become a consistent Big 12 title contender with Kansas and that doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

12. Florida

Even with Bradley Beal's decision to enter the NBA draft, the Gators have a real shot to be an SEC and Final Four contender. There's still a ton of talent on hand. Patric Young has only scratched the surface of his potential. Kenny Boynton played deep into March two years in a row and should lead this squad. Erik Murphy is maturing and has improved his game. Recruiting is going well as always for the Gators. This program had a minor dip post-2007, but that is clearly no longer an issue after back-to-back Elite Eights.

13. North Carolina

The Tar Heels were gutted by early-entry departures from Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and John Henson. Tyler Zeller was already leaving because he was a senior. But that just opens more minutes for Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, who made Tar Heel fans breathe a little easier with his decision to return. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson lead a top-10 recruiting class and will step in and deepen this team. Let's not kid ourselves: There's still plenty of talent on hand.

14. Memphis

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

15. Duke

The Blue Devils lost Austin Rivers after one season. Miles Plumlee also departs. But Miles' brother, Mason, surprised some by returning. Huge. Duke also brings back Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins (if he doesn't redshirt) and yet another Plumlee, Marshall. If Rasheed Sulaimon delivers as an impact player, the Blue Devils will still be an ACC contender.

16. San Diego State

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

17. Arizona

The Wildcats had to deal with a number of issues this season, and that has carried over into the offseason, as well. For the second straight year, UA has lost its point guard to transfer, with Josiah Turner announcing his intentions this week. But fans in Tucson shouldn't panic. Arizona can lean heavily on returnees such as Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson and a healthy Kevin Parrom, but this will be a team heavy on newcomers. The recruiting class is currently ranked No. 2 nationally by ESPN, with Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York heading to the desert. This team will be young in November but should make its mark in March.

18. Creighton

Doug McDermott is staying, so the Bluejays are the Valley favorites and a Top-25 team once again. Greg Echenique returns to anchor the inside. The loss of point guard Antoine Young will hurt the Jays, but everyone else is back from this deep team. Creighton showed a lot of toughness as this past season progressed. Expect that to continue.

19. Notre Dame

This will be interesting. Whenever the Irish are supposed to be good, there tends to be disappointment. And the opposite. So Notre Dame exceeded expectations in 2012, and now the Irish are a possible Big East favorite? Well, Pat Connaughton, Jack Cooley, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant offer quite a lineup that should succeed in the Big East. The great unknown is whether Tim Abromaitis and/or Scott Martin can get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. But everyone else is back in South Bend. No reason this team can't contend.

20. Gonzaga

The Bulldogs lose Robert Sacre, but as long as Elias Harris doesn't bolt before the NBA deadline, Gonzaga will once again be the preseason favorite in the WCC and one of the best teams in the West. Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and David Stockton form one of the top perimeters in the region. Sam Dower will only get better and could be a difference-maker. The Zags had a poor matchup with Ohio State, but was still within a few possessions to knock off the eventual Final Four team. They'll continue to roll on.

21. Texas

Myck Kabongo announced he was staying, but J'Covan Brown decided to bolt. That's not a bad trade. The upside for Kabongo exceeds that of the shot-happy Brown. The Longhorns also have a top-five class coming in with Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh leading the way. And Texas was one of the younger teams in the league last season. Losing Missouri will move the Horns up within the Big 12. Make no mistake: Rick Barnes has plenty of talent to work with in Austin.

22. Wisconsin

Jordan Taylor is gone. But when should losing one key player be a killer for Wisconsin? The Badgers have Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Ben Brust back for next season, along with top-20 recruit Sam Dekker. If the point guard position can be settled, there is a good shot the Badgers will be in the thick of the Big Ten race yet again.

23. UNLV

The Runnin' Rebels ran out of gas toward the end of the season, including in their NCAA tournament loss to Colorado. But the return of Mike Moser as the anchor inside should make Vegas a favorite with San Diego State and New Mexico in the Mountain West. Don't forget, this team also adds ESPNU 100 recruit Katin Reinhardt and transfers Bryce Jones (USC) and Khem Birch (Pitt).

24. Missouri

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

25. Minnesota

The Gophers got tremendous news when Trevor Mbakwe was deemed eligible for a sixth year and then agreed to come back. Led by the much-improved Rodney Williams, Minnesota played reasonbly well and reached the NIT final without the injured Mbakwe. If they have him healthy for a full season -- with their top five scorers back and nearly the entire bench -- there is no reason why the Gophers can't be a contender for a top-four finish in the Big Ten.

Don't sleep on: VCU, Kansas State, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Harvard, Pitt, Ohio, Florida State, Stanford, Iowa State, New Mexico, Butler, Miami (Fla.), Saint Mary's, Maryland, Xavier, Nevada, Murray State, Marquette, Valparaiso. (For more analysis, click here)

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com