College Basketball Preview

It’s hard to believe that the start of the Preseason NIT is only two days away. I can’t say that I’m completely ready for basketball season as I find myself pretty wrapped up in what has turned into an incredibly exciting college football season. However, the time has come to take a look at this year’s hoops squads. Here is my Preseason Top 25 with brief analysis.

#25: Indiana

You didn’t think I’d leave the Hoosiers out of my Top 25 did you? If center D.J. White stays healthy and Indiana can adjust to a new system under Kelvin Sampson, they should be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Earl Calloway returns at the point along with scoring guards A.J. Ratliff and Rod Wilmont.

#24: Kentucky

Tubby Smith is on somewhat of a hot seat as the Wildcats have failed to advance to a Final Four since 1998. This doesn’t look like a team that will break that streak, but they should win some games. Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris return for Kentucky along with a pretty strong recruting class.

#23: Texas

This is a team that could have been a preseason top 5 choice if not for the early departures of P.J. Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson. Instead, the Longhorns lost a lot of talent and will be a very young team riding the shoulders of freshman phenom Kevin Durant. The season will certainly be a bit of a learning process for Texas.

#22: Washington

First team All-American Brandon Roy is gone from a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 and nearly knocked off top seeded UConn, but head coach Lorenzo Romar knows how to replace talent. The Huskies lost their top three scorers, but will be competitive behind leading returning scorer Spencer Hawes.

#21: Memphis

This is another team that could have had top 5 potential if not for some early departures. Insatead, the Tigers lost a lot of talent, and will try to replace it with freshman standout Willie Kemp and returning starter Robert Dozier.

#20: Creighton

Four starters return from a team that narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays won 12 games in the impoved Missouri Valley Conference and are poised to do so again behind star guard Nate Funk and center Anthony Tolliver.

#19: Tennessee

The Vols were one of last year’s biggest surprises, and should be expected to be tough once again. Guards Chris Lofton and Dane Bradshaw return for Bruce Pearl along with a solid recruting class. If Tennessee can find a reliable point guard, they’ll be in the mix.

#18: Southern Illinois

The Salukis are my sleeper pick this year. There is no doubt that the Missouri Valley Conference proved its worth last season, as the top teams in the conference fared well in March. Southern Illinois returns all five starters from last year’s team, including guards Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young along with forward Randal Falker.

#17: Marquette

A strong three-guard backcourt returns for the Golden Warriors, led by Dominic James. Marquette will have to replace scorer Steve Novac but shouls be improved despite his departure, as the team has gained experience from last year’s disappointing season.

#16: Georgia Tech

A lot of talent returns for the Yellow Jackets, who will be led by guard Anthony Morrow and power forward Ra’Sean Dickey. Freshman forward Thaddeus Young is expected to make an immediate impact.

#15: Witchita State

Four starters return from a team that proved it could play with the big boys last season, advancing to the Sweet 16 after upsetting 2nd seeded Tennessee. The Shockers will be led by Sean Ogirri and P.J. Couisnard.

#14: Duke

This is uncharacteristically low for Coach K and crew, but the significant losses of J.J. Redick and Sheldon William leave the Blue Devis a bit depleted. The injury to guard Greg Paulus doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, Coach K will have this team ready to compete by mid-season as he always does, as there is additional talent behind standout forward Josh McRoberts.

#13: Boston College

All-American Craig Smith is gone, but loads of talent returns behind forward Jared Dudley, guard Sean Marshall and center Sean Williams. This a team that really got hot at the end of last season and was picked by several people to reach the final four. That didn’t happen as Villanova got the best of them in the Sweet 16, but expect the Golden Eagles to be a legitimate threat once again.

#12: Texas A & M

A & M a basketball school? Believe it. The Aggies came a last second three-pointer away from knocking off eventual final four team LSU and return the top players from that team, guard Acie Law and center Joseph Jones. This will be their best team in many, many years.

#11: Wisconsin

Despite struggling down the stretch last season, the Badgers should be expected to be in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Pre-season Big Ten player of the year Alando Tucker returns at forward along with experienced guard Kammron Taylor, Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry. There is talent and depth here.

#10: Alabama

The Tide surprised a lot of people last March, upsetting Marquette in the first round of the tournament and then taking eventual national runner-up UCLA right down to the wire. The most important pieces of that team return in preseason All-America point guard Ronald Steele and strong power forward Jermareo Davidson.

#9: Arizona

The Wildcats are loaded with talent this year. Freshman standout Marcus Williams returns for his sophomore season along with point guard Mustafa Shakur, 6-10 forward Ivan Radenoic and highly touted recruit Chase Budinger. The talent is certainly there to make a strong run this season.

#8: Georgetown

The Hoyas are back as a basketball powerhouse after over a decade of mediocrity. Forward Jeff Green might be the best player in the Big East, and he’ll have help in the middle from 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. Remember, Georgetown was the only team in last year’s tournament that gave champion Florida a close game and dominated Big Ten power Ohio State in the second round. . There are questions regarding depth, but this athletic team will be pretty ferocious.

#7: Pittsburgh

The Panthers will have to replace star point guard Carl Krasuer, but should still be tough behind center Aaron Gray. Additionally, Pitt picked up transfer Mike Cook and returns guard Sam Young, giving them some explosive scoring options in the backcourt. If they can find reliability at the point, Pitt is capable of reaching the Final Four.

#6: UCLA

The Bruins staged a strong run at the title last year, falling short in the championship game. Point guard Jordan Farmar was a big reason why, and he’ll have to be replaced with the capable Darren Collison, but UCLA should still be a contender. Star shooting guard Arron Afflalo returns along with the athletic Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

#5: Ohio State

Thad Matta has brought this program back to national prominence, and this is the year Buckeye fans have been waiting for. Star center Terence Dials is gone, but he won’t be missed for long as freshman Greg Oden arrives to replace him as arguably the most highly touted recruit ever. Guard Mike Conley arrives along with Oden to join the already experienced backcourt of Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis. Oden will have to miss the first two months of the season due to an injury, but if he can adjust to the team mid-season, the Buckeyes will be scary by tournament time.

#4: LSU

The Tigers made a somewhat surprising run to the Final Four, using their strong athleticism to overpower a talented Duke team in the Sweet 16. They’ll lost some of their talent as Tyrus Thomas left early for the NBA and leading scorer Darrel Mitchell graduated. However, “Big Baby” center Glen Davis returns as a preseason All-American along with starers Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple. Tack Minor returns to the team at the point and should be a productive addition.

#3: North Carolina

It appears that the top three teams are on another level from the rest of the country. I’ll place the Tarheels on the outside of the top three, although come March any of them could in position to claim the title. Power forward Tyler Hansborough returns as possibly the best player in the country, and small forward Reyshawn Terry joins him to add experience. But the Tarheels’ hopes depend upon the success of its highly regarded recruiting class, led by Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandon Wright. The talent is there, and my only concern will be how the freshman adjust to the college game.

#2: Kansas

The Jayhawks are loaded, returning all five starters from a young team that steadily improved over the course of last season and was predicted by many to reach the final four. Those hopes fell short in the first round last year, but with more experience this time around, expect to see Kansas competing in the national championship this time around. Led by point guard Brandon Rush, forward Julian Wright, shooting guard Julian Wright and adding a strong batch of freshmen, the Jayhawks have talent and lots of depth.

#1: Florida

This isn’t a tough concept: When a team wins the national title and returns all five of its starters, then they are projected to win the title again. The Gators got hot and basically dominated all competition en route to winning the school’s first ever basketball championship. This year, they’ll be the favorite once again, led by All-American center Joakim Noah. Joining him are returning starters in strong power forward Al Horford, sharp perimeter shooter Lee Humphrey, point guard Taurean Green and shooting guard Corey Brewer, all of whom are All-America type talents. This team is going to be very, very tough to beat at any point this season.

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