Published on July 28th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
NCAA Top 25 Ranking: Early Preseason Rankings
1. Kentucky Wildcats
It’s impossible to overrate the Wildcats chances of success. This team may not be as sexy on paper as last year’s Championship squad, but gosh-darn it they’re pretty dang close.
How do you replace a superstar like Anthony Davis? You get a younger Anthony-Davis lite. Nerlens Noel is basically a Davis clone with a little less shine, a 6’10”, 215 pound athletic freak with a defensive motor you rarely see anymore. Pretty much every ranking has Noel at the top of the recruit’s board.
He’s joined by fellow top-15 recruits in forward Alex Poythress (a lower-potential clone of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and sharpshooting wingman Archie Goodwin. They also added in another top 50 recruit in center/forward Willie Cauley, a raw but all around talented big man who would be a Meyers Leonard type player on any other squad but who will likely get lost in the luster here.
So why Kentucky at the top over squads like Indiana and Louisville, who have more experienced players returning? Don’t bet against Calipari. Indiana has talent, but I don’t think they can keep up with the sheer raw talent of this Wildcat squad. Neither can Louisville, and don’t even bring up UCLA into this equation…not when Ben Howland is their coach. Any day of the week, give me John Calipari, or Rick Pittino over Howland.
2. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers season begins and ends with Cody Zeller as their star, but you can hardly say that Tom Crean’s squad is a one man affair. Zeller is a fantastic college star with great instincts, a high IQ and an all around skill set you don’t find very often.
Indiana was one of only two squads that beat Kentucky last year (the other being Vanderbilt) and they have some nice depth pieces thanks to a star studded recruiting class. Point guard Yogi Ferrell, forward Jeremy Hollowell and big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea will likely all join Zeller as key contributors.
3. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals lost their top scorer (Kyle Kuric) to graduation, but this still remains one of the most talented teams Pitino has coached. They return three starters from last year’s Final Four squad, including big man Gorgui Dieng, a dominant inside force who demolished in the tournament.
There isn’t a high powered recruiting class coming in, but Montrezl Harrell is a top 100 recruit easily, and he’ll make quite the duo with Dieng. The Cardinals have something over every other team on this list—they have big time experience.
4. North Carolina State Wolfpack
The pack was a stellar underdog last year and managed an excellent recruiting class while losing only one key starter. They still retain the services of Richard Howell, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood while throwing in top 20 recruit Rodney Purvis and top 30 recruit T.J. Warren. Don’t expect the Tar Heels to dominate through the ACC… the Wolfpack can easily be the best the state has to offer.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels lost Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall to the NBA, but they still have James Michael McAdoo who would have been a lottery pick if he’d gone into the NBA this year. He’s an athletic big man who can score like Zeller did and defend almost as well as Henson did (just without the blocks).
Added into that is Reggie Bullock, who could finally emerge as the stud we expected when he joined North Carolina two years ago. Dexter Strickland will be healthy again, and the Tar Heels also added in a top recruit in point guard Marcus Paige.
Hit the jump for the rest of Bryant’s pre-season top 25…
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
The loss of Jared Sullinger hurts, but remember Deshaun Thomas? He ripped up in the NCAA tournament last year and now will get the lion’s share of the offensive opportunities. Aaron Craft returns as well and he’s one of the top point guards in the nation. The Buckeyes don’t take a big step back here.
7. Michigan Wolverines
It’s hard to put big time trust in Tim Hardaway Jr., a talented but inefficient scorer, but the Wolverines added in a great recruiting class with big man Mitch McGary and small forward Glenn Robinson III. The loss of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, two super efficient players, hurts though.
8. Duke Blue Devils
Here is Seth Curry’s chance to prove he can be the man and not just “Steph Curry’s little brother”. If he can’t do it, Quinn Cook might be that guy. He was crushed by injuries last year. Miles Plumlee has left, but his brother Mason is returning, and redshirt Marshall Plumlee will get his first shot.
9. Florida Gators
Bradley Beal is gone, and so is headache inducing Erving Walker, but they still retain an excellent group lead by big man Patric Young. Guard Kenny Bonton led the team in scoring last year and the Gators have added top 50 recruit Braxton Ogbueze to run the point.
10. Arizona Wildcats
Solomon Hill has all the tools to be a NBA starting small forward, and the Wildcats add in three top 15 recruits in the paint. Center Kaleb Tarczewski, forward Grant Jerrett and forward Brandon Ashley give the Cats an absolute insane amount of talent, but they’re pretty light on guards.
11. Syracuse Orange
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams had the misfortune of playing behind Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, but now is his legitimate chance to shine. Big man Rakeem Christmas will need to continue his solid post play, or he’ll be beaten out by top 15 recruit DaJuan Coleman.
12. UCLA Bruins
Anytime you get two top five recruits, you’re going to get attention. Can anyone explain to me why Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson decided on UCLA?
After last season’s disaster, you figured it would take a while for the Bruins to rebuild. But Muhammad is manna from heaven, and Anderson is just gravy. Muhammad is the top wing man in the class, and he’ll be competing with Nerlens Noel for the top spot in the 2013 Draft Class. Anderson is arguably the second best wing… behind only Muhammad.
If Howland can’t get this team on a winning streak, he needs to be canned immediately.
13. UNLV Rebels
UNLV adds in top 10 recruit Anthony Bennett, and incoming transfer Khem Birch will join him as the starting center once he becomes eligible in December. Those two together might have the most big man potential in the nation, except for maybe Arizona. And that’s without mentioning Mike Moser, who would have been a top 20 NBA pick in the 2012 Draft but returned to school.
14. San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State can easily contend with any team in the west, and return their top four starters (all guards) from last years’ top 25 squad. Forward Winston Shepard is an excellent recruiting steal and he reminds a lot of people of former Aztec Kawhi Leonard. San Diego State proved last year that they can bounce back from anything, and we need to accept that the Aztecs are a legitimate college basketball force.
15. Creighton Bluejays
Big man Doug McDermott, an All-American 1st team player last year, leads a talented group that also contains three more of last year’s starters. McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.9 rebounds last season.
16. Memphis Tigers
The Tigers have incredible potential that has just never lived up to expectations. Top of that list is Joe Jackson, who will get/be forced to take on the role as the leading scorer. Wingman Adonis Thomas, forward Tarik Black, and guard Chris Crawford all are expected to play major roles.
17. Kansas Jayhawks
Guard Elijah Johnson and center Jeff Withey lead a solidly built team that lacks a true star. Withey could very well pull a Cole Aldrich a become the go to guy, but don’t doubt on it. He’s incredibly raw offensively.
The Jayhawks do add two nice recruits in Perry Ellis and Andrew White, but someone needs to take on a Thomas Robinson role.
18. Wisconsin Badgers
Top 20 freshmen Sam Dekker leads an already deep team that returns major contributors in forward Ryan Evans, center Jared Beggren and guard Josh Gasser. The Badgers are well coached and won’t fall apart just because Jeff Taylor left.
19. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Robert Sacre leaves for the NBA, but the Bulldogs probably don’t mind much. Polish big man Przemek Karnowski will be one of the biggest surprises of next season and his size will make the Bulldogs fans quickly forget about Sacre. Add in the return of sophomore Kevin Pangos and senior Elias Harris and Gonzaga has scary talent.
20. Murray State Racers
Last years’ 30 win Cinderella squad can thrive again this season, as long as guard Isaiah Canaan still thrives. He was an All-American player last year and should easily be one again this year.
21. Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols return four starters, including forward Jarnell Stokes, who played really well in the latter half of the season after returning from injury. Combining him with Trae Golden and Jordan McRae, the Vols have the talent if they stay healthy to be a surprise.
22. Michigan State Spartans
Draymond Green was the everything and anything man for the Spartans, and they’ll miss him dearly. Still, they return center Adreian Payne and forward Branden Dawson, and they also add in a top 15 recruit with guard Gary Harris. They’ll give the Wolverines a run for their money.
23. Kansas State Wildcats
Coach Frank Martin leaves the Wildcats after a somewhat surprising season, but Bruce Weber has a good bit of talent to work with. The Wildcats were steller defensively last year a top rebounding team, but they struggled to score. Guard Rodney McGruder is a very efficient scorer but they need more points elsewhere.
24. Missouri Tigers
The Tigers were easily one of the most entertaining teams of 2011-2012, and while they lost Kim English and Marcus Denmon to the NBA they added in former UConn big Alex Oriaki, who was able to transfer without losing a year thanks to UConn’s tournament ban.
25. Cincinnati Bearcats
Sean Kilpatrick has serious star power and showed it in the last two games of the Bearcats run in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 14.3 points last season, but he’s one of those rare players that could easily bump it up to 20 this season. The loss of Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon is a cause for concern, though.