1. Florida –Until someone knocks them down, they are here. Corey Brewer gets the least amount of press of any swing man in the country. Lee Humphrey knocks down the big threes. Taurian Green is lightening fast with the rock. Joakim Noah is a beast and the heart and soul of the squad. Next to him is another lottery pick in Al Horford. Anytime a team wins a national title, returns all 5 starters they have to be considered top dog.
2. Kansas – In the interest of full disclosure, I am a KU grad and a huge follower of the program. With that said, this team has more talent top to bottom than any other in the country. Sophomores F Julian Wright and G/F Brandon Rush have been named co-Big Twelve preseason players of the year. The funny thing is, G Mario Chalmers may be the best scorer on the team. There is size (Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson), Athleticism (wait till the country gets a load of Freshman Darrell Arthur), and Quickness (G Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson, and Chalmers get up and down as fast as anyone in the nation), and depth. Bill Self better make the Final Four this year, because he will never have more talent than he does now.
3. Alabama – Coach Mark Gottfried has had a long run of underachieving teams in Tuscaloosa, but that is all about to change. Ronald Steele is the best point guard in the nation. A natural leader and scorer, Steele is the type of gamer changing guard that can will his team to a title. They have one of the top big men tandems in Sophomore Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson. Alonzo Gee is poised to break out now that he no longer shares minutes with the graduated Jean Felix.
4. North Carolina – Roy Williams has once again assembled a boat load of talent. Sophomore big Tyler Hansbrough is an unquestioned first team All-American with an unstoppable array of post moves. The Heels bring in the nations top recruiting class led by PG Tywon Lawson, who has been described as Raymond Felton with a jump shot. He gets the keys to the team from day one. Wayne Ellington is an absolute stud at the two spot. Brandan Wright was wanted by every big program in the nation. With Senior Reyshawn Terry providing leadership, this team has all the makings of a national title contender. The question is whether all of this talent can jell and if Williams can keep so many players happy with PT.
5. Pittsburgh – The Pittsburgh program hasn’t been this healthy since the days of Jerome Lane, Charles Smith, and Demetrious Gore. Some say the loss of gutty PG Carl Krauser would be too much to overcome to be ranked this high, but this may end up being addition by subtraction. Levance Fields played in Krauser’s shadow last year but may be as skilled. G Ronald Ramon can knock down the three as well as anyone in the nation. They added a 15 point scorer in East Carolina transfer Mike Cook, and they may have the best Center in the nation in 7 footer Aaron Gray.
6. LSU – Nobody got more love during last year’s NCAA Tournament than Glen “Big Baby” Davis. He is a beast; so agile for a man his size. We will see how he does with the bulls-eye on his back this year, but there is no question he is of All-American talent. Losing F Tyrus Thomas to the NBA will be a tough loss, but having F Magnum Rolle, a Thomas clone, replacing him will help. Starting SG Tasmin Mitchell is back, as is PG Tack Minor, who started every game as a freshman and sat out all of last year with an injury. As Big Baby goes, so go the Tigers.
7. Arizona – Lute Olson has been doing it for years in the desert, and this could be one of his better teams. After a few down years (by there standards), The Cats are primed for a Final Four run. F Marcus Williams could be Pac-10 player of the year. He is a long and lean wingman who can do it all. 4 year starter PG Mustafa Shakur is back with his cat-like quickness. Freshman F Chase Buddinger has been described by Olson as “the most advanced incoming Freshman I’ve ever coached.” Add in the experience of Ivan Radenovic and Jawann McClellan, and you’ve got your Pac-10 champion.
8. Georgetown – With apologies to Joakim Noah and Al Horford at Florida, there may be no better big man tandem than 7 footers Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. Green is an absolute stud and Hibbert, a mountain of a man, was the most improved player in the nation last year. Folks, he is only getting better. Nobody played the national champs tougher during the Tournament last year than the Hoyas in their sweet 16 game. If they can get anything out their guards (Jonathon Wallace is very underrated), they could be bound for Atlanta.
9. Texas A&M – This may be the best Aggies team in school history. G Acie Law and F Joseph Jones are all-Big Twelve. The conference is down which is great for the Aggies, as they should feast on the soft underbelly. Billy Gillespie is one of the rising stars in college coaching. Watch for rising Sophomore Josh Carter at the two guard.
10. UCLA – Ben Howland’s got UCLA back to where they should be every year- the top ten. Had PG Jordan Farmer not gone to the NBA, this would be a top 4 team. Darren Collison now takes the keys to Howland’s race car. The Bruins shouldn’t miss a beat. G Arron Afflalo is back to avenge is poor shooting NCAA Tournament, as is the oft-injured, but talent F Josh Shipp. That isn’t even mentioning their X-factor, F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the multi-talented Sophomore from Cameroon.
11. Wisconsin – 4 starters are back. Bo Ryan is the most underappreciated coach in the country. All he does is win. G Kammron Taylor is a clutch shooter. F Alando Tucker may be the best player in the Big Ten. 7 -Footer Brian Butch gets the soft tag, but has a ton of skill. Freshman Jason Bohannon was Iowa’s Mr. Basketball and a scoring machine. All of this adds up to a Big Ten title.
12. Memphis – Losing Rodney Carney to graduation will hurt, but losing Darius Washington to stupidity and Shawne Williams to the NBA may be another case of addition by subtraction. G Jeremy Hunt returns after a year suspension and will provide steady guard play. Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, and Antonio Anderson will do plenty to dominate C-USA once again . Watch out for super Soph G Chris Douglas-Roberts. He is poised to have a breakout season.
13. Boston College – Their Big East style may be out of place in the finesse of the ACC, but it continues to work. F Jared Dudley is All-American caliber and is back to lead the Eagles. G Tyrese Rice is ready to assume more responsibility in taking over the point duties. Sean Marshall’s fire is contagious and Sean Williams is the best shot blocker in the nation. The ACC is down and that should only help the Eagles challenge UNC for the ACC crown.
14. Wichita State – Mid majors no more. Mark Turgeon is almost to the point where he can have any big job he wants that comes open. Who can blame him for sticking around. Four starters return from last years Sweet Sixteen team. Led by big man Kyle Wilson and G Sean Ogirri, the Shockers would like to be the second mid-major in two years to make it to the Final Four.
15. Ohio State – The local buzz says Final Four. But remember folks, the phenomenon that is C Greg Oden won’t see the court until January at the earliest. The rest of the“Thad Five” will have to hold down the fort until Oden returns. Guards Mike Conley and Daequan Cook will have immediate impact. Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis provide leadership. If Oden is as advertised, they could be a serious player in March.
16. Connecticut – Gone are Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, and Josh Boone. Yet Jim Calhoun is as excited about this team as any he has ever had. The country will know F Jeff Adrien’s name after this season. He is a man in the post. AJ Price is finally going to get his troubled career started at the point. Freshman Stanley Robinson is going to be a pro.
17. Syracuse – Paul Harris. Remember that name. Outside of Oden, there isn’t a Freshman more ready to make a large impact on his team. He will be starting for Jim Boeheim from day one. Along with Sophomore Eric Devendorf, a fiery guard, and the much maligned Senior class of F Terrance Roberts, Demetrious Nichols, and Darryl Watkins, The Orange could surprise a lot of folks. PG Josh Wright will breakout.
18. Marquette – College basketball is usually all about the guard play. The Golden Eagles may have the best backcourt in the nation, led by Big East Freshman of the year, Dominic James. Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal finish out the trio. Tom Crean has this program as healthy as it has ever been.
19. Georgia Tech – Last year’s down season was an aberration. Paul Hewitt’s young team is back, led by two McDonald’s All-Americans Javaris Crittenton and Thadeus Young. Young is a superior athlete who will start from day one. Ra’Shaun Dickey is still the main scoring option. They eagerly await F Anthony Morrow’s return from a back injury.
20. Washington – Spencer Hawes is the biggest recruit Lorenzo Romar has ever landed. The big man has all the skills and mow post moves coaches salivate over. Put him next to rugged PF Jon Brockman, and you have a tough block duo. PG Justin Dentmon and Three point specialist Ryan Appleby return, and F Quincy Pondexter is another incoming to 40 recruit.
21. Duke – You may never see a Duke team ranked this low again. Losing All-Americans J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams is a crushing blow. The team is now centered around future pro F Josh McRoberts and PG Greg Paulus, who will miss the beginning of the season with a broken foot. Oft-injured F DeMarcus Nelson is a glue guy. McDonals’s AA G Gerald Henderson comes in and should contribute immediately. Never count out an under the radar Coach K team.
22. Creighton – 5th year Senior G Nate Funk is back after losing last season with a torn labrum. He is the best player in the loaded MVC. Senior G Nick Porter and C Anthony Tolliver can play. Dana Altman could write his coaching ticket anywhere he wants, but stays in Omaha year after year. Another experienced and loaded MVC team.
23. Nevada – F Nick Fazekas is an All-American talent, who flirted with the NBA before coming back. Mark Fox is another rising star in coaching who turned down overtures from Oklahoma among others this summer. There is experience abound with G Marcelus Kemp and PG Ramon Sessions running the show. G Kyle Shiloh is a lock down defender.
24. Southern Illinois – Senior G Jamaal Tatum seems like he has been around for 10 years. He and G Tony Young make this team go. Third G Bryan Mullins was last years MVC Freshman of the year. Junior F Matt Shaw is a double digit clutch scorer and Randal Falker locked down first round pick Patrick O’Bryant from Bradley in last year’s MVC title game. The same O’Bryant who dominated Kansas in Bradley’s first round upset of the Jayhawks.
25. Oklahoma State – Sean Sutton takes over for his retired father Eddie and looks to improve on last year’s NIT season. F Mario Boggan is a load in the post and can score on anyone. G JamesOn Curry was a chic AA pick last year, but had trouble becoming the #1 option on offense. He looks to rebound from his Sophomore struggles. PG Byron Eaton, a former McDonald’s AA will only improve running the point. F Obi Muonelo is the younger Sutton’s signature recruit.
Just Missed: Texas, Tennessee, San Diego State, Kentucky.