Why they're here: Duke has perhaps the nation's top returning player in F Kyle Singler, the Most Outstanding Player of last season's Final Four. The arrivals of Liberty transfer Seth Curry and highly touted freshman Kyrie Irving should make up for the loss of All-America G Jon Scheyer in the backcourt. Duke also boasts arguably the nation's best coach in Mike Krzyzewski.
The key player: Irving arrives on campus as the No. 4 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, and the Blue Devils need him to live up to his billing. Irving, Curry and All-America candidate Nolan Smith all have the ability to play either guard position, but Irving is the most natural point guard of the trio. Duke will need this freshman to play with the poise of an upperclassman by the time March rolls around.
Why they're here: The Spartans could be better than the team that reached its second consecutive Final Four last season. Michigan State made its tournament run with G Kalin Lucas on crutches and F Delvon Roe hobbled by injuries. F Draymond Green is Evan Turner-like in his versatility, and G Durrell Summers was the team MVP in March.
The key player: Lucas had an up-and-down season because of injuries; he missed the Final Four run with a torn Achilles tendon. When healthy, he's one of the best point guards in the country, but he missed the entire offseason rehabbing his injury.
Why they're here: With freshman G Josh Selby, Kansas would be the favorite to win the Big 12. Selby is a do-it-all point guard, with tremendous athleticism. Team him with underrated PF Marcus Morris, and KU would have one of the best inside-outside duos in the nation. But while coach Bill Self has said he thinks Selby will play this season, the NCAA hasn't officially ruled on his eligibility yet. Without Selby, KU is good - but it wouldn't be this good.
The key player: Obviously, it's Selby. But even if Selby is eligible, G Tyshawn Taylor can't be overlooked. He is a solid all-around player, and his defense and passing were strong last season. He seemingly can get to the rim against anybody, but Taylor must improve his outside stroke. If he becomes an adequate 3-point shooter, KU would become exceedingly tough to beat.
Why they're here: If there were any lingering doubts about coach Jamie Dixon's abilities, they ended last season. This has become a big-time program, one that re-loads and not rebuilds. G Ashton Gibbs is a big-timer, and Brad Wanamaker and Travon Woodall complete one of the better guard triumvirates in the nation. There also are a lot of big bodies up front that will help the Panthers play their aggressive and physical brand of defense.
The key player: While the backcourt gets most of the attention, don't sleep on the frontcourt. Keep an especially close eye on senior C Gary McGhee. He has the size and skill set to be a low-post enforcer on defense and a productive garbage man on offense. If he can push his scoring average to around 10 points - a jump of 3.1 from last season - coach Jamie Dixon would be happy.
Why they're here: Do-everything swingman Evan Turner is gone, but the Buckeyes still have enough talent returning and arriving to make another run in the Big Ten. Freshman Jared Sullinger will step in and make an instant impact in the frontcourt. William Buford was perhaps underrated in Turner's shadow; that won't be the case anymore.
The key player: The Buckeyes have plenty of guards (Buford, Jon Diebler), but no true point guard. Senior David Lighty, who played on a Final Four team as a freshman, could claim Turner's role as the do-everything swingman.
Why they're here: Kansas will be a hot place to be this basketball season, what with the Jayhawks, Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State and these guys. The Wildcats fell to Butler in the Elite Eight last season, and the bulk of the key players are back, including potential All-America G Jacob Pullen. There also are some solid newcomers who will help K-State challenge Kansas for supremacy in the state and in the Big 12.
The key player: F Wally Judge was the crown jewel of last season's freshman class, but Judge never really seemed to adapt to the trappings of major-college ball. He certainly has all the physical tools. If he lives up to his high school hype, the Wildcats will have one of the best frontcourts in the nation, as he and fellow holdovers Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels will be joined by transfer Freddy Asprilla and freshman Nino Williams.
Why they're here: Scottie Reynolds - a backcourt fixture for the Wildcats for, what, about 12 or 13 seasons? - is gone, but coach jay Wright still has one of the best backcourts around. Look for senior G Corey Fisher to become a star, and Dominic Cheek, Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns lend ample backcourt support. Senior F Antonio Pena willingly does all the little things.
The key player: Sophomore C Mouphtaou Yarou was sidelined by hepatitis B early last season and struggled to gain his footing once he was healthy. But he has the athleticism and skill level to be a defensive force, and he should be able to provide 10 or so points per game as well. Plus, with Yarou in the lineup, Pena can play power forward, his natural position.
Why they're here: Wesley Johnson, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins - all gone. But weep not for coach Jim Boeheim, who once again will be busy in March. Look for junior K Kris Joseph to make the jump from important reserve to go-to guy. Rich Jackson is a physical presence up front, and Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are solid combo guards.
The key player: Freshman C Fab Melo arrives with a load of hype, and the 7-footer should be able to live up to most of it. His name is a perfect fit for Syracuse (come on - anyone named "Melo" has to play for the Orange), and his skills in the low post fit should fit perfectly with what this team needs.
Why they're here: The Bears were in the Elite Eight last season, and while they lost some key players from that team, there's still some talent on hand. Most notably, G LaceDarius Dunn is back for his senior season. Dunn is one of the best offensive players in the nation. Big things are expected from true freshman F Perry Jones, an athletic big man who will score, rebound and block shots.
The key player: Sophomore A.J. Walton will try to fill the shoes of departed PG Tweety Carter. Walton has good range and while he's not likely to score as much as Carter (who averaged 15.0 points last season), he has the potential to be a double-figure scorer and a guy who gets four or five assists a night.
Why they're here: This ranking admittedly is a leap of faith, considering North Carolina failed to reach the NCAA tournament last season. But we're betting freshman F Harrison Barnes immediately establishes himself as one of the nation's top players, and that five-star prospect Reggie Bullock shores up the backcourt. We're also counting on sophomore F John Henson to make major strides and C Tyler Zeller to stay healthy.
The key player: The easy answer is to go with Barnes, but we're betting he's the real deal. We also could focus on the continued development of Henson and PG Larry Drew III. But it would really help the Tar Heels if Zeller could stay healthy for an entire season after being injured for large chunks of the past two. If he can play a full season, this highly skilled 7-footer could shore up a frontcourt that has plenty of star power but serious depth concerns.
Why they're here: Gonzaga returns four starters from a team that went 27-7 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. The Zags have a potential first-round draft pick in sophomore F Elias Harris, a legitimate 7-footer in Robert Sacre and a proven perimeter scorer in G Steven Gray.
The key player: The Zags need more production from PG Demetri Goodson. Although Goodson technically was Gonzaga's starting point guard last season, he had less than half as many assists as SG Matt Bouldin. Now that Bouldin has completed his college career, Goodson needs to emerge as more of a playmaker.
Why they're here: The Wildcats are ranked this highly because, with freshman big man Enes Kanter, they will have excellent inside-outside balance and should win the SEC. One problem: Kanter's eligibility is an issue, and he hasn't even practiced with the team. He is the centerpiece of yet another fantastic recruiting class put together by John Calipari.
The key player: If Kanter is eligible, it'll be him, as he basically will be asked to be this season's version of DeMarcus Cousins. If he isn't eligible, freshman PG Brandon Knight - a big-time talent in his own right - will have more of the scoring responsibility. He and fellow freshman Doron Lamb should form a productive backcourt; how productive it will have to be depends on Kanter's status.
Why they're here: All five starters are back from a team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney. Plus, there's a solid group of freshman, headed by physical big man Patric Young. Senior F Chandler Parsons made huge strides last season, and his versatility at 6 feet 9 - he can hit the 3-pointer, as well as put the ball on the floor and get to the rim - is a key part of Florida's offense. Backcourt depth potentially is a huge problem again, and some freshmen must come through on the perimeter.
The key player: G Kenny Boynton struggled with his shot last season as a true freshman and didn't live up to his offensive hype out of high school. But his defense was surprisingly good, and if he can get his 3-point percentage into at least the high 30s - it was a dreadful 29.4 percent last season - Florida's offense will be quite potent.
Why they're here: Last season was a disappointment that ended in the NIT, but Illinois' core of G Demetri McCamey, C Mike Tisdale and F Mike Davis returns, and each is a senior. Tisdale and Davis, an imposing frontcourt duo, are a rarity in college basketball as senior big men. Beyond those key seniors, Illinois is looking for sophomore Gs D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul to build on solid freshman seasons.
The key player: The relationship between McCamey and coach Bruce Weber bears watching. When McCamey is on his game, he's one of the best in the country. But he wasn't consistent, as evidenced by 123 turnovers.
Why they're here: The Tigers are well-versed in coach Mike Anderson's version of the "40 minutes of hell" defense, and they'll again make life difficult for Big 12 foes. Mizzou forced a nation's-high 659 turnovers last season, though some key defenders moved on. But the top three scorers are back, and G Kim English should get more national notice this season.
The key player: Sophomore Michael Dixon should move into departed J.T. Tiller's role as the Tigers' point guard. Dixon did a nice job offensively last season and has the potential to be a solid 3-point shooter. But he needs to turn up the defensive intensity. He has the athleticism to do so.
Why they're here: Butler lost star F Gordon Hayward to the NBA, but most of the other key players from last season's NCAA runner-up return. G Shelvin Mack should develop into an All-America candidate in his junior season. If Butler keeps playing the type of defense it displayed in last season's NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs should win the Horizon League and make a deep postseason run again.
The key player: Senior F/C Matt Howard was the Horizon League player of the year two seasons ago, but his numbers dipped last season as he struggled with foul trouble. Now that Hayward is gone, Howard needs to recapture his 2008-09 production. If he can avoid fouls, Howard should team with Mack to give Butler one of the nation's best inside-outside duos.
Why they're here: The season-ending injury to F Robbie Hummel is not the end of the Boilermakers. F JaJuan Johnson and G E'Twaun Moore could be the best inside-outside duo in the Big Ten. Just as critical for the Boilers' success are Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow, who look to share the point guard spot.
The key player: The replacement for Hummel will be a work-in-progress sophomore (Patrick Bade), a redshirt freshman (Sandi Marcus) and/or a true freshman (Travis Carroll). Junior G Ryne Smith might be just as important filling in for departed role players Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant. Smith will be a defensive specialist off the bench who also can shoot the 3-pointer.
Why they're here: Last season, a depth-shy (and, frankly, talent-shy) Tigers team missed out on the NCAA tourney. That shouldn't happen this season. Coach Josh Pastner brought in an ultra-talented freshman class, and if the newcomers mesh well with holdovers such as F Wesley Witherspoon, the Tigers can make a nice run in March.
The key player: Freshman G Joe Jackson signed with the hometown Tigers out of high school, and it'll be his job to make sure everyone stays on the same page. Jackson was a prolific scorer in high school, but he'll have to worry more about getting his teammates shots than getting his points. He'll still get his points, and we're betting he does a nice job distributing the ball, too.
Why they're here: Virginia Tech returns nine of the top 10 scorers from a team that matched a school record with 25 wins last season. G Malcolm Delaney led the ACC in scoring last year, while F Jeff Allen is the ACC's active career leader in rebounds, steals and blocks. Virginia Tech's recent history of Selection Sunday disappointment should end this season.
The key player: Perhaps no player in the ACC is more indispensible than Delaney. Not only did he lead the conference in scoring last season, he also ranked sixth in assists, third in free-throw percentage and fourth in minutes. He has the talent to lead Virginia Tech to an NCAA bid much in the same way Greivis Vasquez carried Maryland on his back last season.
Why they're here: Fran Dunphy has returned the Owls to the top of the Atlantic 10; last season, he guided the Owls to their best regular season (29-6) since 1987-88. The NCAA tournament is a different story, with three consecutive first-round losses. With the inside-outside duo of F Lavoy Allen (who averaged a double-double last season) and G Juan Fernandez, the Owls have what it takes to extend regular-season success into the NCAA tournament.
The key player: G Ramone Moore averaged 16.1 points over a seven-game stretch in January and February. As unexpected and sudden as the hot streak started, it ended in the last month of the season. With Ryan Brooks gone, Moore will need to play at a high level over the course of the entire season to take some pressure off Fernandez.
Why they're here: The Huskies helped the Pac-10 save face last season with a trip to the Sweet 16, and they look poised to be the class of the conference again. Undersized but high-scoring G Isaiah Thomas leads one of the best and deepest backcourts in the nation.
The key player: F Matthew Bryan-Amaning emerged late last season, becoming one of Washington's best players in the NCAA tournament. He'll need to sustain that level of play through this season. He's by far the Huskies' best option in the frontcourt now that Quincy Pondexter is gone.
Why they're here: The Aztecs return all five starters from a team that went 25-9 and won the Mountain West Conference tournament last season. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas give San Diego State one of the nation's top frontcourts. In seasons when San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has returned at least four starters, his teams have won 72.6 percent of their games.
The key player: Leonard earned first-team All-MWC honors as a freshman and could mature into an All-America candidate as a sophomore. He recorded 17 double-doubles last season and was the MVP of the MWC tournament. He was the only freshman from an NCAA tournament squad last year to lead his team in points and rebounds.
Why they're here: Bob Huggins' Mountaineers made a Final Four run last season, but they lost so much talent that another Final Four appearance is too much to ask. Still, WVU should be in the thick of the race in the Big East. Look for underrated F Kevin Jones to become the go-to guy; he's a physical presence with a nice outside stroke.
The key player: G Joe Mazzulla battled injuries last season, but he is a gritty floor leader who knows what Huggins wants done on both ends of the court. He is the epitome of a "glue guy," and has the potential to average around 10 points and four assists.
Why they're here: The NCAA tournament was a letdown, with the Badgers losing in the second round to Cornell, but Wisconsin has been remarkably consistent in the regular season under coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has won at least 10 Big Ten games in eight of the past nine seasons and reached the tournament in each of the past 12. The Badgers are an experienced group, led by versatile F Jon Leuer and PG Jordan Taylor.
The key player: The departures of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon mean freshmen will need to contribute at guard. Ben Brust can play either guard spot and shoot the "3." Hughes and Bohannon combined to make 142 3-pointers last season. Taylor made 35.
Why they're here: Freshman Tobias Harris arrives with copious press clippings, and he should provide an immediate offensive presence in the paint. His arrival means the Vols have enough talent to challenge for the SEC East title, but an ongoing NCAA investigation could take its toll.
The key player: Junior G Scotty Hopson has shown flashes of stardom, but he has lacked consistency. This needs to be the season he breaks through. He is a silky-smooth player with big-time range, and his size (6-7) helps him overpower smaller defenders.