There is no argument when it comes to picking the top team for the upcoming college basketball season. At least not from our panel of voters.
Florida received every first-place vote and it's easy to see why. The Gators bring back their top seven players from a team that won the program's first national title last April.
But that doesn't mean the Gators aren't without worthy competition. North Carolina and Kansas, who landed at Nos. 2 and 3 in our preseason poll, made the top five of every ballot. The tradition-rich
programs might have more talent than the Gators.
SEC rivals LSU and Alabama also landed in the top 10, and there are some dangerous dark horses as well.
Duke could be the biggest enigma after the breaking news that point guard Greg Paulus broke his foot and underwent surgery this morning. The
Blue Devils were originally ranked No. 10, but fell to No. 14 when we re-voted after hearing of Paulus' injury.
Rivals.com 2006-07 Preseason Basketball Top 25
Only one national champion has managed to repeat in the last 33 years (Duke in 1991-92), but very few brought back all five starters like the veteran-laden Gators. Perhaps none brought back a better frontcourt. Small forward Corey Brewer, power forward Al Horford and center Joakim Noah (the Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 Final Four) are all future first-round picks. The Gators also bring back their sixth and seventh men, guard Walter Hodge and big man Chris Richard.
Here's a scary realization for the rest of college basketball: Roy Williams has never had this much talent or this much depth on any of his teams. Not during his run to the national title a year ago. Not at Kansas. Not even during his days as Dean Smith's assistant at UNC. The addition of six freshmen - the nation's top-ranked recruiting class - to a young team that returns four starters and three key reserves will give the Tar Heels a rotation that goes at least 11 deep.
The Jayhawks have been eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. For that to happen this season, it will probably take a No. 15 or No. 16 seed to pull off the remarkable upset. Kansas returns all five starters from a team that won 15 of its last 16 games entering the NCAA Tournament last season. Plus, they've added a pair of five-star prospects, explosive point guard Sherron Collins and mega-athletic power forward Darrell Arthur.
Many publications have labeled Pittsburgh the favorite in the Big East, but our panel likes the Hoyas. There are two big reasons why – 6-foot-8 combo forward Jeff Green and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. They were the two best players on a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season, and both look poised for breakthrough seasons. Green will touch the ball a lot more with forward Brandon Bowman gone. Hibbert, a former 300-pounder, shed 20 pounds in the offseason. Freshman forward DaJuan Summers, a five-star recruit, should help immediately as well.
With just seven scholarship players, the Tide nearly knocked off eventual national runner-up UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Now, we get to see what the Tide can do with a little bit of depth. Six freshmen join a team that is designed around the trio of point guard Ron Steele and big men Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix. Speedy sophomore guard Alonzo Gee could also emerge as another scoring threat.
6. Ohio State
Just how much will Greg Oden's wrist surgery costs the Buckeyes? Three spots when it comes to our preseason polls. They were ranked No. 3 in our last poll in May. The 7-foot prep phenom is tentatively scheduled to return in January. A stellar five-man recruiting class gives them plenty of talent in addition to Oden. Shooting guard Daequan Cook has the athleticism to make a big impact right away. Still, they need Oden to regain the form that made him the consensus No. 1 prospect in the class of 2006 to be a Final Four threat.
Could the Tigers be even better without Tyrus Thomas (the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft)? Possibly. Reigning SEC Player of the Year Glen Davis turned down a chance to go pro. After losing 20-plus pounds this summer, he looks like a National Player of the Year candidate. Big Baby will be surrounded by a number of weapons again. Versatile small forward Tasmin Mitchell looks poised to emerge as one of the top players in the SEC. A pair of transfers, guards Dameon Mason (Marquette) and Terry Martin - who were each top 75 recruits - will make immediate impacts. They also get back former starting point guard Tack Minor, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
Most of the Big East's premier programs lost their top players. Not the Panthers. Seven-foot center Aaron Gray, the only player in the league to average a double-double last season (14 ppg, 11 rpg), decided to pull out of the NBA draft at the last minute. Gray and promising sophomore power forward Sam Young should make the Panthers very tough on the inside. There are some big questions to answer in the backcourt however, namely finding a replacement for gutsy guard Carl Krauser. The fiery leader made several clutch shots in the last two seasons.
The Badgers have the best player (Alando Tucker) and the deepest team in the Big Ten. Throw in Bo Ryan, who has the highest winning percentage of any coach with 20-plus years of experience, and it's easy to see why they crack our top 10. Tucker has raised his scoring average in each of his three seasons, bumping it up to 19.0 ppg last season. Point guard Kammron Taylor (14.2 ppg) gives them a solid second scoring option. There's also a good corps of valuable role players, including wing Marcus Landry and center Greg Stiesmsma. The Badgers were 14-2 with Landry and Stiesmsma in the lineup last season.
Apparently our panel doesn't believe losing Major Wingate will affect the Vols. The defending SEC East champs were also ranked No. 11 in our April poll, before the big man was kicked off the team. The Vols will be more athletic and more talented, thanks to the addition of three top-50 recruits, point guard Ramar Smith and forwards Duke Crews and Wayne Chism. But, they'll also be much younger, play a more difficult schedule and all three star recruits may have to start.
Savvy point guard Jordan Farmar is gone, but the Bruins still have enough talent to get back to the national title game. Shooting guard Arron Afflalo might be the best player in the Pac-10. Versatile forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year last season, looks ready to emerge as one of the league's top players as well. The return of underrated small forward Josh Shipp, who missed most of last season with a hip injury, should provide a lift. Speedy sophomore Darren Collison, who played heavy minutes last season, will replace Farmar. Collison's play will be pivotal to the Bruins' success.
If the Wildcats play up to their massive potential they will finish the season well inside the top 10. There may be three first-round draft picks on the roster: point guard Mustafa Shakur, small forward Marcus Williams and prize recruit Chase Budinger. Williams can carry much of the scoring load. Budinger, a freakish athlete, will help the offense immediatley. Shakur remains the key for the Wildcats. His erratic play and shaky decision making have held the team back in the past.
No team is expecting a bigger turnaround than the Jackets, who have added a pair of top-10 prospects. Explosive point guard Javaris Crittenton should be a great fit for an experienced team. Scoring weapons include shooing guards Anthony Morrow and Lewis Clinch and power forward Jeremis Smith. Versatile forward Thaddeus Young will provide immediate help on the defensive end, where he can guard several positions.
The post-Reddick/Williams era has begun in Krzyzewskiville. While a drop-off is certainly expected, the Blue Devils still have the talent to reach a 10th consecutive Sweet 16. They reeled in the nation's No. 5 recruiting class, led by guard Gerald Henderson - who could be the most athletic player in the program since Corey Maggette. Still, sophomores Greg Paulus - who underwent surgery for a broken foot this week - and Josh McRoberts are the biggest keys. Paulus must get healthy by the time ACC play starts and both he and McRoberts need to have breakthrough seasons.
The Huskies are one of the rare programs that can lose five starters (four of which were first round picks) and rebound with another top-25 team. They reloaded with an eight-man recruiting class that includes another wave of future NBA players. The return of point guard A.J. Price, a former elite recruit who hasn't played in two years, will provide a big boost as well.
The Aggies' run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament (their first appearance in the Big Dance since 1987) last season was no fluke. Year Three of the Billy Gillispie era will provide proof of that. All their key players are back, including clutch-shooting point guard Acie Law and power forward Joseph Jones - perhaps the best big man in the Big 12. The addition of a top-25 recruiting class and redshirt freshman center Chinemelu Elonu will give them the depth they lacked last season.
Craig Smith is gone, but do-everything small forward Jared Dudley might have been more valuable to the Eagles last season. Look for Dudley to emerge as a star. If the Eagles can get some steady offensive production down low from center Sean Williams, they'll emerge as a threat to make another deep postseason run.
Dominic James might be the best guard in the Big East. With a small lineup, coach Tom Crean plans to use a more up-tempo offense and take full advantage of his deep crop of talented guards.
The Cardinals looked like a contender for the Big East title until veteran guard Brandon Jenkins broke his leg in the offseason. There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding when he'll return. But, with the addition of four top-100 recruits, the Cards are much deeper and look like an NCAA Tournament team again.
All-American Nick Fazekas won't regret the decision to return for his senior season. This will be the most talented team he has played on at Nevada. The Wolf Pack have a legitimate shot at making a Sweet 16 run.
No team lost more than Longhorns, who must replace all five starters. But few teams added more. They welcome seven freshmen that make up Rivals.com's No. 3-ranked recruiting class. Mega-talented wing Kevin Durant has a good chance to be the National Freshman of the Year.
Forward Curtis Sumpter might have been the Wildcats' best player two seasons ago before he suffered the first of two ACL tears. After missing all of 2005-06, he makes his return and will be the focal point for a much younger squad that will have to rely on freshmen, too.
Nobody is expecting the Huskies to come away with another Pac-10 title. Not after losing star Brandon Roy, who single-handily carried the Huskies on many nights. But Lorenzo Romar has developed a reputation for getting his teams to overachieve. With the addition of 6-11 center Spencer Hawes (a top-10 recruit), Romar will have plenty of talent to work with once again.
Don't expect the Pride to narrowly miss out on an NCAA Tournament bid again. This team has Cinderella written all over it. Their top three scorers are back from a team that beat George Mason twice last season.
Adam Morrison has begun for the 'Zags. Losing big man J.P. Batista is another heavy blow. But with the addition of top 50 recruit Matt Bouldin and Kansas transfer and McDonald's All-American Micah Downs, there is still enough talent to be the premier mid-major program.
Others receiving votes: Creighton, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan and Southern Illinois.