Whether it's an exercise in fun or futility, Rivals.com annually presents its first top 25 preseason basketball poll assuming every player who has yet to declare for the NBA Draft will be back on
campus next season.
Do we believe that will happen? Hardly. But we're not going to try and predict who will and who won't, either. We simply will report that news when it happens.
Nobody believed Florida would return intact after it won the national championship in 2006. But Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean
Green decided to stick with it and give a repeat the old college try, and sure enough they pulled it off Monday.
Who knows, maybe they will again.
Wow, what a year it would be if every underclassman returned. And even if they don't, you can savor what could have been. We'll roll out another poll when the deadline for underclassmen to declare
for the NBA Draft comes on April 29. If necessary we'll update it on June 18, the last date in which players can pull out of the draft.
Here is the first Rivals.com 2007-2008 preseason poll:
Any questions? The Gators became the first team to repeat as national champs with the same starting lineup. If everyone comes back, they'd lose one starter (Lee Humphrey) and their sixth man (Chris Richard).
However, if Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green return would you bet against three in a row? Mix in
Rivals.com's fifth-ranked recruiting class, led by five-star Nick Calathes, and you've got a dynasty.
Imagine Greg Oden playing for an entire season like he did in the NCAA Championship game. The
Buckeyes do lose Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris, and Lewis' scoring punch was huge in the
tournament. But with another year Thad Matta can rightfully expect even more out of Oden and classmates Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and David
Lighty. The coach also has gone out and signed another top-notch class, ranked sixth by Rivals.com.
The Tar Heels were an overtime loss from reaching the Final Four. Almost every significant contributor is back, save for senior forward Reyshawn Terry and his 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. But his loss should be more than compensated for among Rivals.com First Team
All-American Tyler Hansbrough, Rivals.com First Team Freshman All-American Brandan
Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson.
The dream of another national title died hard again, again at the hands of Florida. Perhaps it will be enough motivation for everyone to return for another go. Arron Afflalo earned Pac-10 Player of the Year honors by scoring 16.9 points per game, and he has one year of eligibility remaining. As a matter of
fact, the entire UCLA roster has eligibility remaining. Add five-star center recruit Kevin Love, and the Bruins are poised to make the
Final Four again.
The Hoyas are loaded for another Final Four run because their top 11 scorers are scheduled to return, including Big East Player of the Year Jeff
Green and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. If each is more assertive on the offensive end, there's little doubt this team is a threat to win it all in 2008. DaJuan Summers could make a quantum leap next season, and the guard tandem of Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp will be one of the nation's best.
The Jayhawks won 33 games without a senior, so you have to like their chances next season. Unlike the teams currently ahead of them in our poll, they probably won't lose any of their underclassmen to the NBA. Classmates Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers
and Julian Wright form the nucleus of a group that will be favored in the Big 12. It is a group that could top our next preseason poll if
loads of players on the teams in our top five depart.
We think we know it isn't going to happen, but what if consensus national player of the year Kevin Durant returns for his sophomore season?
Scary to consider what he could do in an encore, not to mention the rest of the Longhorns. Rick Barnes' team is slated to return its top eight
scorers from a season in which it won 25 games. Durant or not, look for the backcourt of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams to be a major force next season.
First and foremost the Tigers kept their coach. Probably a wise move for both. John Calipari is looking at a roster loaded with talent and only one
major loss – senior guard Jeremy Hunt. Those who could return include leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.4 points) and frontcourt bruiser Joey Dorsey (8.5 ppg and
team-leading 9.4 rebounds per game). The Tigers also have Rivals' No. 11 recruiting class.
The Cardinals' top seven scorers are slated to return, including second-team All Big East selections Terrence Williams and David Padgett and second-leading scorer Edgar Sosa. Rick Pitino did one of the finest coaching jobs of his career with this young team. Louisville won 24 games before being ousted by
Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With almost 94 percent of their scoring back, don't look for another early exit.
The Trojans were an NCAA Tournament revelation. Picked by many to be a first-round casualty, Tim Floyd's young team blasted
Arkansas and Texas before bowing out against North Carolina. Only 3-point specialist Lodrick Stewart was a major contributor among the seniors. Players such as Nick Young (17.5 ppg) and Taj Gibson
(12.2 ppg) served notice in the tourney that they'll be back. And the recruiting class is ranked second by Rivals.com.
The Vols led Ohio State by 20 late in the first half of their Sweet 16 matchup before stumbling down the stretch. They should be stronger for it. Every player on the roster is scheduled
to return save for Dane Bradshaw. The lone senior did a lot of little things for UT, but his numbers should be
compensated for amply. SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton has loftier goals next season, and they're attainable with his improving supporting
Watch out for Tom Izzo's Spartans. There isn't a senior on the roster, and his team played a brutal conference schedule last season with two
games each against the top three teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana). Guard Drew Neitzel (18.1 ppg) is a dynamic
scorer, and freshman forward Raymar Morgan (11.7 ppg) is only going to get better. Izzo played nine guys at least 10 minutes a
game, and that should prove invaluable.
The Yellow Jackets lose only one senior, and none of their top eight scorers. Paul Hewitt's young bunch showed flashes
of brilliance in winning seven of nine down the stretch after a rough start in ACC play. Guard Javaris Crittenton (14.4 ppg, 5.8 apg) was a Rivals.com Second Team Freshman All-American, and forward Thaddeus Young (14.4 ppg) was on our third team. They are explosive players who would benefit from at least one more season.
The Hoosiers lose senior guards Roderick Wilmont (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Earl Calloway
(9.6 ppg), but there still is plenty to be excited about in Bloomington. Leading scorer and rebounder D.J. White (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is back, and
Kelvin Sampson has lured a class that is ranked ninth nationally by Rivals.com. The headliner is shooting guard Eric Gordon, a five-star prospect out of Indianapolis who is ranked the No. 2 player in the land.
The Golden Eagles return their top seven scorers, including guards Dominic James (14.9 ppg), Jerel McNeal (14.7 ppg; Big East Defensive Player of the Year) and Wesley Matthews (12.6 ppg). But perhaps the most important guy for Marquette to hang onto is coach Tom Crean, who has been linked to several of the high-profile jobs. If no one flies the nest, the Golden Eagles will be a threat in the Big East and beyond.
16. Kansas State(23-12)
Everybody figured Bob Huggins would get it rolling in the Little Apple, but perhaps not this soon. After narrowly missing out on the NCAA
Tournament in his first season, Huggins has the Wildcats poised to crash the dance in 2008 with Rivals.com's top-ranked recruiting class, led by No. 1 prospect Michael Beasley. Beasley and former five-star prospect Bill Walker, who's recovering from a torn ACL, should form a dynamic duo.
17. Mississippi State(21-14)
The Bulldogs are slated to lose only one of their top nine scorers. Rivals.com Third Team All-American Jamont Gordon is the go-to guy for Rick Stansbury. The rising junior from Nashville led MSU in
scoring (16.0 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and assists (5.3 apg), and he was the only player in the SEC to rank in the top 10 in all three categories. His top running mate is F-C Charles Rhodes (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
Former five-star prospect Chase Budinger, a Rivals.com second-team Freshman All-American, already has said he'll return. More good news for the Wildcats will arrive in the fall in the form of Rivals.com's fourth-ranked recruiting class. It's headlined by a pair of five-star prospects – shooting guard Jerryd Bayless (No. 10 overall) and small forward Jamelle Horne (No. 19). Lute Olson also has leading scorer Marcus Williams (16.6 ppg) back.
19. N.C. State(20-16)
The Wolfpack had a terrific run in their first season under Sidney Lowe, making the ACC tournament final then winning a couple of games in the
NIT. Redshirt freshman Brandon Costner was a revelation, earning Rivals.com Third Team Freshman All-America honors with 16.8 points and
7.3 rebounds per game. N.C. State also welcomes back three more double-digit scorers and a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks 19th nationally.
The Cardinal had only one senior among its top 12 scorers, and he wasn't among the top three. Chief among the players scheduled to return are the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin. Brook was a
Rivals.com Second Team Freshman All-American with 12.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. His brother averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. They're joined by leading scorer Lawrence Hill (15.7 ppg) and Anthony Goods (12.8 ppg).
The Orange suffer heavy graduation losses in the form of leading scorer Demetris Nichols, leading rebounder Terrence Roberts and center Darryl Watkins. But coach Jim Boeheim has plenty of building blocks, including shooting guard Eric Devendorf (14.8 ppg) and
forward Paul Harris (8.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg). He also has the nation's third-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com, which features a pair of
The entire starting lineup and the first three players off the bench return for coach Lorenzo Romar, whose Huskies won four games against ranked
teams. Spencer Hawes (14.9 ppg), Jon Brockman (14.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Quincy Pondexter (10.7 ppg) have a chance to be one of the best frontcourts in the nation. Guards Ryan
Appleby and Justin Dentmon also averaged in double figures. Romar is bringing in the No. 21-ranked class in the nation.
Josh McRoberts already has declared for the NBA Draft, but the Blue Devils are set for the rest of their roster to return. The leading returning
scorers are all guards – DeMarcus Nelson (14.1 ppg), Jon Scheyer (12.2 ppg) and
Greg Paulus (11.8). Former five-star prospect Gerald Henderson (6.8 ppg) will need to
raise his game for Duke to reach the next level, and the nation's No. 8 recruiting class will have to live up to every bit of its hype.
Jermareo Davidson's career came to a close, and he'll be missed, but the rest of the roster returns. The key question will be the
health of point guard Ronald Steele, who underwent surgery after knee problems caused his scoring average to dip from 14.3 to 8.6 points per game. A healthy Steele teamed with Richard Hendrix (14.6 ppg),
Alonzo Gee (12.6 ppg) and Mykal Riley (12.6 ppg) would mean a return to the NCAA Tourney.
There's just too much talent on the Huskies roster for them to be down for another season. Jim Calhoun fielded a very young lineup, and every
significant contributor returns. Guard Jerome Dyson (13.8 ppg) had a fine freshman season, and fellow frosh Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-3 center, ranked third nationally in blocks with 3.8 per game. Forward Jeff
Adrien (13.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg) led the Big East in double-doubles with 15.
Also receiving votes (listed alphabetically)
Arkansas, Gonzaga, Southern Illinois, Texas A&M, UNLV, Villanova, Washington State, West Virginia, Wisconsin