Roy Hibbert, Dominic James and a couple of Mississippi State teammates have seen to it that the third Rivals.com 2007-2008 preseason basketball poll is a mashup of our first two polls.
Our first poll ran shortly after Florida won its second consecutive national championship. It was done assuming every underclassman would, in fact, return to school. The Gators, who topped that poll because Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green had another year of eligibility, plummeted to 25th in our second poll. That version came out following the deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA Draft. It was done assuming everyone who put his name in the draft would, in fact, go pro.
Our final preseason poll until the fall takes into account players who pulled out of the draft. Those include the Big East power duo of Hibbert and James, who immediately propel Georgetown up our rankings and Marquette back into our rankings. Also staying in school are Bulldogs standouts Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes, who make Mississippi State a major contender in the SEC.
Another net result of all of this movement? The two-time defending national champion Gators are no longer in our top 25. The nation's No. 1 recruiting class by Rivals will have something to prove when it takes the court in November.
Here is the third installment of the Rivals.com 2007-08 Preseason Basketball Top 25:
Brandan Wright is a significant loss, possibly more on the defensive end. He was sixth in the ACC in blocks last season. While the Tar Heels will miss him, there still is plenty of reason for optimism. Tyler Hansbrough (18.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg) will be a leading candidate for national player of the year honors. The backcourt of Ty Lawson (10.2 ppg, 5.6 apg) and Wayne Ellington (11.7 ppg) will be one of the ACC's best, if not the nation's.
Ten of the top 11 scorers return for John Calipari's Tigers, including leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.4 ppg). Memphis also can lean on the big man up front, Joey Dorsey (8.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg). The lone loss is senior Jeremy Hunt, the team's second-leading scorer and leader in 3-pointers. But five-star recruit Derrick Rose figures to step in quite capably. Make no mistake: C-USA or not, the Tigers are big-time contenders.
Ben Howland needn't lament the loss of junior guard Arron Afflalo for long. He need only look at the powerful trio returning to know there won't be any drop-off. Point guard Darren Collison (12.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) is poised for a breakout season, and he'll get plenty of help from forwards Josh Shipp (13.3 ppg) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (8.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg). UCLA also welcomes five-star center recruit Kevin Love.
The good news is leading scorer Brandon Rush (13.8 ppg) has decided to return for his junior season. The bad news is he'll have to recover from ACL surgery on June 1. Still, there is plenty of talent that will get a chance to shine while Rush regains his form. The Jayhawks can rely on guards Sherron Collins (9.3 ppg) and Mario Chalmers (12.2 ppg) and big man Darrell Arthur (9.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
The top seven scorers return, including forward Terrence Williams (12.4 ppg). The rising junior added 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per outing, displaying an all-court game that elevated the Cardinals to a second-place finish in the rugged Big East. Williams gets plenty of help from guard Edgar Sosa (11.4 ppg), center David Padgett (9.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and forward Derrick Caracter (8.1 ppg in just 13.3 minutes).
Bruce Pearl has been building excitement since his arrival, and it may reach a crescendo next season. SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton (20.8 ppg) returns to lead a bevy of talented athletes. JaJuan Smith had a breakout season - he took his scoring average from 9.5 to 15.2 ppg - and rising sophomore point guard Ramar Smith (10.7 ppg) could be next. If Iowa transfer Tyler Smith is able to get eligible immediately, look out for the Vols.
The return of D.J. White (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who mulled leaving for the NBA Draft, gives the Hoosiers stability up front. But the player generating the most excitement in Bloomington is incoming freshman Eric Gordon, a five-star shooting guard from Indianapolis who could be this season's biggest impact newcomer nationally. He and Armon Bassett will form a tough backcourt.
The Spartans had no seniors on the roster last season and still posted 23 wins and made the NCAA Tournament. Guard Drew Neitzel (18.1 ppg, 4.3 apg) will be among the nation's best at his position, and rising sophomore forward Raymar Morgan (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) could make the kind of jump that Neitzel made last season. Throw in a recruiting class ranked 14th nationally by Rivals, and things are looking good in East Lansing.
It's not often a team can lose its top three scorers and still check into a preseason poll in the top 10. It speaks volumes for what Tim Floyd is doing at USC. Underclassmen Nick Young (17.5 ppg) and Gabe Pruitt (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg) have entered the draft, and Lodrick Stewart (13.8 ppg) finished his eligibility. But post Taj Gibson (12.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg) can pick up plenty of the slack, as can Rivals' No. 3 recruiting class - which is led by O.J. Mayo.
With open arms the Hoyas welcome back the long arms of Hibbert. A possible lottery pick, the 7-2 center opted to return because of "unfinished business." The guards - Jonathan Wallace (11.4 ppg, 49 percent from 3-point range) and Jessie Sapp (9.1 ppg) - are solid. The guy who has to make the quantum leap to help Georgetown get over the early departure of Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green is DaJaun Summers (9.2 ppg), and he's capable.
11. Kansas State
Rank in first poll: 16
Rank in second poll: 10
The Wildcats didn't lose anybody early to the NBA (they might next year), but they did lose coach Bob Huggins after just one season. K-State managed to keep things somewhat intact, though. Frank Martin was promoted to head coach and convinced assistant coach Dalonte Hill to remain at K-State. Because they stayed, so did former five-star prospect Bill Walker, who mulled a transfer. It also helped keep intact a recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the country by Rivals.com. The group is headed by Michael Beasley, Rivals.com's top-ranked prospect.
The leader for the Wildcats will be forward Chase Budinger (15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a former five-star prospect who lived up to expectations his freshman season. Lute Olson also welcomes a recruiting class ranked fifth nationally by Rivals.com. The five-man incoming group includes a pair of five-star prospects - shooting guard Jerryd Bayless and small forward Jamelle Horne.
Nine of the top 10 scorers return for the Cardinal, one of the last teams to make the NCAA Tournament field last season. Coach Trent Johnson's squad is loaded up front with Lawrence Hill (15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and the 7-foot Lopez twins. Brook Lopez averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. Robin Lopez contributed 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and a Pac-10-leading 2.3 blocked shots per game.
The Cougars, one of last season's biggest surprises, won't have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone. They return everyone except senior Ivory Clark (8.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg), and there are few worries thanks to the presence of leading scorer Derrick Low (13.8 ppg) and glue guy Kyle Weaver (11.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.6 apg). WSU led the Pac-10 in scoring defense and figures to smother opponents again next season.
So how do we explain the Golden Eagles going from 15th to out of the poll to back to 15th? Easy … Dominic James. The diminutive yet explosive point guard had his name in the NBA Draft until the final week before deciding he needed another year in college. He led Marquette in scoring (14.9 ppg) and assists (4.9 apg), but shot horrifically (38.4 percent). James gives Tom Crean all five returning starters.
The Bulldogs welcome back Coaches All-SEC first-team pick Jamont Gordon (16.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.3 apg) and Coaches All-SEC second-team choice Charles Rhodes (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), both of whom considered making the jump to the pros. There has been some turmoil in the program with several players transferring, but Rick Stansbury's team should be able to absorb the losses.
18. N.C. State
Rank in first poll: 19
Rank in second poll: 16
Sidney Lowe has done a quick and masterful job of rebuilding his alma mater. Former four-star prospect Brandon Costner burst onto the scene in his redshirt freshman season (16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg). He'll get plenty of help up front from Ben McCauley (14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg). Lowe also inked Rivals.com's No. 19 recruiting class. The only significant loss is point guard Engin Atsur (11.3 ppg, team-leading 4.2 apg).
Kevin Durant made his one-and-done season a memorable one in Austin. But even though he's gone, there is no reason for Longhorns fans to worry. Durant's classmates D.J. Augustin (14.4 ppg, 6.7 apg), Justin Mason (7.6 ppg) and Damion James (7.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) will be that much better as sophomores. Throw in A.J. Abrams (15.5 ppg) and the nation's No. 22 recruiting class, and you can forget about any huge drop-off.
Rank in first poll: 25
Rank in second poll: 15
The Huskies were an unmitigated disappointment last season, finishing 12th in the Big East. The good news is everyone returns, including 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. He considered entering the NBA Draft after a freshman season in which he finished third nationally in blocked shots (3.8 per game). Jeff Adrien (13.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg) is a consistent performer, and Jerome Dyson (13.8 ppg) could have a breakout sophomore season.
Senior guard Aaron Brooks led the Ducks in scoring (17.7 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg), but even with his departure there is plenty of reason for optimism. The next four scorers return, including Bryce Taylor (14.1 ppg), Malik Hairston (11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and freshman dynamo Tajuan Porter (14.6 ppg). Forward Maarty Leunen (10.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) has improved steadily in each of his first three seasons.
The success or failure of the Tide hinges on the same thing it did last season: the health of Ronald Steele. The point guard had surgery on both knees in early April. If he's 100 percent he should get back to being the player who averaged 14.3 ppg as a freshman, not 8.6 as a sophomore. He'll still have the luxury of dropping the ball off to Richard Hendrix (14.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Alonzo Gee (12.6 ppg) or Mykal Riley (12.6 ppg).
It will be interesting to watch Chris Lowery and the Salukis this season because they'll be wearing a target. Seniors Jamaal Tatum (15.2 ppg) and Tony Young (9.9 ppg) are gone, but SIU returns frontcourters Randal Falker (12.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Matt Shaw (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Few teams play defense as well as this unit.