April 8, 2009

Rivals.com early preseason top 25

While this season came to an end Monday night in expected fashion, it's never too early to look ahead and predict who will be cutting down the nets next season in Indianapolis.

For this early look at the top 25 - make that early, early look - we are working under the assumption that those underclassmen who have not already declared for the draft are going to return to school.

We know that assumption is wrong, so we'll update our predictions later this month after the underclassmen declaration date, then again in late June after the deadline to pull out of the draft passes.

1. Kansas
The buzz: If Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich come back to school instead of entering the NBA draft, the Jayhawks will return everyone who played at least 2.5 minutes per game this season. In that case, don't be surprised if Kansas wins its second national title in three years.
2. Syracuse
The buzz: The Orange advanced to the Sweet 16 without a senior who averaged more than 3.1 points per game. If point guard Jonny Flynn stays in school, Syracuse should be the class of the Big East and a legitimate national title contender.
3. North Carolina
The buzz: Keep in mind that this ranking is based on the idea that Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington stay in school, and recent history suggests that scenario is unlikely. After North Carolina won the national title in 2005, all its top underclassmen chose to enter the draft.
4. Purdue
The buzz: The Boilermakers should return six of their top seven scorers from a team that won the Big Ten tournament and reached a regional semifinal this year. Purdue's top three players - E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel - could develop into one of the top trios in the nation next season.
5. Michigan State
The buzz: Michigan State must find replacements for center Goran Suton and defensive specialist Travis Walton, but the Spartans should return all the other key players from the team that reached the national championship game. Raymar Morgan showed against Connecticut what he could do if he stays healthy for the entire season.
6. Duke
The buzz: Assuming nobody leaves early for the NBA draft, Duke will return all five starters from the team that reached the Sweet 16 this season. Once again, though, Duke's lack of an elite point guard and center could keep the Blue Devils from being a legitimate Final Four contender.
7. USC
The buzz: USC barely made it into the NCAA tournament this season, but the Trojans got there without a senior averaging more than 3.1 points per game. DeMar DeRozan came on strong late in the season and could develop into an All-American if he sticks around for his sophomore season.
8. Villanova
The buzz: Villanova must replace all three of the frontcourt starters (Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson) from its Final Four team, but the Wildcats also bring in a recruiting class that includes three of the nation's top 25 prospects.
9. Texas
The buzz: Dexter Pittman already has indicated he will return to school next season, and he could emerge as one of the nation's top big men if he picks up where he left off at the end of the season. The Longhorns now must hope that Damion James also decides to come back.
10. Tennessee
The buzz: Tyler Smith hasn't announced his intentions for the NBA draft. If he returns, the Volunteers won't lose any key players off this season's team, for better or worse.
11. Butler
The buzz: With a full season of experience from Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack and all five starters back, the Bulldogs should be improved from the team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament this season. An undefeated season in the Horizon League is a possibility.
12. Connecticut
The buzz: No word yet on Hasheem Thabeet. With the 7-3 center, the Huskies will be a factor in the Big East even with A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien gone. What is coach Jim Calhoun going to do?
13. West Virginia
The buzz: The Mountaineers are poised to make a leap to the top of the Big East, especially if Devin Ebanks builds on his late-season momentum.
14. Wake Forest
The buzz: James Johnson is gone, and Al-Farouq Aminu and Jeff Teague might follow. If that duo returns, the Demon Deacons should be a factor in the ACC.
15. Ohio State
The buzz: Center B.J. Mullens declared for the draft after a season as the Buckeyes' sixth man. Ohio State should get David Lighty back from injury to team with Evan Turner and William Buford.
16. Washington
The buzz: The Huskies will miss the steady leadership of Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon. But Pac-10 freshman of the year Isaiah Thomas will team with five-star recruit Abdul Gaddy in the backcourt.
17. Arizona State
The buzz: There's no word yet on star guard James Harden, who could be a lottery pick. If Harden follows senior Jeff Pendergraph out of town, it will be a rebuilding season in Tempe.
18. Michigan
The buzz: Michigan shouldn't go another 11 years between tournament appearances with four starters returning to a team that upset Clemson in the first round. Do-it-all guard Manny Harris is a great fit in John Beilein's offense.
19. Georgetown
The buzz: The young Hoyas flopped in Big East play. Georgetown loses Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers, but will count on center Greg Monroe to take on a bigger role as a sophomore.
20. Siena
The buzz: Fran McCaffrey has things going with the Saints. Siena loses just one starter from a mid-major team that has been to the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons.
21. Minnesota
The buzz: The top eight players are back for Tubby Smith. The Golden Gophers have the tough defense part down pat. Next season, they need to become more proficient offensively.
22. Louisville
The buzz: Coach Rick Pitino is losing a lot of talent. But he also has some good recruits coming in, and some reserves this season will be expected to become key starters next season (we're talking about you, Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings).
23. Xavier
The buzz: We're showing some faith in the Xavier athletic department with this pick, as there is no coach in place. But there is good talent in place.
24. Kansas State
The buzz: The Wildcats lose only one starter and bring in touted recruit Wally Judge, meaning a top-four finish in the Big 12 will be a legitimate goal.
25. Illinois
The buzz: The Fighting Illini won't sneak up on anyone next season. They'll be expected to contend for the Big Ten title thanks to defense and a good frontcourt.
(David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee compiled these rankings)



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