April 6, 2011

Rivals.com 2011-2012 Early Preseason Top 25

With the 2010-11 season in the books, let's take an early look - an early, early look - at the 2011-12 campaign.

For the purposes of this exercise, we use the premise that those who have declared for the draft will stay in the draft and those who have not declared will not do so.

Of course, that is folly. Still, it's a starting point for our early top 25.

1. Kentucky
Nobody will be complaining about the Wildcats' lack of depth if Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins remain on campus to welcome a freshman class that features five-star prospects Anthony Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.
2. Connecticut
Keeping this ranking is contingent on Kemba Walker returning for his senior season. We already saw how much freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier improved during the tournament. Imagine how much they could accomplish if they got another season to work alongside Walker. Starting C Alex Oriakhi is expected to return, too. Without Walker, the Huskies would plummet out of the top 10.
3. North Carolina
The return of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller would give North Carolina the nation's most formidable front line. The addition of five-star prospects James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston would make the Tar Heels even stronger in the frontcourt. North Carolina also should benefit from having PG Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup all year. The Heels' outside shooting needs improvement, though.
4. Arizona
If F Derrick Williams returns to school, he would head into his junior season as the odds-on favorite for the Naismith and Wooden awards. Williams got much more help from his supporting cast in the tournament, so he probably wouldn't have to be nearly as much of a one-man show next season. The Wildcats also will have one of the nation's top freshman point guards in Josiah Turner.
5. Ohio State
Jared Sullinger already has said he will return for his sophomore season. The Buckeyes also bring back PG Aaron Craft, who is rapidly developing into one of the nation's best perimeter defenders. That duo, swingman William Buford and another good recruiting class should help the Buckeyes withstand the losses of Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty.
6. Duke
If G Kyrie Irving returns to school, Duke arguably would have the nation's top backcourt with Irving, incoming freshman Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. The Blue Devils also add a third Plumlee brother up front but lose senior standouts Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.
7. Louisville
The loss of G Preston Knowles will hurt, but the Cardinals return just about everyone else from a team that overachieved all season before getting upset in its opening NCAA tournament game. Louisville also adds two top-35 recruits in Chane Behanan (No. 23) and Wayne Blackshear (No. 32).
8. Syracuse
Rick Jackson was the only senior on Syracuse's roster this season. Kris Joseph should develop into an All-America candidate next season. Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters give the Orange a solid backcourt trio. This team could be really special if Fab Melo improves in his sophomore year and 6-foot-8 C Rakeem Christmas - the No. 12 recruit in the nation - quickly adapts to the college game.
9. Texas
The Longhorns looked like a Final Four-caliber team in each of the past two seasons - until February rolled around. Texas will continue to have ample talent in Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and J'Covan Brown. The question remains if this group can put together a full season.
10. Kansas
Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears reports that Marcus and Markieff Morris are headed to the draft, as is G Josh Selby. Solid senior Gs Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are gone, too. F Thomas Robinson, some talented holdovers who haven't played key minutes and incoming freshmen will have to carry the team.
11. Florida
The frontcourt will miss Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, but Patric Young should offset some of those losses. The Gators could have a stellar backcourt with Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and five-star recruit Brad Beal joining incumbent starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. But will each guy get enough shots?
12. Vanderbilt
The Commodores can't find a way to win an NCAA tournament opener, but this would be one of the most experienced teams in the country next season if everyone returns. Vanderbilt had three seniors this season, but two were walk-ons and the other redshirted. That means Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli will have a chance to atone for an NCAA tourney loss to 12th-seeded Richmond.
13. Texas A&M
The only two Aggies who averaged in double figures - Khris Middleton and David Loubeau - are set to return. Guard depth will be boosted by Washington transfer Elston Turner, who will be eligible after sitting out a year. Defense will remain the Aggies' calling card.
14. Temple
The Owls will miss C Lavoy Allen, but they will have an impressive guard tandem in Ramone Moore (15.2 points per game) and Juan Fernandez (11.2 points). A healthy Michael Eric will give Temple balance in the frontcourt.
15. Butler
The Bulldogs recovered from losing Gordon Hayward and returned to the national championship game. They'll have a similar void next season without Matt Howard. Butler still has Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored, and will look to Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall and Chase Stigall to improve. Chrishawn Hopkins is another to keep an eye on.
16. Memphis
The Tigers went through some growing pains this season, befitting a team with so much youth. But all those young guys will have a season of experience in 2011-12, and there is good talent on the roster. Young coach Josh Pastner still has to prove he's up to the task of leading a top-15-type team.
17. Gonzaga
The Zags will miss G Steven Gray, but four starters return, including C Robert Sacre, who should be an inside force next season. In addition, maybe the Zags will have extra motivation from being surpassed as "the mid-major program others want to emulate."
18. Alabama
The Tide had a case to be included in the field of 68 this season but were bypassed, advancing to the NIT Final Four instead. JaMychal Green is expected back, which gives the Tide a nice inside building block. There's a solid recruiting class, too. One thing that must improve is the Tide's outside shooting.
19. Michigan State
This was a season from hell for the Spartans, yet they still made the NCAA field. Expect a return to form next season, when F Draymond Green will be the key guy.
20. Florida State
If F Chris Singleton returns, FSU will have four starters back. There's a nice group of freshmen coming in, including a few with impressive offensive credentials. The Seminoles have to get better offensively, and you'd think coach Leonard Hamilton knows it.
21. Wisconsin
F Jon Leuer is gone, but G Jordan Taylor - who emerged as a force this season - will be back for Bo Ryan, who always seems to get the utmost from his team. The Badgers won't necessarily be loaded with talent next season, but they will play hard - and they will win at least 20 again.
22. West Virginia
Bob Huggins' Mountaineers should be a top-five or -six team in the Big East. F Kevin Jones has star potential and there's a nice group of recruits. Oh, and one more thing: WVU will get after you defensively.
23. Xavier
G Tu Holloway's return is huge; if he comes back, the Musketeers will be one of the top two contenders in the Atlantic 10. If he goes pro, coach Chris Mack will have more work to do.
24. Mississippi State
A team featuring Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood could be quite good, and if everyone is on the same page (cough, cough ... that means you, Mr. Sidney), the Bulldogs will vie with Alabama for the SEC West crown.
25. Washington State
We're taking a flier of sorts on the Cougars, but all five starters are expected to return. In Klay Thompson, Washington State has a legit go-to scorer. Plus, it will be Year 3 in coach Ken Bone's system, and everyone should be quite comfortable.


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