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AP Top 25 Basketball Preview

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1. North Carolina (62)

There has been a nearly endless string of superlatives directed towards UNC in the past few months, so I’ll keep this short. They have NBA talent at every position, an elite playmaker (Harrison Barnes), the kind of elite point guard who is always present on their title teams (Kendall Marshall), and a stellar freshman class that includes top-flight forward James Michael McAdoo and renowned guard P.J. Hairston.

2. Kentucky

Coach Cal reloads unlike any other coach in the country. Once again, he has brought in all of the best freshmen. It’s an amazing system he has in place, and I have to imagine it will falter it some point. It won’t this season though. In fact, these Wildcats are much more than their freshman class. Newcomers Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer, join a very talented trio of returning stars. Senior Darius Miller and sophomore Doron Lamb were both significant contributors last season, while Terrence Jones was the nation’s most enigmatic superstar.

3. Ohio State (1)

The Buckeyes are going to rely on returning veterans. Guards William Buford and Aaron Craft are expected to continue their strong play from last season, while talented forward Deshaun Thomas is going to be asked to step into a much larger. The core of the team remains Jared Sullinger though. He’s coming back for his sophomore year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t eviscerate the Big Ten.

4. Connecticut (2)

This is no reward for winning the National Championship last season. Although they lost Kemba Walker to the lockout (great call Kemba!), they have a tremendous group of returning players in Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and Roscoe Smith. Moreover, they have a very strong freshman class with Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, and Andre Drummond.

5. Syracuse

The Orange look like they are going to be the second best team in the ACC Big East, although they are not in the same tier as the four teams ranked in front of them. With a team that returns the fantastically-named Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas along with Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, and Brandon Triche, they should make quite a splash this season. Don’t expect a national championship though, they don’t have enough firepower to compete with the top four teams.

6. Duke

The Blue Devils don’t ever really go away. Along with the usual stable of veterans who can all shoot, pass, and dribble, they add petulant freshman Austin Rivers. He’s phenomenally talented, but his lack of talent in the “being a good person” department may wind up hurting the team. Expect them to push North Carolina in the ACC, although they will almost certainly fall short.

7. Vanderbilt

The Commodores have been hanging around the Top 25 for the better part of the last decade, and it’s nice to see them finally have an elite squad. Their core is made up of John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and the currently injured Festus Ezeli, all upperclassmen. This season will be Vanderbilt’s only real shot at a title for at least the next few years, if not the next few decades, so expect more urgency from them than the teams near them in the rankings.

8. Florida

Billy Donovan has not been able to recapture the magic of the Joakim Noah-led back-to-back National Championships. To be fair, no one else in the country has either. This season looks to be the closest Donovan has come though. With a strong group of returning players in Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Patric Young, an electrifying transfer in Mike Rosario, and an ultra-talented freshman in Bradley Beal, the Gators have a lot going for them.

9. Louisville

Rick Pitino always manages to have a good team, and this year’s incarnation should be very experienced. Regettably, highly-touted freshman Wayne Blackshear may already be out for the season. Chane Behanan, the team’s other star freshman, has earned great praise from Pitino, but this season is starting on a rough note.

10. Pittsburgh

The Panthers will give the top teams trouble in the ACC Big East this season. Then, they will got upset in the tournament. The specifics of the team barely matter, because it is almost certain that that will happen. If you’re curious though, Ashton Gibbs returns to give the team an elite guard. He will be supported by an impressive group of freshman that includes Isaiah Epps, Khem Birch, and Malcolm Gilberti.

11. Memphis

How about that Josh Pastner? He took over the wreckage Coach Cal left and has kept the program competitive on the national stage. He’s changed the culture of the team, and the Tigers are no longer a one-and-done NBA feeder. Instead, this team has an experienced ensemble of talented players. Expect them to once again feed on the rest of Conference USA.

12. Baylor

While Perry Jones III is capable of doing anything he wants on the court, the Bears have surrounded him with a strong supporting cast. No matter how effective they are, the team’s fortunes will lie with how effective and focused Jones III is.

13. Kansas

The cupboard is surprisingly bare for the Jayhawks. After Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson there isn’t much to get excited about. Even though they’ve won the last seven Big 12 championships, it is quite likely that Baylor will blow past them this season.

14. Xavier

Sean Miller left A-10 powerhouse Xavier for national powerhouse Arizona after the 2009 season, and yet Xavier is ranked higher this year. Miller’s done a fine job with the Wildcats, but it speaks to Xavier’s program that they are still so strong.

15. Wisconsin

No team consistently wins 51-45 nailbiters like the Badgers! They have solid teams every year, but this squad should be a little better than usual. Along with the usual collection of large people who play tough defense, they have Preseason 1st team All-American Jordan Taylor at point guard. His leadership should steward them to Big Ten success and possibly a deep run into the tournament.

16. Arizona

They will be a good team. They won’t make much national noise, and I fully expect them to be #16 when the season ends. That is who they are. They’ll win the games they should win and lose the games they should lose.

17. UCLA

The Bruins certainly don’t have the luster they had even a few years ago, but they should still be good. Their frontcourt is stacked with the addition of North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear (they’re twins, but you knew that). The backcourt is much thinner, but contributions are expected from Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb (How many Lambs are there? Are they related? Are they the Molinas of college basketball?).

18. Michigan

The Wolverines should have made a hard push to recruit Fab Melo. They regrettably did not, but do seem to be rounding into form. John Beilein has needed time to implement has system, but this team looks likely to make it rain on other teams. They won’t be as good as Beilein’s best West Virginia teams, but they might get close.

19. Alabama

I must acknowledge that I was surprised to see the Crimson Tide on here. I figured it must have been some sort of strange spillover from Roll Tide/War Eagle. As it turns out, JaMychal Green (no relation to LaMichael James) and Tony Mitchell are two of the best forwards in the SEC. Expect good things from them this season, but they are unlikely to break through the elite SEC teams.

20. Texas A&M

Wow, the SEC is stacked this year! Oh wait, they’re still in the Big 12. While this team is talented and should make the tournament, the more important issue here is head coach Billy Kennedy, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We wish him the best.

21. Cincinnati

The Bearcats are going to be this year’s Big East team that is pretty good but has no chance to win the league. Maybe next year.

22. Marquette

Marquette knows their pain. They’ve been in a similar spot in recent years. Darius Johnson-Odom is the star, but did you know they have a player named Vander Blue? He must love this video.

23. Gonzaga

The obligatory preseason ranking of Gonzaga. I think I’m over them. They never do anything. You can only be America’s darling for so long without earning it.

24. California

The Bears have a lot of experience coming into this season. Talent? Less so. Don’t look for them to make much of a splash outside the Pac 12 this year.

25. Missouri

They run a lot, and that’s worth a lot in college. It’ not always the most reliable strategy though. Expect them to have an up-and-down season and then upset someone in the tournament.

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