I was going to make Kentucky the preseason No. 1 if Jodie Meeks returned to school.
|Sherron Collins' Jayhawks look like the team to beat. (US Presswire)|
So now I must drop the Wildcats all the way down to No. 2.
Yes, that is probably higher than you'll find Kentucky in most preseason polls, but let me ask this: Where should a team with three probable first-round picks in next year's NBA Draft be ranked? That's an important question to consider because -- in John Wall, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins -- that's what Kentucky has, three probable first-round draft picks.
Only Kansas can argue that it might have better talent.
That's why the Jayhawks are No. 1.
But Kentucky is No. 2.
Which means I'm predicting that on the first Monday in April, Bill Self and John Calipari will battle for the national title for the second time in three years. And I'm also predicting that if Calipari finds himself up three points in the final seconds, John Wall is going to foul Sherron Collins so hard that Mario Chalmers will feel it all the way down in Miami.
Anyway, here's the Post-Deadline-To-Withdraw-From-The-NBA-Draft Top 25 (and one).
Top two returning players: Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins
Top newcomer: Xavier Henry
Comment: The Jayhawks return every relevant player from a 27-win team and add a strong recruiting class to it. That's the way a national champion is built, and it really is amazing how quickly Self has been able to rebuild following the departure of his entire starting lineup in 2008.
Top two returning players: Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller
Top newcomer: John Wall
Comment: The loss of Meeks hurts, no question. But Calipari still has a loaded roster, one that is arguably as good as the Derrick Rose/Chris Douglas-Roberts/Joey Dorsey roster that helped him make the 2008 Final Four.
Top two returning players: Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan
Top newcomer: Derrick Nix
Comment: There isn't much coming into the program, but Tom Izzo doesn't need much. He has the core of last season's Final Four team pretty much intact, and that should be enough to help the Spartans take another Big Ten title.
Top two returning players: Ed Davis and Deon Thompson
Top newcomer: John Henson
Comment: It's a tribute to Roy Williams and his ability to recruit that he can lose Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and remain in the top five. The Tar Heels' frontcourt of Davis, Thompson and Henson will be among the best in the country.
Top two returning players: Damion James and Dexter Pittman
Top newcomer: Avery Bradley
Comment: The return of James and Pittman is huge, and Bradley will be an elite scorer from the moment he steps on campus. All three mentioned players are future pros who could lead Texas on a deep run next March.
Top two returning players: Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher
Top newcomer: Mouphtauo Yarou
Comment: That Reynolds withdrew from the NBA Draft will have Villanova in position to make consecutive Final Fours. A consensus top five recruiting class helps, too.
Top two returning players: Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer
Top newcomer: Ryan Kelly
Comment: The Blue Devils still have a point guard problem, but that didn't stop them from winning 30 games last season. The additions of Kelly and Mason Plumlee will make the frontcourt strong and help offset the loss of Gerald Henderson.
Top two returning players: Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker
Top newcomer: Alex Oriakhi
Comment: The Huskies got a break that should keep them near the top of the Big East when Stanley Robinson didn't try to turn pro. He'll be aided by first-year players Oriakhi and Ater Majok (if he's eligible), and a backcourt of Walker and Dyson is talented by any standard.
Top two returning players: E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel
Top newcomer: D.J. Byrd
Comment: Suddenly, these Baby Boilermakers are heading into their junior years, ready to make their first Elite Eight. With Moore, Hummel and JaJuan Johnson in the starting lineup, it's a realistic possibility.
10. West Virginia
Top two returning players: Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks
Top newcomer: Dalton Pepper
Comment: The return of Joe Mazzulla from an injury will steady the backcourt and give Bob Huggins what should be his best team since he left Cincinnati. Butler and Ebanks are two of the better forwards in the country.
Top two returning players: Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward
Top newcomer: Andrew Smith
Comment: The Bulldogs will make their third consecutive NCAA tournament under Brad Stevens. The reigning Horizon League champions didn't have a single senior on last season's roster.
|Isaiah Thomas' Huskies should win the Pac-10. (US Presswire)|
Top two returning players: Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter
Top newcomer: Abdul Gaddy
Comment: A Thomas/Gaddy backcourt will be as fun as any backcourt in the nation. The Huskies should finish atop a relatively weak Pac-10.
Top two returning players: Willie Warren and Tony Crocker
Top newcomer: Keith Gallon
Comment: Yes, Blake Griffin is gone. But a top 10 recruiting class and the (somewhat) surprising return of Warren will have the Sooners continuing their tradition of winning under Jeff Capel.
Top two returning players: Trevor Booker and Demontez Stitt
Top newcomer: Milton Jennings
Comment: The loss of Terrence Oglesby was unexpected. But it's not too much to overcome for Clemson thanks to the arrival of Jennings and Booker's younger brother, Devin Booker.
Top two returning players: Samardo Samuels and Jerry Smith
Top newcomer: Peyton Siva
Comment: If Samuels develops into the dominant big man he should be, then Louisville will be in contention for another Sweet 16. If not, this ranking is probably too high.
Top two returning players: Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson
Top newcomer: Royce White
Comment: Tubby Smith has turned things around quickly at Minnesota thanks to his ability to recruit the state. He'll be back in the NCAA tournament barring a major surprise.
Top two returning players: Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson
Top newcomer: Matt Kavanaugh
Comment: The loss of Derrick Brown at Xavier has the Flyers as the pick to win the Atlantic 10. Wright should be an All-American candidate and the key to a potential 30-win season.
Top two returning players: Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism
Top newcomer: Kenny Hall
Comment: The addition of Hall will add depth to the frontcourt, but it's the backcourt where the Vols must be better. That means Bobby Maze has to be more reliable and as good as he was at the beginning of last season.
Top two returning players: Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin
Top newcomer: Oderah Anosike
Comment: Four starters return from a 27-win team that challenged Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In other words, the Saints should still be good despite the loss of Kenny Hasbrouck.
20. Ohio State
Top two returning players: Evan Turner and William Buford
Top newcomer: None
Comment: The Buckeyes don't have their usual great recruiting class, but they didn't need one with Turner, Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty set to return. Those four players are OSU's top four scorers. They won't miss B.J. Mullens too much.
|Manny Harris leads a veteran group of Wolverines. (US Presswire)|
Top two returning players: Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims
Top newcomer: Matt Vogrich
Comment: Nearly every relevant player from a team that spent part of last season ranked is back, including All-American candidate Harris. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds as a sophomore.
Top two returning players: Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher
Top newcomer: Markuri Sanders-Frison
Comment: Randall and Christopher give the Bears a talented backcourt. If the team makes shots, it will be a force in the Pac-10.
Top two returning players: Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis
Top newcomer: D.J. Richardson
Comment: It was just a few years ago when some were questioning whether Bruce Weber would be able to recruit well enough to last at Illinois. Now Weber has a heralded recruiting class -- featuring two top 50 prospects -- set to enroll and a solid group of veterans to make the Illini a threat in the Big Ten.
Top two returning players: Greg Monroe and Chris Wright
Top newcomer: Hollis Thompson
Comment: The return of Monroe, Wright and Austin Freeman gives John Thompson III a nice nucleus. That's why you can expect the Hoyas to rebound from a disappointing season in the Big East.
Top two returning players: Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray
Top newcomer: G.J. Vilarino
Comment: The Zags lost a lot from last season's 28-win team, specifically Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs. But a talented core remains in place, and Gonzaga will almost certainly ride it to another WCC title.
Top two returning players: Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart
Top newcomer: John Riek
Comment: The reason Renardo Sidney isn't listed as the top newcomer is because I simply do not believe the NCAA will clear him to play college basketball. If I'm wrong, I'll correct this accordingly. But even without Sidney, the Bulldogs should push for an SEC West title.