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Final preseason Top 25 (and one): It's the work of the Devils


I'm a stubborn man by nature, and my instincts were to be stubborn here, too. But after I looked at it and looked at it -- and spent a night in Las Vegas talking to Nolan Smith about whether he and his teammates were equipped to repeat as national champions -- I couldn't find enough valid reasons to place anybody other than Duke atop the preseason Top 25 (and one).

Michigan State held the spot back in June, and I could've stuck with the Spartans, I guess. But I'm more interested in being right than consistent. So if that means acknowledging a past mistake here, so be it. It's not that I don't believe in Michigan State, because I do. It's just that Duke -- with the sport's most accomplished coach, two first team All-Americans and, perhaps, the nation's best incoming point guard -- should be atop all reputable preseason rankings, and I'm not too stubborn to recognize that.

Here's the final preseason Top 25 (and one):

1. Duke
Comment: Mike Krzyzewski has more options with this roster than last season's team because of the additions of McDonald's All-American point guard Kyrie Irving and transfer Seth Curry, otherwise known as Stephen Curry's younger brother. The Plumlee brothers should be better up front, Smith and Kyle Singler are accomplished scorers and Andre Dawkins is back to provide backcourt depth. Again, I still like Michigan State. But it's stupid not to have Duke's roster No. 1, especially when you consider what most of Duke's roster has already accomplished.
2. Michigan State
Comment: Tom Izzo's decision to reject an offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers and remain at Michigan State will keep the Spartans nationally relevant for years to come. A seventh Final Four in the past 13 seasons is the goal, and it's attainable thanks to the return of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green.
3. Purdue
Comment: Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore won't all develop into first-team All-Americans, but any of them could. That's why the Boilermakers should be among the favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the Big Ten and a smart man's pick to make the Final Four.
4. Ohio State
Comment: Remember how Texas had a better team the year after Kevin Durant left college? Life after E.T. (Evan Turner) will be similar for Ohio State thanks to Jared Sullinger, a freshman big man who could carry the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title.
5. Pittsburgh
Comment: What the roster lacks in future NBA players it makes up for in winners. Jamie Dixon has never had a bad team at Pittsburgh, and this won't be his first.
6. Kansas State
Comment: The Wildcats could make another Elite Eight (at least) thanks to the return of Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels. The Frank Martin hire is looking smarter by the day.
7. North Carolina
Comment: This is higher than most have North Carolina, I know. But the Tar Heels have a pro on the wing (Harrison Barnes), a pro at power forward (John Henson) and a pro in the middle (Tyler Zeller). What can I say? I'm a sucker for talent.
8. Florida
Comment: The Gators snapped a string of two straight NITs last season. This season they'll return to being nationally relevant, and, perhaps, SEC champions thanks to five guys -- Chandler Parsons, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin -- who averaged double figures last season (not to mention the addition of Patric Young).
9. Villanova
Comment: Like Ohio State without Turner, it's fair to think the Wildcats could be better without Scottie Reynolds. Credit Jay Wright's recruiting -- or just Jay Wright in general -- as the reason.
10. Baylor
Comment: Baylor's season was resuscitated Thursday when LaceDarius Dunn was allowed to return to classes despite the fact that he's facing a felony charge stemming from a domestic dispute. His presence ensures the Bears will have at least one star. The potential of Perry Jones makes it safe to assume they'll have at least two.
11. Memphis
Comment: A freshman class headlined by Will Barton and Joe Jackson combined with a veteran core of Will Coleman and Wesley Witherspoon give Josh Pastner at least four guys who project as future NBA Draft picks. Regardless of what happens in November and December, the Tigers will roll through C-USA again just like John Calipari's teams used to do.
12. Kansas
Comment: The status of Josh Selby remains unclear because of amateurism concerns, but I'm assuming he'll play at some point. If that's true, the Jayhawks might have the nation's most explosive guard. If that's not, they might not finish in the top four of the Big 12.
13. Gonzaga
Comment: Mark Few turned down job offers from bigger schools for the 177th consecutive offseason. Now he has another team ready to win another WCC championship. Elias Harris, Steve Gray and Robert Sacre headline the roster.
14. Kentucky
Comment: I'm ranking Kentucky under the idea that freshman Enes Kanter won't be available for a while -- or at all -- because of questions about his amateur status. Otherwise, the Wildcats would be in the top five. Kanter is that good.
15. Temple
Comment: The Owls are the clear choice to win the A-10 with Lavoy Allen, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez back from a 29-win team. They'll miss Ryan Brooks, but not much.
16. Illinois
Comment: A legitimate Top 25 team like Illinois could finish anywhere from third to sixth in the Big Ten this season. Not sure that's good for Bruce Weber and other league coaches, but it's going to be fun watching it unfold.
17. Missouri
Comment: Tony Mitchell failing to qualify hurts. But Mike Anderson still has Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers to execute a system that has proven to be successful year after year after year.
18. Washington
Comment: A backcourt trio of Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy and Venoy Overton gives Lorenzo Romar a talented group of guards. The addition of Terrence Jones would've been nice. But the Huskies are still the Pac-10 favorite.
19. Butler
Comment: Gordon Hayward made the right decision to turn pro after last season, but that doesn't mean it didn't damage Butler's hopes of making consecutive Final Fours. Still, expect the Bulldogs to take another Horizon crown.
20. Syracuse
Comment: The whole get-better-after-your-best-player-leaves won't apply to Syracuse playing without Wesley Johnson. But the Orange will again be a factor in the Big East, and Kris Joseph could have a breakout season.
21. Tennessee
Comment: Scotty Hopson is the only top 10 prospect from the Class of 2008 who isn't already a professional. If he plays with any kind of consistency, the 6-foot-7 forward can lead the Vols back to the NCAA tournament, then join his high school classmates next June.
22. San Diego State
Comment: Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas combined to average 23.6 points and 17.5 rebounds last season while leading the Aztecs to a 25-win season. Their return makes San Diego State the Mountain West favorite.
23. Wisconsin
Comment: I have promised to rank Wisconsin during every preseason as long as Bo Ryan is coaching with his NCAA tournament string intact. As you can see, I'm a man of my word.
24. Georgia
Comment: Everybody knows Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, but Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson will be the guy who gets the Bulldogs in position to score transition buckets. He averaged 17.8 points in the Ohio Valley Conference before transferring to Georgia and sitting out last season.
25. BYU
Comment: Jimmer Fredette won't play the season in total anonymity like he did last year. When he scores 40 in December, he'll do it with an established reputation, and nobody will be surprised.
26. Richmond
Comment: Coach Chris Mooney and star player Kevin Anderson could've both moved on this past offseason, but neither did. Consequently, the Spiders will again battle the usual suspects for the A-10 title, namely Temple and Xavier.
2010-11 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule
Fri., Oct. 15Preseason Top 25 (and one) Fri., Oct. 29Conference No. 6: Pac-10
Mon., Oct. 18Preseason All-Americans Mon., Nov. 1Conference No. 5: SEC
Wed., Oct. 20Player rankings: Points/Combos Tues., Nov. 2Conference No. 4: ACC
Thurs., Oct. 21Player rankings: Wings Wed., Nov. 3Conference No. 3: Big East
Fri., Oct. 22Player rankings: Big men Thurs., Nov. 4Conference No. 2: Big 12
Mon., Oct. 25Coaches on the Hot Seat Fri., Nov. 5Conference No. 1: Big Ten
Wed., Oct. 27Best of the non-BCS Mon., Nov. 8Projections: Parrish | Palm

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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