Earlier this week, I sent off my preseason Top 25 ballot to The Associated Press. (My ballot includes just two ACC teams, and neither one is named UNC)
1. I voted Indiana No. 1. The Hoosiers welcome back standout center Cody Zeller (15.6 ppg), Jordan Hulls (11.7 ppg), Victor Oladipo (10.8 ppg) and Christian Watford (12.6 ppg) from the team that fell to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Plus highly touted freshman Yogi Ferrell has been added to the mix.
2. Louisville. The Cardinals return standout guard Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 5.6 apg), Gorgui Dieng (9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Chane Behanan (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Russ Smith (11.5 ppg) from a Final Four team, plus gain the services of former Hidden Valley and George Mason standout Luke Hancock. It will be interesting to see how much playing time former Hokies signee Montrezl Harrell gets this year.
3. Ohio State. I could’ve put several teams in this spot, but I went with the Buckeyes. They welcome back star guard Aaron Craft (8.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), Deshaun Thomas (15. 9 ppg) and Lenzelle Smith (6.8 ppg) from a Final Four team. Sure they will miss Jared Sullenger and William Buford, but still one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
4. N.C. State. The Wolfpack return C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), fellow standout Lorenzo Brown (12.7 ppg, 6.3 apg), Richard Howell (10.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Scott Wood (12.3 ppg) from a Sweet 16 team. Should be the best team in the ACC.
5. Kentucky. Coach Cal lost six standouts from his NCAA championship team. Can he blend the new crop into a big winner too? We’ll see. But the team still topped the SEC preseason poll. Big man Nerlens Noel leads a highly touted freshman class, and transfers Julius Mays, formerly of N.C. State and Wright State, and Ryan Harrow, formerly of NC State, should make imapcts as well.
6. Michigan. The Wolverines return standout Trey Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 ppg) aand Jordan Morgan (7.3 ppg) from an NCAA tournament team.
7. Duke. The Blue Devils return Mason Plumlee (11.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Ryan Kelly (11.8 ppg) and Seth Curry (13.2 ppg) from an NCAA tournament team. Will Tyler Thornton or Quinn Cook emerge as a solid point guard? Will Austin Rivers leave a bigger void than expected? We’ll see.
8. Kansas. I went back and forth between putting Kansas at No. 7 or No. 8 before going with this spot. This team is the preseason favorite in the Big 12. Jeff Withey (9 ppg), Elijah Johnson (10.2 ppg) and Travis Releford (8.5 ppg) are back from a Final Four team. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor will be missed, though.
9. Florida. I really like this team, and thought about putting them higher. Kenny Boynton (15. 9 ppg), Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg) and Patric Young (10.2 ppg) are back from an Elite Eight team. Bradley Beal and Erving Walker will be missed, however.
10. Syracuse. The Orange bring back Brandon Triche (9.4 ppg), Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair (8.5 ppg) and James Southerland from an Elite Eight team. But Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo and Dion Waiters will be missed. I considered putting Syracuse a bit lower before putting them here.
11. San Diego State. The Aztecs bring back star Jamaal Franklin (17.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg), James Rahon (8.9 ppg), Chase Tapley (15.8 ppg) and Xavier Thames (10.1 ppg) from an NCAA tournament team. I have this team much higher than where they wound up in today’s poll (20th), but this is a strong squad.
12. Wisconsin. The Badgers return Ryan Evans (11 ppg), Jared Berggren (10.5 ppg), Mike Brusewitz and Josh Gasser from a Sweet 16 team. Jordan Taylor is a big loss, but this is still a solid team. I have them much higher than where they wound up in today’s poll (23rd).
13. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish bring back Eric Atkins (12.1 ppg), Jack Cooley (12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg), Jerian Grant (12.3 ppg) and Scott Martin (9.5 ppg) from an NCAA tournament team. I have this team much higher than where they wound up in the poll (22nd), but this is a very good bunch.
14. Gonzaga. The Bulldogs return Kevin Pagnos (13.6 ppg), Elias Harris (13.1 ppg), Gary Bell (10.4 ppg) and Guy Landry Edi from a team that made the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Robert Sacre will be missed, but this is still a solid group and I have them higher than where they wound up in the poll (21st).
15. Creighton. Star Doug McDermott (22.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is back, as are Gregory Echenque (9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigal, from a team that made the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
16. Michigan State. The Spartans return Keith Appling (11.4 ppg), Branden Dawson (8.4 ppg) and Adreian Payne from a Sweet 16 team, plus add highly touted freshman Gary Harris. Draymond Green and Autin Thornton will be missed, though.
17. Arizona. The Wildcats bring back Solomon Hill (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Nick Johnson (8.9 ppg) from an NIT team, plus add highly touted freshman Brandon Ashley and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons. This will be one of the best teams in the Pac-12, but I have them a bit lower than where they wound up in the poll (12th) because I want to see how the blending process goes with this team. Plus, Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry will be missed.
18. Missouri. The Tigers return star guard Phil Pressey (10.3 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Michael Dixon (13.5 ppg) from an NCAA tournament team. They welcome back Lawrence Bowers, who was sidelined by injury last season, and add UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi, Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell. Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe will be missed, but a lot of good pieces here.
19. Cincinnati. The Bearcats return Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 ppg), Justin Jackson, Cashmere Wright (10.9 ppg) and JaQuon Parker (9.4 ppg) from a Sweet 16 team. Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates will be missed, but still a good team. I have this team higher than they wound up in the poll (24th).
20. Memphis. The Tigers return Tank Blank (10.7 ppg), Joe Jackson (11 ppg), Chris Crawford (9.1 ppg), Antonio Barton and Ferrakohn Hall from an NCAA tournament team. Will Barton will be missed, though.
21. UCLA. The Bruins return Travis Wear (11.5 ppg), David Wear (10.2 ppg) and Tyler Lamb (9 ppg) from a team that did not make the NCAAs last year, but this should be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 with the addition of highly touted freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. But neither freshman has been declared eligible by the NCAA yet, which is a big reason I have them lower than where they wound up in the poll (13th). Plus, with the way the Bruins played last year, I want to see this team in action before I consider them a top 15 team. I almost left them off my ballot because of the NCAA eligibility situation, but I decided to put them here on the assumption that they will eventually be declared eligible.
22. Ohio University. The Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference did not make the Top 25 today, and I have to say, that’s not right. They welcome back all five starters from a Sweet 16 team! Attention must be paid. Yes, the coach left for Illinois, but this is still a veteran squad, and they did hire an experienced coach in Jim Christian. D.J. Cooper (14.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) is a standout guard. Walter Offutt (12.4 ppg), Nick Kellogg (9 ppg) and Ivo Baltic (8.7 ppg) are back too.
23. St. Louis. St. Louis is another team that did not make the Top 25 today — in fact, no A-10 team did, and that’s not right. The Billikens don’t have coach Rick Majerus, but they have an experienced interim coach in Jim Crews. They welcome back Kwamain Mitchell (12.4 ppg), Cody Ellis (10.1 ppg), Rob Loe and Dwayne Evans from a team that made the round of 32 i nthe NCAA tournament. Brian Conklin will be missed, but this is still a good squad.
24. VCU. The Rams also did not make the Top 25 today, but four starters are back from a team that made the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Shaka Smart will miss Bradford Burgess, but Juvonte Reddic (10.3 ppg), Fleming grad Troy Daniels (10 ppg), Darius Theus (8.5 ppg) and D.J. Haley are back.
25. For this last spot, I looked very hard at Baylor and UNLV. I also looked hard at Murray State, Saint Mary’s and Temple. I also considered Miami, Florida State, St. Joe’s, Marquette, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State, New Mexico and Colorado.
I also looked at UNC, which was No. 11 in today’s poll. But the Tar Heels have lost four great players, and I want to see this team actually play together before I put them in my ballot. I’m not saying UNC can’t be a Top 25 team eventually, but right now this team is too unproven to me. And yes, Kentucky and UCLA are also unproven, but both of those teams are expected to be among the top two in their leagues. UNC is not considered to be one of the top two teams in the ACC. In fact, right now I like State, Duke, Miami and FSU more than I like UNC in the ACC. Again, as we stand here today.
So who got my No. 25 spot? Lehigh. That’s right, Lehigh of the Patriot League. I decided to give a shout out to Lehigh because four starters are back from a team that upset Duke in the round of 64 in the NCAAs. This squad has one of the top guards in the nation, C.J. McCollum (21.9 ppg). Gabe Knutson (12.2 ppg) is also back. This team is going to win a lot of games, and it showed its worth against Duke.