BY REED SHALLUE
This past Friday, the slew of non-conference blowouts signaled the beginning of an always wacky college basketball season. There will be upsets, injuries and bracket busters galore, but allow me to present my top 25, as well as do a little bit of prognosticating.
- Kentucky: Nine new freshman enter Coach Calipari’s regime under the leadership of juniors Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. The Wildcats will start the season off slowly, but I’m sure they will end up in the hunt for the championship.
- Wisconsin: There is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the top two. Ben Brust is the only main player not returning to this juggernaut.
- Arizona: A defensive focused team that not only has the ability to hold teams to less than 60 but also turn right around and lead the league in points scored.
- Duke: The shocking loss to Mercer in the opening round of the tournament last year is a distant memory. Starting freshman Jahlil Okafor will provide a much needed post presence for Duke while the two-point guard system orchestrates the attack for the Blue Devils this season.
- Kansas: Ten consecutive Big 12 regular season titles are what separates Kansas and Perry Ellis from everyone else in their conference.
- North Carolina: ACC player of the year favorite Marcus Paige and the Tar Heels will be boosted by a slimmer center, bulked up power forward and an athletic bench to prove doubters wrong.
- Florida: Enormous amount of talent surrounds yet haunts this team at the same time. However, Billy Donovan is prepared to work through these rough patches.
- Louisville: They go from a bubble team to a Final Four contender all because of the return of power forward Montrezl Harrell.
The Up and Coming
- Virginia: There is no rush for this slow-paced Cavalier team, led by London Perrantes. They can easily repeat as regular season ACC champs.
- Texas: A surprise ranking here since Texas doesn’t have many offensive threats, but they should have a solid defensive strategy.
- Wichita State: Junior point guard Fred VanVleet will direct the team to great heights again, and it won’t come as a “shock” to anyone.
- Villanova: A combination of several key players are returning and junior center Daniel Ochefu transforming into an offensive force will enable the Wildcats to be relevant in March.
- Gonzaga: Built from a strong returning lineup, the Bulldogs also have a deep bench that can help balance the team and breakthrough for a deep run into the tournament.
- Iowa State: After a devastating injury last March, Georges Niang returns refreshed and poised to guide the Cyclones to another memorable season.
- VCU: The mastermind that is Shaka Smart will once again work miracles.
- San Diego State: The best ever freshman recruiting class and transfer players should mesh well with junior Winston Shepard.
The Potentially Dangerous
- Connecticut: Coach Kevin Ollie and the reigning champion Huskies aim to repeat this season but will have a tough time doing it without Shabazz Napier.
- Michigan State: Tom Izzo and Sparty nation could fall on either side of the Big Ten spectrum with departures from some of their big men.
- Oklahoma: A strong recruiting class with four top-100 players will add a young, athletic feel to a program that has struggled mightily the last few seasons.
- Ohio State: No more Aaron Craft, but the program moves on with a talented mix of seniors and freshmen.
- Nebraska: “The Barn” is an extremely tough place to play and could be really rocking this season, especially late, but this season could end up better than projected if everyone stays healthy.
- SMU: Pony up with the Mustangs and Coach Larry Brown as they are onto something special in Dallas.
- Syracuse: The once dominant Orange are now banking on Rakeem Christmas to step up and do the dirty work for Coach Boeheim.
- Michigan: Almost starting over from scratch, Spike Albrecht and the Wolverines know they need to step up their game in order to make some noise.
- Harvard: The only Ivy League team represented in the top 25, but Tommy Amaker knows it will be no walk in the park to stay on the polls. He has prepared his team for the tough situations they will face heading into the year.