John Calipari

The Way Too Early Preseason Top 25


The 2012-2013 college basketball season is over. Done. Kaput. That means it’s time to start looking forward to the 2013-2014 season. So here is our top 25.

IMPORTANT NOTE!!!: There are still going to be players entering the NBA Draft. We do our best to predict who is staying and who is leaving. We also take a guess at where Andrew Wiggins ends up playing his college ball. Any player with a ‘*’ next to his name is a guess that we made.

Record: 21-12, lost in 1st round of NIT
Who do they lose?: Nerlens Noel*, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Ryan Harrow
Who comes back?: Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, Willie Cauley-Stein
Newcomers?: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee
Outlook: We’re assuming here that Andrew Wiggins is going to be heading to Florida State, but that doesn’t really matter. Kentucky’s recruiting class is still the best recruiting class of all time, and they also return two future lottery picks in Poythress and Cauley-Stein. I have some doubts about this group, but it won’t change the fact that they are the favorite to win it all as of today.

Record: 27-8, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom,
Who comes back?: Nick Johnson, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski
Newcomers?: TJ McConnell, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Jefferson
Outlook: I have concerns about the makeup of Arizona’s roster. They have an abundance of front court talent but not enough spots to play them. Is Aaron Gordon a three or a four? If he’s a four, how does Sean Miller balance minutes for Jerrett, Ashley and Tarczewski? The addition of McConnell at the point will be huge, and I think Johnson is primed for a big year. Throw in Rondae Jefferson, and there is plenty to like with this team.

Record: 30-6, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly
Who comes back?: Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee
Newcomers?: Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye
Outlook: It feels weird ranking a team that loses their top three scorers this high, but it’s very much deserved. Parker is going to be a star, which is a good thing when you consider that either Sulaimon or Mississippi State transfer Hood will end up being the third option for this team. Cook isn’t a great point guard, and someone from the trio of Jefferson, Murphy and Plumlee is going to have to have a breakout season. But there’s enough talent here to be considered a title contender.

Record: 29-8, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy
Who comes back?: Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier, Will Yeguete
Newcomers?: Chris Walker, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris
Outlook: The Gators lose their top three scorers, but they could end up being even better next season thanks to the infusion of talent they have in their front court. Not only is Young coming back to school, but they add a McDonald’s all-american in Walker and two high-major transfers in Finney-Smith and Harris. Hill is one of the best point guards in the Class of 2013. The key is going to end up being how the rest of Florida’s perimeter attack — Prather, Frazier, Wilbekin — ends up developing.

Record: 30-10, lost in the Final Four
Who do they lose?: Michael Carter-Williams*, James Southerland, Brandon Triche,
Who comes back?: CJ Fair, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney
Newcomers?: Tyler Ennis, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson, BJ Johnson, Chinonso Obokoh
Outlook: The Orange lose quite a bit this offseason, but with what they bring back and what they bring in, I think that Jim Boeheim will have a successful first season in the ACC. Fair is one of the most underrated players in the country, and I think that both Grant and Cooney will end up having big seasons for the Orange. But with Ennis and Patterson joining them in the back court, along with two more freshmen wings in Roberson and Johnson that are perfectly built for the Cuse zone, the Orange have a bright future.

Record: 35-5, won the title
Who do they lose?: Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva
Who comes back?: Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell, Kevin Ware
Newcomers?: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Akoy Agau, Anton Gill
Outlook: Pitino has already made it clear that Dieng is gone to the NBA, and I have a hard time seeing Smith coming back to school when all it would do is give scouts another year to become concerned about his size in the NBA. That said, Jones is a JuCo transfer that could end up being one of the best point guards in the country, while Terry Rozier could have battled for minutes this season if he hadn’t gone to Hargrave Military Academy. The key is going to end up being Harrell’s development in the middle.

Record: 26-9, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: Junior Cadougan, Trent Lockett, Chris Otule
Who comes back?: Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo
Newcomers?: JaJuan Johnson, Deonte Burton, Duane Wilson, John Dawson, Jameel McKay
Outlook: This could end up being Marquette’s best team since Dwayne Wade resided in Milwaukee. Finding someone to replace Cadougan at the point guard spot is going to be vital, but beyond that, the Golden Eagles bring back a number of key pieces from last season’s Big East co-champs and Elite 8 team. They also add a loaded recruiting class. Buzz Williams is as good as any coach in the country when it comes to coaching up his players, and I bet he still finds a way to convince them they are being underrated even with a ranking this high.

Record: 27-9, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne*
Who comes back?: Keith Appling, Gary Harris*, Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice
Newcomers?: Gavin Schilling
Outlook: It feels weird saying this, but Michigan State’s season may depend on whether or not Payne declares for the NBA Draft. Personally, I think that he’s gone. At his size with his athleticism and range on his jump shot, Payne has the tools to be intriguing enough to an NBA GM that he could end up sneaking into the end of the first round. Without Payne, the Spartans simply aren’t going to have enough depth in their front court. I like Schilling, and I think that Matt Costello and Alex Gauna are serviceable, but the Spartans have a ceiling if Payne’s gone.

Record: 29-8, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: DeShaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel
Who comes back?: Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott
Newcomers?: Marc Loving, Kameron Williams
Outlook: The knock on Ohio State this season was that they didn’t have a second scoring option to compliment Thomas, and that will be a problem when he’s in the NBA next year and not launching threes in Columbus. How good will Ross end up being? Can Scott or Smith become 15 point-per-game threats? That will be what ends up determining just how good the Buckeyes end up being.

Record: 31-6, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Kevin Young, Ben McLemore*
Who comes back?: Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe, Andrew White, Jamari Traylor
Newcomers?: Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, Frank Mason
Outlook: You want to know why I have Kansas 10th? Because of Bill Self. It never matters the kind of talent or the age of the talent on his roster. Bill Self wins basketball games. And he’ll do that again in 2013-2014.

11. North Carolina
12. Colorado
13. Michigan
14. Indiana
15. UCLA
16. Wichita State
17. VCU
18. Wisconsin
19. Gonzaga
20. Harvard
21. Virginia
22. Memphis
23. Boise State
24. New Mexico
25. Florida State

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.