One more deadline’s in the past — and now we’re that much closer to the start of the 2011-12 season. Well, a little closer anyway. Here’s an updated Top 25 projection to tide you over in the meantime.
1. North Carolina
Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees: SF Harrison Barnes, PF John Henson, C Tyler Zeller , PG Kendall Marshall, SG Leslie McDonald, SG Dexter Strickland, SF Reggie Bullock
Key losses: None
Incoming recruits: PF James McAdoo, SG P.J. Hairston
The skinny: The Tar Heels hit the jackpot when their stars skipped out being NBA draft lottery picks. No team has more overall talent (thought Kentucky’s close) mixed with experience. But don’t pencil in a national title just yet. Marshall must stay healthy and the Heels’ perimeter shooting needs to improve.
Record: 29-9 (Final Four)
Key returnees: PF Terrence Jones, SG Doron Lamb, SF Darius Miller, C Eloy Vargas, SF Jon Hood.
Key losses: PG Brandon Knight, C Josh Harrellson, SF DeAndre Liggins
Incoming recruits: PG Marquis Teague, SF Michael Gilchrist, PF Anthony Davis, PF Kyle Wiltjer
The skinny: Once again, the Wildcats are loaded with talent. And once again, many of those talented players are freshmen. Given that Kentucky beat UNC for a Final Four spot in 2011, you could argue they should be the top team. The biggest concerns: The frontcourt depth and Teague as the primary ball-handler. They’ll struggle if he gets hurt.
Record: 32-5 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees: PF Mason Plumlee, SG Seth Curry, PF Miles Plumlee, G Andre Dawkins, SF Ryan Kelly
Key losses: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Nolan Smith, SF Kyle Singler
Incoming recruits: SG Austin Rivers, PG Quinn Cook, C Marshall Plumlee, SF Michael Gbinije
The skinny: Irving bolted, but the Devils are primed to replace him and Smith with Rivers and Cook. No incoming player can match Rivers’ scoring, while Cook thrives as a creator and floor leader. The bigger questions might be if Duke can fill Singler’s role as a versatile scorer and defender. That means more time for the Plumlees and Kelly, and perhaps Gbinije.
Record: 27-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: PG Scoop Jardine, SF Kris Joseph, SG Brandon Triche, SG Dion Waiters, SF C.J. Fair, C Fab Melo, PF Baye Moussa Keita
Key loss: PF Rick Jackson
Incoming recruits: C Rakeem Christmas, SG Trevor Cooney, SG Michael Carter-Williams
Jim Boeheim loses just one starter and adds two impact recruits in Christmas and Carter-Williams. The Orange will miss Jackson’s reliable rebounding and post defense, but he’s hardly irreplaceable. They’ll need Jardine to be more consistent and for Joseph and Melo to finally deliver on their tantalizing skills, but all the pieces are there for Syracuse to post yet another outstanding season.
5. Ohio State
Record: 34-3 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees: C Jared Sullinger, PG Aaron Craft, SG William Buford, SF Deshaun Thomas, SG Jordan Sibert
Key losses: SG Jon Diebler, SF David Lighty, C Dallas Lauderdale
Incoming recruits: C Amir Williams, C Trey McDonald, SF Sam Thompson, SF LaQuinton Ross, PG Shannon Scott, transfer Evan Ravenel.
The skinny: Once Sullinger decided to return, the Buckeyes became a top 10 team. Buford and Thomas should have more prominent roles, but with the addition of solid freshmen such as Williams and Ross, expect Ohio State to remain a balanced, inside-outside team. But they’ll dearly miss Diebler and Lighty.
Record: 30-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees: PG Momo Jones, SG Kyle Fogg, SF Solomon Hill, SF Kevin Parrom, SF Jesse Perry, PG Jordin Mayes
Key losses: PF Derrick Williams, PF Jamelle Horne
Incoming recruits: PG Josiah Turner, SG Nick Johnson, PF Angelo Chol, PF Sidiki Johnson
The skinny: Williams is gone, but that’s no reason to write off the Wildcats. Every other starter is back along with one the nation’s top recruiting classes. That’s more than enough to offset the loss of one player, no matter how good he may be (Read: Evan Turner/Ohio State). Arizona handled Duke in the NCAA tournament because it finally started to play defense hit shots. The biggest boost? When Sean Miller decided to stay put.
Record: 23-11 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG John Jenkins, SF Jeff Taylor, C Festus Ezeli, PG Brad Tinsley, PF Lance Goulbourne, PF Steve Tchiengang
Incoming recruits: SG Dai-Jon Parker, PG Kedren Johnson, PF Shelby Moats
The skinny: Only North Carolina got a bigger gift from players passing on the NBA. This might be a bit high for the Commodores given they were never this good with the same group last year, but having Jenkins, Taylor and Ezeli is enough for an early push to the Top 10.
Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: PG Peyton Siva, SG Chris Smith, PF Jared Swopshire, SF Kyle Kuric, SF Rakeem Buckles, PF Gorgui Dieng
Key losses: SG Preston Knowles, PF Terrence Jennings
Incoming recruits: SG Wayne Blackshear, PF Chane Behanan, C Zach Price
The skinny: The Cards overachieved in 2010-11, winning 25 games and finishing tied for third in the Big East. Expect more. Siva’s primed for a breakout, Kuric and Smith developed into key players and Buckles and Swopshire will both be healthy. Knowles’ departure will be offset by Blackshear’s addition and Jennings’ production will be displaced by Buckles and Dieng. Still a talented team.
Record: 25-9 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees: PG Jordan Taylor, SG John Gasser, SF Mike Bruesewitz, SF Ryan Evans, PF Jared Berggren
Key losses: PF Jon Leuer, SF Keaton Nankivil, SF Tim Jarmusz
Incoming recruits: PF Jarrod Uthoff, SG Traevon Jackson, C Frank Kaminsky
The skinny: Write off the Badgers if you like. But with a solid core returning, a 4-star prospect in Uthoff coming in and Taylor – a national player of the year candidate – running the show, Wisconsin’s going to be what it always is under coach Bo Ryan: Fantastic at home, solid on the road and brutally efficient on offense.
Record: 28-6 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Ashton Gibbs, SF Nasir Robinson, PG Travon Woodall, PF Dante Taylor, SG J.J. Moore, SF Lamar Patterson, PF Talib Zanna
Key losses: SG Brad Wanamaker, SF Gilbert Brown, C Gary McGhee
Incoming recruits: PF Khem Birch, SG Durand Johnson, C Malcolm Gilbert, PF Jaylen Byrd, SG John Johnson.
The skinny: The Big East champs are out three starters, but Gibbs’ return gives them a solid scorer in which their young, talented roster can thrive. There’s every reason to think that coach Jamie Dixon can put together another 25-win season and vie for the Big East title.
Record: 35-3 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees: PG Tyshawn Taylor, PF Thomas Robinson, PG Elijah Johnson
Key losses: SF Marcus Morris, PF Markieff Morris, SG Josh Selby, SG Brady Morningstar, SG Tyrel Reed
Incoming recruits: PG Nadir Thorpe, SG Ben McLemore
The skinny: The latest talent drain for coach Bill Self might be a rougher transition than in 2009. Kansas added one late recruit in McLemore, but bringing in PF DeAndre Daniels would be a welcome addition. Still, if the Jayhawks are to stay atop the Big 12, they’ll need Robinson and Johnson to boost their games as starters.
Record: 26-9 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: C Yancy Gates, SG Sean Kilpatrick, SG Dion Dixon, PG Cashmere Wright, G Jaquon Parker, SF Justin Jackson, C Anthony McClain
Key losses: SF Rashad Bishop, C Ibrahima Thomas
Incoming recruits: SF Shaquille Thomas, SF Jermaine Sanders, SG Jeremiah Davis, SG Ge-Lawn Guyn
The skinny: A solid core mixed with talent gives Mick Cronin a legitimate Big East contender. When Cincinnati’s offense finally matches its defense – and when Gates plays consistently – it’ll be a Top 10 team.
Record: 32-9 (Won national championship)
Key returnees: PF Alex Oriakhi, SG Jeremy Lamb, PG Shabazz Napier, PF Roscoe Smith, C Tyler Olander
Key losses: PG Kemba Walker, SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, SG Donnell Beverly, C Chuck Akwandu
Incoming recruits: PG Ryan Boatright
The skinny: There’s no lack of talent in Storrs, and 5-star prospect Boatright only adds to that mix. More impressive was that the Huskies didn’t play like a young team in 2010-11. But … that was with Kemba running the show and making plays when needed. When he struggled, the Huskies struggled, thus their 9th place finish in the Big East. They’ll miss him at times.
Key returnees: C Perry Jones, SF Quincy Acy, PF Anthony Jones, PG A.J. Walton, C J’Mison Morgan.
Key loss: SG LaceDarius Dunn
Incoming recruits: SF Quincy Miller, SG Deuce Bello, PG Pierre Jackson (and Cal transfer Gary Franklin)
The skinny: Jones’ return to Waco may have been the biggest individual surprise of the offseason. The immensely talented post player started slow last season, but seemed to finally be comfortable by year’s end. And the additions of Miller and Bello give the Bears two explosive talents. Now. Can the play defense?
Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Will Barton, PG Joe Jackson, PF Tarik Black, SF Drew Barnham, SG Antonio Barton, SG Charles Carmouche, SF Wesley Witherspoon.
Key loss: PF Will Coleman
Incoming recruit: SF Adonis Thomas
The skinny: Will Barton’s return gave the Tigers as much talent as any team in the nation when you include Thomas, one of the elite 2011 recruits. Next up? Improving that predictable offense and so-so-defense.
Record: 26-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Ramone Moore, PG Juan Fernandez, SG Khalif Wyatt, PF Michael Eric, SF Rahlier Jefferson, SF Scootie Randall
Key loss: PF Lavoy Allen
Incoming recruits: PG Will Cummings, SF Jimmy McDonnell
The skinny: The Owls will miss Allen inside, but he’s the only guy gone from a team that thrived at the end of the year. They won’t turn the ball over, they’ll hit 3-pointers and they’ll win games. That gets you in the Top 20.
Record: 21-14 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Tim Hardaway, C Jordan Morgan, SF Zack Novak, SG Stu Douglass, PF Evan Smotrycz, PF Jon Horford
Key loss: PG Darius Morris
Incoming recruits: SG Carlton Brundidge, PG Trey Burke
The skinny: Morris’ departure hurts. A lot. Michigan’s still a Big Ten contender, but they don’t have much room for error without their point guard. Hardaway and Morgan are a solid duo. But they’re chasing Ohio State and Wisconsin. And maybe Purdue.
18. Texas A&M
Record: 24-9 (Second round of NCAA tournament
Key returnees: SF Khris Middleton, PF David Loubeau, PF Kourtney Roberson, SG Dash Harris, SF Naji Hibbert, SF Ray Turner
Key losses: PG B.J. Holmes, SF Nathan Walkup
Incoming recruits: PG Jamal Branch, SG Jordan Green, SF Elston Turner (transfer)
The skinny: The Aggies don’t win any beauty contests, but that’s by design. They’re here because of their defense. Simple as that. It also helps to return four of five starters and to plug in a recruit like Branch. If Middleton’s offense continues to develop, A&M will be more than defensive show.
Record: 26-8 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SF Robbie Hummel, PG Lewis Jackson, SF D.J. Byrd, SG Ryne Smith, SF John Hart, SG Terone Johnson, SF Kelsey Barlow, PF Patrick Bade, PF Travis Carroll
Key losses: SG E’Twaun Moore, C JaJaun Johnson
Incoming recruits: PF Jacob Lawson, PF Donnie Hale
The skinny: Johnson and Moore are gone, but the Boilermakers have three key pieces returning: Hummel – who sat out the entire 2010-11 season – Jackson and coach Matt Painter. Painter, who spurned Missouri’s efforts to lure him away from West Lafayette, may be the most crucial piece, too. Few coaches get more out of their teams.
Record: 22-15 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees: SG Darius Johnson-Odum, PF Jae Crowder, PG Junior Cadougan, SG Vander Blue, C Davante Gardner, PF Jamil Wilson
Key losses: SF Jimmy Butler, SG Dwight Buycks
Incoming recruits: SF Juan Anderson, SG Todd Mayo, PG Derrick Wilson
The skinny: Coach Buzz Williams is back and he’s got his roster of solid, underrated players with him. That Sweet 16 berth wasn’t a fluke because the Golden Eagles were always a team that was far better than its record indicated. That’ll be true again in 2011-12 when Johnson-Odom, Crowder and Cadougan get a boost from Anderson.
Record: 30-5 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Ian Clark, PF Mick Hedgepeth, PG Kerron Johnson, PF Scott Saunders, PG Drew Hanlen, SF J.J. Mann
Key losses: SG Jordan Campbell, SF Jon House
The skinny: The A-Sun champs lose two starters, but that’s just a technicality. The Bruins used so many guys last season, everyone logged significant minutes during their 30-win season. Besides, their top players – Clark, Hedgepeth and Saunders – are all back, along with that full-court pressing defense.
Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees: SG Kenny Boynton, PG Erving Walker, PF Erick Murphy, PF Patric Young, SF Casey Prather, SG Scottie Wilbekin
Key losses: PF Vernon Macklin, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Alex Tyus
Incoming recruits: SG Brad Beal, SG Mike Rosario (transfer)
The skinny: The Gators are loaded – with shooters. Boynton and Walker can hoist their share of shots, but how will it work with the additions of Beal and Rosario? Someone’s gonna have to pass and defend. They’ll certainly miss the steady play of Macklin, Parsons and Tyus, though. So why are they ranked? There’s too much talent to ignore.
Record: 24-8 (First round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: PG Tu Holloway, SG Mark Lyons, C Kenny Frease, SF Jeff Robinson, SG Brad Redford, F Justin Martin, F, Travis Taylor
Key losses: PF Jamel McLean, SF Dante Jackson
Incoming recruits: PF Jalen Reynolds, SF Dezmine Wells, PG Dee Davis
The skinny: That was a massive sigh of relief coming from Xavier coach Chris Mack once Holloway withdrew from the NBA draft. They have questions up front, but welcome two solid guards in Wells and Davis. Pair them with Holloway, a national player of the year candidate, and the Musketeers will again be a Top 25 team.
24. Wichita State
Record: 29-8 (Won NIT)
Key returnees: PG Toure’ Murry, C Garrett Stutz, SG David Kyles, PG Joe Ragland, SF Ben Smith, SG Demetric Williams
Key losses: PF J.T. Durley, PF Gabe Blair, SG Graham Hatch
Incoming recruit: SG Evan Wessel
The skinny: The NIT probably deserved an NCAA tourney bid. That’ll be rectified in 2012 when Murry and Kyles ensure the Missouri Valley’s best team flirt with the Top 25 all season. The Shockers got a big boost when coach Gregg Marshall stayed put over the offseason, too.
Record: 25-12 (Lost in NIT championship)
Key returnees: PF JaMychal Green, SF Tony Mitchell, PG Trevor Releford, SG Andrew Steele
Key losses: SG Senario Hillman, SG Charvez Davis, PF Chris Hines
Incoming recruits: PF Nick Jacobs, C Moussa Gueye, SF Rodney Cooper, SG Levi Randolph
The skinny: Green, Mitchell and Releford are an underrated trio and the Tide should get a boost with Jacobs and Randolph. Both can be immediate contributors and vie for starting roles. Of course, this assumes the defense picks up where it left off in 2011.
Best of the rest: Gonzaga, George Mason, UCLA, Clemson, Michigan State, New Mexico, Arkansas, Villanova, Florida State, West Virginia.
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