Indiana, Louisville top our too early 2012-13 preseason Top 25

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It’s tempting to place Kentucky atop the ranking for the 2012-13 season.

Yes, the Wildcats are probably going to lose all five starters and the sixth man from the 2012 NCAA tournament champions who won an NCAA record 38 games. But I can’t. Not until Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel decide where they’re playing next season. But once the two top recruits in the class of 2012 choose – they’re both elite players and at least one will be in Lexington – it’ll provide a more accurate assessment of where UK will fall.

Until then, I’m going with one of the two teams that did beat Kentucky this season and returns nearly every player from a 27-win team. Oh, did mention that team also sports a top-5 recruiting class?

(Note: When the NCAA’s NBA draft withdrawal date passes on April 11 and the 10 top 100 recruits commit, this ranking will be more informed. Until then, it’s just a waaaaay too early guess on everything. Also, the early version didn’t include Butler. This one does. Call it a late-night oversight.)

source: AP

1. Indiana Hoosiers (Final ’12-13 record: 27-9)
Tom Crean’s rebuild is complete. The Hoosiers should have four starters back (frontcourt studs Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are expected to return) and five freshman who’ll provide depth and athleticism. Indiana won’t be a scrappy underdog next season. Be interesting to see how the Hoosiers handle it.

2. Louisville Cardinals (30-10)
The game’s most efficient defense will stay that way with Gorgui Dieng back in the middle and a (knock on wood) healthy roster around him. Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear should get the expected freshman-to-sophomore boost, transfer Luke Hancock adds experience and shooting. Also, that Peyton Siva’s pretty good. Only concern? No real impact freshmen.

3. Kentucky Wildcats (38-2)
The Wildcats are all the way down here. Oops. Sharpshooter Kyle Witljer is the only significant returner, but transfer Ryan Harrow spent all season practicing with UK. That’s a nice head start. Add freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley – not to mention either Muhammad or Noel – and coach John Calipari has the talent for another Final Four run. Who doubts that?

4. N.C. State Wolfpack (24-13)
Too high for a team that was an average ACC team that got hot at season’s end? Maybe. But the Wolfpack return four starters and bring in a top 5 recruiting class headed by guard Rodney Purvis. It’s an athletic, balanced group that also boasts elite athletes. Now we’ll see if coach Mark Gottfried can pull off some magic for an entire season.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (31-8)
Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. return, along with a group of underclassmen ready for more playing time. Coach Thad Matta has the Buckeyes positioned to contend every year. And if center Jared Sullinger makes a surprise return for his junior season? Even better.

6. Kansas Jayhawks (32-7)
Too kind? Maybe not. The Jayhawks will shot-blocker Jeff Withey, guard Elijah Johnson and steady wing Travis Releford. Throw in touted freshman Perry Ellis and redshirt freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor and Bill Self will have enough pieces to win his ninth straight Big 12 title.

7. Michigan Wolverines (24-10)
This is if point guard Trey Burke returns. Give him Tim Hardaway Jr. on the wing, Jordan Morgan and elite recruit Mitch McGary inside and it’s a team that can contend for the Big Ten title. Losing wing Evan Smotrycz doesn’t help, though.

8. Baylor Bears (30-8)
Quincy Acy’s gone, but there’s still plenty of ballers in Waco, including guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip. Quincy Miller’s season wasn’t that awful and incoming center Isaiah Austin would offset the loss of Perry Jones III goes pro.

9. Creighton Bluejays (29-6)
Too high for a team that doesn’t play defense? Maybe. But Doug McDermott’s a player of the year candidate, Gregory Echenique’s among the best centers in the game and they have solid support. Just need to replace point guard Antoine Young in the starting lineup.

10. Memphis Tigers (26-9)
The Tigers lose guard Will Barton and senior forward Wesley Witherspoon, but remain a talented, deep team that has a coach in Josh Pastner who continues to improve as a motivator and Xs-and-Os guy. Expect Memphis to crush its final season in C-USA.

11. Duke Blue Devils (27-7)
Speaking of no defense, don’t expect another season of soft D in Durham. Austin Rivers may be gone, but the Devils boast experience and shooters. That’s enough for 25 wins with Coach K on the sideline.

12. St. Louis Billikens (26-8)
When you lose one starter from a team that won 26 games, finish among the top 15 in kenpom.com ratings and nearly knock off a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you get ranked in the top 15. It’s a no-brainer.

13. Florida Gators (26-11)
Billy Donovan’s team got a huge boost when forward Patric Young elected to return. Even if guard Bradley Beal bolts for the NBA, the Gators should be the SEC’s second-best team behind Kenny Boynton, Young and Erik Murphy.

14. Michigan State Spartans (29-8)
This is probably too low for MSU given how Tom Izzo’s team exceeded expectations in 2011-12. But they do lose do-everything forward Draymond Green, not to mention Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood. Can incoming freshman Gary Harris provide scoring?

15. Syracuse Orange (34-3)
Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo are gone. But ‘Cuse still has talent in C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams and add a dynamite big man in DaJuan Coleman. Also, they could add Noel. That would be a massive boost.

16. Butler Bulldogs (22-15)
Bulldogs couldn’t hit a perimeter shot this season. That won’t apply next year when Rotnei Clarke and incoming freshman Kellen Dunham suit up. That’ll make life easier for Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall down low, not to mention glue guy Roosevelt Jones.

17. Arizona Wildcats (23-12)
For now, the Wildcats boast the top recruiting class of 2012. Three five-star recruits arrive to bolster Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill and a healthy Kevin Parrom. But this anticipates a young team maturing, something the 2011-12 squad didn’t do.

18. Wisconsin Badgers (26-10)
Floor leader Jordan Taylor’s gone. That’s bad. But every other important player returns, including Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Mike Brueswitz and Josh Gasser. Also, Bo Ryan adds an athletic forward in freshman Sam Dekker. Athletic! At Wisconsin!

19. VCU Rams (29-7)
Senior star Brad Burgess is gone — their best player — but everyone else is back for a team that won a ton of games, featured some nasty defense and apparently is insistent on winning NCAA tournament games every season.

20. San Diego State Aztecs (26-8)
One player’s gone, replaced by three impact transfers. I’d say that’s a healthy recipe for success when Chase Tapley, James Rahon and MWC player of the year Jamaal Franklin are already in the mix.

21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-12)
Four starters return, but with sharpshooting wing Tim Abromaitis back from a knee injury, Notre Dame could contend for a Big East title. Better be OK playing as favorites, though.

22. North Carolina Tar Heels (32-6)
UNC needs James Michael McAdoo to stay. Desperately. Without him, their frontcourt would be shot, leaving Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston to do the heavy lifting. Hope incoming freshman Marcus Paige is ready to run the show.

23. Missouri Tigers (30-5)
Only regulars Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey return. But Laurence Bowers is back from a knee injury and the Tigers add three transfers in Keion Bell, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross who’ll step right into the rotation. Time to see that national coach of the year at work.

24. Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7)
It’s really not a Top 25 without Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team loses center Robert Sacre, but everyone else is back. That’s enough for a preseason ranking.

25. Kansas State Wildcats (22-11)
New coach Bruce Weber inherits a nice situation. Four starters return, along with the top three bench players. Will they respond to a guy who’s motivational methods are less severe?

Also considered (in no particular order): UCLA, Texas, UNLV, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida State, Stanford, Colorado, Marquette, Ohio, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico, Xavier, Cincinnati.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.