2010-11 preseason Top 25

Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners

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Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 15 Oklahoma.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Lon Kruger

Last Season: 23-10, 12-6 Big 12 (2nd), lost in the opening round to North Dakota State

Key Losses: Cameron Clark, Je’Lon Hornbeak

Newcomers: TaShawn Thomas (transfer*), Khadeem Lattin, Dante Buford, Jamuni McNeace, Dinjiyl Walker, Bola Alade

Projected Lineup

G: Jordan Woodard, So.
G: Buddy Hield, Jr.
F: Isaiah Cousins, Jr.
F: D.J. Bennett, Sr.
C: Ryan Spangler, Jr.
Bench: TaShawn Thomas, Sr.*; Frank Booker, So.; Khadeem Lattin, Fr.; Dante Buford, Fr.; Jamuni McNeace, Fr.; Dinjiyl Walker, Jr.; Bola Alade, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : Lon Kruger has managed to assemble one of the best back courts in the Big 12, if not the country, and the star of the show will be one of the nation’s most underrated talents in Buddy Hield. A 6-foot-4 wing and native Bahamian, Hield was as improved as anyone in the conference as a sophomore, doubling his scoring output to 16.4 points, which was in large part a result of his much-improved consistency from beyond the arc. Hield developed a reputation for being an excellent defender and a hard-worker as a freshman.

While Hield was overshadowed by the incredible amount of individual talent that was in the league last season, his improvement also hid the fact that the rest of the Sooner back court was thriving. Jordan Woodard came in as a freshman and supplanted Je’Lon Hornbeak as the starting point guard. Isaiah Cousins also turned in an impressive sophomore season, becoming the third-leading scorer on the Sooners.

That trio will be able to match up with any perimeter attack in the country.

source: AP
Lon Kruger (AP Photo)

But they might disappoint because … : Oklahoma is a very, very young team, which is a good thing when it comes to their starting lineup. Hield, Woodard and Cousins all have at least one more season of eligibility remaining, yet have all played significant minutes for the Sooners since setting foot on campus. Throw in center Ryan Spangler, a double-double machine and a junior, and Oklahoma’s four best players have that ideal combination of youth and experience.

But beyond that, the Sooners are extremely young, and that’s before you factor in TaShawn Thomas (more on him in a second). The way things currently stand, sophomore guard Frank Booker will be the only reserve that saw meaningful minutes last season, and only one of Oklahoma’s newcomers is expected to be difference-makers immediately. That would be Thomas, a 6-foot-8 power forward that transferred to Oklahoma from Houston, but the problem is that Thomas has not yet been cleared to play this season. He spent three years at Houston before leaving and is waiting on word on whether or not the NCAA will be granting him a waiver.

If he does get a waiver, Thomas will become an immediate starter for the Sooners and, in all likelihood, a double-figure scorer.

Outlook: The way the power structure in the Big 12 is set up this season, there are five teams that appear to clearly be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Now, I would be fired on the spot if I picked someone other than Kansas to win the league; that’s just how it works with Bill Self these days. But those other four really good teams — Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — are more or less a crapshoot. Anyone of them could theoretically win the league, and anyone of them could end up finishing fifth in the regular season, if not lower.

What that means is that Oklahoma could win the conference, particularly if Thomas gets his waiver to play this season. They could also find themselves finishing below a Baylor or Oklahoma State if things don’t go their way. The Big 12 is that tight at the top. What I’m sure of, however, is that this is a team capable of playing into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. Another opening round tournament exit would be a massive disappointment.

A revamped (post-Hummel) preseason Top 25

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AP

Robbie Hummel’s injury drops Purdue from the list of national title contenders. But is it enough to drop the Boilermakers from our preseason Top 25?

My first inclination was to say no. There’s still enough talent with JaJaun Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and the rest of Matt Paintewr’s team to form a team worthy of being in the Top 25. Heck, even without Hummel last season, Purdue reached the Sweet 16.

Then I read Dan Hanner’s revamped Big Ten efficiency projections that slated Purdue fifth in the conference behind Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin – and 29th overall – and gave it some more thought. Purdue will surely miss Hummel’s shooting, rebounding and overall solid play (only Duke’s Kyle Singler is a more versatile small forward).

Is that enough to propel Missouri or Georgetown into the Top 25? Yes.

Everybody give a big welcome to Mike Anderson’s Tigers, 25th in our new (revamped) preseason Top 25. Everyone else moves up a spot. (Consider Purdue now 26th, ahead of Georgetown.) Sorry Purdue.

Our revamped Top 25, with a new capsule for Missouri.

No. 1: Duke Blue Devils

No. 2: Michigan State Spartans

No. 3: Kansas State Wildcats

No. 4: Pittsburgh Panthers

No. 5: Ohio State Buckeyes

No. 6: Kansas Jayhawks

No. 7: Villanova Wildcats

No. 8: Memphis Tigers

No. 9: Florida Gators

No. 10: Syracuse Orange

No. 11: Kentucky Wildcats

No. 12: Baylor Bears

No. 13: Gonzaga Bulldogs

No. 14: Washington Huskies

No. 15: Illinois Illini

No. 16: San Diego State Aztecs

No. 17: Virginia Tech Hokies

No. 18: Butler Bulldogs

No. 19: Temple Owls

No. 20: Tennessee Volunteers

No. 21: North Carolina Tar Heels

No. 22: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

No. 23: Xavier Musketeers

No. 24: Wichita State Shockers

No. 25: Missouri Tigers

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

No. 1: Duke Blue Devils

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2009-10 record: 35-5 (13-3), first in ACC
Won NCAA tournament
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, 795-220, 30 years (868-279 overall)
Last NCAA miss: 1995

2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: The Devils are loaded. Again.

National player of the candidates Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are back. They’re versatile, smart and proven crunch performers. Singler was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, while Smith was the team’s driving force, getting to the lane and creating scoring opportunities. They’re flanked by sharpshooting guards Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, both of whom provide instant offense off the bench.

Then there’s freshman Kyrie Irving, Duke’s most heralded incoming guard since Jason Williams.

The bad: Here’s a sentence one wouldn’t have expected to read one year ago – Duke will miss Brian Zoubek.

The often-maligned center was a rebounding force last season and gave the Devils much-needed toughness. Can young forwards Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly or Josh Hairston fill the void left by Zoubek and Lance Thomas, or will Singler spend all his time doing the dirty work up front?

(Not to mention pretty much everyone and their sister will be picking the Devils to win. Can you say pressure?

The unknown: Coach K’s already voiced his support for Irving, but only two teams since 1995 have won titles with freshmen point guards, let alone won ’em back-to-back. Duke needs Irving to be smart, creative and efficient to repeat. Even the best freshmen guards (John Wall, Derrick Rose) can struggle in March.

Smith can step in when needed, but this needs to be Irving’s team.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

No. 2: Michigan State Spartans

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2009-10 record: 28-9 (14-4), tied for first in Big Ten
Lost to Butler in Final Four
Coach: Tom Izzo, 364-146, 15 years
Last NCAA miss: 1997

2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: Few teams boast as much balance or as much NCAA tournament experience. Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers are gunning for their third straight Final Four, a feat MSU accomplished 10 years ago as well. They’ll be aided by a dynamite recruiting class, headed by center Adeian Payne and guard Keith Appling, both of whom figure to play prominent roles.

Oh yeah, they also have Tom Izzo. No coach has been to more Final Fours since 1999. 

The bad: Injury woes will be an issue to start the season, and is the reason why they’re slotted at No. 2. Lucas reportedly is tip top after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, but expect Izzo to proceed with caution when it comes to the former Big Ten player of the year. Lucas’ backup, Lucious, is nursing a small meniscus tear in his left knee and could be out until late November.

Freshman guard Russell Byrd may be headed for a redshirt season, while Payne rehabbed a shoulder injury during the summer. Their best perimeter defender, Chris Allen, was dismissed during the summer, which means Lucas and Lucious can’t afford to be a step slow.

Also, the Spartans remain a formidable rebounding force, but their defense slacked last season. That won’t fly in the brutally tough Big Ten.

The unknown: Is Summers a budding star or the nation’s most hot-and-cold player? The 6-4 senior skywalker is capable of breathtaking moves and could led the Spartans in scoring, but he’s just as likely to disappear for long stretches. He’s never been an efficient scorer, which is a problem because he’s also the team’s best 3-point shooter.

Summers has to stretch opposing defenses and do his best to slash to the basket. That’s asking a lot for a guy who’s often indifferent on offense.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

No. 3: Kansas State Wildcats

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2009-10 record: 29-8 (11-5), tied for second in Big 12
Lost to Butler in Elite Eight
Coach: Frank Martin, 72-32 3 years
Last NCAA miss: 2009

2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: Jacob Pullen and the frontcourt. Sounds like a band, and a really good one at that. Pullen’s a national player of the year candidate who can hit the 3, drive the lane and d-up the team’s best opposing guard. Fear the Beard? Without a doubt.

He’s backed by the nation’s toughest frontcourt. If Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Wally Judge don’t grab rebounds and defend, they get a scowl from coach Frank Martin. That’s motivation. Add transfer Freddy Asprilla to that frontcourt mix and the Wildcats can rumble with anyone.

The bad: K-State’s rough-and-tumble style often leads to foul trouble for its forwards, while opponents head to the free-throw line. A lot. Foes got 26 percent of their point against K-State at the charity stripe (the D-I average is 21 percent).

Still, Martin’s not about to change the ‘Cats’ style. They also shot a ton of free throws last season.

The unknown: Pullen can’t play both guard spots, which makes finding Denis Clemente’s paramount. Does guard Rodney McGruder step in? Or does K-State turn to Martavious Irving, Nick Russell or even freshman Shane Southwell?  Perhaps none of them if Nino Williams is comfortable at off guard.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

No. 4: Pittsburgh Panthers

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2009-10 record: 25-9 (13-5), tied for second in big East
Lost to Xavier in NCAA tournament second round
Coach: Jamie Dixon, 188-54, 7 years
Last NCAA miss: 2000

2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: Few teams can match Pitt’s depth and overall talent. The Panthers are once again loaded at guard – headed by Ashton Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer and Big East most improved player a year ago – and have big, steady post players. It’s a contrast to their standout 2008-09 squad that relied primarily on three players.

This year’s version could use as many as 10 players in the rotation on a regular basis and not face a talent drop-off. Pitt desperate for a Final Four. This may finally be the year Jamie Dixon delivers it.

The bad: Pitt’s famed defense hasn’t lived up to its reputation in years. To reclaim that identity, the Panthers must improve their turnover rate (among D-I’s worst in 2009-10), which starts with forcing more steals. Guards Gibbs, Travon Woodall and Brad Wanamaker have to be better on the ball or they could see their playing time diminished by freshman Isaiah Epps, who’s fast, athletic and tough.

Does Dixon risk playing a senior leader like Wanamaker or a pass-first guard like Woodall less?

The unknown: Dante Taylor. Last year’s prize freshman often looked lost and overwhelmed. The 6-9, 240-pound forward should be Pitt’s most skilled big man since DeJaun Blair (though he’ll never be a rebounder like Blair).

Center Gary McGhee (6-10, 250) can provide the muscle, but Taylor’s the missing key to the whole offense – the forward who presents matchups problems for opponents. When he hits his stride, that’s when Pitt will thrive.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.