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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jeff Goodman / FOX Sports Preseason Top 25

Preseason Top 25 men's hoops rankings

Jeff Goodman / FOXSports.com

It's not easy to put together a preseason Top 25 less than 24 hours removed from the national championship game because of the uncertainty surrounding which players will leave school early.

We'll take a stab at it anyway! After an inexperienced Florida team ran the table, we're sticking with the theme — as our top three teams are also going to be extremely young and talented.

1. Kansas: The Jayhawks lost for the second straight year in the first round, but don't expect that to happen next season with Bill Self's club. They return their top seven scorers, including Brandon Rush — and they will add heralded freshman point guard Sherron Collins to the mix. Expect Julian Wright to assert himself as one of the most versatile players in the nation.

2. Ohio State: Greg Oden will enter college basketball not only as the top freshman, but also as the best big man and arguably the top overall player in the country. Yes, he's that good. He's joined in Columbus by a stellar recruiting class that also includes his summer teammates, point guard Mike Conley Jr. and shooting guard Daequan Cook — as well as athletic wing David Lighty. The Buckeyes lose Terence Dials, but they return Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler from a team that went 26-6.

3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels went much farther than anyone, including Roy Williams, could have imagined this season — despite losing nearly the entire team from the 2005 national championship team. Tyler Hansbrough will return, and he'll team with incoming freshman Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson — all Top 100-caliber recruits — to put the Tar Heels back in contention for a national crown. The only significant loss is that of senior David Noel.

4. Florida: We're betting that Joakim Noah eventually opts to leave Gainesville, but the Gators will still be pretty darn good. With Noah, they'd be our preseason No. 1 — without him, they are still a clear Top 10 team. Sophomores Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green and junior Lee Humphrey each averaged double figures this season and in the NCAA tournament. They also add another shooter in Doneal Mack, a solid forward in Jonathan Mitchell and a physical big man in Mareese Speights.

5. UCLA: The Bruins will lose seniors Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman — both starters off a team that advanced to the championship game. However, the key returnees are in the backcourt — Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. The freshman class of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, Darren Collison, Mike Roll and Ryan Wright will continue to improve, and the Bruins will welcome in solid freshman power forward James Keefe.

6. Texas: It's basically a lock that LaMarcus Aldridge won't be returning to Austin, but the key is whether or not junior forward P.J. Tucker decides to return or not. If he does, the Longhorns have a chance of getting to the Final Four — with guards Daniel Gibson and A.J. Abrams, incoming stud recruit Kevin Durant and point guard D.J. Augustin.

7. Memphis: The Tigers lose senior Rodney Carney, and who knows whether Darius Washington Jr. and Shawne Williams could test the waters. Williams' loss would hurt, but the Tigers have someone better than Washington coming in — freshman floor leader Willie Kemp. Coach John Calipari also returns a strong freshman class that includes Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier and Kareem Cooper.

8. Georgetown: If Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert both come back, the Hoyas will be a force in the Big East and could win the league in a down year. They lose Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook; but they gain far more than they lose, with incoming frosh DaJuan Summers, Vernon Macklin and guard Jeremiah Rivers.

9. Wisconsin: The Badgers literally bring everyone back other than Ray Nixon, and Bo Ryan's team will be led, once again, by forward Alando Tucker. Wisconsin big man Brian Butch and guard Kammron Taylor will give Tucker some help. Look for Michael Flowers' role to expand next season. The Badgers will also bring in a pair of highly regarded recruits — guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes.

10. Louisville: Rick Pitino will lose Taquan Dean, but the Cardinals head man returns Juan Palacios and David Padgett up front, wing Terrence Williams and guard Andre McGee. He also welcomes in a talented recruiting class that includes maligned big man Derrick Caracter, versatile 6-foot-8 fellow New Jersey native Earl Clark, point guard Edgar Sosa and combo guard Jerry Smith.

11. Indiana: Kelvin Sampson is the new coach, replacing Mike Davis, and it's still unclear whether Robert Vaden and D.J. White will be back. However, expect both to return. Sampson will have plenty of other talent, however, including guards A.J. Ratliff, Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway.

12. Pittsburgh: Panthers guard Carl Krauser is gone, but Jamie Dixon still has plenty of quality guards at his disposal — Ronald Ramon, Levance Fields and Keith Benjamin. Seven-footer Aaron Gray may have been the most-improved big man in the country, and Pittsburgh will also bring back Sam Young and Levon Kendall — who split time at power forward this season.

13. Duke: If Josh McRoberts leaves — and your guess is as good as mine on this one — the Blue Devils shouldn't even be ranked in the Top 25 entering the season. J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams aren't replaceable. Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson return, but if McRoberts bolts for the NBA, the frontline could read as follows: incoming freshman Gerald Henderson Jr., Jamal Boykin and either Eric Boateng or another freshman 7-footer Brian Zoubek. Look for Jonathan Scheyer to step right in and play, but it's hardly an imposing cast, huh?

14. Southern Illinois: The Salukis will be the cream of the crop in the Missouri Valley next season. They return all five starters — Jamaal Tatum, Tony Young, Matt Shaw, Randal Falker and Bryan Mullins — from a team that went 22-11 this past season.

15. Washington: Brandon Roy is history, and his stat-stuffing numbers and versatility will be nearly impossible to replace, but the Huskies will have a pair of talented young big men — freshman Jon Brockman and incoming freshman center Spencer Hawes — to go along with wing Joel Smith and point guard Justin Dentmon. Lorenzo Romar has also brought in three more Top 100 recruits in addition to Hawes — wings Quincy Pondexter and Phil Nelson and guard Adrian Oliver.

16. LSU: It's a pretty good bet that Tyrus Thomas will leave after one year on the court for the Tigers. However, if Glen Davis returns, John Brady's club will still be near the top of the SEC. They'll need to find a way to replace Darrel Mitchell, but Tasmin Mitchell should increase his consistency and production.

17. Florida State: The Seminoles just missed out on making it to the Big Dance this year. If everyone who is supposed to return comes back, that shouldn't be a problem. Junior forward Al Thornton will be one of the top returnees, and he'll have help up front in Alexander Johnson. Guards Isaiah Swann and Jason Rich are also back — and Auburn transfer Toney Douglas gives Leonard Hamilton's club a major upgrade talent-wise over Todd Galloway.

18. Tennessee: The Vols lose C.J. Watson, but Bruce Pearl still has shooting machine Chris Lofton, big man Major Wingate and wing Dane Bradshaw — in addition to a trio of recruits who could make an instant impact — power forward Duke Crews, big man Wayne Chism and combo guard Marques Johnson.

19. Hofstra: There's a good reason why Tom Pecora stayed put. He's got his top three returning scorers back in the fold — guards Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera. Pecora will need to find frontline guys to replace Aurims Kieza and Adrian Uter.

20. UConn: Talk about getting hit hard. Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong and Ed Nelson all graduate, while Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams are both near-locks to head to the NBA. Josh Boone is a question mark; so what does that leave Jim Calhoun with? Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie return, and A.J. Price, who was suspended all year, could be the team's best player. Freshman forwards Stanley Robinson and Curtis Kelly — along with guards Doug Wiggins and Jerome Dyson — should all get a chance to play.

21. Boston College: The loss of Craig Smith is a big blow, but the Eagles still have one of the top forwards in the country — Jared Dudley. Sean Williams will see more action and is a game-changer on the defensive end, while Tyrese Rice could be a future star in the ACC. Look for forward Akida McLain to pick up some of the slack left by Smith's departure.

22. Villanova: Randy Foye, Allen Ray and Jason Fraser are all history. Foye and Ray were the cornerstone to the squad in the team's Elite Eight run. Don't be shocked if fellow guard Kyle Lowry leaves after his sophomore year, either. That's the bad news. The good is that Curtis Sumpter will come back after two major knee injuries and try and team with Mike Nardi and forwards Will Sheridan, Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark to make another tournament run.

23. Arizona: Lute Olson loses Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers. Adams didn't have a great senior campaign, and Rodgers was a chemistry killer. Mustafa Shakur finally looked like the highly touted point guard he was supposed to be out of high school. Freshman Marcus Williams is a budding star, and the Wildcats also welcome back Ivan Radenovic and Kirk Walters. Incoming freshman Chase Budinger should waste little time before making an impact in Tucson.

24. Texas A&M: Aggies coach Billy Gillespie did an impressive job this season, earning a spot in the NCAA tournament with a bunch of unheralded players in College Station. Texas A&M returns almost all of its key players — guard Acie Law and big man Joseph Jones are the big two — and they also have a large in-state recruiting class that includes forward Bryan Davis.

25. Georgia Tech: Paul Hewitt's Yellow Jackets should be the most improved team in the country — thanks to a pair of incoming freshmen, point guard Javaris Crittenton and forward Thaddeus Young. Crittenton will get the ball from Day 1, and he'll have some other talent around him: Forward Jeremis Smith and Ra'Sean Dickey and guards Anthony Morrow and Lewis Clinch.

Trio On the Bubble:

San Diego State: — This one depends on what Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath decide to do. Slaughter already put his name in and withdrew a year ago; so if the junior forward does it again, he can't come back. The Aztecs also will bring back Florida transfer Mohamed Abukar.

Syracuse: Freshman Paul Harris could have the single biggest impact of any newcomer not named Greg Oden in the country. He's a born leader, plays as hard as Joakim Noah and is tough as nails. The frontcourt has plenty of experience with Terrence Roberts, Demetris Nichols and Darryl Watkins. The key may be whether Josh Wright can handle the point.

California: - If Leon Powe returns, the Golden Bears should be Top 25 material. If he doesn't, they won't be in the mix. Point guard Ayinde Ubaka is back; so is 6-10 big man DeVon Hardin and the Wilkes brothers — Omar and Jordan. Add in incoming freshman guard Patrick Christopher and speedy point guard Jerome Randle and you've got a team that can compete with anyone, including UCLA, in the Pac-10.

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