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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Memphis Pre-Season #1 By

Preseason Top 25 (and one): No doubting Memphis as No. 1 team

June 18, 2007
By Gary Parrish, CBS Senior Writer

I hated Memphis last season.

I watched the Tigers lose every tough game they played early and was convinced it was an indication of their true ability. So when they waltzed through Conference USA and entered the NCAA Tournament on a 22-game winning streak, I thought the achievement represented nothing more than their talent overwhelming an inferior league, which is why I had Memphis ranked lower than most all season.

Then I picked the Tigers to lose in the Sweet 16.

Privately, I thought an earlier loss was possible.

But I clearly underestimated them.

And I won't let it happen again.

That's why now that the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft has passed, the Memphis Tigers sit atop CBS's preseason college basketball rankings.

What say you, Chris Douglas-Roberts?

"It's an honor," answered the Memphis guard. "But we've still got to play."

Yes, you do.

But the good news for Memphis is that it will be playing with essentially the same group of guys -- sans Jeremy Hunt -- that led the school to its second consecutive Elite Eight. And while Hunt's toughness and ability to make a shot in the clutch will certainly be missed, the reality is this roster should be better than that roster based on the addition of Derrick Rose, a 6-foot-3 point guard projected by some to be the first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

So Memphis is No. 1.

And Kansas State is No. 26.

Feel free to debate those selections and everything else in between on the message board below.

Preseason Top 25 (and one):

1. Memphis: A strange thing about the Tigers' schedule is how almost all of their difficult games (Tennessee, Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Southern California) will be played at home or on a neutral court. The toughest true road game is probably at UAB, meaning it's possible Memphis could be favored in every contest.

2. UCLA: Arron Afflalo turned pro prematurely, and that wasn't a plus for UCLA. But the Bruins should still challenge for a national title thanks to a roster featuring Darren Collison, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp and Kevin Love.

3. Kansas: Brandon Rush probably won't miss any meaningful games because of his torn ACL, and when he's on the court with Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur, the Jayhawks will possess one of the most talented lineups in the nation.

4. North Carolina: There are few programs capable of not slipping when a lottery pick like Brandan Wright bolts for the NBA. But North Carolina is one of those programs thanks to coach Roy Williams, not to mention All-American candidates Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson.

5. Louisville: Derrick Caracter's knee surgery shouldn't affect his status. So assuming the sophomore doesn't relapse into a head case, the Cardinals are the pick to win the Big East, and perhaps more.

6. Tennessee: Bruce Pearl should finally have the numbers and size to play any way he wants. The guess here is it'll be fast and intense, and result in a bunch of wins.

7. Washington State: The Cougars won't surprise anybody this season. When they're good, everybody will know it's because they were supposed to be good.

8. Georgetown: In the spirit of full disclosure, had Jeff Green rejoined Roy Hibbert at Georgetown, the Hoyas would've been atop these rankings.

9. Michigan State: The top five scorers are returning, and Tom Izzo is still the coach. What's not to like?

10. Marquette: Dominic James' wise decision to return to school ensures Marquette's talented trio of guards will play together for at least another season.

11. Indiana: Got an e-mail from a guy named Nate the other day. He wanted to know why I hadn't written about Eric Gordon, Indiana's incoming star, lately. The answer: I'm just saving all my words for that first trip to Illinois. Boy, I can't wait.

12. Villanova: Once Jay Wright finishes with USA Basketball this summer, he'll turn his full attention toward winning a Big East title, which should be possible.

13. Duke: Even when the Blue Devils are down, they really don't slip too far. Remember that before claiming they're ranked too high, and note that Kyle Singler is really, really good.

14. Oregon: Aaron Brooks is the only important part missing from that squad that played Florida tough in the Elite Eight last March.

15. Stanford: Some people remember the Cardinal as the team Louisville blasted in the NCAA Tournament. But I remember them beating UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington State, which is why I'm not certain this isn't too low for Stanford.

16. Alabama: Clearly I didn't learn my lesson last season. But if Ron Steele is healthy (and he should be), I'm picking the Crimson Tide to win the SEC's Western Division.

17. Washington: Everybody not named Spencer Hawes is back. That's why the Huskies will be back in the NCAA Tournament.

18. Gonzaga: A core of Josh Heytvelt, Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo is what Mark Few will win with for at least the next two years.

19. Arkansas: John Pelphrey inherited about the best situation any coach could ever want, specifically an NCAA Tournament team expected to return intact.

20. Southern California: This was a Final Four team had Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt remained in college. Instead, Tim Floyd is left wondering how good O.J. Mayo can make his Trojans.

21. Southern Illinois: The Salukis are good every season, even when nobody thinks they're going to be good. So everybody else can overlook them again if they want, but count me among the converted.

22. Texas A&M: Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan will be one of the best frontcourt duos in the country.

23. Arizona: Yes, this is the seventh Pac-10 team I have listed. I guess I really like that league.

24. Pittsburgh: The Panthers are similar to Southern Illinois in that regardless of what leaves, it's safe to assume they're going to be pretty good.

25. Butler: Coach Todd Lickliter is gone. But A.J. Graves and two more of the Bulldogs' top four scorers return from a Sweet 16 team, making Butler the easy pick in the Horizon League.

26. Kansas State: I loved this team when it seemed Bob Huggins would be the coach. But his departure and news that Bill Walker hasn't rehabbed well have me taking a wait-and-see approach.

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