Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008-09 College Basketball Pre-Season Top 25

1. North Carolina
Defense will be the key as to whether the Tar Heels win the National Championship. They shouldn't have an issue scoring as they return all of their top scorers from a team that ranked 2nd in scoring with 88.6 points per game.

2. Connecticut
UConn adds freshman sensation Kemba Walker to a team that already has eight players capable of starting. With AJ Price and 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet back, expect Jim Calhoun to lead the Huskies to the Final Four.

3. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh needs to find a consistent outside threat (perhaps Jermaine Dixon). Another question mark will be if guard Lavence Fields is healthy after foot surgery this past summer. But with Sam Young back for his senior season, a good home court advantage, and experience, the Panthers should challenge for the Big East title and the Final Four.

4. Louisville
Earl Clark decided to stay away from the NBA Draft and the Cardinals added freshman Samardo Samuels inside. Couple them with stronger play out of the perimeter and Louisville has the makings of a team poised to make a run deep into March. They do need to improve their free throws (64.7%).

The Bruins are loaded with future NBA players and has a good blend of veterans who know how to win and young players hungry to prove themselves.

6. Duke
The Blue Devils should finish in the top 3 in the ACC, however, they still lack a low-post player with size. They will play second fiddle to UNC all season long. Coach K still has a load of talent on the perimeter and one of the best home court advantages.

7. Michigan State
Drew Neitzel is gone, but the Spartans return plenty of talent. Delvin Roe is finally healthy and will help Ramar Morgan inside. Kalin Lucas continues to be one of the more underrated point guards. A weak Big Ten helps lead Sparty to the conference title.

8. Notre Dame
With weapons like Luke Harongody and Kyle McAlarney, the Irish can score with any team in the country. If ND can ramp up their defense, improve on the boards and find a defensive stopper on the perimeter, the Irish can challenge for the Big East title.

9. Gonzaga
The Zags have been to 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and that streak is not in jeopardy. Four starters return from a team that went 13-1 in the WCC. And some say this may be Mark Few's best team.

10. Oklahoma
The surprising return of Blake Griffin will help the Sooners finish in the top two of the Big XII. The addition of highly regarded freshman guard Willie Warren may help the Sooners win some games in March.

11. Purdue
The surprise team of last season returns all but one starter. The Boilermakers are a coach's dream, a bunch of players who work hard and do the little things it takes to win games.

12. Texas
Size in the interior is a weakness for Texas. The Longhorns lack a true playmaker now that DJ Augustin is gone. Defensive is a concern for Rick Barnes' squad and they have arguably the toughest non-conference schedule of any top-15 team.

13. Memphis
The Tigers lost a lot of talent (No. 1 pick Derrick Rose, All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey) to the NBA, but they reloaded with the 4th best recruiting class that includes Tyreke Evans. Expect the Tigers to be more tested in Conference USA than last season.

14. Tennessee
Even though the Vols are bringing in six newcomers, their roster is still loaded. Tyler Smith should challenge for SEC player of the year and freshman Scotty Hopson is highly touted. In a weak SEC, they are the class of the league.

15. Wake Forest
Bringing in the best recruiting class in its schools history has put the Demon Deacons in the conversation with Duke and Miami to challenge UNC for the ACC title. Their drawback will be experience in late game, tight situations due to playing 3 freshman and 2 sophomores.

16. Arizona State
The Sun Devils return every scholarship player from a team that was snubbed by the NCAA last season. James Harden has a chance to be the Pac-10 player of the year. This team doesn't intimidate but they do manufacture wins efficiently.

17. Miami
As long as the big men step up and do an adequate job rebounding, the 'Canes will finish in the top half of the ACC. The question remains how they will play now that they are expected to win games like never before.

18. Southern California
The Trojans should finish no lower than 3rd in the Pac-10 as the conference isn't nearly as tough as it was last year. DeMar DeRozan should step in for OJ Mayo but this team will only go as far as its inside players will take it.

19. Marquette
With just one starter taller than 6-6, the Golden Eagles will face as many mismatches as they create. Throw in a new coach and a difficult Big East schedule and Marquette may be lucky to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

20. Georgetown
Anyone predicting a huge downturn for the Hoyas should take a closer look. They have three returning starters, an excellent coach and a highly ranked recruiting class that includes 7 foot center Greg Monroe to replace Roy Hibbert.

21. Davidson
Cinderella no longer resigns in Davidson, NC as this underdog reached the elite eight last season. The Wildcats lost PG Jason Richards will be sorely missed. Stephen Curry will move to PG but that just means he'll have the ball in his hands more often. Don't expect his scoring average to score at all.

22. UNLV
Lon Kruger has the Runnin' Rebels rolling with consecutive NCAA tourney appearances and 57 wins the past two seasons. They are the class of the Mountain West and with Wink Adams and Joe Darger back they have solid veterans.

23. Florida
The Gators struggled mightily with a young team last season. Nick Calathes has star power and the role players will be vastly improved from last season. Factor in Billy Donovan's track record and the Gators should be on the right side of the selection process in March.

24. Kansas
National Champ Kansas is starting over with an overhauled roster, and that could mean a slow start. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are the only contributors coming back but the Jayhawks are bringing in a stellar recruiting class and play in a weaker Big XII.

25. Baylor
Last season's breakthrough shouldn't be considered an anomaly.All the key pieces are back in Waco. The Bears need to defend and score in the post to make it to the tournament.

The next five: Villanova, Saint Mary's, Wisconsin, LSU, Ohio State

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