College Basketball: One Word to Describe Every Top 25 Team
College basketball is an intricate game that demands both coaches and players work incredibly hard. It is a game that cannot be summed up in just one sentence.
But I'm going to try to describe every Top 25 team in just one word.
The 2012-13 college basketball season is just five months away, and while the carousel of transfers continues to spin round-and-round, we have a relatively clear picture of which teams will be in the preseason Top 25.
Each team has made it to the Top 25 through different routes and with different strategies. No two teams are similar enough to deserve the same word to describe them because of these differences.
With that, let's try to sum up the best teams in the nation in a single word.
25. Minnesota: Surprise
Minnesota reminds me a lot of Wichita State from last season. While the Golden Gophers aren't from a mid-major conference, most other attributes line up nicely.
Minnesota is coming off of a trip top the NIT title game, and while they did not win like Wichita State did, the team still made a deep run.
Like the Shockers of last season, Minnesota will return almost every player from last year's team, with the exception being Ralph Sampson. Sampson missed most of last season anyway, so he is not a huge loss.
Trevor Mbakwe was granted an additional year by the NCAA due to his season-ending injury last year. He missed the NIT last year but will be with the team for the 2012-13 season.
With all of these returns from a good team, the Gophers will be in a good position to surprise a lot of people next year and move up the rankings quickly.
24. Gonzaga: Center
Gonzaga's 2012-13 season is destined to be good, but whether or not the team will be elite will rely on the center position.
The Bulldogs lose seven-footer Robert Sacre, who was vital in the team's success last season. He leaves big shoes to fill, and I am not convinced that Sam Dower can even come close to filling them. Even with the versatile forward Elias Harris returning, the weakness for this team is in the frontcourt.
The Bulldogs return four starters and several key role players. This team is loaded with talent, but I cannot picture any of the guys on the team filling in for Sacre.
With talented players like Harris, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. returning, this team will certainly win the WCC. However, if the Bulldogs want to make it to the Sweet 16 or beyond, they will need someone to fill in at center.
23. Creighton: McDermotts
Creighton basketball is relying on two McDermotts to lead the team to a new level of success.
Doug McDermott is the clear National Player of the Year favorite for the 2012-13 season. He averaged 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for the Bluejays and finished in the top four in Player of the Year voting.
McDermott returns for his junior season this year, and he looks to lead this team to the promised land.
However, he isn't the only McDermott trying to lead this team. His father, Greg McDermott, is the head coach of the team, and the two must work together to help Creighton reach a new level of success next season.
22. Notre Dame: NCAA
The NCAA held the fate of Notre Dame basketball in its hands during the offseason, when deciding whether Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin deserved a sixth year in college after suffering medical hardships during the 2011-12 season.
If both were granted to play, the team would compete for the Big East crown. If one was allowed to play, the team would have returned most of its core from last season. If neither were granted to play, the team would have had a difficult year without either star.
As it turns out, the NCAA allowed Martin to return for a sixth year, but not Abromaitis. Martin was the lesser of the two, but having him return is a shot in the arm for Notre Dame basketball.
Martin has had an injury-plagued career, but if he can stay healthy for the entire season, he will definitely average double-digit points per game to accompany roughly six rebounds per game.
Notre Dame returns most of its core now and will be looking to reach the Sweet 16 this year. However, when the team undoubtedly loses in the NCAA tournament, Irish fans will surely wonder about what could have been if Abromaitis had been cleared too.
21. Cincinnati: Small
Cincinnati was a small team last year, starting four guards and wings and only one center in Yancy Gates.
The team's lack of size was its eventual downfall in the NCAA tournament, as Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas combined to oust the Bearcats in a 15-point blowout.
Cincy loses Gates this season and will struggle to make up for his size inside. The team now lacks a true big man that can make a difference inside and will rely on its small guards and wings to score an incredible amount of points if the team is going to beat major competition.
This team is going to be very small next year and must rely on players like sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick to drop 15 or more points per game.
20. Ohio State: Development
After making a run to the Final Four in last year's NCAA tournament, Ohio State loses its two best players in Jared Sullinger and William Buford.
The Buckeyes are now without true stars on their roster and must rely on the development of good players into great players.
DeShaun Thomas is going to have to be a star for this team. He is a problem when it comes to defending him, but he may not be ready to emerge into the type of star that the Buckeyes need.
Point guard Aaron Craft is the best defender in the nation, and center Amir Williams is a good shot-blocker, but the team needs the two to rack up points as well as play defense.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. must become a more consistent scoring threat and average double-digit points per game, if not double his average of 6.1 points per game of last season.
The development of these players is key for Ohio State next year, and without good players becoming great, this team could easily fall out of the Top 25.
19. Wisconsin: Defense
Wisconsin's bread-and-butter under coach Bo Ryan is always defense, and that will be the key for the team's success in 2012-13.
The Badgers will miss go-to scorer Jordan Taylor, who carried them to the Sweet 16 last season. Without a clear option to be "the guy" for Wisconsin next season, defense will become even more important.
Incoming freshman Sam Dekker will have to play a big role for the team, and he can be a good defender while kicking in a decent amount of points on the offensive end as well.
Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren will both have to emerge into bigger role with the team as well if the team is going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but the key for this team will undoubtedly be defense.
18. Marquette: Faith
After losing two bona-fide stars in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette will need to put its faith into relative unknowns in order to maintain its ranking among the nation's best.
The team is relying on Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, and Todd Mayo to improve offensively. The team also needs Chris Otule to do well after returning from an injury and JUCO transfer and former Oklahoma Sooner T.J. Taylor to impress on the offensive end.
The team is relying on no fewer than seven players to improve in leaps and bounds in order to make up for the loss of two stars.
Without Crowder and Johnson-Odom, the team will need to put its faith into a mix of decent players, relying on them to step up on alternate nights in order to win as many games as last season.
17. Michigan State: Teamwork
Michigan State was a No. 1 seed in last year's NCAA tournament, but after losing National Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green, it will take a team effort to keep the program elite.
Green did it all for the team last season, leading the team in points, rebounds and steals per game, while finishing second in assists and blocks.
He was a true star, and the Spartans will need everyone to help make up for his loss. Couple that with the indefinite suspension of Derrick Nix because of his arrest, and the Spartans will need everyone to help make up for these two losses.
Nix was recently reinstated to the team, but there could still be lingering obligations or penalties that could stop him from playing as much or as well as he can.
The way that this team will be able to overcome these losses is through teamwork. This team is stacked with athletes, including returning players like Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, as well as incoming freshman and McDonald's All-American Gary Harris.
These three guys need to be the core that helps everyone around them do better, as well as scoring in bunches and playing tight defense. However, the true key is teamwork for Tom Izzo's crew.
16. Syracuse: Athleticism
Jim Boeheim is running a 2-3 defense this year. You might have heard of it; he's been running it since America won its independence.
The key for this team is going to be sticking to that defense and getting out in transition, like just about any other year.
What keeps this strategy working is that Boeheim's teams are filled with athletes who keep opponents out of the lane and have the ability to get out in the open court and rack up points.
This year's team is led by freakish athletes and great players like Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche,C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and incoming freshmen DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant.
These guys are going to keep Boeheim's zone impenetrable and keep the offense running, as athleticism is the key.
15. North Carolina: Replenished
After losing four of the team's five starters to the NBA, the North Carolina Tar Heels remain among the best teams in the nation because of a replenished roster.
Incoming freshman Marcus Paige is arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2012, and he will be replacing All-American Kendall Marshall, and we won't see much of a drop-off there.
Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all left for the NBA, wiping out last year's frontline for the Tar Heels. However, James Michael-McAdoo was a top player in the Class of 2011, and he will finally get the chance to prove that he is a star.
Add in returnee Reggie Bullock and a great recruiting class with three big men in Joel James, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, and you can see that the Tar Heels will have no problem replacing their four NBA studs.
This is a new-look team for the Tar Heels, and having four Top 100 recruits and three returning stars in Dexter Strickland, Michael-McAdoo and Bullock will make for another great year for UNC basketball.
14. San Diego State: Returns
The key for San Diego State being ranked so high is the return of the team's backcourt. Last year this team had an excellent backcourt, and bringing all four members back will greatly improve the Aztecs this year.
Jamaal Franklin headlines the backcourt, and he could be an All-American this year. Last season he averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a 6'5" shooting guard. He will be joined by Chase Tapley, Xavier Thames and James Rahon, who were the team's top four scorers last season.
While the team lost a few good forwards, including Garrett Green, who was the team's best big man, the Aztecs bring in fresh faces to replace them.
Forwards J.J O'Brien and Dwayne Polee are transferring to San Diego State and will be playing next year. Add in athletic freshman Winston Shepard who can play forward well, and the frontcourt is solid.
The forte of this team is easily the returning members of the backcourt, and they will be the key for the Aztecs' success in 2012-13.
13. Duke: Depth
Not many teams could lose their star player, their senior leader, have a potential star of a freshman transfer and have a key player redshirt and still be listed as one of the deepest teams in the nation.
However, Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils have done just that.
Austin Rivers left for the NBA after just one season in college, while senior leader Miles Plumlee has graduated. Michael Gbinije transferred to Syracuse, and there are rumors of guard Andre Dawkins redshirting next season.
Yet, life goes on. Duke returns two redshirt players from last season in Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee. Mason Plumlee decided to come back for his senior season, and Coach K brought in two great recruits in Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson.
The Blue Devils still have no fewer than 10 impact players on the roster for next season when not counting Dawkins, and this team will rely on its depth to fight for rights to enter the top 10.
12. Baylor: Balance
For once, the frontcourt is not overwhelmingly better than the backcourt for the Baylor Bears. This year's team introduces a new concept to Waco: balance.
While the Bears lose their entire frontcourt of Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III, bringing in PF Ricardo Gathers and C Isaiah Austin helps to give the team two bona-fide stars.
In the backcourt the team has Pierre Jackson returning. Jackson was a huge part of last year's run to the Elite Eight, averaging 13.8 points, 5.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game on the season. He came in an unknown and finished a star.
Apart from Jackson, sharpshooter Brady Heslip and floor general A.J. Walton both return to the backcourt as well.
This Baylor team is one of the best in the nation, but not because the frontcourt is the best. This year's team centers around balance, which bodes well for the school, looking to capture its first conference title since 1950 this season.
11. Michigan: Starters
Michigan has lost five big players in Stu Douglas, Zach Novak and the three players who transferred, but this team has one of the best starting fives in the country.
Of all the players leaving Ann Arbor, the two most important ones decided to stay. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke both return to Michigan next season and will be one of the nation's top tandems.
However, they are not alone. Two big freshmen will be joining the starting lineup, as PF Mitch McGary and SF Glenn Robinson Jr. will both be impact players next season.
McGary is one of the most powerful centers in the Class of 2012 and surely has an NBA future ahead of him. GR2 is a relative unknown at the moment, but he should be able to play as a role player next season.
These four players will be the most important for the Wolverines next season. Throw in possible center Jordan Morgan, and you can see that the starters are key for Michigan.
While the bench will play a role next season, you can expect the starters to be carrying a heavy majority of the workload.
10. Florida: Backcourt
Florida loses two of its three best guards, including NBA lottery pick Brad Beal, who I consider to be the best player in this year's draft class. Along with Beal, point guard Erving Walker is also gone.
However, the Gators return leading scorer Kenny Boynton, who averaged 16.3 points per game. Mike Rosario is also back, and he will finally be given the chance to emerge as a star for this team.
Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather are also back, along with four new guards in the Class of 2012 recruiting class.
Braxton Ogbueze is a Top 100 player and will be seeing serious minutes at point guard next season. The team also takes in three shooting guards in Michael Frazier, DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham.
With no fewer than nine guards competing for playing time, backcourt depth is going to be the biggest strength that Florida has next season.
9. UNLV: Stars
Star power is the key for UNLV next season, as having a few big stars sums up everything UNLV has been working for.
Mike Moser, Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch are the big stars, while Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Marshall have the potential to emerge as stars.
Moser was the team's leader last season, averaging 14.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on the season. He was joined by Marshall last season, a scoring point guard who averaged 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
These two were the backbone of last year's team, but this year they will be joined by more talent.
Khem Birch was the No. 12 prospect in the Class of 2011, and looked like he could be a star. However, he was unhappy at Pittsburgh and almost immediately transferred to UNLV. He should emerge as the player we expected him to be coming out of high school, which bodes well for the Rebels.
Anthony Bennett is the No. 7 player in the Class of 2012 and is a three-point shooting power forward who is a guaranteed star from Canada. Reinhardt is also an incoming freshman, and while he is only ranked No. 47 in the class, he has the potential to be a huge player for the Rebels over the next few seasons.
These five players have the star power to lead UNLV to the top, and they will be the biggest part of the Rebels in 2012-13.
8. North Carolina State: Talent
North Carolina State is no longer standing in the shadow of Duke and North Carolina but is instead atop the ACC preseason ranking.
This team is filled with nothing but talent, bringing back four great players and adding in three McDonald's All-Americans.
C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown are all back, while Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren will join the team this year.
Mark Gottfired has been working wonders at NC State, and the Wolfpack is now one of the elite teams in the country because of all the talent he has brought in.
This team has talent coming out the wazoo, which will lead to the Wolfpack to their 11th ACC conference championship.
7. Missouri: Transfers
Frank Haith's Missouri crew shocked the world last year, winning the Big 12 conference tournament. Next season the team will rely heavily on its transfers to stay competitive, this time in the SEC.
Earnest Ross, Keion Bell and Jabari Brown are all going to be impact players next year, after transferring to Mizzou. However, the biggest component will be Alex Oriakhi, who transferred from UConn for his final season.
Oriakhi is one of the best true centers in the country. He averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore before being put into an unfriendly situation during his junior season. He struggled last season, but he will surely return to form for his last season, potentially averaging a double-double.
The Tigers lost a lot of talent from last year's squad, which is why these transfers will make the difference next season.
6. Arizona: New
Of Arizona's top seven players next season, five are new.
Bringing in four elite recruits and the best transfer on the market leads to Sean Miller's crew jumping from missing the NCAA tournament to a top-10 team.
Zona brings three of the top 10 recruits next year in Kaleb Tarc Zewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett. These three are all big men who are long, athletic and elite players. Throw in the most underrated player in the Class of 2012 (Gabe York), and you have the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation.
The team also brings in Xavier's Mark Lyons, who averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season with the Musketeers. Lyons will be key for the team next season, as he will be playing point guard along with York.
These five guys are all new and should make up at least the top three players for the Wildcats next season, if not more.
This is a new team that has all the makings of a title contenders.
5. Kansas: Overrated
After losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the NBA, Kansas lacks a true star on next year's team.
Star power has been what has made Kansas so successful in recent years, thanks to players like Robinson, Taylor and the Morris twins. However, this year's team does not have someone like that to rely on.
Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson could be called the stars of this team, but they pale in comparison to the recent leaders of the Jayhawks.
Without that go-to guy, I can't see how Kansas is cracking the top five in so many polls. I think that this team could resemble UConn of last season, when the Huskies started at No. 4 in the country and fell out of the Top 25 very quickly.
It is because of this lack of a true stud that I'd call this team overrated.
4. UCLA: Mesh
UCLA is another team like Arizona that was not ranked last season and missed out on the Big Dance. However, three talented recruits will help turn this program around.
Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will make up the best tandem in college hoops next season, while Tony Parker will provide the big man that the team needs to compete on the boards.
These three guys will form a talented trio, but in order to maintain this place near the top of the college basketball world, they must mesh their styles of play.
Muhammad's blistering style of play will be difficult for the other two to keep up with. Anderson is athletic and can push the ball, despite looking slow, but he can't keep the pace that Muhammad can.
Likewise, Parker used to have conditioning issues, and I doubt that without multiple years of intense training he could keep up with Muhammad.
Anderson is a great ball-distributor, and while there will be times that Muhammad can run and Parker can dominate in the half-court, the two will have to mesh with Anderson if they want to live up to expectations.
3. Kentucky: Underclassmen
John Calipari is known for his tremendous recruiting, and this year's recruiting class is no different. With four freshmen in the top 40 in the Class of 2012, this year's Kentucky team will rely heavily on freshmen and underclassmen.
Calipari brings in No. 39 Willie Cauley, and two top 15 prospects in Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. However, the crowning jewel is No. 1 overall recruit Nerlens Noel, a shot-blocking machine that has drawn comparisons to Anthony Davis of last season.
These four freshmen will play vital roles, but so will sophomore Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore transfer Ryan Harrow, both of whom will be starters next season.
With the expected starting lineup being Harrow, Goodwin, Poythress, Wiltjer and Noel, all five starters will be underclassmen, just like last season when the Wildcats won it all. The difference is that this year the sixth man will be a freshman (Cauley) instead of a senior like Darius Miller.
The Wildcats need their underclassmen to mature quickly once again if they are going to remain amongst the elite, and Calipari is just the man for the job.
2. Louisville: Leadership
The Louisville Cardinals will have the most leadership of any team in the nation. Period.
Rick Pitino is a great leader of a coach, but he has an on-court leader in Peyton Siva as well.
Siva is one of the best point guards in the nation because of his leadership. He is easily the best floor general, and if I were to pick any point guard to lead my team in 2012-13, I would have to choose him because of that.
Russ Smith isn't a bad leader either, and coupling him with Siva in the backcourt is a winning combination.
You can never make the Cardinals feel uncomfortable because they can adjust to whatever you can throw at them. Whether it's adjusting on the fly thanks to Siva and Smith, or a brand-new strategy that Pitino can work against during a timeout, you simply cannot baffle Louisville.
This leadership is what makes the Cardinals special, and it is why they are No. 2 in the country.
1. Indiana: Hype
With Cody Zeller and Christian Watford both choosing to return to Indiana instead of entering the NBA draft, the Hoosiers are loaded.
Returning all five starters from last year's Sweet 16 team and adding in five more great players from their recruiting class, the Hoosiers are deep and talented.
Maurice Creek is also back, and if he can play like he did as a freshman, this is easily the best team in the country. Even if he can't, having all five starters, a McDonald's All-American and three Top 100 recruits makes for a winning recipe.
It's hard to pick any aspect that this team lacks, which is why they are being hailed as the No. 1 team in the nation by far. However, as of now that's all just talk.
Right now this team is hyped, but they have to show why.
While I do think that this is the best team in the nation, the Hoosiers need to prove it before their team can bee viewed as anything but hype.
After hearing last year's North Carolina team being called one of the best teams in history and a lock for an NCAA title, you can see why I want to be cautious moving forward. This is the best team on paper, but they need to prove it first.
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