Preseason College Basketball Rankings 2014: Projecting Top Teams for Next Season

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the game against the Long Island Blackbirds at Rupp Arena on November 23, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2012-13 season ended in thrilling fashion as Louisville won the national championship by defeating Michigan in the finals. However, next year will be much different.

Seniors will move on and top players will declare for the NBA draft, like Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo (both via ESPN).

Plus, teams will be transformed by an influx of talented freshmen across the country. 

There is still a lot of uncertainty, especially as players continue to make decisions about the NBA draft. However, here is an early look at the best teams for the 2013-14 season.


5. North Carolina

There is a chance that James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston could all declare for the draft, but in reality, none of them should.

If these three players remain in Chapel Hill, this will be one of the best teams in the country next season.

The only contributing senior on the team was Dexter Strickland, and many times he caused more harm than good. He will be replaced in the backcourt by incoming freshman Nate Britt, who has the quickness and toughness necessary to run the Tar Heels offense perfectly. 

In addition, the squad will get reinforcements up front in highly touted prospects Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. This will allow Hairston to move back to small forward, where he is more comfortable, and that will make the defense stronger.

Also, we can see more of J.P Tokoto and Brice Johnson, who were just scratching the surface of their potential last year.

A poor seed hurt North Carolina's chances to make a deep tournament run this past year, but you can expect a lot more from this club next season.


4. Arizona

While Arizona used a guard-heavy system to get as far as the Sweet 16 this season, things will look much different next year.

In fact, the Wildcats might end up having the top frontcourts in the entire country once the season gets going. 

Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley should improve heading into their sophomore years, while the squad also adds the extremely athletic Aaron Gordon. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will also join the team to make two top-15 recruits, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings.

Of course, that does not mean the backcourt will be barren. Mark Lyons will be replaced by Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists per game during the 2011-12 season.

There will be a lot of fresh faces, but these players will be able to keep this team near the top of the polls all year.


3. Louisville

Nothing is final, but Russ Smith's dad does not believe that the guard will return for his senior season, according to Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated. Assuming Gorgui Dieng leaves as well, this could be devastating for Louisville.

However, you cannot overlook the great depth that the Cardinals had this season, which was a major reason that they were able to win a championship.

Luke Hancock came off the bench to win the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player with 42 points in his last two games. He should be able to keep up this momentum once he is placed in a starting role next to Wayne Blackshear on the outside.

In the frontcourt, Chane Behanan will be able to play alongside the athletic Montrezl Harrell or Stephan Van Treese, each of which performed well when they got onto the court.

Although Peyton Siva will be tough to replace, incoming freshman Terry Rozier will do his best to make people forget about the talented senior.

Good programs always have players ready to step up, and Louisville will be able to do that well next season.


2. Michigan State

Once again, next season will be based on a key player returning to school. In this case, it is shooting guard Gary Harris.

If the freshman returns to Michigan State, the team will only lose Derrick Nix, who was fourth on the team in scoring. While he had some big performances, the Spartans will be able to move on.

Of course, this means that there will be a lot of talent staying on the roster. Keith Appling could be one of the top point guards in the country with an extra year of maturity, while Harris will take another step toward realizing his potential as an elite scorer.

Up front, the team will be anchored by the athletic Adreian Payne, who had a good season with 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. If he can continue to improve his all-around game, the sky is the limit for what he can produce.

This team is always well-coached, and Tom Izzo will have this veteran team ready to compete for a title.


1. Kentucky 

From a pure talent perspective, next year's Kentucky team could be the greatest college basketball team ever assembled.

Potential NBA lottery picks Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein have already announced that they will return for their sophomore seasons. They will be mentors to a loaded incoming freshman class.

According to 247 Sports' composite rankings, Kentucky has already received commitments from six of the top 15 players in the country. Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall recruit, is still considering the Wildcats as well.

Even without Wiggins, Kentucky could still potentially have eight future first-round NBA picks on the roster. That is simply mind-blowing.

Of course, it will be up to coach John Calipari to contain all of the personalities and create a winning formula. We saw this season with Kentucky that talent alone does not always lead to success.

However, at least a few of these players should live up to expectations and lead this team to a national championship.