As college basketball’s 2013-14 tipoff draws ever closer, the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s top teams come into sharper focus. For some programs, that’s good news as a new transfer arrives on the roster or a freshman exceeds expectations, but others aren’t having nearly as much fun in the summer sun.
North Carolina has been hearing nothing but bad news lately about star wing P.J. Hairston. Between health problems and legal troubles, it’s far from clear whether the Tar Heels will have their leading scorer back for the start of the season.
Read on for more on UNC and the rest of the projected Top 25 that will be in place when the season opener rolls around.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
The Hoyas’ loss is Notre Dame’s gain, as the torn ACL that’s expected to cost Greg Whittington his entire season drops Georgetown from the preseason rankings.
Best Asset: Backcourt
Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant were already one of the top perimeter duos in the country, averaging 24.5 points and 11 assists per game between them, and now they’re both seniors who've played together for two years.
Biggest Concern: Replacing Jack Cooley
The 6’9”, 246-pound double-double machine created space for the shooters on the wings by drawing defensive attention to the paint. Can 6’10” rising senior Garrick Sherman make even a fraction of the same contributions?
Previous Ranking: 23
The Crimson Tide’s prospects took a hit when Devonta Pollard, the jewel of last year’s freshman class and a solid bench contributor, left the program due to legal troubles.
Best Asset: Experience
All five starters return for coach Anthony Grant, with the headliner being high-scoring point guard Trevor Releford, a rising senior.
Biggest Concern: Point production
This roster is largely the same one that ranked 275th nationally in scoring and an appalling 308th in assists, numbers that don’t bode well for competing against athletic SEC defenses.
Previous Ranking: 22
It’s tough for the Buffaloes to begrudge ex-teammate Andre Roberson getting drafted by a great team like Oklahoma City, but this frontcourt will miss him all season.
Best Asset: Backcourt scoring
Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker combined for 27.7 points per game a season ago, and they’ll pile up even more if they can tighten up their three-point strokes a little.
Biggest Concern: Point guard
Last year’s Buffs didn’t have one (ranking 328th nationally in assists as a team), and with no help arriving in the recruiting class, it’s going to be another turnover-plagued season in Boulder.
Previous Ranking: 24
Fred Hoiberg’s magic touch with transfers continues, as the Cyclones grab Marshall star DeAndre Kane—15.1 points, 7.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game—as a graduate transfer who can play immediately.
Best Asset: The two-point shot
It’s a Hoiberg team, so Iowa State will still launch treys like there’s no tomorrow, but adding Kane to returning forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang means that the Cyclones’ top three weapons are better inside the arc than out.
Biggest Concern: Defense
ISU hasn’t played much of it since Hoiberg took over, and with a pair of true freshmen arriving in the backcourt, this team may be even easier to score on next season.
Previous Ranking: 21
The reinstatement of center Enosch Wolf, whose legal issues are presumably behind him, leaves the Huskies with some depth (though little bulk) up front.
Best Asset: Itty-bitty guards
The backcourt tandem of 6’1” Shabazz Napier and 6’0” Ryan Boatright combined to average 32.5 points, 9.0 assists, 3.5 steals and (remarkably) 7.3 rebounds per game a year ago.
Biggest Concern: Interior muscle
DeAndre Daniels is the Huskies’ one reliable big man at 6’8”, 195 pounds, and running mates Wolf and Tyler Olander aren’t bruisers, either.
Previous Ranking: 20
A quiet offseason for the Billikens matches the quiet image projected by both the team and coach Jim Crews, but both are set to put up another very loud season at the top of the Atlantic 10.
Best Asset: Defense
SLU ranked 16th nationally in points allowed per game, and with the entire team buying in on that effort, even some graduation losses shouldn’t do much to hurt a smothering D.
Biggest Concern: Scoring
After placing 10th in their own conference in three-pointers made, the Billikens lost top sniper Cody Ellis, meaning that Dwayne Evans will be carrying an even bigger load inside.
Previous Ranking: 18
The Cowboys are going to live off their guards next season, so they can’t be thrilled about losing one, even a projected backup. Detrick Mostella, a promising freshman, switched his commitment to Pitt at the 11th hour.
Best Asset: Marcus Smart
A frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors, Smart has the potential to challenge for the NBA’s top draft pick after finishing second nationally in steals (2.9 per game) and racking up jaw-dropping numbers as a scorer, passer and rebounder.
Biggest Concern: Size
Philip Jurick’s graduation left a weak frontcourt weaker, and Kansas and Baylor will provide some serious big men for the Cowboys to contend with.
Previous Ranking: 19
With the new Big East officially open for business, top rival Creighton is gone from the Missouri Valley and Wichita State has a chance to build a bona fide dynasty.
Best Asset: Three-point shooters
NCAA tournament hero Cleanthony Early leads a deep corps of returning long-range scorers who can also play solid defense.
Biggest Concern: Rebounding
A year after dominating the glass on the way to the Final Four, the Shockers lose Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe with few replacement options to be had.
Previous Ranking: 17
New coach Craig Neal has a tough act to follow in replacing Steve Alford, but he has the luxury of plenty of returning talent to help him out.
Best Asset: Kendall Williams
When it comes to the postseason—where the Lobos have struggled mightily—there’s nothing more valuable than a senior point guard, and Williams (team highs of 13.3 points and 4.9 assists per game) can run with the best in the country.
Biggest Concern: Three-point shooting
Last year’s best weapon from beyond the arc (Tony Snell) is now a Chicago Bull, and returnees Williams (.348) and Hugh Greenwood (.357) won’t intimidate many opponents.
Previous Ranking: 16
The Tigers may not be done improving their roster this offseason, but they’ll stay put in the rankings until the ruling comes down on an eligibility waiver for ex-Missouri guard Michael Dixon Jr. for 2013-14.
Best Asset: Backcourt
Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson are all seniors who score in double figures, and all of them grab at least 1.5 steals a game as well.
Biggest Concern: Rebounding
Tarik Black’s departure costs the Tigers one of their best men on the boards, and freshman Austin Nichols is more of a scorer than a glass cleaner.
Previous Ranking: 15
The Rams have to be sighing with relief that their much-courted head coach, Shaka Smart, didn’t leave town midway through the offseason as Butler’s Brad Stevens did.
Best Asset: Havoc
As usual, VCU will live and die with Smart’s devastating full-court press, this time with former sixth man Briante Weber (2.7 steals per game) in the starting lineup.
Biggest Concern: Half-court offense
The loss of three-point specialist Troy Daniels will make it that much tougher to space the floor, and Weber isn’t as much a natural at running the offense as he is at picking pockets.
Previous Ranking: 14
After seeing two little-used reserves transfer out (Maurice Creek and Remy Abell), the Hoosiers bring one in by adding Evan Gordon, a shooting guard who’s sadly not on the same level as his older brother and NBA star Eric.
Best Asset: Shooters
Stud freshman Noah Vonleh joins a deep corps of jump-shooting options, including Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Will Sheehey.
Biggest Concern: Physicality
Yogi Ferrell is a small point guard, and big men Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell need more weight, especially in this conference.
Previous Ranking: 13
The most suspenseful part of the confident Zags’ offseason was waiting to see whether both Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris would be chosen in the NBA draft (answer: no, with Harris going undrafted).
Best Asset: Kevin Pangos
Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer, Pangos is also a battle-tested point guard and a tough-minded defender.
Biggest Concern: Sam Dower
The 6’9”, 255-pound Dower has patiently waited his turn through three seasons as a reserve, but now he has to live up to expectations that have repeatedly projected him as the Next Big Thing in Spokane.
Previous Ranking: 11
In addition to suffering a back injury at Team USA trials, swingman P.J. Hairston is stuck in an increasingly ugly legal quagmire—with potential charges ranging from traffic violations to drugs to weapons—that leaves his season up in the air.
Best Asset: Frontcourt scoring
Returning star James Michael McAdoo (14.4 points per game) will be joined up front by a pair of elite freshmen: fleet-footed Isaiah Hicks and the massive Kennedy Meeks.
Biggest Concern: Hairston
If the 6’5” rising junior misses any significant playing time, Leslie McDonald becomes the only viable perimeter scorer for the Tar Heels.
Previous Ranking: 12
Both Vander Blue and his former Marquette teammates have reason to regret the high-scoring shooting guard going undrafted, because the Golden Eagles could really use his offensive prowess next season.
Best Asset: Defense
As usual for a Buzz Williams-coached team, Marquette can be counted on for tough, physical D, even if it doesn’t rack up lofty block or steal numbers.
Biggest Concern: Perimeter offense
Not only is Blue gone, but so is graduated point guard Junior Cadougan, leaving a heavy burden for small forward Jamil Wilson on the outside.
Previous Ranking: 10
The Blue Devils got a major scare when transfer Rodney Hood (ex-Mississippi State) hurt his Achilles at the Team USA tryouts, but all indications are that the injury is minor.
Best Asset: Perimeter defense
Ballyhooed freshman Jabari Parker is a ferocious defender at small forward, while Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have already spent one season making opposing ballhandlers miserable together.
Biggest Concern: Size
Until Marshall Plumlee is ready for a starting job, Duke is depending on 6’8”, 195-pound Amile Jefferson and 6’7” Josh Hairston in the post.
Previous Ranking: 9
For a team that has to replace two first-round draft picks, the national runners-up from Michigan are in remarkably good shape for next season.
Best Asset: Sophomores
One-and-done? Not in Ann Arbor, where Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas all came back to give the Wolverines a loaded offense.
Biggest Concern: Leadership
Rising senior Jordan Morgan, a reserve, is the only upperclassmen with significant experience. Meanwhile, floor general Trey Burke is being replaced by freshman Derrick Walton and a pair of relatively untested rising sophomores.
Previous Ranking: 6
Scottie Wilbekin’s unending discipline problems have flared up again, and the standout point guard—the key to the Gators press last season—is suspended indefinitely.
Best Asset: Defense
Even if Wilbekin misses significant time, Florida’s length and athleticism at other positions (especially bruising center Patric Young) will keep them near the top of the scoring defense charts.
Biggest Concern: Half-court scoring
The Gators were low on jump shooters already, and even if freshman Kasey Hill is ready to step in for Wilbekin, he’s more effective in transition than in a set offense.
Previous Ranking: 8
Even with three starters gone, Jim Boeheim’s revered 2-3 zone soldiers on with a loaded frontcourt that now has the benefit of Final Four experience.
Best Asset: Size
6’8” C.J. Fair anchors a long, athletic group of forwards that’s going to clean up on the glass.
Biggest Concern: Backcourt
Freshman Tyler Ennis may or may not be ready to take over Michael Carter-Williams’ starting job, but either way, he has very little help on the outside.
Previous Ranking: 7
The raw Jayhawks got a boost when massive Memphis forward Tarik Black (8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game) decided to spend his graduate-transfer year in Lawrence.
Best Asset: Andrew Wiggins
There are plenty of great supporting players (including Perry Ellis, pictured), but freshman Wiggins, rated No. 1 nationally in the recruiting class, is the do-it-all star and the most likely leading scorer.
Biggest Concern: Inexperience
Five new starters (including two freshmen) will have a lot of growing up to do, enormous talent notwithstanding.
Previous Ranking: 5
Even the loss of clutch specialist Mark Lyons to graduation won’t slow down the Wildcats, who have talent to burn up and down the roster.
Best Asset: Frontcourt
A pair of McDonald’s All-Americans (including the game MVP, Aaron Gordon) join Brandon Ashley and a big, mobile collection of forwards.
Biggest Concern: Chemistry
There’s only space enough for one low post, but this team has four scorers who want to be there. They’ll also create loads of traffic for slasher Nick Johnson.
Previous Ranking: 4
Deshaun Thomas’ draft slot (No. 58 overall) had to be a comedown for his former teammates, but even without Thomas’ star power, the Buckeyes are likely headed for their second Final Four in three years.
Best Asset: Defense
Ballhawking Aaron Craft (2.1 steals per game) is the nation's toughest defender, and he has plenty of long, athletic players around him this season.
Biggest Concern: Low-post presence
Amir Williams is a fine shot blocker and rebounder, but there’s hardly any scoring to be found on the blocks for Ohio State.
Previous Ranking: 3
An unimpressive recruiting class will be little concern for Tom Izzo, who has an experienced roster featuring his usual collection of bruising rebounders.
Best Asset: Athleticism
Adreian Payne is as athletic as any big man in the country, and Gary Harris and Branden Dawson have tremendous strength and speed on the wings.
Biggest Concern: Keith Appling
State’s leading scorer from a year ago is also a highly erratic point guard who needs to get more consistent for this team to reach its potential.
Previous Ranking: 2
Kyle Wiltjer’s potential transfer is far from a done deal, and even if the junior forward leaves town, the Wildcats have the deepest frontcourt in college hoops.
Best Asset: Potential
There are more future NBA players on John Calipari’s roster than any two other teams in the country can muster, and most of them will be in next June's draft.
Biggest Concern: Playing time
Especially if Wiltjer stays in Lexington, Calipari is going to have a devil of a time finding minutes for all his high-powered forwards, whether returnees (Alex Poythress) or freshmen (Julius Randle).
Previous Ranking: 1
Even the transfer of little-used Zach Price to Missouri won’t make much of a dent in the defending national champs, who have athletes and experience aplenty.
Best Asset: Championship experience
Three starters and a boatload of reserves are back after a brilliantly-played title run that featured four blowout wins in six games.
Biggest Concern: Jump shooting
The return of championship game hero Luke Hancock will help, but Louisville had few shooters last year and didn’t add any serious marksmen in the offseason.