Preseason NCAA Basketball Rankings 2014-15: B/R Experts' Updated Top 25 Poll
With Myles Turner finally off the market and the NBA draft deadline passed, it's time to revisit our 2014-15 preseason top 25.
Most of the assumptions that my colleague Jason King and I made in the first set of rankings came true—unless, of course, that had to do with the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Wildcats created a shakeup at the top, and a few other NBA decisions moved several other teams up and down the rankings.
Barring any P.J. Hairston moments this summer, this should closely resemble the top 25 we'll release right before the season.
Honorable Mentions: Ohio State, VCU, Stanford, Minnesota, LSU, Memphis, Baylor, Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
21-25: Oregon-San Diego State
21. Oregon: Joseph Young was one of the best guards in the country last season, and Oregon has an extremely talented backcourt returning with Young, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. The Ducks loves to play fast, and they have the backcourt depth to wear opponents down.
22. Iowa: The Hawkeyes looked like a Final Four sleeper midway through the year until a late-season collapse. Roy Devyn Marble will be tough to replace, but Fran McCaffery has good depth in his program. The key to Iowa's success could be Aaron White, a talented but unassertive 4-man who is going to need to become more aggressive to help compensate for the loss of Marble.
23. Harvard: Tommy Amaker's team returns its three leading scorers in Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi. The Crimson have won tourney games in back-to-back seasons. Those credentials wouldn't make anyone blink at being top 25-worthy. It's just the fact that it's Harvard that makes you look twice.
24. Michigan State: The Spartans lose a lot, but it's reasonable to believe that Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine have enough ability to emerge as the go-to guys. This team will need to adopt a blue-collar mentality that at times was lacking from the more star-studded group of this past season.
25. San Diego State: Xavier Thames and Josh Davis graduated, but Steve Fisher returns enough of his core along with adding a solid recruiting class. The Aztecs are going to defend. The only question is how the offense will perform with Thames no longer around.
16. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lose only one contributor (Ray Gallegos) from a team that won 10 of its final 12 regular-season games in the Big Ten last year. Tim Miles has one of the best players in the Big Ten (Terran Petteway), and the Pinnacle Bank Arena has quickly become one of the best home-court advantages in the league.
17. K-State: The strength of the Wildcats will once again be on the perimeter with leading scorer Marcus Foster returning and Maine transfer Justin Edwards gaining his eligibility. Bruce Weber had a strong freshman class last year, and that core group should continue to improve over the next few years.
18. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a nice inside-outside combination with Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield returning. Lon Kruger loses only one starter from the team that finished second in what was considered by many the best league in the country.
19. Michigan: Sure, the Wolverines lose a lot in Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, but last year we were wondering how John Beilein's team would do without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and the Wolverines were just as salty on the offensive end. It's hard not to expect a bit of a drop-off this time around, but Caris LeVert is one of the best returning wings in the country, Derrick Walton will be ready to take on more playmaking responsibilities, and Zak Irvin showed a lot of promise as a freshman.
20. UConn: With DeAndre Daniels declaring for the draft, that leaves Ryan Boatright as really the only proven scorer. The Huskies are still an intriguing team, however, as NC State transfer Rodney Purvis will be eligible to help Boatright in the backcourt, and Kevin Ollie returns plenty of size up front to build another dominant defense.
11. Texas: The Longhorns bring back everybody, and now Rick Barnes can add Myles Turner to that mix. It's not even a given that Turner will be a starter, as he'll have to beat out either Cameron Ridley or Jonathan Holmes unless Barnes decides to move Holmes to the 3. Regardless, UT is stacked up front, and Isaiah Taylor figures to be one of the Big 12's best guards.
12. Villanova: The Wildcats are the clear-cut favorite to repeat as Big East champs. Jay Wright returns four starters and all of his top guys off the bench. Remember, this is a team that got a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and an early exit doesn't look so bad now considering UConn was the team that knocked out Nova.
13. SMU: Incoming freshman Emmanuel Mudiay will team with Nic Moore to form one of the top backcourts in the country. Larry Brown also has some nice pieces up front, returning Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira, and Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert could be eligible to play right away if granted a waiver by the NCAA.
14. Iowa State: All Fred Hoiberg was missing on his roster was a guard who could go get his own shot to replace DeAndre Kane. And wouldn't you know it, Hoiberg went out and found his guy by adding UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones. The Cyclones will also benefit from the additions of transfers Jameel McKay (from Marquette) and Abdel Nader (from Northern Illinois) to a nice core of returning guys led by Georges Niang.
15. Gonzaga: The Zags are going to be solid regardless of what they get from their frontcourt because they can count on their starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to be good. They've proven that over time. Now the Zags could become a top-10 team if the frontcourt comes together, and the potential is there to be pretty darn good with Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and the addition of Domantas Sabonis, the son of Arvydas Sabonis, joining Przemek Karnowski.
Previous Ranking: 21
What's Changed: Montrezl Harrell decided to put the NBA off at least another year. Even Rick Pitino was operating under the assumption that Harrell had played his final game as a Cardinal.
What's to Like: The Cards have a lot of depth both inside and on the perimeter, which is always good news for a Pitino roster because of the press. Terry Rozier is a breakout candidate and will need to be a scorer, as he replaces Russ Smith in the starting lineup.
The pressure on Rozier and Chris Jones is not what it would have been had Harrell left for the NBA. Now that he's back, Pitino has a nice mix of inside and outside scoring.
Previous Ranking: 9
What's Changed: Nothing. Tony Bennett is still returning three of his four leading scorers, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon, and Virginia did not have any surprise transfers or early departures to the NBA.
What's to Like: The system. Bennett has built something that's sustainable at Virginia, and the only real question entering next season is whether the Wahoos can replace the shooting of Joe Harris. Defensively, they should be dominant again with two of the team's best defenders off the bench last year, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, moving into the starting lineup.
8. Wichita State
Previous Ranking: 8
What's Changed: Nothing. It's looking like Wichita State will make it through another offseason without a bigger program luring Gregg Marshall out of Wichita.
What's to Like: The backcourt. It's going to be tough for Marshall to leave as long as Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are still around. The Shockers also return defensive specialist Tekele Cotton. The only question mark is whether someone can step in to fill the big hole left by Cleanthony Early. At the very least, look for Baker to take on more responsibility scoring the ball.
Previous Ranking: 7
What's Changed: The uncertainty of whether Chris Walker would turn pro or not. Walker is back and likely to become one of Florida's key pieces as he replaces Patric Young as the team's defensive anchor.
What's to Like: The backcourt of Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. Hill had a season to learn the system and play in the shadow of Scottie Wilbekin. He has the ability to be a star for the Gators, and Frazier was already one of the best three-point snipers in the country this past season.
Previous Ranking: 5
What's Changed: The Blue Devils lost Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to the NBA, but we were already assuming that would happen the last time we did the rankings.
What's to Like: Duke goes from searching for answers in the middle throughout last season to featuring the consensus best player in the 2014 class at center. Jahlil Okafor has a chance to be the most dominant big man in the country and will replace Parker as Duke's go-to scorer. The Blue Devils will surround Okafor with a number of capable of shooters, including veteran guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon.
5. North Carolina
Previous Ranking: 4
What's Changed: Nothing. We already knew the last time around that James Michael McAdoo was leaving for the NBA. If any team already had the depth to handle such a loss, it was UNC. There's not much fall-off—if any—with Brice Johnson taking McAdoo's spot.
What's to Like: When the Tar Heels were playing their best basketball last season, they developed a toughness on the defensive end that Roy Williams' teams don't always have. This team will have the athletes and size to be dominant on that end.
The one question mark for UNC will once again be whether anyone outside of Marcus Paige can hit an outside shot. Look for incoming freshman Justin Jackson to at least be a threat. Jackson has a great mid-range jumper and would be a nice complement on the wing to uber-athletes J.P. Tokoto and fellow incoming freshman Theo Pinson.
Previous Ranking: 3
What's Changed: Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins declared for the NBA draft, but that was already expected.
What's to Like: The Jayhawks missed out on Myles Turner, but Bill Self has plenty of options inside. He'll start one of the more talented front lines in the country, with Cliff Alexander replacing Embiid and playing alongside underrated scorer Perry Ellis. Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson will come off the bench, and all three would be candidates to start for most teams in the Big 12.
The Jayhawks are also extremely talented and deep on the wing, led by Wayne Selden and incoming freshman Kelly Oubre, the replacement for Wiggins. Point guard is still a concern, and it's not a given that the starting spot will be handed back to Naadir Tharpe. Tharpe will have to fight off both Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp, and KU is still recruiting Devonte Graham, the top unsigned point guard in the 2014 class.
Previous Ranking: 2
What's Changed: As expected, both Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson left early for the NBA.
What's to Like: The one roster rivaling Kentucky's in terms of depth of talent is Arizona's. Sean Miller loses Gordon and Johnson, but he gains one of the top incoming freshman classes, headlined by Stanley Johnson. I believe Johnson is most prepared freshman to impact the college game right away, and Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the most talented 2-3 combo in the country.
Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are one of the more talented front lines, and they'll all be set up by T.J. McConnell, one of the best passers in the country.
That bench should be pretty salty as well. With the addition of Junior College Player of the Year Kadeem Allen to go along with sharpshooter Gabe York and the other incoming freshmen, Arizona will certainly have more talent off the bench this season than last.
Previous Ranking: 1
What's Changed: Nothing changed for Wisconsin's roster, but another team that jumped ahead of the Badgers had some unexpected returnees.
What's to Like: Experience. Wisconsin has three senior starters (Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky) and a junior starter (Sam Dekker) off a Final Four team. Bo Ryan has options with who he decides to start in that fifth spot whether he wants to go big with Nigel Hayes at the 4, moving Dekker to the 3, or go traditional with Bronson Koenig in the backcourt.
The Badgers will miss the shooting of Ben Brust, but Hayes and Koenig both have pretty high ceilings and could eventually be stars down the road. They'll have to wait their turn behind Kaminsky, who was awesome during the NCAA tournament and will be a National Player of the Year candidate as a senior.
Previous Ranking: 6
What's Changed: John Calipari did one heck of a recruiting job and got the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress to return to school. It was expected that at least three of those guys—most likely the twins and Cauley-Stein—would go pro in addition to Julius Randle and James Young.
What's to Like: Those top six returners alone would probably be preseason No. 1. Of course, Calipari went out and signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Calipari will have so much depth that you could wipe out his starting five and what's left would still be a top-25 team.
The one question mark is how Calipari is going to keep all those future pros happy. The addition of Tyler Ulis will help. Ulis is a pass-first point guard who will find his way into the rotation somehow even with the Harrisons still around. Big Blue Nation's imagination will be running wild this summer thinking of all the combinations of lineups that Calipari could use.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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