College Basketball Power Rankings: Why Each Top 25 Team Could Be a No. 1 Seed

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2011

College Basketball Power Rankings: Why Each Top 25 Team Could Be a No. 1 Seed

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    One of the great things about the offseason in any sport is that every team can find reasons to hope. In the case of the teams near the top of the college basketball heap, those hopes can even extend to earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    Some teams, like Kentucky, come in loaded with talent and Final Four experience, while others, like Xavier, are used to being on the outside looking in. With the right breaks, though, any of them could find themselves facing a 16th seed in their opening game.

    Herein, one version of the preseason Top 25 (courtesy of Yahoo!) and a look at why each of these squads could find themselves at the top of the brackets come March.

25. Wichita State

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    Postseason tournament experience doesn’t always have to come from the NCAAs.

    After 2010 NIT runner-up North Carolina captured the 2011 ACC title, 2011 NIT champion Wichita State hopes to parlay its title run into bigger success this season.

    The Shockers return four of their top five scorers from last year, including 7’0” center Garrett Stutz and 6’5” SG Toure’ Murry (9.4 points, a team-high 3.4 assists per game in 2010-11).

    With three other seniors joining that pair, Wichita State could easily become the mid-major standard-bearer for this season.

24. Michigan

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    To see how good the Michigan Wolverines can be when everything clicks, just cue up the tape of their second-round NCAA meeting with Tennessee.

    That 75-45 drubbing saw Michigan—with five scorers in double figures—shoot 51.6 percent from the field while forcing 18 turnovers.

    PG Darius Morris is gone to the NBA, but the other four starters return from a team that thrived on balanced scoring.

    If Tim Hardaway Jr. can take over Morris’ playmaking duties without sacrificing the rest of his offensive game, the Wolverines will surprise a lot of Big Ten foes in 2011-12.

23. Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State endured a circus of a 2010-11 season, but this year could be the team’s chance to become the main attraction.

    If they can put their off-court issues—notably suspensions resulting from a fistfight among their own players—behind them, the Bulldogs have the raw talent to mix it up with the best in the country.

    Renardo Sidney, a 6’10”, 275-lb power forward, will anchor the middle on both ends of the floor.

    On the perimeter, Ravern Johnson is gone, but underrated point guard Dee Bost will look to duplicate his remarkable numbers from last season—15.3 points, 6.2 assists per game—over a full year.

22. Arizona

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    The loss of No. 2 NBA pick Derrick Williams will take its toll, but the other four starters return for a Wildcats team that came with in a basket of knocking off national champion UConn in the Elite Eight.

    Just as important, Arizona boasts one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

    The gem of that group is point guard Josiah Turner, who will jump to the top of the Pac-12 at his position from day one.

    Add in highly-touted SG Nick Johnson, and the Wildcats will be putting lots of points on the board in 2011-12.

21. Missouri

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    The 2010-11 version of the Tigers used its suffocating press and fast-break offense to dominate at home, but struggled to win on the road.

    This year’s edition returns essentially the same personnel with an added year of experience and will be facing a notably weaker Big 12.

    Obviously, a lot depends on how closely new coach Frank Haith sticks to last year’s up-tempo approach, but Missouri has talent to spare with guards Phil Pressey and Marcus Denmon and forwards Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe.

    If the half-court offense clicks this year, watch out.

20. Xavier

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    If we’ve learned anything from the 2010-11 season, it’s that an elite point guard can go a long way toward making a good team great.

    One of the top candidates to follow in the footsteps of Final Four stars Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker is Xavier’s Tu Holloway.

    Holloway dazzled as a junior, averaging 20.2 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game while leading the Musketeers to an A-10 title and a No. 6 seed.

    If 7’0” senior Kenny Frease can build on last season’s career highs—11.7 points, 7.1 boards a game—he and Holloway could carry Xavier to even greater success this year.

19. Cincinnati

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    Consistency wasn’t a strong suit for Cincinnati last season, but at their best the Bearcats were a devastating defensive team.

    Having allowed 46 points in a win over Xavier and averaged 47 points allowed in a home-and-home sweep of Georgetown, this is a team that can stand out even in the exalted defensive company of the Big East.

    On offense, the Bearcats return their top four scorers (separated by only three points per game last year).

    If PF Yancy Gates and PG Cashmere Wright can generate more of their own shots this season, they’ll take Cincy to the next level.

18. Texas A&M

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    Another team that will live and die on the defensive end of the floor, Texas A&M played some of the toughest man-to-man in the country last season.

    With junior Khris Middleton back to lead the charge, there’s little doubt that the Aggies will be tough to score on again in 2011-12.

    Offense has been the sticking point for A&M, but they have the potential to solve that problem as well.

    Middleton has gotten better at creating shots from his SF spot, and senior Dash Harris—1.3 steals a game over the last two years—will get the chance to improve on his 3.1 assists a night as the full-time PG.

17. UCLA

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    As the basketball truism goes, you can’t teach height. Whatever UCLA’s other concerns this season, length is not among them.

    The Bruins will be led by 6’8” junior Reeves Nelson and North Carolina transfers Travis (6’10”) and David (6’8”) Wear.

    If senior PG Lazeric Jones can step up to compensate for the loss of NBA-bound Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, the Bruins will have an outside game to go with their considerable muscle.

16. Kansas

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    In spite of the loss of the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the pros, Bill Self’s perennially strong recruiting means that Kansas has the talent in place to reload and make another run at the top of the rankings.

    The key to that effort will be senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor.

    Though he hasn’t yet established himself as the star KU fans have hoped for—9.3 points and 4.5 assists per game last season—Taylor’s prodigious potential is hard to miss.

    With 6’9” super-sub Thomas Robinson (8.0 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) ready to take over for the Morrises in the middle, Kansas should be right back in the thick of the Big 12 title hunt.

15. Alabama

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    Under the radar after narrowly missing the NCAA tournament, Alabama returns its top three players from a team that made the NIT title game in 2010-11.

    Foremost among the veterans is PF JaMychal Green, the team’s leading scorer (16 points) and rebounder (7.8 boards) last season.

    The 6’8” Green, who got some extra experience against top-level competition in this summer’s World University Games, won’t be alone in Tuscaloosa.

    SF Tony Mitchell (15.4 points, 7.1 boards a night) and PG Trevor Releford (a team-high 3.4 assists per contest) return to make ‘Bama a leading SEC contender heading into this season.

14. Pittsburgh

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    Pitt suffered some heavy personnel losses after last season—especially do-everything guard Brad Wanamaker and hulking center Gary McGhee—but the talent that’s returning isn’t exactly negligible.

    The key to the Panthers’ title hopes is high-energy SG Ashton Gibbs.

    An aggressive, physical defender in the typical Pitt mold, Gibbs is also a deadly shot who scored 16.7 points a game while hitting a staggering 49 percent of his three-point attempts.

    If freshman center Khem Birch can cushion the loss of McGhee in the middle, the Panthers’ punishing defense should be enough to earn them another No. 1 seed this season.

13. Marquette

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    Like many of its Big East counterparts, Marquette will again be leaning heavily on a stout defense for its championship hopes this season.

    The Golden Eagles’ chances to contend at an elite level, though, will sink or swim with their offensive game.

    SG Darius Johnson-Odom is one of the nation’s best, and his 15.8-point average is only likely to climb with Jimmy Butler having graduated.

    If one of the Golden Eagle forwards—most likely Jae Crowder, who contributed 11.8 points a night last season—can provide some inside punch to complement Johnson-Odom, Marquette can go from a Sweet 16 finish to the top line of the bracket this year.

12. Memphis

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    Noteworthy as one of the NCAA tournament’s youngest teams last March, the Memphis Tigers could be one of its best by season’s end.

    The freshman-laden lineup that nearly upset Derrick Williams and Arizona last year will be back and loaded for bear in 2010-11.

    Athletic SG Will Barton (12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds per game) leads an attacking, opportunistic team that averaged eight steals a game last season.

    As long as their added experience helps the Tigers cut down on their 15 turnovers a night, they should be headed for a huge season in 2011-12.

11. Baylor

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    Perry Jones’ surprise return to the college ranks after his late-season suspension immediately put him on the short list for national Player of the Year honors.

    With the 6’11” Jones’ stats (13.9 points and 7.2 boards a game) only likely to go up, another year with him on the roster could be the biggest in Baylor hoops history.

    Jones will get most of his help from the Quincys: Acy, the team’s leading rebounder a year ago at 7.6 a game, and Miller, a highly-regarded 6’9” freshman.

    As long as junior PG A.J. Walton can bring enough of a perimeter threat to keep the offense running in the absence of LaceDarius Dunn, the Bears could power their way to the first No. 1 seed in program history.

10. Florida

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    Florida is replacing its entire starting frontcourt, but the team returns one of the best pairs of guards in the country. 6’2” Kenny Boynton and 5’8” Erving Walker don’t have a lot of length, but they combined to average 28.8 points and 6 assists a game in 2010-11.

    On top of the returning talent, Florida brings in one of the country’s top freshman guards in 6’4” Bradley Beal.

    If 6’9” sophomore Patric Young (3.7 rebounds a game in limited action last year) can provide some semblance of an interior presence, the Gators’ backcourt is strong enough to do the rest.

9. Louisville

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    Few teams in the country will be as dependent on point guard play as Louisville will.

    Lacking a go-to scorer (especially with the departure of Preston Knowles), the Cardinals’ offense will depend on a floor leader who can create opportunities for his mates.

    Luckily for Louisville, they have one of the nation’s best point men in junior Peyton Siva.

    After averaging 10.1 points and 5.3 assists per game last season, Siva will keep the offense running while also leading the high-pressure defense (2.0 steals a night in 2010-11).

8. Wisconsin

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    Under coach Bo Ryan, Wisconsin’s M.O. has frequently been to score just enough points to survive while leaving it to their defense to win ballgames.

    This year, the Badgers may have an easier time on the offensive end of the floor thanks to senior PG Jordan Taylor.

    The preternaturally efficient Taylor recorded a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2010-11.

    Even without three-point gunner Jon Leuer, Taylor (who also led the team with 18.1 points a game) will make sure the Badgers put plenty of points on the board this season.

7. UConn

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    The NCAA selection committee probably won’t put much stock in Alex Oriakhi’s hat in determining seeding.

    Alex Oriakhi’s game, on the other hand, will be a big part of UConn’s title defense.

    Even with the transcendent Kemba Walker gone to the pros, the Huskies’ wealth of returning talent—led by shot-blocker Oriakhi and athletic two-guard Jeremy Lamb—gives them an excellent chance at a Final Four return trip.

    The late addition of 6’10” recruit Andre Drummond could be the missing piece that puts the Huskies over the top once again in 2011-12.

6. Vanderbilt

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    As Vanderbilt looks to build on last season’s 23-10 campaign, the veteran team will boast plenty of weapons.

    The most valuable of all will be junior SG John Jenkins, who led the SEC with 19.5 points per game last season.

    Jenkins, who also led Team USA in scoring at the World University Games, will have plenty of help around him again in 2011-12.

    With 6’11” Festus Ezeli anchoring the middle on offense and defense, and senior PG Brad Tinsley (4.5 assists a night last season) running the floor, the Commodores could be headed to their first-ever Final Four berth.

5. Syracuse

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    Jim Boeheim’s impenetrable 2-3 zone makes any talented Syracuse team a serious contender on the national stage.

    Suffice it to say that this year’s Orange squad has more than enough talent to pass that threshold.

    Even with center Rick Jackson gone, the Orange bring back scoring leader Kris Joseph (14.4 points a game) and standout point guard Scoop Jardine (5.8 assists a contest).

    If a suitable replacement can be found for Jackson in the middle—perhaps wonderfully-named 7’0” sophomore Fab Melo—Syracuse might enjoy success on par with the year of Carmelo.

4. Duke

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    In an era when freshman talent is so often at the heart of a Final Four team’s success, Duke is aiming for the optimal balance of youth and experience.

    On the veteran side, the Blue Devils will depend on their tremendous size, with the 6’10” Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) having combined for 12 points and 13.3 rebounds per game in 2010-11.

    The role of the putative one-and-done sensation will be played by Austin Rivers, the superstar freshman PG and son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

    If the younger Rivers can mesh with returning reserves Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins in the backcourt, Duke will have the kind of inside-outside balance that has brought so many Final Four appearances to the Blue Devils in their history.

3. Ohio State

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    Kyrie Irving may have garnered a No. 1 overall pick this spring, but the 2010-11 national Freshman of the Year is back on campus for a second season.

    That would be Buckeye star Jared Sullinger, whose 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds a night led Ohio State to a No. 1 seed and a 34-3 overall record.

    The Buckeyes did lose a couple of Sullinger’s supporting players, including NBA draftee Jon Diebler, but many of the key complementary pieces are back.

    The return of players like three-point sniper William Buford and penetrating PG Aaron Craft will help OSU make a serious run at bringing the national title back to Columbus for the first time since 1960.

2. Kentucky

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    Even after losing three starters to the NBA—led by top 10 pick Brandon Knight—the Wildcats still boast one of the leading individual talents in the country.

    Sophomore PF Terrence Jones averaged 16.5 points and 8.9 boards a game in his first season in Lexington, and a season of experience is only going to make him more dangerous.

    Jones will be joined among the returnees by cat-quick shooting guard Doron Lamb, but the real key to Kentucky’s return to the top will be another unbelievable John Calipari recruiting class.

    PG Marquis Teague will likely step directly into Knight’s starting job, while 6’10” Anthony Davis has the potential to be the best freshman in the nation this season.

1. North Carolina

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    The most complete team in the country, North Carolina returns all five starters from last season’s 29-8 squad that made the Elite Eight.

    Leading the charge will be national Player of the Year candidate Harrison Barnes, a high-flying SF who averaged 5.5 boards and a team-high 15 points a season ago.

    Barnes will be joined by a mammoth front line that features 7’0”, 250-lb center Tyler Zeller (14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a night) and 6'10" John Henson, the ACC leader in rebounds (10.1) and blocks (3.2).

    Tying it all together will be standout point guard Kendall Marshall, who dished out 5.8 assists per game as a true freshman last year.