Preseason College Basketball Rankings: USA Today Releases First Poll
Surprise, surprise. The USA Today/ESPN preseason college basketball poll is out, and the coaches are on board with North Carolina as the near-unanimous No. 1. Kentucky rides shotgun at No 2. With so many stars opting for one more year of school rather than bracing themselves through the NBA lockout, the 2011-12 college basketball season is bound to be among the most entertaining in years.
Roy Williams returns all the principal players from last season's ACC regular season champions, a team that fell just short to Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels boast arguably the best front court in the nation, led by the All-American-caliber trio of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
The guards in Chapel Hill are nothing to snub your nose at, either. Sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall is no Raymond Felton or Ty Lawson, but the kid can push the tempo with the best of them, which is exactly what the Heels need to run Williams' system successfully. Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock will provide Marshall with outlets on the wing.
Which team is No. 1 in your book?
And while it's always tough to gauge how much any given freshman is going to contribute right out of the gate, the additions of PJ Hairston at guard and James McAdoo, the nephew of UNC legend Bob McAdoo, at forward should add another dose of talent to an already ridiculously stacked group.
Now, if freshmen are more your fancy, then Kentucky is the team for you. For the third time in as many seasons in Lexington, John Calipari will attempt to build a championship team on the fly with the best recruiting class in the country. That bunch includes three of the Top 10 prospects and four of the Top 25, according to Scout.com.
More importantly, though, Coach Cal finally has some guys with talent and experience still sitting on his roster. Sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb will be expected to carry the load early on, along with senior Darius Miller, at least until the "Fab Four" freshmen get their collegiate feet under them.
As good as UNC and UK appear to be heading into the season, they are far from the only squads worth keeping track of. Ohio State, defending champion Connecticut, Syracuse and Duke, No.'s 3 through 6 in the USA Today/ESPN Poll, all have more than enough talent, both returning and incoming, to cut down the nets in New Orleans come April. Vanderbilt, Louisville, Memphis and Florida round out the Top 10 with big-time tournament aspirations all around.
The next 10 in the poll sports a number of familiar names as far as basketball powerhouses are concerned—Pittsburgh, Kansas, Wisconsin, Arizona and UCLA, to name a few—though none of those contenders figures to hang with the nation's elite this season. Marquette, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Cal and Missouri picked up the last five spots in the rankings.
The Tar Heels are as good a preseason bet to win it all as any team has been in quite a while. That being said, predicting a champion in college basketball is about as much of a crap shoot as there is in all of sports. For now, let's just sit back, relax and enjoy the madness.
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