NCAA Basketball Preseason Rankings: Which Teams Will Rise or Fall?
Last year, 13 teams that started the season ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25 rankings finished the season as ranked teams. Seven teams improved their ranks within the top 25. Kentucky was the only team to finish the season exactly where they started (11th). Three teams that started the season unranked made it into the top 10 at the end of the year: Notre Dame (5th), Texas (8th), and Connecticut (9th).
BYU and San Diego State started the season ranked 24th and 25th, respectively, and both finished in the top 10. These two teams, along with Notre Dame, Texas, and Connecticut, were the surprises of the season.
There were also letdowns. Michigan State started the season ranked No. 2 in the nation and finished unranked. Villanova suffered the same fate, starting the season No. 6. Kansas State was ranked third to start the year and finished 21st.
Which teams will surprise and rise above their preseason rank by the end of this season? And which teams will fall below their preseason rank at season's end? Read on.
Missouri is a team heavy on experience. Guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English make up arguably the best backcourt in the Big 12.
The Tigers will flirt on the edge of the top 25, and there may be setbacks, but I think they will make it into the top 20 (or higher) by the end of the year.
In a weak Pac-12, California should see better results than their 10-8 conference record last year.
Jorge Gutierrez is a do-it-all point guard for the Golden Bears, averaging 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game.
His leadership is key if California expects to improve from last year's abysmal 1-4 record against top 25 opponents.
Robert Sacre leads Gonzaga in what should be yet another strong year for Mark Few.
However, a very tough non-conference schedule will test the Bulldogs: games against Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Arizona, Butler and Xavier will press the Zags early and often.
After those games, along with their inconsistency in conference play, I can't see Gonzaga finishing in the top 25.
Marquette will be a team to watch in the challenging Big East this year. They have scored over 90 points in each of their first four games this year, which is an impressive statistic no matter whom they have played.
The Big East is much tougher than Marquette's opponents thus far, but the Golden Eagles will still produce a hard-to-match offensive output every game. Marquette will upset some teams, but they have the chance of getting cold and falling flat some games.
All in all, I see Marquette as a top-15 and potentially top-10 team this year.
Cincinnati had an ugly loss to Presbyterian to start this year. A team that should be great at home simply wasn't.
The Bearcats will have plenty of opportunities to redeem themselves in a top-heavy Big East, as well as a date with cross-town rival Xavier. Cincinnati could make a run back into the top 25 in conference play, but that will be far from easy.
20. Texas A&M
Texas A&M may once again do well in their non-conference games. Last year, they headed into conference play 13-1 and were ranked 16th.
Too bad they have to play conference games.
Texas A&M may surprise, but with a loss already to Mississippi State, I can't see them finishing inside the top 20.
Alabama and Mississippi State are the surprises of the SEC West thus far, and I expect that trend to continue.
Led by a superb frontcourt of Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, Alabama can hang with just about any top-25 team.
With a win against Purdue, Alabama continues to turn heads. Expect them to challenge SEC teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida.
Michigan hasn't exactly had a great scoring season thus far. A shooting percentage of 43.4% does not bode well for the Wolverines. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is the lone bright spot for an otherwise abysmal Michigan offense.
The Maui Invitational should be a great indicator of just how good this Michigan team is. So far, they have not looked like a top-20 team.
This one is obvious.
I really wanted to see UCLA do well this year, but losing the first two games of the year to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee won't help. The Maui Invitational will give UCLA the chance to redeem themselves, but chances of that look slim.
Hopefully Ben Howland can right the ship. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening this year.
Sean Miller has a great blend of youth and experience, and expectations are high once again for the Wildcats.
Arizona is another team that has been struggling to shoot the ball this year. Chalk that up to inexperience or poor chemistry, but it must be addressed. Fortunately, Arizona is in the Pac-12. I expect Arizona to flirt just outside the top 10 all year.
Wisconsin is probably the second-best team in the Big Ten. Jordan Taylor is probably the second-best player in the Big Ten. That being said, I think Wisconsin is better than their preseason rank of No. 15.
Bo Ryan always has the Badgers in contention late in the year, and this year will be no different.
Expect Wisconsin to give North Carolina all they can handle in their November 30 duel in Chapel Hill.
Xavier is everyone's dark horse this year, and for good reason. Tu Holloway is a potential player of the year award winner, and he has the supporting cast to boot.
If Xavier can survive their non-conference schedule with one or two losses, they will be poised to have a big year. A 15-1 conference record last year is once again expected and could even be improved upon with a more experienced lineup.
Kansas lost a lot of talent from the team that won 35 games just a year ago. Marcus and Markieff Morris left huge shoes to fill. This Kansas team does not have that talent inside, and that may hurt Kansas' rebounding.
Upperclassmen Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will be key if the Jayhawks expect to stay on top of the Big 12.
Bill Self will no doubt have Kansas dancing in March, and I expect the Jayhawks to hover around their preseason rank of No. 13.
Is it just me, or does Baylor always seem to underperform? They have the talent but are rarely consistent. An extremely easy non-conference schedule ends with West Virginia and Mississippi State, which should be good matchups.
Baylor may very well be the best team in the Big 12 this year. However, their inconsistency in previous years has me skeptical.
I fully expect Memphis to be a top-10 team this year.
They can score against anyone, but rebounding will be very important. In their first game, Memphis was out-rebounded 39-27 by Belmont. Of those 39 rebounds for Belmont, 15 were offensive.
Memphis is another team that will show just how good they are at the Maui Invitational. Rebounding must be addressed if the Tigers expect a good showing in Hawaii. With a win against Michigan, Memphis would most likely play Duke in a great second-round contest.
Pittsburgh will go just as far as their backcourt can carry them. Guards Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall are among the best in the Big East, and they will be tested in conference play.
A very easy non-conference schedule for Pittsburgh was seen as a simple warmup for the toughest conference in basketball. However, an unexpected loss at home to Long Beach State will drop Pittsburgh outside of the top 10.
The Panthers were exposed by an inferior team in non-conference play. They still may be a top team in the Big East, but this loss does not bode well for the Panthers.
As much as it pains me to say it, Louisville looks good. A solid win at Butler without guard Peyton Siva gives the Cardinals a 3-0 record heading into a stretch of 10 games at home.
After that, however, the going gets tough.
A game at Kentucky ends the non-conference schedule for Louisville, with conference play in the intimidating Big East to follow.
Sure, Louisville might be battling injuries all year. But Rick Pitino is one of the best coaches in the nation, and he will have his team performing their best in March. Louisville is a borderline top-10 team and will be all year.
Florida had a great showing at Ohio State, even though they lost. Another away game against Syracuse (December 2) will test the Gators, and I expect them to play just as well.
Florida will be around the top 10 all year. Their non-conference schedule is full of solid opponents, and the Gators' conference schedule is just as strong.
Led by one of the deepest backcourts in the country, Florida will look to improve on their commendable 26-7 campaign from a year ago.
Florida has a great chance of boosting their rank at the end of the year with a battle in Gainesville against Kentucky.
Vanderbilt is still a top-25 team, easily. However, losing to Cleveland State at home is a very bad loss.
The Commodores are yet another SEC team that has a strong non-conference schedule. Games against Xavier, Louisville and Marquette will give Vanderbilt chances at redemption.
John Jenkins leads an experienced Vanderbilt team that should stay in the top 25, though I doubt they will be able to get back into the top 10.
It's starting to get picky.
I don't expect Duke to fall out of the top 10 all year. Austin Rivers will flourish into a great point guard under Mike Krzyzewski, and Duke's starting five can go toe-to-toe with any team.
Coach K is an all-time great. His pattern of success, for such a sustained period, is both impressive and borderline unreachable. His teams are always in contention and will be for as long as he coaches.
This year's team will be no different. When North Carolina comes to Durham, expect Duke to give them a great game.
When the Florida Gators come to town, Syracuse had better be ready. It is their first real test of the season, and it will be a very high-scoring and close competition. If Syracuse can win against the Gators, they will most likely be able to stay in the top five until conference play.
The Orange will be a top-15 team all year. Losses in the Big East are bound to occur, however, and I can't see Syracuse in the top five at the end of the regular season because of it.
This is a gut call.
Connecticut has one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the nation. The Huskies will not be tested until conference play, and I think this hurts them in the long run.
Kemba Walker was much more to this team than just a clutch shooter. His leadership was essential in Connecticut's success, and that role must be filled if the Huskies expect to win close games in the Big East.
Losses will come in the Big East. While the Huskies taking the first few months of the season playing teams like Maine and Holy Cross, other Big East teams like St. John's, West Virginia and Notre Dame play teams at or above their skill level, looking to improve.
Granted, Connecticut may not need to improve as much, but I think they will be in for a rude awakening come conference play.
3. Ohio State
This is entirely based on the end-of-season schedule for the top three teams: Kentucky finishes at Florida, North Carolina finishes at Duke, and Ohio State finishes at Michigan State. Given those three games, Ohio State and Kentucky are most likely to win and thus move up.
Jared Sullinger and Ohio State boast another great team, and Thad Matta always coaches his team well. The Buckeyes rarely beat themselves: they make free throws and don't turn the ball over.
Well-coached and talented, Ohio State will be extremely difficult to beat straight up. Games against Duke and Kansas will be a great measuring stick for this Ohio State team heading into conference play.
As stated on the last slide, this is purely based off of North Carolina losing to Duke at the end of the year. The Wildcats should be in contention for the No. 1 spot all year, with a solid core of youth and returning stars. Their contest against North Carolina in Rupp Arena on December 3 will be the best non-conference game of the year. North Carolina has much more experience, but with the Cats playing at home, anything is possible.
Even if Kentucky wins that game against the Tar Heels, I don't expect them to win every game. John Calipari has arguably the most talented team he has ever coached, but they are still young. This team has the typical flaws of a young Calipari team: turnovers and free-throw shooting.
If the Wildcats can get by these flaws, they will have trouble losing a game.
1. North Carolina
Fall? Yeah, right.
North Carolina will be at the top of the AP poll for awhile. Wisconsin and Kentucky will pose serious threats, but if the Tar Heels can get by those two games, they have the staying power to be on top deep into conference play.
After Kentucky, their next ranked opponent is Florida State. While the Seminoles could surprise, chances are they will not. Next ranked opponent for UNC? Duke. Fortunately, North Carolina will play at home for that February 8 contest.
I'm not saying North Carolina will be undefeated heading into their March 3 matchup at Duke. However, it is very possible. They have the depth, experience and talent to do so. This will give Duke even more motivation to win at the end of the year, knocking the Tar Heels off their perch as the No. 1 team.
I think Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina and maybe even Connecticut, Syracuse or Duke could all spend time as the No. 1 team in the nation. Upsets will happen. If North Carolina falls, it will not be far.
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