The Associated Press' preseason college basketball poll dropped Monday afternoon, with the North Carolina Tar Heels installed as the No. 1 team entering the 2015-16 campaign.
Following North Carolina are Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas and Duke, respectively. The Terrapins are perhaps the only program among the perceived current elite that isn't a traditional powerhouse.
Here is a full list of the AP's initial Top 25:
|AP Preseason College Basketball Top 25 Poll|
|Rank||Team (1st-Place Votes)||Points|
|1||North Carolina (35)||1,566|
Name recognition, recent success and returning players have a lot to do with how the current NCAA basketball hierarchy shakes out. The Wildcats have a master recruiter in John Calipari who overhauls his roster with one-and-done NBA players every year and manages to thrive more often than not.
Coming off a season in which Kentucky went 38-1 and lost its top seven scorers to the NBA draft, it's hard to fathom how Calipari could reload so quickly this season. Blue-chip recruits, led by stud center Skal Labissiere, are expected to bear the burden of Big Blue Nation and produce another standout season.
The job is a little easier for another seasoned coach in North Carolina's Roy Williams. Senior point guard Marcus Paige headlines an immensely experienced core that also features returning forwards Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson. Seven of the Tar Heels' top eight scorers from last season are still in Chapel Hill.
Williams spoke about his team's being rewarded with the No. 1 billing, per the Fayetteville Observer's Bret Strelow:
ESPN Stats & Info highlights how often the Tar Heels have been labeled as preseason favorites by the Associated Press in the past:
Coaching has a lot to do with those teams near the top. Look no further than Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who guided the Blue Devils to the national championship this past season and still commands respect despite losing center Jahlil Okafor along with Final Four most outstanding player Tyus Jones and senior leader Quinn Cook from the backcourt.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self didn't put too much stock in his team's gaudy standing—probably for the best, as an experienced program builder would know—per the Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd:
Perhaps solely on the strength of landing consensus No. 1 recruit Ben Simmons, LSU has secured a Top 25 spot in the initial AP poll. Big men Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey both left Baton Rouge for the NBA, but the Tigers have reason for hope with Simmons and fellow freshman Antonio Blakeney arriving on campus.
Blakeney was 247Sports' third-ranked shooting guard in the country from the Class of 2015. He spoke about how his squad's guard-heavy, fast-paced brand of basketball should have the Pete Maravich Assembly Center cheering often in 2015-16.
"I really hope it's like that," Blakeney said, per the Associated Press' Brett Martel. "We've got that style of play that people like to see—up and down, running, throwing up lobs, everybody getting dunks and stuff, shooting threes and getting after it. So maybe it will be packed in the PMAC this year."
Beyond Simmons and Blakeney, LSU has experience with senior guard Keith Hornsby and junior Tim Quarterman also on the perimeter rotation.
To circle back to the aforementioned outlier in the Top Five, there's a reason Maryland is so highly regarded by AP voters. Its schedule looks challenging on paper, though, as 247Sports' Josh Stirn points out:
It should be noted the Terrapins only play Indiana once, as opposed to twice in the analysis listed above. Nevertheless, the point remains the same—it's going to be a tough road for Maryland to navigate back to March Madness.
Last year's Terrapins team qualified for the NCAA tournament but saw its best player, Melo Trimble, go down with a concussion, leading to a third-round loss to West Virginia. With Trimble back for another year, joined by 5-star center Diamond Stone, the pieces are in place for Maryland to live up to its gaudy preseason billing.