With the opening night of the college basketball season only two days away, it is time for The Catch and Shoot to unveil its preseason Top 25 rankings.
Every team is linked to its conference’s preview, which has a preview of that team.
1. Michigan State (27-9, 13-5 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
Michigan State is the favorite to win the loaded Big Ten Conference. The Spartans return two of the conference’s best players in Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, and Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are also primed for big seasons.
2. Kentucky (21-12, 12-6 SEC, NIT First Round)
Kentucky has the nation’s best recruiting class, and it returns a potential 2014 lottery pick in Willie Cauley-Stein. This team will not flop like last year’s Wildcats did, although 40-0 is also out of the question.
3. Kansas (31-6, 14-4 Big 12, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis are back, but the Jayhawks are ranked No. 3 because of Bill Self’s stellar group of newcomers. Five-star recruits Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, and Joel Embiid lead the way, and Memphis transfer Tarik Black adds an experienced piece to the frontcourt.
4. Arizona (27-8, 12-6 Pac-12, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
Arizona is young, but it is loaded. The Wildcats return Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Brandon Ashley, and they add possibly the Pac-12’s top two newcomers in freshman Aaron Gordon and Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell.
5. Duke (30-6, 14-4 ACC, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight)
Duke’s group of perimeter players is unbelievably talented. The Blue Devils return Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Tyler Thornton, and they add freshman Jabari Parker, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, and redshirt senior Andre Dawkins.
6. Louisville (35-5, 14-4 Big East, National Champions)
Louisville was a top-five team until Chane Behanan got suspended, but that still does not eliminate the Cardinals from the list of national title contenders. They return skilled guard Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, and Montrezl Harrell, and junior college transfer Chris Jones will be a good replacement for Peyton Siva.
7. Oklahoma State (24-9, 13-5 Big 12, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Oklahoma State does not have much depth, but the Cowboys’ starting five is as good as anyone. They are led by preseason All-American Marcus Smart, athletic guard Markel Brown, and wing Le’Bryan Nash.
Forward Michael Cobbins will not wow you too much, but he is effective enough to anchor Oklahoma State’s inside game.
8. Syracuse (30-10, 11-7 Big East, NCAA Tournament Final Four)
Syracuse has the ACC’s best frontcourt with C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant, Dajuan Coleman, and Baye Moussa Keita. If freshman point guard Tyler Ennis can deliver, the Orange could win the ACC in their first year as members.
9. North Carolina (25-11, 12-6 ACC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
North Carolina will be improved despite losing two starters as it returns Marcus Paige, P.J. Hairston, and James Michael McAdoo. Shooting guard Leslie McDonald also returns.
10. Ohio State (29-8, 13-5 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight)
Ohio State will have to make up for the scoring that Deshaun Thomas left behind when he left for the NBA. Between LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott, that should not be too big of an issue for the Buckeyes.
11. Michigan (31-8, 12-6 Big Ten, National Runner-Up)
Michigan will not be as strong in the backcourt without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, but their frontcourt is loaded with Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford.
Nik Stauskas is one of the best shooting guards in the country, and he bulked up this offseason to become a more effective player. And, although he will be no Burke, freshman Derrick Walton Jr. will be an adequate point guard.
12. Memphis (31-5, 16-0 C-USA, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Memphis has arguably the best set of guards in all of college basketball, and it could challenge Louisville for the American conference title. In addition to returning Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, and Geron Johnson, the Tigers will add Missouri transfer Michael Dixon.
13. Virginia Commonwealth (27-9, 12-4 A10, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Shaka Smart has the best frontcourt in the Atlantic 10 with Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic, and his backcourt is not too shabby either with Briante Weber, Rob Brandenberg, and Melvin Johnson.
14. Notre Dame (25-10, 11-7 ACC, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Like Syracuse, Notre Dame is an ACC newcomer who could challenge for the conference title. The Fighting Irish return two of the nation’s better point guards in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Plus, Pat Connaughton, Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman, and Cameron Biedscheid are back.
15. UCLA (25-10, 13-5 Pac-12, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
UCLA was disappointing last season, but there is reason for hope under first-year head coach Steve Alford. Six of the Bruins’ top eight scorers return, including Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, and they also add top-50 recruit Zach LaVine.
16. Wisconsin (23-12, 12-6 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Wisconsin lost three starters, but Bo Ryan always manages to get this team into the top four in the Big Ten. Sophomore Sam Dekker will be in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year, and Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson, and Josh Gasser make up one of the conference’s best backcourts.
17. Florida (29-8, 14-4 SEC, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight)
Florida has tons of experience with four seniors, all of whom could start: Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, and Will Yeguete, with Young and Wilbekin both being potential all-conference first teamers. The Gators also add Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, and freshman Kasey Hill.
18. Marquette (26-9, 14-4 Big East, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight)
Buzz Williams returns plenty of talent this season with Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and Chris Otule back. Gardner will compete for a spot on the All-Big East First Team.
19. Gonzaga (32-3, 16-0 WCC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Gonzaga returns Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to form the best starting backcourt in the WCC. They also add Providence transfer Gerard Coleman and Louisville transfer Angel Nunez.
20. Colorado (21-12, 10-8 Pac-12, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Colorado lost a star in forward Andre Roberson, but sophomores Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson should have no problem making up for his production as they continue to evolve into two of the Pac-12’s better big men.
21. Creighton (28-8, 13-5 MVC, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Creighton could win the Big East in its first season as a member. The Bluejays return Doug McDermott, a Player of the Year candidate, sixth-year senior Grant Gibbs, Austin Chatman, Ethan Wragge, and Jahens Manigat. They were one of the best mid-majors each of the last two seasons, and this year they will compete well in a big-boy league.
22. Harvard (20-10, 11-3 Ivy, NCAA Tournament Third Round)
Harvard upset New Mexico in the NCAA tournament, and the Crimson returns four starters. Plus, it adds seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who were supposed to be co-captains last season until they had to withdraw from school in the wake of the cheating scandal.
23. Boise State (21-11, 9-7 MWC, NCAA Tournament First Round)
Boise State returns all five starters from last year’s team and has one of the nation’s best starting backcourts in Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks, and Jeff Elorriaga.
24. New Mexico (29-6, 13-3 MWC, NCAA Tournament Second Round)
Under first-year head coach Craig Neal, New Mexico will play for its third straight Mountain West title. The Lobos return four starters, including reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Kendall Williams.
25. Wichita State (30-9, 12-6 MVC, NCAA Tournament Final Four)
Wichita State is once again one of the nation’s best mid-majors. The Shockers return leading scorer Cleanthony Early and guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton.
Others considered: Indiana, Iowa, Oregon, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgetown, Tennessee, Villanova, Brigham Young, La Salle, Baylor, StanfordPhoto: Daniel Shirey/US Presswire