By Jesse Kramer
To combat the inevitable college basketball separation anxiety that always follows the conclusion of the NCAA tournament, here is a (way too) early look at the Top 25 teams for the 2013-14 season. Over the next week, lots of players will opt to go pro or transfer rather than return to their school, and some high-impact recruits will choose their destination, potentially shaking up what this list will look like in the future. But for now, I am assuming that all freshmen, sophomores and juniors are returning unless they have already announced plans to enter the 2013 NBA Draft pool, and I am not projecting where any unsigned recruits will land.
Until someone, particularly Trey Burke, declares for the NBA draft, Michigan will be the clear-cut No. 1 team entering the 2013-14 season. Barring early departures, the Wolverines will return every player that played a role of any significance this season. Imagine these boys back together for one more year with the extra experience in their back pockets.
So Georgetown’s 2012-13 season ended in complete disappoint as the No. 2 seed Hoyas were eliminated in the second round by Florida Gulf Coast. But, unless Otto Porter Jr., a first-team All-American, goes pro, the entire roster will be back in the fall. Put aside the lack of postseason success for the time being and remember that this team went 25-7 and won the Big East in 2012-13.
3. Michigan State
Michigan State loses one starter, Derrick Nix, but everyone else is returning as of now. The Spartans have a deadly backcourt with Gary Harris, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling, and an equally good frontcourt with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
Louisville graduates Peyton Siva and will presumably lose Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, considering that Dieng, a junior, participated in Senior Night festivities at Louisville’s final home game in March. Even with Dieng gone, the defending champions return three starters in addition to a number of role players. If Dieng opts to return for his final year, a Louisville vs. Michigan rematch in the 2014 national championship game is quite possible.
Arizona’s frontcourt will be as good as anyone’s next season. In addition to returning Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, they add high school All-Americans Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Kentucky’s freshman class struggled this year in comparison to the 2011-12 group. But Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and potentially Nerlens Noel will be back. Kyle Wiltjer will also return, and the departure of Ryan Harrow will be addition by subtraction. Oh, yeah—don’t forget that head coach John Calipari has signed six top 100 recruits and could still snag high school phenom Andrew Wiggins.
7. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State loses its center, Phil Jurick, but that void will be filled by Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy. If All-American point guard Marcus Smart returns for his sophomore year, the Cowboys will be loaded with talent. The athletic Markel Brown proved his ability to be a big-time scorer when needed, and Le’Bryan Nash, when he keeps his head in the game, also has the potential to be the top scorer in the Big 12.
8. Ohio State
Deshaun Thomas is headed to the NBA and forward Evan Ravenel has exhausted his eligibility, but the Buckeyes will still have plenty of talent with Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Amir Williams.
The losses are Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford really hurt Indiana because those two were the Hoosiers’ big threats from three-point range. The Hoosiers could still have some capable shooters next season in Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Remy Abell.
Say goodbye to Brandon Triche and James Southerland, but Syracuse, which made the 2013 Final Four, has the potential to be even better next season. Their frontcourt will be phenomenal and extremely deep with C.J. Fair, Baye Keita, Jerami Grant, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman. They will also add Duke transfer Michael Gbinije. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is yet to put his name in the NBA draft pool, and a lot of the Orange’s success next season will depend on the decision he makes within the next couple of weeks.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt will not be as deep next year as the Zags lose Elias Harris and Guy Landry Edi, but All-American forward Kelly Olynyk is back as of now, as well as Sam Dower and Poland native Przemek Karnowski.
Kansas loses four starters but has capable players ready to step in and take on the larger roles. So far, All-American and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore is yet to declare for the NBA draft, which would give the Jayhawks a great scorer for next season in their backcourt, while Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor should solidify the frontcourt. Bill Self also adds four top 100 recruits, including the athletic Wayne Selden and sharpshooter Conner Frankamp.
Connecticut was a borderline Top 25 team during the 2012-13 season but did not receive a lot of recognition because it was ineligible for the postseason. The Huskies return their dynamic backcourt of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun and have lots of potential up front as well.
Duke loses three starters, and it happens to be its best three starters: Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. The Blue Devils will still be in good shape with Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton heading a very strong backcourt. The addition of high school All-American Jabari Parker could lift the Blue Devils into the top 10.
15. North Carolina
North Carolina returns four starters. Sophomore James Michael McAdoo had a very disappointing season after being projected as a possible All-American, but he still has the potential to be a star in the ACC.
Colorado will return four starters for the 2013-14 season. The Buffaloes could have a pair of Pac-12 Player of the Year candidates in Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Shabazz Muhammad is clearly an amazing talent, but the freshman’s early departure might not be such a bad thing for UCLA. He often did not look interested in playing at the college level. The Bruins will return Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams in the backcourt, and Tony Parker, David Wear and Travis Wear up front.
The departures of D.J. Stephens and Adonis Thomas put a big dent in Memphis’ frontcourt, but this still feels like the year when Josh Pastner could get Memphis back to some of the national spotlight. In addition to returning Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Shaq Goodwin, the Tigers add four top-100 recruits.
19. Boise State
Boise State only loses reserve center Kenny Buckner. The Broncos, who were one of the last teams selected for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, have two dynamic scorers in Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks. They also possess an absolutely deadly three-point shooter in Jeff Elorriaga.
Marquette loses three key players in Trent Lockett, Junior Cadougan and Chris Otule, but Vander Blue, Devante Gardner and Jamil Wilson will be enough to keep the Golden Eagles among the contenders in the Big East.
21. New Mexico
New Mexico was looking like a top 10 team for next season until Steve Alford left for the head coaching position at UCLA and Tony Snell declared for the 2013 NBA Draft. Kendall Williams is the best guard in the Mountain West Conference, and center Alex Kirk could also contend for conference player of the year honors.
Florida’s top three scorers (Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton) all exhausted their eligibility, but Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin will return to lead Florida’s charge toward back-to-back SEC titles. The Gators will aso return Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II.
Iowa advanced to the 2013 NIT championship game, where it lost to Baylor. The Hawkeyes lose Eric May, a key player, but return star forwards Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White.
Villanova, which really started gelling in the second half of the 2012-13 season, returns its top three scorers for next year. With forward JayVaughn Pinkston and guards Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard, the Wildcats will be another contender in the new Big East Conference.
25. Indiana State
Indiana State was a bubble team in February, but the Sycamores struggled mightily late in the season and wound up as a No. 6 seed in the NIT. The good news for them is they return every player on the roster, including All-MVC point guard Jake Odum.