College Basketball's Early Top 25 for 2012-2013

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Athlon looks far ahead at next season's top programs

<p> Athlon looks far ahead at next season's top programs</p>

Kentucky has cut down the nets and added another championship banner to Rupp Arena. The question now is how deep the NBA draft will cut into the Wildcats roster, and what kind of influx of talent will arrive in Lexington.

Ten days since the national championship game, the outlook for the 2012-13 is a little clearer. The NCAA deadline for college underclassmen to remove their names from NBA draft consideration passed April 10, but the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is April 29. In short, any underclassman who declares between now and April 29 cannot return to school.

Most players around the country have declared their draft intentions, but some major notable exceptions apply, including five key players from Kentucky, Florida guard Bradley Beal and N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie.

As for the new roster additions for 2012-13, Kentucky added one more Wednesday to perhaps the nation’s top recruiting class with an announcement from center Nerlens Noel. A number of other top prospects could sign during spring signing period, but here’s our first look at the potential top teams for 2012-13.

1. INDIANA (27-9, 11-7 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Verdell Jones III

Key returnees: F Cody Zeller, F Christian Watford, G Jordan Hulls, G Victor Oladipo, G Maurice Creek, F Will Sheehey

Top newcomers: G Yogi Ferrell, F Jeremy Hollowell, F Hanner Perea

Outlook: After four seasons in the depths of the Big Ten, Indiana has turned the corner. The Hoosiers’ 27 wins last season was one fewer than the first three seasons of Tom Crean’s tenure combined. Look for Indiana to make another leap in 2012-13. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford announced they would remain in Bloomington, meaning Indiana will return its top five scorers. The Hoosiers also hope guard Maurice Creek, who missed all of last season with injury, will be able to contribute. If Indiana is going to be a Final Four-caliber team, though, the Hoosiers will need to improve their 3-6 mark in Big Ten road games. Verdell Jones is gone, but incoming freshman point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell will be a major addition.

 

2. KENTUCKY (38-2, 16-0 SEC)

Key departures: G Darius Miller

Still undecided: F Anthony Davis, F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F Terrence Jones, G Marquis Teague, G Doron Lamb

Key returnee: F Kyle Wiltjer

Top newcomers: C Willie Cauley, G Archie Goodwin, G Ryan Harrow, F Alex Poythress, C Nerlens Noel

Outlook: Kentucky’s top five underclassmen are waiting until the NBA’s April 29 deadline, but it’s safe to say the bulk of them, if not all, will head to the draft. As usual, that’s no cause for concern in Lexington. Cycle one recruiting class out, and bring in the next. On Wednesday, Kentucky added the replacement for Davis with an announcement – via a UK shaved into the back of his head – from center Nerlens Noel (the No. 1 prospect according to Scout.com and ESPN). On the same day, the Wildcats lost out on Shabazz Muhammad (the No. 1 prospect according to Rivals.com), who landed at UCLA. Still, Kentucky adds one of the nation’s elite freshman classes with Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley plus N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow. If forward Kyle Wiltjer is the only holdover from the 2011 class, he’s no throw in. He’ll be a star as a sophomore. And without Muhammad in the class, Kentucky is still pursuing another elite recruit during the spring signing period, forward Anthony Bennett.

 

3. KANSAS (32-7, 16-2 Big 12)

Key departures: F Thomas Robinson, G Tyshawn Taylor, G Conner Teahan

Key returnees: C Jeff Withey, G Elijah Johnson, G Travis Releford

Top newcomers: F Perry Ellis, G Ben McLemore, F Andrew White

Outlook: One way or another, Kansas always seems to have a player deep on the bench who will eventually become a star. Think of Thomas Robinson in 2010-11 or Cole Aldrich in 2007-08. Guard Ben McLemore may be the next revelation after sitting last season while he was ineligible for his first season. Robinson is gone, but the Jayhawks should have a formidable backcourt with Johnson taking over the point and all-around guard Travis Releford entering his senior year. The Jayhawks have failed to win 30 games only once in the last six seasons, when they won 27 in 2008-09.

 

4. LOUISVILLE (30-10, 10-8 Big East)

Key departures: G/F Kyle Kuric, G Chris Smith

Key returnees: G Russ Smith, F Chane Behanan, G Peyton Siva, C Gorgui Dieng, G Mike Marra, G/F Wayne Blackshear

Top newcomers: G Luke Hancock, G Terry Rozier

Outlook: Louisville finished the season winning eight of its last nine games with a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals will look to use that as a springboard, but the key to Louisville playing consistently from beginning to end without the mass injury problems that plagued the Cardinals the last two seasons. Peyton Siva, who averaged 11.3 points and six assists in Big East and NCAA tournament play, returns as does rising sophomore forward Chane Behanan. Two of the top three scorers are gone in Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but the Cardinals will look to have Wayne Blackshear, who averaged only seven minutes in 15 games, healthy for the whole season, plus George Mason transfer Luke Hancock is now eligible. Russ Smith must improve his shot selection, and Gorgui Dieng can improve in the weight room.

 

5. NORTH CAROLINA (32-6, 14-2 ACC)

Key departures: F Harrison Barnes, F John Henson, G Kendall Marshall, C Tyler Zeller

Key returnees: G/F Reggie Bullock, G Dexter Strickland,G P.J. Hairston, F James Michael McAdoo

Top newcomers: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, C Joel James, F J.P. Tokoto

Outlook: Losing Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall early to the NBA draft was no great surprise. North Carolina loses four players who started at least 30 games and return no double-digit scorers. The Tar Heels won’t lack for talent. Forward James Michael McAdoo probably made the wise decision to return to school and could become a breakout player now that takes a larger role. Like McAdoo, guard P.J. Hairston is another McDonald’s All-American who was a role player as a freshman but could break out as a sophomore.  Veterans Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland (who played only 19 games because of injury), the top two returning scorers, also look to take expanded roles. North Carolina expects to have guard Leslie McDonald back from a torn ACL and, as usual, a top-notch signing class.

 

6. OHIO STATE (31-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: C Jared Sullinger, G William Buford

Key returnees: F Deshaun Thomas, G Aaron Craft, G Lenzelle Smith, F Evan Ravenel

Outlook: The lingering question after Ohio State’s Final Four run was if forward Deshaun Thomas would return to the Buckeyes or follow Jared Sullinger to the draft. As a full-time player in 2011-12, Thomas took major strides, improving his shooting percentage from 47.9 percent as a freshman to 52 percent as a sophomore. With Sullinger and William Buford gone, Thomas is the go-to player for the first time in his career. Point guard Aaron Craft is the floor general and top defender, but he may need to expand his offensive role. Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross were decorated recruits in 2011, but they played sparingly as freshmen.

 

7. MICHIGAN (24-10, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: G/F Zack Novak, G Stu Douglass, F Evan Smotrycz

Key returnees: G Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway Jr., F Jordan Morgan

Top newcomers: F Mitch McGary, F Glenn Robinson III, G Nik Stauskas

Outlook: Point guard Trey Burke’s late decision to return to school gives Michigan the look of a Final Four contender. Incoming freshman forward Glenn Robinson III will give the roster another player with NBA bloodlines, joining guard Tim Hardaway Jr. However, Robinson won’t be the top incoming freshman. That distinction belongs to Mitch McGary, who will give coach John Beilein his first legitimate big man since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Top rebounder Jordan Morgan also returns, but the Wolverines lose two veterans, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, who started on three NCAA tournament teams.

 

8. DUKE (27-7, 13-3 ACC)

Key departures: G Austin Rivers, F Miles Plumlee

Key returnees: G Seth Curry, F Mason Plumlee, G Tyler Thornton, G Andre Dawkins, F Ryan Kelly, G Quinn Cook

Top newcomer: G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Marshall Plumlee

Outlook: After losing to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament (a major shock) and losing Austin Rivers to the NBA draft (not a shock), Duke received some good news with the return of forward Mason Plumlee, who averaged 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds last season. Apart from Rivers and Miles Plumlee, Duke returns every other key player. With Rivers gone, the class of second-year players is now led by sophomore guard Quinn Cook and redshirt freshman center Marshall Plumlee. Duke will add freshman shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and remains in contention for other recruits, but will that be enough to help a Duke team that couldn’t advance through the NCAA tournament even with Rivers?

 

9. N.C. STATE (24-13, 9-7 ACC)

Key departures: G/F C.J. Williams

Still undecided: F C.J. Leslie

Key returnees: F Richard Howell, G Lorenzo Brown, F Scott Wood

Top newcomers: G Rodney Purvis, F T.J. Warren

Outlook: After defeating San Diego State and Georgetown to advance to the Sweet 16, N.C. State may be a popular preseason pick to win the ACC. If C.J. Leslie (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds) returns, N.C. State will return its top four scorers. All four averaged at least 10.8 points per game. The Wolfpack also adds an elite guard recruit in Rodney Purvis. Given the personnel, N.C. State may be poised for a long-awaited banner year in Mark Gottfried’s second season. If there’s any reason for pause, N.C. State defeated only four NCAA tournament teams during the regular season – UNC Asheville, Texas, St. Bonaventure, Virginia. None of which were seeded higher than 11th and none won a tournament game.

 

10. MICHIGAN STATE (29-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: F Draymond Green, G Brandon Wood, G Austin Johnson

Key returnees: G Keith Appling, C Derrick Nix, F Branden Dawson, C Adreian Payne, G Travis Trice

Top newcomers: G Gary Harris, F Matt Costello, F Kenny Kaminski

Outlook: Draymond Green may be the most difficult to replace player in the nation next season, but there’s good reason to have faith Michigan State and Tom Izzo can recover and continue to challenge for a Big Ten title. Keith Appling adapted well to a full-time role. Centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne managed the most of their split time, averaging a combined 15.1 points per game. The biggest reason for optimism will be the development of rising sophomore Branden Dawson, who averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds before he sat the final six games with a torn ACL.

 

11. FLORIDA (26-11, 10-6 SEC)

Key departures: G Erving Walker

Still undecided: G Bradley Beal

Key returnees: G Kenny Boynton, F/C Erik Murphy, F/C Patric Young, G Mike Rosario

Top newcomers: G Braxton Ogbueze, G Michael Frazier

Outlook: If Bradley Beal decides to return, Florida is a top-five team. That said, Beal has been projected as a top-five pick, so the Gators shouldn’t hold their breath. Leading scorer Kenny Boynton and standout forward Patric Young both said they will return to a team that was a second-half collapse against Louisville away from the Final Four. The Gators have three guards committed and are continuing to recruit forward Anthony Bennett. Even without Beal and Bennett, Florida appears to be the clear No. 2 in the SEC after Kentucky.

 

12. BAYLOR (30-8, 12-6 Big 12)

Key departures: F Perry Jones, F Quincy Acy, F Anthony Jones

Key returnees: G Pierre Jackson, F Quincy Miller, G Brady Heslip, G A.J. Walton

Top newcomers: C Isaiah Austin, F Ricardo Gathers

Outlook: Losing Perry Jones to the draft was all but a given and Quincy Acy was a senior. The Bears still have talent left on the roster, especially after Quincy Miller (10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) elected to return to school. The guard duo of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip returns, giving Baylor a strong perimeter presence. Miller’s return will be huge for a frontcourt in transition, though the bears add seven-foot center Isaiah Austin and forward Ricardo Gathers.

 

13. SYRACUSE (34-3, 17-1 Big East)

Key departures: F Kris Joseph, G Dion Waiters, G Scoop Jardine, C Fab Melo

Key returnees: G Brandon Triche, F C.J. Fair, F Rakeem Christmas, F James Southerland

Top newcomers: C DaJuan Coleman, F Jerami Grant

Outlook: Syracuse loses Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo from a team that battled distractions from the start of the season to the end and still managed to win 34 games. Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair will need to become the team’s veteran leadership for a group that will have plenty of unproven pieces. Forward James Southerland played well late in the season when he played additional minutes with Melo out, and Rakeem Christmas had 11 rebounds and eight points against Kansas State in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse won’t have trouble finding talent on the roster with sophomore Michael Carter-Williams in the backcourt and incoming freshmen DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant in the frontcourt.

 

14. SAN DIEGO STATE (26-8, 10-4 Mountain West)

Key departures: F Garrett Green, F Tim Shelton

Key returnees: G Jamaal Franklin, G Chase Tapley, G Xavier Thomas, G James Rahon

Top newcomers: F J.J. O’Brien, F Dwayne Polee  F James Johnson, F Winston Shepard

Outlook: With the Pac-12 continuing to struggle, San Diego State should be in contention for the top team in the West. The top four scorers all return, though all are guards – Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, Xavier Thomas and James Rahon. For a team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game until 2011, the Aztecs have pulled some key recruiting victories in recent years, first with Kawhi Leonard (who was two and done) and then forward Winston Shepard, who committed in February. Beyond Shepard, San Diego State will try to boost its front court with transfers Dwayne Pollee (a starter at St. John’s in 2010-11), J.J. O’Brien (6.4 points, 5.5 rebounds as a freshman at Utah), and James Johnson (who redshirted his only season at Virginia).

 

15. ARIZONA (23-12, 12-6 Pac-12)

Key departures: G Kyle Fogg, F Jesse Perry

Key returnees: F Solomon Hill, G Nick Johnson, G Josiah Turner, G Brendon Lavender, G/F Kevin Parrom, G Jordin Mayes

Top newcomers: F Brandon Ashley, C Kaleb Tarczewski, C Grant Jerrett, G Gabe York

Outlook: The Pac-12 must have a top-25 caliber team in 2012-13, right? Arizona may be the team that reclaims a little respect for the conference. Kyle Fogg (13.5 ppg) and Jesse Perry (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are gone, but Solomon Hill, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, is back. Kevin Parrom, who averaged 7.5 points per game on the Elite Eight team a year ago, will be healthy. Guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson, highly prized recruits from a year ago, will be sophomores. Oh, and Arizona adds one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

 

16. KANSAS STATE (22-11, 10-8 Big 12)

Key departure: F Jamar Samuels

Key returnees: G Rodney McGruder, G Will Spradling, G Angel Rodriguez, F Jordan Henriquez, F Thomas Gipson, G Montavious Irving

Outlook: Kansas State was one of the Big 12’s pleasant surprises once again, but now the Wildcats have some uncertainty in their future as former Illinois coach Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin. Weber inherits a roster that is mostly intact other than the departure of forward Jamar Samuels. Rodney McGruder, who averaged 15.8 points last season, will be a senior while Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson started a combined 39 games as freshmen last season.

 

17. WISCONSIN (26-10, 12-6 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Jordan Taylor

Key returnees: F Ryan Evans, F/C Jared Beggren, G Josh Gasser, G Ben Brust, F Mike Bruesewitz

Outlook: Jordan Taylor is gone. That’s a major hit, but the Badgers return five other players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season. Wisconsin still won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16 even though Taylor was not as productive as he was as a junior and the Badgers were uncharacteristically vulnerable at home. The Badgers tend to stick around the top of the Big Ten despite personnel changes, but Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Mike Bruesewitz must adjust to not having a star player on the court.

 

18. CREIGHTON (29-6, 14-4 Missouri Valley)

Key departure: G Antoine Young

Key returnees: F Doug McDermott, C Gregory Echenique, G Grant Gibbs, F Ethan Wragge, G Jahenns Manigat, G Josh Jones

Outlook: Doug McDermott again will be a national player of the year candidate after earning first-team All-America honors. Between McDermott and Gregory Echenique again will have a formidable frontcourt duo, but the Bluejays must replace Antoine Young, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.8 assists combined the last two seasons. Every other key player returns.

 

19. GONZAGA (26-7, 13-3 West Coast)

Key departure: C Robert Sacre

Key returnees: F Elias Harris, G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell Jr., F/C Sam Dower, F Guy Landry Edi

Outlook: The guard duo of Kevin Pangos (13.6 ppg) and Gary Bell Jr. (10.4 ppg) are only sophomores while the frontcourt duo of Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Sam Dower (8.3 ppg) will be seasoned veterans. Robert Sacre, who first stepped on campus in 2007-08, is gone. The Bulldogs should be poised for another 25 wins with a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

 

20. MEMPHIS (26-9, 13-3 Conference USA)

Key departures: G Will Barton, G/F Wesley Witherspoon

Key returnees: G Joe Jackson, F Tarik Black, G Chris Crawford, G/F Adonis Thomas, G Antonio Barton

Top newcomer: F William Goodwin

Outlook: A handful of Memphis players are still looking to reach their full potential. The Tigers will need it after losing Will Barton, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. After a loss to UTEP on Feb. 18, Memphis beat its final seven opponents before the NCAA tournament by an average of 21 points per game before losing to Saint Louis in the round of 64. Memphis has the ability to win Conference USA again, but will the Tigers have the consistency to be a player on the national stage?

 

21. NOTRE DAME (22-12, 13-5 Big East)

Key departures: F Tim Abromaitis, G Scott Martin

Key returnees: F Jack Cooley, G Jerian Grant, G Eric Atkins, G/F Pat Connaughton, G Alex Dragicevich

Top newcomers: F Cameron Biedscheid, F Zach Auguste

Outlook: Notre Dame was one of the nation’s biggest overachievers last season, finishing third in the Big East despite playing on two games with top player Tim Abromaitis. The Irish are awaiting word on a sixth year of eligibility for Abromaitis and guard Scott Martin. Even if the NCAA grants neither player an extra year, Notre Dame still return three veterans who averaged at least 12 points per game last season – Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.

 

22. VCU (29-7, 15-3 Colonial)

Key departures: G/F Bradford Burgess

Key returnees: F Juvonte Reddic, G Troy Daniels, G Rob Brandenberg, G Darius Theus, G Traveon Graham, G D.J. Haley

Outlook: With Bradford Burgess gone, none of the top five scorers from VCU’s 2011 Final Four team will be back for 2012-13. That shouldn’t be a huge deal for VCU. Coach Shaka Smart resisted overtures from Illinois and will return to a veteran team. Burgess in the only major loss from a team that lost two games (George Mason on the road and Indiana in the NCAA tournament) after Jan. 8 by a total of three points.

 

23. TENNESSEE (19-15, 10-6 SEC)

Key departure: G Cameron Tatum

Key returnees: G Trae Golden, F Jeronne Maymon, F Jarnell Stokes, G Jordan McRae, G Skylar McBee, F Kenny Hall

Notes: Stokes played only 17 games last season

Outlook: After starting 10-12, Tennessee finished the season 9-3 in February and March. On the good side, the Volunteers defeated Florida on the road and Vanderbilt in Knoxville, but two of the last three games were losses to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament and Middle Tennessee at home in the NIT. Cam Tatum is the only major departure, but the Volunteers will have a full season of Jarnell Stokes. The freshman was a major reason for the Vols’ turnaround late in the season when he arrived in January.

 

24. MURRAY STATE (31-2, 15-1 Ohio Valley)

Key departures: G Donte Poole, G Ivan Aska, G Jewuan Long

Key returnees: G Isaiah Canaan, F Edward Daniel

Top newcomers: G Dexter Fields

Outlook: The return of Isaiah Canaan will make Murray State a favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference (which will now include Belmont), but the Racers will have difficulty in reaching the 30-win mark again. Donte Poole, Ivan Aka and Jewuan Long were the next three scorers on the team behind Canaan.

 

25. SAINT LOUIS (26-8, 12-4 Atlantic 10)

Key departure: F Brian Conklin, G Kyle Cassity

Key returnees: G Kwamain Mitchell, F Cody Ellis, F Dwayne Evans, G Mike McCall Jr., G Jordair Jett, F Rob Loe

Outlook: Saint Louis improved from 12 wins to 26 in one season before picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament win 1998. Leading scorer Brian Conklin is gone as is starter Kyle Cassity, but the balanced Billikins return two other double-digit scorers and four who averaged at least seven points per game. 

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