Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2013-14

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Could freshman class at Kentucky return Wildcats to No. 1?

<p> Could freshman class at Kentucky return Wildcats to No. 1?</p>

The Bluegrass State could be on its way to becoming the basketball version of Alabama.

The football championship hasn’t left the state of Alabama four years, with the Crimson Tide winning the BCS in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and Auburn winning in 2010.

After Kentucky and Louisville won the last two basketball titles, the state could grab a third in a row, but which could keep the streak going? Despite a season that ended in the NIT, Kentucky grabs the top spot in our first look at 2013-14 thanks to one of the highest rated recruiting classes of all time. Louisville loses Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, but the backcourt could be restocked by newcomers to keep the Cardinals near the top.

Most decisions for the NBA Draft have been made, meaning rosters have taken shape for the most part. One key recruit remains on the table, though, with Andrew Wiggins deciding among Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. The addition of the forward from Huntington Prep could strengthen title bids for Kentucky and North Carolina while keeping Florida State and Kansas in the mix for conference titles.

Note: College players can enter their names into draft consideration and retain eligibility until April 16. The NBA's early entry deadline is April 28.

Related: Tracking all conference changes for 2013-14

EARLY COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOP 25 FOR 2013-14

1. KENTUCKY
Key players gone: Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Nerlens Noel
Top returners: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer
New faces: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, James Young
Buzz: The loss to Robert Morris in the NIT is a distant memory for Kentucky, mainly because most of the key players for 2013-14 didn’t play in the game. The Wildcats will be back in national title contention thanks to a recruiting class that includes six of the top 15 prospects in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. If Kentucky lands top-ranked recruit Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky would have four of the top five prospects. Even if last season went awry, John Calipari has proven he can win a title with freshmen of this caliber.

2. MICHIGAN STATE
Key players gone: Derrick Nix
Top returners: Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice
Buzz: Michigan State is waiting for Payne and Harris to finalize decisions on the NBA Draft, but if they return, the Spartans will be a national title contender. Nix would be the only one of the top seven scorers gone from a team that went 27-9. Payne and Harris are NBA-type talents, the only question is when they choose to go.

3. LOUISVILLE
Key players gone: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith
Top returners: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Kevin Ware
New faces: Anton Gill, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier
Buzz: Replacing the starting backcourt of Siva and Smith will be difficult, but Jones is a big-time junior college recruit who could step into the point guard spot. From Hagrave Military Academy, Gill and Rozier, who didn’t qualify academically for the 2012 class, boost the backcourt. The returning cast of Hancock and Harrell were at their best late in the season, and Behanan had one of his best games of the year in the title game.

4. DUKE
Key players gone: Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee
Top returners: Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton
New faces: Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye, Jabari Parker
Buzz: The losses of Curry, Kelly and Plumlee are huge, but this is Duke. Sulaimon is the top returner. He stood out on the defensive end last season and proved he could carry the scoring load. Cook was a pleasant surprise at point guard for a team that spent most of the season in the top three. Of the newcomers, Parker could fill Kelly’s versatility and Jones could fill Curry’s role as a shooter. Dawkins, who averaged better than eight points per game in each of his last two seasons, returns after he sat out in 2012-13.

5. ARIZONA
Key players gone: Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons, Keith Parrom
Top returners: Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski
New faces: Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell
Buzz: Arizona will miss Hill’s leadership and Lyons’ scoring, but Sean Miller can restock a roster. The Wildcats got a major boost for the upcoming season when they landed McDonald’s All-American power forward Aaron Gordon. Hopes are high for Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell to become a floor general at point guard.

6. FLORIDA
Key players gone: Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario
Top returners: Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguette, Patric Young
New faces: Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker
Buzz: The Gators’ season looks a bit better with Young electing to return to school, but he still needs to become a more dominant player befitting his size. Wilbekin and Yeguette, who anchored the Gators’ in the defensive end, also return. Much will depend on the newcomers. Hill is one of the top point guard recruits to come to Florida under Billy Donovan. Finney-Smith, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, was one of the top freshmen in the ACC at Virginia Tech, averaging 6.3 points and seven rebounds. With Chris Walker, Florida will have one of the top front lines in the country.

7. MARQUETTE
Key players gone: Junior Cadougan, Trent Lockett
Top returners: Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson
New faces: Deonte Burton, JaJuan Johnson, Jameel McKay, Duane Wilson
Buzz: Marquette returns the top three scorers on a team that reached the Elite Eight and captured a share of the Big East regular season title. Vander Blue played some of his best basketball of the season in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to the returners, Marquette may have a new point guard (Wilson) and two major freshmen in Johnson and Burton.

8. OHIO STATE
Key players gone: Deshaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel
Top returners: Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, Amir Williams
New faces: Marc Loving, Kameron Williams
Buzz: Much of Ohio State’s season will depend on how the Buckeyes’ replace Thomas’ prolific scoring. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started to show they were capable of carrying the load near the end of the season, but they need to be ready for bigger roles.

9. NORTH CAROLINA
Key players gone: Dexter Strickland
Top returners: Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, Leslie McDonald, Marcus Paige
New faces: Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks
Buzz: James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston have yet to announce their NBA Draft intentions, but if all three return, North Carolina should return to the top of the ACC. The Tar Heels didn’t find their groove until going to a four-guard lineup so it will be interesting to see how incoming freshman big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks impact the rotation.

10. MICHIGAN
Key players gone: Trey Burke
Top returners: Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas
New faces: Zak Irvin
Buzz: Michigan is going to have trouble getting back to the national championship game without Trey Burke. Most of the optimism around the Wolverines for 2013-14 revolves around Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III returning to school. If two or three of them opt for the NBA Draft, Michigan may be a fringe top-25 team.

11. SYRACUSE
Key players gone: Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, Brandon Triche
Top returners: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Baye Keita
New faces: Tyler Ennis, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson
Buzz: Replacing the starting backcourt of Carter-Williams and Triche will be challenging as the Orange move to the ACC. Syracuse is counting on incoming point guard Ennis and shooting guard Patterson, who signed with Indiana before going to prep school, to take those roles. Fair is the only returning player who averaged more than 5.1 points last season.

12. COLORADO
Key players gone: Sabatino Chen
Top returners: Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Andre Roberson
Buzz: Led by Roberson and Dinwiddie, Colorado’s roster returns virtually intact after the program’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Buffaloes struggled down the stretch, but a handful of freshmen played key minutes. This should be Colorado’s breakout season under Tad Boyle.

13. WICHITA STATE
Key players gone: Malcolm Armstead, Carl Hall, Demetric Williams
Top returners: Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, Jake White
New faces: Kadeem Coleby, Earl Watson, Evan Wessel
Buzz: The Shockers will miss Armstead and Hall from the Final Four run, but don’t forget Wichita State played most of the season without the redshirt freshman Baker. With Early, Baker and Cotton, there’s enough returning to win the Missouri Valley this season. The Shockers should fill their void with two players who redshirted last season -- 6-foot-9 Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Coleby and local 6-5 guard Wessel.

14. VCU
Key players gone: Darius Theus, Troy Daniels
Top returners: Rob Brandenburg, Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Melvin Thomas, Briante Weber
New faces: Jordan Burgess
Buzz: Five of the top seven players return to VCU, including three who averaged double-figure scoring. Theus’ 2.4 steals per game will be missed in the defensive end, but there’s a lot to like about a VCU team that went 12-5 in its first season in the Atlantic 10.

15. WISCONSIN
Key players gone: Jared Beggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans
Top returners: Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson
Buzz: Players come and go, but Wisconsin is pretty much automatic to contend in the Big Ten and reach the NCAA Tournament under Bo Ryan. In 2013-14, the Badgers return one of the Big Ten’s most underrated freshmen in Sam Dekker plus a healthy Josh Gasser.

16. TENNESSEE
Key players gone: Kenny Hall, Skyler McBee
Top returners: Trae Golden, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes
New faces: Robert Hubbs
Buzz: The Volunteers came together late in the season, but it wasn’t enough to get in the NCAA Tournament. With the core of Golden, McRae and Stokes, plus a healthy Maymon, this should be the year for Cuonzo Martin.

17. MEMPHIS
Key players gone: Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens, Adonis Thomas
Top returners: Chris Crawford, Shaq Goodwin, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson
New faces: Kuron Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols
Buzz: After winning a Tournament game, going 16-0 in Conference USA and adding another top recruiting class, Memphis has the most momentum it’s had under Josh Pastner. Now, the Tigers head to the American Athletic Conference.

18. CONNECTICUT
Key players gone: None
Top returners: Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander
Buzz: At 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East, Connecticut had the look of an NCAA Tournament team despite the postseason ban. With nearly everyone returning, the Huskies should be able to realize that goal.

19. NEW MEXICO
Key players gone: Tony Snell
Top returning players: Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk, Hugh Greenwood, Demetrius Walker, Kendall Williams
Buzz: Craig Neal was promoted to coach a 29-6 team that returns virtually intact. The Lobos may be the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, but that Tournament loss to Harvard will be tough to forget.

20. INDIANA
Key players gone: Remy Abell, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller
Top returning players: Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey
New faces: Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams
Buzz: Indiana can’t help but take a step back with all those losses, but the Hoosiers have recruited well enough to stay in the mix in the Big Ten. The pressure will be on the point guard Ferrell.

21. GONZAGA
Key players gone: Elias Harris, Guy Landry-Edi, Kelly Olynyk
Top returning players: Gary Bell Jr, Sam Dower, Przemek Karnowski, Kevin Pangos, David Stockton
New faces: Gerald Coleman, Angel Nunez
Buzz: The front line takes a major hit without Olynyk and Harris, but Mark Few’s backcourt should be solid.

22. UCLA
Key players gone: Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II
Top returners: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, David Wear, Travis Wear
New faces: Zach LaVine, Allerik Freeman
Buzz: Steve Alford is set up nicely in his first season at UCLA with Adams and Anderson returning.

23. KANSAS
Key players gone: Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young
Top returning players: Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe
New faces: Conner Frankamp, Brannen Green, Wayne Selden
Buzz: Kansas loses its starting five, but it’s risky to bet against the Jayhawks in the Big 12. They’ll find a way.

24. SAINT LOUIS
Key players gone: Kwamain Mitchell, Cody Ellis
Top returners: Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Mike McCall
Buzz: Jim Crews has the job full-time and a chance to repeat in the Atlantic 10. Replacing Kwamain Mitchell’s 30 minutes per game will be tough.

25. NOTRE DAME
Key players gone: Jack Cooley, Scott Martin, Garrick Sherman
Top returners: Eric Atkins, Cameron Biedscheid, Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant
New faces: Demetrius Jackson
Buzz: Notre Dame is one of the most consistent programs in the country. Even without Jack Cooley, the Irish have enough back to be a top-25 team.

Also considered:
Alabama, Cal, Georgetown, Harvard, Iowa, Maryland, Virginia, Villanova

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