NCAA Pre-Season Top 25, Pt. 2
The Draft deadline has past and rankings are updated!
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
About a month ago, I enthusiastically tackled the pretty meaningless task of putting together a pre-May 8 ’11-12 pre-season top 25. Now that the deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft has come and gone and we now know which schools were hit the hardest by underclassmen defections, it is a bit easier (if not any more significant) to make an educated guess at what the first polls will look like next fall.
This spring has been as random as ever in terms of the decision-making of college basketball’s best. Whether the threat of a lockout is having an impact on the process is up for debate (it probably has), but the volatility of the 2011 draft process has shuffled these rankings quite a bit.
1. North Carolina
North Carolina is the runaway winner of the NBA Draft survival derby after Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all decided to return to Chapel Hill. As of my previous poll, Henson and Zeller had already made up their minds, but Barnes’ somewhat surprising decision to come back for his sophomore campaign vaults the Tarheels ahead of Ohio State and Kentucky.
2. Ohio State
Ohio State was assured Jared Sullinger was down for another year of college basketball just minutes after its Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. Aaron Craft and William Buford lead an outstanding supporting cast that should, once again, be on top of the Big Ten next season.
All things considered, the Wildcats actually came out of the draft deadline in decent shape. Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins are gone (Knight is no surprise, Liggins’ decision raises some eyebrows), but Terrence Jones triumphantly announced on his Twitter page that he is returning to Lexington. Jones, the ever-improving Darius Miller, and the nation’s top recruiting class are all reasons to expect very little drop-off from Kentucky.
Though he probably had reason to, Kris Joseph didn’t even flirt (at least publically) with the notion of entering the Draft. Outside of Rick Jackson, the rest of the Syracuse squad is back. A veteran team buoyed by a couple of nice recruits (Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams) should put Jim Boeheim at the top of the Big East.
Nothing has changed in Durham since we last checked in on the Blue Devils. We knew for some time that Kyrie Irving would go pro, and Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have finally exhausted their eligibility. But Austin Rivers’ arrival on campus should make people quickly forget about Kyrie. Irving was good, but Rivers is dynamic. He also promises to make the Blue Devil holdovers, like Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly, better basketball players with his playmaking ability.
Has any one player ever earned the right to leave school early more decisively than Kemba Walker? Jim Calhoun has plenty left in Storrs, though, especially if Jeremy Lamb takes the expected leap forward in his development. Lamb needs to eat, sleep and breathe dumbbells and barbells this summer. If he beefs up, and Alex Oriakhi and Shabbaz Napier continue to progress, the Huskies will be tough once again.
While Terrence Jennings is truly hurting himself by entering the Draft, the Cardinals’ should survive his departure. Everyone is back from the surprise team of the Big East. There may not be a ton of star quality on this team, but there is certainly talent, and Rick Pitino knows how to press the right buttons with this personnel.
Vandy is bumped up a bit in these rankings because while many teams lost key players, Kevin Stallings was able to keep his entire team together. You can be sure Stallings sold Jeffrey Taylor, John Jenkins, and Festus Ezeli on the idea of returning to school for a potentially deep run in March. The postseason and Vanderbilt basketball don’t exactly see eye-to-eye, but if Vandy gets that first round monkey off of its back, this team has Final Four potential.
Wisconsin sneaks into the top 10 thanks to Jordan Taylor’s return. Someone needs to step up and replace Jon Leur’s production, but if Taylor can put together an encore performance of his incredible ‘10-11 season, the Badgers will be just fine.
I’m really not sure Kansas belongs this high and I might be guilty of ranking the Jayhawks based on name, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are back. The draft bug hit Kansas hard, though: essentially everyone who had reason to declared did so. Bill Self can replace Josh Selby, but the hole left by the Morris twins will be a doozy to fill.