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May 17, 2011

Rivals.com updated Preseason Top 25

ALSO: Rivals.com early Preseason Top 25

The date for underclassmen to pull out of the draft has passed, and we've used the past week to try to figure out whose return means what for certain teams.

After reflecting on things, here's our updated early preseason top 25 for the 2011-12 season.

1. North Carolina
The buzz: There was a chance that UNC could lose its entire starting frontcourt to the NBA. Instead, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller decided to remain in school and will give the Tar Heels the nation's most formidable front line next season. The Heels also are adding five-star prospects James McAdoo, a forward, and P.J. Hairston, a guard. UNC also should benefit from having PG Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup all year. The only question about the Heels is their outside shooting.
2. Kentucky
The buzz: There were some key early-entry losses, but weep not for John Calipari. F Terrence Jones decided to stay in school, and he'll provide some continuity. There's also a fabulous recruiting class that features five-star prospects Anthony Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.
3. Ohio State
The buzz: The Buckeyes will miss departed seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty. Truth be told, though, Jared Sullinger's decision to return for his sophomore season outweighs the departures. The Buckeyes also bring back PG Aaron Craft and swingman William Buford, and -- as usual -- there's a good recruiting class. Freshman F LaQuinton Ross arrives with the reputation as a deadly outside shooter.
4. Duke
The buzz: The Blue Devils lost three big-time talents in PG Kyrie Irving, G Nolan Smith and F Kyle Singler. But Duke will be fine. Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and five-star freshman Austin Rivers -- Doc's son -- will give the Blue Devils one of the nation's best backcourts. The Blue Devils will add a third Plumlee brother up front, with Marshall Plumlee joining Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee. Freshman are going to play a key role for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
5. Syracuse
The buzz: The Orange will be the team to beat in the Big East, which again promises to be a grind. Rick Jackson was the only senior on Syracuse's roster last season. Kris Joseph should develop into an All-America candidate, and Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters give the Orange a solid backcourt trio. It would help the cause if touted freshman C Rakeem Christmas quickly adapts. G Michael Carter-Williams should provide another perimeter threat.
6. Vanderbilt
The buzz: On paper, this is as good a team as Vandy has had in its history. Everyone of note is back, and there's a solid recruiting class. G John Jenkins will be one of the nation's best shooters. F Jeffery Taylor continues to tantalize with his talents, but he must become more consistent; he disappears at inopportune times. C Festus Ezeli has made giant strides in his career, and if he keeps improving, Vandy will go a long way in March.
7. Louisville
The buzz: Louisville probably overachieved relative to its talent level last season. This season, though, much will be expected of the Cardinals. They will miss G Preston Knowles, but Louisville adds two big-time recruits in F Chane Behanan and G Wayne Blackshear.
8. Pittsburgh
The buzz: The Panthers lost three starters, but G Ashton Gibbs decided to stay for his senior season and that was huge. He and Travon Woodall make for a good backcourt, and freshman Khem Birch is a big-timer up front. Pitt's reliance on defense will help ease the pain of the three departed starters.
9. Memphis
The buzz: The freshman-dominated Tigers battled fits of inconsistency last season, but the tough times should become good times this season. There is good talent on the roster, and touted freshman Adonis Thomas will provide frontcourt help. Young coach Josh Pastner now must prove he's up to the task of leading a top-10 team.
10. Arizona
The buzz: F Derrick Williams' departure hurts and means the new-look Pac-12 won't have a legit national title contender. But most of Williams' supporting cast from last season returns, and coach Sean Miller reeled in a solid recruiting class. The Wildcats will have one of the nation's top freshman point guards in Josiah Turner, and he may become the team's go-to scorer.
11. Kansas
The buzz: A ton of talent went out the door in Lawrence -- the Morris twins and Gs Josh Selby, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed. A huge key will be the play of F Thomas Robinson, who must make the climb from role player to go-to guy up front. Tyshawn Taylor has the potential to be one of the better guards in the nation.
12. Florida
The buzz: The Gators lost each member of their starting frontcourt, which means they will become a guard-oriented team -- and that will be just fine with coach Billy Donovan. Florida will have one of the nation's best backcourts, with five-star freshman sharpshooter Brad Beal joining holdover starters Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario in the guard corps. Assuming Rosario can curb his fire-away-from-anywhere mentality, this could be a devastating quartet. Sophomore C Patric Young isn't going to have much help up front, though.
13. Connecticut
The buzz: Kemba Walker turning pro means it's an extreme long shot that the Huskies successfully defend their national title, but there's still some talent in Storrs. Jeremy Lamb will go from No. 2 option to go-to guy, and Shabazz Napier should provide a steadying hand at the point. C Alex Oriakhi is a solid low-post guy on both ends of the court, and there are numerous complementary guys who know their roles.
14. Wisconsin
The buzz: The Badgers will miss star F Jon Leuer, but G Jordan Taylor -- who emerged as a force last season -- will be back for coach Bo Ryan, who always seems to get the utmost from his team. As usual, the Badgers won't be loaded with talent next season. But, as usual, they will play hard and win at least 20 again.
15. Baylor
The buzz: F Perry Jones' decision to stay in school was a surprise, and he and Quincy Acy should form an athletic and explosive frontcourt. Freshmen Gs Deuce Bello and Quincy Miller played high school ball together at High Point (N.C.) Westchester Country Day, and their play will go a long way toward determining whether the Bears can bounce back from a disappointing season and contend for the Big 12 title.
16. Alabama
The buzz: Alabama advanced to the NIT final last season, and F JaMychal Green's return gives coach Anthony Grant a nice building block inside. The Tide played tough, in-your-face defense last season, and that's not going to change. There is a nice group of freshmen, and perhaps one or two of those guys will help improve the Tide's woeful outside shooting. This is an athletic bunch that will be the preseason favorite to win what should be a vastly improved SEC West.
17. Michigan State
The buzz: The Spartans made the NCAA tourney last season, but they still might have been the nation's biggest underachiever. Still, it says something about a program's status when a nightmarish season finishes up in the NCAAs anyway. Expect a return to form next season, when F Draymond Green will be the key guy. Newcomers Brandon Wood (a fifth-year senior transfer from Valparaiso) and Branden Dawson (a freshman) will provide some athleticism and some offense.
18. Xavier
The buzz: G Tu Holloway's return is huge; with him in the lineup, the Musketeers will be one of the top two teams in the Atlantic 10. There's a nice recruiting class for coach Chris Mack, too.
19. Temple
The buzz: The Owls will miss C Lavoy Allen, but coach Fran Dunphy has a solid guard duo in Ramone Moore (15.2 points per game) and Juan Fernandez (11.2 points). A healthy Michael Eric would be a huge plus in the frontcourt.
20. Texas A&M
The buzz: The biggest loss suffered by the Aggies came earlier this month, when coach Mark Turgeon left for Maryland. New coach Billy Kennedy, who arrives from Murray State, takes over a team built around its defense. The good news offensively is that the two Aggies who averaged in double figures last season -- Khris Middleton and David Loubeau -- are back. Guard depth will be boosted by Washington transfer Elston Turner, who will be eligible after sitting out a year.
21. Gonzaga
The buzz: The Zags will miss G Steven Gray, but the frontcourt has the potential to be dominant with C Robert Sacre and PF Elias Harris. The Zags didn't have their usual cakewalk in the West Coast Conference last season, and the addition of BYU should make the WCC even tougher this season. There are some talented incoming freshmen, especially in the backcourt.
22. California
The buzz: The Golden Bears return the top three scorers from a team that advanced to the second round of the NIT, and the backcourt of Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe is a good one. Coach Mike Montgomery's team had just one senior last season, and unlike league brethren UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State, Cal didn't lose any key underclassmen.
23. New Mexico
The buzz: The Mountain West had two teams in the top 10 for much of last season, but BYU has changed leagues and San Diego State lost a ton of talent. Thus, look for the Lobos to be the league standard-bearer this season. Big man Drew Gordon, who began his career at UCLA, should be the best player in the league -- he averaged a double-double last season -- and sophomore Kendall Williams should be one of the best guards on the West Coast.
24. Wichita State
The buzz: The Shockers won the NIT title last season and received even more good news when coach Gregg Marshall rejected feelers from some bigger programs to remain in Wichita. Five of the top six scorers return for Wichita State, and all five of those guys will be seniors. This will be the team to beat in the Missouri Valley Conference.
25. Mississippi State
The buzz: The talent is there for the Bulldogs to win 22-plus games and contend for the SEC West title. A team featuring holdovers Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney, UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie and touted freshman Rodney Hood could be quite good. Team chemistry is the issue.

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