2012-13 RTC Way Too Early Top-25Posted by zhayes9 on April 3rd, 2012
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
It’s never too early to look ahead to next November and take an early crack at the top 25. This isn’t meant to act as a rigid ranking but more of a first snapshot at who’s primed to contend in 2012-13. Remember to keep in mind that so much can still change with early entries, injuries and transfers. Here it goes:
1. Indiana- Assuming Cody Zeller and Christian Watford return to Bloomington for another hurrah, the Hoosiers projected crunch-time five – Hulls, Oladipo, Sheehey, Watford and Zeller – will be the most versatile and talented the nation has to offer. Tom Crean also added a star-studded recruiting class bolstered by point guard Yogi Ferrell. I’d say the rebuild is officially complete.
2. Louisville- Rick Pitino will likely only lose seniors Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, meaning his three most indispensable cogs – point guard Peyton Siva, center Gorgui Dieng and explosive scorer Russ Smith – are all back in the fold. The Cardinals also tout emerging star Chane Behanan in the post and will receive a full season from talented sophomore Wayne Blackshear.
3. Kentucky- Assuming Marquis Teague is John Calipari’s first returning point guard since before Derrick Rose, the ‘Cats could put together another title run. Doron Lamb may also return to form a sharp-shooting tandem with pick-and-pop threat Kyle Wiltjer. It’s fair to assume that Calipari convinces one or both of Shabazz Muhammed and Nerlens Noel to join Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress in his latest star-studded rookie class.
4. Florida– While it appears projected lottery pick Brad Beal may be headed out the door, Patric Young has given every inclination he’ll return for his junior season. Billy Donovan will once again spread the floor around Young with point guard Scottie Wilbekin, scorers Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, plus versatile forward Erik Murphy. Solid post defender Will Yeguete and incoming point guard Braxton Ogbueze could also be key components.
5. Ohio State– Jared Sullinger is likely history, as is senior Will Buford. But nearly every other contributor should return, including the best duo of backcourt defenders in the country in Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith. DeShaun Thomas is a candidate to lead the Big Ten in scoring and garner All-American consideration, while Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel will be expected to take on a much larger role down low.
6. Duke- Assuming Mason Plumlee returns, Duke should be the favorites to win the ACC despite the loss of Austin Rivers. Look for Quinn Cook to step in at the point alongside marksmen Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Ryan Kelly is a mismatch problem for opponents at the 4 while freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is a star in the making. Duke is also in the running for Muhammed.
7. Michigan- Hopefully Trey Burke sees the light and returns to Ann Arbor for another go-round with what could be an extremely formidable Michigan squad. Junior Tim Hardaway is a potent scorer, while Jordan Morgan will have some more help in the form of a healthy Jon Horford and, more importantly, instant impact freshman Mitch McGary.
8. Michigan State– Losing do-everything senior Draymond Green is difficult, but the Spartans should once again dominate the paint with rapidly improving center Derrick Nix and tag-team partner Adreian Payne. Izzo may move Keith Appling back to the off-guard to focus more on scoring with Travis Trice taking point guard reigns. Gary Harris is an immediate contributor as a freshman and sophomore Brenden Dawson has star potential once he returns to full strength following an ACL tear.
9. Kansas- Until Bill Self’s team is dethroned atop the conference, I just can’t put any Big 12 team ahead of the Jayhawks. Elijah Johnson is the next Kansas standout, Jeff Withey should continue to develop his offensive repertoire and Travis Releford is a fantastic defensive wing. The questions: can Naadir Tharpe step in at the point and how much does Perry Ellis give them as a freshman? Keep an eye out for Ben McLemore, as well.
10. Baylor- The Bears lose Quincy Acy and likely Perry Jones, but Pierre Jackson will receive preseason All-American love and Brady Heslip might be the country’s premiere outside shooter. Quincy Miller returning for another year to strengthen his body and refine his game would be huge. A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello are strong defenders, Cal transfer Gary Franklin could act as a microwave scorer off the bench and center Isaiah Austin is a legit seven-footer.
11. Syracuse- Dion Waiters is history and so, in all likelihood, is Fab Melo. The Orange would boast an assembly line of seven footers on the back end of their 2-3 zone if Nerlens Noel joins DaJuan Coleman, Bay Keita and Rakeem Christmas. Brandon Triche is finally the go-to guy as a senior with C.J. Fair as his sidekick. Look for Michael Carter-Williams to break out, as well.
12. North Carolina- James McAdoo showed his star potential during the NCAA Tournament and this ranking is under the assumption he’ll return to school. With Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, Roy Williams certainly won’t be lacking at the 2-guard spot. Freshman point guard Marcus Paige’s progression is the key.
13. Memphis– Will Barton is history, but Adonis Thomas will blossom as a sophomore. Joe Jackson should continue to make strides, while both Antonio Barton and Chris Crawford are pinpoint shooters. Tarik Black is a very productive big if he stays on the floor.
14. NC State– The Wolfpack have a legitimate shot to win the ACC next season if C.J. Leslie returns. He’d not only team with returning starters Richard Howell, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood, but Mark Gottfried has corralled a recruiting class consisting of three McDonald’s All-Americans: true point guard Tyler Lewis, scorer extraordinaire Rodney Purvis and versatile wing T.J. Warren.
15. Wisconsin– Jordan Taylor was Bo Ryan’s late-game, late-clock crutch for two years. His loss will certainly be felt. Luckily the Badgers return everyone else of note, including Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, Josh Gasser and stud freshman Sam Dekker. Wisconsin will continue to impose their style, play their brand of basketball and win a lot more games than they lose.
16. New Mexico– Kendall Williams and Tony Snell are two gifted wing scorers to compliment a defense that finished #16 in the country in defensive efficiency. Demetrius Walker and Jamaal Fenton are also back, but the key for the Lobos will be the play of sophomore point guard Hugh Greenwood. The question is whether Alford can muster up enough post production sans Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman.
17. Creighton- Doug McDermott is a near-lock for first team All-America honors after scoring 23.2 points per game as a sophomore. McDermott’s return will make new point guard Josh Jones’ job plenty easier, as will Greg Echenique, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. If the defense improves, Creighton has a shot to be this year’s Murray State.
18. San Diego State– Steve Fisher’s rebuild was a year ahead of schedule this past season and nearly everyone is back for another top-25 push, including MWC POY Jamaal Franklin and three-point marksman Chase Tapley. Point guard Xavier Thames showed strides a season ago while freshman Winston Shepard has the tools to contribute immediately.
19. UNLV- Mike Moser announcing his return to Vegas was an enormous development, but Anthony Marshall’s play on both ends is just as valuable for Mike Rice.
20. Arizona– Three top-ten freshmen join Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson to form next year’s Pac-12 favorite, but Sean Miller desperately needs to find a reliable point guard.
21. Kansas State- Bruce Weber inherited quite a roster in Manhattan, one led by all-Big 12 caliber player Rodney McGruder, developing shot-blocker Jordan Henriquez and sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez.
22. Gonzaga– Assuming Elias Harris returns, Gonzaga once again won’t lack for talent. Their backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell could be among the nation’s best, while Sam Dower provides instant offense.
23. Florida State- I’m putting my faith in 1) Leonard Hamilton’s annually throttling defense and 2) the dynamic wing scoring of both ACC POY candidate Michael Snaer and Ian Miller to carry the Noles into the polls.
24. Notre Dame- How will the Irish react with actual expectations? The backcourt is set for two years with Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Jack Cooley is primed for a monster campaign on the block.
25. Saint Louis- The Billikens have the offensive firepower – led by Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis – to match Rick Majerus’ patented stifling defense, a recipe for an Atlantic 10 title.
Also considered: Cincinnati, Texas, Stanford, VCU, UCLA, Saint Mary’s, Drexel, Miami, Ohio.