The RTC Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Top 25Posted by Walker Carey on April 8th, 2014
If preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We readily admit that we don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees, and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So we will try to project, using the partial information that we have, which are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then, this is what we came up with. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this way-too-early poll is after the jump.
Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.
- Arizona Is #1. Arizona had a wonderfully successful 2013-14 season that saw the Wildcats take home the Pac-12 regular season title and advance to the Elite Eight. The main reason why Sean Miller’s squad is the #1 team for next season is that the Wildcats were so good this year with a majority of their players as underclassmen. While there will likely be some departures to the NBA (Aaron Gordon – likely; Nick Johnson – maybe), Arizona will still return guards T.J. McConnell and Gabe York and forwards Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski. That is certainly a strong nucleus. A sterling freshmen class will also arrive in Tucson headlined by McDonald’s All-American forward Stanley Johnson.
- The Blue Bloods Will Once Again Be Elite. #2 Duke, #4 Kentucky, #4 Kansas, and #6 North Carolina are four of the most storied programs in college basketball. All four are likely to lose players early to the NBA Draft, but that likely will not be an issue, as their returnees and incoming recruits are more than capable of taking over the spotlight. A year after scoring the services of elite freshman Jabari Parker, Mike Krzyzewski brought another strong haul to Durham. McDonald’s All-Americans Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen will be Blue Devils and their skills should greatly complement definite returning players Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. National runner-up Kentucky reached the national title game with an all-freshmen starting lineup, and although the Wildcats will likely see any number of those five leave Lexington early, there will definitely still be enough talent there for another Final Four run. Rising sophomore big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee will likely take a large step forward and incoming freshmen Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl Towns and Tyler Ulis should show that John Calipari still recruits as well as anyone in college basketball. Kansas has already lost Andrew Wiggins to the NBA and many believe Joel Embiid will soon follow, but Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis – all starters in the 2013-14 season – will return, and McDonald’s All-Americans Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre will arrive in Lawrence. The Jayhawks have won 10 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, and with the talent that will be at Bill Self’s disposal in 2014-15, an 11th crown is a realistic expectation. North Carolina battled through P.J. Hariston’s dismissal and some inconsistent play in 2013-14, but the Tar Heels look primed to return to prominence next season. Star point guard Marcus Paige will return and key contributors Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto will be expected to the next steps forward in their progression. Like the aforementioned blue-bloods, Roy Williams is also bringing in a star-studded recruiting class with McDonald’s All-Americans Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson.
- Wisconsin and Michigan – The Class of the Big Ten? Third-ranked Wisconsin looks like it could be headed to a second straight Final Four with four of its five starters returning to the fold. Guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser along with forwards Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky all picked up valuable winning experience in 2013-14, and that should lead to the Badgers as the team to beat in the Big Ten. Seventh-ranked Michigan won the outright Big Ten title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season with only one senior. While rising juniors Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all have decisions to make about their immediate futures, the Wolverines will definitely return rising sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, juniors Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht and senior Jon Horford. With that much winning experience under the superior guidance of John Beilein, it looks like Michigan will once again remain among the nation’s elite teams.
- Wichita State Will Once Again be in the National Conversation. Wichita State’s 35-0 start this season was one of the stories of the year in college basketball, and while the Shockers were ultimately bested by Kentucky in the round of 32, their season will still go down in college basketball lore. Gregg Marshall will have another tough squad in 2014-15, as his three-headed monster backcourt of Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton all return. Standout forward Cleanthony Early has exhausted his eligibility, but key reserve Darius Carter will step into his vacated spot. The Shockers garnered a ton of headlines with their Final Four run in 2013 and their unbeaten regular season this year, and they will have enough in 2014-15 to prove the past two years were not just an aberration.
- Defending National Champion #13 Connecticut Loses a Lot, But It Would Be Unwise to Count Out the Huskies. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier will graduate and key role players Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah will also move on, but the cupboard will be far from bare in Storrs. If guard Ryan Boatright and forward DeAndre Daniels bypass the NBA Draft, they will likely grab quite a few preseason accolades and ready for standout campaigns. Supporting players Omar Calhoun, Terrence Samuel, Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan will take on bigger roles, and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis – a former McDonald’s All-American – becomes eligible. Kevin Ollie will not have a leader on the team like Napier in 2014-15, but what he will have should be enough to project the Huskies as a potential contender to defend their national title.