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Zach’s Early Summer Top 25 06/25/2009

Posted by Zach in Rankings.
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College basketball season is right around the corner.

Okay, not really. With the NBA Draft concluding, the dead summer period for college hoops fans officially begins. While North Carolina hoisting the trophy in Detroit seems like years ago, we’re not even at the conclusion of June yet. The dog days of summer are ahead, yet college basketball will always be on our minds. Check back into Rise and Fire for news updates, previews, articles and the lot until it drops below 50 degrees and the sweet smell of basketball is in the air. Whatever that smells like.

To kick off the site, Brian and I will put together our Early Summer Top 25’s for the upcoming campaign. Now that each on-the-fence player has made their decision whether they’re in/out, we can make a concrete Top 25 knowing who will return to the college basketball hardwood in 2009-10. Look for Brian’s Top 25 at the end of this week. Here is how I see it shaking out:

1. Kansas Jayhawks- While Kentucky could have made a case for this spot had Jodie Meeks opted for a return to school, Kansas is the clear preseason #1 team for 2009-10. This team made incredible strides last season after losing all five starters following the national championship season. Bill Self has the best guard/forward combination in the country in Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich with an explosive freshman wing player, Xavier Henry, immediately entering the starting lineup. Tyshawn Taylor would be the go-to scorer on plenty of formidable teams and both the Morris twins and Arizona transfer Jeff Withey provide bulk up front to compliment Aldrich.

2. Kentucky Wildcats- Think firing Billy Gillispie was the right move? With the genius luring of John Calipari to Lexington, two of the top five incoming freshmen in the country join him- forward DeMarcus Cousins and guard John Wall, an electric floor leader who many say is better than Derrick Rose. Also joining those studded freshmen are center Daniel Orton, guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Jon Hood- three diaper-dandies who would probably be a top-five recruiting class without Cousins or Wall. Throw in double-double machine Patrick Patterson and Calipari is set up to have success right away at Kentucky.

3. Texas Longhorns- Brian and I both agree that Rick Barnes is one of the most underrated coaches in the country and he’s shown his recruiting prowess by luring two of my favorite diaper-dandies in years- explosive guard Avery Bradley and a true scoring forward in Jordan Hamilton. Damion James returning to Austin was quite possibly the most significant pre-draft decision other than Meeks. The role players on Texas can all contribute- Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson providing bulk and rebounding down low, Dogus Balbay running a steady point guard, Justin Mason and Varez Ward working the wings and incoming Florida transfer Jai Lucas as the secret weapon.

4. Michigan State Spartans- Once again Michigan State and Purdue will battle for Big Ten bragging rights, and, just like last summer, I’ll give the Spartans a slight edge. Losing leadership and defense in Goran Suton and Travis Walton will surely sting, but Tom Izzo has assembled enough talent- namely super-quick guard Kalin Lucas- to overcome such adversity. Draymond Green really exploded in March and will be joined up front by sophomore Delvon Roe and embattled forward Raymar Morgan, who can really make an impact if he stays motivated and healthy. Sweet shooters Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious provide serious depth at the guard position.

5. Purdue Boilermakers- They’re not the Baby Boilers anymore. After losing in the Sweet 16 last season, Matt Painter’s familiar squad will look to make the next step and they have the personnel to do so. All five starters have played together for the past two seasons including rugged defender Chris Kramer, emerging forward JaJuan Johnson and all-around weapon Robbie Hummel. Lewis Jackson is emerging as a strong point guard and E’Twaun Moore will be Painter’s go-to scorer. Purdue and Michigan State should have another entertaining race to take home the Big 10 title.

6. Villanova Wildcats- Even though seniors Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson depart, coach Jay Wright has plenty of returning and incoming talent to contend for another Final Four. The backcourt is tremendous with Scottie Reynolds spending his ninth year at Villanova and the two Corey’s- Fisher and Stokes- extending the defense with tremendous shooting ability (hopefully they abstain from making a sitcom). Reggie Redding is an ideal role player for any team with high aspirations. The freshman class is one of the best in the nation with four top-50 players joining Duke transfer Taylor King. Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayans will make immediate impacts off the bench scoring and dishing, while many believe forward Mouphtauo Yarou has the potential to be a special player for coach Wright.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels- Thanks to the defections from Winston-Salem, North Carolina should be the preseason favorite to win the ACC once again. Yes, that’s right, even with the losses of Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson and Green. Tar Heel fans will have to be patient with the maturation process of Larry Drew III at the point guard position while freshman Dexter Strickland provides a nice insurance policy (although he’s more of a scoring 2-guard). Up front will be where the Heels dominate with Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and lanky freshman John Henson. Thompson could be one the breakout players in the country and many felt like Ed Davis was a lottery pick if he came out after last season.

8. Connecticut Huskies- Losing key pieces like center Hasheem Thabeet, forward Jeff Adrien and point guard A.J. Price will be awfully hard to overcome, but I still see Connecticut as a top-ten overall team in a down Big East season. A healthy Jerome Dyson will team up with sensational sophomore Kemba Walker to form a dynamic backcourt. The frontcourt is also steady with explosive Stanley Robinson and one of my favorite newcomers- freshman Alex Oriakhi, who plays like a poor man’s Thabeet the way he can dominate defensively and on the glass. An eligible Ater Majok would provide a tremendous wild card.

9. Duke Blue Devils- Gerald Henderson’s return and John Wall’s commitment would have certainly made Duke a top-five team. Instead, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer will have to lead the way for Duke if they want to return to a Final Four. Singler will probably win ACC Player of the Year as an elite low-post scorer, mid-range shooter and defender. Nolan Smith will return as starting point guard for Coach K and may have a breakout junior season. The two forward freshmen- Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly- will be asked to contribute immediately, especially with Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek as serious question marks.

10. West Virginia Mountaineers- Alex Ruoff is the only loss of note for Bob Huggins crew who will welcome back point guard Joe Mazzulla from a serious shoulder injury. West Virginia may not be loaded with talented scoring weapons, but you know Huggins’ teams will defend and rebound with the best. Devin Ebanks made tremendous strides in the second half of last season and could average 10+ RPG. Da’Sean Butler will be one of the best scorers in the Big East and I really love Darryl Bryant at point guard. Deniz Kilici is an extremely talented big man.

11. Butler Bulldogs- Coach Brad Stevens will return all five starters from a team that won 26 games led by junior forward Matt Howard and sophomore forward Gordon Hayward. Howard has some of the best post moves in the nation and Hayward can really stroke it from outside. Sophomores Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored is an extremely steady backcourt and Zach Hahn is the shooting weapon off the bench. Andrew Smith is a 6’9 center that will provide depth when Howard needs a breather. Plus, you know Butler will always defend.

12. Tennessee Volunteers- With their abundance of talent, Tennessee should really be higher on this list, but I have serious doubts about their commitment on defense. Tyler Smith returning bolts the Vols about 10-12 spots on this list. He’ll team with Wayne Chism to form a ferocious frontcourt yet again. J.P. Prince is an effective slashing guard and Cameron Tatum has serious range from deep. The wild cards are sophomore Scotty Hopson (will be provide a consistent scoring threat?) and Bobby Maze providing efficiency at the point.

13. Washington Huskies- Lorenzo Romar’s squad will show off the most exciting backcourt in the nation this season with Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy. Thomas has explosive speed and natural scoring/passing ability while Gaddy is an impact freshman with tremendous court vision and a great feel. The loss of Jon Brockman hurts the frontcourt, so it’s up to Darnell Gant or Matthew Bryan-Amaning to step up down low. Quincy Pondexter and Venoy Overton are two useful role players at Romar’s disposal. The Huskies should be the favorites to win the Pac-10 this season with UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and USC somewhat depleted, quite an impressive turnaround for a program struggling just a few years ago.

14. Michigan Wolverines- The only losses for Michigan (Lee, Grady, Merritt) were role players, meaning the main cogs (Harris, Sims, Lucas-Perry, Novak, Douglass) all return. The Wolverines have a great mix of players to contend for the Big 10 title when you factor in the dynamic slashing and scoring ability of Harris, the inside/outside game of Sims and the shooting of Lucas-Perry. You know Coach Beilein will use that zone effectively as he continues to rebuild the Michigan program.

15. Minnesota Golden Gophers- Much like their Big 10 rivals, Minnesota returns everyone of note from last season including a very talented freshman class led by Rodney Williams, Royce White and Marquette transfer/project Trevor Mbakwe. Al Nolen is the floor leader, Lawrence Westbrook provides defense, Blake Hoffarber is the impact shooter and both Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson continue to make improvements in the low post.

16. California Golden Bears- Mike Montgomery’s squad overachieved last season before sputtering early in the NCAA Tournament. Explosive guard Jerome Randle and his perimeter mates Patrick Christopher and Jamal Boykin will look to change the Golden Bears fates for 09-10.

17. Illinois Fighting Illini- The Illini could struggle early getting used to playing without their two floor leaders Trent Meachem and Chester Frazier. Bruce Weber will have his team improving as the year progresses, led by frontcourt stalwarts Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, two talented forwards who can step out and shoot. Look for Alex Legion to take on a bigger role, as well.

18. Ohio State Buckeyes- Here’s yet another Big 10 team in the top 20. Could they be this year’s Big East? Evan Turner will contend for conference player of the year while Dallas Lauderdale provides shot-blocking and rebounding down low. William Buford should be a double-digit scorer and Jon Diebler has extended range for Thad Matta’s team looking to recover from their devastating loss to…

19. Siena Saints- The loss of Kenny Hasbrouck hurts, but underrated coach Fran McCaffrey has his other four starters returning this season. Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter all averaged double-digit scoring averages last season and Ronald Moore, who will forever live in Siena lore, returns.

20. Maryland Terrapins- The Terps return seven of their top eight scorers from a season ago, including outstanding guard Greivis Vasquez, who made a late minute decision to return to College Park rather than go to the NBA or Europe. Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes will take on a slightly bigger role this season. It looks like Gary Williams’ job is safe for now.

21. Dayton Flyers- Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson is the best one-two punch in the Atlantic 10 and those two should help a talented Dayton squad upend Xavier at the top.

22. Florida Gators- Kenny Boynton might be their best player right away. Will any of their role players (Walker, Tyus, Parsons, Werner, Shipman) make the leap?

23. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- This is a make-or-break year for Paul Hewitt. Led by Gani Lawal, Iman Shumpert, Zach Peacock and superstar freshman Derrick Favors, the Yellow Jackets should make it into the NCAA Tournament.

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs- There’s plenty of potential to have an elite frontcourt in Starkville with Renardo Sidney, Jarvis Varnado and 7’2 center John Riek, a transfer from Cincinnati.

25. Oklahoma Sooners- Losing the Griffin twins, Juan Patillo and Austin Johnson stings, but now it’s time for Willie Warren and an impressive freshman class to shine for coach Jeff Capel.

Also considered: Georgetown, Boston College, Tulsa, Florida, South Carolina, BYU, Clemson, Xavier.

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