The college basketball preseason rankings are hot off the press. North Carolina sits atop our top 25.
The 2015-16 season will open without a true, clear-cut favorite.
Last year, everyone was pretty sure Kentucky was the No. 1 team in the country; the Goliath everyone would be chucking stones at all season. The Wildcats managed to live up to the hype and didn’t lose a game until the Final Four, and even though Duke took home the national title, there was little doubt that from start to finish last year, UK was the most talented team in the country.
This year, it’s a bit more muddled. UK again welcomes a pile of talent to Lexington, but the Wildcats are facing much lower expectations even while still ranking among the top teams in the country. North Carolina gets the early nod as the best team in college basketball, but they will be pushed by Maryland, UK, Virginia and Duke, plus a host of other teams for that honor.
The ACC and Big Ten are the two top leagues in the country, and their regular seasons will be absolute wars. But the Big 12 and Pac-12 are both stocked with talent, and schools from smaller conferences such as Wichita State and Gonzaga will make some serious waves on the national scene.
Here’s a look at our college basketball preseason rankings.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels don’t have a real weakness. They are experienced, they feature a game-changer in guard Marcus Paige, and players like Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are going to take UNC far this season. Will they hang another banner in the Dean Dome? Staying healthy will be key.
2. Maryland Terrapins
College teams with an electric guard and a quality big man can go far, and Maryland is blessed with both of those. Melo Trimble was a man among boys last season as a freshman, and he is poised to enjoy a huge year. Forward Jake Layman can score inside and out, and his versatility will make Maryland tough to guard while also opening the lane for Trimble’s trips to the bucket.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Losing their top seven scorers won’t be easy for the Wildcats, but naturally John Calipari is welcoming another stocked recruiting class to fill the void. With Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee back, and Skal Labissiere ready to dominate inside (as long as he is declared eligible), UK isn’t going to fall far from last year’s lofty heights and might actually benefit now that the undefeated talk has died.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks are stocked again, and it’s time for Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis to take the next step. They’ve been around a while, and they are poised to be great. Bill Self always squeezes the most out of his guys, and this is a hungry group. KU will take a step forward if Cheick Diallo can play.
5. Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavs are going to miss some talent from last season, but guard Malcolm Brogdon is back, and he can take Virginia far. Tony Bennett is as good a coach as you’ll find, and with seniors Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey back, plus junior London Perrantes, UVA is going to battle UNC for an ACC title.
6. Duke Blue Devils
The defending national champs have lost a lot of talent, but Duke never has a lack of that. Grayson Allen returns, as does Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee, but new talent in Derryck Thornton and Brandon Ingram will keep the Blue Devils in the title hunt.
7. Iowa State Cyclones
A coaching change in Ames has brought some transition, but it hasn’t lowered expectations for the Cyclones. Steve Prohm is running the show now that Fred Hoiberg has bolted to the NBA, and forward Georges Niang is the kind of player who can push a team far.
8. Wichita State Shockers
Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet are back for one more battle, and the Shockers will continue to make a lot of noise on the national stage. They play with a lot of confidence, and it’s impossible to shake Wichita State’s poise. This is a team built for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
9. Oklahoma Sooners
Guard Buddy Hield is a special player, and the Sooners have all the tools needed to challenge Kansas for Big 12 supremacy. This is a team that has size, experience and a chip on its shoulder.
10. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Everything the Bulldogs do this season will be building toward the NCAA Tournament, and the conference campaign will be one long preseason for that event. Forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis have the size to battle anyone, and Wiltjer’s versatility will make him a Player of the Year candidate.
11. Villanova Wildcats
Size, experience and talent are all at Jay Wright’s disposal at Villanova, and the Wildcats are flying a bit under the radar this preseason. ‘Nova has few weaknesses, and Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu should take some big steps forward this season.
12. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad, but head coach Sean Miller has an asset few teams can match. Kaleb Tarczewski is a special big man, and his versatility will help the Wildcats. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and freshman Allonzo Trier will help refill the tanks at Arizona.
13. California Bears
Cuonzo Martin has something nice building at Cal, and Jaylen Brown will help push it to new heights. His athleticism is special, he can get to the bucket, and he is the type of small forward who will take over games.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Expectations are sky-high in Bloomington as Tom Crean looks to blend three McDonald’s All-Americans in his lineup. Senior Yogi Ferrell and sophomore James Blackmon will help create one of the best backcourts in the country, and freshman Thomas Bryant has the size the Hoosiers were lacking last season.
15. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals could be derailed by off-the-court distractions, but head coach Rick Pitino has the horses to at least put up a fight this year. Look for Damion Lee, a transfer from Drexel, to make an immediate impact and provide a spark for Louisville.
16. West Virginia Mountaineers
Opinions on West Virginia are all over the board, but Bob Huggins has plenty of talent at his disposal and will provide a challenge to opponents with his team’s versatility. Look for WVU to use a lot of different styles to keep teams off-balance this season.
17. LSU Tigers
Make an appointment to watch LSU big man Ben Simmons this season. He has some incredible skills running the floor, and his versatility is going to make him fun to watch. Brandon Sampson and Antonio Blakeney are two more freshmen who are going to give LSU a huge boost.
18. Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers are blessed with fantastic size inside in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, and guard Raphael Davis is focused on enjoying a breakout year. There is a sense of urgency about this year’s team, and head coach Matt Painter needs to produce.
19. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans will rely on guards Denzel Valentine and Lourawls Nairn Jr to help replace some quality talent, but the good news is Valentine is a fantastic all-around player who will be a leader for MSU. Guard Eron Harris will help Michigan State stay in the hunt.
20. Vanderbilt Commodores
Vandy boasts one of the best big men in the country in 7-1 Damian Jones, and he’s going to be a special player in the SEC. The Commodores also can lean on guard Riley LaChance to lead them on both ends of the floor.
21. Butler Bulldogs
There’s an awful lot to like about Butler with veterans Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham back. They both know the Butler way like the backs of their hands, and their efficiency will take the Bulldogs far. Look for North Carolina State transfer Tyler Lewis to make a huge impact.
22. Michigan Wolverines
As long as the injury bug stays away from Ann Arbor the Wolverines will be fine. There is a lot for John Beilein to work. Caris Lavert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton are all hungry to push Michigan back to the top of the Big Ten, and the outside shooting of Spike Albrecht is special.
23. Texas Longhorns
Shaka Smart makes his debut for the Longhorns, and although there figures to be a bit of adjustment to his style of play, Texas should be fun to watch. This is a team that will be better in February than it is now, but the Longhorns are going to pull off some upsets.
24. Wisconsin Badgers
Is this Bo Ryan’s final season in Madison? That remains to be seen, but if it is, UW could put together one last run. Nigel Hayes is ready for a breakout year now that Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are gone, and guard Bronson Koenig will be a killer.
25. Baylor Bears
The end to last season was a disappointment for Baylor, but that means the Bears are more focused to make up for that disappointment this year. Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers give Scott Drew an experienced one-two punch. This will be an intense group all year.