By Jon Rothstein
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THE SKINNY: Only Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith should depart from the Cardinals’ Final Four roster and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock should step in seamlessly for both at the wing. Look for Rick Pitino to add two big bodies up front with Rakeem Buckles and Stephan Van Treese returning from injuries to go along with Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, who figures to have a breakout season as a sophomore. Peyton Siva should have a terrific season as a senior and should benefit from the return of Mike Marra, whose outside shooting was sorely missed this past season.
THE SKINNY: Don’t be surprised if this is the last team standing in April of 2013. Tom Crean is set to return every piece from the Hoosiers unit that reached the Sweet 16 and fell to Kentucky and adds several ingredients that make Assembly Hall set to sizzle next season. Blue chip point guard Yogi Ferrell is a freshman that should blend nicely with Jordan Hulls in the Indiana back court and first year small forward Jeremy Hollowell is a skilled wing that should mesh with Victor Oladipo’s athleticism. If Christian Watford and Cody Zeller return to school as they should, this team should accept nothing less than a Big Ten title and a berth in the Final Four.
THE SKINNY: This ranking is all based on the notion that both Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad will wind up in Lexington. If the duo both heads to the Commonwealth, John Calipari could have again the most talented team in the country. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow is set to take over point guard responsibilities while Kyle Wiltjer seems cemented as the Wildcats’ starting power forward. Look for freshmen wings Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress to split time on the wings for Kentucky, who continues to churn out elite talent on an annual basis.
THE SKINNY: The Orange may have lost a plethora of key pieces but this is Syracuse, they just reload. Michael Carter-Williams should have a breakout season as a sophomore and Trevor Cooney and James Southerland should make Syracuse an lethal shooting team from the perimeter. Look for burly freshman Dajuan Coleman to have a big impact on the interior while C.J. Fair has an All Big East caliber season at power forward with Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita set to anchor the back end of Jim Boeheim’s vintage 2-3 zone. Freshman wing Jerami Grant should also help with his length and his athleticism.
THE SKINNY: The Bears may lose Perry Jones and Quincy Acy but returning to Waco is likely the best point guard in college basketball next season in Pierre Jackson. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip and the ultra athletic Deuce Bello also are back on the perimeter and burgeoning big man Quincy Miller figures to be an All Big 12 performer as a sophomore. Look for 6-foot-9 power forward Cory Jefferson to make a statistical jump with more minutes as he competes for time in Scott Drew’s front court with freshmen Ricardo Gathers and Isaiah Austin (7 footer), along with former UCLA big man J’Mison Morgan, who red shirted this past season.
6. MICHIGAN STATE
THE SKINNY: Life in East Lansing without Draymond Green will feature a fast paced attack with Keith Appling, Travis Trice, and McDonald’s All-American guard Gary Harris set to add some new pop to the Sparty attack. Sophomore small forward Branden Dawson should be due for a breakout season as a sophomore and Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne should be one of the better power forward-center combos in the country.
7. N.C. STATE
THE SKINNY: A lot of the Wolfpack’s chance hinge on whether or not C.J. Leslie returns but even if he doesn’t, Mark Gottfried’s team has the pieces to compete for an ACC title. Deshawn Painter and Richard Howell are both solid up front and Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood should be one of the better back courts in the country. Freshman small forward Rodney Purvis figures to step in for the graduated C.J. Williams. If Leslie does bolt for the NBA, look for European big man Thomas de Thaey to inherit his minutes up front.
THE SKINNY: With Mike Moser returning, the Runnin Rebels should be in line for another big season under Dave Rice. Incoming freshman Katin Reinhardt should be in line for major minutes as a scorer as a freshman and USC transfer Bryce Jones should make a major impact. Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins, Carlos Lopez, and Quintrell Thomas will all return and Pitt transfer Khem Birch should help anchor the middle with his shot blocking. UNLV is also in the mix for Findlay Prep big man Anthony Bennett, a skilled power forward that would greatly enhance the overall talent on the roster.
THE SKINNY: The cupboard will never be bare on Beale Street as long as Josh Pastner is head coach. Gone is talented wing Will Barton but the Tigers return two terrific guards in Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford along with the ultra athletic Adonis Thomas. Burly freshman Shaq Goodwin figures to immediately start up front next to Tarik Black, who could be one of the better big men in the country next season if he learns how to stay on the floor for long periods of time. Hybrid big man Ferrakohn Hall should add a capable backup off the bench.
10. OHIO STATE
THE SKINNY: Despite likely losing two starters in Jared Sullinger and William Buford the Buckeyes should be ready and able once again to compete with the best the Big Ten has to offer. Aaron Craft will be one of the best point guards in the country as a junior and Deshaun Thomas could be pound for pound the best player in the Big Ten. Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross are primed to step in as capable scorers on the wings with Lenzelle Smith set to have a bigger offensive role as well. Amir Williams looks set to become the Buckeyes’ focal point in the pivot.
11. NOTRE DAME
THE SKINNY: Mike Brey and the Irish will have to deal with something totally new in 2012-13 — expectations. Notre Dame will be picked as one of the better teams in the Big East next season even if they don’t get Scott Martin or Tim Abromaitis back to campus for a sixth season. Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant will be one of the elite back courts in the nation and Pat Connaughton should flourish as a sophomore. Jack Cooley and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman will be a tandem to be reckoned with on the baseline with talented freshman big man Zach Auguste challenging for minutes as well.
THE SKINNY: Despite likely losing two starters in Bradley Beal and Erving Walker, Billy Donovan will once again have the Gators ready to chomp. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario will give Florida two lethal shooters on the wings and Patric Young should emerge as potentially one of the better big men in college basketball. Will Yeguete, Erik Murphy, and Casey Prather add quality depth and intangibles up front and freshman Braxton Ogbueze should split time with veteran Scottie Wilbekin at point guard.
13. NORTH CAROLINA
THE SKINNY: Whatever you do, don’t worry about the Tarheels. Roy Williams might lose four starters but will get back a healthy Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland to go with a burgeoning power forward in James Michael-McAdoo. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock are two capable wings and freshman floor general Marcus Paige — a Damon Stoudamire lite should push for major minutes immediately.
THE SKINNY: You learn after a while never to bet against Bill Self and next season will be just another example. Despite likely losing both Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson to the NBA, Kansas returns several key members of their rotation from their unit that reached the Final Four. Jeff Withey figures to be one of the better big men in the country next season and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are two grizzled perimeter players that know how to win. Look for Kevin Young and freshman Perry Ellis to round out the front court with Ben McLemore potentially adding some offensive pop at the guard spot.
THE SKINNY: Sean Miller brings in incredibly talented freshmen class featuring 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, power forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett and shooting guard Gabe York — but they’re still freshmen. Nevertheless despite this team’s youth and the uncertainty surrounding the Wildcats’ point guard situation with Josiah Turner, Arizona is too talented and Miller is too good of a coach to keep out of the rankings. A healthy Kevin Parrom should do wonders for the Wildcats’ offense and Solomon Hill should be one one of better players in the PAC-12. Look for Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes to split floor general responsibilities if Turner doesn’t remain the stater.
THE SKINNY: Mick Cronin may lose two key pieces in Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates but the Bearcats still should be a player among the Big East’s elite. This team’s strength will be a terrific perimeter headlined by Sean Kilpatrick along with point guard Cashmere Wright and “glue guy” Jaquon Parker. The baseline should be manned by veterans Cheikh Mbodj and Justin Jackson as well as potentially freshman shot blocking machine Chris Obekpa, who currently lists Cincinnati among his top schools along with St. John’s and Oregon. Keep an eye on red shirt forward Shaquille Thomas who could be a contributor off the bench.
17. SAN DIEGO STATE
THE SKINNY: Guards, guards — and more guards. The Aztecs’ perimeter attack will continue in 2012-13 thanks to the return of James Rahon, Xavier Thames, Jamaal Franklin, and Chase Tapley. St. John’s transfer Dwayne Polee should bring some athleticism to the baseline and 6-foot-8 freshman forward Winston Shephard should have an impact from the first day of individual workouts.
THE SKINNY: With Mason Plumlee’s return up in the air, there’s no way to be sure just how good the Blue Devils will actually be — but they’re still Duke. Ryan Kelly will be back for his senior season along with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Sophomore to be Quinn Cook figures to be much improved and freshman combo guard Rasheed Suliamon should provide some of the scoring left behind from Austin Rivers’ departure to the NBA.
THE SKINNY: The entire nation will once again be doing the “Dougie” as Doug McDermott attempts to once again lead the Blue Jays back to the NCAA Tournament. The ultra skilled forward and Gregory Echenique should be one of the better front court combinations in the country and they will be surrounded by a slew of talented shooters in Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge. Look for Grant Gibbs to inherit point guard responsibilities from the departed Antoine Young.
THE SKINNY: No Bradford Burgess? No problem. The Rams may be without a key member of their success during the last two years but they will return nearly every piece that took Indiana to the brink in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Look for Darius Theus to continue to emerge as a point guard while Juvonte Reddic becomes nearly unguardable in the low post. How will Shaka Smart replace Burgess? His brother Jordan — a Top 100 recruit in most services along with sharpshooters Treveon Graham and Troy Daniels, who both figure to be better than they were in 2011-12.
THE SKINNY: Buzz Williams begins life without Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The Golden Eagles will welcome back starting center Chris Otule from a knee injury and he and Davante Gardner should solidify Marquette up the middle. Look for Jamil Wilson to have a breakout season statistically with starter’s minutes and sophomore to be Juan Anderson to become more cemented in the rotation. Keep an eye on JUCO transfer T.J. Taylor who should push for heavy minutes on the perimeter next to Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, and Todd Mayo.
THE SKINNY: There are three sure things in life — death, taxes, and Bo Ryan will have the Badgers in the Top 25. Jordan Taylor may have exhausted all of his eligibility but almost every other key piece returns from a team that took Syracuse to the brink in the Sweet 16. Josh Gasser and Ben Brust comprise a seasoned back court with Jared Berggren set to be one of the better big men in the Big Ten as a senior. Freshman forward Sam Dekker will also contribute.
THE SKINNY: No one wants to talk about the Canes in the ACC — but they won’t have a choice. Durant Scott and Shane Larkin will be a dynamite back court for Jim Larranaga to go with a lethal 4-5 tandem of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson. Rion Brown, Garrius Adams, and Trey McKinney-Jones return to provide quality depth along with freshman combo guard Melvin Johnson.
THE SKINNY: Should Trevor Mbakwe opt to return, Tubby Smith should be in position to have his best team at Minnesota. Rodney Williams flourished as a bouncy four man this season and Chip Armelin is one of the more underrated scorers in the Big Ten. Look for burly guard Andre Hollins to breakout as a sophomore.
THE SKINNY: Mark Few should once again have his team set to be a national force as the Bulldogs return a terrific perimeter with Kevin Pangos, David Stockton, and Gary Bell. Lefty forward Sam Dower should be one of the breakout players in America alongside Elias Harris up front and Guy Landry Edi will be a solid glue guy once again.
ON THE CUSP:
TEXAS: Rick Barnes loses J’Covan Brown but returns everything else.
DREXEL: The Dragons perimeter can match up with any team in America.
SAINT LOUIS: Rick Majerus has a great chance to advance to back to back NCAA Tournaments.
IOWA STATE: Utah transfer Will Clyburn will look to take the baton from the departed Royce White.
TENNESSEE: Jarnell Stokes should be even better in year two under Cuonzo Martin.
KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber inherits a team ready to be competitive in the Big 12.
SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls add offense in JUCO guard Musa Abdul Aleem — and that’s why Stan Heath thinks this is will be his best team yet in Tampa.
MISSOURI: Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon will be dynamite in the SEC.
WASHINGTON: Lorenzo Romar always replenishes talent and has a hidden gem in red shirt guard Andrew Andrews.
How would you rank the top teams? Make your case in the comments below…