1. Kentucky: An oblivious favorite to be No.1 in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats, headed by a great recruiting class, is my favorite to cut down the nets in April. The main reason for this ranking is their recruiting class. The class is undisputedly the No.1 in the nation that features five freshmen in the top ten of the ESPN 100. Kentucky was in this position last year and failed to live up to that ranking, though this year they find themselves with a little more returning talent. That talent includes C Willie Cauley-Stein (8.3 PPG-6.2 RPG-2.1 BPG), SF Alex Poythress (11.2 PPG-6 RPG) and PF Kyle Wiltjer (10.2 PPG-4.2 RPG)
2. Michigan State: When you return four starters to a team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen the year before, you're team is bound to be ranked high next season. That is the case for Michigan State. Both SG Gary Harris (12.9 PPG-2.5 RPG) and PF Adreian Payne (10.5 PPG-7.6 RPG) could have been drafted in this year's upcoming draft, but opted to stay another year at Michigan State, bolstering Sparty's chances at another title. This case is similar to that of NC State, both returning many starters from respective Sweet Sixteen teams, only Michigan State will stay in the top 25 because of a guy named Tom Izzo.
3. Duke: The Blue Devils lose a lot of talent on the offense end, but will quickly replace it with 2 returning starters, PG Quinn Cook (11.7 PPG-5.3 APG) and SG Rasheed Sulaimon (11.6 PPG-3.4 RPG), and a great recruiting class that features the No.2 ranked freshmen SF Jabari Parker. Mississippi State SG Rodney Hood (10.3 PPG-4.8 RPG) will help with the rebounding effort after the loss of PF Mason Plumlee. With North Carolina as the only serious threat to the Blue Devil's ACC title chase, Duke should have another comfortable stay among college basketball's elite. And besides, It's coach K: you can't bet against him.
4. Kansas: This opinion may be completely biased, but Kansas in gear for another long NCAA Tournament. Despite losing all five starters, the Jayhawks reload the No.2 recruiting class in the nation that features the No.1 freshmen in the nation SF Andrew Wiggins, who many say likens to that of Lebron James (again, probably bias talking). Wiggins will play the wing along with highly touted recruit SF Wayne Selden. Kansas' issue with Frontcourt depth has been remedied with Memphis Transfer PF Tarik Black (8.1 PPG-4.8 RPG) who will play along side PF Perry Ellis (5.8 PPG-3.9 RPG), who is expected to have a breakout sophomore year. Kansas will dominate an extremely weak Big 12 and eventually find themselves with a top seed come March.
5. Louisville: The 2013 National Champions Louisville Cardinals are in a position for a title repeat as they return top scorer SG Russ Smith (18.7 PPG-3.3 RPG), who defected back to Louisville after his father spoke of his NBA plans. The Point Guard position is the main concern for Louisville, as they lose Peyton Siva, and will likely be filled by either standout Terry Rozier or JUCO stud Chris Jones. PF Montrezl Harrell (5.7 PPG-3.6 RPG) will have to provide most of the size since C Gorgui Dieng elected to undergo his Senior year. The Cardinals "new conference" will prove to be a double-edged sword as it will provide them with many easy wins, but also lower their RPI and potentially cost them a top seed.
6. Arizona: On paper Arizona seems like a very good team, in which I believe they are, but they could go either way. Sean Miller's tenure at Arizona has been less than impressive, with just two NCAA Tournament appearances in four years. It seems as though he does less with more, after hauling in players like C Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG-6.1 RPG),SF Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG-5.3 RPG) and PF Grant Jerrett (5.2 PPG-3.6 RPG) his Arizona team faltered down the stretch, but got a lucky draw in the Tournament by playing Harvard. With Seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill now gone, the load will have to go on aforementioned sophomores, though they will get some help from PF Aaron Gordon.
7. Michigan: After an improbable Final Four run, The Michigan Wolverines have established themselves as a "basketball school" in the 21st century. They will keep the momentum going, despite losing their top two scorers and probable first round picks in PG Trey Bruke and SG Tim Hardaway Jr., with key returnees SG Nik Stauskas (11 PPG-3 RPG), SF Glenn Robinson III (11 PPG-5.4 RPG) and C Mitch McGary (7.5 PPG-6.3 RPG). Frosh Derrick Walton will likely replace Burke at point. G/F Zak Irvin will contribute key minutes off the bench and may even find himself starting by the year's end.
8. North Carolina: North Carolina has become a regular in preseason top 25's, wether they stay there throughout the season is another story. Roy Williams coaching, combined with returning starters SG P.J. Hairston (14.6 PPG-4.3 RPG), PF James Michael McAdoo (14.4 PPG-7.3 RPG) and PG Marcus Paige (8.2 PPG-4.6 APG) and Freshmen talent C Kennedy Meeks and PF Isiah hicks should assure the Tarheels another long stay in the top 25, or preseason top 25 at least.
9. Oklahoma State: The Oklahoma State Cowboys had the best off season of any college basketball team, and they didn't even add anyone new. They kept everyone. Both PG Marcus Smart (15.4 PPG-5.8 RPG-4.2 APG) and SF Le'Bryan Nash (14 PPG-4.1 RPG) could have been drafted, but for some reason, they decided to stay for another year. This will make the Cowboys a contender in 2014 and give Kansas a run for their money, and maybe even (knock on wood) knock KU off their perch among the Big 12. The only thing holding them back would be their coach, Travis Ford, although it shouldn't be that hard to win with a NBA caliber player running the point.
10. Florida: Coming off their third straight Elite Eight appearance, the Florida Gators find themselves once again perched high among College Basketball's best. Their Lineup features veterans PG/SG Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 PPG-5 APG) and PF Patrick Young (10.1 PPG-6.3 RPG), transfers C Damontre Harris (6.8 PPG-5.5 RPG) and SF Dorian Finney-Smith (6.3 PPG-7 RPG), and rotating freshmen PF Chris Walker and PG Kasey Hill. It will be interesting to see wether Billy Donovan can get over the hump and get back to the final four for the first time since 2007. Florida has the coaching and incoming talent to do so, although that has seemed to be the case the last three years...
11. Syracuse: Syracuse Basketball: new conference, same old basketball dominance. Perhaps that is the theme of Orangemen basketball this year, as they shift from the Big East to ACC. SF C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG-7 RPG) passed up the NBA, which will keep Syracuse thick in the ACC race. Frosh PG Tyler Ennis will try to replace Michael Carter-Williams and his seven assists per game. It will be interesting to see how Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone will fare in the ACC this upcoming season. It could be enough to put Syracuse ahead of UNC or Duke.
12. Marquette: Marquette appears to be the favorite to win the "Big East" in its inaugural season without the former, football playing members. SG Vander Blue made an odd decision to enter the NBA draft, which doesn't really work out for either him or Marquette. Nevertheless the Golden Eagles bring in a great recruiting class that features PG Duante Wilson, SG Deonte Burton and SG JaJuan Johnson, all in the ESPN 100. The frontcourt brings back returning starters SF Jamil Wilson (9.7 PPG-4.9 RPG) and PF Davante Gardner (11.5 PPG-4.8 RPG) which should help lay the foundation for the incoming rookies.
13. Ohio State: Ohio State has enjoyed much of their success under Head Coach Thad Matta who will have another Buckeye team ready to compete. Ohio State bring back four starters from a year ago including possibly the best defensive point guard in Aaron Craft (10 PPG-4.6 APG). Defense doesn't show up statistically, though that is how Ohio State will next year, because they certainly won't win by their offense. SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (9.2 PPG-4.8 RPG) is expected to lead the Buckeye's in scoring next year. Freshmen SG Kameron Williams and SF Marc Loving should provide Ohio State with added depth on the wings.
14. Memphis: It seems as though Memphis is stuck in a cycle when it comes to the pre-season polls. For the last three years Memphis has appeared in the pre-season polls with an average ranking of about a 16, and during those three years Memphis hasn't done better than the second round. This year will be different. The Tigers bring in five freshmen ranked in the ESPN 100 including five-star PF Austin Nichols. PG Joe Jackson (13.6 PPG-4.8 APG), SG Chris Crawford (10.4 PPG-3.2 APG) and SG Geron Johnson (10.4 PPG-3.5 APG) combined with the incoming talent makes for a volatile mix that is sure to make Memphis a threat in the AAC.
15. Indiana: Indiana, the hometown favorite, should enjoy their recent success at least one more year. The Hoosiers lose their top four scorers, leaving SF Will Sheehey (9.5 PPG-3.5 RPG) and PG Yogi Ferrell (7.6 PPG-2.8 RPG) to lead a young Indiana team. Sheehey and Ferrell should get some help from incoming freshmen PF Noah Vonleh, C Luke Fischer and SF Troy Williams. Arizona State transfer SG Evan Gordon (10.1 PPG-2.9 RPG) could lead the Hoosiers in scoring next year.
16. New Mexico: The Lobos took an unexpected hit when SG Tony Snell decided to enter the 2013 NBA Draft. The Lobos also lost their head coach and former Hoosier Steve Alford to UCLA. Craig Neal was hired as the top man at New Mexico, so it will be interesting how he does, hopefully well considering there is a lot of talent left on this team. Other than those losses, New Mexico should again be competitive in the 2013-14 season. Four starters return for the Lobos including leading scorer PG Kendall Williams (13.3 PPG-4.9 APG) and C Alex Kirk (12.1 PPG-8.1 RPG-1.8 BPG), who were one of the best inside-outside combos in the MWC.
17. Tennessee: The Vols haven't been quite themselves since the days of Bruce Pearl. Head Coach Cuonzo Martin appears as though he will join the line of bad recent hires by the Vols, as he has yet to get Tennessee to the big dance. This will be the year. Tennessee returns three of their top five scorers including SG Jordan McRae (15.7 PPG-4.1 RPG) PF Jarnell Stokes (12.4 PPG-9.6 RPG). Memphis Transfer PG Antonio Barton (5.6 PPG-1.3 RPG) looks to fill the hole made by PG Trae Golden. Tennessee also gets back SF Jeronne Maymon (12.7 PPG-8.1 RPG) from injury. If Tennessee does not reach the tournament in 2014, Martin could see himself walking out the door.
18. Connecticut: UConn missed the tournament in 2013 because of poor academics on the team and they also lost their HOF Coach Jim Calhoun. Many expected UConn to fall back in 2013, but despite all the adversity, UConn remained relevant and probably would have made the tournament if it weren't for their ban. Kevin Ollie brings back a lot of talent to Storrs including PG Shabazz Napier (17.1 PPG-4.6 APG), SG Ryan Boatright (15.4 PPG-4.4 APG) and SF DeAndre Daniels (12.1 PPG-5.5 RPG).
19. Villanova: The Wildcats were a bit of a surprise during 2013, losing to Columbia early in the year and then beating the likes of Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown down the stretch. Villanova will challenge Marquette for the Big East crown this year as they return top scorer SF JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG-5 RPG) and three other returning starters. It will be interesting to see if Nova will start out hot or not, although it doesn't really matter as they almost make it regardless of early season success.
20. UCLA: The Bruins tied with Kentucky last year for quite possibly the most disappointing team of 2013. Despite the No.1 recruiting class and frosh SF/SG Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA miserably failed pre-season expectations and got bounced by Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA figured Ben Howland was the problem so they switched him for New Mexico coach Steve Alford. Alford will have a slew of talent to work with, including SG Jordan Adams (15.3 PPG-3.8 RPG) and PF Travis Wear (10.9 PPG-5.2 RPG), that should keep UCLA relevant. Hopefully Alford won't underperform like the Bruin's last coach.
21. Virginia: Virginia was a bit of an unknown last year, just missing the NCAA Tournament and instead earning a No.1 seed in the NIT. The Cav's also beat Duke and nearly defeated Miami as well. Virginia will make themselves known this year, with the presence of SG Joe Harris (16.3 PPG-4 RPG), PF Akil Mitchell (13.1 PPG-8.9 RPG) and two other returning starters. South Carolina transfer Anthony SF Gill (7.6 PPG-4.7 RPG) adds depth to the Cavaliers frontcourt. Virginia is predicted to the the ACC's sleeper team that could win the league.
22. Baylor: For not making the tournament this year, Baylor had a pretty successful post and off season. First, Baylor won the NIT for the first time in school history over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Then after their victory, Baylor won again when NBA prospects C Isaiah Austin (13 PPG-8.3 RPG) and PF Cory Jefferson (13.3 PPG-8 RPG) declared they were returning to Waco next season. These players not only vault Baylor into the top 25, but it also gives the Bears quite possibly the best frontcourt in the Big 12.
23. VCU: A lot of people like VCU to be ranked higher than they are on this list, but I just ain't buying them. Not yet at least. The Rams return three starters, including top scorers SG Treveon Graham (15.1 PPG-5.8 RPG) and PF Juvonte Reddic (14.6 PPG-8.1 RPG). Now, I believe Shaka Smart is a good coach (trust me, after their embarrassing of Kansas in 2011, I know first hand), but it is their league situation that is holding them back. VCU RPI will be hurt when Butler, Xavier and Temple leave the Atlantic 10. Of course, this gives them more opportunity to win. At the same time, it will be hard to scout just how good VCU is, because anybody can beat Rhode Island twice a year.
24. Stanford: Stanford was in this position last year, projected to make the tournament when most of their starters returned off a great NIT team. They are nearly the same team coming off an NIT loss. There should be no reason a team who returns all five starters not to make the tournament in 2014. Stanford will probably have to fight UCLA for second best in the Pac 12 next year.
25. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan is one of the Big Ten's best coaches and usually finds a way for his Badgers to wiggle into the top 25, so we'd mine as well put them in now. Of course, this ranking is well justified as Wisconsin returns three starters and brings back SG Josh Gasser (7.6 PPG-4.2 RPG) from an injury who started a year ago. Scoring will not be the main emphasis on this Badgers team, the strong defense will be, as it usually is under Ryan.