The college basketball season tips off in earnest in just three days, and with the top teams being so bunched up this year, I thought I would offer my look at who I think are the best teams in the country to start the season.
For reference, you can see other preseason ratings at the following places:
CBS (note: only up to #5 at the present time)
Now that you've looked at what the amateurs have to say, here is my entry into the preseason top 25 fray:
The Hoosiers start out as nearly automatic preseason number 1 after having one of the best offenses in the country last season (and leading the Big 10 scoring 1.1 points per trip.) But they were terrible defensively, ranking 7th in the Big 10 and 64th nationally. Only two teams in the KenPom era have won the title ranked outside the top 15 in defense, and no one outside the top 20.
The Hoosiers are of course led by Cody Zeller inside, but while Jordan Hulls can shoot the lights out their guard play was quietly pretty terrible last year, with no one showing any sort of ability to pass the ball well, despite having Zeller down low. They are preseason #1, but I would be more surprised if they won the title than if they didn't.
Perhaps a bit high, but Kansas's ceiling is higher than anyone's in the country this year. Defensively they will probably lead the country in two point percentage allowed, and if they can hit the defensive glass well they have a very good chance at leading the nation in points per possession allowed.
Offensively is much more of a mixed bag, and there will no doubt be a tournament game that is something like 63-60 in 70 possessions. The trick to being on the left side of that scoreline will come in how well Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis develop, as well as whether Elijah Johnson's jumper returns to Sophomore levels.
Nerlens Noel is probably a better interior shot blocker than Anthony Davis, but with the 2012 high school class not being anywhere near as talented as the 2011 class I do wonder if 3 is a bit too high for the Wildcats. They have plenty of athletes and will defend though, keeping them in every game. Alex Poythress has looked fantastic and looks really polished for a Freshman, and with Kyle Wiltjer being a 6'9" kid who can shoot the three the Wildcats will be able to do a lot of things matchup wise on offense.
Most rankings I've seen have the Buckeyes a bit lower, but I think they will have little problem recapturing the form that led them to the final four last year. Jared Sullinger is gone, but Deshaun Thomas is one of the best offensive players coming back this season, and Aaron Craft is phenomenal defensively. The Buckeyes need a scorer to go with Thomas, and Craft needs to play better on offense, but they are Kansas's main competitor for best defensive team in the country and so they can wait for that guy to develop if they need to.
It's a fair criticism that Duke gets far more attention than they warrant most years. But this year I think they are getting less. Seth Curry is a fantastic shooter and won't have to be the point guard at all this year, letting him do what he does best. Down low, Mason Plumlee is a very good shooter, gets to the line, and rebounds on the defensive glass very well.
Duke also has two very intriguing new guys in Alex Murphy and Rasheed Sulaimon. Murphy redshirted last year after enrolling a year early, and he was a top 15 guy to boot. So instead of playing against crappy high schoolers he got to spend a year practicing and working out with Duke. Not too bad.
Sulaimon meanwhile is a guy who I would have ranked in the top 5 nationally if I were a big recruiting guru. He can get into the lane extremely well offensively and he should already be one of the better perimeter defenders nationally. Duke was terrible on defense last year but Sulaimon alone should help them be top 4 in the ACC, and their offense should be every bit as good as last year's. I get that we're all supposed to hate Duke, but ignore them this year at your own risk.
The Bruins are this years noideawhattodowiththem team. Assuming Shabazz Muhammad gets cleared, the Bruins have a trio of Freshmen as good as any in the country. Obviously Muhammad is the main guy, but I love Kyle Anderson's game as well and if Tony Parker can keep the weight off (just like Junior Josh Smith) the Bruins will be great inside as well.
Larry Drew is a problem in the backcourt, and they'll have to find someone to handle the ball (which worries me a ton) but any passable point guard play will be enough for them to win the Pac 12 comfortably.
I am not sold on Louisville, and really they're only going here because someone has to. They flat out sucked on offense last year. They were 103rd in offense, and even though they finished the year ranked 1st in defense there is just no way a team outside the top 100 in either offense or defense is going back to the final four. They scored under a point per possession in Big East play, and outscored their opponents by roughly 3 points per 100 possessions in the Big East. Almost the same exact margin, by the way, as South Florida.
The Orange lost a lot from last year's team. That is certain. But they also have former top 50 recruits taking every single one of those rotation spots, and they have long defenders to put at every spot in that zone. Brandon Triche has started every game of his career at Syracuse, giving them an anchor in the backcourt, but the defense will be what carries Syracuse, possibly to a Big East title.
I am not a huge Trey Burke believer, especially not first team All American believer, but he has a lot of athleticism and talent. The Wolverines had the 8th best two point shooting team last year and still posted good offensive numbers despite shooting 35.1% from three as a team. They probably don't have the jump shooting chops this year either, but this should be Michigan's best defensive team in the John Beilein era.
10. Michigan State
This year's Spartans team should be tough as nails. They were 31st and 18th in offensive and defensive rebounding, and I expect that to get even better this year. They will have to replace Draymond Green, no easy task, but the front court should have four guys who are physical and give a ton of effort. Just the type of team that Tom Izzo loves. In the backcourt, Keith Appling had a tough year last year, but watching him it's easy to see he has a ton of skill and he could have a big year this season.
KenPom hates Missouri in the preseason ratings because they don't defend well (and I don't think they will) but they should be pretty darn good on offense. One minor note though: Phil Pressey as SEC preseason player of the year is absolutely insane, especially since he's not even the best guard on his own team.
The Gators bring back Patric Young who hopefully will follow through with some production this year, and more importantly start three Juniors and two Seniors. If the backcourt figures out how to share the ball they'll be deadly, and it should be a lot easier this year with Brad Beal and Erving Walker gone.
I don't love the Gators defensively but they should have one of the better offenses, with great shooting and a low turnover rate combining to form a deadly attack.
Year after year I talk about how Gonzaga is the country's most overrated program, but this year's team shapes up to be really good. Kevin Pangos took the college basketball world by storm last year, shooting over 40% from three, 48% from two and 85% from the line. Fellow Freshman guard Gary Bell Jr. did very well offensively also, but doubled as one of the better perimeter defenders in the WCC.
14. North Carolina
The Heels will be led by James Michael McAdoo who had some really nice plays in the Elite 8 last year. I do wonder how they will do with Freshman Marcus Paige running the point. The Heels are really young but should defend really well. The trick is if they can get out and run like they did last year.
I love Doug McDermott. I think he's the preseason national POY over Cody Zeller because I like how he can impact a game in many different ways. He is a good shooter, he rebounds, he passes and he can score both in the post and outside. They will have to fix the fact that they were 204th in eFG allowed last year, however.
18. NC State
23. Notre Dame
24. St. Louis