Last season we were treated to a number of returning players like Cody Zeller, Peyton Siva, and Tim Hardaway Jr, that returned to their respective schools and helped teams like Indiana, Louisville, and Michigan make deep postseason runs.
Now, with many upperclassmen either graduating or leaving for the NBA early, the college ranks will be flooded with incoming freshman talent, perhaps so prolific that we haven’t seen in more than a decade.
With that being said, there are a handful of returning, experienced collegians that will help their clubs hopefully make a return trip to March Madness.
While everyone awaits the probable lone season in college basketball for elite freshmen like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker, let’s not forget returning stars like Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott, and Aaron Craft as we put together our NCAA Preseason Top 25 Rankings for 2013-14…
Coach Steve Lavin is not only healthy but may finally have a talented enough roster to challenge in the new Big East Conference. The Storm return virtually everyone including NBA prospects D’Angelo Harrison and Jakarr Sampson, as well as a rapidly developing Amir Garrett, Sir Dominic Pointer, and freshman sensation Rysheed Jordan, a Top 50 HS propect in the 2012 Class.
While new coach Kevin Ollie inherited a team on NCAA suspension last season, he has done a nice job developing young talent, and should have one of the most dynamic back-courts in the country led by senior Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, and SF DeAndre Daniels as they could surprise a few teams in the Big East this season.
Even though Cal snuck up on the highly favored UCLA Bruins to win the PAC-12 Conference last season, they once again should have a talented squad, despite losing leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA. Led by senior PG Justin Cobbs, the Bears should be solid, returning talented big men David Kravish and Richard Solomon, but their best player should be incoming freshman guard Jabari Bird, a potential one-and-done player.
Although they lost longtime PG Trae Golden, they may have gotten an upgrade in transfer Antonio Barton from Memphis. In a rough and tumble SEC, the Vols may not yet be on par with Kentucky and Florida, but they have a talented and imposing front-court led by Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes as well as returning senior leading scorer Jordan McRae.
While last year’s supposed return to glory behind the nation’s top ranked recruiting class was a disaster, the team is moving forward under new head coach Steve Alford, who had amazing success at New Mexico. Despite top recruit Shabazz Muhammed going pro after just one season, several elite sophomores return like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and a slimmed down Tony Parker. Having a pair of twin 7 footers in the Wear twins helps tremendously in protecting the paint.
New coach Craig Neal inherits one of the best unheralded point guards in the nation in Kendall Williams in addition to top big man junior Alex Kirk. The Lobos should once again continue to be at the top of the Mountain West standings with Australian native Cameron Bairstow and freshman Cullen Neal in tow, following an emergency appendectomy this Summer.
Coach Buzz Williams lost Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan but somehow always figures a way to be competitive despite an unheralded roster, but he returns a ton of talent led by an imposing frontcourt mates Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, and potential breakout star Jamil Wilson. Junior guard Todd Mayo, OJ’s younger brother, anchors a backcourt that also includes star freshmen JuJuan Johnson and Deante Burton.
For three seasons the nation had to stay up late and scour television listing to catch a glimpse of college basketball’s best player Doug McDermott. But not anymore, as the prolific scoring forward that has been compared to Larry Bird, as well as senior point guard Grant Gibbs embark on their inaugural foray into the Big East Conference.
Indiana lost 4 starting players from last year, most namely Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the NBA, but Tom Crean recruits well, bringing in a talented freshman class led by potential one-and-done forward Noah Vonleh and swingman Troy Williams. The team is in the hands of sophomore PG Yogi Ferrell, a former McDonald’s All American, and veteran guard Will Sheehey, while hoping to get more production from unproven sophomores Manner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell.
Last season, the Rams surprisingly got routed by eventual national runner-up Michigan Wolverines early in the 2013 Tournament, but VCU should be a little more prepared to go even deeper in March this season by returning virtually everyone besides star guard Troy Daniels. Coach Smart returns his “Havoc” style defense, along with Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon, and All Conference performers Juvante Reddic and Melvin Johnson.
With last year’s leading scorer DeShaun Thomas now playing in the NBA, the team will clearly be led by senior point guard Aaron Craft, one of the best individual defenders at his position. Craft did show signs of an improved offensive game late last year but will need tons of help from the returning Lenzelle Smith Jr, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, and senior big man Evan Ravenel.
If you are looking for a darkhorse contender this season, coach Dana Altman’s Duck squad should surprise and contend for a PAC-12 title behind former UNLV transfer Mike Moser, and a bevy of rapidly rising underclassmen like Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Ben Carter, a former HS teammate of Shabazz Muhammed.
Behind coach Bo Ryan’s most hyped recruit ever, now sophomore Sam Dekker, the Badgers return a ton of talent in the form of Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Frank Kaminsky, in hopes of pulling out a share of the Big Ten Title if they can get some quality wins against Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
Coach Pastner has recruited well in his handful of seasons at Memphis, and it shows by bringing in Top 20 freshmen Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson to bolster a guard heavy roster that already includes potential All American PG Joe Jackson, Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, Chris Crawford, and Geron Johnson. The Tigers did lose talented big man Tarik Black who transferred to Kansas, but return Shaq Goodwin and imposing freshman center Dominic Woodson, who tips the scales at 320+ to help bang in the new American Athletic Conference.
Despite the well chronicled troubles of star junior swingman PJ Hairston, coach Roy Williams adds a stellar freshman class that includes star PG Nate Britt, big man Kennedy Meeks,and forward Isaiah Hicks to an already deep and talented roster like Marcus Paige, JP Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Leslie McDonald, and Joel James. But the Tarheels fate this season will be determined when and if All American forward James Michael-McAdoo lives up to the hype of being a potential NBA Lottery pick.
After many years of being a guard oriented team, this year’s Gators squad should rely heavily on returning senior big man Patric Young, a chiseled All American forward who could be a star in the NBA one day. Despite news that star incoming freshman forward Chris Walker, a Top 5 recruit, is ineligible until at least the 2nd semester, Florida remains loaded with returning talent including Casey Prather, Michael Frazier, and Will Yeguete, along with transfers Dorian Finney-Smith(Virginia Tech), Eli Carter(Rutgers), and Damantre Harris(South Carolina), and star freshman PG Kasey Hill.
As the Orangemen descend into unfamiliar territory in their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they will be led by returning senior CJ Fair and have their sights clearly set on another Final Four run this season. NBA prospect Jerami Grant as well as Rakeem Christmas, and Dajuan Coleman will anchor coach Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone this season, while star freshman PG Tyler Ennis, an AAU teammate of Andrew Wiggins, takes over for Michael Carter-Williams initiating the offense.
Coach Sean Miller has once again hit recruiting gold, reeling in a Top 5 rated freshman class led by Blake Griffin clone Aaron Gordon and 6’7 small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who played anywhere from point guard to center in HS. The Wildcats should be the favorite to win the PAC-12, behind an imposing frontcourt buyed by the 7 foot Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Zach Peters, as well as an experienced backcourt led by Gabe York and Nick Johnson.
Many will be focused on returning sophomore PG Marcus Smart, who delayed a lucrative NBA career for at least one more season, but the Cowboys are a much more talented team behind fellow NBA prospects Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash. Oklahoma State is littered with All Big 12 selections but still face a tough task knocking off star studded Kansas for a Big 12 Conference crown.
Coach K lost 3 veteran leaders in Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Mason Plumlee to the NBA but has many capable replacements like Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Sulaimon, as well as a star studded freshman class led by Jabari Parker and sharpshooter Matt Jones. Many are hoping Parker, regularly compared to Carmelo Anthony, can make a similar impact as Melo did with Syracuse in 2003.
Coach Self outmaneuvered every other Division I coach to secure the services of NBA superstar in waiting Andrew Wiggins. But the Jayhawks are much more than just Wiggins, as they return several experienced veterans like Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis, Andrew White III, and Jamari Traylor, to surround an outstanding freshman class that includes 3 Top 10 rated HS players Wiggins, Wayne Selden, and imposing shot-blocker Joel Embiid, who could be a Lottery pick next June.
Last season, Michigan returned to college elite by making a run at a national title, before losing to Louisville. And although the Wolverines lost POY Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr to the NBA, they bring back fellow All American candidates Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to hopefully make another deep run next March. Star freshman Derrick Walton Jr replaces Burke at floor general, while sharpshooter Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht bolster the backcourt. Upperclassmen Jordan Morgan and John Horford are also back, providing veteran leadership to the front-court.
Coach Izzo returns perhaps the most complete and experienced roster of any in college basketball from last season. Senior Adrien Payne spurned the NBA Draft in hopes of winning a national title with arguably Sparty’s deepest team in Izzo’s tenure. Senior guard Keith Appling and Gary Harris could be the most explosive backcourt in the country while Payne, Branden Dawson, and Russell Byrd will be expected to be a tough combo under the basket.
On paper, the Wildcats have the most talented squad in the nation. But we saw how that played out last season with a stunning 1st Round loss in the NIT. But coach Cal returns with his best recruiting class ever, behind 6 McDonald’s All Americans, led by Julius Randle, the best incoming post player in the nation that has been compared favorably to Lebron James. Fellow freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson, as well as returning sophomores Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein could all be 1st Round NBA picks next June. The key to Kentucky’s quest for title #9 will be getting so many star players to sacrifice individual gains for team success.
Coach Pitino has the luxury of having a bevy of talent returning in spite of 2 starters graduating to the professional ranks from last season’s championship squad. Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, redshirt freshman Mangok Mathiang, and U-19 Team USA star Montrezl Harrell bolster the frontcourt while last year’s leading scorer Russ Smith, a National POY candidate, will once again be a SportsCenter highlight in waiting. The key position is PG, where star freshman Terry Rozier and junior college transfer Chris Jones take over for Peyton Siva as the architect of Pitino’s offense.