PRESEASON TOP 40
(*-projected league champ)
1. North Carolina* (29-8 last season): The Tar Heels bring back their entire starting five, including preseason ACC player of the year Harrison Barnes. Ol' Roy might collect Title No. 3 this year.
2. Kentucky* (29-9): The first trip to the Final Four since 1998. Now, Big Blue Nation wants more. John Calipari and his revolving door of recruits have the goods to deliver.
3. Ohio State* (34-3): Jared Sullinger's back, and so are the Buckeyes as a credible national title threat. Don't forget about Aaron Craft, the savvy sophomore point guard for the Big Ten favorites.
4. Connecticut* (32-9): The great Kemba Walker is gone, but the Huslies return Jeremy Lamb and three other starters from their national title team. The late addition of Andre Drummond helps immensely.
5. Vanderbilt (23-11): The Commodores bring all five starters back and boast three potential NBA first-rounders. Now, if they could just make it out of the round of 64 for the first time since 2007.
6. Duke (32-5): Between Seth Curry and coveted freshman Austin Rivers in the backcourt and Ryan Kelly plus 21 feet of Plumlees (Miles, Mason and Marshall), there's no lack of talent in Durham.
7. Pittsburgh (28-6): Yes, three starters departed after last season. The Panthers always overachieve, so why not rank them as such? Ashton Gibbs averaged 16.8 points last season.
8. Syracuse (27-8): Double-double machine Rick Jackson is gone, but Kris Joseph led the Orange in scoring and is the top returning rebounder. He'll be crucial to any deep run.
9. Florida (29-8): After three tough seasons after consecutive national titles, the Gators were back in the regional finals last year. Guards Kenny Boyton and Erving Walker will determine the season's trajectory.
10. Louisville (25-10): Rick Pitino's made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament three times in 10 years with the Cardinals. There's enough in place for another extended stay this March.
11. Memphis* (25-10): Josh Pastner's collected the talent; now it's time for the Tigers to return to the top 15.
12. Wisconsin (25-9): Don't put anything past the crafty Bo Ryan or talented guard Jordan Taylor.
13. Xavier* (24-8): Guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons lead the Atlantic 10 favorite Musketeers.
14. Baylor* (18-13): The Bears got an extra year of Perry Jones and must take advantage of it.
15. Alabama (25-12): Anthony Grant has the Crimson Tide cooking after finishing second in the NIT.
16. California* (18-15): The Bears' top three scorers are back for a rugged run at a Pac-12 title
17. Michigan (21-14): Losing Darius Morris hurts, but Wolverines still have Tim Hardaway Jr.
18. UCLA (23-11): Few take as many NBA draft hits as the Bruins, who will still be plenty competitive.
19. Michigan State (19-15): Draymond Green will guide the Spartans to their 15th straight NCAA bid.
20. Florida State (23-11): Rarely pretty, but Leonard Hamilton still getting it done in Tallahassee.
21. Texas A&M (24-9): Khris Middleton and the Aggies seek their sixth straight 24-win season.
22. New Mexico* (22-13): Experienced Lobos should return to NCAA tournament this season.
23. Gonzaga* (25-10): Life in the WCC gets tougher with addition of Brigham Young.
24. Kansas (35-3): Jayhawks wiped out by early entries, freshmen declared ineligible by the NCAA.
25. Cincinnati (26-9): Home-grown forward Yancy Gates will keep the Bearcats in postseason chase.
26. Arizona (30-8): Where do the Wildcats go post-Derrick Williams? At least Sean Miller's still around.
27. Texas (28-8): Former Maryland signee Sterling Gibbs should be an asset for Longhorns.
28. Creighton* (23-16): Sophomore Doug McDermott averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last year.
29. Washington (24-11): Freshman guard Tony Wroten is latest Seattle star to choose U-Dub.
30. UNLV (24-9): New coach Dave Rice inherits veteran team from Oklahoma-bound Lon Kruger
31. Missouri (23-11): After summer Yahoo report, Frank Haith will be glad when season starts.
32. Temple (26-8): Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez anchor a stout backcourt for the Owls.
33. Marquette (22-15): It's lefty Darius Odom-Johnson's turn to lead the Golden Eagles.
34. Butler* (28-10): Top two scorers are gone for the Bulldogs after back-to-back title game trips.
35. Saint Mary's (25-9): Seven of the Gaels' top eight scorers return, but not Mickey McConnell.
36. Drexel* (21-10): Dragons start as CAA favorites, but can Bruiser's boys win three in Richmond?
37. Mississippi State (17-14): So much depends on mercurial Renardo Sidney. Tick, tick, tick ...
38. George Mason (27-7): A year after winning CAA regular season, Patriots seek return NCAA trip.
39. Purdue (26-8): Robbie Hummel returns to the Boilermakers after suffering two ACL tears.
40. Oregon (21-18): CBI champion Ducks could emerge as a Pac-12 sleeper in Dana Altman's second year.
THE REST OF THE NCAA FIELD
Alabama State*, Austin Peay*, Belmont*, Boston University*, Brigham Young, Coastal Carolina*, Davidson*, Fairfield*, Florida Atlantic*, Harvard*, Illinois, Kent State*, Lehigh*, Long Beach State*, Marshall, Miami, Montana*, Morgan State*, Notre Dame, Oral Roberts*, Robert Morris*, Saint Louis, Stephen F. Austin*, Utah State*, Villanova, Virginia, West Virginia, Wichita State
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.