The Washington Times - April 30, 2009, 11:43AM

Kansas was probably going to be the preseason No. 1 with Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins coming back. Xavier Henry‘s decision to land in Lawrence only cemented it.

Michigan State, despite a couple significant losses, looked like a possible national title contender after reaching the championship game. That didn’t change.


But beyond that, the last month has led to a great deal of upheaval. Some players have gone, some have stayed and some have kept their options open. A few of the guys in flux (like Duke’s Gerald Henderson) would make their teams extremely formidable if they came back.

And then there’s John Wall, the top recruiting prize left on the board.

For now, these rankings assume anyone who declared is gone, which is why this exercise will be revisited next month. It also makes no assumptions for any last-second recruiting additions —- another reason for a mid-June update.

Is this dead-on? Probably not. But the top 10 or so is probably about right, followed by guesswork. After all, the season is still more than six months away.

Here’s a tentative top 35, with players who could yet return in parentheses:

1. Kansas: The odds-on favorite to win a second title in three years.

2. Michigan State: Lots of interesting pieces return, including Kalin Lucas and a potentially healthy Raymar Morgan.

3. Purdue: Still not sold on the Boilermakers’ long-term viability, but the talent coming back justifies the ranking for now.

4. West Virginia: Even without Joe Mazzulla, the Mountaineers could jump up if the Big East’s powers remain depleted.

5. Duke (Gerald Henderson): Picking the Blue Devils to reach the Final Four would make a lot of sense if Henderson or Wall was on the roster.

6. Texas (Damion James): Better a year early than a year late. If James comes back to team with Dexter Pittman, the Longhorns will be an extremely tough out.

7. Washington: Yes, Jon Brockman is gone. But the backcourt will be stable and adds Abdul Gaddy. For that, the Huskies warrant Pac-10 favorite status.

8. Connecticut: The Huskies will be fine with an inside-outside combination of Kemba Walker and Stanley Robinson.

9. North Carolina: Yes, four starters depart. But the guys behind them are good also. The Tar Heels will be fine, especially with a passel of bigs coming in.

10. Villanova (Scottie Reynolds): Bump the Wildcats into the top five if Reynolds returns as expected. It would also make Nova the Big East favorites.

11. Xavier (Derrick Brown): Still a fan of the X-Men. Coaching staff continuity helps, and the Musketeers were a team that was supposed to be rebuilding last season. Building on a regional semifinal is possible.

12. Clemson: This ranking is reliant on Trevor Booker being as good as he can be and Terrence Oglesby not being a knucklehead like he was in the NCAA tournament. Here’s guessing Oliver Purnell wins an NCAA tournament game next year.

13. Louisville: The Cardinals lose Earl Clark and Terrence Williams, but there’s plenty of talent left over.

14. Michigan: Go ahead and bet against John Beilein. With Manny Harris back in the fold, the Wolverines should actually harbor expectations for a change.

15. Kentucky (Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson): Could soar into the preseason top five if personnel issues break right for John Calipari‘s team.

16. Butler: Young team overachieved, and will be more worthy of a ranking next season.

17. Gonzaga (Austin Daye): Lost a lot, but Zags are still in good shape to roll along in the WCC.

18. Pittsburgh: Because the Panthers always win 20-some games and grind out a spot near the top of the Big East, there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again next season.

19. Florida (Nick Calathes): It won’t be three straight NIT seasons in Gainesville.

20. California: A lot coming back from a surprising Pac-10 contender last season. Year two of Mike Montgomery will work out well in Berkeley.

21. Wisconsin: See Pittsburgh; the Badgers will be fine, as usual.

22. Dayton: The Flyers remain in good shape, and might just have a second weekend run in them.

23. Ohio State: Evan Turner‘s return helps the Buckeyes, who should be better in 3 A.O. (After Oden).

24. UCLA (Jrue Holliday): Probably a little low, but the Bruins didn’t exactly overwhelm last year.

25. Tulsa: Jerome Jordan’s decision to come back looms huge for the Golden Hurricane, the new favorites in Conference USA.

26. Minnesota: Yes, Tubby Smith has coaxed a lot out of the Gophers, but it’s fair to remain skeptical for a while.

27. Siena: Kenny Hasbrouck is gone, but the Saints otherwise remain mostly intact. Another NCAA tournament win wouldn’t be a surprise.

28. Mississippi: If the Rebels can keep their players out of the operating room and their coaches out of jail, they will be one of the nation’s most improved teams.

29. Wake Forest (Jeff Teague): Jump the Demon Deacons at least 10 spots if Teague comes back. Still, those ACC and NCAA tournament flameouts are troublesome.

30. Illinois: Oh yeah, these guys. Looks like the Illini could be quiet contenders in a stacked Big Ten.

31. Tennessee (Tyler Smith): Smith’s return would mean the Vols would probably enter the season as the second or third best team in the SEC.

32. Oklahoma: Willie Warren is back, and that alone might make this a tad low. But the Sooners won’t be a top-10 team sans Blake Griffin.

33. Oklahoma State: It’s time for another season of 93-89 games in Stillwater. The Pokes will win more of them than they lose.

34. Florida State: Who emerges as a dominant scorer with Toney Douglas gone? And does Solomon Alabi make a huge leap? The right answers could send the Seminoles soaring.

35. Syracuse (Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris): Neither Devendorf or Harris is likely to be back, and Jonny Flynn is already gone. Some help is on the way, but it’s tough to see Cuse as a national title contender.

Six teams that get helped a lot should guys return to school: Texas A&M (Bryan Davis, Chinemelu Elonu, Donald Sloan), Saint Mary’s (Patrick Mills), Southern Cal (Taj Gibson), Maryland (Greivis Vasquez), Louisiana State (Tasmin Mitchell), South Carolina (Dominique Archie, Devan Downey)

—- Patrick Stevens