What’s an end of a season without a quick lookahead to next year.
Really, at this point, it’s a complete crapshoot. The obvious bully (North Carolina) will probably have to reload. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Villanova and Louisville all lose a ton of veterans even without early departures.
Plus, players will come and go (both early draft entrants and uncommitted incoming freshmen) who can tip things in one direction or another.
So this is really a work in progress, one to be revisited on two more occasions before the offseason —- after the early entry draft deadline later this month and after the deadline for entrants to return to school in June.
There are no promises here this will be spot on; it’s highly subject to change (as I realize mistakes I make today in a sleep-deprived haze), but it also feeds the need for looking ahead. I’ll also include some assumptions about current personnel that surely factor into the rankings:
1. Kansas. Assuming Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich stay, the Jayhawks will remain very much in contention for a championship. And that doesn’t account for possible additions via recruiting.
2. Michigan State. Here’s guessing Kalin Lucas comes back. The Spartans do need to find a big man to take Goran Suton’s place, and there’s the matter of replacing Travis Walton. But Tom Izzo could be back in the Final Four in Indianapolis —- where Sparty won it all in 2000.
3. Syracuse. A big-time assumption here that Jonny Flynn stays in school. Might be a stretch to say that happens. But if he does, the Orange will be the best team in the Big East.
4. Duke. This is not a reflection of NCAA tournament upside; Coach K’s roster looks ripe for another Sweet 16 ouster. But the Blue Devils will be good, especially if Gerald Henderson sticks around.
5. Xavier. Don’t laugh. The Musketeers bring back seven of the nine guys from a rotation that reached the second weekend of the tournament in a rebuilding year. Whoever takes over this job from Sean Miller will be on the spot not to screw it up.
6. Purdue. The Duke of the Midwest. There’s talent in West Lafayette, and certainly enough of it to loiter around the top 15 for much of the season. But do the Boilermakers have the goods for a Final Four run? The return of Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson would help immensely.
7. Kentucky. OK, this is a mild stretch, and it breaks the rule of not including teams with recruits still in play. But does anyone really think John Calipari won’t reload quickly? If either Jodie Meeks or Patrick Patterson (let alone both) stay, Big Blue could be back on top of the SEC in a blink of an eye.
8. North Carolina. No, they won’t be as good. But it’s not like they’ll return to the Matt Doherty years, either. Ed Davis will emerge as a bonafide star, but the key is finding a point guard to run Roy Williams’ offense.
9. Villanova. Yes, the Wildcats have to replace their frontcourt. But to some extent, they’ve done that with their recruiting efforts. Jay Wright’s program will not disappear just because Dante Cunningham’s days on the Main Line are over.
10. Washington. Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman are gone, and those are significant losses. But the Huskies bring back just about everyone else, and could be primed to stay at or near the top of a weakened Pac-10 next season.
Next five on deck: Louisville, Texas, Southern California, West Virginia, Florida (if Nick Calathes withdraws from the draft).
—- Patrick Stevens