I'll do a Top Five for now, and more later.
These'll be changed as guys enter the draft, possible coaching changes, recruiting shakeups because of possible coaching changes, and possibly when Jai Lucas and Patrick Patterson, among others, make their college choices.
For now, this is simply based on who I think comes back and who doesn't. I honestly can't justify all of them at the moment and don't quite know what's blowing in the wind about who's leaning toward what; just gut feelings. By the summer, when all this stuff shakes out, I'll do a "final early Top 25."
Recruiting rankings are based on Rivals.com.
6'9" C Kevin Love (No. 5 overall), 6'7" SF Chace Stanback (No. 64)
PG: Darren Collison, 6'0" So.
SG: Arron Afflalo, 6'5" Sr.
SF: Josh Shipp, 6'7" r-Jr.
PF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute 6'7" Jr.
C: Kevin Love, 6'9" Fr.
PG/SG Russell Westbrook, 6'3" So; G/F Mike Roll, 6'5" Jr; F/C Lorenzo Mata, 6'8" Jr; F/C Alfred Aboya, 6'8" Jr; F James Keefe, 6'9" So.
Projecting Afflalo to come back may seem like going out on a limb to some, but he didn't sound like a guy ready to leave after the loss to Florida. Granted, emotions run high so you can't put too much stock in the things people say at those times. But he's not a lock to be a very high pick in the first place.
If he returns, he, Shipp and Collison may be the nation's top backcourt. A lack of inside scoring kept UCLA from winning it all the last two seasons, and Love, arguably the nation's top recruit, is the big man they've been lacking. His presence will give the Bruins the high-octane offense to compliment their stingy defense. Not only is he a standout inside scorer, but his outlet passing will make Collison, Shipp and Afflalo exponentially more lethal in the open court.
Adding the best high school big man in the country- the only thing they were missing- to a Final Four team returning intact makes UCLA an easy choice.
If Afflalo leaves, they're still in the Top 5, but not No. 1.
F Reyshawn Terry (9.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), F Brandan Wright (14.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), G Wes Miller (2.5 ppg, 1.1 apg)
None. As deep as this team is, does it matter?
PG: Ty Lawson, 5'11" So.
SG: Wayne Ellington, 6'4" So.
SF: Marcus Ginyard, 6'5" Jr.
PF: Tyler Hansbrough, 6'9" Jr.
C: Deon Thompson, 6'8" So.
G Bobby Frasor, 6'3" Jr; G Quinton Thomas, 6'3" Sr; G/F Danny Green, 6'5" Jr; F/C Alex Stephenson, 6'9" So.
Losing Brandan Wright, clearly the most talented player on the team, will hurt, but when that's all you're losing and you bring all of this back, that kinda eases the pain. The bright side about his departure is that it allows Hansbrough to slide to his natural forward spot instead of center. Thompson will blossom as the Heels' second post scorer.
Reyshawn Terry was a senior and a leader, but he made questionable decisions; Ginyard and Green taking his minutes, to me, is a plus.
The biggest thing that will make the '08 Heels better than the '07 version is that Lawson and Ellington are no longer freshmen. There's a reason that teams with an all-freshmen backcourts don't win it all.
Not many teams can lose a pair of forwards like Terry and Wright, not have any incoming recruits, and still be as ridiculously deep and talented as UNC will be. Roy Williams has always said that it takes a team more than a year to run his high-octane system as fast as they want to run it. These guys have been together for two years now, half of them for three years. Even without Wright, look for UNC to really rev it up and push the 90 PPG mark next year.
If Hansbrough makes a mistake and enters the draft, the Heels are on the edge of the Top 10, but not a top title contender.
G Jeremy Hunt (14.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
6'4" PG Derrick Rose (No. 3), 6'5" SF Jeff Robinson (No. 35)
PG: Derrick Rose, 6'4" Fr.
SG: Chris Douglas-Roberts, 6'5" So.
SF: Antonio Anderson, 6'6" Jr.
PF: Robert Dozier, 6'9" Jr.
C: Joey Dorsey, 6'9" Sr.
G Andre Allen, 5'10" Sr. G Willie Kemp, 6'2" So; G/F Doneal Mack, 6'5" So; G/F Jeff Robinson, 6'5" Fr; C Kareem Kooper, 6'11" Jr.
Possibly the most athletic team in the country adds what kept them from being a real championship contender: a true, bona fide point guard to run the show. They have plenty of playmakers- Allen, Kemp, Anderson and Douglas-Roberts are all capable- but Derrick Rose is a whole 'nother story. He may defy the notion that you can't win it all with a freshman point guard (with a nod to Mike Bibby, the exception to the rule), because he's that smart, that gifted, that athletic, and makes anyone who takes the court with him that much better. I don't care what Rivals, Scout or anyone else says: Derrick Rose is the best high school player in the nation.
The one thing they may be lacking is a big-time frontcourt guy like Florida had the last two years, like UNC has with Hansbrough and UCLA will have with Love, but between Dozier and Dorsey they'll get enough from their bigs.
It's understandable, despite back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, to scoff at UM's lofty records the last two years considering their conference is a pushover. But weak conference or not, Derrick Rose quite possibly puts a very good team over the top in likely his only college season.
Calipari agreed to an extension, but as witnessed by Arkansas being allowed to contact him last week, he may still be on the market (just not to Fayetville). If Kentucky whiffs on Donovan and Calipari goes there, don't expect Derrick Rose to stick with Memphis, but rather to head to Illinois or Indiana or perhaps follow Coach Cal to Lexington.
C Greg Oden (15.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.3 apg), G Ron Lewis (12.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), F Ivan Harris (7.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
7'0" Kosta Koufos (No. 14), 6'6" SF Evan Turner (No. 46), 6'6" SG Jon Deibler (No. 59), 6'8" C Dallas Lauderdale (No. 106), 6'7" SF Eric Wallace (No. 110)
PG: Mike Conley, 6'1" So.
PG: Jamar Butler, 6'2" Sr.
SG: Daequan Cook, 6'5" So.
PF: Othello Hunter, 6'9" Sr.
C: Kosta Koufos, 7'0" Fr.
G/F David Lighty, 6'6" So; G/F Jon Deibler, 6'6" Fr; F/C Matt Terwilliger, 6'8" Sr; F/C Dallas Lauderdale, 6'8" Fr.
Greg Oden is irreplacable, of course; however, if you have to do it, another 7-footer like Koufos is helluva replacement. He's a different type of player than Oden, of course, comparable to Mehmet Okur. He can't replace Oden's defense and rebounding (though he won't fare too poorly in those categories) but can replace a good chunk of his offense.
Mike Conley is the best returning point guard in the nation, and proved himself as a total game-changer who's far more than simply Greg Oden's little buddy. Though I still think he and Jamar Butler don't look totally comfortable playing together- the dual point guard thing doesn't always work as well as it did with Deron Williams and Dee Brown- that's still as good of a ballhandling tandem as you'll find anywhere.
Ron Lewis, their go-to perimeter scorer throughout much of the tournament, won't be a huge loss. Not when you have Daequan Cook to take his place, not to mention do-it-all glue guys Lighty and Turner off the bench, along with Diebler's scoring ability. Don't get down on Cook because his minutes went down in the tourney. He may have been lost in the shuffle during the title run, but was an explosive scorer with six 20+ point games off the bench in nonconference play.
Even with all the talent that's back and another banner recruiting class on the way, there's simply no way they're as good as this year. Not with losing Oden. But Koufos eases that pain, and without Oden they're free to play more up-tempo, which better suits the remaining Buckeyes. "Not as good" doesn't mean "not contenders." The Buckeyes aren't going anywhere.
If Oden is back, they're an obvious No. 1 and will make a serious run at going undefeated.
If Conley leaves, they fall out of the Top 10- but not by much. Don't forget how good Jamar Butler was in 2006, when the ball was in his hands.
G/F Brandon Rush (13.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
6'10" C Cole Aldrich (No. 30), 6'4" G Tyrel Reed (No. 100)
PG: Russell Robinson, 6'1" Sr.
SG: Mario Chalmers, 6'1" Jr.
SF: Julian Wright, 6'9" Jr.
PF: Darrell Arthur, 6'9" So.
C: Sasha Kaun, 6'10" Sr.
G Sherron Collins, 5'11" So; G Tyrel Reed, 6'4" Fr; F/C Darnell Jackson, 6'8" Sr; C Cole Aldrich, 6'10" Fr
They may very well again be the best team on paper. Wright is one of the best all-around players in the country. Robinson, Chalmers and Collins will again be one of the best three-guard rotations in the country, and I'd expect to see all three of them on the court together at times in a small but devastatingly explosive lineup. There are few, if any, deeper and more talented frontcourts. There are few teams, if any, that play tougher defense.
So even if Rush is gone, this is certainly a collection of talent worthy of a No. 1 or No. 2 ranking. But Kansas has too often fallen short of what they're capable of being in recent years for me to give them that nod.
Nonetheless, despite the Elite Eight debacle, KU was arguably the best team in the nation prior to the tournament. The addition of Aldrich strengthens an already loaded frontcourt, and these guys are just too good to not again spend the entire season in the Top 10.
If Self keeps assembling ridiculously talented teams, he's gonna get over that Elite Eight hump eventually, even if it's in spite of his team's lack of an offensive identity and his inability to make in-game adjustments.
If Rush does
come back, KU vaults past UNC to No. 2, but if both Rush and
Wright leave, they're on the brink of falling out of the Top 10. For now, I'll take Julian at his word that he's coming back.