A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
Hands down the best team in college basketball last year, Kansas let a Cinderella mid-major end their season for the third time in coach Bill Self's tenure. From Bucknell to Bradley and now Northern Iowa, the Jayhawks are starting to become known for losing really, really bad games as heavy favorites in March. Not-so-good.
No matter what conference you come from or how dangerous the opponent might be, elite programs aren't supposed to be this inconsistent in the postseason. And with Kansas it's really starting to feel like a boom or bust situation every single spring. The fact that the Jayhawks won the '08 title with a stacked roster and heaps of NBA talent only strengthens the point here. Last year's squad was supposed to be the best team in school history and it didn't even make through the opening weekend. It's downright baffling. Why in the world are Self's teams so utterly bipolar in the NCAA Tournament?
With offensive leader Sherron Collins, stud big man Cole Aldrich and silky smooth wing Xavier Henry all gone, Self needs to hope that No. 1 high school recruit Josh Selby can be the player to take him back to the promised land. Selby, tabbed by virtually everyone as a can't-miss superstar at the point guard position, is not currently eligible to play because his amateur status remains up in the air. And while it could be weeks until a decision comes through, the freshman is a John Wall-level talent who should step in and take over the offense relatively quickly. If Selby is truly as good as advertised and this team can stay healthy then we might be looking at a Final Four contender. Then again, I think I've heard that before somewhere...
What happened this summer?
Early entrees Aldrich and Henry were selected with back-to-back picks in the NBA Draft. Marcus Morris improved his shooting at the LeBron James Skills Camp. Guards Chase Buford and C.J. Henry left the team, while two others walked on. A non-threatening gangsta rapper invaded the Phog.
Games that really matter
- 11/27 vs. Arizona
- 12/2 vs. UCLA
- 12/6 vs. Memphis
- 12/22 @ California
- 1/17 @ Baylor
- 1/22 vs. Texas
- 1/25 @ Colorado
- 1/29 vs. Kansas State
- 2/14 @ Kansas State
- 2/21 vs. Oklahoma State
- 3/2 vs. Texas A&M
3/5 @ Missouri
Most intriguing player
Jeff Withey (7'0" center; sophomore) – A true seven footer with surprising athleticism, Withey's ascension to the spotlight was delayed by a combination of unfortunate injuries and some dude named Cole Aldrich. Now, as long as he can stay on the court, the former Arizona transfer gets a chance to show his diverse skill-set on a big time stage. The Morris twins are still realizing their potential and should each dominate accordingly, but the Jayhawks won't be able to stop anybody unless they find a defensive presence to fill Aldrich's shoes. On paper, Withey has all the skills to fill that void. The Jayhawks may want to invest in a hyperbaric chamber, however.
What’s on the line?
A ton of stuff. But really it's the six straight Big-12 regular season championships and 59 consecutive home victories that stick out the most. Oh, and there's that whole NCAA Tournament thing. Kansas owns the best streak in college basketball with 21 tourney appearances in a row. Even though it's obvious that another March upset would be a a source of heavy frustration in Lawrence, this should be an insanely talented team with title aspirations once again.
Only a pair of starters are back in school, but it's worth noting that Kansas usually has enough talent to field two competent squads anyway. Also, the delay in Selby's arrival isn't completely terrible since Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor each have plenty of experience running the offense. The hope is that Selby's presence will eventually vault Jayhawks from a very good team into a great one by March. With that said, it's pretty hard to bank on a kid that isn't even eligible to play basketball right now. We like another 30-win campaign and an obvious trip to the dance, but *gasp* don't be surprised if that regular season title streak comes to an end.
- Conference: 2nd
- Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16