It’s go time! This week, regular season action begins for college basketball. November rankings mean nothing, but here’s my crack at a season-opening Top 25!
Ryan Landreth’s ballot for November 6, 2016
The top four teams, to me, are fairly clear. The Blue Devils are the nation’s top team, blending elite freshmen with star returning players. They have the preseason national player of the year in Grayson Allen and potentially the first two picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Duke is a textbook definition of a preseason No. 1 team.
Having said that, I’m not sure that Kansas and Oregon aren’t the top two teams in the nation right now. Should KU beat Duke (and I think they will), they’ll secure the top spot. Oregon returns a plethora of talent as well, though Dillon Brooks won’t be ready to go for a few more weeks. And the defending champion Villanova Wildcats, even without freshmen center Omari Spellman (ruled ineligible for the season), have another lethal backcourt that will pilot it to another stellar season.
9. North Carolina
Wisconsin is really, really good. The Badgers are the best team that seemingly nobody is talking about, and I think Greg Gard will contend for national coach of the year. Virginia and Indiana play different styles, but Tony Bennett and Tom Crean are so good at instituting them that they’ll be every bit as good as last year’s second-weekend teams were. Arizona will be much better offensively this season, and North Carolina returns six of its top eight scorers from its national-runner-up team.
Okay, here’s the deal with Kentucky. In March, John Calipari’s Wildcats will be very good, as they usually are. But I think that this is a team that is raw early, and I think its youth will show in its first few games. Kentucky is completely unproven, and we’ll get a great look at how mature it is in its Championship Classic tilt with Michigan State.
Xavier is going to be right there with Villanova once Myles Davis returns, and Louisville, after a year off, should contend in a crowded ACC. For the first time in awhile, Rick Pitino needs to lean on freshmen, though I think that this team will be very dangerous by February.
14. St. Mary’s
15. Michigan State
Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are set up to duel in the West Coast Conference, but the key name here is Michigan State, which could be literally anything. Last year, the Spartans seemed underwhelming entering the year, yet they were the No. 1 team in the country by December. It’s foolish to count out Tom Izzo, but this year’s team lost a lot, and injuries are already taking a toll on the Spartans. The November 15 matchup with Kentucky will show us how ready Michigan State really is at this point in the year.
16. West Virginia
West Virginia is the second best team in the Big 12, but it’s the same question every year: can the Mountaineers score enough to earn a top-three NCAA seed? Scoring won’t be a problem for Purdue this season, but I’m a bit concerned about the backcourt defense. I’m higher on California than most, mainly because I think Ivan Rabb contends for National Player of the Year. And UCLA and Syracuse, after a couple of down years, should return as secure NCAA tournament teams this season, but both will feature plenty of new faces that could take some time settling in.
22. Iowa State
24. Rhode Island
UConn, Iowa State, and Maryland will all be headlined by great guard play, but streaky frontcourts could be a problem, especially in the early going. Count me in to the group of people that think the Rams of Rhode Island are the best team in the Atlantic 10. And how about the return of Creighton to national relevance behind…Marcus Foster? Remember him? I do, and I think he’ll earn a spot on the All Big East First Team.
Where did I get it right, and where did I get it wrong? Let me know on Twitter.