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Preseason Top 25: Duke's the pick at No. 1


It is time to look at the crème de la crème, my preseason Top 25 teams in America. I previously posted an initial preseason Dazzling Dozen, but things have changed since then. (Also, Villanova was originally No. 2 in my preseason rankings below, but now that Curtis Sumpter is out indefinitely with a knee injury, I've dropped the Wildcats to No. 10.)

After unveiling my Top 25 five teams at a time, we've counted down to my preseason No. 1, the team to beat, the one most likely to cut down the nets as the national champion in Indianapolis...

1. Duke
2004-05 RECORD: 27-6
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Michigan State in Sweet 16
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G J.J. Redick, F Shelden Williams, F Lee Melchionni, G Sean Dockery
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Greg Paulus, F Josh McRoberts, C Eric Boateng, G Martynas Pocius
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Daniel Ewing, F Shavlik Randolph
COMMENT: Redick and Williams form the nation's best 1-2 punch. With the great freshman class, Coach K will have lots of depth and talent, and Duke is my favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.

2. Texas
2004-05 RECORD: 20-11
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Nevada in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F P.J. Tucker (academically ineligible for second semester last season), G Daniel Gibson, F-C Brad Buckman, F-C LaMarcus Aldridge, F Mike Williams, G Kenton Paulino
TOP NEWCOMERS: G A.J. Abrams, G J.D. Lewis, G Craig Winder
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F-C Jason Klotz, G Kenny Taylor, G-F Sydmill Harris
COMMENT: Coach Rick Barnes is thrilled to have Tucker back. The Longhorns are thinking about another Final Four trip.

3. Michigan State
2004-05 RECORD: 26-7
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to North Carolina in Final Four
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: C Paul Davis, G Shannon Brown, F-G Maurice Ager, G Drew Neitzel
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Travis Walton, G Maurice Joseph
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F-G Alan Anderson, G Kelvin Torbert, G Chris Hill
COMMENT: Coach Tom Izzo's team has enough returning talent to compete for a trip to Indianapolis.

4. Boston College
2004-05 RECORD: 25-5
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in second round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Craig Smith, F Jared Dudley, G Louis Hinnant, G-F Sean Marshall, F Sean Williams (out first semester for disciplinary reasons)
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Marquez Haynes, G Tyrese Rice, F Evan Neisler
KEY PLAYERS LOST: C Nate Doornekamp, G Jermaine Watson, G Steve Hailey
COMMENT: The Eagles look like the ACC's second-best team in their first year in the conference.

5. Louisville
2004-05 RECORD: 33-5
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Illinois in Final Four
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Taquan Dean, F Juan Diego Palacios, G Brandon Jenkins
TOP NEWCOMERS: C David Padgett (transfer from Kansas), F Terrence Williams, G Bryan Harvey, G Andre McGee, F Brian Johnson (sat out last season injured)
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Francisco Garcia, G Larry O'Bannon, F Ellis Myles, F-C Otis George
COMMENT: Welcome back to the Big East, Rick Pitino! The Cardinals will be contenders in the league in their first season as they move to the Big East from Conference USA. Pitino previously coached in the league at Providence, leading the Friars to the Final Four in 1987.

6. Kentucky
2004-05 RECORD: 28-6
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Michigan State in Elite Eight
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Rajon Rondo, G Patrick Sparks, G Joe Crawford, G Ramel Bradley, F Sheray Thomas, C Randolph Morris (eligibility to be determined)
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Adam Williams, C Jared Carter, F Rekalin Sims
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G-F Kelenna Azubuike, F Chuck Hayes
COMMENT: The key will be Morris. How many games will he have to sit out once the NCAA determines his status after a failed bid to make the NBA?

7. Arizona
2004-05 RECORD: 30-7
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Illinois in Elite Eight
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Hassan Adams, G Mustafa Shakur, G Chris Rodgers, F Ivan Radenovic, G Jawann McClellan
TOP NEWCOMERS: G J.P. Prince, F Marcus Williams, F Mohamed Tangara (redshirted last season)
KEY PLAYERS LOST: C Channing Frye, G Salim Stoudamire
COMMENT: Coach Lute Olson will have the favorite in the Pac-10 once again despite losing Frye and Stoudamire.

8. Memphis
2004-05 RECORD: 22-16
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to St. Joseph's in NIT semifinals
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Rodney Carney, G Darius Washington Jr., F Joey Dorsey, F Simplice Njoya
TOP NEWCOMERS: F-G Shawne Williams, G Antonio Anderson, F-C Kareem Cooper, F Robert Dozier, F Chris Douglas-Roberts
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Anthony Rice, F Duane Erwin, F Sean Banks, F Arthur Barclay
COMMENT: Coach John Calipari's team will dominate Conference USA and return to the Big Dance.

9. Gonzaga
2004-05 RECORD: 26-5
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Texas Tech in second round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Adam Morrison, G Derek Raivio, G Erroll Knight, C-F J.P. Batista, G Nathan Doudney
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Jeremy Pargo, C-F Mamery Diallo
COMMENT: With the Zags, forget about the term mid-major. They will contend for a Final Four slot.

10. Villanova
2004-05 RECORD: 24-8
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to North Carolina in Sweet 16
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Randy Foye, G Allan Ray, F Curtis Sumpter, F-C Jason Fraser, G Kyle Lowry, G Mike Nardi
TOP NEWCOMERS: G-F Dwayne Anderson, G-F Bilal Benn, F Dante Cunningham, F Frank Tchuisi
COMMENT: Curtis Sumpter is out indefinitely with a knee injury. If he can return and join so many talented returning veterans, coach Jay Wright has a national championship contender.

11. Wake Forest
2004-05 RECORD: 27-6
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to West Virginia in second round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Justin Gray, C Eric Williams, G-F Trent Strickland, F Chris Ellis, C Kyle Visser
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Harvey Hale, F Kevin Swinton, F-C David Weaver
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Chris Paul, G Taron Downey, F Jamaal Levy, F Vytas Danelius
COMMENT: Even without Paul, coach Skip Prosser's team will make noise in the ACC.

12. Iowa
2004-05 RECORD: 21-12
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Cincinnati in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Jeff Horner, F Greg Brunner, G Adam Haluska, G Mike Henderson, C Erek Hansen, F Doug Thomas
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Tony Freeman, F-C Kurt Looby, G Nathan Skinner
COMMENT: This is a big season for coach Steve Alford, who has a solid core of returning talent.

13. Illinois
2004-05 RECORD: 37-2
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to North Carolina in national championship game
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Dee Brown, C James Augustine, F Brian Randle (redshirted), F Shaun Pruitt, G Rich McBride, G Calvin Brock (redshirted)
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Chester Frazier, F Charles Jackson, G Jamar Smith
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Deron Williams, F Roger Powell Jr., G Luther Head
COMMENT: For those downgrading coach Bruce Weber's team, watch out. Guard Dee Brown is first-team All-Solid Gold, and the newcomers will help out.

14. Connecticut
2004-05 RECORD: 23-8
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to NC State in second round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F-C Josh Boone, F-G Rudy Gay, G Rashad Anderson, F Denham Brown, F Ed Nelson, F-C Hilton Armstrong
TOP NEWCOMERS: F Jeff Adrien, G Craig Austrie, F-G Marcus Johnson, G Robert Garrison
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Charlie Villanueva
COMMENT: The key here is the status of guards Marcus Williams and A.J. Price. Both have been suspended from the team after being charged with helping to steal laptops from a Connecticut dorm room (Williams has been given probation, but there has been no word yet regarding the school's discipline). If those two return to play, the Huskies are a top-five team. Without them, as of now, UConn still has a great front line.

15. Indiana
2004-05 RECORD: 15-14
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Vanderbilt, first round of NIT
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F D.J. White, F Robert Vaden, G Marshall Strickland, F Sean Kline, G Roderick Wilmont
TOP NEWCOMERS: F Marco Killingsworth (transfer from Auburn), G Lewis Monroe (transfer from Auburn), C Ben Allen (redshirted), G Earl Calloway, G Joey Shaw, F Cem Dinc
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Bracey Wright, F-C Pat Ewing Jr. (transferred to Georgetown)
COMMENT: Embattled coach Mike Davis should see some of the pressure ease, as this Hoosiers squad is improved with the two Auburn transfers.

16. Syracuse
2004-05 RECORD: 27-7
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Vermont in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Gerry McNamara, F Terrence Roberts, F Demetris Nichols, G Louie McCroskey, F-C Darryl Watkins, G Josh Wright
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Eric Devendorf, F Arinze Onauku
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Hakim Warrick, F-G Josh Pace, G Billy Edelin
COMMENT: Coach Jim Boeheim's team will always be dangerous, with McNamara and his clutch outside shooting leading the way.

17. Oklahoma
2004-05 RECORD: 25-8
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Utah in second round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Taj Gray, F Kevin Bookout, G Terrell Everett, G David Godbold
TOP NEWCOMERS: G-F Nate Carter (transfer from UC-Riverside), F Taylor Griffin, G Chris Walker, G Austin Johnson, G Michael Neal
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Drew Lavender (transfer to Xavier), G Lawrence McKenzie (transfer to Minnesota), G Jaison Williams, F Johnnie Gilbert
COMMENT: Even without Lavender and McKenzie, the Sooners will challenge in the Big 12 thanks to a solid frontcourt. Everett is an underrated factor in the backcourt.

18. Stanford
2004-05 RECORD: 18-13
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Mississippi State in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Chris Hernandez, F Dan Grunfeld, C Matt Haryasz, F Fred Washington
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Anthony Goods, F Lawrence Hill, G Mitch Johnson
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Nick Robinson, C Rob Little
COMMENT: The Cardinal will be a dangerous team in the Pac-10. When Hernandez pulled out of the NBA draft, there were lots of smiles in Palo Alto.

19. West Virginia
2004-05 RECORD: 24-11
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Louisville in Elite Eight
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Mike Gansey, C Kevin Pittsnogle, G Joe Herber, G Patrick Beilein, G J.D. Collins
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Joe Alexander, G Alex Ruoff, F Josh Edwards, G Ted Talkington
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Tyrone Salley, C D'or Fischer
COMMENT: The Mountaineers won't sneak up on anyone this season.

20. UCLA
2004-05 RECORD: 18-11
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Texas Tech in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Jordan Farmar, G Arron Afflalo, F Josh Shipp, G-F Cedric Bozeman (missed last season -- knee)
TOP NEWCOMERS: F-C Alfred Aboya (should be ready after recent knee surgery), F Ryan Wright, G-F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, G Darren Collison, G Michael Roll
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Dijon Thompson, G Brian Morrison, F Josiah Johnson
COMMENT: Coach Ben Howland is building a fine program in a short time. Shipp, a sophomore, is sidelined after undergoing right hip surgery and is expected to return in late November or early December.

21. NC State
2004-05 RECORD: 21-14
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Wisconsin in Sweet 16
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Ilian Evtimov, G Engin Atsur, G Tony Bethel, G-F Cameron Bennerman, F Andrew Brackman, C Cedric Simmons, F-G Gavin Grant
TOP NEWCOMERS: F Brandon Costner, G Courtney Fells, F Ben McCauley
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Julius Hodge, F-C Levi Watkins
COMMENT: Despite the loss of Hodge, coach Herb Sendek's team might surprise people.

22. Washington
2004-05 RECORD: 29-6
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Louisville in Sweet 16
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: G Brandon Roy, F Bobby Jones, F Mike Jensen, F Jamaal Williams
TOP NEWCOMERS: F Jon Brockman, G Ryan Appleby (transfer from Florida), G Harvey Perry, C Artem Wallace, C Joe Wolfinger
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G Nate Robinson, G Tre Simmons, G Will Conroy
COMMENT: The Huskies lost a lot of talent, but coach Lorenzo Romar has enough talent back to crack the Top 25. Brockman will be a top diaper dandy.

23. Maryland
2004-05 RECORD: 19-13
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to South Carolina in NIT semifinals
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Nik Caner-Medley, G Chris McCray, F Travis Garrison, G D.J. Strawberry (missed most of last season), F Ekene Ibekwe, F James Gist, C Will Bowers, G Sterling Ledbetter
TOP NEWCOMERS: F Dave Neal, G Parrish Brown (F Shane Clark has been declared academically ineligible)
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G John Gilchrist
COMMENT: Coach Gary Williams' team will bounce back after a bit of an off season in 2004-05.

24. Kansas
2004-05 RECORD: 23-7
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to Bucknell in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Christian Moody, G Jeff Hawkins, F Darnell Jackson, C Sasha Kaun, G Russell Robinson, C C.J. Giles
TOP NEWCOMERS: G Rodrick Stewart (transfer-USC), G Mario Chalmers, F Julian Wright, G Micah Downs, F Brandon Rush
KEY PLAYERS LOST: F Wayne Simien, F-G Keith Langford, G Aaron Miles, G J.R. Giddens (transfer to New Mexico)
COMMENT: Coach Bill Self has a lot of young talent ... can he blend it together to keep the fans happy in "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" land?

25. Charlotte
2004-05 RECORD: 21-8
TOURNAMENT RESULT: Lost to NC State in first round
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Curtis Withers, G Mitchell Baldwin, F E.J. Drayton, G Leemire Goldwire, F Chris Nance
TOP NEWCOMERS: G-F De'Angelo Alexander (transfer from Oklahoma), F Courtney Williams, F-G Jerell Jamison, F Antwon Coleman, F Mitch Mullis
KEY PLAYERS LOST: G-F Eddie Basden, G Brendan Plavich, C Martin Iti (transfer to New Mexico State)
COMMENT: Now in the Atlantic 10, coach Bobby Lutz has a team with the potential to make some noise.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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