Dick Vitale: Preseason Top 40

I know, I know. The college basketball season doesn't start for several months. But I am so excited about the 2009-10 season. People come up to me and ask if I think their favorite team will do well.

So I sat down and drafted my early rankings for the upcoming campaign. Here's the list, the elite class that I consider the top in the land. Disagree with some of my choices? It's college basketball, baby, so let the exciting debates begin!


1. Kansas: Bill Self's team is led by Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, two members of my All-Rolls-Royce first team. The Jayhawks are loaded with the Morris twins, Tyshawn Taylor and newcomer Xavier Henry.

2. Kentucky: John Calipari has made a major difference and his first season in Lexington should be special. The Wildcats were aided with the return of Patrick Patterson. Then check out diaper dandies like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Fans of Big Blue will be jumping with joy.

3. Michigan State: Tom Izzo's squad made it to the finals last season, creating excitement galore in Detroit. Kalin Lucas is arguably the premier player in the Big Ten. Look for big things from Delvon Roe, while Raymar Morgan needs to return to earlier form.

4. Texas: AJ Abrams is gone, but Rick Barnes still has reason for optimism. Damion James pulled out of the NBA draft to return to Austin. The Longhorn recruiting class, led by Avery Bradley, is outstanding. The Big 12 will have a great battle between Kansas and Texas.

5. Duke: Gerald Henderson is gone, but Coach K has the dynamic duo of Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer back. The Blue Devils will also miss Elliot Williams, who transferred to Memphis.

6. Purdue: If Robbie Hummel can stay healthy, watch out. Matt Painter has a lot of returning talent to challenge the Spartans in the Big Ten.

7. Villanova: Jay Wright had to be thrilled when Scottie Reynolds said no to the NBA and came back to the Big East. Wright has a super class coming in, plus Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes among the returning talent.

8. North Carolina: The Tar Heels will not have to rebuild; they will simply reload. Most schools would fall way down after losing Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. Roy Williams has one of the best recruiting classes coming in, while players like Ed Davis will step up big time.

9. West Virginia: Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler lead a tough Mountaineer squad. Bob Huggins believes he can contend for a Big East title.

10. Illinois: Bruce Weber has a solid nucleus returning, plus a fine recruiting class. Most look at Michigan State and Purdue as the top threats in the Big Ten. Don't sleep on the Illini as a challenger.

11. Michigan: John Beilein has rebuilt the Wolverines. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are back as Michigan will be dancing again.

12. Tennessee: Tyler Smith decided pull out of the NBA draft to come back to school. Bruce Pearl was happy with that decision.

13. Connecticut: Jim Calhoun lost the likes of Hasheem Thabeet and A.J. Price. The Huskies will remain a solid team with Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson leading the way.

14. California: The Golden Bears will have one of the best backcourts in America in Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. Mike Montgomery's team is capable of winning the Pac-10.

15. Florida State: Leonard Hamilton lost star guard Toney Douglas, but he has depth and talent. Solomon Alabi has a world of potential up front.

16. Washington: Lorenzo Romar's club bounced back last season. Even without Jon Brockman, the Huskies will make noise this season.

17. Syracuse: Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim lost Jonny Flynn to the NBA, but his Orange will be fine. Keep an eye on Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson.

18. Mississippi State: If Renardo Sidney is eligible, this could be a top-10 team. Jarvis Varnado's return made coach Rick Stansbury smile.

19. Louisville: Rick Pitino's biggest addition this offseason came on the sidelines. The addition of Ralph Willard to the Cardinals' staff is a big positive. Samardo Samuels will get better up front.

20. Georgia Tech: Paul Hewitt had a good recruiting class and his returning talent will get better after learning hard lessons in a lot of close calls last year. Gani Lawal is a big-time PTPer.

21. Oklahoma: Blake Griffin is gone, off to the NBA as the No. 1 pick. Jeff Capel's team still has firepower, and Willie Warren will take charge.

22. Florida: Billy Donovan is looking forward to having diaper-dandy Kenny Boynton in his lineup. Transfer Vernon Macklin from Georgetown will also help.

23. Butler: Brad Stevens has his entire team returning. This is not a mid-major lineup, my friends.

24. Ohio State: If B.J. Mullens had returned, the Buckeyes would have probably been in the top 15. They do have Evan Turner, though, who is one of the best players in the Big Ten.

25. Georgetown: Greg Monroe is one of the premier big men in America. The Hoyas will learn from last year's stumbles.

26. Boston College: No Tyrese Rice, no problem. The Eagles have Reggie Jackson, and I am not talking about Mr. October. Al Skinner's team will surprise a few people.

27. Dayton: Chris Wright leads a team that should win the A-10; Xavier may have something to say about that.

28. Notre Dame: Mike Brey got an early Christmas present when Luke Harangody decided to return to South Bend.

29. Clemson: Trevor Booker leads a talented and tough Tiger team.

30. Oklahoma State: Travis Ford's club will be tough. James Anderson is one of the best players that America needs to learn more about.

31. Pittsburgh: Jamie Dixon lost DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. He will still find a way to win with tenacious defense and great work ethic.

32. Texas A&M: Mark Turgeon was surely happy to see Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis pull out of the NBA draft and return to College Station.

33. Minnesota: Tubby Smith has plenty of veteran talent returning, led by guard Lawrence Westbrook.

34. Gonzaga: Matt Bouldin leads Mark Few's team, the favorite in the WCC.

35. Siena: Fran McCaffery has done a super job with the Saints. Just ask Rick Pitino about the scare him and Louisville got in last year's NCAA tourney.

36. South Carolina: Devan Downey leads the Gamecocks, who will make some noise in the SEC.

37. Tulsa: Doug Wojcik's team features Jerome Jordan in the middle. The Golden Hurricane could win Conference USA.

38. Xavier: The Musketeers lost head coach Sean Miller to Arizona, but the addition of transfer Jordan Crawford, of LeBron dunk fame, will help.

39. Kansas State: Denis Clemente is an unsung performer on the national stage. Frank Martin will have a dangerous team.

40. Memphis: First-year coach Josh Pastner has big shoes to fill, but his squad will compete for another C-USA crown.