Early 2011-2012 Top 25 Projection

Now that the 2010-2011 NCAA men’s basketball season is in the books, the speculation now turns to who’s coming out early and what coaches are destined for other jobs.

With all the possibilities in mind, it’s always fun to take a look at the potential Top 25 for the next season, and see how things could shape out if certain guys stay or go to the NBA Draft.

So without any further ado, here’s a look at my early Top 25 projection for the 2011-2012 season:

1. North Carolina

This is assuming that Harrison Barnes returns. We’ve already got the news that John Henson and Tyler Zeller are staying. They flip with the Wildcats in the next poll if Barnes enters early.

2. Kentucky

Even though I think Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones are both heading to the draft, John Calipari loads up next year, and on paper, has a better team than he did this season. If Barnes doesn’t return to UNC, the Wildcats are number one.

3. Ohio State

Jared Sullinger is back (or so he says), as is William Buford and Aaron Craft. A nice recruiting class helps, but let’s be honest: Sullinger is the reason they are this high, and he should have another monster season.

4. Syracuse

Right now, the only player they lose is Rick Jackson. Which means the core of the team returns, and this could be a very special team for Jim Boeheim if things fall the right way.

5. Duke

They lose their big playmakers, but they pick up one in Austin Rivers. I think it’ll take some time for this team to adjust without the leadership of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, but they’ll get it figured out by the stretch run of the season.

6. Louisville

The Cardinals should only lose Preston Knowles, and while that’s certainly a big loss, they get all the rest of their major players back. They should battle with the Orange for the top spot in the Big East.

7. Vanderbilt

If Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins, and Festus Ezeli wait until after next season to come out, they could all be potential first-rounders. Oh, and it might give the Commodores their most talented team ever from top to bottom.

8. Texas

I’m still not sure which way Jordan Hamilton is gonna lean (likely enters the draft), but I think Tristan Thompson returns. They’re still likely the best team in the Big 12 either way.

9. Connecticut

Yes, they’ll lose Kemba Walker to the draft. But with the way Jeremy Lamb progressed throughout the season, and with Alex Oriakhi returning to anchor the paint, this will still be a great team.

10. Memphis

The Tigers probably lose Wesley Witherspoon to the draft, but add two great players in freshman Adonis Thomas and transfer Ferrakohn Hall. This will be the type of team that we were use to seeing in the Calipari era.

11. Butler

The glue guy in Matt Howard is gone. But, um, remember what happened when Gordon Hayward left? The Bulldogs went back to another title game. And assuming Shelvin Mack returns, would it be crazy to think that they couldn’t do it again?

12. Xavier

I thought for sure that Chris Mack would get offered the big bucks at a power conference job, however, he comes back to a team that is pretty loaded. Led by Tu Holloway, they should be far and away the best team in the A-10.

13. Arizona

So Derrick Williams is probably gone. Without him, they are still a solid team. But if for some reason he decides to come back, the Wildcats shoot up the rankings, and almost certainly be a serious national title contender.

14. Marquette

The administration did the smart thing by giving Buzz Williams a nice new deal, as I think he’s the most underrated coach in the entire country. The Golden Eagles lose Jimmy Butler, the rest of the core is back, and they are going to be really, really good.

15. Wisconsin

They get their primetime point guard back in Jordan Taylor, but do lose their leader in Jon Leuer. Taylor will continue to progress though, and should lead this team to a solid season.

16. Kansas

The Morris twins are likely gone, as is Josh Selby. But Bill Self got some good news yesterday when both Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson decided to stay in school for another season.

17. Michigan

The Wolverines probably won’t lose anyone, and should be able to at least be in the fight for the Big Ten crown next season. It wouldn’t surprise me if they exceed expectations and jump pretty high in the rankings next year.

18. Cincinnati

Really like what Mick Cronin has returning next year and they will likely be one of the better teams in the Big East next season. They have some great recruits coming in, and I don’t think anyone will be surprised if they compete for a Big East title.

19. Pittsburgh

The Panthers lose three key players, but Ashton Gibbs likely comes back to lead this team. I might be underrating them a little given the returners and recruiting class. I think they step back just a little though.

20. UCLA

Tyler Honeycutt is going to the draft, however, the Bruins have a solid rotation returning. They haven’t been able to take that leap back to an elite team for a few years now, but I think they could be a little underrated next season.

21. Alabama

We should see Anthony Grant‘s squad take that next step forward, with JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford all back. They should once again be the best team in the SEC West.

22. Florida

I don’t have as much confidence in the Gators as others might, simply because it’s gonna be had to replace Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, and Alex Tyus. The lightning quick guards return andPatric Young‘s development will be crucial to success.

23. Gonzaga

The Zags lose Steven Gray, but everyone else is back. In looking at this team a little closer, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they find their way to a consistent Top 15 placement next year.

24. Texas A&M

There’s no doubt that Khris Middleton is going to keep getting better, and this team should at least be good enough to contend for one of the top spots in the Big 12.

25. Wichita State

The big key here was getting head coach Gregg Marshall back. But, also keep in mind that the Shockers also return the majority of a lineup that won 29 games this season and an NIT championship.

Who are your favorites for next year? Any teams on this list potential sleepers for a national title in your opinion?

Who is Your Early Favorite to Win the 2012 National Championship?

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