First Look: 2005-2006 Top 25

Less than a month has passed since the Tar Heels cut down the nets in St. Louis, but already we are getting a handle on the college basketball landscape for the 2005-06 season. Several top collegians and high schoolers have cast their lot into the NBA, giving us a clearer look at who will have talent still on campus come the fall. Read on for a bold and provocative Top 25 filled with surprises.

The theme of the early rankings for the 2005-2006 basketball season is "who lost the least." Here are the top 27 teams from the final coaches poll:

  1. North Carolina – lose McCants, Felton, Manual, J.Williams, Scott, M.Williams, May
  2. Illinois – lose Williams, Head, Powell, Ingram
  3. Louisville – lose Garcia, O'Bannon, Myles, George
  4. Michigan State – lose Anderson, Torbert, Hill
  5. Kentucky – lose Hayes, Azubuike
  6. Arizona – lose Frye, Stoudamire, Adams?
  7. Duke – lose Ewing.
  8. Oklahoma State – lose everyone but Curry, 7 of top 8
  9. Washington – lose Robinson, Simmons, Conroy, Rollins
  10. Wisconsin – lose 4 of top 6
  11. Wake Forest – lose Downey, Levy, Danelius, Paul
  12. West Virginia – lose Sally, Fischer
  13. Villanova – everyone back
  14. Utah – lose Bogut, Jackson
  15. Kansas – lose Simien, Miles, Langford
  16. Texas Tech – lose Ross, Giles, Marshall
  17. Connecticut – lose Villanueva
  18. Gonzaga – lose Turiaf
  19. Boston College – lose Watson, Doornekamp
  20. Oklahoma – return starting 5
  21. Syracuse – lose Warrick, Pace, Forth
  22. North Carolina State – lose Hodge
  23. Wisc-Milwaukee – lose McCants, Wright, coach Pearl
  24. Florida – lose Lee, Roberson?
  25. Cincinnati – lose Maxiell, Williams
  26. Pacific – lose 5 of top 6
  27. Georgia Tech – lose 4 of 5 starters, Jack?

Looking at only the top seven players for each team, by my estimation 42% of them are gone. The top 10 lose far more than that. So Andy Katz and Dick Vitale have each picked UConn and Duke 1-2 next year, which is perfectly understandable. Of the 15 players named to one of the three AP All-America teams only J.J. Redick, Dee Brown, and Shelden Williams return. Combine the player losses with a mediocre incoming high school class and the 2005-06 college basketball season looks to be way down in terms of overall quality. This should lead to even more upsets and a further narrowing of the gap between the majors and mid majors. It also makes predicting the season a somewhat comical effort, with a Ouija board the preferred tool.

I originally wrote that "several star players are undecided on declaring for the NBA draft and I am assuming most will declare." Well, everyone and their momma declared and won't be returning, including all the point guards. Raymond Felton and Deron Williams became likely lottery picks through their excellent tourney performances and Chris Paul will be driving over to Charlotte to learn from Brevin Knight. Brandon Bass is the only potential first rounder still wavering.

Anyway, with just a bit more ado, here are my moderately informed 2006 rankings. Don't expect to see a team like Iowa here, which Vitale has in his top 10. A mediocre big conference team returning all its mediocre players is just too boring to write about. And putting them in the top 10? That's just Dick.

1. Connecticut. The Huskies return everyone but Charlie Villanueva, who leaves Jim Calhoun to become some NBA coach's problem. The lottery talent filled up the box score but his defense and decision making spread his hair loss to those around him. With the dynamic Marcus Williams at point, Josh Boone in the paint and Rudy Gay everywhere, Connecticut is loaded with NBA talent. Rashad Anderson will return to his pre-illness sharp shooting from outside, and Ed Nelson provides muscle at power forward. They welcome three top 100 recruits: Jeff Adrien, Marcus Johnson and massive McDonald's AA Andrew Bynum.

2. Duke. It pains me to write this, but Team AmEx is a very safe bet for the top 5. They lose the underrated and underappreciated Daniel Ewing, who provided the most consistent 15 points possible. But Shelden Williams is back to dominate on both ends, as is the second best player in the country, if the Wooden voters are to be believed. Yes, another year of J.J. Vitale at shoot shoot shooting guard, Sean Dockery at point and Shavlik Randolph trying to avoid becoming the next Casey Sanders. If DeMarcus Nelson isn't distracted by Coach K serenading him with old Jeff Healey songs (look it up), he could be a breakout player. But what really has the Crazies excited is the incoming class. Three Mickey D's in Eric Boateng, Greg Paulus and game MVP Josh McRoberts, as well as another top 100 recruit in Jamal Boykin plus Lithuanian via New Hampshire Martynas Pocius (rearrange the letters to spell a movie star).

3. Villanova. Assuming Curtis Sumpter recovers fully from his knee surgery there is no reason the Wildcats shouldn't improve upon their breakthrough season. The team that came within one questionable traveling call of knocking off Carolina despite missing their best player returns their entire top 7. Experienced, talented and they know they can play with anyone. Incoming frosh include four-star's Bilal Benn and Dwayne Anderson.

4. Texas. A bit of a surprise, but the Longhorns add more talent than any other team. No, I'm not just referring to incoming blue chipper C.J. Miles; it's the two current players coming back from injury (LaMarcus Aldridge) and academics (P.J. Tucker) that should propel Texas. They were 13-3 when Aldridge went down, and the next game they lost Tucker. Counting the first round tourney loss to Nevada, they went 6-8 from that point. They lose Jason Klotz and Kenny Taylor but a starting five of Super Soph Daniel Gibson at point, dependable Brad Buckman at power forward, Miles and Tucker at the wings and Aldridge at the 4/5 has incredible firepower. They should score more than Otter.

5. Boston College. Ran into the UW-Milwaukee buzz saw in round two of the NCAAs. They were hotter than Mandy Pepperidge with 11-of-24 from three and 20-of-22 from the line in sending the Eagles home. But BC was still 25-5 and returns all their key players. Craig Smith and Jared Dudley will never be NBA stars, and may never even be drafted, but they make a very tough college frontcourt. Never underestimate a team loaded with hungry seniors. Their key newcomer is point guard Marquez Haynes, who at 76 years old certainly brings a wealth of experience. Oh wait, that's a z, not an s. Never mind.

6. Michigan State. Lose three key seniors but only Anderson started at season's end. Doing some Kal-level math we thus calculate they return four starters. Maurice Ager seemed to improve by the game in March and should put up close to 20 ppg with more playing time. Paul Davis is tough inside, Drew Neitzel should be vastly improved at point guard as a soph, and of course coach Izzo is still at the helm. Add a couple four-star guards.

Note: IMHO there is a gap after MSU, so here it is… a gap.

7. Gonzaga. It feels like Ronny Turiaf has been in college as long as Bluto, but in fact it was just four years. The rest of the chosen by Few return, led by preseason All-American Adam Morrison and nifty point guard Derek Raivio. The key guy will be J.P. Batista. He needs to lug his 270 pounds up and down the court for 30 minutes a night. With no Turiaf to occupy defenders, it's doubtful he can hit 60% from the field again but they need a consistent 15 & 10 from him. Their two four-star guard recruits hail from Chicago and Berkeley, a sign that the Zags are here to stay as a national power.

8. Oklahoma. Return the entire starting five from a 25-8 team, but after their performance vs. Utah, I'm not sure that is a good thing. Rumors are that "Mini Me" point guard Drew Lavender is thinking of transferring after coach Sampson handed the reins to Terrell Everett in the postseason, but even if true, it could be addition by subtraction. But their best three-point shooter, guard Lawrence McKenzie, is also transferring, making four transfers in five months. Wind sweeping down the plain never sounded very attractive to me either. Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout should rule the Big 12 paint but may be facing collapsing zones every night.

9. Memphis. They are rarely on TV, but if you get a chance to watch Darius Washington, you'd better jump at the chance. An exciting player who will likely toss his name in the draft next season, the frosh led the Calipari Cats to the NIT semifinals. With leading scorer Rodney Carney, Jeremy "don't call me Mike" Hunt and BIG frosh Joey Dorsey returning they should be tough even if their heralded frosh don't make it to campus. Flaky Shawne Williams, already 19, is thinking about going to the NBA. With his growing reputation as a 6'9" selfish gunner that may be a blessing.

10. Stanford. WHAT?!? Stanford? Am I wearing Cardinal tinted lenses? Just hold on whilst I call for a point of parliamentary procedure. Stanford loses good defense but just 17 points and 11 boards per game in Little and Robinson. We (yes, I am making myself part of the team) also lose their 4.2 turnovers and shaky shooting. But Dan Grunfeld should be back at 100% - he tossed the crutches weeks ago. Tim Morris is ready to regain his spot in the starting lineup. The most experienced point guard in the country, Chris Hernandez, returns to run the show (knock on a Kal head). Matt Haryasz is a lock for all conference. Whoever the fifth starter may be, the bench is experienced and adds three frosh who will all help the cause. Final Four contenders? Of course not. But a hard team to upset and a guaranteed 20+ wins. More importantly, it's my list and I'll put them wherever I damn well please! One caveat – teams from 10-25 could appear in random order.

11. West Virginia. Heck, why not? They return all the bombers. Actually I can see them disappointing. Sally was their best all around player and Fischer's size will be missed. And their final team three-point percentage was 36%, despite the 18-of-27 vs. Louisville. But in a down year, good shooters, a good coach and rabid fans might be enough. And it's just so much fun to yell "Pittsnoggle!!!" each time the big goober knocks down a three.

12. Kentucky. Mr. Dependable Chuck Hayes' 4 years are finally over, as is Kelenna Azubuike's future. At the end of Million Dollar Baby, Maggie finally tells her scummy family to FO. Kelenna, it's time for you to do the same. The Tubsters do return three sophs who were Hamburglar All-Americans two years ago. Point guard Rajon Rondo has the physical skills to become one of those guys who fills up a box score. Something like 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals is not just possible but likely. Randolph Morris is a load who will provide the inside scoring, while Joe Crawford is the third and will back up Rondo and Patrick Sparks (they each play the 1-2). No matter what happens, UK will be the most intimidating lay-up line team in history with 6'10" Morris, 7'0" Lukasz "Typo" Obrzut, 7'3" Shagari Alleyne, 7'1" Jared Carter.

13. Virginia Tech. Because I want to be the first person in history to rank them ahead of North Carolina in basketball. Never saw them play last season so this is a numbers selection but consider the facts. They went 8-8 in the ACC, and while they got spanked a few times, they eked out wins over Duke, Georgia Tech and NC State (four points total victory margin, but a W is a W). More importantly they lose one guy from the entire roster and return their top scorer (Zabian Dowdell), rebounder (Coleman Collins) and assister (Jamon Gordon). Most important of all is just look at their roster. All the names are the same as great players of the past or even a cool combination of two names. Jamon "Ben" Gordon. Deron "Williams, Pearl" Washington. "Derrick" Coleman "Jason" Collins. Shawn "Devin" Harris. Wynton "Marsalis, Reese" Witherspoon. And Zabian Dowdell is a cool name for your leading scorer. My #1 sleeper team. Late add: 4/25 talented frosh Marquie Cook booted from team – "...failed to abide by a set of standards we set for our basketball team". Use your imagination, I did !

14. Old Dominion. This may seem like a bizarre statement, but this could be too low a ranking for the Monarchs. Blaine Taylor's team finished 28-6 and gave Michigan State all they could handle in the NCAA first round. They return 10/11 players, including their top four scorers. Aussie Alex Laughton is the star, with 14 & 8 in just 27 minutes. Could win thirty games, as in 3-0. Seriously, stop laughing, they could.

15. N.C. State. A stretch, with the departed Julius Hodge leading his team in, deep breath now… minutes, points, rebounds, assists, not to mention turnovers FGM FGA FTM FTA and game winning shots against UConn. But their next five scorers all return and they bring in an excellent class with four-star's Brandon Costner, Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley. They shoot the lights out and their Princeton-esque style is tough for teams to handle. Young teams especially and the country is full of young teams. There were also times when they got away from their offense and just watched Hodge go one-on-one. His absence might actually lead to that mystical goal of every coach – improved chemistry.

16. Louisville. A popular top 10 pick but I'm not so sure. Pitino has always coached an up-tempo style with plenty of three-pointers, but next year's squad is suddenly dominated by big guys. He loses all-around stud Francisco Garcia, their scoring and assists leader. He loses Larry O'Bannon, second leading scorer and team leader. Ellis Myles, their leading rebounder and the solid Otis George are also gone. Those are an awful lot of veteran shoes to fill. Taquan Dean is back to score from deep and Juan Diego Palacios should be back from discovering new countries for Spain in time to have a big sophomore season. Our old pal David Padgett makes his debut for the Cardinals; he should form a potent 1-2 punch with Palacios. They hope Brian Johnson is back and McHeartAttack AA Amir Johnson comes in for still more size. Lots of beef, less skill - they should look nothing at all like this year's version.

17. Oral Roberts. Bet you won't see them on Dick Vitale's list. Actually, I'd bet he doesn't know they are a school. Their claim to fame last season was losing the aptly named Mid Continent Conference championship game to Oakland, which if for some strange reason you didn't know is located in the city of Rochester in Oakland County, Michigan. So Oakland took a 12-18 record into the NCAA's ridiculous play-in game, which they won, before bowing out in a 28-point nail biter to UNC. This is my seconnd favorite conference, just because they have fun names. The UMKC Kangaroos. The Centenary Gentlemen. The Valparaiso Crusaders. The Western Illinois Leathernecks. The Southern Utah Thunderbirds. And of course, IUPUI. It's like they actually let drunken students choose the names. Anyway, the Bobs went 25-8 with plenty of tight loses, including three one-pointers and a two-pointer. Maryland in the NIT was their only double digit loss, and that was to be expected after the heartbreaker in their tourney final. They return four starters, including 19-point inside scorer Caleb Green and 17-point bomber Ken "King" Tutt. They have a senior point guard and landed Oklahoma's state player of the year. 24 year old head coach Scott Sutton, son of Eddie, is about to become a very hot property. You heard it here first.

18. Winthrop. Do not adjust your monitor, that says Winthrop. OK, so they don't have the resources of the Dukes of the world. They can't recruit Louis Williams or the next Darnell Valentine for their backcourt. Zach Randolph and Derrick Coleman won't be patrolling the paint. Young women won't go crazy over them like Ophelia over Hamlet. I say that means diddley. These guys went 27-6, had an 18 game winning streak and were up two on Gonzaga with five minutes to play. They return their top nine, including a point guard who started as a frosh last year. They have good size for a non-major. Putting my money where my mouth is on the parity theory. You heard it not only first, but probably only here.

19. Nevada. In a land of blind people the one-eyed man is king. Well in a country bereft of centers the 6'11" forward is king. I bring you Nick the Greek, Mr. Fazekas, ready to become an All-American. Throw in two rising sophomores, point guard Ramon Sessions and slasher Mo Charlo, and the Wolf Pack West is perfectly capable of another 25-win season, at least. I'd bet a 99 cent breakfast on it!

20. Maryland. Coming off a 7-9 ACC season they made it to the NIT semis without their point guard.. Return absolutely everybody and will start four seniors and a junior. Point guard John Gilchrist had an up and down season but is a dark horse AA candidate (honors, not booze). Note: Oops, he's gone. Had them top 10 but still a team to watch. Nik "can I borrow a c" Caner-Medley, Chris "I have a spare" McCray, Travis Garrison, Ekene "rearrange the letters to spell a word" Ibekwe. Normal improvement by their current squad should have coach Gary "now the other" Williams' team back in the rankings.

21. LSU. Brandon Bass, stay or go? SEC player of the year, the only concern is his height, which isn't going to change. He and Glen Davis combined for 31 points, 18 boards and 360 pounds. Their starting backcourt returns and they add stud frosh Tasmin Mitchell. Coach Brady's performance in getting his team ready for UAB in the NCAAs reminded me of Joe B Hall's crew folding their tents against Georgetown back in my ute. That disaster aside, if BB returns then these Tigers displace the other Tigers at #9 and drop the Cardinal out of the top 10. PS: they have an incoming frosh named Magnum Rolle. How great is that name? But at 6'11", 200 perhaps Peashooter Rolle is more appropriate.

22. UCLA. Gotta get another Pac-10 team in here somewhere. The Brew-ins lose only Dijon Thompson, who will try to cut the mustard in the NBA. Unfortunately for coach Netherlands, he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. Now we'll see if their cocky frosh can carry the team as sophs. Farmar and Afflalo form a solid and possibly great backcourt while Fey and Hollins make for an, umm, interesting pair of bigs. This may turn out to be the dumbest statement ever written, but I actually think Fey could be a pleasant surprise for them this year. Newbies Wright and Aboya are big and athletic enough to help on the boards and on D from the start. I said it was a down year.

23. Washington. No Nate, no Tre, no Will, not even a Hakeem. And says here Martell Webster ain't comin to save the day either. But Romar, fresh off of turning a scholarship player into a walk-on, still has about 20 frosh coming in. All I know about them is that Jon Brockman and Artem Wallace are bruising white guys who will be asked to do the dirty work while Brandon Roy takes about 30 shots a game. But with Bobby Jones still going strong 20 years after retiring from the NBA and Jamal Williams ready for a more important role, the Huskies should be solid. But who plays the point?

24. Iowa State. OK, so they ended their season getting spanked by UNC. Some of us would have been happy just to make the second round. They lose their only inside presence in Jared Holman, but any team returning a starting backcourt that combined for 30 a game must be taken seriously. Two frosh and two sophs were in their top six guys last year, and they add high upside big man Shawn Taggart. Curtis Stinson is a dynamic scorer who can bail them out late in the shot clock. With Texas the only Big 12 team that looks to be improved, Wayne Morgan's Cyclones should be swirling up the charts.

25. Florida. Not that he's good enough to have had an "era", but now that it's over, David Lee must be wondering what happened to the Gators. Eddie Munster's squad was the new It Team, with a Final Four appearance and recruits swamping the place (yes, pun intended). It was only a matter of time before they won it all. Back to the drawing board. Roberson is testing the draft waters, to which my response is hysterical laughter. Whatever he does, the returning talent may be enough to sneak into the top 25 in a down year. Matt Walsh will have free reign to try to get 20 a game and all those rising sophomores should be ready to show what they can do. Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Taurean Dean all got lots of PT last year. Yannick Noah's kid Joakim could surprise. The 6'11" soph was briefly on Stanford's radar as a prep.

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