Let the countdown begin.
The unveiling of the Frankhoops.com preseason Top 25 teams in the country begins with No.'s 25 to 21.
You'll find a club from the Atlantic Coast Conference, two more from the Pacific-10 and a couple of the elite level mid-major programs in this first bunch.
No. 25 North Carolina State
2006-07 record: 20-16
Why this rating? The Wolfpack closed strong in Sidney Lowe's first season as the program's head coach. And a top-three finish in the ACC is a reasonable aspiration this season, as long as Gavin Grant, Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner play like the all-ACC performers they are capable of being.
Potential pitfall: Point-guard play. The projected starter, freshman Javier Gonzalez, isn't expected back on the court until early November while recovering from torn ligaments in his right hand and Tennessee transfer Marques Johnson isn't eligible until December, leaving just Iowa State transfer Farnold Degand at the spot.
Get to know: Costner, who was just slightly short of marvelous during his (redshirt) freshman season. He's as solid as any ACC Player of the Year prospect not residing in Chapel Hill this season.
Watch this game: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 28, East Lansing). Lowe's team should take a 5-0 record into this one.
Frank Says: If Lowe can get anything remotely approaching the kind of point guard play that he and assistant coach Monte Towe provided when they were the point guards on national championship NCSU clubs, the Wolfpack could be a Sweet 16 team.
No. 24 Stanford
2006-07 record: 18-13
Why this rating? The Cardinal would be rated a lot closer to 12 than 24 if not for the current status of 7-foot sophomore Brook Lopez, who was declared academically ineligible for the first semester and then was suspended from practices for apparently missing classes and practices. And, according to the Stanford student newspaper, Lopez' 7-foot twin, Robin, is on academic probation. If they're not on the floor, and playing well, for the bulk of the schedule, getting into the NCAA will be a chore in the absurdly tough Pac-10 Conference.
Potential pitfall: The aforementioned situation with the Lopez twins. And the team will need steadier backcourt play than it got last season in order to finish in the top three spots in the Pac-10.
Get to know: Lawrence Hill. He was all-Pac-10 as a sophomore yet the 6-8 forward remains one of the more underrated players in the country.
Watch this game: vs. UC Santa Barbara (at Sanford, Nov. 11). The Gauchos should be a very good team (led by Alex Harris, they are favored to win the Big West). Without at least one Lopez, this will be a toughie, even in Maples Pavilion.
Frank Says: The level of success this team attains is all about the Lopez brothers' commitment to their classroom responsibilities and the kind of play Trent Johnson can get out of his backcourt.
No. 23 VCU
2006-07 record: 28-7
Why this rating? Coach Anthony Grant, who came ever-so-close to moving into Billy Donovan's office in Gainesville last spring, returns three starters, including slick, quick and tenacious point guard Eric Maynor, from the team that sent Duke packing and came within a smidgen of doing the same thing to Pitt in the NCAA Tournament.
Potential pitfall: Has Grant compensated for the firepower that departed via the losses of B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa? What happens when opponents are more prepared for the team's full-court pressure defense?
Get to know: Power forward Wil Fameni, a former Arizona State player-turned key contributor for the Rams.
Watch this game: vs. Maryland (Washington, D.C., Dec. 2). If the Rams are this good, a win over this ACC club on a (relative) neutral court shouldn't be an upset.
Frank Says: George Mason could prevent the Rams from repeating in the Colonial Athletic Association but, even so, this is a team that should win 25 games and get into the NCAA Tournament, one way or another.
No. 22 Butler
2006-07 record: 29-7
Why this rating? Coach Todd Lickliter (Iowa) has moved to the Big Ten rating but assistant-turned-head honcho Brad Stevens has three starters back who helped the team knock off the likes of Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Maryland last season en route to the Sweet 16.
Potential pitfall: A lack of (vertical) size. Stevens doesn't have a player taller than 6-7 on his roster.
Watch this game: vs. Ohio State (Dec. 1, Indianapolis). The Buckeyes of former Bulldogs' head coach Thad Matta could be the second Big Ten victim of the season (they play Michigan in Anchorage on Nov. 21)
Frank Says: The Bulldogs could be unbeaten when they take on Southern Illinois in Carbondale on Dec. 28. Can you say "Mid-major heaven"?
No. 21 Oregon
2006-07 record: 29-8
Why this rating? Four starters return from team that blitzed its way to Pac-10 Tournament title before losing a tight decision to eventual national champion Florida in an Elite Eight contest.
Potential pitfall: Point-guard play. Aaron Brooks wasn't the Pac-10's Player of the Year (that went to Arron Afflalo of champion UCLA) but there is little double that Brooks was the most valuable player in the conference. If there isn't stability at the position (either via 5-6 jump-shooting specialist Tajuan Porter or freshman Kamyron Brown), the Ducks could fall into the Pac-10's second division.
Get to know: Jack-of-just-about-everything undersized (6-8ish) senior postman Maarty Leunen. You'd be hard-pressed to find a team in the country he couldn't start for.
Watch this game: vs. Saint Mary's (Nov. 20, Moraga, Calif.) The Gaels are the second best team in the WCC and could be strong enough to merit an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, assuming they don't dethrone Gonzaga.
Frank Says: With the exception of Kevin Durant at Texas, it's hard to imagine one player meaning more to a team's success last season than did Brooks for the Ducks. Without a consistent and fluid fashion of getting the ball to all of its scorers, Coach Ernie Kent's team will be hamstrung.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the