With the deadline for college underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft pool having passed, there is a better sense for which teams will rate among the very best in the 2008-09 season.
Here's my first stab at a preseason Top 25:
1. North Carolina (36-3)
Frank Says: A return to Chapel Hill of any two of the three underclassmen who flirted with the NBA Draft would have made the Tar Heels a solid preseason No. 1. When all three withdrew from the draft pool on Monday, Coach Roy Williams was in possession of the team that will be an overwhelming favorite to win the 2009 NCAA title.
2. Connecticut (24-9)
Frank Says: The Huskies could bag Jim Calhoun's third national crown if A.J. Price recovers nicely from his torn ACL, if Hasheem Thabeet continues to improve (especially offensively), if Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson have strong junior seasons and if their freshmen are as good as advertised. Hey! Everyone besides North Carolina has a lot of ifs.
3. Louisville (27-9)
Frank Says: If freshman Samardo Samuels gives Rick Pitino the same level of play that David Padgett provided in the post last season, the Cardinals will justify this, perhaps, too kind prognostication.
4. Duke (28-6)
Frank Says: The Blue Devils would have found themselves preseason favorites in the ACC if the NBA talent evaluators and decision makers had given the three Tar Heels solid reasons to stay in the draft pool. This should be Mike Krzyzewski's best Duke club in a while.
5. Michigan State (27-9)
Frank Says: The Spartans, even with the loss of Drew Neitzel, have the opportunity to stay close to home in April while still suiting up for games.
6. Notre Dame (25-8)
Frank Says: This is Mike Brey's best team since the Irish lost to Arizona in a Sweet 16 game in Anaheim in 2003. Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody could push UNC's Tyler Hansbrough for national POY honors.
7. UCLA (35-4)
Frank Says: The return of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp and a five-player freshman class will keep the Bruins in strong contention for a fourth consecutive Pac-10 title and fourth Final Four appearance in a row.
8. Pittsburgh (27-10)
9. Gonzaga (25-8)
Frank Says: Jeremy Pargo's prudent decision to return for his senior season means he could win his second WCC POY honor and that the Bulldogs are in shape for a deeper NCAA Tourney run than they've enjoyed recently.
10. Oklahoma (23-12)
Frank Says: Blake Griffin will be a sophomore for the Sooners in 2008-09 instead of an NBA lottery selection on June 26. That means this is the Big 12's best team next season.
11. Arizona State (21-13)
Frank Says: The Sun Devils had a fairly solid gripe about not getting an NCAA bid last March but there shouldn't be any doubt next time around with the best player in the Pac-10 (James Harden) in an ASU uniform.
12. Davidson (29-7)
Frank Says: The Wildcats were oh-so-close to changing the course of Final Four history last spring. Stephen Curry's return keeps them in the national hunt.
13. Villanova (22-13)
Frank Says: The Wildcats were one of the final at-large selections but made the committee look good by reaching the Sweet 16. Jay Wright has a team capable of winning more than 19 regular-season games and going just as deep into the NCAA tourney.
14. Tennessee (31-5)
Frank Says: The Volunteers lost a lot but returned plenty and gained a whole bunch as well. Don't be surprised if Bruce Pearl's team is deep into Final Four contention in March.
15. Marquette (25-10)
Frank Says: Tommy Crean didn't leave anything bare in Milwaukee and replacement Buzz Williams inherits a club capable of being the best the Big East has to offer in 2008-09.
16. Texas (31-7)
Frank Says: The Longhorns return a lot of quality players but the direction this team heads depends on the caliber of play Rick Barnes gets from whoever replaces D.J. Augustin at the point.
17. Memphis (38-2)
Frank Says: With the return of Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, Willie Kemp and Shawn Taggert, and the addition of Tyreke Evans, the slippage isn't going to be that extreme for the NCAA championship runner-up program.
18. Arizona (19-15)
19. Purdue (25-9)
Frank Says: The Boilermakers' exceptional freshman class of last season took a hit when Scott Martin surprisingly transferred (he stayed in-state at Notre Dame). But Matt Painter still has a team good enough to win the Big Ten.
20. Georgetown (28-6)
21. Miami (23-11)
Frank Says: The Hurricanes should be the third-best team in the ACC, with the identity of the two best being no mystery to speak of.
22. Ohio State (24-13)
Frank Says: B.J. Mullens will be the third consecutive freshman seven-footer that Thad Matta will lose to the NBA Draft a year from now.
23. Saint Mary's (25-7)
Frank Says: The Gaels return the bulk of their squad and shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, anywhere, this time around.
24. Florida (24-12)
Frank Says: Gators' fans should look at last season as strictly a one-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament.
25. Wisconsin (31-5)
Frank Says: This is one of the most dependable programs in the country and, despite a couple of key losses, could repeat as Big Ten champion.