Nearly every piece is now in place for next year's Top 25. Nearly every recruit is in place. Only a few schools are without a coach.
And the deadline for the NBA draft's early entrants has now … passed. (Well, at least those players who didn't sign an agent. Guys like Jonny Flynn were done with school long ago.) That means the ridiculously early Top 25s that circulated after North Carolina won the NCAA tournament can be updated with meaningful changes.
Like Syracuse dropping out, Mississippi State moving up and Washington holding steady. The No. 1 team on my old list didn't change, but there was plenty of other movement. And, like 2008-09, there are groups to consider: the contenders, the hopefuls, the Top 25 rotation and everyone else. The teams are separated by slim margins – especially since it's June. (June, people! Everything can and will change in the next six months.)
As always, I don't expect this list to please everyone, so submit your own Top 25 below. But keep it clean, people. That means you Eli.
No. 1 Kansas
Every player is back from Bill Self's Big 12 champs, headed by national player of the year candidates Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. If having a nine-man rotation return isn't enough, the Jayhawks also have three prize recruits in Xavier Henry, Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson. The biggest problem in Lawrence will be finding enough playing time – which can be an issue (see UNC, 1994).
No. 2 Duke
This spot easily could have gone to Kentucky. Or Villanova. Or Michigan State. Or Purdue. These five teams, along with Kansas, are the best title bets, to my mind. I give Duke the edge here because this 30-win team returns every important player from last year except Gerald Henderson. Forwards Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee will be crucial to a short frontcourt.
No. 3 Kentucky
Losing Jodie Meeks hurts. He merely led the 'Cats in scoring last season and would've been a crucial defense-stretcher in John Calipari's dribble-drive offense. Still, John Wall will be doing his best Derrick Rose impersonation, and the frontcourt of Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton is awfully imposing. But … if the freshmen play like freshmen, Kentucky won't even be the best team in the SEC.
No. 4 Villanova
This year's Final Four surprise should be the Big East favorites in 2010. Scottie Reynolds is back, along with Reggie Redding, the two Coreys (not those, these) and a recruiting class that most years would rank No. 1 (Jay Wright shakes fist at Calipari). Let the 'Cat fight commence!
No. 5 Michigan State
Kalin Lucas can carry the Spartans back to the Final Four (he's likely the preseason player of the year), but he doesn't have to do it alone. MSU returns three starters and has budding stars in Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan. But they won't walk to the Big Ten title with No. 6 right on their heels …
No. 6 Purdue
The Boilermakers dealt with more injuries this season than nearly any other contender. If Robbie Hummel's back is healthy, Purdue will challenge the Spartans and be a title contender. It returns every starter, including budding superstar JaJuan Johnson. He and Hummel are currently giving it their all for Uncle Sam.
No. 7 North Carolina
No Tyler Hansbrough, no Ty Lawson, no Wayne Ellington and no Danny Green. No problem. The Heels still have Deon Thompson and Ed Davis up front, and bring in prize recruits John Henson and Leslie McDonald. Seven may be a bit high, but Roy Williams is usually good for 30 wins.
No. 8 Texas
The 'Horns figure to be the thorn in Kansas' side. Damion James made the smart move, which lets him pair with Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson up front and incoming five-star prospects Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton. Only Kentucky has two higher-rated recruits coming in next year.
No. 9 West Virginia
Dropped the Mountaineers down a bit, but expect them to be a Top 15 mainstay. Devin Ebanks is a lottery-type talent and point guard Joe Mazzulla may one of the country's most underrated players. This is the year West Virginia lives up to kenpom.com's ratings.
No. 10 Tennessee
Another SEC team in the Top 10? I believe that much in Tyler Smith. I believe in the Vols' young talent being more consistent. I do not believe Bruce Pearl has a future in rap music.
No. 11 Ohio State
Forget about B.J. Mullens. As long as Evan Turner's back in Columbus, that's enough to make the Buckeyes a Final Four darkhorse. Added bonus: David Lighty and every other starter join him.
No. 12 Cal
Bumped the Bears up a few spots. I think they'll be the Pac-10's best team, but that's not saying much in a league that doesn't have a true national title contender. All-league players Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher are the best of the bunch.
No. 13 Washington
Abdul Gaddy is the best freshman point guard not named John Wall. That's enough to offset losses of Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon (some Huskies fans think losing Dentmon will add wins). Isaiah Thomas now becomes the nation's shortest shooting guard.
No. 14 Butler
Bulldogs were too low on my earlier list. They averaged 28 wins a season the last three years. That won't change with everyone returning, including Horizon player of the year Matt Howard.
No. 15 Miss State
Big caveat: Renardo Sidney must be eligible. No Sidney, no Top 25.
No. 16 Oklahoma
Left the Sooners off my earlier list because I doubted Willie Warren would return to school. But he'll be back in Norman, along with star recruits Keith Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin. OU's not as good as Kansas or Texas, and will be pushed by Oklahoma State and Missouri in the Big 12.
No. 17 Connecticut
Caught a lot of grief for leaving off the Huskies in the earlier Top 25. I wasn't sure Stanley Robinson or Ater Majok would be back on campus, but that was an error. With Kemba Walker leading the way, the Huskies are a Sweet 16 team.
No. 18 Dayton
Another earlier omission, and a bad one. The Flyers won 27 games last season, won an NCAA tourney game – and nearly have the entire roster back. They don't look pretty, but they should be the A-10's top team.
No. 19 Minnesota
Tubby Smith returns all five starters and brings in a solid recruiting class. Gophers' biggest problem will be dealing with Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State.
No. 20 Oklahoma State
Cowboys will miss Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, but won't miss a beat. Travis Ford's team shoots 3s, plays fast and has a fleet of incoming recruits. Everyone runs, everyone scores. Try and keep up.
No. 21 Michigan
Never underestimate a John Beilein team. Especially when Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are on the roster.
No. 22 Missouri
The Big Ten-Big 12 format continues. Was torn on the Tigers. Losing Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll will be a huge problem, both on the stat sheets and in leadership. Still, Mizzou's got a deep roster and one of the nation's top coaches in Mike Anderson. They're still dangerous.
No. 23 Louisville
Leap of faith here with Rick Pitino. I think losing Earl Clark, Terrence Williams and Andre McGee is a lot to overcome. If Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings can't carry the load up front, the Cards are in trouble. The incoming prospects are role players, not stars.
No. 24 Georgetown
I believe in Greg Monroe.
No. 25 Siena
Omitted the Saints on the previous list. Reader Tim asked "If Ohio State is 12 with all starters returning, why isn't Siena 11 with all their starters returning?" Siena did win a classic double overtime NCAA tourney game, but it lost its best player in Kenny Hasbrouck. Does 25 seem better?
On the brink
Florida State – Awesome frontcourt of Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton and Jordan Mercy gets scoring boost from freshman Michael Snaer, but that NCAA choke job looms.
Illinois – The Illini are a Top 25 team if Mike Davis recovers from his broken ankle. Adjusting to life after Chester Frazier won't be easy, though.
Xavier – B.J. Raymond, Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson are gone. So is Sean Miller. I know the Musketeers are talented and deep, but to expect another 25-win season is hoping for too much.
Florida – Nick Calathes' departure prevents the Gators from a preseason Top 25. Still, it's about time a Billy Donovan team was relevant again.
Gonzaga – The perennial mid-major power lost three starters and gunner Micah Downs. They'll win the WCC and rack up wins, but won't be a national contender.