Cavaliers look like early NCAA Championship favorites

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You get the feeling Monday night’s National Championship game won’t be Mike Krzyzewski’s last shot at adding another title to his storied legacy at Duke. Bo Ryan will likely get back before he’s done, too, but that can’t be said with as much confidence, especially next year.

Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will be playing in the NBA come next March, so it might take the spectacular Ryan a few years to replicate the talent he’s assembled in Madison to make these great runs the past few years.

The Badgers will still be a factor in the Big Ten, but likely won’t be among national title contenders. With that and your futures in mind, here’s a very early look at college basketball’s preseason Top 25 for 2015-16:

1. Virginia: The Cavaliers are the best team in the country coming into the season. You may find them incredibly boring, but they are tremendous defensively and lose only Darion Atkins among last season’s key contributors.

2. Maryland: Melo Trimble has already declared he’s staying put, while 6-10 incoming freshman Diamond Stone is likely to become a household name, joining Robert Carter and Jake Layman in an impressive frontcourt. Having already taken the Big Ten by storm, look for the Terps to join the national elite.

3. North Carolina: With Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel James and returning as seniors and Kennedy Meeks back as a junior, the core of the team that got its championship aspirations snuffed out by Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 is going to be locked in.

4. Arkansas: This would be contingent on reigning SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis not turning pro. Key wing Michael Qualls also has a decision to make, but if both are back, the Hogs will be a national contender.

5. Kansas: Kelly Oubre turned pro, but the Jayhawks will have almost everybody from last year’s team back, including Perry Ellis, who will finally be a senior. Yes, it feels like he’s been there since the turn of the century.

6. Iowa State: Georges Niang announced he’d be returning for his senior season, so on the heels of a demoralizing early exit at the hands of UAB, the Cyclones got some good news. They’ll need to figure out the tournament, but enter the upcoming season as a national contender.

7. Indiana: The Hoosiers are likely to have guards Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon, Jr. spurn the NBA and return to form a dynamic tandem. They’ve also added a terrific center in incoming 6-10 freshman Thomas Bryant, who adds some much-needed size.

8. Kentucky: Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins are all highly likely to declare for the draft. There are reinforcements in addition to Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and the returning Alex Poythress since top recruits Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe have already committed. The ‘Cats will still be a factor next season.

9. Duke: Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow will likely be the latest one-and-dones under Coach K, but they have the potential to reload quickly. 6-10 Las Vegas native Chase Jeter keys another tremendous recruiting class and guards Tyus Jones, Matt Jones and Grayson Allen should all be back in the fold.

10. Wichita State: Guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker must return for his senior years, but head coach Gregg Marshall spurned Alabama in order to continue the Shockers rise as one of the nation’s top mid-major programs.

11. N.C. State: The Wolfpack may emerge as an elite national sleeper if bigs BeeJay Anya, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu all continue making great strides. Guards Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey, who keyed this past run to the Sweet 16, are also back.

12. West Virginia: Press Virginia loses Juwan Staten, but got a lot of key young guards significant experience while he was injured down the stretch. The Mountaineers will be loaded and tough to beat given their style of play.

13. Oklahoma: If Buddy Hield is back, this team has a shot to win the Big 12. If he’s not, they’ll fall out of the mix. Frank Booker transferring stings, but Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and forward Ryan Spangler will all return.

14. Gonzaga: Donatas Sabonis and Prez Karnowski will key a new-look Zags squad that will be a load to stop inside.

15. Baylor: The Bears overachieved last year and return most of that core. Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince and Jonathan Motley will make for a superb frontcourt.

16. Butler: Move over, Villanova. The Bulldogs are going to be the Big East’s best next season.

17. Michigan St.: Tom Izzo will reload without Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. Denzel Valentine returns to key a new look squad that will undoubtedly be at their best in March, per usual.

18. UCLA: With Arizona losing its frontcourt standouts to the pros, the Bruins are likely to be best in what shapes up as a down year for the Pac-12.

19. San Diego State: The Aztecs look like the Mountain West’s best, since Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer back to key the frontcourt. Trey Kell and Malik Pope should be superb as sophomores in heightened roles.

20. Georgia: Mark Fox’s Dawgs made he strides this past year and returns Charless Mann, Kenny Gaines, J.J. Frazier, Juwan Parker and emerging big man Yante Maten.

21. George Washington: Looking like the A-10’s best team, the Colonials return a senior-laden core that defends for 40 minutes.

22. Purdue: So long as A.J. Hammons returns to anchor the paint, elite defense will be the calling card for the Boilermakers.

23. Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes made an invaluable run to the NIT finals and will have a terrific post combo next season in Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz-Uceda.

24. Florida State: Xavier Rathan-Mayes returns and should be one of the nation’s most dynamic guards. Look for the Seminoles to surface as an ACC surprise in a loaded conference.

25. Wisconsin: Don’t ever sell Bo short. He’s got only Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter back from this season’s rotation, but will manage to have his team in the Big Ten race regardless.

Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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