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Mike Lopresti | | November 12, 2020

1 thing to know about every team in the AP preseason Top 25

Top 15 Julius Erving Award contenders for 2020-21

The college basketball pre-season rankings are out, and what do we know about those listed?

Well, for one thing, here are 25 teams who hope these polls are a lot better at predicting the outcome than the ones used for the election. Here’s something else to know for each of the 25 in the Associated Press rankings.

1. GONZAGA: Behold, a testament to the relentless continuity in Mark Few’s program. The Zags lost four double-figure scorers and still are preseason No. 1. In Spokane, they don’t rebuild, they just rewind the tape, and everyone knows it. By the way, this is the fifth season in the past nine Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 at some point. Those days as a national upstart were a long, long, long time ago.

2. BAYLOR: The Bears have never, ever been in the top-10 in a pre-season poll before. We’ll find out in a hurry if they’re worthy. They open with No. 18 Arizona State, then could possibly play three of the top eight teams in the nation — Villanova, Illinois and Gonzaga — by Dec. 5. That could mean four ranked opponents in the first 11 days.

3. VILLANOVA: The Wildcats, with four starters back, are picked to win the Big East. This is news? Jay Wright has owned the league, lock, stock and Xavier, with six regular season titles in seven years. In those seven seasons, the Wildcats have lost only 23 league games.

ALL-AMERICA: Iowa's Luka Garza, Baylor's Jared Butler headline AP preseason All-America team

4. VIRGINIA: Yeah, the Cavaliers are still the defending national champions. Come next mid-March — assuming there is an NCAA tournament — Virginia will have carried that tag for more than 700 days.

5. IOWA: To review the Luka Garza Show of last season: The national player of the year scored at least 20 points in 16 consecutive Big Ten games (first time anyone’s done that since 1987), averaged more than 26 points in league play (first time since 1994), and put up an average of 26.7 points and 11.1 rebounds against ranked opponents. Six other Hawkeyes return who have started. Any questions why Iowa has its highest preseason ranking in 65 years?

6. KANSAS: When last seen, the Jayhawks would have been favorites to win the national championship. They also would have been a No. 1 seed for the ninth time in 17 Bill Self seasons. The other eight years, Kansas was seeded No, 2 three times, No. 3 twice and No. 4 three times. Never lower than No. 4 in nearly two decades. Remarkable.

7. WISCONSIN: The Badgers are back with nearly everyone, intending to do damage with balance again. Last March, they shared the Big Ten title, and became the first champion in the history of the league to have no player named on either the first or second all-conference team.

8. ILLINOIS: Brad Underwood, your table with the big guys in the Big Ten is ready. Underwood earned raves enough last season for going from 12-21 to 21-10 in one year. Then, he must have known the right things to say to stars Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, who both had their names in the NBA draft pool. It was assumed at least one would certainly leave, and probably both. Neither did. Happy days are back at Illinois, which hasn’t seen an NCAA tournament bid in seven years.

9. DUKE: Well, one of the Blue Devils’ most impressive streaks is certainly toast. Cameron will be without fans in these virus days. That means an end to Duke’s 472-game consecutive sellout streak, going back to the George H. W. Bush administration. That was the Boston College visit on Nov. 16, 1990. Mike Krzyzewski was a 43-year-old kid then.

10. KENTUCKY: It’s an anniversary year for John Calipari. Twenty-five years ago, he coached in his first Final Four, with Massachusetts. Ten years ago, it was his first Final Four at Kentucky. Rather than marking the occasions, he’s probably a little more concerned melding together the usual roster of newcomers in Lexington, given 94 percent of the scoring is gone from last season.

KEY DATES: 2020 college basketball calendar: Schedule, first games, NCAA tournament dates

11. CREIGHTON: There are many signs of good karma in the Bluejays program, with its highest preseason ranking ever. But this ain’t one of them: Two touted international recruits were freshmen Modestas Kancleris from Lithuania and Rati Andronikashvili from the Republic of Georgia. They came to Omaha as roommates. They each tore an ACL within two days of one another last week. Lost for the season.

12. TENNESSEE: Besides returning as the Vols’ first-ever SEC defensive player of the year, Yves Pons might own one of the most unique bios in college basketball. He spent time in a Haiti orphanage as a child, was adopted and taken to France. Now he’s in Knoxville and besides being a renowned shot swatter, is accomplished in the saxophone, photography and cooking. In October, he led a virtual cooking class on Zoom. Let’s see Kentucky top that.

13. MICHIGAN STATE: Tom Izzo begins the season with 628 career victories and one case of the coronavirus. His positive test early this week left him baffled. “I’ve been beating my brains out figuring out where and how,” he said at a press conference. He’ll want to be back by Dec. 9 and the Hauser Bowl. That’s when Michigan State plays at Virginia. Remember when Sam and younger brother Joey Hauser transferred together out of Marquette, after playing together their entire lives? Joey’s a Spartan now, Sam’s a Cavalier. Should make for interesting conversation at the family Thanksgiving table.

14. TEXAS TECH: With transfers Mac McClung (Georgetown), Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU) and Jamarius Burton (Wichita State) all immediately eligible, the Red Raiders lineup could have a truly unusual feature: Three players who led other Division I programs in scoring or assists the previous season.

ALL-TIME: The all-time scoring leaders from 32 men’s college basketball conferences

15. WEST VIRGINIA: Guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Oscar Tshiebwe had such a stellar freshman year — second team all-Big 12 — and is an important piece of the Mountaineers puzzle this season. He was the first McDonald’s All-American to play at West Virginia in 24 years, and only the third ever.

16. NORTH CAROLINA: Hoping for a reboot from last season’s 14-19 bad dream, North Carolina might lead the nation in family legacies. Lots of old Tar Heels represented on the roster. There’s Ryan McAdoo (son of Bob), Creighton Lebo (son of Jeff), K.J. Smith (son of Kenny), Puff Johnson (brother of Cameron) and Walker Miller (brother of Wes).  This season’s bunch are kin of five players who scored 4,080 points for North Carolina.

17. HOUSTON: The last time the Cougars appeared in a preseason top-25? Try 1983. The center was named Akeem Olajuwon, and the team ended up playing Georgetown for the national championship. Houston wouldn’t win another game in the NCAA tournament until 2018.

18. ARIZONA STATE: Bobby Hurley’s program has been long on second-half pluck. In five seasons, his Sun Devils have 26 wins after trailing at halftime, 11 on the road, five against ranked opponents, and twice against Kansas. In the previous five seasons before Hurley came to town, Arizona State was 12-64 when trailing at halftime.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: 15 freshmen who could have a big impact on college basketball this season

19. TEXAS: The Longhorns’ fast finish last season was a boost for Shaka Smart’s iffy job security, so it might be a good time to remember how he landed in Austin. This is the 10th anniversary of Smart leading 11th-seeded VCU to the Final Four, an extraordinary journey that began in the First Four. It made him one of the hottest young names in coaching. Even through some of the bumps at Texas, Smart’s story is still compelling: The Division III athlete and magna cum laude graduate who ended up in the bright lights. Now the Longhorns, with every key player back plus vaunted recruit Greg Brown, will try to keep him there.

20. OREGON: Dana Altman has put together 23 winning seasons in a row. The only other active coaches who can say that are named Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim and Bill Self, and they’re all in the Hall of Fame.

21. FLORIDA STATE: Tallahassee might be a nice place to visit in the winter, but not if you’re playing the Seminoles. Florida State is 62-3 at home the past four seasons. The only team in the nation better is Gonzaga at 64-2.

22. UCLA: The Bruins return 88.8 percent of their scoring, 87.2 percent of the rebounding and 91.3 percent of the assists from a team that closed in a rush, winning 11 of the last 14. In other words, Mick Cronin has a chance to really make himself at home in Westwood in his second season.

UNDER THE RADAR: 10 under-appreciated college basketball programs that deserve more love

23. OHIO STATE: Here’s a trend the Buckeyes hope to stop, before it gets too conspicuous. Two years ago, they opened 12-1 . . . then went 7-13. Last season, they rolled to an 11-1 start by beating Kentucky and thrashing Villanova and North Carolina by 25 points and Penn State by 32 . . . then lost six of their next seven. That Big Ten schedule, it can be mean.

24. RUTGERS: Get out the record book, we’re going to need it. The Scarlet Knights come off their first winning season in 14 years, first winning league record in 29 years, first 20-victory regular season in 37 years, and their first top-25 ranking since 1979. They likely would have ended a 29-year drought in NCAA tournament bids, had there been one. And there is plenty of experience coming back to do more.

25. MICHIGAN: Nothing much green about the maize and blue. The Wolverines return Eli Brooks, who has played in 98 games for Michigan. Isaiah Livers, who has played in 96.  Transfer Chaundee Brown Jr. is eligible, after starting 74 times for Wake Forest. And now here’s Ivy League graduate transfer Mike Smith, who started 91 games for Columbia. Maybe they can ease the pain from the football season.

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