Analysis of the top 25 NCAA teams
by Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
Want to get to know college basketball’s top teams — from the star-studded freshmen to the grizzled vets?
College basketball reporters Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell break down each of the top 25 teams in the preseason USA TODAY Sports men’s basketball coaches poll:
1. Kentucky (21-12)
Points: 767 (16 first-place votes). Previous ranking: not ranked. Outlook: Even by John Calipari standards, this is a heck of a freshman class, one that rivals, and perhaps surpasses, Michigan’s Fab Five. F Julius Randle leads a crop of six McDonald’s All-Americans into Lexington, where they’re joined by returning sophomores and de facto veterans Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. The plethora of pro-ready players will help Kentucky bounce back from a disappointing 2012-13, which ended with a first-round NIT loss. Calipari’s biggest challenge? Finding enough minutes for everyone. Opens: Nov. 8 vs. UNC-Asheville.
2. Michigan State (27-9)
Points: 749 (3). Previous ranking: 13. Outlook: College basketball is at the point where most of the bluebloods must rebuild annually and the best teams from outside power conferences are the most experienced. This team is an exception. Give coach Tom Izzo four returning starters, one of the nation’s best backcourts (Gary Harris, Keith Appling) as well as Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne and you have the formula for yet another Final Four. One word of caution: The Spartans must improve on their turnover rate. Opens: Nov. 8 vs. McNeese State.
3. Louisville (35-5)
Points: 741 (10). Previous ranking: 1. Outlook: With all the talk about Kentucky’s fantastic freshmen, the defending national champion has somehow been overshadowed. But These Cardinals will give Rick Pitino a real chance at back-to-back titles. Louisville loses PG Peyton Siva and C Gorgui Dieng, but everyone else returns, including leading scorer Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock — the Final Four’s most outstanding player — appear primed for breakout seasons. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. College of Charleston.
4. Duke (30-6)
Points: 710 (3). Previous ranking: 5. Outlook: Always formidable, the Blue Devils are poised to field their most athletic team in more than a decade. With an abundance of versatile players, they possess one of the nation’s more … [For more on Analysis: A look at every top 25 team in the college hoops coaches poll, click here.]