SENSATIONAL 16 and TOP 30 | October 2004
I can't wait to tip it off, baby! With so many talented players returning, the season should be excitement galore. It should be special, and a number of quality teams are capable of cutting down the nets at the Final Four in St. Louis. Here's my preseason Top 30 ... you could call it my preseason Sensational 16 plus 14 more top teams!
Vitale's Top 10 in ESPN Motion
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
2003-04 record: 19-11 (8-8, tied for 5th in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Texas, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, Sean May, Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams
Key players lost: None
Newcomers of note: Marvin Williams
Is this the year coach Roy Williams finally gets to cut down the nets? He has the talent to do it. The addition of Marvin Williams, who would have been a first-round pick if he entered the NBA draft early, makes the Tar Heels my pick. The players have had a year to learn Williams' system and they should be more comfortable in year two.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
2003-04 record: 24-9 (12-4, tied for 2nd in BIG 12)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Georgia Tech, Elite Eight, NCAA
Key players returning: Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, J.R. Giddens
Key players lost: David Padgett (transferred to Louisville), Jeff Graves
Newcomers of note: Russell Robinson, C.J. Giles, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Alex Galindo
Coach Bill Self's club has depth and talent and should compete for the national championship. Imagine the excitement if Kansas and North Carolina met in St. Louis for the chance to cut down the nets! The trio of Simien, Langford and Miles has been close before. Can they get over the top now?
3. Kentucky Wildcats
2003-04 record: 27-5 (13-3, 1st in SEC East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to UAB, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Chuck Hayes, Kelenna Azubuike
Key players lost: Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels, Antwain Barbour
Newcomers of note: Randolph Morris, Patrick Sparks, Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley
The influx of new talent will boost coach Tubby Smith's team into national prominence. It may take time to flourish as a unit, but the talent is there and Smith knows how to get the most from this group. By season's end, watch out!
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2003-04 record: 21-10 (9-7, tied for 3rd in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to St. Joseph's, Sweet 16, NCAA
Key players returning: Chris Paul, Justin Gray, Eric Williams, Taron Downey, Jamaal Levy, Vytas Danelius, Trent Strickland, Kyle Visser
Key players lost: None
Newcomers of note: Cameron Stanley
This is arguably one of the premier returning units in America. The battle between North Carolina and Wake Forest in the ACC should be something special, but you can't count out Duke, Georgia Tech and Maryland. Chris Paul will be one of the unique players to watch this season.
5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2003-04 record: 28-10 (9-7, tied for 3rd in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Connecticut in national championship
Key players returning: B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack, Luke Schenscher, Will Bynum, Isma'il Muhammad, Anthony McHenry
Key players lost: Marvin Lewis, Clarence Moore
Newcomers of note: Zam Frederick, Ra'Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith
After reaching the national-championship game last season, coach Paul Hewitt's team will be a contender again this time around. Schenscher keeps getting better and better in the middle, and Jack is a great leader. Elder can flat-out score, and the newcomers could help out.
6. Michigan State Spartans
2003-04 record: 18-12 (12-4, tied for 2nd in Big Ten)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Nevada, 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Paul Davis, Chris Hill, Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert, Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, Delco Rowley
Key players lost: Jason Andreas
Newcomers of note: Drew Neitzel, Marquise Gray, Goran Sutton, Idong Ibok
If Neitzel lives up to his potential as a leader at the point, this Michigan State squad can go far. It has a nice blend of veteran talent and newcomers. Davis is tough inside, while Hill can shoot the trifecta. Coach Tom Izzo's team is going to be tough in the Big Ten.
7. Maryland Terrapins
2003-04 record: 20-12 (7-9, 6th in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Syracuse, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: John Gilchrist, Nik Caner-Medley, Travis Garrison, Chris McCray, D.J. Strawberry, Mike Jones
Key players lost: Jamar Smith
Newcomers of note: James Gist, Sterling Ledbetter (if healthy following offseason car accident)
Coach Gary Williams' team really matured in the ACC tournament last season, and that momentum should carry over into a big season. Gilchrist is a PTPer in the backcourt, and this team should enjoy a super season.
8. Arizona Wildcats
2003-04 record: 20-10 (11-7, 3rd in Pac-10)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Seton Hall, 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Mustafa Shakur, Channing Frye, Hassan Adams, Salim Stoudamire, Chris Rodgers, Isaiah Fox, Ivan Radenovic
Key players lost: Andre Iguodala
Newcomers of note: Daniel Dillon, Jawann McClellan, Mohamed Tangara, Jesus Verdejo
Imagine if Iguodala had returned to school instead of jumping into the NBA draft? This would have been a top-10 team for sure. The lack of depth proved costly last season as the Wildcats wore down with their running style. The talent is there to be at or near the top of the Pac-10. Coach Lute Olson is happy to get Fox back up front.
9. Duke Blue Devils
2003-04 record: 31-6 (13-3, 1st in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Connecticut in national semifinal
Key players returning: J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Daniel Ewing, Shavlik Randolph, Sean Dockery
Key players lost: Luol Deng, Chris Duhon
Newcomers of note: David McClure, DeMarcus Nelson
Coach Mike Krzyzewski turned down the lure of coaching the Lakers in the offseason. Even without Luol Deng or Shawn Livingston, the Dukies have a top-10 squad. The nucleus is there to make noise, led by Williams on the interior and Redick nailing the trifecta. The ACC will be a monster conference this season.
10. Texas Longhorns
2003-04 record: 25-8 (12-4, tied for 2nd in Big 12)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Xavier, Sweet 16, NCAA
Key players returning: P.J. Tucker, Brad Buckman, Sydmill Harris, Jason Klotz, Edgar Moreno, Kenny Taylor, Kenton Paulino
Key players lost: Royal Ivey, Brian Boddicker, Brandon Mouton, James Thomas
Newcomers of note: Mike Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, Dion Dowell, Connor Atchley
Coach Rick Barnes had one of the nation's premier recruiting classes, and several players will have an immediate impact. Few teams could lose the talent Texas did and return to the top 10. It just shows the depth the Longhorns enjoyed last season, and several players should step up with increased minutes in 2004-05.
11. Syracuse Orangemen
2003-04 record: 23-8 (11-5, tied for 3rd in Big East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Alabama, Sweet 16, NCAA
Key players returning: Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara, Josh Pace, Craig Forth, Demetris Nichols, Louie McCroskey, Terrence Roberts, Darryl Watkins
Key players lost: Jeremy McNeil
Newcomers of note: Josh Wright, Dayshawn Wright
Will Billy Edelin come back into the Syracuse picture? If not, coach Jim Boeheim still has lots of options. The return of Warrick gives the Orange one of the premier 1-2 punches (with McNamara). Syracuse, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh make up quite a Fab Four in the Big East.
12. Connecticut Huskies
2003-04 record: 33-6 (12-4, tied for 2nd in Big East)
2003-04 postseason result: Won national championship
Key players returning: Charlie Villanueva, Josh Boone, Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams
Key players lost: Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Taliek Brown
Newcomers of note: Rudy Gay, A.J. Price, Antonio Kellogg, Ed Nelson
Losing Okafor and Gordon, two of the top three picks in the NBA draft, would knock down any program. Coach Jim Calhoun and Co. will reload with Nelson -- a Georgia Tech transfer -- while Gay and Price will help right away. Villanueva will have a bigger role, and Boone is an underrated factor inside. Look for big things on the perimeter from Anderson, who showed signs of brilliance last season (ask Alabama coach Mark Gottfried about his 28-point performance in the NCAA Tournament).
13. Illinois Fighting Illini
2003-04 record: 26-7 (13-3, 1st in Big Ten)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Duke, Sweet 16, NCAA
Key players returning: Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Roger Powell, James Augustine, Luther Head, Nick Smith, Warren Carter, Brian Randle
Key players lost: Aaron Spears
Newcomers of note: Shaun Pruitt, Calvin Brock
With Powell withdrawing from the NBA draft, coach Bruce Weber has his main cogs back. The tandem of Brown and Williams will be the key again. The Illini have the potential to go far come NCAA tourney time.
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2003-04 record: 31-4 (14-2, 1st in Big 12)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Georgia Tech in national semifinal
Key players returning: John Lucas, Ivan McFarlin, Joey Graham, Stephen Graham, Daniel Bobik
Key players lost: Tony Allen
Newcomers of note: JamesOn Curry, Aaron Pettway
Coach Eddie Sutton has a dangerous team that made it to the Final Four last season. A return there is not out of the question. The loss of Allen will hurt, but it will be interesting to see how Curry performs (he was originally supposed to go to North Carolina). Lucas should have another big season in Stillwater.
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2003-04 record: 19-13 (9-7, 7th in Big East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Oregon, NIT quarterfinals
Key players returning: Chris Thomas, Torin Francis, Chris Quinn, Jordan Cornette, Colin Falls
Key players lost: Torrian Jones, Tom Timmermans
Newcomers of note: Dennis Lattimore, Bob Kurz
The addition of Lattimore, a transfer from Arizona, makes the Irish a top-15 team. He'll have a big-time impact up front. Lattimore, Thomas and Francis (if he can stay healthy) combine to give coach Mike Brey quite a talented trio. Thomas really stepped up his game late last season.
16. Pittsburgh Panthers
2003-04 record: 31-5 (13-3, 1st in Big East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Oklahoma State, Sweet 16, NCAA
Key players returning: Chris Taft, Chevon Troutman, Carl Krauser, Mark McCarroll, Antonio Graves
Key players lost: Julius Page, Jaron Brown, Toree Morris
Newcomers of note: Keith Benjamin, John DeGroat, Ronald Ramon
Coach Jamie Dixon's team will compete hard night in and night out, playing tenacious defense and enjoying good shot selection on offense. Taft will be one of the premier super sophs inside. Krauser remains the team leader in the backcourt.
17. Louisville Cardinals
2003-04 record: 20-10 (9-7, 6th in C-USA)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Xavier, 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Otis George, Larry O'Bannon, Ellis Myles
Key players lost: Alhaji Mohamed, Kendall Dartez, Luke Whitehead, Nate Daniels
Newcomers of note: Juan Diego Palacios, Lorenzo Wade, Terrance Farley, Brian Johnson
Coach Rick Pitino can only imagine what this squad would have been like if Sebastian Telfair and Donta Smith showed up on campus. Instead, they're in the NBA. But the Cardinals still have one of the premier teams in Conference USA (next season they'll be in the Big East).
18. Wisconsin Badgers
2003-04 record: 25-7 (12-4, 2nd in Big Ten)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Pittsburgh, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Boo Wade, Zach Morley, Mike Wilkinson, Alando Tucker
Key players lost: Devin Harris, Dave Mader, Freddie Owens
Newcomers of note: Brian Butch, Sharif Chambliss, Greg Stiemsma
This team would have been in the top 10 if Devin Harris had returned. Instead, he's in the NBA now, although coach Bo Ryan will still have a solid team. Adding Chambliss, the transfer from Penn State, and former McDonald's All-American Butch will help.
19. Alabama Crimson Tide
2003-04 record: 20-13 (8-8, tied for 2nd in SEC West)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Connecticut in Elite Eight, NCAA
Key players returning: Kennedy Winston, Earnest Shelton, Jermareo Davidson, Chuck Davis, Evan Brock
Key players lost: Antoine Pettway, Emmett Thomas
Newcomers of note: Albert Weber, Ron Steele, Glenn Miles
Unlike last season, coach Mark Gottfried's team won't be sneaking up on anyone. Winston is one of the premier players in the SEC, and the front line will be even better with the year's experience.
20. NC State Wolfpack
2003-04 record: 21-10 (11-5, 2nd in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Vanderbilt in 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Julius Hodge, Ilian Evtimov, Engin Atsur, Cameron Bennerman, Levi Watkins, Jordan Collins
Key players lost: Mike O'Connell (transferred to Central Florida), Marcus Melvin, Scooter Sherrill
Newcomers of note: Tony Bethel, Andrew Brackman, Cedric Simmons
Coach Herb Sendek had to be thrilled with Hodge's decision to return to school. The addition of Bethel, a transfer from Georgetown, will help. The ACC is loaded, but the Wolfpack will be heard from.
21. Cincinnati Bearcats
2003-04 record: 25-7 (12-4, tied for 1st in C-USA)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Illinois, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Jason Maxiell, James White, Nick Williams, Eric Hicks
Key players lost: Tony Bobbitt, Field Williams, Kareem Johnson
Newcomers of note: Vincent Banks, Roy Bright, Mike Pilgrim, Asrangue Souleymayne
Coach Bob Huggins off-court problems probably won't hurt this team. Maxiell will be a force up front and Nick Williams could become a bigger scoring factor. This will be another tough, physical Bearcats squad.
22. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2003-04 record: 26-4 (14-2, 1st in SEC West)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Xavier, 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Lawrence Roberts, Winsome Frazier, Shane Power, Gary Ervin
Key players lost: Timmy Bowers, Branden Vincent
Newcomers of note: Charles Rhodes, Walter Sharpe, Jerrell Houston
Coach Rick Stansbury had to be overjoyed when Lawrence Roberts withdrew from the NBA draft and opted to return to Starkville. With Roberts, the Bulldogs are a top-25 team. Big things should be expected from Ervin this season.
23. Memphis Tigers
2003-04 record: 22-8 (12-4, tied for 1st in C-USA)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Oklahoma State in 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Sean Banks, Rodney Carney, Duane Erwin, Anthony Rice, Jeremy Hunt, Arthur Barclay
Key players lost: Antonio Burks, Ivan Lopez
Newcomers of note: Darius Washington, Tank Beavers, Richard Dorsey, Kareem Cooper, Shawne Williams, Simplice Njoya
Coach John Calipari has lots of incoming talent to go with Banks and Co. Once again, Conference USA should be well-represented come NCAA Tournament time.
24. Florida Gators
2003-04 record: 20-11 (9-7, 2nd in SEC East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Manhattan, 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson, David Lee, Adrian Moss, Mohamed Abukar
Key players lost: Bonell Colas, Ryan Appleby (transferred to Washington)
Newcomers of note: Corey Brewer, Taureen Green, Al Horford, Joakim Noah
How much will the newcomers boost this program? Coach Billy Donovan has a triple threat in Walsh, Roberson and Lee, but last season's disappointment down the stretch must be forgotten quickly.
25. Washington Huskies
2003-04 record: 19-12 (12-6, 2nd in Pac-10)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to UAB in 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy, Bobby Jones, Mike Jensen
Key players lost: Curtis Allen
Newcomers of note: Jamaal Williams, Joel Smith
The return of Robinson, who withdrew from the NBA draft, is a big plus. And the addition of Williams, a transfer from New Mexico, will help up front. These guys are familiar with each other, and that will help coach Lorenzo Romar's team challenge for Pac-10 supremacy.
26. Michigan Wolverines
2003-04 record: 23-11 (8-8, tied for 5th in Big Ten)
2003-04 postseason result: Won NIT Championship (beat Rutgers in final)
Key players returning: Daniel Horton, Dion Harris, Courtney Sims, Lester Abram
Key players lost: Bernard Robinson Jr.
Newcomers of note: Ronald Coleman
Is this the breakthrough season for coach Tommy Amaker and Co.? They built momentum in winning the NIT, and the Wolverines figure to make the Big Dance this time around. Look for more big things from Horton.
27. Providence Friars
2003-04 record: 20-9 (11-5, tied for 3rd in Big East)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Pacific in 1st round, NCAA
Key players returning: Ryan Gomes, Donnie McGrath, Dwight Brewington, Tuukka Kotti
Key players lost: Marcus Douthit, Shieku Kabba, Rob Sanders
Newcomers of note: JaJuan Robinson, Charlie Burch, DeSean White, Randall Hanke, Rob McIver
The return of Gomes raises the Friars up several notches and into the top 30. The absence of Douthit is a factor, since he was such a defensive presence. Coach Tim Welsh may need help from his newcomers right away.
28. Stanford Cardinal
2003-04 record: 30-2 (17-1, 1st in Pac-10)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Alabama in 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Chris Hernandez, Rob Little, Nick Robinson, Dan Grunfeld, Matt Haryasz
Key players lost: Josh Childress, Matt Lottich, Justin Davis
Newcomers of note: Taj Finger, Peter Prowitt
Former coach Mike Montgomery is coaching the NBA's Warriors, Josh Childress is in the NBA, and the Cardinal will still be one of the top teams in the Pac-10, battling Washington and Arizona for supremacy. New coach Trent Johnson is a former Montgomery assistant who comes from Nevada (he led the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16 last year). Johnson is a solid coach, and this team cannot be taken lightly.
29. Gonzaga Bulldogs
2003-04 record: 28-3 (14-0, 1st in WCC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Nevada in 2nd round, NCAA
Key players returning: Ronny Turiaf, Erroll Knight, Adam Morrison, Sean Mallon
Key players lost: Blake Stepp, Kyle Bankhead, Cory Violette, Tony Skinner, Richard Fox
Newcomers of note: J.P. Batista, Josh Heytvelt, David Pendergraft, Nathan Doudney, Calun MacLeod, Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes
Coach Mark Few is reloading, and Turiaf will be a star up front once again. Morrison will be more of a threat with added playing time. Replacing Stepp won't be easy, though. Can Knight become a more consistent scoring threat? Few needs this team to stay healthy. Can Doudney, the Texas Tech transfer, help as a long-range shooter?
30. Florida State Seminoles
2003-04 record: 19-14 (6-10, tied for 7th in ACC)
2003-04 postseason result: Lost to Iowa State, 2nd round, NIT
Key players returning: Von Wafer, Alexander Johnson, Adam Waleskowski, Anthony Richardson, Todd Galloway
Key players lost: Tim Pickett, Nate Johnson, Michael Joiner
Newcomers of note: Diego Romero, Antonio Griffin, Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann
Coach Leonard Hamilton will have a tough team. The Seminoles will miss Pickett, but the addition of Romero up front and Rich and Swann in the backcourt will be a positive.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.