Dick Vitale: Preseason Top 40
I am so excited about the 2011-12 college hoop season. There are so many quality teams out there, and a lot of star players coming back to college. Think about Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones -- these guys will provide enthusiasm all across America.
Earlier this year I put out my summertime Top 40. But a lot has happened since then, with injuries and other influential factors. It is great to speculate on the best of the best, but the bottom line is, we will determine the crème de la crème on the hardwood.
Here is a look at my revised Top 40 for the upcoming campaign. I cannot wait to tip it off, baby!
DICK VITALE: PRESEASON TOP 40
1. North Carolina: With Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall back, Hall of Famer Roy Williams has the favorite entering the season. The injury to Leslie McDonald is a blow, but this team is still loaded.
2. Kentucky: John Calipari has Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb back, plus the top incoming class led by Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. The SEC will be tougher this season, but the Cats are still the team to beat.
3. Connecticut: The addition of Andre Drummond in the middle makes Jim Calhoun's squad a legitimate Final Four contender. Look for Jeremy Lamb to be one of the premier scorers in the Big East. Guys like Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith will also be heard from!
6. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings has a lot of veteran talent returning, including center Festus Ezeli, sharpshooter John Jenkins and athletic Jeffery Taylor. Experience will be a plus, and it is tough to win in Nashville.
7. Duke: Even without Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and No. 1 draft pick Kyrie Irving, the Blue Devils will be heard from, big time. The Plumlees, Seth Curry and diaper dandy Austin Rivers will shine for the Cameron Crazies. There is also consistency with this guy on the sideline named Coach K!8. Memphis: The Tigers have a young nucleus ready to dominate Conference USA. Look for big things from Joe Jackson and Will Barton. Newcomer Adonis Thomas will make a name for himself early on. 9. Louisville: I think this will be a big year for Rick Pitino. He has a lot of talent coming in with Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan leading the way. Then look at returning veterans Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra and there is reason for enthusiasm. 10. Florida: This will be a guard-dominated team including Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Newcomer Bradley Beal and transfer Mike Rosario will help Billy Donovan's club. Look for Patric Young to develop up front.
12. Baylor: Perry Jones III decided to come back to school and coach Scott Drew is glad he did. He also has a solid supporting cast.
13. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan gets the most out of his talent and Jordan Taylor is one of the premier guards in America. Taylor will be ready after off-season knee surgery. It is tough to beat the Big Red in Madison.14. Xavier: Tu Holloway is back as coach Chris Mack has his top three scorers returning from last year's squad. Derrick Williams or Lamont Jones back, but Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill can get the Wildcats going. The coach will work his magic and have a team to watch out West.
18. Marquette: Darius Johnson-Odom deserves a lot more ink, and Buzz Williams has a very tough team.
19. Texas A&M: New coach Billy Kennedy takes over for Mark Turgeon and he has Khris Middleton up front.20. Michigan: John Beilein's team surprised some people last season but it will have higher expectations this time around, led by Tim Hardaway Jr.
21. Cincinnati: Yancy Gates will be a major factor up front as the Bearcats will make lots of noise.22. Missouri: Frank Haith's team suffered a blow when starting forward Laurence Bowers was lost for the season. He still has veterans to keep an eye on in Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe. 23. Butler: Brad Stevens lost Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack but he will weave his mid-major magic. Look for Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith to step up. 24. Gonzaga: Mark Few has a good one in Elias Harris. David Stockton will be more of a factor. Look for the Zags to return to the big dance for a 14th straight season. Ben Hansbrough is gone but the Irish have Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin back. Mike Brey will have a tough team in South Bend. 27. Illinois: Yes there is some pressure on coach Bruce Weber, but his Illini will respond. Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson will see their roles expanded even further. 28. UCLA: Ben Howland has the Wear twins coming in and that will help the Bruins. 29. West Virginia: Huggy Bear, Bob Huggins, has Kevin Jones returning and his team will always fight, claw and scrap.
30. Michigan State: Tom Izzo's team will rebound after a rough 2010-11 campaign. The loss of veteran Delvin Roe will hurt, but Keith Appling will be a big-time performer.31. Mississippi State: If Renardo Sidney can live up to expectations, watch out. Dee Bost is also back and Rick Stansbury's club could be dangerous.
32. Villanova: Maalik Wayns should lead the Cats to a positive season for Jay Wright's squad.33. Florida State: I like the young talent to mesh down in Tallahassee. This may surprise a few people in ACC country. Ian Miller has big-time potential. 34. New Mexico: Kendall Williams was an unsung diaper dandy last season; he will get more ink this time. Steve Alford has a legit contender in the Mountain West. 35. Texas: Rick Barnes lost three players to the first round of the NBA draft (Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton), but the Longhorns will remain solid. Remember the name Myck Kabongo!
36. VCU: Can Shaka Smart pull off more magic after a Final Four appearance last season? He knows how to utilize his team's strengths and should enjoy another big year.37. Purdue: JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are gone but Matt Painter is encouraged by the return of Robbie Hummel.
38. Washington: The Huskies lost their top three scorers but Lorenzo Romar has a lot of young talent ready to please fans out west.
39. Wichita State: Last season, Gregg Marshall's club won the NIT; he has bigger things in mind this season.40. Virginia: Mike Scott's return could pay big dividends for Tony Bennett as the battle for third in the ACC behind North Carolina and Duke should be wide open.