Final Four Top 25


SAN ANTONIO -- This isn't ESPN.com's preseason Top 25. It isn't even a pre-preseason, spring, summer or whatever else you want to call a Top-25 list in the days, weeks and months following the national championship game.

Too much can and will happen before next season's squads are set and a clear picture of who'll cut down the nets in St. Louis comes into focus. But, hey, folks love to speculate, and we're happy to oblige.

But, first, a few disclaimers. The NBA draft certainly will affect more than a few teams on this list -- not to mention a few who aren't among the 25 teams below. We must find out who's coming (see: Shaun Livingston, Marvin Williams, Sebastian Telfair ...) and who's going (see: Josh Childress, Ben Gordon, Devin Harris ...). Transfers, injuries and, to be honest, new perspective come October will certainly change things up over the next six months.

But for now, here are the top 25 teams heading into next season.

11. Alabama: The Tide has Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton back for more, making the Elite Eight-reaching Tide the favorite in the SEC.

12. Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs return Lawrence Roberts, they might be even higher in the next poll. But, with or without the SEC player of the year, the core is back for the Bulldogs to be on Alabama's heels.

13. Stanford: We're not sure what Josh Childress is going to do. But Justin Davis, Matt Lottich and Joe Kirchofer are done. Chris Hernandez, Rob Little and Matt Haryasz still are enough to make the Cardinal the pick in a Pac-10 that needs a bounce-back season.

14. N.C. State: The question is whether Julius Hodge will be back next season. If the ACC player of the year decides to return, the Wolfpack aren't going to skip out of the preseason Top 25.

15. Notre Dame: Point guard Chris Thomas already committed to returning for a senior season, and the Irish add Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore in the paint to bookend with returning Torin Francis. These three mean the Irish will, at least, be back in the NCAA Tournament in '05.

16. Louisville: No one expects Sebastian Telfair to be in a Louisville uniform next season, but if he does come to the commonwealth, combined with Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean, the Cardinals will be in the top 20. Even if Telfair bolts, the Cardinals are still the best C-USA has to offer to start the season.

17. Cincinnati: The Bearcats have the core of their inside game returning and are still a tough matchup when their defense is clicking. The mistake would be pushing the Bearcats out of any early top 20 list, based on this past season's preseason oversight.

18. Memphis: Think C-USA won't be a little competitive, again? The Tigers were young this season and Rodney Carney should be ready for a big-time star season along with ESPN.com freshman of the year Sean Banks. Now add point Darius Washington and the Tigers are one of the toughest outs in C-USA.

19. Oklahoma State: Losing Big 12 player of the year Tony Allen won't be easy to digest. But the rest of the Final Four team returns, which means the Cowboys could climb higher in the coming months' polls. If John Lucas can duplicate this season, and another wing emerges, the Cowboys could be in the top 10.

20. Arizona: The Wildcats are once again one of the toughest teams to figure out. We're not sure if Andre Iguodala is returning or not next season. If he does, Arizona should be somewhere in the top 15. But the 'Cats underachieved so much, it's hard to know what to expect from next season's group.

21. Texas: Sure the Longhorns lost four seniors, but the recruiting class of Daniel Gipson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Mike Williams should immediately make this program a Big 12 contender again.

22. Saint Joseph's: The Hawks still have Delonte West, assuming he doesn't join Jameer Nelson in the NBA. Pat Carroll is back, as is Chet Stachitas on the wing. The inside game of John Bryant and Duane Jones should be even better.

23. Kentucky: It's hard to have a top 25 without the Wildcats. They lose a lot, but Chuck Hayes returns as does Kelenna Azubuike, and that's usually enough to get the Wildcats into the Top 25.

24. Washington: The Huskies didn't have a big-time senior on this season's squad. If the Huskies can play as well as they did in the Pac-10 to start next season, they should be a Top-25 team from October to March.

25. Nevada: If Kirk Snyder chooses to stay instead of picking the NBA, the Wolf Pack should be the team to beat in the WAC as well as a Top-25 team. The Wolf Pack still has the frontcourt back of Kevin Pinkney and Nick Fazekas. Finding another point is the only issue.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.