Repeat performances expected from Final Four teams

Originally Published: April 4, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Florida is the pre-preseason No. 1. No question about it. The Gators are the favorite to win the 2008 national title.

Just look at the roster. The Gators have a senior class of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green. They just have to find the perfect 3-point shooter to replace Lee Humphrey and complement this group. The decision could be to go with a different, two-playmaker look and use Walter Hodge at the point and slide Green to shooting guard.

There's a good chance that Marreese Speights can fill Chris Richard's sixth-man role and pick up the necessary layups and dunks off the Horford double-teams.

The addition of Nick Calathes should add some scoring off the bench. And who knows? Top recruits Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas could be on their way to Florida, too. Any reason the Gators aren't the favorite for a third straight title?

OK, it's time for a wake-up call. If we lived in a world where players didn't leave college early when they are projected first-round picks, Florida fans could start booking their trips to San Antonio. Alas, that isn't the case. The reality is that Horford, Noah, Brewer and possibly Green will all be in the NBA next season. And, if that's the case, with the departure of seniors Humphrey and Richard, the Gators could be back to where they were prior to this remarkable two-year run: outside the top 25. That doesn't mean they won't be in the NCAA Tournament. But it's hard to project the Gators in the top 25 with the expectation that the core of the team is leaving. So, for these purposes, based on what we think will occur (a dangerous proposition in itself), we have to leave the Gators off this list. Of course, if the Gator "04s" decide to return, they'll shoot to the top of the list. As always, we have the right to revisit this list multiple times (and we will).

On with our projections, culled from the non-analysts in our group:

1. Kansas
Kansas 2006-07 Record: 33-5, 14-2
Why: The assumption is that the Jayhawks will take the mildest roster hit of any of the returning contenders. The top eight are on target to return with possibly no early-entry defections. If that's the case, the team that was within a whisker of the Final Four could be the favorite to trim the nets in San Antonio in 2008.

2. UCLA
UCLA 2006-07 Record: 30-6, 15-3
Why: If Arron Afflalo stays, and Kevin Love comes in to give the Bruins the necessary balance in the post, they've solved their offensive issues. The Bruins could easily be the team to beat out West and a serious threat to get back to their third straight Final Four.

3. North Carolina
UNC 2006-07 Record: 31-7, 11-5
Why: The Tar Heels had the most talent from 1 to 12 this season. It was almost enough to get to the Final Four. Coach Roy Williams says he may not lose more than one player to the draft. Who knows? He may lose none. Brandan Wright is the most likely to depart, but if he stays and Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson do too, there is a good shot the Tar Heels will be even better next season.

4. Memphis
Memphis 2006-07 Record: 33-4, 16-0
Why: There's a reason John Calipari isn't running to another gig. He's got a squad that can compete for the national title. The addition of Derrick Rose, the top point guard in the class of 2007, gives the Tigers another viable scoring option and a playmaker who fits their hectic style. Chris Douglas-Roberts could bolt, but he may want to be back with this crew.

5. Ohio State
Ohio State 2006-07 Record: 35-4, 15-1
Why: Look, if Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. return it would be hard not to put the Buckeyes at No. 1. They would have the best player in the game (Oden) and the top point guard (Conley), as well as all the other pieces and the addition of another solid recruiting class, led by big man Kosta Koufos. The possibility that Oden will leave knocks Ohio State down a few pegs.

6. USC
USC 2006-07 Record: 25-12, 11-7
Why: Once again, there is a major dilemma here. If Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Taj Gibson return, the Trojans will be pushing the Bruins every step of the way in the Pac-10. They're adding quite a turbulent talent in O.J. Mayo. Tim Floyd is one of the top coaches in the country.

7. Georgetown
Georgetown 2006-07 Record: 30-7, 13-3
Why: Jeff Green may leave, and if that happens, the Hoyas lose their core. But if Green comes back, to go along with the ever-developing Roy Hibbert, emerging stars Jonathan Wallace and DaJuan Summers, and shooting guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, the Hoyas should be right at the top of the Big East.

8. Washington State
Washington State 2006-07 Record: 26-8, 13-5
Why: Washington State loses only Ivory Clark. Coach Tony Bennett stayed. What's not to love about Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill, two consummate system players. This team won't lose many games. Basketball rules in Eastern Washington.

9. Louisville
Louisville 2006-07 Record: 24-10, 12-4
Why: Rick Pitino did one of his finest coaching jobs this season. The Cards were a sniff away from the Sweet 16 and had the potential to go even farther if they had gotten past A&M. With the core of this team back, there's no reason to think Louisville can't challenge G'town in the Big East.

10. Tennessee
Tennessee 2006-07 Record: 24-11, 10-6
Why: Chris Lofton. He's not expected to leave. If he stays, the Vols have a lethal shooting weapon and a style of play that causes problems for opponents. Ohio State wasn't the only team that was down in double figures against Tennessee. The problem is the Vols still can let teams climb back in, making them the most vulnerable of the top 10 teams.

11. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech 2006-07 Record: 20-12, 8-8
Why: If Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton decide to return, Paul Hewitt has the crew to challenge for the top spot in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets were supposed to be that good this season, but the maturation process took a bit longer. It shouldn't next season.

12. Indiana
Indiana 2006-07 Record: 21-11, 10-6
Why: If D.J. White wants to come back to play with Eric Gordon, the Hoosiers could shoot even higher. Gordon has the ability to make an impact as a freshman and carry this squad quite a way next season, but he needs some balance inside. He can't do it alone. Think about that, D.J.

13. Michigan State
Michigan State 2006-07 Record: 23-12, 8-8
Why: Drew Neitzel isn't expected to leave. With Neitzel, a strong supporting cast and a haul of perimeter players coming in (Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers), Tom Izzo expects the Spartans to be ready to make a run.

14. Marquette
Marquette 2006-07 Record: 24-10, 10-6
Why: The Golden Eagles floundered in the postseason. And the issue of scoring inside still isn't solved. But the Eagles should return the three guards who make this team jet in Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews.

15. Gonzaga
Gonzaga 2006-07 Record: 23-11, 11-3
Why: Mark Few expects Josh Heytvelt to return to the team after pleading not guilty to a felony drug possession charge. Add him to a lineup with Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo, along with the Zags' outstanding recruiting class (led by Austin Daye) and GU is going to be right back in the top-20 mix.

16. Kansas State
Kansas State 2006-07 Record: 33-12, 10-6
Why: Cartier Martin and Lance Harris are gone, but Bob Huggins (assuming he doesn't take the job at West Virginia) brings in one of the best recruiting classes they've ever had in Manhattan. Michael Beasley has the ability to carry this squad in the Big 12. He's not Kevin Durant, but he could be a difference maker.

17. Arizona
Arizona 2006-07 Record: 20-11, 11-7
Why: The likely loss of Marcus Williams might not be such a bad thing. There is a chance this team will be tougher with a core of Chase Budinger, Jawann McClellan and incoming freshman Jerryd Bayless. If the Wildcats can find out how to play some defense, there is a good shot they'll be in the mix.

18. Oregon
Oregon 2006-07 Record: 29-8, 11-7
Why: Losing Aaron Brooks isn't something to take lightly, but the Ducks do have enough to remain in the top 20. Brooks was the leader of this crew and allowed Tajuan Porter to get plenty of looks. But Porter can handle the headline role with the likely return of a healthy Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen as a face-first forward.

19. Texas
Texas 2006-07 Record: 25-10, 12-4
Why: If Kevin Durant were to decide to return, which he says is a possibility, it's not a reach to put the Longhorns in the top five. But without him it's hard to imagine they'll be in the top 10. They'll still be very good, with guards D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams leading the way.

20. Pitt
Pitt 2006-07 Record: 29-8, 12-4
Why: The Panthers are losing their big man in Aaron Gray and his sidekick Levon Kendall, but when is the last time the Panthers really slid under Jamie Dixon? How about never. The Panthers will still be in the thick of the Big East race and a top-20 team throughout the season with the core of their guards returning and incoming freshman center DeJuan Blair to fill the role.

21. Texas A&M
Texas A&M 2006-07 Record: 27-7, 13-3
Why: It's hard to think of the Aggies without Acie Law IV and the ultimate glue guy in Antanas Kavaliauskas. But Joseph Jones should return inside, Josh Carter, Dominique Kirk and Donald Sloan are back on the perimeter and the Aggies added one of the top forwards in the class in DeAndre Jordan. Oh, and Billy Gillispie decided to stay and coach. That's enough for us.

22. Syracuse
Syracuse 2006-07 Record: 24-11, 10-6
Why: The Orange lost their top scorer in Demetris Nichols, but Paul Harris is too good not to emerge as a legit threat as a sophomore once he's more comfortable under Jim Boeheim. The addition of one of the top recruiting classes in the country makes it seem like the Orange can't slide too far. Donte Greene and Johnny Flynn should have an immediate impact for SU.

23. Duke
Duke 2006-07 Record: 22-11, 8-8
Why: It probably looks jarring to see Duke this low. But there was a consensus brewing to leave the Blue Devils off the list entirely once Josh McRoberts bolted. Still, incoming recruits Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are too good not to help Duke stay near the top of the ACC. Add those two to Jon Scheyer and the Blue Devils will still score and defend, although they will still need to find a consistent scorer.

24. Mississippi State
Mississippi State 2006-07 Record: 21-14, 8-8
Why: The NIT isn't always the jumping-off point (see: South Carolina) for SEC teams. But the Bulldogs do bring back six of their top seven players from a team that got hot late in the season. Jamont Gordon could be a star in the league this season.

25. Stanford
Stanford 2006-07 Record: 18-13, 10-8
Why: The Cardinal looked awful in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Louisville. But they still have two of the most imposing big men in Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez and a perimeter that has the scoring ability to match any team in the Pac-10 on a given night. The question will be whether the point can handle pressure.

Teams we'll regret not having, but reserve the right to toss in here after we know all the early-entry fallout: Davidson, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Washington, NC State, Miami, Providence, Virginia, Maryland, VCU, Alabama, Butler, BYU, Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, Connecticut, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com