Preseason NCAA Basketball Rankings 2014-15: B/R Experts' Updated Top 25 Poll

Jason KingSenior Writer, B/R MagAugust 13, 2014

Preseason NCAA Basketball Rankings 2014-15: B/R Experts' Updated Top 25 Poll

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    Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to turn pro, the dismissal of three Oregon players and the addition of key transfers and late signees at a handful of schools has caused a few changes in the Bleacher Report Preseason Top 25.

    This ranking will be updated once more before the season tips off in November, but as of now here's how things look heading into the 2014-15 campaign.

25-21. San Diego State-Harvard

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    Also considered: Memphis, LSU, Baylor, Syracuse, Utah, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Colorado

    25. San Diego State: The Aztecs lost their leading scorer (Xavier Thames) and rebounder (Josh Davis). But they’ll compete for the Mountain West title thanks to the return of Winston Shepard, Dwayne Polee II and JJ O'Brien.

    24. Michigan State: Losing Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling is a major blow for the Spartans. But Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are battle-tested veterans, and Tom Izzo is one of the nation’s top coaches.

    23. Connecticut: The defending national champions will continue to be a factor thanks to the return of guard Ryan Boatright and the addition of North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis, even with one-man show Shabazz Napier in the NBA.

    22. VCU: The Rams return leading scorer Treveon Graham and defensive standout Briante Weber. Shaka Smart’s teams will always be a threat because of their unorthodox style of play.

    21. Harvard: Tommy Amaker is building the Gonzaga of the Ivy League. He's recruiting talent on a major-conference level, and this team returns its three leading scorers in Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi.

20-16. Iowa-SMU

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    20. Iowa: Led by Aaron White, the Hawkeyes return the nucleus of a squad that made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

    19. Michigan: Losing Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas is a massive blow, but the emergence of future NBA guard Caris LeVert should certainly make John Beilein feel a little better.

    18. Kansas State: People are sleeping on Bruce Weber’s squad. The Wildcats are going to be good. K-State returns the core of a team that beat Kansas last season and made the NCAA tournament. And the Wildcats have added some nice pieces.

    17. Nebraska: What happened last season wasn't a fluke. The Cornhuskers enjoy one of the Big Ten's top home-court advantages. It also doesn't hurt to have a player like All-American candidate Terran Petteway.

    16. SMU: Even without Emmanuel Mudiay, the Mustangs will be scary. Guards Nic Moore and Keith Frazier will team with Xavier transfer Justin Martin to form one of the nation’s top backcourts. And Markus Kennedy should be a force down low.

15-11. Oklahoma-Texas

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    15. Oklahoma: Buddy Hield and Ryan Spangler will form one of the Big 12’s best inside-out duos. The key to big-time success, however, depends on whether the NCAA grants Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas a waiver that would enable him to play immediately.

    14. Gonzaga: Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer joins a talented list of returnees that includes Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Przemek Karnowski. 

    13. Iowa State: Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane will be tough to replace, but forward Georges Niang will contend for All-American honors. Also, don't ever count out Fred Hoiberg and Hilton Magic.

    12. Villanova: With four starters returning, the Wildcats will be the heavy favorites to win the Big East for the second straight year.

    11. Texas: The Longhorns added high-profile recruit Myles Turner to a squad that returns Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley.

10. Louisville

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    The decision by forward Montrezl Harrell to return to school rather than enter the NBA draft should provide a huge spark for Louisville in its first year in the ACC. Harrell will be regarded as one of the top post players in the country.

    The loss of standout guard Russ Smith will hurt. But Rick Pitino is high on sophomore Terry Rozier, who will start alongside Chris Jones in the backcourt.

    The Cardinals will have their hands full in a conference that includes North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia, but as long as Pitino is on the sideline, Louisville will be a factor.

9. Virginia

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    Last season, the Cavaliers won the outright ACC regular-season title for the first time in 33 years.

    Tony Bennett’s squad will challenge for the crown again thanks to the return of three of four leading scorers, including Malcolm Brogdon, who averaged a team-high 12.7 points.

    Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, should be one of the nation's top defensive teams once again—especially with defensive standouts Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson moving into the starting lineup.

    The biggest task will be replacing the outside shooting of graduated senior Joe Harris.

8. Wichita State

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    The Shockers won't enter the NCAA tournament with a 34-0 record again, especially considering they've upgraded their schedule. Still, this is an extremely dangerous squad that will be more than capable of advancing to the Final Four in March.

    Wichita State may have two of the top 10 guards in the country in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. And Tekele Cotton is one of America's best perimeter defenders.

    The key will be replacing NBA draft pick Cleanthony Early on the wing, especially offensively. Look for Baker to take on more of a scoring role.

    The staff is extremely excited about the progress of forward Darius Carter, who could give Wichita State an offensive touch in the paint that it didn't have last season.

7. Florida

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    Rare are the times when a team loses four senior starters and still ends up in the preseason Top 10 the following year. But that's the case with Florida, which has been to either the Elite Eight or Final Four the past four seasons.

    Shooting standout Michael Frazier II returns along with versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith, Bleacher Report's national Sixth Man of the Year in 2013-14.

    The biggest buzz, however, centers around high-profile sophomore Chris Walker, who played sparingly last season but should replace Patric Young as the Gators' defensive anchor in 2014-15.

    The loss of SEC Most Valuable Player Scottie Wilbekin will hurt, but rising sophomore Kasey Hill had a chance to learn in his shadow and is ready to blossom as Florida’s starting point guard.

6. Duke

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    Not many teams in the nation are as talented as the Blue Devils, though a lot of that talent is young.

    Consensus No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor and potential starting point guard Tyus Jones are both freshmen, as is small forward Justise Winslow.

    If the trio develops an on-court cohesion with returnees such as Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook, Duke will be capable of winning the national title.

    With Mike Krzyzewski on the sideline, it's difficult to think that this team won't eventually jell. But will it happen from day one, or will Duke be like last season’s Kentucky squad, which didn't truly "click" until March?

5. North Carolina

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    The Tar Heels lost just one key player (James Michael McAdoo) from a squad that won 12 of its final 13 regular-season games last season.

    They tout a first-team All-American candidate in guard Marcus Paige (17.5 points, 4.2 assists), a veteran wing in junior J.P. Tokoto and a pair of forwards (Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson), who should make huge strides.

    Mix in highly touted freshmen Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, and it's easy to see why Tar Heels fans have high hopes for this year's squad.

4. Arizona

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    The Wildcats lost their two best players in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. But don't be fooled: This could still be one of Sean Miller's best teams. 

    Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley will combine to form one of the nation’s top frontcourts. Underrated point guard T.J. McConnell returns on the perimeter along with Gabe York.

    Look for incoming freshman Stanley Johnson, a likely one-and-doner, to step into a starting role immediately for a team that will be the heavy favorite to win a second straight Pac-12 title before contending for an NCAA championship.

3. Kansas

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    The Jayhawks lost the No. 1 and No. 3 overall draft picks (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid) along with their starting point guard (Naadir Tharpe). And they could actually be better.

    Forward Perry Ellis (13.5 points, 6.7 rebounds) and wing Wayne Selden (9.7 points) both return along with rotation players Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor. Creating even more offseason buzz, however, is the arrival of four newcomers who could play huge factors in Kansas' success.

    Power forward Cliff Alexander and wing Kelly Oubre are both projected as lottery picks in next summer's NBA draft. Point guard Devonte' Graham will compete with Mason for starting point guard duties. And Ukrainian forward Svi Mykhailiuk has been tabbed as the best foreign-born player since Ricky Rubio.

    If KU's newcomers adapt, the Jayhawks should win their 11th straight Big 12 title and compete for a berth in the Final Four.

2. Wisconsin

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    The Badgers appeared to be headed to the national title game until Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison ruined their dream with a late three-pointer in the NCAA semifinal. The loss will provide plenty of motivation for a squad that returns all but one key piece (guard Ben Brust).

    Center Frank Kaminsky had blossomed into one of the country's top post players by the end of last season. He'll headline an imposing frontcourt that will also include a noticeably improved Nigel Hayes along with future first-round NBA draft pick Sam Dekker, who has grown two inches and now stands at 6'9".

    Guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser return in the backcourt along with emerging sophomore Bronson Koenig, who played a key role off the bench a year ago.

1. Kentucky

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    Even though it came against inferior competition, the Wildcats' performance in the Bahamas this week justified the hype that will hover over John Calipari’s squad entering the season.

    Calipari thrilled Big Blue Nation by convincing Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins to return for another season.

    Mix in returning starter Dakari Johnson and sixth-man Alex Poythress, and this is a veteran group more equipped to handle the pressure and spotlight that caused the Wildcats to struggle with consistency throughout much of last season.

    Kentucky's best players may actually be its newcomers.

    Karl Towns and Trey Lyles will be significant factors in the nation's deepest frontcourt. Devin Booker is vying for a starting spot on the wing, and point guard Tyler Ulis will see significant minutes. 

    If the new pieces mesh with the old ones, Kentucky will be the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis in April.