Posted: 1:39 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, 2013
By Bill C.
No. 1 Kentucky (This season: 21-12, lost in first round of NIT): Not even injuries can prevent John Calipari's latest recruiting class from leading Kentucky back to the NCAA tournament after Nerlens Noel's season-ending ACL tear derailed and eventually cost the Wildcats a shot at the NCAAs this season. Returnees Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer will be meshed with one of the best freshmen classes ever. The Sensational Six — Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and James Young — give Calipari undoubtedly the country's best talent. The team's chemistry will be the crucial ingredient to a winning recipe. UK loses Julius Mays to graduation, Archie Goodwin to the NBA and likely Noel to the NBA. [...]
No. 6 Florida (29-8, lost in Elite Eight): The Gators lose their top three scorers — Erik Murphy (12.2 ppg), Kenny Boynton (12 ppg), and Mike Rosario (12.5 ppg) to graduation. But big man Patric Young (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) announcing his return is a big bonus. Other integral returnees include Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. Billy Donovan welcomes two top-10 freshmen, forward Chris Walker and guard Kasey Hill, to Gainesville with hopes to fill the void of his three standout seniors and perhaps spearhead a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance.
Ole Miss and Tennessee received "Others receiving strong consideration" status. Meanwhile, CBS' own Top 25 has Kentucky No. 1, Florida No. 6, and Tennessee No. 18, and ESPN has Kentucky No. 1, Florida No. 7, Tennessee No. 17, Alabama No. 23, and Missouri on the "Fifteen others to watch" list.
1. As strange as it is to see an NIT team ranked No. 1 next season, it's not that hard to agree with the notion. Honestly, I might stick Louisville in the top spot, and I might consider Arizona, honestly (despite the fact that they let me, and my bracket, down by not holding on against Ohio State), but Kentucky's talent next year really will be absurd. Meanwhile, with what Florida loses, I'd be more comfortable with them around No. 12-15, but conventional wisdom seems to have solidified pretty quickly around No. 6-7. (And for that matter, I'm not really convinced Tennessee is ready to be a Top 20 team. But we'll see.)
2. Mizzou is mostly on the outside, looking in. This makes sense, especially considering we don't know Phil Pressey's stay-or-go decision yet. (We will soon.) Next year's team will have quite a bit of upside (especially if Pressey returns) with players like Jabari Brown, Johnathan Williams III and (never lose hope, dammit!) Stefan Jankovic, but losing proven performers like Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi, and to a lesser extent, Keion Bell, hurts. There's no doubting that.
3. As mentioned a few weeks ago, the SEC looks quite a bit deeper in 2013-14. Kentucky has reloaded and probably won't misfire again. Florida is still talented. Tennessee and Alabama both return a boatload of talent. Ole Miss still has Marshall Henderson. LSU returns almost everybody. Vandy should be better. The bottom of the league will probably still be awful, but the middle could improve dramatically. It will be interesting to see where Mizzou falls in this new SEC.