2009-2010 Never Too Early to Poll It In.

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Because I like having my summers off, I try to avoid summer blogging, but I saw that The Big Lead was unhappy with Dick Vitale’s most recent poll, where he had Duke ranked No 5. I wondered, is Dickie V that far off? Can Duke really be the 5th best team? Maybe TBL is the one off, they have Carolina at No 2?

After a lot of soul searching, I figured I’ll take a stab at my own meaningless August college basketball top-20 +1 rankings. I couldn’t do any worse than those folks.

#1 KANSAS – Bringing back Collins and Aldrich was enough of a reason to put the Jayhawks in the No 1 spot, but add in former Memphis recruit, Xavier Henry, and the rich just got a lot richer (it’s the American way, folks).  If these guys don’t crack the Final Four, something is wrong with America. By the way, speaking of Xavier Henry, am I the only one who feels bad for Memphis? Seriously, has any team gone from such a high (another undefeated conference result, another Elite-eight appearance), plus one of the top recruiting classes of all time coming in…and just like that, all gone?

#2 MICHIGAN STATE – They lose only two players worth noting, Sutton and Walton, but bring back Lucas, Roe, Summers and Raymar. They will play in an improved Big 10 (dare I say “best conference?” No, I won’t, but close), which should keep them focused. Plus, they still have one of the best tournament coaches in the land.

#3 VILLANOVA – I feel like people are not appreciating what the Cats did last year. They lose their size in Cunningham, but they bring back the best back court in Reynolds and the two Corey’s. The big question marks will be, can incoming freshman Yarou, step in and fill the void in the paint and how will the suspension of Redding effect Nova out of the gate?

#4 KENTUCKY – So much talent, so little time. No team has more pure talent than the Wildcats. No team has more future NBA players. Outside of Derrick Favors, Calipari landed the two best incoming freshman, Wall and Cousins. Throw them in the mix with Patterson, Orton, Bledsoe and Hood and it starts to get scary. They should have no problem breezing through the SEC, but…and there’s always a but, I’m a firm believer in upperclassmen equals championships. The main contributors on this team have none, zero, nada post-season experience. Hell, junior Patterson has never even tasted the NCAA Tournament.

#5 PURDUE – They got a solid and experienced three-headed monster in Johnson, Hummel and Moore. In fact, all five starters have played together for two straight years. In fact, six players averaged over 27 minutes last year and all seven are back. Experience, baby. That’s what this thing called college basketball is all about.

#6 NORTH CAROLINA – How many teams can lose a Hansbrough, Ellington and a Lawson and still be ranked this high? Don’t get me wrong, they’re going to hit some bumps along the way, including some great early season match ups against Michigan State (Dec. 1), Kentucky (Dec. 5), Texas (Dec. 19) and maybe a game against Cal in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic. That’s a beautiful December. The good news is, Carolina is stacked up front with Davis, Thompson, Zeller and stud freshman, Henson. Personally, I wouldn’t expect to much from the Wear brothers this season. In the end though, a repeat will be out of the question because of the point guard position (trust me, I’m a Devils fan. I know). Can anyone really see Drew II leading this team to the title this year?

#7 TEXAS – Just look at the returning stars; James, Mason, Johnson (sounds like the Founding Fathers) and the human hamburger, Dexter Pittman. Obviously, Pittman isn’t the star, but he’s the key. He needs to stay thin (under 300) and stay on the court for more than 20 minutes a game (which would be a first). However, when it’s all said in done, the man who can deliver a Final Four to Texas could be freshman, Jordan Hamilton. You might have missed him. He’s from the west coast and we all know nothing happens west of the Mississippi. The man is an offensive beast. Let’s just say, if basketball was pornography, our man Hamilton would be Ron Jeremy (please God, let that become his nickname).

#8 DUKE – Yep, they crack the top ten, but they can personally thank the arrival of Andre Dawkins for that. Without him, I’d drop Duke to at least No 15. The Devils are going to look a lot different this year, a lot bigger. First though, look for Duke to go 10-deep, with eight players standing 6’5 or better (hell, seven are 6’7 or better). The good news is, the Plumlee brothers are going to be good, which will allow both Thomas and Singler to finally move to their nature positions (PF & SF). While I’m excited about Dawkins and I certainly think Scheyer will do a fine job at the point (fine enough to win 30 games again), I can’t see Duke getting to the Final Four without a REAL point guard, one that can breakdown a D. Sorry folks, but…Not going to happen.

#9 BUTLER – Let me just be honest…I don’t think they’re a Final Four team. Maybe I’m bias, maybe I’ve just been burned too much by Gonzaga, but for me to put a Mid-Major in the Fina Four, they really have to knock me on my ass. Butler doesn’t do that, but they do impress me. They return everyone from a 26-win team, plus they got Gordon Hayword (the mid-majors version of Kyle Singler), who knows how to get it done when it’s all on the line.

#10 TENNESSEE – Celebration, good times, come on! That’s exactly what UT fans were singing when word came back that Tyler Smith would be back for his senior season. It was a smart move and it keeps the Volunteers in my top-10 (and let’s be honest, that’s all that really matters, right?). With Smith, Prince and Woolridge, UT has three 6’7 guys who can all hit from a distance. Bobby Maze should be solid at the point, but someone, anyone (Williams, Negedu…you guys listening?) needs to be a inside presence (i.e. compete with Patrick Patterson in the SEC).

#11 CAL – Who’s got the best back court in college basketball? You don’t know? Neither do I, but the Bearcats have a good one. Christopher and Randolph can take this team deep, they’re just that good. Yet, ironically, the X-factor on this team is Jamal Boykin. Remember him? You should, he’s a former Dukie. He was part of that awful 2005 class. The same class that was ranked No 2 in recruiting. The same class that produced ZERO starters last year (for what should have been their senior seasons). That’s right, the 2005 class of Martynas Pocius (injured/bust), Eric Boatend (transfer), Jamal Boykin (transfer), Josh McRoberts (left after two seasons) and Greg Paulus (benched senior year, now starting QB at Syracuse) are to blame for all of Duke’s recent woes. Anyhow, Boykin contributed 23 minutes last year for Coach Montgomery, scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds. If he can up that to 15/9, watch out PAC 10.

#12 WASHINGTON – Forget a back court duo, how about a back court trio? Thomas, Pondexter and incoming freshman, Abdui Gaddy, will be fun to watch this season (yeah I know, Pondexter is technically a forward. Cut me some slack).

#13 MICHIGAN – Nation, meet Coach John Belien’s 1-3-1 defense. John Belien’s 1-3-1 defense, meet the nation. Duke got a personal meet-and-greet last year and we know how that turned out.

#14 WEST VIRGINIA – Last year, I picked them to go to the Final Four. I was off…by a lot. What can I say, I have a thing for Devon Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler.

#15 GEORGIA TECH – Say what? I just love their incoming recruiting class. It’s just that good. In a less-than-stellar ACC, the Yellow Jackets will have time to grow and as long as the game plan is, ‘get the ball to Derrick Favors’, Tech will surprise some people this season.

#16 CONNECTICUT – Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson are going to be a solid pair, but Huskie fans will be asking a lot from Oranaki to replace both Thabeet and Adrien.

#17 LOUISVILLE – The Cardinals will again be very deep, but when was the last time a team made it to the Final Four the year after the married head coach, banged a mother of four in a restaurant bathroom, knocked her up, paid for the abortion, then was blackmailed after the fact? You get back to me on that one.

#18 MISSISSIPPI STATE – Two words for you…Renardo. Sidney. Stud Renardo Sidney. Potential All-SEC Renardo Sidney. Potential All-SEC Renardo Sidney has lots of baggage. Wait, that’s nine words. Speaking of nine, did I fail to mention the Bulldogs return their nine leading scorers? How many teams can say that?

#19 SYRACUSE – Thanks to the return of All-everything point guard Johnny Flynn, the Orange have their best shot at cracking the Final Four since a young freshman named…oh wait, Flynn is a pro now, playing in Minnesota. Never mind.

#20 GONZAGA – Another year, another season with the Bulldogs ranked in the top-20, another year where they won’t reach the Final Four.

#21 FLORIDA STATE – Maybe it’s a homer pick, putting in another ACC team over the likes of Ohio State, Florida and Illinois, but their size scares me (as does Alabi) and it should scare all those in the ACC who travel down to the sunshine state.

JUST MISSED THE CUT:
Ohio State, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Georgetown, Oklahoma State.