North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky lead SI's preseason top 20 poll

Blue-chip programs North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky top SI's preseason top 20 poll.
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For the second season in a row, SI's college basketball projection system has ranked ever team in college basketball from 1-351. A brief explanation of our system, which is a collaboration among economist Dan Hanner and SI's Chris Johnson and Luke Winn: On offense, it works bottom-up, starting by projecting every player's efficiency and shot volume. We do this by incorporating his past performance, recruiting rankings, development curves for similar Division I players, the quality of his teammates and his coach’s ability to develop and maximize talent. Those stats are weighted based on the team's rotation—including human intel on who’s expected to earn minutes—then used to produce each team’s offensive efficiency projection.

Our defensive forecasts are based on a blend of returnees' advanced stats (rebound, steal and block percentages), roster turnover (if churn is low, then 2014-15 performances in areas such as two-point field goal percentage are given a lot of weight; if high, then a coach’s historical defensive résumé matters more), experience (veterans have fewer lapses), height (taller frontcourts make for stingier defense) and depth of talent.

College hoops Crystal Ball: Picking Final Four, player of the year, more

We simulate the season 10,000 times to account for variance in individual performances as well as injury scenarios. The seed lines in this bracket are filled out according to our rankings (teams 1-4 received No. 1 seeds, 5-8 received No. 2 seeds and so on) and the geographic regions are populated according to the NCAA's bracketing guidelines.

Below you can read scouting reports on our top 20 teams, which include projected depth charts, projected conference races and intel from head coaches. Click on the team names to read those stories.

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1. North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels looks to build on last season's Sweet 16 run with a loaded roster ready to win right now. The loss of senior guard Marcus Paige for a month will hurt, but it won't be impossible to overcome. By Seth Davis.

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2. Kansas Jayhawks

Bill Self and the Jayhawks are looking for their 12th Big 12 title in a row, but they're also searching for something more: A return to the Final Four for the first time since 2012. By Brian Hamilton.

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3. Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari and the 'Cats are looking to make their fourth Final Four in five seasons. But will the loss of seven players to the NBA be too difficult to overcome? By David Gardner.

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4. Duke Blue Devils

Duke loses the heart of its title-winning team: Freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. But talented veterans and elite freshmen are ready to make a run of their own. By Brian Hamilton.

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5. Maryland Terrapins

Mark Turgeon has built his Terps from every possible avenue: juco transfers, D-I transfers, one-and-done freshman and savvy veterans. Now he'll be tasked with unifying them into a Big Ten champion. By Brian Hamilton.

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6. Virginia Cavaliers

With Tony Bennett's teams, you know what to expect: Efficient offense and stifling D. Can the Cavaliers overcome NCAA tournament shortcomings this season to make a deep run? By Dan Greene.

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7. Wichita State Shockers

Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker return for one last season with the Shockers. Can they replicate the magic that made the last three so special? By Luke Winn.

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8. Villanova Wildcats

No surprise here: The Wildcats again look like the team to beat in the Big East. But increased competition in the conference could make them more battle-ready by the time March comes along. By Ben Baskin.

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9. Gonzaga Bulldogs

If you're looking for a reason to be bullish on the 'Zags this season, look no further than the frontcourt, where 6'10" Kyle Wiltjer, 6'10" Domantas Sabonis and 7'1" Przemek Karnowski should dominate the West Coast. By Lindsay Schnell.

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10. Iowa State Cyclones

When Fred Hoiberg took the Bulls job, he left behind one of the most talented rosters in college basketball. Can new coach Steve Prohm install his new system and use it to win the Big 12 or make a deep run in the Big Dance? By David Gardner.

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11. Arizona Wildcats

You may not recognize many of the faces of the Wildcats this season, but Sean Miller's team is still as talented as ever. Fiercer competition in the Pac-12 means the Wildcats will have to watch their backs, though. By Pete Thamel.

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12. Oklahoma Sooners

Buddy Hield surprised many by returning for the 2015–16 season, but it won't surprise anyone if he is a player of the year candidate or if he guides the Sooners to a strong season in the Big 12. By Dan Greene.

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13. California Golden Bears

Cuonzo Martin has proven to be a formidable force on the recruiting trail in the West Coast. Now can he turn that talent into a conference championship? By Pete Thamel.

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14. Indiana Hoosiers

It's been a tumultuous couple years in Bloomington, but these Hoosiers have the talent to make those bad memories go away. Senior guard Yogi Ferrell could be a player of the year contender. By Brian Hamilton.

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15. Michigan State Spartans

Denzel Valentine leads a relatively anonymous group of Spartans who could nonetheless be a force in the Big Ten. We know Tom Izzo can compete in March, but it'd be nice for fans in East Lansing to have a better November-February this year. By Seth Davis.

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16. Utah Utes

Delon Wright, the heart of last year's Sweet 16 team, is gone, but talent remains. Sophomore Jakob Poeltl could be an NBA Lottery pick in June, and he'll cause plenty of problems for Pac-12 opponents in the interim. By Lindsay Schnell.

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17. SMU Mustangs

A postseason ban casts a heavy shadow over the entire season, but SMU has the talent to be the best team in the AAC again. By Seth Davis.

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18. Georgetown Hoyas

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera leads Villanova's primary challenger in the Big East. After flirting with the NBA in the spring, he's back to take Georgetown past the Round of 32 for the first time since 2007. By Ben Baskin.

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19. Connecticut Huskies

Last year, UConn became the ninth defending national champion to miss the NCAA tournament the following season. But coach Kevin Ollie is confident these Huskies will make noise in the postseason. By Seth Davis.

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20. Texas Longhorns

The biggest coaching hire of the off-season, Shaka Smart, inherits nine former top-100 recruits. The Longhorns could be one the season's pleasant surprises. By Thayer Evans.