By Luke Winn
April 28, 2008
NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

It helps to be ranking teams from a position of clarity, very much unlike the one I was working from on the morning of the national title game, when Version 1 of these was due to be filed for the magazine. Educated guesses were made on which players were returning, and while I was at least right on North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, ranking anything for next season before the previous one is over -- much less before the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft passes -- can be a futile task. Here, we get the chance to try again, with a full Power Rankings-style top 16.

(Note that we're still making educated guesses on who'll stay in the draft. Considering all the early entrants to be goners would be silly, given that the NBA is now footing their workout bills. Plenty of juniors will be taking the free trips and the free advice, then heading back to campus.)

1 Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Center Hasheem Thabeet, the national defensive player of the year, announced he was staying for his junior season. That means the Huskies' only losses for '08-09 are reserves Curtis Kelly and Doug Wiggins, both of whom were encouraged to leave. Point guard A.J. Price had surgery on his torn ACL and is expected to be healthy in time for the '08-09 opener. On Monday, the Huskies signed 6-foot-10 Sudanese power forward Ater Majok, a 2008 recruit who came out of nowhere to earn a five-star designation from in the past month.

Impact: On Sunday, Calhoun said that the 7-foot-3 Thabeet "has made as much progress as any player I have coached in my 36 years, and if he continues that incredible progress, he will help us take the next step as a team and help himself become one of the best players in college basketball." If Thabeet were to exactly match the percentage increases he made from Year 1 to Year 2, he'd average 17.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.3 blocks next season. Those numbers would make him an All-America -- and make UConn a potential national champ. The Huskies don't really need Thabeet to explode offensively, though; they'll have the nation's deepest backcourt in Price, Jerome Dyson, Craig Austrie and incoming freshman (and future star) Kemba Walker.
2 UCLA Bruins
Last Week: --
What happened in April: A declaration party. Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Josh Shipp all put their names in the draft, but none hired an agent. Junior Darren Collison opted to stay. I'm evaluating the Bruins with the expectation that Mbah a Moute and Shipp will also be back in Westwood.

Impact: Given that Collison would have been a first-round pick, his return was the surprise of draft-deadline weekend. He and Hansbrough will share the Roy Hibbert Spirit Trophy -- for enhancing the college game as seniors, not improving their draft stock -- and be locks for preseason first-team All-America status. Having Collison, Jrue Holiday and Josh Shipp at the 1-2-3 spots will make for a dangerous, perimeter-based offense that should run away with the Pac-10.
3 North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Naismith Award winner Tyler Hansbrough decided to stay for his senior year. Guards Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all declared for the draft without hiring agents -- but I think Ellington and Green will be back. Lawson has a shot at a late-first-round guarantee.

Impact: The roughly 4,000-plus Division I scholarship hoopsters not named Tyler Hansbrough will have to resign themselves to the fact that, for another year, the best they can possibly be is the second-hardest-working player in the country. Hansbrough will likely win another Wooden/Naismith combo, with his stiffest competition being Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. (If Michael Beasley's 26.2-point, 12.4-rebound season couldn't entice voters in '07-08, though, there's little chance that anything Griffin does will win them over.) It'll be national-title-or-bust for Psycho T, who will be counting on a strong comeback performance from roommate Bobby Frasor at point to make that happen. The only reason Carolina isn't No. 1 here is because it isn't bringing back its starting floor general, and UConn and UCLA are.
4 Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Taylor King, a reserve freshman forward who didn't play significant minutes late in the season, transferred to Villanova.

Impact: Sometimes you need a month's separation from an ugly upset (like the Blue Devils' second-round flop against West Virginia) to correctly evaluate a team. I slotted the Blue Devils at No. 9 in my first crack at the rankings, but it's hard to argue that they're not as legitimate of a Final Four contender as a few of the teams that were slotted ahead of them -- namely, Purdue, Texas and Georgetown. Sophomore Kyle Singler and junior Gerald Henderson are the nation's best pair of wings, and while the backcourt duo of Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer aren't exactly Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, they should score about 27 points per game combined and hit better than 40 percent of their threes, which isn't bad.
5 Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Freshman sixth man Scott Martin transferred. All five starters from '07-08, including budding stars Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore, are back.

Impact: How can losing a 8.5-points-per-game rookie who was a four-star recruit not hurt? Martin didn't become an instant stud like fellow Valparaiso-bred frosh Hummel, but the 6-8 small forward was still a major part of the Boilers' rotation. (As a side note: It's interesting that homesickness was cited in one story as a reason for Martin's departure ... and then one of the new schools he's considering is Baylor.) I'm now slightly less inclined to make Purdue a sleeper Final Four pick --- which I did in the original rankings -- but still think the Boilers will run away with the Big Ten. So No. 5 it is.
6 Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Neither junior forward Sam Young nor freshman four-man DeJuan Blair -- the Panthers' only real threats to turn pro early -- declared for the draft.

Impact: With Young back in the fold, Pitt jumps ahead of Georgetown and Notre Dame as UConn's most viable challenger in the Big East. After seeing his scoring average jump from 7.0 points as a sophomore to 18.1 as a junior, Young could make a bid for All-America status as a junior ... and with Vanderbilt's Shan Foster out of the way, might be college hoops' best piano-playing swingman. The bigger development I expect to see out of the Pitt camp, though, is Blair's emergence as a household name nationally. He was overshadowed by one-and-done freshmen such as Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo last season, but Blair was highly productive as a rookie, averaging 11.6 points and 9.1 boards in 26.2 minutes per game.
7 Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Comedy, to some degree. After a run to the Elite Eight, sophomore sixth man Earl Clark announced he was putting his name in the draft, with coach Rick Pitino saying, "he's going pro, trust me on that one." Two weeks later, on April 17, Clark announced that he was coming back to school. Sophomore Derrick Caracter declared for the draft, despite Pitino telling the press that the oversized forward was not ready for the NBA. With significantly less drama than his teammates, Terrence Williams decided to stay at the 'Ville for another season and be a co-captain with Andre McGee.

Impact: Graduating center David Padgett was the glue that kept the Cards together in '07-08; there was a reason he was considered a Big East Player of the Year candidate despite averaging just 11.2 points and 4.8 boards per game. Can they avoid imploding without him? There are enough phenomenal athletes here -- starting with matchup nightmares on the wing in Clark and Williams -- to make Rick Pitino's team once again a Final Four darkhorse. Freshman power forward Samardo Samuels will need to be a force right away in the paint, though, if the 'Ville is going to contend in a conference that's loaded with quality big men.
8 Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Sophomore Tyler Smith decided not to declare for the draft and five-star shooting guard Scotty Hopson signed a Letter of Intent to play for the Vols.

Impact: Tennessee will have the same problem -- the lack of a truly reliable point guard -- it did '07-08, but also boast one of the nation's most athletic rosters. Smith (13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds) was the biggest reason the Vols still won an SEC title while Chris Lofton had a disappointing senior campaign; getting the 6-7 forward back was necessary for any hopes of a conference repeat. A 1-2-3 trio of Ramar Smith, Hobson and J.P. Prince in front of Smith should keep the Vols scoring in the 80s for yet another season. Neither Florida nor Kentucky has the firepower to overtake them.
9 Texas Longhorns
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin and junior shooting guard A.J. Abrams both declared for the draft without hiring agents. Augustin is as good as gone, while Abrams is likely to return.

Impact: The 'Horns would have been No. 1 if Augustin had stayed, but '08-09 won't be a lost season without him. I can't envision any scenario in which Abrams gets a first-round guarantee and stays in the draft, but I do remember how well he handled the point as a freshman when Daniel Gibson had to be moved off the ball. If Abrams can run the team and still make threes at the same clip he did last season (he hit 118 at a 38.2 percent rate), perhaps he'll get the attention his father thinks his son deserves. Abrams' draft announcement came unexpectedly on the same day as Augstin's, and his father told the Austin American-Statesman, "This is his daddy saying this, not him, but nationally it was 'D.J. Augustin and the Texas Longhorns." No longer.
10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: --
What happened in April: No one left early for the draft. South Bend has been mentioned as a potential transfer destination for both Mississippi State's Ben Hansbrough and Purdue's Scott Martin, although neither player would be eligible until '09-10.

Impact: Having everyone back from last season's Big East second-place team -- especially sophomore forward Luke Harangody, the Big East Player of the Year -- makes Notre Dame a reasonable top-10 pick. But its 61-41 loss to Washington State in the second round of the NCAA tournament showed the glaring difference between a team that makes defense a priority (the Cougars) and one that's mostly an offensive power (the Irish). Mike Brey's teams have ranked 49th and 42nd in adjusted defensive efficiency over the past two seasons; unless those figures drop into the teens, they can't be considered a serious title contender.
11 Memphis Tigers
Last Week: --
What happened in April: What didn't happen? Backcourt stars Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts declared for the draft, and won't be back. Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier put their names in as juniors, but should be back. The biggest development was the signing of the nation's top uncommitted recruit, Philadelphia shooting guard Tyreke Evans, who's perfect for the Dribble-Drive Motion offense. The next-best uncommitted wing recruits for '08, Devin Ebanks and Wesley Witherspoon, are also being hunted by Memphis. You know there's a chance they could end up as Tigers when you look into the stands after a Jordan Brand Classic scrimmage and see the two of them sitting on either side of William Wesley, the behind-the-scenes figure who helped lure both Rose and Evans to Memphis.

Impact: Landing Evans kept Memphis on the recruiting map, as John Calipari's haul prior to that was less than championship-caliber. It's doubtful that the Tigers can reach another Final Four, but as long as Dozier and Anderson return, they don't have any real challengers in Conference USA. That means another high NCAA seed is within reach.
12 Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Sophomore forward Vernon Macklin announced his plans to transfer, while sophomore forward DaJuan Summers, the Hoyas' only potential early-entry candidate (and a longshot at that) stayed in school.

Impact: Macklin (3.4 points, 2.1 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game) showed only flashes of his four-star potential in his first two years at Georgetown and probably wasn't going to start ahead of incoming freshman Greg Monroe, but would have been the first big man off the bench as a junior. That's hardly an insignificant loss, especially since it was made clear in the high-school All-Star game circuit that Monroe, who's's No. 2-ranked center, isn't the second coming of Greg Oden. Macklin, one of college hoops' last practitioners of the true skyhook, might have played big minutes in relief of the rookie, who'll need a year or two to develop into a force.
13 Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Tom Izzo was rumored to be a candidate for the Chicago Bulls' coaching opening, but sources tell us that story was based more on agent-based posturing than actual interest from the NBA club. Neither sophomore forward Raymar Morgan nor freshman Kalin Lucas, the Spartans' top two young talents, seriously considered putting their names into the draft.

Impact: The gap between Purdue, the early Big Ten favorite, and the Spartans is small. There's a strong feeling that losing senior star Drew Neitzel may not actually hurt these Spartans; their youth movement of Lucas and Chris Allen, plus incoming elite recruit Delvon Roe, will be allowed to take on an expanded scoring role with veteran big man Goran Suton still holding down the post.
14 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: --
What happened in April: On the heels of an NIT championship, freshman center Kosta Koufos declared early for the NBA draft without hiring an agent and it's unclear if he'll return. Incoming center B.J. Mullens, the leader of a monster recruiting class, was bumped up to No. 1 in's final player rankings for the Class of 2008.

Impact: A front line of Koufos (at his more natural power-forward position) and Mullens would be nearly impossible for Big Ten teams to defend, given that none of the other league contenders boasts a single 7-footer. The Buckeyes don't have an elite point guard to replace graduating senior Jamar Butler, though, and that's ultimately what's keeping them behind Purdue and Michigan State in these rankings.
15 USC Trojans
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Two guard O.J. Mayo and his NBA-logoed socks turned pro, as did fellow freshman Davon Jefferson, who had the kindness to declare without even informing his team about it before the deadline. Sophomores Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett kept their names out of the draft pool.

Impact: Mayo's departure creates an offensive void -- he took 34.4 percent of the Trojans' shots, after all -- but incoming freshman Demar Derozan is capable of filling it. He arrives with far less hype than Mayo, who was known nationally for his entire high school career, but the offensive skills to average 18-plus points per game in the Pac-10. Derozan was the U.S.' top player at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, and should coexist better with Hackett than Mayo did. (If you recall, Mayo began his stay at USC by breaking Hackett's jaw -- allegedly by punching him -- in a pickup game.)
16 Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: --
What happened in April: Freshman power forward Blake Griffin made the most shocking draft decision of all, choosing to stay in school despite being projected as a Lottery lock.

Impact: Griffin could put up Beasley-like numbers in the Big 12 and establish himself as possible No. 1 or 2 pick in the '09 draft. The Sooners were a decent defensive team last season, ranking 31st in adjusted defensive efficiency, but were too inept offensively to win many big games. The addition of five-star point guard Willie Warren, who can score in bunches, should help -- as long as he doesn't destroy team chemistry, as some recruiting analysts have suggested could happen.

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