National champions hardly ever have their entire starting five return intact,
but Billy Donovan's band of Oh-Fours--sophomore starters Taurean Green, Corey
Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah--are likely to stay in Gainesville. (Fifth
starter Lee Humphrey will be a senior.) If they keep their word, which would
require the �berproductive Noah to pass on a top 10 spot in the draft, a repeat
2. NORTH CAROLINA
The Baby Heels were ahead of schedule this season, finishing second in the ACC
on the shoulders of national freshman of the year Tyler Hansbrough. He'll be
joined in the fall by the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, which includes the
top-ranked high school point guard ( Tywon Lawson), shooting guard (Wayne
Ellington) and power forward ( Brandan Wright).
Westwood's fearless defenders will gain some offensive punch with the return of
swingman Josh Shipp, who was the Bruins' most dangerous scorer before missing
most of the season with a hip injury. If point guard Jordan Farmar eschews the
draft to team up with Shipp, two-guard Arron Afflalo and power forward Luc
Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA will have the best 1 through 4 quartet in the
4. MEMPHIS Every
key player other than Rodney Carney returns from the fastest-paced, most
efficient team in Conference USA. With athletes like Darius Washington Jr.,
Antonio Anderson and Shawne Williams running the Tigers' high-scoring show,
another 30-win season and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament are likely.
Sophomores stole the spotlight at this Final Four, and KU's clan of freshman
stars--guard Mario Chalmers, swingman Brandon Rush and elastic forward Julian
Wright--could make a similar push in '07. But first they'll need to overcome
their school's recent first-round NCAA woes (the Bucknell-Bradley curse).
6. OHIO STATE
Will 7-foot freshman center Greg Oden carry the Buckeyes to a title, a la
Carmelo Anthony, in what will probably be his only season in Columbus? Thad
Matta's defending Big Ten regular-season champs will be rebuilt around the
blue-chip recruiting class of Oden, point guard Mike Conley, shooting guard
Daequan Cook and small forward David Lighty.
With UConn, Villanova and West Virginia all set to lose significant pieces, the
new Beasts of the Big East will reside in D.C. Upsets of No. 1--ranked Duke (in
January) and No. 2--seeded Ohio State ( NCAA second round) this season may
foreshadow greater things for the Hoyas, who have NBA-caliber talent in forward
Jeff Green and center Roy Hibbert.
8. TEXAS Even if
Aldridge turns pro, the Horns retain an elite inside-outside tandem in guard
Daniel Gibson and forward P.J. Tucker. McDonald's All-American Game co-MVP
Kevin Durant--the nation's top recruit not named Oden--is a sweet-shooting
6'9" forward who could step in and be an instant force.
9. TEXAS A&M
The Aggies are the perfect top 10 sleeper: With their lockdown D, they closed
the season by winning nine of 11 games, nearly upsetting Final Four--bound LSU
in the second round of the NCAAs. With guard Acie Law IV and future pro forward
Joseph Jones leading the way, this seasoned squad can make a run at the Big 12
ILLINOIS If '06 was the Year of the Mid-Majors, what kind of encore will they
have in store? The Salukis, who tied for second in the Missouri Valley
Conference, have their top nine scorers back, including the senior backcourt of
Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young, who will be gunning for their fourth--and the
school's sixth--straight NCAA tournament appearance.