First, we asked our staff of college basketball writers to pretend that nobody would leave early for the NBA draft. Next, they pretended that everyone who entered the draft would leave school for good. Finally, we just went with the truth.
The early entry withdrawal deadline passed on Sunday night, sending a handful of players to pull their names out of the draft and leading us to put together another preseason poll, but based on reality this time. For the first time, our voters didn't have to guess what players each team would have (barring a few recruits who are still trying to get academically eligible).
The voters all faced one big question: Just how much of a difference can one player choosing to stay in school make on a team? If the player is Aaron Gray and the school is Pittsburgh the answer is a tremendous one.
Thanks to Gray's decision to pull out of the draft on deadline day the Panthers jumped from No. 16 to No. 7. Gray emerged as one of the best big men in the Big East and many felt he was the piece that could lead the Panthers on a deep postseason run.
The biggest jump belonged to NCAA runner-up UCLA, which moved up ten spots, going from No. 22 to No. 12 thanks to guard Arron Afflalo's decision to stay in school.
How was everyone else affected? Check out the complete poll below.
Rivals.com 2006-07 Preseason Basketball Top 25
Apparently our panel of voters doesn't include many history buffs. In the last 33 years only one school has repeated as NCAA champs (Duke went back-to-back in 1991 and '92), but the Gators still landed every first-place vote. A look at their roster explains why. Every starter is back, including three that could have been first-round picks in the NBA draft - center Joakim Noah, power forward Al Horford and small forward Corey Brewer. Noah had a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick. Instead, he will be the centerpiece of the best frontcourt in college basketball.
North Carolina (120)
Create a core of talented sophomores, throw in the nation's top-ranked recruiting class and add one of the game's best coaches. That's the recipe that has Roy Williams and his boys back in the national title hunt. Williams led an extremely young team to a surprising No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season. Now, he has more than twice as much talent at his disposal, including three top-10 recruits that will fill needed roles. Brandan Wright is a big-time shot blocker and offensive compliment for Tyler Hansbrough. Shooting guard Wayne Ellington excels at attacking the basket and Tywon Lawson gives Williams what he relishes most - a pass-first point guard.
Ohio State (112)
The talk of Greg Oden missing some games didn't scare the voters. Nobody had the Buckeyes lower than fourth. Perhaps that is a testament to the rest of the Buckeyes' No. 2-ranked recruiting class, which includes two other McDonald's All-Americans: point guard Mike Conley (a high school teammate of Oden's) and small forward Daequan Cook. Or it could have to do with the lack of information surrounding Oden's wrist injury. The 7-foot prep phenom had a clamp and screw inserted into his wrist during surgery last week. Some reports indicate he will be out for six months, putting him back around mid-December.
There will be no legitimate excuse for not getting this team out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament - the spot where each of the Jayhawks' last two seasons have ended. In fact, anything less than a trip to the Final Four will be considered a disappointment. All the starters return from a well-rounded team that won 15 of 16 games leading up to the NCAA Tournament last season. The addition of five-star recruits Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur create the possibility of an even better run.
Remember the glory days for the Hoyas in the 1980s where big men powered them to the top of the Big East and deep into the postseason? Get ready to experience a little deja vu. The Hoyas have the pieces in place for a dominating frontcourt, led by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert - the star of their run to the Sweet 16. Athletic power forward Jeff Green and a pair of highly-touted freshmen who will play in the post, DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin, lead a strong front line.
The Tide can't use a lack of depth as an excuse anymore. After playing the final two months of last season with just seven scholarship players, coach Mark Gottfried went out and signed six recruits. Nobody in that class is going to be an immediate star, but collectively they could be the supporting cast that point guard Ronald Steele and big men Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson need. That trio could help land the Tide a much higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Could Aaron Gray mean the difference between contending for a league title and an NCAA title? We think so. The 7-foot center who averaged a double-double last season announced he was taking his name out of the draft just minutes before the withdrawl deadline. The decision led every voter to place the Panthers in his top 10. The Panthers lose star guard Carl Krauser, but three other starters are back and promising power forward Sam Young is poised for a breakout year.
The Blue Devils must restructure their team with the loss of future first-round picks J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, but if they don't make a 10th consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 it won't be because of a lack of talent. The roster will include five McDonald's All-Americans: point guard Greg Paulus, small forward DeMarcus Nelson, power foward Josh McRoberts and a pair of incoming freshmen wings - Gerald Henderson and Lance Thomas. Henderson and Thomas will bring an element of athleticism that has been missing from the Blue Devils' perimeter.
Tyrus Thomas is gone. So is underrated guard Darrel Mitchell. So how did the Tigers remain in the top 10? The Big Baby has a new supporting cast. Transfers Dameon Mason (Marquette) and Terry Martin, Jr. (Texas Tech) will provide new scoring threats. Mason, a versatile small forward, averaged 11.9 points a game in Conference-USA two seasons ago. Martin was averaging 7.4 ppg last season for the Red Raiders before switching schools in December (he won't be eligible until mid-December). If Mason and Martin can make a quick transition to the SEC, star center Glen Davis will have the help he needs to carry the Tigers on another deep run in March.
Big Ten teams will find some scary news in Madison soon: Coach Bo Ryan has the most talented and deepest team he's ever had. It starts with the best player in the league outside of a healthy Oden: Ultra-athletic small forward Alando Tucker. Guard Kammron Taylor is a dangerous scorer and a solid sidekick. Power forward Brian Butch showed signs of emerging as another reliable scoring threat last season. There is a host of solid role players and Ryan has added a solid recruiting class that includes a pair of four-star signees. Still not sold on the Badgers? Did we mention that Ryan has the highest overall winning percentage of any active NCAA coach with at least 20 years of experience?
Year two of the Bruce Pearl era will prove that the first year was no fluke. The Vols will be deeper, more talented and will finally have some size to match up with bigger teams down low. Pearl landed a top-10 recruiting class with the addition of three top 50 recruits, including five-star point guard Ramar Smith and big men Duke Crews and Wayne Chism. Basically that means the man with the bright orange jacket has the personnel needed to run the system he calls "controlled chaos." And this time his team will be deep enough not to wear down when the postseason arrives.
If given the choice to only keep one of his two guards from the national runner-up team, coach Ben Howland might have picked Arron Afflalo. Nobody is going to replace Jordan Farmar right away, but the Bruins have another promising young point guard in Darren Collison. They don't have a shooting guard who can play Afflalo's role, making his decision to stay in school crucial when it comes to the Bruins' chances of doing some damage when March Madness rolls around again.
The voters on our panel don't really know what to make of Mustafa Shakur's decision to pull out of the NBA draft. The Wildcats were ranked as high as No. 8 by one voter and as low as No. 18 in another. The highly recruited guard performed particuarly well in the NCAA Tournament, but he spent most of his three seasons in the desert playing well below the lofty expectations he arrived with in Tucson. If Shakur shows he was worth all the hype as a senior, look for the Wildcats to capture yet another Pac-10 title.
Texas A&M (62)
There are big expectations when it comes to basketball in College Station - and for good reason. Every key player, including Acie Law and Joseph Jones, returns from the team that nearly knocked off LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Plus, fast-rising coach Billy Gillispie put together a group of eight prospects that might be the greatest recruiting class in school history.
Injuries caused some big problems for the Cardinals last season. Don't expect a repeat performance. Rick Pitino added some more depth with four top 100 recruits, including five-star prospects Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter. The key may be small forward Terrence Williams, who will be counted on to score consistently.
Georgia Tech (43)
The Yellow Jackets, the only team in this poll that had a losing record last season, are the early favorites for the most improved team of 2006-07. There are two big reasons why: Rivals.com's top-ranked point guard Javaris Crittenton and the third-ranked small forward Thaddeus Young. Both signed with the ACC school in the fall.
Jim Calhoun knows how to reload quickly, but the Hall-of-Fame coach has never been asked to replace so much. The Huskies' top six scorers are gone, including two probable lottery picks in Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams. Calhoun and his staff answered by signing eight prospects. UConn landed the fourth-ranked class in the nation. That group must jell quickly and power foward Jeff Adrien needs to emerge as a leader.
Boston College (33)
The Eagles' first season in the ACC turned out to be a big success. If they can find a way to make up for the production and interior presence that Craig Smith (17.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg) provided, the second season will bring plenty more accolades.
The good news for Texas fans is that the Longhorns landed Rivals.com's No. 3-ranked recruiting class. The bad news is that none of the seven signees will have a chance to develop slowly. Most are expected to start and all must make impacts right away. All five starters are gone and coach Rick Barnes is talking about playing a more uptempo style that utilizes his new personnel better.
Replacing star Brandon Roy will be a collective effort. That effort might be led by five-star recruit Spencer Hawes, a 6-foot-11 big man with an old school game and enough post moves to make Kevin McHale proud.
Even with the losses of Darius Washington and Shawne Williams, the Tigers have enough depth to cruise to another Conference-USA title. Finding enough offense to hang with the elite teams will be far more difficult.
The roster features some dangerous scoring weapons in sophomore guard Eric Devendorf and incoming freshman small forward Paul Harris. If the Orange can find a point guard by midseason look for them to be a contender in the Big East once again.
Southern Illinois (14)
Mid-major mania has hit our panel. Eighty-percent of the ballots had the Salukis in their top 25. The Missouri Valley Conference power returns all five starters from a team that went 3-2 against Wichita State and Bradley last season.
All hopes rest on Curtis Sumpter with Kyle Lowry's decision to stay in the draft. If Sumpter, who sat out last season with a knee injury, comes back healthy the Wildcats can get back to the NCAA Tournament. If not, it will be a steep fall for the Wildcats.
Randolph Morris (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) didn't cause a stir by trying to leave for the draft again, but the 7-footer must be more productive if Tubby Smith is going to avoid the hot seat and the Wildcats are going to start looking like an elite program again.
Others receiving votes: Michigan (12), Gonzaga (5), Florida State (4), Hofstra (4), Marquette (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (3).