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Chip Bremer's College Basketball Top 25 for 2002-03

If college basketball fans fall victim to March Madness near the end of the season, then what do they experience at the start of the season? I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere, but whatever you want to call it, it's here. That's right, it's October again and college hoops is gearing up for another strong season. And in case you are suffering from some strange ailment already and need the low-down on this year's top teams, here is a brief summary to whet your appetite.

This team has all the makings of a national championship contender: a true leader in point guard Jason Gardner, one of the most versatile forwards in the nation in Luke Walton (led team with 6.3 assists per game), an emerging star in center Channing Frye, a pure sharpshooter in guard Salim Stoudamire, and more quality depth than any other team in the nation. Oh, and the Wildcats also happen to have one of the country's best coaches at the helm. Lute Olson wasn't just voted into the Hall of Fame because he's a nice guy.

2. Kansas
The Jayhawks can also boast their share of versatility with senior superstars Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison. Sophomore point guard Aaron Miles can run the team and forward Wayne Simien will help Kansas fans to forget about departed All-American Drew Gooden. The only thing keeping them at #2 is the lack of depth. If coach Roy Williams can get Junior college transfer center Jeff Graves in playing shape by the end of October, they could make another sweep of the Big 12.

3. Oklahoma
Kelvin Sampson returns one of the fastest and most athletic teams in the nation. Senior guards Hollis Price and Quannas White will lead the team, while high-flying Ebi Ere provides excitement from the wing. The Sooners will look to center Jabahri Brown and redshirt sophomore Johnny Gilbert to replace the inside presence of Aaron McGhee.

4. Florida
Sure the Gators folded down the stretch last season (possibly due to chemistry issues), but this team simply has too much talent to not be considered a Final Four candidate. Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson provide an experienced backcourt, forward Matt Bonner has enough scoring tools to help ease the departure of center Udonis Haslem, and the world has yet to see what super sophomores David Lee and James White can really do. Billy Donovan added a top-notch recruiting class filled with pure shooters, but the X-factor may be Danish forward Christian Drejer, who could've been an NBA lottery pick had he decided to enter the draft.

5. Pittsburgh
The Panthers may not surprise anyone this year, but they still have one of the most experienced teams in the country. Point guard and MVP Brandin Knight leads the long list of returnees, and wings Julius Page and Jaron Brown look ready to increase their scoring averages. Ben Howland's team should be even better with the addition of guard Carl Krauser, a dangerous shooter and crafty playmaker that sat out last season.

6. Texas
For more proof that the Big 12 could be the toughest conference in college hoops this year, the Longhorns also have the makings of a national title contender. Point guard T.J. Ford led the nation in assists last year and center James Thomas has the potential to lead the country in rebounding. The scoring options are there, with Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey, Deginald Erskin, Brian Boddicker and freshman Brad Buckman.

7. Duke
We've seen this before. Duke loses All-Americans and reloads with talented freshmen without missing a beat. This year will be no different as returnees Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones and Daniel Ewing join perhaps the greatest recruiting class ever assembled. If people don't already know the names of Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick and Shavlik Randolph, they soon will.

8. Alabama
The Crimson Tide returns five of their top six leading scorers, including SEC Player of the Year Erwin Dudley. The guard rotation looks set with Terrence Meade, Ernest Shelton and sophomore sensation Maurice Williams, and the team now has frontcourt depth to support Dudley. Freshman Kennedy Winston will step right into Rod Grizzard's vacated spot on the wing.

9. Xavier
All-star forward David West shocked everyone when he announced he would return for his senior year. Combine his return with that of athletic guard Romain Sato, and the Musketeers can boast the best inside-outside tandem in the east. With most of the remaining roster also returning, it would be a shock if Xavier lost any Atlantic 10 conference games this year.

10. Michigan State
Head coach Tom Izzo worries as much about early defections as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski does, and he's just as good at reloading a roster. High-scoring wings Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson return, as do post players Al Anagonye and Adam Ballinger. Freshmen Paul Davis and Erazem Lorbek will add versatility to the frontcourt, but the key will be how well guards Chris Hill and Rashi Johnson replace Marcus Taylor at the point.

11. UCLA
With the return of leading scorer Jason Kapono, the Bruins now have the stability to actually enjoy a successful season. Guards Cedric Bozeman and Dijon Thompson still man the backcourt, but they will get help from redshirt senior Ray Young and Penn State transfer Jon Crispin. T.J. Cummings will step up his production in the frontcourt, but only if freshmen Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins are ready to produce in the low post.

12. Georgia
In spite of all the suspensions and academic problems, Jim Harrick has this team running smoothly. Leading scorer Jarvis Hayes returns, along with the backcourt tandem of Ezra Williams and Rashad Wright, and the team will get a boost from NC State transfer Damien Wilkens. Georgia fans shouldn't worry about their team's lack of a low post threat since Harrick employs a high post scheme.

13. Maryland
Don't expect the defending champs to slide too far after loosing four starters. The Terrapins still have a top-notch floor leader in Steve Blake, a rising star in Drew Nicholas, a strong interior with Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle and a strong freshman class. JUCO transfer Jamar Smith should have a similar impact as Steve Francis did a few years ago.

14. Missouri
Without departed leaders Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert, it's hard to imagine the Tigers recovering quickly. But with the junior class of Rickey Paulding, Travon Bryant and Arthur Johnson ready to have breakout seasons, it isn't far-fetched. The key will be how newcomers Ricky Clemons and Jimmy McKinney handle the point.

15. Oregon
They're back, and hairier than ever. Yes, the mop-headed duo of Luke Ridenour and Luke Jackson return to lead the Ducks. JUCO transfer Andre Joseph will add firepower from the wing, but returnees Robert Johnson and Brian Helquist must step up their games in order for team to click like it did last year.

16. UConn
Replacing All-Star forward Caron Butler isn't easy, but with rising stars like center Emeka Okafor and dynamic guard Ben Gordon, coach Jim Calhoun can rest easier. The Huskies also return an experienced backcourt in Taliek Brown and Tony Robertson, and the recruiting class Calhoun brought in will help ease the transition from the post-Butler era.

17. Kentucky
The unexpected departure of center Jason Parker isn't the end for the Wildcats. They still have experienced leaders in Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch, Marquis Estill and Jules Camara, and explosive newcomers in Antwain Barbour and Kelenna Azubuike. It would help if they could get point guard Cliff Hawkins to keep his academics in order.

18. Louisville
This is the year Rick Pitino's latest project will shine. Lead guard Reece Gaines has star potential and the supporting cast is deep and impressive. Kentucky transfer Marvin Stone will arrive in December with an all-or-nothing demeanor that will push the team to the top of Conference USA.

19. Indiana
Despite the loss of star forward Jared Jeffries to the NBA, the Hoosiers are looking solid again with sharp-shooting guards Tom Coverdale and Kyle Hornsby returning and post players Jeff Newton and George Leach beefing up over the summer. Junior A.J. Moye will provide scoring from the wing, but could lose minutes to freshman scorer Bracey Wright.

20. Marquette
Scoring machine Dwyane Wade is the biggest reason for the Golden Eagles' high expectations this year. The sophomore will join a talented lineup, bolstered by hulking senior Robert Jackson, and a solid recruiting class. Keep and eye on freshman forward Steve Novak - some have compared him to former Duke star Mike Dunleavy.

21. NC State
The Pack is back and coach Herb Sendek is expecting big seasons from forward Marcus Melvin and guard Julius Hodge. Hodge will rotate in the backcourt with senior point Cliff Crawford and junior fan favorite Scooter Sherrill, while the frontcourt of Melvin, Josh Powell and Ilian Evtimov will present match-up problems for opposing defenses.

22. Gonzaga
If you think the Zags have overstayed their welcome among the top college teams in the nation, then you're just plain wrong. Coach Mark Few has assembled one of the finest frontcourts in the team's history with Ronny Turiaf, Zach Gourde and Cory Violette, and combo guard Blake Stepp should prove to be better than predecessor Dan Dickau.

23. Villanova
Head Coach Jay Wright may finally have all the pieces to bring his program back to the top of the Big East. The starting backcourt of Derrick Snowden and Gary Buchanan is back, as is tenacious forward Ricky Wright. But the reason for excitement is the heralded recruiting class, led by McDonald's All-American center Jason Fraser. This is sure to be a key season for the Wildcats.

24. Cincinnati
It is difficult to leave the Bearcats out of the Top 25 when there is this much talent. Forward Jason Maxiell reminds many analysts of former All-American Kenyon Martin, and he will have a similar impact on this team. Scorer Leonard Stokes will have help in the backcourt with newcomers Chadd Moore and Tony Bobbitt, but the player to watch will be Eric Hicks, the most intense freshman you will see all year.

25. Syracuse
The Orangemen may not have as much experience as most of the teams listed here, but they have more raw talent than many would expect. Sophomore post players Craig Forth and Hakim Warrick look ready for breakout seasons and senior Kueth Duany will steady the freshman backcourt of Billy Edelin and Gerry McNamara. Make sure you catch freshman Carmello Anthony because he'll probably be in the NBA next year.

Just Missed:

26. LSU -
Coach Tom Brady finally has all the pieces to the puzzle.

27. Minnesota -
Forward Rick Rickert is one of the most talented forwards in the nation.

28. Mississippi State -
The Bulldogs have Mario Austin back, but still are still thin in the backcourt.

29. Western Kentucky -
This team is more than All-American center Chris Marcus.

30. Virginia -
Transfers Todd Billett, Nick Van Der Laan and Devin Smith will turn this team around.

31. Wyoming -
The Cowboys could have the toughest frontcourt in the west.

32. Pepperdine -
The Waves have the talent to challenge Gonzaga in the WCC.

33. Notre Dame -
Not many teams can boast a point guard like soph Chris Thomas

34. Texas Tech -
Like him or not, Bobby Knight has done wonders for this program.

35. Illinois -
The freshman backcourt of Deron Williams and Dee Brown will keep the Illini in the national picture.

Chip Bremer