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2015-16 college basketball top 25: An extremely early look at next season's top teams

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There are a ridiculous amount of things that need to happen before we can realistically start looking at the 2015-16 season, but let's not let that fact be the thing that stands in our way.

The bulk of the "who's going pro/who's coming back" drama has yet to play out, and a majority of the top 10 recruits from the class of 2015 have yet to announce their college decisions. Basically, we still have a significant amount to learn about what the landscape of the college hoops world is going to look like heading into the 2015-16 season.

Not that any of that is going to keep this way too early top 25 from happening. And if last year's rankings are any indication, you should take this very, very seriously ... at least the top two.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

2014-15 Record: 26-12

2014-15 Finish: Sweet 16

Carolina hit its stride at the perfect time in the season, but its inconsistencies in the previous months left it with a No. 4 seed and a date with Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. The Heels led that game by four with less than seven minutes to play before the Badgers' superhuman ability to answer the bell in a game's final five minutes kicked in.

Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson have already announced that they are returning to Chapel Hill for another season, which means UNC should return all five of its starters from 2014-15. Also included in that group is preseason ACC Player of the Year Marcus Paige, whose play down the stretch of his junior season should make him a front-runner to earn that honor for a second straight year.

2. Virginia Cavaliers

2014-15 Record: 30-4

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

The Cavaliers are another ACC powerhouse that figures to return nearly all of their production from this past season. The one question mark is forward Justin Anderson, but it seems unlikely that he'd jump for the NBA after joking about it while scaring Cavalier fans to death with an April Fool's prank.

Anderson's broken finger and his subsequent late-season return disrupted things a bit, and Cavalier fans would love a second chance to see how things could go with essentially the same group. Staying as far away as possible from Michigan State on Selection Sunday would also be a plus.

3. Iowa State Cyclones

2014-15 Record: 25-9

2014-15 Finish: Round of 64

Fred Hoiberg has had plenty of star power during his time in Ames, but returning a core nucleus of Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader and Naz Long will give him the one luxury he's always been forced to work without: consistency. The stunning loss to UAB has made lots of folks forget why Iowa State was such a trendy Final Four pick heading into the tournament, but this group should be able to remind everyone pretty quickly next November.

4. Kansas Jayhawks

2014-15 Record: 27-9

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are off to the NBA, but Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Frank Mason will all be back for another run at consecutive Big 12 title No. 12, and McDonald's All-American Carlton Bragg will be joining the fold as well. Bill Self also has a good shot at landing one or two more blue chippers to help his squad land a top three seed for what would be a ridiculous 10th straight year.

5. Maryland Terrapins

2014-15 Record: 28-7

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

Melo Trimble is back, Jake Layman is back and five-star center Diamond Stone is coming in. The addition of Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter will also be a monster boost for a Terrapin squad that could easily be the preseason favorite in the Big Ten.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

2014-15 Record: 38-1

2014-15 Finish: Final Four

Here we are again. Acting like you have a legitimate idea where to stick Kentucky in one of these "hours after the title game" ranking exercises is beyond disingenuous, so I'm not even going to attempt it. Nobody knows exactly how the next few weeks are going to play out for the Cats, and even after all the moving and shaking comes to an end, we're still not going to really know what to do with them. Still, it feels wrong to have them any lower than six here.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

2014-15 Record: 24-11

2014-15 Finish: Sweet 16

This ranking is based heavily on the assumption that Buddy Hield is going to return to school. If he does, Lon Kruger returns four starters and has a team fully capable of improving on its Sweet 16 run of this past season. If he doesn't, then we'll need to bump the Sooners down a few spots.

8. Duke Blue Devils

2014-15 Record: 35-4

2014-15 Finish: National Champion

This seems a bit ambitious given both what we know Coach K is losing and what we think he's probably going to lose, but the Blue Devils also figure to bring in another monster recruiting class. Toss in the return of proven veterans like Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones (and sophomore Grayson Allen), and it's hard to see the freshly crowned champions falling too far over the next 12 months.

9. Indiana Hoosiers

2014-15 Record: 20-14

2014-15 Finish: Round of 64

Despite all the Tom Crean jokes and unrest in Bloomington, Indiana has the potential to be awfully good in 2015-16. Assuming Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon both decide to return, the Hoosiers will be bringing back virtually everyone from a tournament team that could score with anyone this past season. They're also bringing in one of the best big men in the class of 2015 in five-star center Thomas Bryant out of Huntington Prep.

10. N.C. State Wolfpack

2014-15 Record: 22-14

2014-15 Finish: Sweet 16

Potential was never an issue for a 2014-15 N.C. State team which notched wins over Duke, Villanova, North Carolina and Louisville. Finding consistency will be the key next season for Mark Gottfried, who returns every key contributor from his Sweet 16 squad outside of Ralston Turner.

11. Michigan State Spartans

2014-15 Record: 27-12

2014-15 Finish: Final Four

Travis Trice and Branden Dawson are gone, and the Spartans will likely be ranked lower when the calendar turns than they were at the start of the season, but by now we all know how the Tom Izzo story always ends.

12. Butler Bulldogs

2014-15 Record: 23-11

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

Notre Dame coming so close to upsetting Kentucky sort of made everyone forget how close Butler was to knocking off the Irish. They'll return three double-figure scorers in Kellen Dunhan, Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz, in addition to a potential breakout star in rising sophomore Kelan Martin. N.C. State transfer Tyler Lewis will also be brought in to run the point.

13. Arizona Wildcats

2014-15 Record: 34-4

2014-15 Finish: Elite Eight

Just like Kentucky, we have little idea of how everything's going to shake out here. It's safe to assume that some really good players are going to leave and that some really good players are going to come in. Sean Miller's team is unlikely to have the preseason expectations they've had the past two years, but it's still a safe bet that they'll be the squad to beat in the Pac-12.

14. Villanova Wildcats

2014-15 Record: 33-3

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

Jay Wright will be down three starters from last season's No. 1 seed, but bringing in McDonald's All-American Jalen Brunson to run the point will help cushion that blow.

15. Texas Longhorns

2014-15 Record: 20-14

2014-15 Finish: Round of 64

Talent was never the issue for Texas this season, and Shaka Smart is going to have plenty to work with in his first season in Austin. Don't be surprised if he's the early front-runner for national Coach of the Year simply because the Horns are performing the way they should have in 2014-15.

16. Michigan Wolverines

2014-15 Record: 16-16

2014-15 Finish: No postseason

A slew of injuries never gave Michigan a chance this season, but the Wolverines never got down, and wound up pulling off a handful of memorable upsets down the stretch. Unless Caris LeVert makes the surprising decision to go pro, John Beilein figures to have things rolling again in Ann Arbor next winter.

17. SMU Mustangs

2014-15 Record: 27-7

2014-15 Finish: Round of 64

The Mustangs were the clear class of the AAC all season, and returning four of his top five scorers will give Larry Brown a good chance to erase the lingering memory of his team's controversial loss to UCLA in the round of 64.

18. Cincinnati Bearcats

2014-15 Record: 23-11

2014-15 Finish: Round of 32

These are happy times for Mick Cronin, who's been cleared to return to full-time coaching duties, and is bringing back all five starters from a Bearcats team that exceeded everyone's expectations this season.

19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2014-15 Record: 32-6

2014-15 Finish: Elite Eight

Losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton is a massive blow, but Demetrius Jackson is back to run the show, Steve Vasturia will still be filling it in from the corner, and both Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson showcased just how good they can be during the Fighting Irish's memorable March run.

20. Wisconsin Badgers

2014-15 Record: 36-4

2014-15 Finish: National Runner-Up

There's no way to mask the fact that 2015-16 figures to be something of a step backwards for Bo Ryan's club -- the question is how far back. The National Player of the Year is definitely gone and the guy who might have even more NBA potential (Sam Dekker) likely is as well, leaving Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes as the only vestiges from a team that was one game away from winning the national title. Still, fully doubting Ryan and company's ability to pull off something remarkable is always a mistake.

21. Purdue Boilermakers

2014-15 Record: 21-13

2014-15 Finish: Round of 64

Unless A.J. Hammons declares for the draft, the Boilermakers figure to make the transition from surprise contender to full-on force in the Big Ten.

22. Gonzaga Bulldogs

2014-15 Record: 35-3

2014-15 Finish: Elite Eight

Losing Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley means this group won't have the same "Final Four contender" buzz as this past season's or the 2012-13 squad. Still, the two-headed inside monster of Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis will be back, and unless something unexpected happens so will leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer.

23. Louisville Cardinals

2014-15 Record: 27-9

2014-15 Finish: Elite Eight

Losing 78 percent of your scoring from a team whose biggest issue was, well, scoring, is troubling. However, Rick Pitino feels good about the development of some of his younger players who were forced to play sparingly behind guys like Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier. He's also adding a high-impact transfer in Trey Lewis (16.3 ppg), who is coming over from Cleveland State.

24. Wichita State Shockers

2014-15 Record: 30-5

2014-15 Finish: Sweet 16

Gregg Marshall re-upping with the Shockers has to drastically increase the likelihood of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet doing the same. If both of those things occur, then Wichita State is going to be a national player for the fourth straight year.

25. Miami Hurricanes

2014-15 Record: 25-13

2014-15 Finish: NIT Runner-Up

The Hurricanes were one of the last teams left out of the field of 68, a fact that the returning core of Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri will be out to avenge.

Next 5:

26. UCLA Bruins

27. Texas A&M Aggies

28. West Virginia Mountaineers

29. Florida Gators

30. Rhode Island Rams

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