As much as we love the NBA, we get just as excited about college basketball. There’s something so refreshing about watching the next crop of superstars compete for nothing more than school pride and a chance to cut down the nets at the end of the year. We get chills just thinking about it. We know you do too.
We may be a little less than a month away from the start of the 2015-16 season, however, we can’t go into the year without gauging where each team stands. Luckily for us, that’s where the polls come into play. And in this case, we have the recently published, and super helpful, USA Today preseason coaches poll to hold us over.
If you’re curious as to how this particular poll works, we’ve got you covered. This is how it goes:
“The USA TODAY Sports men’s basketball coaches poll is conducted weekly throughout the regular season using a panel of head coaches at Division I schools. The panel is chosen in consultation with the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The members represent each of the 32 Division I conferences that receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Each coach submits a Top 25 with a first-place vote worth 25 points, second place 24, and so on down to one point for 25th.”
And while it’s always fun to learn a little bit about the process at work, it’s more enjoyable to see the final results. Here’s a look at the top seven college basketball teams heading into the 2015-16 season.
7. Iowa State Cyclones
Coming off a 2014-15 campaign that saw them finish the year with a 25-9 record and a second place finish in the Big 12 regular-season standings, the Iowa State Cyclones enter the new year ranked No. 7 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll. The challenge for this group will be adapting to life without former coach Fred Hoiberg, who has since moved on to the NBA. However, led by point guard Monte Morris and forward Georges Niang (who was named First Team on Dick Vitale’s list of All-Solid Gold preseason teams), the Cyclones boast enough returning talent and experience to make a serious run this season.
6. Virginia Cavaliers
With a coach of Tony Bennett’s caliber at the helm, the Virginia Cavaliers have turned into one of the most formidable teams in college basketball. Their style of play may not be pretty, but the Cavaliers play smart and efficient on the offensive end, while also maintaining a lockdown defense that only allowed the opposition to score 51.5 points per game in 2014-15 — the best mark in the land. With senior guard Malcolm Brogdon back in the fold, and looking to build off a season that saw him put up 14.0 points on 42.2% shooting and earn Second-Team All-American honors, UVA doesn’t just have a shot to win the ACC, it has the goods to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
The Kansas Jayhawks finished last season with a 27-9 mark and the Big 12 regular-season title — the team’s 11th straight. As coach Bill Self attempts to lead this team to an unprecedented 12th-straight regular-season conference title, the Jayhawks are fortunate to bolster a team made up of many familiar faces. No matter how things play out with freshman center, Cheick Diallo, Kansas’ incredible depth should help this squad remain among college basketball’s elite.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Led by freshman superstars, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, the Duke Blue Devils stormed through the rest of the field to win the school’s fifth national championship. However, with all three players having moved on to the NBA, coach Mike Krzyzewski will have his work cut out for him this season. If the highly touted first-year combo of Derryck Thornton and Brandon Ingram can mature quickly, this group should be well on its way. If not, let’s just hope returning sophomore, Grayson Allen, was able to build off of his standout performance in last season’s national title game. After all, this is his team now.
3. Maryland Terrapins
Don’t look now, but the Maryland Terrapins are back in the national conversation. Thanks to the talented trio of Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, the Terrapins have a legitimate case for being the No. 1 team in the country. Of course, until the 2015-16 season begins, and teams finally get a chance to showcase their stuff, Maryland will just have to settle for its No. 3 ranking in the preseason poll.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels (Tie)
While the North Carolina Tar Heels may be tied for the No. 1 spot in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, Roy Williams’ group actually garnered the most first-place votes (12) out of all the teams in the country. The Tar Heels are talented, deep, and bolster one of the more complete lineups in the land. With senior point guard, Marcus Paige, running the show, UNC is plenty good enough to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
1. Kentucky Wildcats (Tie)
John Calipari can claim his Kentucky Wildcats “stink” right now, but we have a feeling he’ll figure out a way to get things under control. Sure, it’s never easy to replace guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, but if anyone knows how to replenish a roster, it’s Coach Cal. After all, we already know returning sophomore guard Tyler Ulis is a star. Should incoming freshman phenom, Skal Labissiere, end up living up to the hype, Kentucky may very well have it’s one shining moment at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.