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MEN'S PRESEASON TOP 25

1. ARIZONA: The Wildcats have depth, size, experience and, oh, yeah, talent. PG Jason Gardner (20.4 ppg) and do-everything F Luke Walton (15.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg) are All-America candidates. C Channing Frye, G Salim Stoudamire and F Rick Anderson might be stars on any other team.

2. KANSAS: Though coach Roy Williams lost F Drew Gooden early to the NBA draft from a team that reached the Final Four, his Jayhawks have a dominating big man in F Nick Collison (15.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg). They also have a dangerous three-guard lineup, led by Kirk Hinrich (14.8 ppg, 47.8 percent 3-point shooting).

3. OKLAHOMA: The Sooners reached the Final Four and have four starters back, beginning with Gs Hollis Price (16.5 ppg) and Ebi Ere (14.6 ppg). Coach Kelvin Sampson needs to find someone to replace F Aaron McGhee, his best inside player at both ends of the floor.

4. XAVIER: The Four Musketeers _ returning starters F David West (18.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg), electrifying F/G Romain Sato (16.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), PG Lionel Chalmers (12.0 ppg, 4.2 apg) and G/F Dave Young _ can prove their mettle in the Preseason NIT and in games against Cincinnati, Mississippi State and Alabama by Jan. 4.

5. PITTSBURGH: The Panthers return every starter from a team that went 29-6 and reached the Sweet 16. As was the case last season, PG Brandin Knight (15.6 ppg, 7.2 apg, 4.8 rpg) is the key. If he's healthy, which he wasn't in the NCAAs, look out. He ignites the offense and initiates a tough defense.

6. FLORIDA: The Gators disappointed a season ago, losing to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But F Matt Bonner (15.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is a star and G Brett Nelson (14.6 ppg) could and should be, too. With Udonis Haslem gone, it's time for sophomore F David Lee to live up to his hype.

7. ALABAMA: The Tide might have gone out had F/C Erwin Dudley (15.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg), SEC player of the year, opted for NBA. But he's back, as are three other starters from a team that won 27 last season. The Tide might want to prove something after losing to Kent State in the second round as a No. 2 seed.

8. DUKE: Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer combined for nearly 57 ppg, 19 rpg and 9 apg. Gone. So PG Chris Duhon can't just be the playmaker and set up F Dahntay Jones and G Daniel Ewing. Duke also needs freshmen Fs Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph to shine.

9. TEXAS: PG T.J. Ford dazzled as a freshman, leading the nation in assists (8.3), and should be even better as a leader and scorer (10.8 ppg) this season. The Longhorns' problem might be defense. Teams shot nearly 44 percent against them and that's a way to lose, especially in the Big 12.

10. MARYLAND: No team lost more than the defending NCAA champion Terrapins. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Byron Mouton and sophomore Chris Wilcox averaged almost 59 ppg and 25 rpg. PG Steve Blake must excel and G Drew Nicholas, F/C Tahj Holden and F/C Ryan Randle must do more with their opportunity to start.

11. OREGON: The Lukes, mop-topped PG Luke Ridnour (15.5 ppg, 5.0 apg) and F/G Luke Jackson (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.3 apg), should keep the Ducks swimming along. How far they go depends on how well they replace clutch-shooting F Frederick Jones (18.6 ppg).

12. MICHIGAN ST.: The Spartans were young and, for the first time in a while, lacked star power a season ago. Experience should help sophomore Gs Chris Hill (11.5 ppg) and Kelvin Torbert (8.2 ppg) and sophomore F Alan Anderson (6.5) blossom. Coach Tom Izzo's teams will defend and rebound, and that helps.

13. MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs, like Alabama, are buoyed by the unexpected return of their big man, F/C Mario Austin (16.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg). He is surrounded by veteran Gs Timmy Bowers (10.6 ppg) and Derrick Zimmerman (9.2 ppg, 6.0 apg). They can make collapsing defenses pay.

14. MISSOURI: The mercurial Tigers reached the NCAA Elite Eight thanks to the play of F Rickey Paulding (18.3 ppg in the NCAA Tournament). He overshadowed Kareem Rush. C Arthur Johnson and F Travon Bryant both are 6-9 and beefy. But the key will be how well junior college PG Ricky Clemons contributes.

15. INDIANA: Folks dismissed the Hoosiers at nearly every round of the NCAA Tournament last season. All they did was reach the championship game. So even without F Jared Jeffries, who would dare dismiss them now? PG Tom Coverdale (11.9 ppg, 4.8 apg) is too tough to underestimate ever again and G A.J. Moye is a star in waiting.

16. GEORGIA: The Bulldogs might be a bit small, but look out for their bite along the perimeter. Jarvis Hayes (18.6 ppg) and Ezra Williams (16.5 ppg) might be the best G combination in the SEC. Look out for North Carolina State transfer F Damien Wilkins. He's athletic and ACC-tested tough.

17. WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers return six of their top seven players, including the biggest one, 7-1 C Chris Marcus (15.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg). If he can stay healthy _ he still is bothered by a foot injury that hampered him much of last season _ they might be the best team in the Commonwealth.

18. MARQUETTE: The Golden Eagles are short on experience, but they have one of the nation's top all-around players, junior F Dwyane Wade (17.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.4 apg). He will need PG Travis Diener and post players Scott Merritt and Mississippi State transfer Robert Jackson to be solid complements.

19. UCLA: If Bruins coach Steve Lavin wants to stay off the hot seat, an annual tradition in Westwood during his six seasons, he will need F/G Jason Kapono (16.0 ppg) and promising sophomore PG Cedric Bozeman to shine. It should help that G Ray Young, who sat out last season, has been a reliable starter.

20. UCONN: F Caron Butler, now with the Miami Heat, was the star, but the Huskies return a burgeoning defensive star in F/C Emeka Okafor (7.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.1 bpg) and a dangerous trio of Gs, Ben Gordon (12.6 ppg), Tony Robertson (11.3 ppg) and Taliek Brown (9.2 ppg).

21. PENN: The Quakers? Are we kidding? Nope. They have a legitimate NBA first-round prospect in F Ugonna Onyekwe (17.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg), and F Koko Archibong (14.2 ppg) and G Andrew Toole (13.9ppg) aren't too shabby, either. With games against Temple, Villanova, Providence, Colorado and USC, they can show it.

22. CREIGHTON: All five Bluejays are back, including the Missouri Valley's top player, F Kyle Korver (15.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.3 apg). They will miss G Terrell Taylor, a star of the NCAA win against the Gators, but they have plenty of offense and experience. The biggest test is a Dec. 31 trip to Xavier.

23. WYOMING: The Cowboys beat Gonzaga and nearly upset Arizona in the NCAAs, and neither was a fluke. They will miss hard-nosed F Josh Davis, but G/F Marcus Bailey (14.6 ppg) is breathtaking and Gs Donta Richardson (11.9 ppg) and Jason Straight (9.2 ppg) are solid role players.

24. KENTUCKY: The Wildcats have been no stranger to turmoil, but coach Tubby Smith consistently has willed his team to win. G Keith Bogans (11.6 ppg) and post players Marquis Estill and Jules Camera are versatile and athletic, but someone needs to become a go-to guy in place of last season's scoring leader, Tayshaun Prince.

25. GONZAGA: Do-everything PG Dan Dickau has left for the NBA, but the 'Zags have plenty of talent inside with Fs Zach Gourde (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Cory Violette (12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg). Blake Stepp must step up big time at PG. Keep an eye on C Richard Fox, a transfer from Colorado.

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