DETROIT -- College basketball in the post-Tyler Hansbrough Era: less shot-putting, more uncertainty. There will be no clear-cut No. 1 entering next season, as there was when Hansbrough and teammates Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington opted to return to North Carolina to chase a national title. The best candidate may be the team that was manhandled on Monday night. As upsetting as that finale must have been for Michigan State -- the Spartans lost by 17 to the Tar Heels, and will lose seniors Goran Suton and Travis Walton -- it'll be trotting out the best starting five in college hoops next season, with Kalin Lucas at the point, Chris Allen (or Korie Lucious) at shooting guard, Durrell Summers at the wing, and Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe at the forward spots. And that lineup, at this very early juncture (I'm writing this from the airport on the way back from the Final Four) makes Michigan State my pick for 2009-10's preseason No. 1.
My entire top 10 includes all of '09's Final Four teams, and, assuming a host of players turn pro -- Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, North Carolina's Lawson and Ellington, Arizona State's James Harden, Memphis's Tyreke Evans, UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, Pitt's DeJuan Blair, Wake Forest's James Johnson and Duke's Gerald Henderson -- looks like this:
1. Michigan State
If only the Final Four were in Detroit again: Motown products Lucas and Summers (as well as Ohioans Morgan and Roe) will lead a Spartans team deep and talented enough to make another title run. Like the Tar Heels did after getting embarrassed by Kansas in 2008, the Spartans can rebound from a big-stage loss and use it as a springboard for a magical season.
A second national title in three years is a possibility, especially if the Jayhawks land top shooting guard Xavier Henry, who reopened his recruitment after John Calipari left Memphis. Henry might be lured back to the Tigers -- for whom his brother, C.J., currently plays -- if new coach Josh Pastner hires the boys' father, Carl, as his new director of basketball operations. But will Xavier want to pass up the chance to join forces with the fearsome inside-outside duo of point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, who emerged as a premier defensive force this season?
Noticing a theme? Our top three teams feature the nation's top three point guards. As long as Jonny Flynn returns for his junior year, the Orange will have their entire starting lineup back and should be the favorite to win a less-loaded Big East. In Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, Flynn has two of the best perimeter targets in the country.
The big question in Storrs regards coach Jim Calhoun: Is he leaning toward retirement as the possibility of NCAA sanctions looms? Among the incentives to stay is the trio of Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, who are capable of leading the Huskies back to the Final Four. Freshman forward Ater Majok, who couldn't gain eligibility in time to join the Huskies for the '08-09 season, is regarded as a potential offensive star.
The guard ranks will be ridiculously deep -- McDonald's All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns join a strong backcourt crew that could return intact -- but the frontcourt will miss Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson. If coach Jay Wright can find a way for his vaunted recruiting class to coexist with current backcourt talents Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, the Wildcats will be dangerous once again.
The Blue Devils are finally adding some quality size in 6-9 Ryan Kelly (a faceup power forward) and 6-10 Mason Plumlee (a traditional center), who could help potential All-America Kyle Singler on the glass. Sophomore Elliot Williams should flourish in his first full season at the point -- but he could be moved off the ball if the Blue Devils land top recruit John Wall, whom coach Mike Krzyzewski is making a late push to lure to Durham.
The Boilers could break through to the Elite Eight or beyond -- as long as the L5 vertebra fracture that plagued Robbie Hummel this year doesn't continue to nag him as a junior. Frontcourt mate JaJuan Johnson had a breakout year as a sophomore and was key in getting the team to the Sweet 16. As a junior he should battle Michigan State's Lucas for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
8. North Carolina
In Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and newcomer John Henson, the Heels will have an NBA-level frontcourt rotation. But how good will their speed game be without Lawson? The pressure will be on sophomore Larry Drew II to efficiently run the break, and senior Marcus Ginyard, who took a medical redshirt and missed the title run, will have to add some offense to his defense-heavy game.
9. West Virginia
This should be Bob Huggins' best team yet in Morgantown, in part because matchup nightmare Devin Ebanks will take the Big East by storm as a sophomore. The Mountaineers lose only gunner Alex Ruoff, but forward Da'Sean Butler, one of the nation's best under-the-radar scorers, can pick up the slack.
Guard Willie Warren wants to come back "without Blake Griffin to see how good [he is]"-- and there's a chance Warren could be an All-America as a sophomore. Two McDonald's All-Americans, point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and big man Keith "Tiny" Gallon, are joining him, so the Sooners should finish near the top of the Big 12 again.
WILD CARD: Kentucky
In their current state, the Wildcats shouldn't be near the top 20. But how will they look once new coach John Calipari is done building his first-year roster? The best-case scenario in Lexington could yield a team capable of chasing a national title. If lethal scorer Jodie Meeks, who plans to test the draft waters as a junior, can be convinced to return along with sophomore Patrick Patterson, and Calipari can reel in elite recruits John Wall (who had been considering Memphis) and DeMarcus Cousins (who previously committed to Memphis), then Kentucky will be scary. Landing Wall, the top prep point guard in the country, is the key, because there's no one on UK's present roster who can make Calipari's Dribble-Drive Motion offense run in high gear.
The Next 10:
11. Texas; 12. Gonzaga; 13. Washington; 14. UCLA; 15. Missouri; 16. Butler; 17. Minnesota; 18. Clemson; 19. Dayton; 20. Xavier