Because it's NEVER too early to have a poll for something in sports, here's thingy Vitale's pre-season Top 30 (info edited)! Two observations: Of these listed only Providence (#27) and Gonzaga (#29) do not feature 1-A football while Memphis is the only school that has 1-A football that is not, nor will be, part of the BCS family. (Soon, anyway.) Coincidence?
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
Is this the year coach Roy Williams finally gets to cut down the nets? He has the talent to do it. The addition of Marvin Williams, who would have been a first-round pick if he entered the NBA draft early, makes the Tar Heels my pick. The players have had a year to learn Williams' system and they should be more comfortable in year two.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Coach Bill Self's club has depth and talent and should compete for the national championship. Imagine the excitement if Kansas and North Carolina met in St. Louis for the chance to cut down the nets! The trio of Simien, Langford and Miles has been close before. Can they get over the top now?
3. Kentucky Wildcats
The influx of new talent will boost coach Tubby Smith's team into national prominence. It may take time to flourish as a unit, but the talent is there and Smith knows how to get the most from this group. By season's end, watch out!
4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
This is arguably one of the premier returning units in America. The battle between North Carolina and Wake Forest in the ACC should be something special, but you can't count out Duke, Georgia Tech and Maryland. Chris Paul will be one of the unique players to watch this season.
5. Michigan State Spartans
If Neitzel lives up to his potential as a leader at the point, this Michigan State squad can go far. It has a nice blend of veteran talent and newcomers. Davis is tough inside, while Hill can shoot the trifecta. Coach Tom Izzo's team is going to be tough in the Big Ten.
6. Texas Longhorns
Coach Rick Barnes had one of the nation's premier recruiting classes, and several players will have an immediate impact. Few teams could lose the talent Texas did and return to the top 10. It just shows the depth the Longhorns enjoyed last season, and several players should step up with increased minutes in 2004-05.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
After reaching the national-championship game last season, coach Paul Hewitt's team will be a contender again this time around. Schenscher keeps getting better and better in the middle, and Jack is a great leader. Elder can flat-out score, and the newcomers could help out.
8. Connecticut Huskies
Losing Okafor and Gordon, two of the top three picks in the NBA draft, would knock down any program. Coach Jim Calhoun and Co. will reload with Nelson -- a Georgia Tech transfer -- while Gay and Price will help right away. Villanueva will have a bigger role, and Boone is an underrated factor inside. Look for big things on the perimeter from Anderson, who showed signs of brilliance last season (ask Alabama coach Mark Gottfried about his 28-point performance in the NCAA Tournament).
9. Duke Blue Devils
Coach Mike Krzyzewski turned down the lure of coaching the Lakers in the offseason. Even without Luol Deng or Shawn Livingston, the Dukies have a top-10 squad. The nucleus is there to make noise, led by Williams on the interior and Rethingy nailing the trifecta. The ACC will be a monster conference this season.
10. Maryland Terrapins
Coach Gary Williams' team really matured in the ACC tournament last season, and that momentum should carry over into a big season. Gilchrist is a PTPer in the backcourt, and this team should enjoy a super season.
11. Syracuse Orangemen
Will Billy Edelin come back into the Syracuse picture? If not, coach Jim Boeheim still has lots of options. The return of Warrick gives the Orange one of the premier 1-2 punches (with McNamara). Syracuse, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh make up quite a Fab Four in the Big East.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini
With Powell withdrawing from the NBA draft, coach Bruce Weber has his main cogs back. The tandem of Brown and Williams will be the key again. The Illini have the potential to go far come NCAA tourney time.
13. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Coach Eddie Sutton has a dangerous team that made it to the Final Four last season. A return there is not out of the question. The loss of Allen will hurt, but it will be interesting to see how Curry performs (he was originally supposed to go to North Carolina). Lucas should have another big season in Stillwater.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The addition of Lattimore, a transfer from Arizona, makes the Irish a top-15 team. He'll have a big-time impact up front. Lattimore, Thomas and Francis (if he can stay healthy) combine to give coach Mike Brey quite a talented trio. Thomas really stepped up his game late last season.
15. Pittsburgh Panthers
Coach Jamie Dixon's team will compete hard night in and night out, playing tenacious defense and enjoying good shot selection on offense. Taft will be one of the premier super sophs inside. Krauser remains the team leader in the backcourt.
16. Arizona Wildcats
Imagine if Iguodala had returned to school instead of jumping into the NBA draft? This would have been a top-10 team for sure. The lack of depth proved costly last season as the Wildcats wore down with their running style. The talent is there to be at or near the top of the Pac-10. Coach Lute Olson is happy to get Fox back up front.
17. Louisville Cardinals
Coach Rick Pitino can only imagine what this squad would have been like if Sebastian Telfair and Donta Smith showed up on campus. Instead, they're in the NBA. But the Cardinals still have one of the premier teams in Conference USA (next season they'll be in the Big East).
18. Wisconsin Badgers
This team would have been in the top 10 if Devin Harris had returned. Instead, he's in the NBA now, although coach Bo Ryan will still have a solid team. Adding Chambliss, the transfer from Penn State, and former McDonald's All-American Butch will help.
19. Alabama Crimson Tide
Unlike last season, coach Mark Gottfried's team won't be sneaking up on anyone. Winston is one of the premier players in the SEC, and the front line will be even better with the year's experience.
20. NC State Wolfpack
Coach Herb Sendek had to be thrilled with Hodge's decision to return to school. The addition of Bethel, a transfer from Georgetown, will help. The ACC is loaded, but the Wolfpack will be heard from.
21. Cincinnati Bearcats
Coach Bob Huggins off-court problems probably won't hurt this team. Maxiell will be a force up front and Nick Williams could become a bigger scoring factor. This will be another tough, physical Bearcats squad.
22. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Coach Rick Stansbury had to be overjoyed when Lawrence Roberts withdrew from the NBA draft and opted to return to Starkville. With Roberts, the Bulldogs are a top-25 team. Big things should be expected from Ervin this season.
23. Memphis Tigers
Coach John Calipari has lots of incoming talent to go with Banks and Co. Once again, Conference USA should be well-represented come NCAA Tournament time.
24. Florida Gators
How much will the newcomers boost this program? Coach Billy Donovan has a triple threat in Walsh, Roberson and Lee, but last season's disappointment down the stretch must be forgotten quickly.
25. Washington Huskies
The return of Robinson, who withdrew from the NBA draft, is a big plus. And the addition of Williams, a transfer from New Mexico, will help up front. These guys are familiar with each other, and that will help coach Lorenzo Romar's team challenge for Pac-10 supremacy.
26. Michigan Wolverines
Is this the breakthrough season for coach Tommy Amaker and Co.? They built momentum in winning the NIT, and the Wolverines figure to make the Big Dance this time around. Look for more big things from Horton.
27. Providence Friars
The return of Gomes raises the Friars up several notches and into the top 30. The absence of Douthit is a factor, since he was such a defensive presence. Coach Tim Welsh may need help from his newcomers right away.
28. Stanford Cardinal
Former coach Mike Montgomery is coaching the NBA's Warriors, Josh Childress is in the NBA, and the Cardinal will still be one of the top teams in the Pac-10, battling Washington and Arizona for supremacy. New coach Trent Johnson is a former Montgomery assistant who comes from Nevada (he led the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16 last year). Johnson is a solid coach, and this team cannot be taken lightly.
29. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Coach Mark Few is reloading, and Turiaf will be a star up front once again. Morrison will be more of a threat with added playing time. Replacing Stepp won't be easy, though. Can Knight become a more consistent scoring threat? Few needs this team to stay healthy. Can Doudney, the Texas Tech transfer, help as a long-range shooter?
30. Florida State Seminoles
Coach Leonard Hamilton will have a tough team. The Seminoles will miss Pickett, but the addition of Romero up front and Rich and Swann in the backcourt will be a positive.