Losing Shabazz Napier is tough. (That's the kind of hard-hitting analysis you get from the Way-Too-Early Top 25.) Napier is the Huskies' heart and soul, and he was also a massively productive, efficient player -- replacing him won't be possible. But even without him, UConn has a promising 2014-15 on deck. If Ryan Boatright's jump shot develops, he could be a devastating ball-dominant point guard. DeAndre Daniels is rounding into an unstoppable wing scorer. Freshman center Amida Brimah blocked 15.4 percent of opponents' shots this season, fourth-most in the country; his future is limitless. Coach Kevin Ollie could get contributions from still-promising guard Omar Calhoun and incoming talent Daniel Hamilton. And NC State transfer Rodney Purvis -- whom Ollie referred to as "a Ferrari in the garage that I can't drive" in Arlington this week -- may be the best player of them all. The Huskies are in excellent hands.
Wait ... what? Don't refresh your browser, folks. This isn't a mistake. Coach Larry Brown got a long-moribund SMU program into tournament contention in 2013-14, just his second season, thanks to a deep and scrappy group of homegrown recruits and transfers. Nearly everyone will return in 2014-15. Meanwhile, Brown's aggressive staff managed to land fifth-ranked 2014 prospect Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6-5 lead guard with physical scoring skills, a tight handle, and a well-developed, crafty midrange game. (Think the Harrison twins, maybe. Or Tyreke Evans.) An already excellent defense will benefit next season from serious scoring punch, with a legendary coach still running circles around his contemporaries on a play-by-play basis. This is a fascinating team to watch moving forward.
The Cardinals are losing a ton. There's Russ Smith, an All-American and the lead force on the Cardinals' 2013 national title team. There's Luke Hancock, the Most Outstanding Player of that Final Four. Stephan Van Treese leaves with size and hoops IQ in tow. And Montrezl Harrell, who became a dominant interior force this season, looks likely to enter the NBA draft. Yet coach Rick Pitino's team might still be a title contender by next March, and not just because Pitino has been masterful in working through roster changes in recent seasons. He also brings in the No. 4-ranked recruiting class -- including four solid, top-100 players in Shaqquan Aaron, Quentin Snider, Anas Osama Mahmoud and Chinanu Onuaku. Pitino may need to get more out of Mangok Mathiang and (especially) Wayne Blackshear, but the Cardinals won't lack for talent.