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Terps top RJ preseason college basketball poll

Big Ten schools have had a whole lot of fun beating up on Maryland on the football field this season.

The Terrapins will be coming for revenge on the hardwood.

Coach Mark Turgeon’s team is loaded and ready to challenge for a national championship. Maryland sits in the top spot in the Review-Journal’s preseason Top 25.

Point guard Melo Trimble, one of the best players in the country, is joined by former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon and prized freshman Diamond Stone on what should be Maryland’s best team since the 2002 NCAA championship squad. If things go right, the Terrapins team could cut down the nets.

There’s plenty of competition, though, especially from Maryland’s former conference rivals in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Three ACC teams find their way into our top six, led by North Carolina at No. 3.

One conference missing is the Mountain West. UNLV received votes, as did San Diego State, but not enough to make the rankings.

1. Maryland — Like most coaches, Turgeon wants the Terrapins to be built on defense and rebounding. They were good in one of those areas last season, leading the Big Ten in field-goal defense. While Stone is still a work in progress defensively, his big frame should help protect the rim and improve Maryland’s shaky rebounding numbers. Sulaimon makes any team better defensively. All the pieces are in place. The only question marks will be who takes over for Dez Wells as a team leader and whether the Terps’ 12-1 record in games decided by six points or fewer was an aberration or a sign of a team well-schooled in late-game situations.

2. Kansas — Coach Bill Self was able to get a glimpse of what his team might look like when he took his Jayhawks to South Korea to represent the United States in the World University Games. They won gold. The team did borrow two players — Nic Moore of SMU and Julian DeBose of Florida Gulf Coast — as injury replacements, but the result was still impressive. Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason and Perry Ellis will lead Kansas to a 12th straight Big 12 regular-season title and have a chance to accomplish even more in March.

3. North Carolina — Roy Williams returns nine of the top 10 scorers from the Sweet 16 team that made a run to the ACC Tournament final. The Tar Heels should be in position to improve on that impressive postseason. One of the keys to the team’s late-season improvement was Joel Berry II and Nate Britt establishing themselves as primary ballhandlers to free up Marcus Paige to focus on scoring. All three return in those roles. Paige is also fully healthy after battling leg injuries all season.

4. Virginia — Insiders long have regarded Tony Bennett as one of the best coaches in college basketball, and the rest of the world has caught on. The 2015 national coach of the year has led the Cavaliers to back-to-back 30-win seasons. Don’t expect much of a drop-off, mostly because of the way Bennett’s teams defend. Virginia, the nation’s top defensive team last season, held opponents scoreless for more than five minutes 28 times. That’s incredible. London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon form one of the best and most experienced backcourts in the nation.

5. Kentucky — Many prognosticators are again picking the Wildcats as the nation’s top team, and coach John Calipari has another big haul of talent coming in, especially after the NCAA declared super prospect Skal Labissiere eligible. Kentucky might find itself trying to keep up with more experienced teams early in the season. But by March, veterans Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress will help the young talent develop into a team more than capable of winning the trophy that eluded last year’s super-team.

6. Duke — The national champs lost four starters, but the cupboard is far from bare. Coach Mike Krzyzewski landed the No. 1 recruiting class and expects to have a legitimate chance to successfully defend the title. A lot will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Grayson Allen, who struggled to find his role most of last season but saved his best for last with a huge second-half performance in the NCAA final. He will need to be far more consistent. The Blue Devils also must get big contributions from Derryck Thornton and Brandon Ingram. History says it will happen. Duke has finished in the final top 10 in 18 of the last 19 seasons.

7. Wichita State — The university won its biggest offseason recruiting battle by keeping coach Gregg Marshall, mustering the money to give him $3 million a year to ignore pitches from Alabama and Texas. More offers probably will be forthcoming next year because Marshall again has the dynamic backcourt of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet running the show. The Shockers also get a major boost from Cleveland State transfer center Anton Grady, who averaged double figures in scoring for three seasons. He will play a role similar to that of Cleanthony Early on the 2013 Final Four team. Wichita State will get even better in the second semester when Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp becomes eligible.

8. Gonzaga — The Bulldogs might not win 35 games again as they play a brutal schedule with a lot of travel, but coach Mark Few’s team is capable of being a factor in March. While Gonzaga lost a lot with the graduation of its top three backcourt players, there isn’t a better frontcourt in college basketball. Center Przemek Karnowski is a handful, and ultra-talented Domantas Sabonis should break out this season. Sharp-shooting Kyle Wiltjer is a small forward in name only at 6 feet 10 inches. As long as the Bulldogs can get moderate production out of a young backcourt, they should be just fine.

9. Iowa State — Believe it or not, Georges Niang is still in school. If it seems he’s been in Ames for eight years, it may be because of how productive he has been. Niang will be a leading candidate for national player of the year, and his presence, along with three other returning starters, will help ease the transition to coach Steve Prohm from Fred Hoiberg. The former Murray State coach steps into a good situation that will get even better at the end of the first semester when Marquette transfer Deonte Burton becomes eligible.

10. Arizona — The Wildcats have one of the nation’s most experienced frontcourts with senior transfers Mark Tollefson and Ryan Anderson joining returning center Kaleb Tarczewski. Anderson, third team All-ACC at Boston College in 2014, transferred to Arizona because he wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament. After sitting out last season, he should get that chance. Tollefson, a graduate transfer from San Francisco, also gives the Wildcats immediate experience to help replace all the departed talent. Gabe York will be a big key, going from a valuable spark off the bench to a probable starter counted on for consistent production.

11. California — Coach Cuonzo Martin was already going to enter this season with three returning backcourt starters who averaged in double figures. Then his team’s outlook got even better when Martin landed elite prospects Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, who will likely start together in the frontcourt. With NBA prospects at all five positions, Martin’s biggest problem may be keeping all the talent happy.

12. Oklahoma — Coach Lon Kruger enters the season with three seniors and a junior who started last season on a team that won 24 games. Buddy Hield is a prolific starter, and Ryan Spangler does a little bit of everything for the former UNLV coach.

13. Villanova — Big East sixth man of the year Josh Hart steps into the starting lineup to help ease the loss of three key starters. League co-player of the year Ryan Arcidiacono will be counted on to do even more in his senior season.

14. Indiana — The Hoosiers are one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten. It’s a good thing they are so good on the other end. Yogi Ferrell leads an offense capable of outscoring its opponents on any given night. The Hoosiers will have to figure out a way to play at least some defense, though.

15. Michigan State — Does it really matter who puts on the green jerseys in any given season? Coach Tom Izzo’s teams can just be penciled in for well over 20 wins every season and to be peaking for the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the talent is there too. Former West Virginia star Eron Harris joins a veteran team that will be a tough out in March.

16. Utah — The Utes lost just one player from a 26-win team. The problem is, that player was star Delon Wright, whose absence leaves a void as a scorer and primary ballhandler. If someone steps up to fill that role, coach Larry Krystkowiak has enough talent and depth at every position to compete in the Pac-12.

17. Michigan — The Wolverines stumbled to a 16-16 record and missed the NIT last season. It was just an aberration. John Beilein is one of the best coaches in the nation and he returns all five starters. Guards Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. are healthy again an injury-plagued season, but Zak Irvin is still recovering from back surgery. He should be back soon, along with the Wolverines’ status as an elite program.

18. Purdue — The Boilermakers lost only Jon Octeus and added elite recruit Caleb Swanigan. Coach Matt Painter has a deep team that includes two talented 7-footers, A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. Purdue must get consistent play from graduate transfer Johnny Hill at point guard if it hopes to fulfill lofty expectations.

19. Vanderbilt — Coach Kevin Stallings mostly will play a lineup consisting of four shooters around talented center Damian Jones, a formula that helped the Commodores turn things around last year after two down seasons. He added more perimeter threats on the recruiting trail. If Josh Henderson can finally stay healthy, Vanderbilt could have three 7-footers playing a prominent role.

20. Butler — Roosevelt Jones, the star small forward with the playing style that appears ready for YMCA ball, returns for his senior season with a team that could make a lot of noise. Former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Lewis gets a fresh start after sitting out last season. He rarely turns the ball over and probably will score far more than he did at North Carolina State. Kellen Dunham is a quiet superstar.

21. SMU — It was going to be hard to forget losing one of the most heartbreaking games in recent memory to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. Then the NCAA came calling, SMU has been banned from postseason play, and coach Larry Brown has to sit out nine games. Still, the team is loaded. Point guard Nic Moore is one of the nation’s best floor leaders. As long as everything doesn’t come crashing down, the Mustangs are capable of winning the American Athletic Conference regular-season title, which is now their goal.

22. Oregon — Somehow, some way, Dana Altman always finds a way to put a good team on the floor. He eased the loss of star Joseph Young by landing graduate transfer Dylan Ennis from Villanova to start at point guard. Findlay Prep product Dillon Brooks averaged 11.5 points per game for the Ducks last season and appears ready to break out after an outstanding summer playing for Canada in the World University Games.

23. Connecticut — Coach Kevin Ollie returns four starters motivated by the disappointment of becoming just the ninth defending champion to not play in the NCAA Tournament. Ollie also added a pair of graduate transfers, Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs and Cornell’s Shonn Miller, to help offset the loss of leading scorer Ryan Boatright. An appearance in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament early in the season should tell a lot about how the team is coming together.

24. Texas A&M — Coach Billy Kennedy’s team is ready to take another step forward. With accomplished starters Alex Caruso, Danuel House and Jalen Jones returning, Kennedy brought in graduate transfer Anthony Collins to run the point and prized recruit Tyler Davis in the post. The Aggies should also have more depth after fading down the stretch last season.

25. LSU — Ben Simmons can do a little bit of everything and he proved it during the Tigers’ exhibition tour in Australia. The star freshman led the team in just about every statistical category to somehow raise expectations higher for his debut than they already were. Simmons leads a talented recruiting class that will join established backcourt starters Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby to make the Tigers formidable.

Voters were Adam Hill, Steve Carp, Ed Graney, Matt Youmans.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him: @adamhilllvrj

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