After the melodrama — complete with tragic ending — that was Nerlens Noel’s recruitment, I’ve been trying to put next year’s basketball season (and Kentucky’s continuing dominance) out of my mind.
And while my beloved home state briefly adjourns from basketball for the few weeks each year surrounding the Kentucky Derby, it’s never too early to start making predictions about hoops and hardwood. So, without further ado, here is my preseason top 10:

10. UCLA — Yes, the Bruins underachieved in this season. But now Ben Howland — who can definitely coach — has his back against the wall. With the addition of future diaper dandies Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker, Howland should have UCLA in shape to win the Pac-12 and be a major threat in the NCAA tournament.

9. Michigan State — This won’t be the same team without Draymond Green, but the Spartans will still contend in a Big Ten that will easily be the country’s best conference. Tom Izzo is consistently ready in March and a top-10 recruiting class will keep Michigan State in the hunt in a very tough league.

8. North Carolina State — Not since Jimmy V ran around the floor after winning the national title have the prospects for the Wolfpack seemed so bright. Just as Burke’s return helps Michigan, C.J. Leslie — as Georgetown fans know — is set to be a tremendous asset for State. Plus, Mark Gottfried has brought in several stellar recruits to help add to the hype in Raleigh.

7. Florida — The defection of Bradley Beal to the NBA certainly hurts the Gators, but they were a top-five team last season that just caught a bad matchup against Louisville in the Elite Eight. Look for Florida to get more production from its returning players, notably Kenny Boynton, and to be once again the only real competition for Kentucky in the SEC.

6. Kansas — The Jayhawks were rocked by Kentucky in the national championship and then watched as Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor departed the program. But with Jeff Withey coming back to Lawrence alongside one of Bill Self’s best groups of recruits, it would be surprising if Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12.
5. Ohio State — Jared Sullinger is gone, which surely knocks Ohio State down a peg. But it’s a mistake to write off the Buckeyes just because of that. The 2012 tournament showed that this team is a lot more than Sullinger, and with Deshaun Thomas staying, Thad Matta should have himself another contender, both in the Big Ten and in the national picture.

4. Michigan — John Beilein led his team to a 24-10 finish this year, and the future looks even brighter in a Big Ten that is every bit as stacked again this season. Point guard Trey Burke’s decision to stick around in Ann Arbor for his sophomore season, coupled with a strong recruiting class, means this year’s iteration of the Wolverines will do even better than last year’s.

3. Indiana — The Hoosiers are finally back where they belong after a long interlude following the firing of Robert Montgomery Knight. Cody Zeller is one of the nation’s best big men and Tom Crean’s squad hardly loses anyone. Throw in a solid freshman class, and Indiana should head to Atlanta.

2. Louisville — Rick Pitino’s squad overachieved to reach the Final Four in 2012, but next year’s team shouldn’t be a surprise. If guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith — as well as center Gorgui Dieng — mature, the Cardinals will be a tough matchup for anyone they face.

1. Kentucky — The Wildcats, sadly, are the defending national champions. Even worse, they picked up Nerlens Noel to give John Calipari another top recruiting class. It’s hard to see Kentucky not winning the title, but then again, Calipari deserves one season where all the one-and-dones don’t make a cohesive unit.

All told, I don’t think Kentucky’s likely to be dethroned, especially because the tournament is being held in Atlanta, so close to Lexington that the Wildcat faithful wistfully calls it “Catlanta.”

But even with that advantage, it’s possible — even likely — that one of the others will have “One Shining Moment” when the nets get cut down. We’ll have our answer in 339 days.

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