Kentucky won the title but the Wildcats aren’t No. 1 in our ridiculously early look at next season’s top 25

The 2011-12 season ended Monday night, and enough with the lasting memories made during the season. It’s time to turn the page and look forward to 2012-13.

Obviously, it’s extremely early to be projecting anything about a season that doesn’t start for seven months. For one, we’re making some assumptions about the makeup of the rosters. And we all know what happens when we assume. … That’s right: We make mistakes.

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Anyway, we will do this again in a couple of months. For now, though, here’s a look at how we think next season will start.

1. Indiana
This season: 27-9 overall, 2-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: C Cody Zeller remains in school, along with all the other underclassmen
The buzz: If Zeller remains, IU fans can begin dreaming of a national title. Coach Tom Crean has an excellent recruiting class, with every position covered. F Hanner Perea is a big-timer whose presence will be even more important if Zeller does leave. IU overachieved this season in getting to the Sweet 16. Far more will be expected next season, and if Zeller stays, the recruiting class lives up to billing and the other returnees make the requisite improvement, IU could be celebrating next April.
2. Kentucky
This season: 39-2 overall, won national title
Assumption about next season: The only starter who returns is Doron Lamb
The buzz: UK easily could lose all five starters plus sixth man Darius Miller, the only senior who played key minutes. But, as usual, the Wildcats are going to strike gold on the recruiting trail. They already have signed three top-40 prospects – including one from Kansas – and are in the running for three more five-star prospects. Holdover F Kyle Wiltjer, who was a five-star prospect in the 2011 class, will become a more important part of the offense. UK is going to be loaded again; the chemistry is the question.
3. Louisville
This season: 30-10 overall, 4-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: The Cardinals lose starters Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but they still should be better next season. C Gorgui Dieng will remain a defensive force, and has a chance to be a double-double guy if his offense continues to improve. If G Wayne Blackshear can stay healthy, he gives Rick Pitino an explosive backcourt scorer. Peyton Siva should be one of the nation’s best point guards.
4. Michigan
This season: 24-10 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: If G Trey Burke returns, the Wolverines could be the second-best team in the Big Ten next season. He and Tim Hardaway Jr. are a potent backcourt, and five-star freshman Mitch McGary will give the Wolverines an inside presence they haven’t had in quite a while. Freshman Glenn Robinson III gives the Wolverines another son of a former NBA player, and while not as offense-minded as his dad, he can score.
5. North Carolina State
This season: 24-13 overall, 2-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: Mark Gottfried has a superb recruiting class coming in, heading by hometown G Rodney Purvis, who should provide a ton of offense. He and PG Lorenzo Brown will make for a scary backcourt. F C.J. Leslie could turn pro, and he would be missed. But he certainly is not someone who cannot be replaced. For the first time in a while, the Wolfpack would seem to have a legit shot at winning the ACC.
6. North Carolina
This season: 32-6 overall, 3-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall are the only underclassmen who leave
The buzz: UNC took a huge hit with that trio of underclassmen joining senior Tyler Zeller in leaving Chapel Hill. But weep not for Roy Williams. He is bringing in four top-75 players and should get vastly more production from James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, touted freshmen this season who will get a lot more minutes next season. There are rumblings that McAdoo will go pro, which would be a mistake – and a reason to drop UNC a few spots in the rankings. Gs Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald should be healthy, which also will help. The key could be the play of freshman PG Marcus Paige, a four-star prospect.
7. Florida
This season: 26-11 overall, 3-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: G Bradley Beal is only underclassman who leaves
The buzz: The Gators will return three starters, with the key guy being C Patric Young, who should become more of an offensive threat. There is a good recruiting class coming in, including likely starting PG Braxton Ogbueze, and the Gators again should be a perimeter-oriented team. If Beal were to stay, this is a top-three club. The Gators have lost in the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons.
8. Kansas
This season: 32-8 overall, 5-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: Thomas Robinson is the only key underclassman who leaves
The buzz: Robinson’s departure would leave a big void, but KU has the talent to overcome that loss. Bill Self has another good recruiting class, headed by five-star F Perry Ellis. G Elijah Johnson, a former five-star prospect himself, should continue his rise to stardom, and Jeff Withey should be one of the best pure centers in the nation next season. A ninth consecutive Big 12 regular-season title beckons.
9. Baylor
This season: 30-8 overall, 3-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: F Perry Jones III is the only underclassman who leaves
The buzz: Jones and F Quincy Acy will be missed, but the Bears still will have a nice backcourt with holdovers Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello. Scott Drew once again lived up to his reputation as an ace recruiter by bringing in another star-studded class, headed by Fs Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers, who should help ease the pain left by Jones’ departure. Now, if Drew can just do something to change his reputation as a mediocre Xs-and-Os guy. (Then again, Baylor has reached the Elite Eight in two of the past three seasons.)
10. Ohio State
This season: 31-8 overall, 4-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: C Jared Sullinger is the only underclassman who leaves early
The buzz: F DeShaun Thomas should become the go-to scorer, and PG Aaron Craft seems likely to improve as an offensive threat. In addition, a slew of former highly touted recruits, such as Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross, should receive appreciably more playing time and make the requisite jump in production – sort of like Thomas as a sophomore after a relatively non-productive freshman season.
11. Syracuse
This season: 34-3 overall, 3-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: C Feb Melo and G Dion Waiters will be the only underclassmen leaving early
The buzz: Syracuse is losing some talent, no doubt, with seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph also on the way out. But C Dajuan Coleman and PF Jerami Grant are touted signees and give the Orange two more big bodies. Waiters’ loss hurts the backcourt, and it puts pressure on sophomore-to-be Michael Carter-Williams to produce.
12. Duke
This season: 27-7 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: G Austin Rivers is the only underclassmen to leave
The buzz: Freshman G Rasheed Sulaimon should help ease Rivers’ departure. What would further help is consistent play from G Quinn Cook, who was way too erratic as a freshman this season. Duke again should be a backcourt-centric squad. A holdover (or a transfer) will need to step up to help the Plumlee brothers in the frontcourt.
13. San Diego State
This season: 26-8 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen stay in school
The buzz: The Aztecs went from being a frontcourt-oriented team in 2010-11 to a backcourt-oriented group in 2011-12 and really didn’t miss a beat. All the key players will be back next season, and coach Steve Fisher is bringing in two solid three-star frontcourt prospects.
14. Michigan State
This season: 29-8 overall, 2-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen stay in school
The buzz: F Draymond Green is a senior, and the Spartans won’t be able to adequately replace everything he does. Still, Tom Izzo has talent with which to work, both already on the roster (Keith Appling, Branden Dawson) and coming aboard (five-star G Gary Harris, along with Fs Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski). While it would be folly to expect a Big Ten title, the Spartans will be in the hunt, if only because of Izzo’s mastery.
15. Arizona
This season: 23-12 overall, 0-1 in NIT
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen stay in school
The buzz: A top-notch recruiting class, featuring four top-50 prospects, will revitalize the frontcourt – and the program as a whole. PF Brandon Ashley and C Caleb Tarczewski are the two freshmen to truly watch. The Wildcats should be the best team in the Pac-12, which won’t be nearly as bad next season as it was this season.
16. Notre Dame
This season: 22-12 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen will stay in school
The buzz: Notre Dame overachieved relative to its talent level this season. If F Tim Abromaitis is granted a sixth season of eligibility, the Irish will be especially strong next season. G Scott Martin also could get a sixth season. There already is a good group of returning players, among them Gs Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and F Jack Cooley, and also a solid recruiting class, headed by four-star F Cameron Biedschied, a lanky (6-7, but just 174 pounds) perimeter player. Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman will be a needed big body.
17. Creighton
This season: 29-6 overall, 1-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: F Doug McDermott returns for his junior season
The buzz: The Bluejays lose just one of their top 10 players, and that is G Antoine Young. McDermott and C Gregory Echenique should be a high-scoring duo, and there is solid athleticism, good depth and a lot of 3-point shooters.
18. Memphis
This season: 26-9 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: G Will Barton is the only underclassman who leaves
The buzz: Josh Pastner still is finding his way as a coach, but the guy knows how to recruit. He has another good signing class, headed by PF Shaquille Goodwin, who should team nicely with Tarik Black. The Tigers need more production from G Joe Jackson and F Adonis Thomas if they are to reach their potential in 2012-13.
19. Texas
This season: 20-14 overall, 0-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: J’Covan Brown is the only underclassman who turns pro
The buzz: Brown was the leading scorer in the Big 12, but he also was a guy who was quite enamored with his own jumper, even when it wasn’t going in. Texas lacked a frontcourt presence this season, but that won’t be the case next season with two highly touted big men (Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh) on their way to Austin. Gs Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis should be a nice trio next season as sophomores. If sophomore Fs Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond can become a bit more offensive-minded, the Longhorns could be legit Big 12 title contenders.
20. VCU
This season: 29-7 overall, 1-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: Unlike last season, when the Rams had to replace four starters, VCU has to replace just one starter this time around. Indeed, seven of the Rams’ top eight players will be back. Shaka Smart obviously can coach, and he also has a nice group of incoming recruits.
21. Villanova
This season: 13-19 overall, no postseason
Assumption about next season: Maalik Wayns is the only underclassmen who leaves
The buzz: The Wildcats were a big disappointment this season, but they are in good position for a big-time bounceback next season. Wayns was the leading scorer, and his departure will hurt. Still, everyone else on the roster who scored a point this season will be back and there’s a good two-man recruiting class of C Daniel Ochefu, who should be a solid presence down low, and G Ryan Arcidiacono, a heady point man who can shoot.
22. Tennessee
This season: 19-15 overall, 1-1 in NIT
Assumption about next season: All the underclassmen return
The buzz: Once Jarnell Stokes joined the team Jan. 14, the Vols were a different squad. They finished in a three-way tie for second in the league with Florida and Vanderbilt, teams that had more talent. But the players bought into coach Cuonzo Martin’s system and a full season from Stokes should mean another good finish for the Vols, who will return six of their top seven scorers and have a three-man recruiting class of what should be good role players.
23. Gonzaga
This season: 26-7 overall, 1-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: F Elias Harris returns for his senior season
The buzz: The Bulldogs will miss C Robert Sacre. But the backcourt should be one of the nation’s best, and Harris and Sam Dower would form an effective duo up front.
24. Florida State
This season: 25-10 overall, 1-1 in NCAA tourney
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: The Seminoles lose six seniors, but only one, F Bernard James, will be truly difficult to replace, and that’s as much for his leadership as his production. Point guard will be the biggest problem unless incoming freshman Montay Brandon, a four-star recruit, can handle the job. He is part of a solid four-man recruiting class for Leonard Hamilton, whose team again should be in the ACC title hunt.
25. Stanford
This season: 26-11 overall, won NIT
Assumption about next season: All the key underclassmen return
The buzz: The guard-oriented Cardinal won 26 games and snagged the NIT title, and will return five of their top six scorers. Freshman F Rosco Allen, a four-star prospect, will help the frontcourt, but next season’s Cardinal again will rely on its backcourt, which should be one of the best on the West Coast.

Others considered (listed alphabetically): Cincinnati, Kansas State, Missouri, Saint Louis, UCLA, Wisconsin

Rivals.com staff writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report.

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