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UNC soars into top spot in preseason coaches' poll

UNC soars into top spot in preseason coaches' poll

UNC soars into top spot in preseason coaches' poll

North Carolina will start the men's basketball season as the No. 1 team in the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 coaches' poll — just barely.

In the tightest three-way preseason race since USA TODAY took over the poll in the 1991-92 season, the Tar Heels are No. 1 with 739 points, five more than second-ranked UCLA and eight points ahead of No. 3 Memphis.

UCLA, however, received 12 first-place votes from the voting panel consisting of 31 Division I head coaches, to North Carolina's 10. Memphis had eight first-place votes, and fourth-ranked Kansas received one.

"We're excited about people thinking we're going to be pretty good because we think we're going to be pretty good," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

The Tar Heels return 6-9 junior forward Tyler Hansbrough, a national player-of-the-year candidate who averaged 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season and led North Carolina to the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels lost to Georgetown in overtime in the East Regional championship game and finished 31-7.

North Carolina also returns sophomore point guard Ty Lawson (10.2 points, 5.6 assists) and sophomore guard Wayne Ellington (11.7 points). The Tar Heels lost starters Brandan Wright, who departed after his freshman season and was the eighth pick in last summer's NBA draft, and Reyshawn Terry.

The Tar Heels are still enjoying a youth movement since winning the 2005 NCAA title. "I love the fact that instead of 11 freshmen and sophomores like we had last year, we have 10 sophomores and juniors," Williams said. "That year of experience is going to help."

The tightest two-way preseason poll was in 2000-01 when Arizona edged Duke by three points for No. 1, and Stanford was a distant third. Duke ended up beating the Wildcats in the national championship game.

Two-time defending national champion Florida and Ohio State, runner-up last season, are unranked, the first time national finalists have gone unranked the following season since USA TODAY began overseeing the poll.

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Re: UNC soars into top spot in preseason coaches' poll

2007 USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Preseason Coaches' Poll

Outlooks by USA TODAY's Jack Carey

1. North Carolina (31-7)

Points: 739 (10 first-place votes). Final 2006-07 rank: 5 (tie). Outlook: Fs Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry have departed, but a wealth of talent returns after a trip to the Elite Eight. All-American Tyler Hansbrough teams with Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington to form a solid nucleus as the Heels try to rise to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Opens: Nov. 14 vs. Davidson at Charlotte (ESPN, 7). 

2. UCLA (30-6)

Points: 734 (12). Final 2006-07 rank: 3. Outlook: After consecutive trips to the Final Four, the Bruins appear primed for another strong season behind G Darren Collison, wing Josh Shipp and Fs Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya. Freshman Kevin Love could be an immediate star. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Portland State. 

3. Memphis (33-4)

Points: 731 (8). Final 2006-07 rank: 7. Outlook: One of the top contenders for the national title. The talented Tigers will return an experienced group that includes Gs Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Willie Kemp and Fs Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier. Look for freshman G Derrick Rose to make an immediate splash. Opens: Nov. 5 vs. Tennessee-Martin in 2K Sports Classic (ESPNU, 7). 

4. Kansas (33-5)

Points: 669 (1). Final 2006-07 rank: 5 (tie). Outlook: The Jayhawks should have a big year in the Big 12 behind Gs Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins and F Darrell Arthur. Balance and depth could take them far. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Louisiana-Monroe. 

5. Georgetown (30-7) 

Points: 625. Final 2006-07 rank: 4. Outlook: Star F Jeff Green left early for the NBA, but C Roy Hibbert decided to return for another run at Big East honors and the Final Four. He will be joined by Fs Patrick Ewing Jr. and DaJuan Summers and Gs Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace. Opens: Nov. 10 vs. William & Mary. 

6. Louisville (24-10) 

Points: 620. Final 2006-07 rank: 20. Outlook: This might be the best team in the Big East, and the Cardinals could be set up for a deep tournament run behind G Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa, Fs Derrick Caracter and Juan Palacios and C David Padgett. Opens: Nov. 17 vs. Hartford. 

7. Tennessee (24-11) 

Points: 598. Final 2006-07 rank: 18. Outlook: The experienced Volunteers should be a force in the Southeastern Conference. They are solid in the backcourt behind Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith. F Wayne Chism also returns, although coach Bruce Pearl indefinitely suspended F Duke Crews in late September. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Temple. 

8. Michigan State (23-12)

Points: 503. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: Spartans should be major contenders for Big Ten honors behind Gs Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton, Fs Raymar Morgan and Matquise Gray and Cs Goran Suton and Idong Ibek. Opens: Nov. 13 vs. Chicago State in CBE Classic (ESPNU, 7). 

9. Indiana (21-11) 

Points: 479. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: The Hoosiers are expected to take another step up in coach Kelvin Sampson’s second season. F D.J. White is one of the best in the nation at his position, and G Armon Bassett should play a key role. Well-regarded recruiting class includes blue-chip G Eric Gordon. Opens: Nov. 12 vs. Chattanooga. 

10. Washington State (26-8)

Points: 464. Final 2006-07 rank: 17. Outlook: The Cougars have been growing into a Pacific-10 power and should be right in the mix this year with an experienced cast that includes Gs Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver and Fs Daven Harmeling and Robbie Cowgill. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Eastern Washington. 

11. Duke (22-11) 

Points: 390. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: Blue Devils are hoping for a bounce-back year in the ACC behind Gs DeMarcus Nelson, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer. and Greg Paulus and Fs Lance Thomas and David McClure. Highly regarded recruiting class includes F Kyle Singler.. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. North Carolina Central.

12. Marquette (24-10)

Points: 381. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: The Golden Eagles will field a veteran team that could do serious damage in the Big East. All-conference G Dominic James returns with backcourt mates Jerel. McNeal and Wesley Matthews. Fs Ousmane Barro.. and Dan Fitzgerald are also back. Opens: Nov. 10 vs. IUPUI. 

13. Oregon (29-8)

Points: 360. Final 2006-07 rank: 8. Outlook: Standout G Aaron Brooks has moved on, but after a trip to Elite Eight, the Ducks welcome back long-distance shooting specialist Tajuan Porter, fellow Gs Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor and F Maarty Leunen... Opens: Nov. 10 vs. Pepperdine in World Vision Invitational. 

14. (tie) Gonzaga (23-11) 

Points: 252. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: Sean Mallon and Derek Raivio are gone, but the Bulldogs should again be the class of the West Coast Conference with the return of F Josh Heytvelt and Gs Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo. Opens: Nov. 11 vs. Montana. 

14. (tie) Texas A&M (27-7) 

Points: 252. Final 2006-07 rank: 9. Outlook: With coach Billy Gillispie. and standout G Acie. Law having moved on, the Aggies turn to former Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon. He welcomes back F Joseph Jones and sharpshooting wing Josh Carter as the team eyes the top of the Big 12. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. McNeese State.

16. Texas (25-10)

Points: 216. Final 2006-07 rank: 16. Outlook: Point guard D.J. Augustin has been named Big 12 preseason player of the year by league coaches, and the Longhorns will probably go as far as he takes them. Horns also return Gs A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason, wing Damion James and post Connor Atchley. Opens: Nov. 12 vs. Texas-San Antonio. 

17. Arizona (20-11) 

Points: 205. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: F Chase Budinger and G Jawann McClellan are back to help lead the Wildcats, who will also feature F Jordan Hill and Gs Daniel Dillon and Nic. Wise in an attempt to contend in a strong Pacific-10. Opens: Nov. 13 vs. Northern Arizona. 

18. Southern California (25-12) 

Points: 189. Final 2006-07 rank: 15. Outlook: After a Sweet 16 trip a year ago, the Trojans return F Taj Gibson and Gs Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis. All eyes will be on freshman O.J. Mayo, one of the nation’s top recruits. Opens: Nov. 10 vs. Mercer. 

19. Arkansas (21-14) 

Points: 173. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: New coach John Pelphrey is greeted by plenty of talent and experience from a team that made the NCAAs, including Gs Patrick Beverley and Gary Ervin, wing Sonny Weems and Fs Charles Thomas and Darian Townes. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Wofford. 

20. Pittsburgh (29-8)

Points: 160. Final 2006-07 rank: 10. Outlook: C Aaron Gray will be missed, but Fs Sam Young and Mike Cook and Gs Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon return and will likely step into bigger roles as the Panthers attempt another run to the NCAAs. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Houston Baptist in Hispanic College Fund Challenge. 

21. Stanford (18-13)

Points: 158. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: Cardinal will return a ton of experience from the team that made the NCAAs last year, including Fs Lawrence Hill and Fred Washington, C Robin Lopez and Gs Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. Second-leading scorer Brook Lopez, a 7-footer, has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Harvard in Basketball Travelers Classic. 

22. Kentucky (22-12) 

Points: 155. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: New coach Billy Gillispie. steps into the spotlight and will count on Gs Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks along with freshman F Patrick Patterson, who could have a major impact right away. Opens: Nov. 7 vs. Central Arkansas in 2K Sports Classic (ESPNU, 7). 

23. Southern Illinois (29-7) 

Points: 137. Final 2006-07 rank: 11 (tie). Outlook: One of the best defensive teams in the nation returns F Randal. Falker, the Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year, from a Sweet 16 team, along with F Matt Shaw and point guard Bryan Mullins. Opens: Nov. 17 vs. Northern Illinois

24. North Carolina State (20-16) 

Points: 119. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: The Wolfpack are starting to be heard from again in the ACC, and the progression should continue with Fs Brandon Costner, Gavin Grant and Ben McCauley and G Courtney Fells. Freshman F J.J. Hickson could help out right away. Opens: Nov. 15 vs. William & Mary. 

25. Villanova (22-11)

Points: 111. Final 2006-07 rank: not ranked. Outlook: Wildcats don’t have loads of experience, but they do have standout G Scottie Reynolds, who can make up for that. F Shane Clark needs to stay healthy. Freshman G Corey Fisher is expected to make an immediate impact. Opens: Nov. 9 vs. Stony Brook. 

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