by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Now, the fun really begins!

The college basketball season swings into action this weekend, and we're prepared with predicted margins and select writeups (including our usual featured Key Release selections) for the first week, all found in our College Forecast.

In the meantime, to get a bit better prepared for the unfolding drama, we present our TGS Preseason Top 40. Hang on for the ride...

1-WISCONSIN...We have known for a long while that Bo Ryan can coach (after all, he was our TGS College Coach of the Year last season). Now he has the sort of material up and down his roster that he has not had in past years. The bigs are not plodders anymore, with 7-0 Frank Kaminsky one of the unique weapons in the country. Ryan can thus spread the floor more effectively than ever because all of his players can drive. Moving PF Nigel Hayes into the starting lineup also allows deadeye Sam Dekker to move to his more natural "3" position, which should make the offense really click. The new-look Badgers are more athletic and versatile than past Ryan teams. Plus extreme motivation after a bitter, last-second Final Four loss vs. Kentucky provides useful, season-long motivation. The Big Ten might also be a tick down, especially with Michigan and Michigan State doing some reloading, Indiana having trouble gaining traction, and Nebraska and Minnesota both newbies to contending status.

2-KENTUCKY...It has become obligatory for forecasters to place Kentucky near the top of the polls every year. John Caliapri's rotating rosters, however, don't always mesh; witness two years ago, when the Wildcats were starting to wobble even before C Nerlens Noel went out with an injured knee late in the season. But they also have reached the Final Four in three of the past four campaigns with different casts. Now, there is a bit more familiar look to the new UK roster than a year ago with the perimeter weapon Harrison twins, plus frontliners Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein all resisting to jump early to the NBA as did last year's teammates Julius Randle and James Young. This year's new beast is 7-1 frosh C Karl Towns, Jr., who leads another star-studded class of diaper dandies. Calipari has plenty of depth, though it could be a challenge to get the rotations right (as was the case two years ago). There also might be more depth in this season's SEC, though perhaps not one main challenger to the Cats, as was Florida (now graduation-depleted) last season.

3-ARIZONA...Again, this is an almost obligatory pick this season, but for good reason, as Sean Miller has constructed a conveyor belt of talent into Tucson. Though last year's frosh superstar Aaron Gordon lasted only a year in the desert before bolting for the NBA and the Orlando Magic, and departed G Nick Johnson made plenty of big shots the past couple of years for the Cats, don't feel sorry for Miller, as 6-6, 225-lb. frosh Stanley Johnson from Santa Ana, Ca. powerhouse Mater Dei, will be the next big thing at the McKale Center. Late last season, we also saw indicators that then-frosh 6-7 F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could emerge as a dominant force. Heady former Duquesne transfer PG T.J. McConnell is still available to provide proper service. Arizona is clearly the team to beat in a Pac-12 that might be a tick down overall from a year ago.

4-WICHITA STATE...The bad news for the Shockers was how their dream season a year ago was wrecked by Kentucky in a bitter Third Round (Round of 32) Big Dance loss in St. Louis last March. The good news is that most everybody save PF Cleanthony Early returns from that one-loss team led by Gs Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, who helped Wichita get to the Final Four the year before. Gregg Marshall's troops continue to play team defense as well as any outfit in the country, and the Missouri Valley has lacked a real challenger to the Shockers since Creighton left for the "new" Big East. A better draw on Selection Sunday could set up a very deep March run for Wichita.

5-VIRGINIA...Neck-and-neck with Wisconsin last season as the best-coached team in the country was UVa. And any doubters about HC Tony Bennett can just look at what happened at Washington State after Bennett left the Palouse in 2009. The Cavs were a-bucket-against-Michigan State-away from a berth in the Elite Eight opposite UConn last March, and seven of Bennett's top nine players return. Though replacing G Joe Harris and workhorse PF Akil Mitchell will be a challenge, the backcourt should still humm with PG London Perrantes and SG Malcolm Brogdon, the latter also an 89% FT shooter and likely to emerge as a All-American candidate this season. Pedigree frosh recruits SG B.J. Stith (dad Bryant is Uva's all-time leading scorer) and ultra-athletic 6-8 Isaiah Wilkins (Dominique's son) will make an impact this term, too.

6-NORTH CAROLINA...It is a luxury to be able to use more than one effective point guard, as UConn proved last season and the Phoenix Suns continue to prove in the NBA. The ability to move the ball upcourt negates pressure tactics, and as long as it doesn't prove a defensive liability can be a very big plus. Roy Williams has such guards at his disposal, and will likely be using some combination of jr. Marcus Paige and either soph Nate Britt or frosh Joel Berry (Florida's Mr. Basketball the past three seasons) as much as possible. There is plenty of established bulk with 6-9 types Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson to hold down the frontcourt, and 6-6 SF J.K. Tokoto is likely the highlight-reel player of the ACC now that K.J. McDaniels has departed from Clemson. We love the look of Roy's roster, although we're going to keep a close watch on developments at Chapel Hill related to the academic fraud probe within the athletic department, and Williams' program at the epicenter. Stay tuned.

7-GONZAGA...We haven't rated the Zags this high since the Adam Morrison years. And we know the Bulldogs have never made it past the Sweet 16 on Mark Few's watch, either. But the Zags appear better built to compete with the nation's elite this season thanks to a couple of explosive transfers, former Kentucky F Kyle Wiltjer (a native of the region, from Portland) and ex-Southern Cal G David Wesley. Along with holdover Gs Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. (whose tenures in Spokane seem to extend back to the Dan Monson era) and rugged 7-1 C Przemek Karnowski, who had double-doubles in both NCAA Tourney games last March, they complete a versatile and potent-looking lineup. We and WCC scouts are also intrigued by 6-10 frosh lefty Domantas Sabonis, son of the former great Arvydas Sabonis and reportedly already a polished offensive weapon, and unsung recruit 6-3 Silas Melson, a Portland-area product who flew under the radar of many scouts. Watch these guys.

8-DUKE...The Blue Devils have gone out in their first Big Dance game in two of the past three years (Lehigh in 2012, Mercer last March), so there has been a bit more spittle than usual spewing from Coach K in preseason workouts. ACC scouts warned at an early point a year ago that Duke's 2013-14 edition was one of the poorest-defending Coach K teams, especially on the perimeter, where it could not deny dribble penetration. Last year's star frosh Jabari Parker was not exactly a shutdown defender, either. So the departures of Parker and backcourt mate Rodney Hood to the NBA might not hurt Duke as much as many imagine. We'll see if this year's star frosh, PG Tyus Jones and C Jahlil Okafor, can help on the stop end (we know they will be forces on the other end of the court). Lots of options for Coach K, but lots of questions, too, with just one senior and three frosh in the projected rotation. Watch and see if the "D" looks better in early tests vs. Michigan State and likely Stanford (in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Brooklyn) within the first two weeks of the season.

9-KANSAS...Forgive us if we seem a bit reluctant regarding Kansas, which only on occasion resembled the unbeatable powerhouse it was supposed to be last season when frosh stars Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid (at least before his late-season injury) were the headliners. Now Bill Self has a new group of high-level recruits led by PG Devonte Graham, 6-7 SF Kelly Oubre, and 6-8 C Cliff Alexander. There is obviously an overflow of raw talent on hand at "The Phog," but Self is going to be counting heavily upon freshmen and some inexperienced sophs across the board.

10-TEXAS...Rick Barnes got off of the hot seat last season when the Longhorns made it back to the Big Dance, and won 24 games overall. Now they're excited about hoops again in Austin, more so with the arrival of 6-11 man-child frosh Myles Turner, who, along with 6-8 Jonathan Holmes and 6-9 Cameron Ridley, gives Texas one of the most imposing frontlines in the country. But having so many bigs might also impede what Barnes can do on the stop end, as he'll be hard-pressed to go man-to-man with so many lumbering pieces on the floor. Also, bad news in October when promising soph G Martez Walker left the school after a pair of arrests, which puts more pressure on Gs Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor. But Barnes has plenty of pieces at his disposal.

11-LOUISVILLE...We realize we are starting Rick Pitino outside of our top ten, and understand the risk of doing so, as Pitino is always a threat to have his 'Ville side primed for a deep run in March. A couple of key cogs from recent Card success, G Russ Smith and swingman Luke Hancock, however, took a lot of big shots for the Cards the past couple of years and are not easily replaced. The offense will again flow from the perimeter, where PG Chris Jones will be asked to score a bit more, as soph SG Terry Rozier progresses from his frosh season a year ago. Pitino will also be campaigning in his third different league in the last three seasons this term, as the Cards begin their first trip around the ACC. There will be adjustments both ways, but we wonder if all the changes from the past few years might negatively impact the 'Ville.

12-MICHIGAN STATE...We don't ever want to overlook a team coached by Tom Izzo, though there is reason to wonder if the Spartans might slip a bit this term with G Gary Harris and glue-guy 6-10 Adreian Payne now in the NBA. But never underestimate an Izzo team, and this edition is also capable of improving as the season progresses and threatening another Izzo Final Four run. Keeping explosive but injury-prone 6-6 sr. swingman Branden Dawson out of the trainer's room will be an imperative. A key contributor could be 6-3 Cleveland State transfer G Bryn Forbes, though his minutes could be limited in November by a hand injury. But we're going to like writing about the Spartans this season just so we can mention an all-time "All-Name" first-teamer...frosh G Lourawls Nairn, Jr!

13-VILLANOVA...Nowadays in the Big East, a contending team can get away with a smaller lineup, and it should not be a terrible bother to Jay Wright's Villanova to have only one projected starter over 6-7. Overall, four starters are back plus a couple of Top-100 recruits to likely make the Cats the team to beat in the Big East once more. Frosh G Phil Booth adds perimeter firepower for Nova, which already boasted of established forces such as jr. PG Ryan Arcidiacono and sr. Darrun Hilliard in the backcourt.

14-MINNESOTA...We can't wait to see the opening game father-vs.-son battle between papa Rick Pitino's Louisville and son Richard's Minnesota. Might the son have the edge? Maybe so, as the Gophers return three senior starters, led by G Andre Hollins, from last season's NIT winner. Another G, soph PG Deandre Mathieu, was a very pleasant surprise for the young Pitino last season and could threaten for All-Big Ten honors in 2014-15. Redshirt seniors 6-11 Elliottt Eliason and 6-10 Maurice Walker will need to continue to improve for the Gophers to justify our confidence. But the path to the top half of the Big Ten might also be a bit more clear than usual this season, too.

15-UCLA...For a while we weren't sure where the Bruins would be playing or practicing this season after a Westwood flood from a major broken water main damaged Pauley Pavilion and ruined the basketball floor, though a new hardwood is going to be ready in time for the season to begin. With that problem solved, we're the only ones who seem to be forecasting UCLA this high, and we wonder why. There is a certain knee-jerk aspect to most of the preseason publications which appear to have dismissed the Bruins because of their three players (Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, and Kyle Anderson) who went in the first round of last Junes' NBA Draft. But those in the know in the Pac realize that the likes of 6-4 sr. G Norman Powell, 6-2 soph G Bryce Alford, and 6-9 C Tony Parker are more than capable of stepping into the breach after the departure of the NBA draftees. And a heralded recruiting class includes 6-9 frosh Kevin Looney and 7-0 Thomas Welsh, while the touted 6-5 Isaac Hamilton, once the intriguing subject of a tug-o-war between USC and UTEP, is now at Westwood. The Bruins also fired a warning flare in early November with their runaway win over UNLV in a preseason scrimmage. Coach Steve Alford has proven he can push the right buttons in the past.

16-LA TECH...Our first "Sleeper" in the rankings, the Bulldogs (along with UTEP) look to be the class of Conference USA with a top-notch backcourt leading the way. Senior PG Raheem Appleby was slowed by an ankle injury last winter but appears fully healthy for his final college season, and backcourt mates Kenneth "Speedy" Smith and Alex Hamilton combine for a very combative trio, with Murray State transfer Erik McCree expected to provide the dagger thrower from the perimeter that this offense needs. All blended together by up-and-coming HC Michael White, who reportedly took himself out of the mix for the opening at Tennessee because he wanted to finish what he has built at Ruston (and also perhaps because he saw how bare the cupboard was at Knoxville). Most regional observers also expect to see White (once a guard at Ole Miss) coaching somewhere in the SEC much sooner than later.

17-SAN DIEGO STATE...Steve Fisher has been able to keep the Aztecs in the national focus in recent years even as he transitioned from Kawhi Leonard to Jamaal Franklin to Xavier Thames as the star players of recent SDSU teams. There might not be one featured performer in that mold in 2014-15, but Fisher's brew has been quite potent in recent years and the formula remains unchanged...plenty of athletes able to run the floor, and roles well-defined on the attack end. Expect 6-7 sr. J.J. O'Brien to step into a more pronounced scoring role. The new player to watch might be 6-8 frosh Malik Pope, the Aztecs' first-ever 5-star recruit (though slowed by a leg injury at the moment).

18-UCONN...Yes, these guys won the whole thing last season, which was completely unexpected before the tourney began, though by the end we were believers in the magic HC Kevin Ollie had achieved. The bigger trick was convincing Ollie to stay put in Storrs and reject overtures from everywhere, including the NBA, though many believe that is where Ollie will eventually end up. Whatever, he proceeds this season without a couple of key cogs in the Big Dance run, especially PG Shabazz Napier, who pulled the strings all of the way through the Final Four, and workhorse F DeAndre Daniels. Stepping into the featured roles this season will be sr. G Ryan Boatright and 7-0 soph C Amida Brimah, who had matured into a force by last March. Immediate help also comes from 6-4 NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, Boatright's new running mate in the backcourt.

19-IOWA STATE...Fred Hoiberg has made it quite a homecoming for himself in Ames, as the Cyclones have emerged as a constant threat in the Big 12 on his watch. Hoiberg has won with different lineups and different styles over the past few years, but must proceed this term minus instant-offense components G DeAndre Kane and F Melvin Ejim. Filling that role this season could be explosive UNLV (and previously Southern Cal) transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who reminded of World B. Free in his shot selection with the Runnin' Rebels and will bring an edge (maybe too sharp?) to the Cyclones. A 6-9 juco F and onetime Marquette recruit, Jameel McKay, is another potential new contributor. Hoiberg does have the luxury of a three-year starting C, Georges Niang, and a top-notch PG, soph Monte Morris. If the new pieces fit, Hoiberg could have ISU primed for another deep run in March.

20-GEORGIA STATE...There is more to talk about in Atlanta than the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, or the slaw dogs and frosted oranges at The Varsity. How about Georgia State? And we don't just mean lovely AD Cheryl Levick. Panther basketball looms as one of the nation's top sleepers this season and ready to finish the job in the Sun Belt after losing a late lead and then the game in OT in the conference tourney final vs. ULL last March that knocked GSU into the NIT instead. Expect the Panthers to get to the Dance and cause some trouble with what might be a top 15 backcourt led by HC Ron Hunter's son R.J. and former Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, now augmented by Louisville transfer Kevin Ware, who appears mostly recovered from the gruesome broken leg suffered in the 2013 Final Four. Another former transfer, 6-10 ex-Southern Cal C Curtis Washington, is one of the main forces on the blocks in the Belt.

The next 20...

21-NEBRASKA...Tim Miles' Cornhuskers now know what the NCAA Tourney feels like and will be ready to make a deeper run this March with the wing tandem of 6-7 Shavin Shields and 6-6 Terran Petteway still in the Lincoln mix. More offense for the Huskers could be provided by touted 6-6 RS frosh Nick Fuller. 22-SMU...Larry Brown's Mustangs felt jilted at their Big Dance snub last March and proceeded to get to the NIT final. This season, the Ponies get to the Dance. Xavier transfer Justin Martin should team well with holdover star PG Nic Moore. 23-VCU..."Shaka Ball" is becoming less of a mystery to A-10 opposition, but the Rams return most of their key components from another Big Dance qualifier last term. One problem-and it's a big one for a basketball team-the Rams couldn't shoot well last season, a flaw that exposed them in their Big Dance 2nd-round loss to Stephen F. Austin. 24-COLORADO...Tad Boyle has become one of our favorite coaches. The Buffs are well-balanced and play defense, and are loaded on the frontline featuring rangy big Josh Scott. If Boyle figures out his backcourt rotation, then the Buffs can advance further than another one-and-done in the Dance. 25-NC STATE...The Wolfpack was a bit of a disappointment the past two years, though it managed to squeeze into the Dance on both occasions and win a play-in game last March before blowing a late lead against Saint Louis in the second round. ACC sources believe NCS might function better without the ball in the hands of departed gunner F T.J. Warren so much. Mark Gottfried, an ex-SEC coach, now has an ex-SEC backcourt, too, with ex-Bama G Trevor Lacey joining ex-LSU G Ralston Turner on the perimeter. 26-HARVARD...Tommy Amaker seems more than happy to stay at Harvard until alma mater Duke might come calling whenever Coach K retires. Won a game in March for the second straight year last season and likely to get back to the Dance again with key starters Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers still in the Crimson mix. 27-FLORIDA...It might surprise many that Billy Donovan has not made the Dance every season with Florida, in fact failing to do so for a couple of years immediately after the Gators' last NCAA title in 2007. So a regression from last year's Final Four team that lost all five of its starters would not be a big shocker. 28-OHIO STATE...The Buckeyes lost a lot from last season, including blood-and-guts G Aaron Craft and top scorer LaQuinton Ross. Thad Matta will need 6-9 Temple transfer Anthony Lee to make an immediate impact to help OSU contend in the Big Ten. 29-SYRACUSE...After topping the polls for a while last season, the 'Cuse faded badly down the stretch as the new environs of the ACC seemed to confuse the Orange, and Jim Boeheim began to look a bit bored (but he always looks that way, doesn't he?), especially after the one-and-done in the Dance, courtesy Dayton. 'Cuse has lost the heart-and-soul of last year's team with departures of Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, and Jerami Grant. 30-UTEP...Tim Floyd can still match any coach in an X-and-O battle and now has some legit firepower in what might be his best UTEP side. Swingmen Julian Washburn and Vince Hunter provide matchup nightmares for foes. Also watch all-name frosh G Omega Harris.

31-MICHIGAN...We respect John Beilein too much to ever overlook the Wolverines. But Michigan had heavy personnel losses, including G Nik Stauskas, F Glenn Robinson III, and PF Mitch McGary (who missed much of last season with a back injury). How much of a scoring burden 6-7 frosh Kameron Chatman can handle will help determine how deep the Wolverines proceed in March. 32-OKLAHOMA...Lon Kruger is up to his old tricks in Norman, with his Sooners now a Big Dance regular. They are also regularly one-and-done in March. The most-prized OU recruit since Blake Griffin, 6-7 frosh Dante Buford, is expected to make immediate contributions. 33-ILLINOIS...John Groce might be ready to forge a breakthrough in his third season at Champaign-Urbana, with all five starters (including a loaded backcourt) back in the fold. Top 50 prep, 6-7 Memphis product PF Leron Black, is considered the Illini's best out-of-state recruit since Deron Williams over a decade ago. 34-FLORIDA STATE...Leonard Hamilton's teams always play nasty defense. This bunch of Seminoles is also bigger than most of Hamilton's past FSU teams. Now if RS frosh Xavier Rathan-Mayes can run the point, Hamilton could get back to the Dance. 35-UTAH...Larry Krystowiak has quickly built the Utes into a contender in the Pac-12 by adding key pieces to the puzzle every season; this year, it's 7-foot Austrian C Jakob Poelti, 6-7 juco (and formerly Saint Mary's) F Chris Ryees, and 6-8 frosh PF Brekkott Chapman, Utah's prep Player of the Year. 36-MEMPHIS...We still need more convincing about Josh Pastner as a big-time coach. Heavy losses in the backcourt for the Tigers were partially offset by the transfer (and immediate eligibility) of ex-Vanderbilt G Kedren Johnson, who should come in handy. Pastner, however, finally did win a Big Dance game last March. 37-LSU...A nice sleeper in the SEC, even with workhorse PF Johnny O'Bryant having departed. This year's player to watch is juco transfer PG Josh Gray, who scored almost 35 ppg last season with Odessa (Tex.) JC. 38-ARKANSAS...Here's another SEC sleeper we would watch. Remember how Mike Anderson's Razorbacks completely flummoxed Kentucky last season, in Lexington? Lots of experience on the roster now complemented by 6-4 frosh G Nick Babb and 6-7 West Virginia transfer F Keaton Miles. 39-NOTRE DAME...The Irish were wrecked by a combination of injuries, ineligibilities, and unfamiliarity with their new ACC neighborhood last season. But Mike Brey began to reassemble the pieces with a foreign tour in the summer, and the return of star G Jerian Grant after academic problems to reunite with deadeye 6-5 swingman Pat Connaughton should help the Irish regain their swagger. 40-WESTERN MICHIGAN...The defending MAC champs return four starters thanks to the NCAA granting a sixth year of eligibility to star G David Brown (19.1 ppg), last year's MAC scoring champ. Coach Steve Hawkins has been a consistent winner in Kalamazoo and happily signed a six-year contract extension after last season's Big Dance berth. The Broncos will have to replace All-MAC C Shayne Whittington, though 6-10 frosh C Drake Lamont, Florida's Class 5A Player of the Year last year for American Heritage High, could be the answer in the paint.

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