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Luke DeCock’s AP Top 25 basketball poll ballot: Preseason

A year ago, I was the only AP top 25 voter to have Texas Tech on his or her preseason ballot. While appropriate credit for that bit of moxie was never forthcoming, even at the Final Four, I also never received the corresponding disdain for including, say, Xavier.

The point: Nobody really knows nothing in the preseason. We’re all making educated guesses here. I respected Chris Beard enough as a coach to rebuild his roster on the fly last year, but I also thought Chris Mack’s departure wouldn’t hurt the Musketeers as they rebuilt theirs.

This year, I’ve voted against a few teams with heavy personnel losses that will be on most ballots -- I’ll probably be the only voter without Texas Tech this year, and you won’t find Auburn or Tennessee either -- to get in a few hunch plays, including one that I doubt anyone else will have.

ACC teams appear in the order they appeared on my preseason ballot in that conference, so Louisville first, followed by Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia.

My surprise team: Illinois, which returns four starters and six of its top seven players and has two sophomores -- Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili -- who are poised to take a huge leap forward, to the dismay of writers everywhere who will have to look up the spelling of their names every single time. Brad Underwood, who coached his pants off at Stephen F. Austin (the other Screamin’ A) and (briefly) Oklahoma State, gets the Chris Beard Vote of Confidence here. If he’s going to make it work at Illinois, this is the year.

Utah State, with Sam Merrill and Neemius Queta, also gets a vote. The Aggies are winning a game in the tournament this March, maybe two or three. Merrill may be the most underrated player in the country. For now.

Some reminders on methodology when we get into the season: I rely heavily on analytics (specifically KenPom’s efficiency ratings [predictive] and Wins Above Bubble [resume]), one game is just one data point of 30 so I do not overreact to head-to-head results and most important: I hate your team and under no circumstances do I know what I’m talking about or should be allowed to vote, so I’m told.

Luke DeCock’s top 25

1. Michigan State

2. Kansas

3. Florida

4. Louisville

5. Duke

6. Purdue

7. North Carolina

8. Maryland

9. Kentucky

10. Gonzaga

11. Baylor

12. VCU

13. Missouri

14. Villanova

15. St. Mary’s

16. Memphis

17. Seton Hall

18. Oregon

19. Notre Dame

20. Harvard

21. Ohio State

22. Virginia

23. Arizona

24. Utah State

25. Illinois

My All-America Team

Cassius Winston, Michigan State (POY)

Markus Howard, Marquette

Sam Merrill, Utah State

Myles Powell, Seton Hall

James Wiseman, Memphis

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.