When the air outside gets crisp and the leaves begin to turn, that's just Mother Nature's way of letting you know it's time once again for some NCAA basketball action, along with the release of the ESPN/USA Today preseason college basketball Top 25 poll. The Gonzaga Bulldogs just made the cut, coming in 23rd in the rankings, while the Washington Huskies remain just outside the top tier, but still received a number of votes.
Gonzaga had a strong showing during the 2010-11 season, going 24-9 on the year and 11-3 in WCC play, losing in the second round of the NCAA tourney to BYU. The Bulldogs are ready to go this year though, returning a number of key players from last year's squad and is out to make a deep run in the tournament this year. They are joined by a few other West Coast teams in the top 25, including Arizona (16), UCLA (20), and Cal (24), though the Bulldogs schedule is sporting some tough games along the way.
The 'Zags have out of conference tests early in their schedule, including meetings at Illinois and at home against Michigan State (though they aren't exactly powerhouses this year) in back-to-back games on Dec. 3 and 10, followed by the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats on the 17th. From there they have a lot of light competition within the WCC, save for meetings with BYU on Feb. 2 and 23.
As for the Huskies, they received fifth most votes of teams not making the top 25 with 29, falling out of the end of the year rankings that had them at No. 23 before the preseason polls came out. Don't expect them to stay their for long though, as UW is looking like it's put together another tough team for the 2011-12 season.
Of course there are a number of East Coast juggernauts atop the rankings, with North Carolina coming in on top, getting 30 first place votes compared to only one for No. 2 Kentucky. Ohio State, Connecticut and Syracuse round out the top five, with the Duke Blue Devils patiently waiting in the wings at No. 6.