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October 26, 2009

Who could surprise and crack the Top 10?

We've reached No. 11 in our preseason countdown, and we wondered which team that we've already revealed has the best chance to finish the season in the top 10.

We asked writers Jason King and Mike Huguenin for their thoughts.

JASON KING SAYS ...

Tennessee is talented enough to be a mainstay in the top 10 rankings in 2009-10 while contending for a Final Four berth.

Every key member of last season's SEC East-co champion returns. Tyler Smith, who averaged 17.4 points last season, will team with Wayne Chism to form the conference's second-best frontcourt (behind Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky) while players such as Bobby Maze, Scotty Hopson and J.P. Prince roam the perimeter.

Folks may be sleeping on the Vols because of last season's first-round NCAA tournament loss to Oklahoma State. But make no mistake: Tennessee is loaded with talent, experience and potential.

MIKE HUGUENIN SAYS ...

I think it's Butler.

The Bulldogs have a tough early season schedule, one that will enable them to get into the top 10 with some victories.

Consider: They're playing Minnesota and possibly UCLA in Anaheim. They have Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. And they have Ohio State and Xavier at home before Christmas.

That's an ambitious schedule for a mid-major. Better yet, each one of those is winnable.

Butler returns all five starters from last season and has bona-fide stars in Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard. The Bulldogs are a disciplined bunch, and unlike some of their power-conference opponents, they already have a set rotation. Coach Brad Stevens knows who his top eight guys will be; that won't be the case for UCLA, Minnesota and Georgetown that early in the season.

Plus, the Bulldogs' patient attack will cause some defensive problems that early in the season because of the mixing and matching that will be going on for their opponents.

Butler lost three times in the Horizon League last season; look for that number to drop to perhaps one this season.

This is a team that easily could win 28 games. And a 28-win team with that schedule is going to finish in the top 10.



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