1. Duke Blue Devils
The fact that Duke is the first team ever to sign the #1, #2 and #3 prospects in the country, doesn’t even include the fact that they also have five-star prospect Tre Jones coming to campus and some key pieces returning. The Blue Devils have somewhat struggled to find cohesiveness over the past few seasons, but the talent on this roster is undeniable. Let’s believe the hype on this squad (for now).
2. Villanova Wildcats
Jay Wright will need to thrust some bigger pieces into the fire to replace Jalen Brunson, but the main core for the Wildcats unit looks to still be in tact. A starting five that includes the likes of Eric Paschall, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Phil Booth is just what freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly will need as he cuts his teeth. A strong bench could be the key to Villanova’s return chances at a Final Four.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers stunning early exit from the 2018 NCAA Tournament shouldn’t dampen what will be another strong roster for Tony Bennett in Charlottesville, headlined by the return of backcourt duo Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. Over the past five seasons, Virginia has tallied a total record of 143-33 as a program, with an even more impressive 73-17 mark in ACC play. The Cavs aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
Most programs wouldn’t be able to touch the top-half in their conference after losing the talents of Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick, but then again, most programs aren’t Kansas. The Jayhawks picked up their fourteenth (yes, 14th) straight Big 12 title last season and are favorites to claim the accolade once again, anchored by a group of surprising adds from the transfer market.
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Similar to Virginia, Gonzaga’s culture has developed staying power in the national picture, as only the names seem to change for Mark Few and company. The good news for the Zags is that versatile forwards Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie have already pledged to return to campus next season, which could spark some colossally large expectations for this group. Once again, Gonzaga are the WCC favorites.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Not too many people outside of the SEC recognized the potential of the Volunteers squad last season, until they burst on the national scene sometime in mid-February. Since then, Tennessee narrowly missed a Final Four (thanks to Cinderella team Loyola-Chicago) after sweeping the top of the league awards. Reigning conference Player of the Year Grant Williams is back, as is the majority of the team’s core.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
Too high? Too low? Nobody knows quite how to gauge this Kentucky group, as Coach Cal’s usual “draft and replace” strategy has been interrupted by some notable returnees. Talents like Nick Richards, Wenyen Gabriel, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington and Quade Green, could all be back in Lexington, potentially giving Kentucky some strange version of stability for once.
8. Oregon Ducks
The favorites from out West, Oregon may be able to put together one of those deceivingly strong regular seasons, with the rest of the Pac-12 somewhat undetermined at the moment. If their youth doesn’t hamper them too much, the Ducks definitely have the most exciting list of names in the league. However, Dana Altman will need to remind his group that the games aren’t won-and-lost on professional prospectus.
9. Nevada Wolf Pack
If the Martin Brothers (Caleb and Cody) and Jordan Caroline all remain in the NBA Draft, then Nevada can watch themselves probably fall out of the Top 25, as they’ll have a lot of work to do with this roster. Yet, if the big three head back to the Mountain West Champions and combine with a healthy Lindsey Drew, the Wolf Pack have a frightening amount of potential scattered on the roster of a trending program.
10. North Carolina Tar Heels
Only a fool would lack belief in Roy Williams at this point, who year after year has shown that this Tar Heels program continues on without missing a beat. North Carolina may be devoid of proven play-making guards next season, but between forwards Luke Maye and Cam Johnson, they have two potential all-league talents. The cupboard is far from bare just yet on Chapel Hill.
11. Auburn Tigers
Task number one for Bruce Pearl and his Auburn group will be keeping the focus on-the-court and eliminating any more off-court distractions for the Tigers. Auburn was a team who had to learn what it took to win last season and a program who’s ready for the spotlight now. We mean a positive spotlight, of course.
12. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans have enough convincing pieces to believe that they won’t fall from their perch in the Big Ten, even if Miles Bridges, Tum Tum Nairn, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling are all not returning. Like Roy Williams at North Carolina, you’d have to be a fool to bet against Tom Izzo, especially with veteran guards at his disposal.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies
Is it finally the season that Buzz Williams has his ACC breakthrough? After a few years of getting the Hokies program back into the respectable category, it seems that the stars have aligned for this year’s team at Virginia Tech. There’s no doubt that Buzz will coach them up. It’s the moxie of this group that will be tested.
14. West Virginia Mountaineers
Culture. Culture. Culture. West Virginia will look a bit strange next season without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles running the show, but change is bound to happen in college basketball. The Mountaineers ingrained style of play should work well with their compliment of imposing, interior pieces who still remain in Morgantown.
15. Washington Huskies
A huge year of adjustments under first year head coach Mike Hopkins didn’t really allow the strengths of this Huskies team to shine through at all times. By the end of last season, Washington looked comfortable in their new zone defense and found strong options off their bench. The Huskies should only be better in Hopkins’ second go-round.
16. Florida State Seminoles
Officially now a basketball school (just kidding, Seminole fans), Florida State’s absurd length and athleticism did help to knock off a superbly gifted Gonzaga squad in one of the big dance’s many surprising upsets. They’ll miss Braian Angola, Phil Cofer and CJ Walker’s offensive abilities, which could be their biggest cause for concern.
17. Cincinnati Bearcats
The “Mayor of Cincinnati” in Gary Clark is finally departing campus, which means the Bearcats will look totally different next season. Or not really at all, actually. Mick Cronin recruits a certain brand of hard-nosed, physical and athletic players, which litter the depth chart. It’ll be more of the same for Cronin and company.
18. LSU Tigers
LSU point guard Tremont Waters was one of the most intriguing newcomers in all of college basketball a season ago, who will pass that torch to Tigers power forward Naz Reid this year. Will Wade has a very likeable group, anchored by a massive front-court, a veteran transfer and some highly-touted recruits.
19. Maryland Terrapins
Since their move to the Big Ten back in 2014, Maryland has found a spot in three of their last four NCAA Tournaments, despite missing out on the festivities this past season. While Mark Turgeon’s squad looked to have some disconnect last season, things may actually improve with a more team (not star) oriented roster.
20. Kansas State Wildcats
Bruce Weber clearly said all the right things to his team in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, as the Wildcats buried an up-and-down season with an amazing post-season run. The magic could continue over with most of the group back in tow, but let’s not underestimate the brutal nature of surviving the Big 12.
21. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins have another absolutely loaded recruiting class in store, who should help fill any early departures from their roster to the NBA. Steve Alford knows that a rabid UCLA fan-base is quickly becoming more and more impatient with him, especially after barely making the big dance last season.
22. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ben Howland will desperately need Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Nick Weatherspoon to return from testing the NBA Draft process, since they’re the trio that will keep Mississippi State competitive in the SEC. The thing that could put the Bulldogs over the edge is the development of their front-court.
23. TCU Horned Frogs
Most of TCU’s excitable expectations rely on their back-court duo of Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher finally coming together for a full, healthy campaign. The Horned Frogs may be a top-heavy group, but they’ll have two of the league’s most talented ball-handlers on the roster.
24. Arizona State Sun Devils
This may be the deepest team that Bobby Hurley’s ever had in the desert and one of the more position-less groups as well. Hurley has a bevy of guards who can facilitate and score, as well as some knock-down shooters and athletic interior options. The Sun Devils are the Pac-12’s dark-horse.
25. Louisville Cardinals
Giving Chris Mack the benefit of the doubt in his first year with the Cardinals is a safe bet for even the most conservative of gamblers. Mack has some players that desperately are looking for a fresh start and some young play-makers who have yet to even scratch the surface on their potential.
The Next Ten
26. Florida Gators - The strength of the SEC derailed some of Florida’s plans for a strong growing season in 2017-2018 and made the Gators look somewhat pedestrian. Mike White’s squad should steadily improve.
27. Syracuse Orange - The Orange crept into the NCAA Tournament earlier this year and then waltzed their way into the Sweet 16. It wouldn’t be surprising if Syracuse followed the same script again.
28. Loyola (IL) - Because, why not? The Ramblers captured the hearts of America with their legendary run through the 2018 NCAA Tournament and a good haul from that iconic group remains in the Windy City.
29. New Mexico Lobos - Paul Weir developed culture in “Year One”, nearly pushing the Lobos into the NCAA Tournament with a late season run. New Mexico might pick up where they left off in 2018-2019.
30. Providence Friars - Most critics of the Friars seem to forget that the boys from Providence haven’t missed the big dance since 2013. Ed Cooley has become the model of consistency in the Big East.
31. Nebraska Cornhuskers - Pending that James Palmer and Isaac Copeland are back on campus, Nebraska has noise-making potential in the Big Ten. However, a lack of depth could be their downfall.
32. Wichita State Shockers - You don’t bet against Gregg Marshall. Plain and simple. The Shockers may lose their top-tier talent, but that’s never slowed down this program in the past. The beat goes on.
33. Texas Tech Red Raiders - Texas Tech’s success will come at a price, which will show when the names are completely new in Lubbock this winter. Chris Beard will need work his magic to mold this unit on the fly.
34. Butler Bulldogs - Those who didn’t watch LaVall Jordan’s program closely this past year. severely missed out on the personal touches that Jordan implemented on a recently successful Bulldogs group.
35. UCONN Huskies - Dan Hurley’s first go-round at UCONN could be the spark of excitement that the Huskies program needs. There will be some growing pains, but UCONN could surprise along the way.