At some point, you just simply get tired of writing Kansas off. The Jayhawks are no doubt the favorite once again for a Big 12 title and the reasons are not hidden too deep in this Jayhawks roster. In Lawrence, the talk is that Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson is a likely all-league talent and other new faces in Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore just keep Kansas loaded. The late news of Lagerald Vick returning puts the Jayhawks over the edge.
Alright, so we may be taking the bait here and over-hyping the addition of Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, but the fact of the matter is that the Wildcats are adding a player would be the front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Mix that in with another super impressive recruiting haul by John Calipari and some notable returners for once, and Kentucky should get the benefit of the doubt heading into the 2018-2019 campaign.
Not far behind in their own recruiting prowess, what Kentucky added in bulk for this season in terms of rookies, Duke definitely added in terms of their own star-power. Coach K teams led by freshmen have been susceptible to some let-downs deeper into the season, but this group should rise above all the rest. It’s hard to imagine how the legendary head coach will use R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish all at once.
As usual, Mark Few has built a somewhat unknown team nationally that can compete with just about any other team on a nightly basis. And as usual, Few’s boys will be tested early and often with match-ups against Tennessee, Washington, North Carolina, Creighton and a trip to the Maui Invitational all on the slate. Will Gonzaga escape that brutality untouched? Unlikely. But are they a legitimate Top 5 squad? No doubt about it.
Virginia’s biggest opponent heading into the 2018-2019 campaign might be themselves, as the Cavs will desperately need to put an embarrassing loss to in the 2018 NCAA Tournament away in the rearview mirror. Tony Bennett still has one of the ACC’s best backcourts in tow between Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and their hard-to-defeat mentality won’t drift away over one sour moment. The Cavaliers are strong ACC title contenders.
It’d be nice to think that Villanova’s championship mentality would keep them atop the college basketball world but for any program, replacing key pieces like Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman is a daunting task. The good news for the Wildcats is that Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are both among the Big East’s best players and Jay Wright has more than enough old and new play-makers to work with.
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman hit the NBA Draft day lottery when all three of his best players in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline decided to come back to Reno for another go-round. The trio’s return was then amplified when five-star prospect Jordan Brown also committed to the Wolf Pack, leaving Musselman with one of the best teams the Mountain West has ever produced on paper. The pressure is all on Nevada now.
Volunteers’ play-maker Grant Williams is probably the least heralded SEC Player of the Year in history, considering the lack of national acclaim that he generates as a star player. Conversely, his teammate in bruising forward Admiral Schofield is almost a household name, who gives Rick Barnes the two leaders he needs to pursue a league title. The biggest obstacle in Tennessee’s path may become top-ranked Kentucky or a pesky Auburn squad.
Doubt North Carolina head coach Roy Williams at your own risk, as this late in the Hall-of-Famer’s career, there’s just about nothing he can’t do with any given team. That might be one of the reasons that this year’s model of the Tar Heels seem to be one of those given squads that can overachieve, if they hit their stride at the right moment. Also, don’t be shocked if star recruit Nassir Little fights Duke’s trio of freshmen for an ACC Newcomer accolade.
10. Oregon Ducks
While it’s painful to say that the Ducks may in fact be very good, it’s really not the star power but the depth for head coach Dana Altman that could push Oregon into Pac-12 favorites. Altman still has Payton Pritchard running the show in Eugene, now backcasted by a loaded freshman recruiting haul that includes one-and-done prospect Bol Bol. A recent late addition in Texas A&M-CC transfer Ehab Amin could also be a key bonus for Oregon.
Mike Hopkins has completely changed the culture surrounding the program at Washington and no longer is a strong roster a letdown waiting to happen. It’s hard to not be excited for the quartet of Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Jaylen Nowell to lead the Huskies.
The loss of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. don’t make things exactly fun for Tom Izzo, but he’s done more with less in the past. Cassius Winston is a more excitable option at the point spot than Sparty has had in a while, while Nick Ward could emerge as one of the country’s best bigs.
13. Auburn Tigers
The early hype around Auburn has cooled off a bit since leading scorer Mustapha Heron decided to take his talents over to St. John’s. Bruce Pearl still has enough at the top to challenge for an SEC crown, but the head of the snake is gone. Depth will have to be key for the Tigers.
Last year, West Virginia were a guard-oriented team behind the veteran back-court of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. This year, they’ll be a front-court centered unit around Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, Wes Harris and Lamont West. Remember the name Emmitt Matthews Jr. on this team too.
15. TCU Horned Frogs
Jamie Dixon’s teams have struggled with simply staying healthy over his short tenure in Fort Worth, which hopefully for everyone’s sake will change this time around. Dixon still has Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson, who are one of the Big 12’s most dynamic duos. This is the Horned Frogs year.
The last time Mick Cronin didn’t win at least 22 games in a season and make the big dance at Cincinnati was way back in 2010, when things around the Bearcats program were quite different. Since then, Cincinnati has been one of the regular staples of consistency in college basketball.
The worst part of Buzz Williams’ rebuild at Virginia Tech is that while trying to pick the right pieces to make the Hokies program a factor in the national picture, the ACC has been getting tougher and tougher. The fruits of his labor may pay off this season though, with a likeable cast in Blacksburg.
18. LSU Tigers
LSU might actually have the most talented point guard in the SEC in rising sophomore Tremont Waters, who will be one of the many star players scattered on this Tigers roster. For LSU’s sake, chemistry will need to not become an issue with a lot of prime-time egos in the locker room.
Returning just about everyone from last year’s Elite Eight team is just what Bruce Weber needed to keep some good momentum going in the Little Apple. They have the pieces and the mold to make another tournament run. It’s no secret why they’re Bill Self’s pick to win the Big 12.
The sleeper that could have a Tennessee-type season in 2018-2019, head coach Ben Howland welcomes a daunting quartet of Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon and Aric Holman back to Stark Vegas. Can you say bonafide Sweet 16 sleepers?
21. UCLA Bruins
A potential starting five of Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Shareef O’Neal (if he’s eligible) and Cody Riley (or Moses Brown) for the Bruins is a scary thought to the rest of the Pac-12. And that’s not even counting guys like Jalen Hill, Jules Bernard and Tyger Cambell off the bench.
22. Syracuse Orange
The early scouting report on Syracuse is that they’ll be big and long at almost every position and able to score the ball with an experienced and veteran cast. In general, those are the teams that seem to click best with Jim Boeheim, especially in terms of solidifying a spot in the big dance.
Louisville’s spot in this Top 25 has much more to do with belief in Chris Mack as a head coach than anything that the Cardinals really bring to the table. The fact of the matter is that Louisville needs a fresh start after the fallout from the Rick Pitino scandal under an experienced head coach.
Florida State’s biggest challenge (like Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Louisville before them) will simply be weathering the storm of the ACC. The Seminoles will have an all-league player in Terance Mann but they’ll need the group around him to stay more consistent along the way.
Lost in Loyola’s miracle run to the Final Four back in late March was that all season-long, the Ramblers were one of the country’s best defensive groups, eventually finishing with a sixth overall national ranking in points allowed. With most of the group back, that defense will translate again.
The Next Ten
26. Arizona State Sun Devils - Always a dark-horse in the Pac-12, Bobby Hurley has something intriguing brewing out west. Tempe could be rocking this season with a remolded depth chart.
27. Nebraska Cornhuskers - It’s time to be excited about Nebraska basketball. Tim Miles got two crucial pieces in James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland to return to campus from testing NBA Draft waters.
28. Florida Gators - Michael White has seen the best that Florida has to offer and he’ll take strides to return to that form this year. Remember the trio of Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone.
29. UCF Knights - This is the season that Johnny Dawkins has been waiting for at UCF. Leading scorer B.J. Davis, 7’ 6” center Tacko Fall and Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins will all carry the Knights.
30. San Diego State Aztecs - The Aztecs may be led to another 20+ win season by a seriously prolific point guard in Devin Watson and a future NBA Draft pick in athletic forward Jalen McDaniels.
31. Indiana Hoosiers - The commitment of five-star in-state prospect Romeo Langford gives Archie Miller’s second season the life it needed. With all-Big Ten talent Juwan Morgan back in the fold, Indiana has Top 25 potential.
32. New Mexico Lobos - Don’t count out New Mexico in the Mountain West fight. The Lobos have three big-time transfers in transfers in Vance Jackson (UCONN), JaQuan Lyle (Ohio State) and Carlton Bragg (Kansas).
33. Minnesota Golden Gophers - A starting five headlined by Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington (and maybe Eric Curry) is enough to make Minnesota challengers in the Big Ten.
34. Davidson Wildcats - Davidson rising sophomore Kellan Grady is one of the country’s best-kept secrets, who can fuel a tournament run from the Wildcats. Consider Bob McKillop’s boys as A-10 title hunters.
35. Buffalo Bulls - Head coach Nate Oats will try to deliver a strong follow-up to last year’s 27-9 campaign, where they knocked off Arizona in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls are pre-season favorites in the MAC.
Just Missed: Butler, Clemson, Harvard, Iowa, Marquette, Michigan, Purdue, Texas Tech, Xavier