If both point guard Ty Jerome and sharpshooter Kyle Guy return to Charlottesville next season, the Cavaliers have to be the hands-down favorites nationally. There’s little belief that De’Andre Hunter will return, but the rest of the Virginia core will.
It’s almost stunning to see how much of the Spartans cast will return, considering how dominant Michigan State was down the stretch. Tom Izzo returning Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry and likely Nick Ward is a scary thought.
Fighting through the fluid mess that always is Kentucky’s roster, if all the pieces that should come back to Lexington do, John Calipari will have a mess of next-level talent on campus. Cal’s teams have glacially gotten older and that can only help.
Auburn’s energy and passion in the NCAA Tournament was absolutely infectious. The cast of Jared Harper, Samir Doughty, Anfernee McLemore, Chuma Okeke, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley should all be an off-season better.
5. Oregon Ducks
The weakness of the Pac-12 and the returning strength of the Ducks could give them a really nice boost heading into the 2019-2020 campaign. Oregon will likely focus around veteran point guard Payton Pritchard and a deep roster.
Iggy Brazdeikas’ decision looms large over Ann Arbor, but it’s not the make-or-break deal for this group. John Beilein is the king of doing more with less. As long as he has Zavier Simpson to run the show, the Wolverines will be just fine.
The cast doesn’t look spectacular in terms of Duke’s standards and the Blue Devils were so transformative with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, but Duke is still Duke. The Blue Devils never stray far from the top.
I’d take Chris Mack and a bunch of intramural players if I had to and that’s not at all what Louisville has. The Cardinals have an extremely strong recruiting haul coming in, as well as a roster that should include all-league talent Jordan Nwora.
Bet against the Zags at your own risk. Over the past three seasons, Mark Few has posted a 102-11 overall record, a National Runner-Up finish, an Elite Eight birth and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Gonzaga’s freshmen could be huge too.
10. Arizona Wildcats
Nothing really says that the Wildcats should be this good, but let’s call this one a hunch pick. A returning core at Arizona that includes Brandon Randolph, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams and more make Sean Miller’s guys a Pac-12 leader.
It’ll be the change of the guard in Chapel Hill, as next year’s roster will have a much different look without mainstay Luke Maye and likely Coby White. Like Duke, it’s hard to ever sleep on the Tar Heels with the regular batch of talent they churn out.
This ranking is based on the the idea that Mfiondu Kabengele returns to school and doesn’t stick through in the NBA Draft process. The Seminoles, led by Kabengele, Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker, should be one of the best ACC squads again.
Pending Markus Howard doesn’t do anything too crazy, Marquette is probably ready for their best season yet under Steve Wojciechowski. Howard, the Hauser brothers and some returning bigs are more than enough to win in the Big East.
14. Kansas Jayhawks
Like betting against Gonzaga, you take your chances against Bill Self and Kansas at your own risk. The roster, like other blue-bloods in Duke and North Carolina isn’t overly impressive, but the allure of the program should win out.
Another group that hinges so much on their returning NBA Draft decisions, Rick Barnes (if he stays in Knoxville) will need Grant Williams and Jordan Bone back in town. The Vols have learned a lot about winning over the past two seasons.
Mick Cronin has averaged 29.6 victories over the past three campaigns, but the Bearcats have struggled to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. A favorable depth chart should make the Sweet Sixteen a possibility for this squad.
17. Iowa Hawkeyes
Sexy? No. Iowa plays a rugged, Big Ten-esque style and few teams do it better than them. The Hawkeyes could have their whole crew from a 23-win team back and add Fran McCaffery’s son Pat to the mix, a highly-touted, Top 100 prospect.
18. Houston Cougars
Let’s not fall out of love with Kelvin Sampson after one breakthrough season in Rocket City. Sampson has a really likeable squad coming back to school and has instilled the right type of mentality in the program. The Cougars have staying power.
The job that Chris Holtmann has done at Ohio State to replace a mainstay in Thad Matta at Ohio State has been nothing short of unprecedented. Times are good in Columbus, with the Wesson crew, Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad back.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Kevin Willard seems to have fallen in love with the promise of what Seton Hall can offer the college basketball world and his blue-collar strengths have led him four straight big dances. Could #5 be in store?
21. VCU Rams
If all goes well this off-season for VCU, the Rams could realistically return their top nine scorers, while makes them easy favorites in a quirky A-10. Mike Rhoades had four players who averaged double-digits in scoring last season for a 25-win team.
The old adage goes that it’s hard to keep a good man down and after a season when Villanova’s seniors were supposed to lead this group to the promised land, Jay Wright will have to fill some holes. I’m not worried about the Wildcats.
23. Memphis Tigers
Penny Hardaway’s turnaround of the Memphis program now revolves around the top-ranked recruit in James Wiseman, a home-grown product who is one of the best one-and-done prospects in the 2019 class. Memphis will be banking on their new blood.
24. LSU Tigers
I’m gonna keep my head down on LSU until all the situations (NBA Draft, Will Wade, etc.) play themselves out. There’s more than enough gifted players in the Bayou to make this group a contender, but a lot has to go their way first.
While I didn’t agree with the Razorbacks decision to part ways with Mike Anderson, I did agree with their call to hire Eric Musselman and lead this veteran group into a likely NCAA Tournament season, with or without Daniel Gafford.
Five More To Consider
Florida Gators - If you haven’t seen Florida’s duo of incoming freshmen in Scottie Lewis, the former #1 player in the 2019 class and guard Tre Mann, you’re really missing out. The Gators will be younger but maybe, a bit more exciting and prolific.
Georgia Bulldogs - Tom Crean’s debut season in Athens was a huge uphill fight, but the culture is there for the Bulldogs. Five-star prospect Anthony Edwards, NBA prospect Nicolas Claxton and a trio of four-star recruits should anchor this group.
Harvard Crimson - Harvard will bring back four starters next season, including star guard Bryce Aiken, who averaged 22.2 points per game during the 2018-2019 campaign. The Crimson also return most of their bench, projecting them as Ivy League favorites.
Indiana Hoosiers - Juwan Morgan’s time in Bloomington was more than memorable, while rookie Romeo Langford’s was a bit uneventful for the Hoosiers. Indiana will move forward with their top five scorers not named Morgan or Langford returning.
USC Trojans - USC’s practices this year will likely look something like a G-League try-out with the amount of large bodies and individual play-makers abound. The Trojans freshmen recruiting haul alone could thrive in a lesser league than the Pac-12.