Returning the Big Ten Player of the Year in Cassius Winston is enough to put Michigan State at the top of the conference conversation. The rest of the core is what sends them to the top of the national pile. Between Joshua Langford, Xavier Tillman, Aaaron Henry and incoming four-star prospects Malik Hall and Rocket Watts, they’ll be play-makers aplenty for Sparty.
John Calipari has to once again replace a crew of strong talent that includes the likes of Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson. However, Cal will keep Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery on campus and add the country’s best recruiting haul, headlined by three-five star prospects and Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina.
It certainly didn’t take long for Chris Mack to turn the ship around in Louisville. Mack held onto Jordan Nwora, one of the ACC’s most-underrated swingmen, as well as top scorers 4-7 from last year’s roster. Louisville also brings in St. Joseph’s graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble, a 15.6 PPG scorer, and a six-man recruiting haul composed of one five and four four-star prospects.
The Blue Devils knew they were going to have to move on without Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but they should be able to glue it all together around five-star recruits Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, four-star pieces in Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanely and some notable returners in Tre Jones, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell and Jack White.
Well now, look what Penny Hardway has done at Memphis. He kept the nation’s top recruit in James Wiseman home in Memphis, which started an unprecedented chain of top-level players pledging to the program, including five-star forward Precious Achiuwa, and five four-star talents. The Tigers will be a brand new unit, but playing in the American should help them grow.
After Kansas stepped aside from being Big 12 Champions for the first time since 2004, the Jayhawks are likely headed back to the top of the conference pile. Some of Kansas’ issues last season were definitely chemistry-related and some new players may be a case of addition by subtraction. Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson will have to lead this group from the on-set.
The commitment of five-star point guard Cole Anthony to the Tar Heels gave Roy Williams the critical back-court piece he needed to run his squad. Combine Anthony with a few needed returners, fellow five-star big Armando Bacot and two key transfers in Justin Pierce (William & Mary) and Christian Keeling (Georgia Southern) and the Tar Heels will stay true contenders.
Over the past three seasons, Mark Few has won 102 games and averaged just 3.67 losses per campaign. For any program at any level, those are audacious numbers to comprehend. The Bulldogs will have a new-look roster, something not too familiar in Spokane, but as usual, one that’s loaded with talent. Killian Tillie (if healthy) and Texas A&M transfer Admon Gilder will be key.
Chris Holtmann has sped up the reboot of an Ohio State program and now, a legitimate campaign as Big Ten contenders lands at their doorstep. The Buckeyes got the break they needed when likely all-league big man Kaleb Wesson chose to return, amplifying the impacts of Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Florida State transfer CJ Walker and three four-star recruits.
The failure of the Jahvon Quinerly experiment left the Wildcats without a true point guard at crucial points last season, something they’ll need to rectify heading into the 2019-2020 campaign with Collin Gillespie. The losses of program staples like Phil Booth and Eric Paschall should be softened by the welcomed arrival of five-star pieces Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
11. Arizona Wildcats
How Sean Miller has remained at Arizona and continued to operate at a high-level will be one of those questions unanswered by anyone for years to come. All things considered, the Wildcats add five-star prospects Nico Mannion and Josh Green, UC-Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard and return two probable all-league pieces in Brandon Williams and Chase Jeter. The rich get richer.
The Huskies landed two five-star prospects in Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, who will bring length and versatility that should take the Pac-12 by storm. When Kentucky transfer Quade Green becomes eligible for league play, Washington should kick into full gear. Somehow, a third straight Pac-12 Coach of the Year accolade (and NCAA Tournament trip) could be in Mike Hopkins’ future.
Over the last four seasons, Seton Hall has finished third in the Big East each year, won at least 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament. Few programs have been as consistently tough to beat, as well as unheralded as the Pirates. They’re not the flashiest team in the country, but they get the job done and with near everyone back, Seton Hall should be headed to the big dance again.
Sam Merrill. Neemias Queta. Brock Miller. If these names mean nothing to you then along with the rest of the college basketball world, you only really began to recognize Utah State during the NCAA Tournament. Craig Smith, who completely transformed the team in his first season, now enters the 2019-2020 campaign with the Aggies as the favorites in the Mountain West.
In the earliest edition of our Way-Too-Early Top 25, Virginia was our #1 ranked squad in the land and likely projected favorites for another run at a national title. What a difference a month can make. De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy were all lost to the NBA, leaving the shell of a roster behind in Charlottesville. Tony Bennett has a heck of a coaching job on his hands.
I’m probably the last one to jump on the Maryland bangwagon, as I consistently have been disappointed in the recent lackluster campaigns by the Terps. However, the return of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith to College Park, along with Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins ready for bigger seasons, just makes this unit likeable enough. It’s time to fear the turtle.
17. Baylor Bears
Like Maryland, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Baylor over the years, as you never quite know what to expect from Scott Drew and the Bears. Some seasons, their roster has been loaded with NBA prospects and done nothing and other times, they win with a mostly unknown crew of talents. Consider this year’s roster the latter, but still ready for a surprise run in the Big 12.
18. Florida Gators
There’s probably no team in the Top 25 that will be harder to gauge until they hit the court than Florida, as Mike White has a super exciting but largely inexperienced group in Gainesville. The Gators still have point guard Andrew Nembhard, which means five-star prospect Tre Mann will likely move off the ball and Scottie Lewis will play on the wing. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.
19. VCU Rams
Bringing just about your whole team back from a 25-win campaign usually signals another great season on the horizon and in case of VCU, their seems to be some real belief that a program-defining year is ahead. The Rams also have the A-10’s best recruiting class, spearheaded by four-star recruit Nah’shon Hyland, to add to an already loaded depth chart down in Richmond.
Another team that should have most of it’s core back in tow, Saint Mary’s will hope their four returning starters will be enough to knock Gonzaga off it’s perch in the WCC. The Gaels have two of the top players on the west coast between guard Jordan Ford and forward Malik Fitts, but the roster around them needs to fill-in and find depth at some key spots, especially up front.
21. Iowa Hawkeyes
This ranking is based off star Jordan Bohannon coming back at full steam for at least half the season from recent hip surgery, because without him, the Hawkeyes will have just one too many holes to fill. Luke Garza, Joe Wieskamp and Valpo grad transfer Bakari Evelyn can hold down the fort for a bit, but pieces from deeper on this roster will need to have breakthrough campaigns.
22. Harvard Crimson
While Bryce Aiken’s testing of NBA Draft waters was more of a formality than anything else, the New Jersey guard’s return to Cambridge is just what the doctor ordered for Tommy Amaker. Aiken, a 22.2 PPG scorer, will now lead a Harvard squad who brings their top seven scorers back and adds a legitimate four-star prospect in Chris Ledlum. The Crimson are your Ivy League favorites.
The Razorbacks will have a guard-heavy rotation for Eric Musselman’s first season in Fayetteville, complete with sharpshooter Isaiah Joe, stocky combo-wing Mason Jones, do-it-all man Jalen Harris and UNC-Wilmingston transfer Jeantal Cylla. Musselman showed his loves to play small ball during his time in Nevada and he’ll have to, with a front-court that needs to find some depth.
24. USC Trojans
Andy Enfield may be in for his biggest season yet at USC, as it’s unlikely that the Trojans faithful can endure another year without the NCAA Tournament. The roster is deep and talented, with two crucial returning pieces in Nick Rakocevic and Jonah Mathews, two strong transfers in Quinton Adlesh (Columbia) and Daniel Utomi (Akron) and a top-ten national recruiting class.
After a year away from the NCAA Tournament, expect Davidson to get their dancing shoes out again with their 2019-2020 crew. The Wildcats bring back their top-six scorers a team that won 24 games, yet they were stunned by Saint Louis in the A-10 Tournament semis. Reigning A-10 Player of the Year Jon Axel Gudmundson and guard Kellan Grady is the league’s best one-two punch.
Five More To Consider
Auburn Tigers: The Tigers run to last season’s Final Four (after almost bailing out in the first round), turned Auburn into a team the country seemed to be rooting for. Bruce Pearl still has Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore in tow, as well as seven new faces in town.
South Florida Bulls: Don’t look now but Brian Gregory has figured things out at South Florida. The Bulls will return 90% of their scoring from last year’s 24-win squad, headlined by guards David Collins and LaQuincy Rideau. South Florida should be safely in the bubble conversation.
Tennessee Volunteers: Rick Barnes must move on without Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, who were three players that will forever define Tennessee basketball during his tenure. The Vols will stay relevant, but the path through the SEC will be absolutely brutal.
Texas Tech Red Raiders: After last season’s impressive run to the National Championship game, the culture that Chris Beard has created at Texas Tech should stick. The Red Raiders are another program aided by transfers in Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and TJ Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin).
Xavier Musketeers: Travis Steele was asked to collect things after Chris Mack left for Louisville and his debut campaign was filled with “could’ve been” moments. A returning cast led by their top four scorers from last year and Ohio transfer Jason Carter should make for a smooth year two.