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College Basketball Talk’s Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25

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Our way-too-early preseason top 25 is going to be a little bit different than other top 25s: we’re making predictions based on what we think will happen. For example: we’re assuming that Jabari Parker is going to leave Duke and Chris Walker is going to return to Florida. We have Nick Johnson leaving Arizona for the professional level but we’re listing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as returning to school. We have Myles Turner headed to Texas. Call it a hunch, call it an educated guess, whatever, but we are ranking these teams based on what we think is going to happen with their personnel:

1. Arizona: In all likelihood, the Wildcats are going to lose Aaron Gordon, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Nick Johnson leave as well. But as long as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski return, and assuming Brandon Ashley doesn’t go pro, Sean Miller will have another loaded roster at his disposal. They bring in Stanley Johnson, who will be an immediate difference-maker, while Craig Victor and Kadeem Allen will contribute as well.

2. Duke: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are, in all likelihood, going to be playing for pay next season. But with Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen joining a team that will return Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson, Duke will once again be elite.

3. Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker said that they would be returning to school on Saturday night, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t believe them at this point. Assuming they do, the Badgers are going to be loaded once again, as the only starter the lose is Ben Brust. That’s survivable, particularly when they have Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes waiting for more playing time.

4. Kansas: It must be nice to be Bill Self. He loses two guys that could be the top two picks in the draft and he’ll return a team that looks like a title contender. Again. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis return and will be joined by Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson will be a nice addition while Brannen Greene, Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp had promising moments during their freshmen seasons. The key? Naadir Tharpe, as usual.

5. Kentucky: Working under the assumption that Julius Randle, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrisons head to the NBA, we’re looking at a situation where Kentucky has a front line that includes Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Derek Willis. That’s loaded. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker only need to be facilitators, jump-shooters and post-feeders.

6. North Carolina: James Michael McAdoo is gone, but Marcus Paige is returning to school, which is good news. The Tar Heels essentially return the rest of their roster, including a talented and underrated front line, while adding three top 20 recruits in Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry.

7. Virginia: Coming off of a season where the Cavs won dual-ACC titles, they’ll lose Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. But with the rest of their roster returning, including Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, Virginia should compete for the top spot in the ACC once again.

8. Texas: Texas returns everyone. Literally. Every single player from this year’s team is expected to return next season, and considering how young some of their key players — Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix are sophomores, Isaiah Taylor is a freshman — there should be some improvement as well. Most seem to think that Texas is the leader for Myles Turner as well, although he is very much in the air at this point.

9. San Diego State: Losing Xavier Thames is going to hurt a lot, but the Aztecs will once again be a terrific defensive team next season. Scoring will be an issue, but with the improvements Dwayne Polee made late in the season combined with the promising, but still young, talent Steve Fisher has brought in the last two seasons — Dakarai Allen, Trey Kell, Zylan Cheatam — they should be able to compete.

10. SMU: The Mustangs were the first team left out of the NCAA tournament due to the fact that they didn’t play anyone in the non-conference. But they return a majority of their roster, including Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, while adding the nation’s No. 2 recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to the mix.

11. Oklahoma
12. Wichita State
13. Harvard
14. Florida
15. Oregon
16. Gonzaga
17. VCU
18. Villanova
19. Iowa
20. Michigan
21. UConn
22. Syracuse
23. Michigan State
24. UNLV
25. Baylor

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.