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College Hoops Contender Series: Three more (flawed?) Final Four favorites

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers. Today, we talk (more) Final Four contenders.

To me, there is a clear-cut line between the teams ranked in the top four or five and the rest of the top 25. Duke probably should be ranked No. 1 in your preseason poll, but their question marks at the point guard spot and the youth on the roster are enough that I can see two teams arguably being ranked above them.

I also think there is another clear-cut tier of teams, through the top 12, that are good enough that they are a decent bet to get to the Final Four in San Antonio while being flawed enough that we cannot consider them a true title contender, at least not in October.

Two of those teams are known as football schools and currently find themselves stuck in the middle of one of the biggest scandals in college sports history: Miami and USC. A third, Wichita State, has yet to play a game as a member of a high-major conference. Let’s take a dive into those three teams, shall we?

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Markis McDuffie (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WICHITA STATE

This year will be a first for Wichita State.

Five years after Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet led the Shockers to the 2013 Final Four, five years after Gregg Marshall’s club became a stalwart in the top 25 and a nationally-recognized program, Wichita State is now officially a high-major basketball team.

The Shockers officially left the Missouri Valley this summer, becoming a member of the American and, instantly, the favorite to win the league this year. Because after a season where Wichita State finished 31-5 and ranked 8th nationally, according to KenPom, the Shockers brought back everyone.

Landry Shamet, who is a darkhorse all-american pick, is back for his sophomore year. Markis McDuffie, who is probably the best all-around player on the roster, is back for his junior year. Fifth-year senior Connor Frankamp rounds out the back court while Darral Willis, Zach Brown, Shaq Morris and Rashard Kelly are all back along the front line.

The Shockers are loaded with precisely the kind of players you would expect a Gregg Marshall-coached team to be loaded with: Underrated back court talent, big and old and physical posts, and a roster full of players that are going to grind you down defensively.

More importantly, they’re already proven to be successful. We know they’re good. They won 31 games a season ago! They finished the year ranked 8th in KenPom! Everyone is back!

The difference is that this season, instead of playing in the Missouri Valley, where computer numbers get pulled down and the Shockers end up as a No. 10 seed — one of the worst mis-seedings in NCAA history — they will be playing American competition. Games against the likes of Cincinnati, SMU, UConn, UCF and Houston will do a lot more for their tournament profile than Indiana State and Missouri State did.

Assuming the Shockers are as good as they should be, they’ll be seeded fairly this year, meaning that they won’t be playing a team as talented as last year’s Kentucky team was until at least the Sweet 16.

And that is what makes them such an intriguing Final Four pick.

The issue, however, is health, and it’s no small problem. Shamet had surgery in early August to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. A similar injury kept him on the shelf for much of the 2015-16 season. Shamet is expected to return to the floor by the start of the season, which is good news, but there’s no guarantee that, coming off of a surgery and an injury that kept him out for three months, that he’ll be in shape and on form immediately.

Shamet is also not the only player that is injured. McDuffie, who led the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago, has a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his left foot. That’s the same bone that derailed careers of many an NBA player, including Joel Embiid. He’s expected to be out until December, meaning there is a possibility that Wichita State begins the season without their top two players.

If those two are both back and healthy come March, it’ll be something of a moot point.

But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

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MIAMI

Everyone say it with me now: The second-best team in the ACC this season will be Miami.

Not Louisville. Not North Carolina. Not Notre Dame or Virginia or Syracuse.

Miami.

And the biggest reason why is a young man that you’ve probably never heard of. Bruce Brown, a former safety and wide receiver at the high school level, still plays like a football player now that he’s fully committed to the hardwood. He’s an aggressive slasher, an athletic finisher and one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He’s also now a guy that can operate in pick-and-rolls and knock down a spot-up jumper, and playing for a coach in Jim Larrañaga that has thrived with talented lead guards and athletic wings, he’s the perfect combination of both.

He’ll also be flanked by a couple more players of that ilk in senior JaQuan Newtown and freshman Lonnie Walker. Newton had a good, not great, junior season for the Hurricanes, but part of the reason for that was due to Brown’s emergence down the stretch. Walker is a top-15 prospect that picked Miami over the likes of Arizona and Villanova. He’ll be an instant impact guy assuming his knee is healthy.

Throw in sophomore center Dewan Huell, a former five-star recruit in his own right, four-star freshmen Chris Lykes, a 5-foot-7 point guard, and Deng Gak, a 7-foot four-man, and there is a lot to like about the pieces Larrañaga has at his disposal.

There is also a lot missing with one piece they lost from last season: Davon Reed. A physical, athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Reed was one of the most underrated players in the ACC a season ago. An elite defender with three-point stroke that went down at a 40 percent clip, Reed was everything a team needs in the day and age of positionless basketball. He could guard three or four positions, he could space the floor and, if need be, he could pop off for 2o points on any given night. There’s a reason he was the No. 32 pick in the NBA Draft.

That’s going to be a massive hole to fill, and the Hurricanes are going to hope junior Anthony Lawrence can replace him.

I’m not sure that he will be able — Reed was a helluva player — but it may not matter.

Larrañaga is at his best when he has talented, dynamic lead guards paired athletics bigs, and there is no questioning that this year’s roster construction fits that mold.

Every few years, Larrañaga pops up with an ACC title contender. It happened when Shane Larkin and Durand Scott manned his back court. It happened with Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. And it will happen with this group as well.

What we will need to track, however, is the status of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. A Miami assistant coach was referenced in the FBI complaints on a phone call involving two of the men that were arrested. The assistant, according to an Adidas executive, was hoping to get the shoe company to fund a $150,000 payment to the family of a prospect that appears to be Nassir Little.

None of the Hurricane coaches were arrested on September 26th, but that doesn’t mean their out of the woods, in the eyes of the FBI or in the eyes of the NCAA.

 Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

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USC

The season has been three years in the making for the Trojans has a black cloud the size of California hanging over it.

Andy Enfield’s tenure with Dunk City West started out dreadfully, amassing a grand total of five Pac-12 wins in his first two seasons at the helm. Things started to turn around during his third season, when the Trojans, without a senior on their roster, climbed their way into the NCAA tournament. Last season was supposed to be their year, but the combination of injuries and a pair unexpected defections to the professional ranks meant that Enfield, again, would be without a senior.

And again, USC made a run to the NCAA tournament, getting out of the play-in game and pulling off an upset of No. 6 seed SMU.

Now, finally, is the year for USC.

The Trojans are loaded. They have experience — their starting back court of Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart are both seniors and both potential all-Pac-12 guards. They have size — Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, both juniors, are NBA prospects while Nik Rakocevic, Harrison Henderson and Shaqquan Aaron give Enfield the kind of depth and positional versatility his style of play calls for. De’anthony Melton, Jonah Mathews and Charles O’Bannon provide the young, dynamic talent in the back court, and that’s before you factor in Derryck Thornton, the former Duke point guard that was once thought to be among the best high school point guards in the country.

The last time there was this much reason to be excited about USC basketball, O.J. Mayo landed on Tim Floyd’s doorstep.

On the court, the question mark with this group is two-fold:

  1. Can they defend? In each of the last two seasons, USC has ranked outside the top 80 on KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. That, quite simply, is not going to be good enough for a team that is planning on competing for a Pac-12 title, let alone a national title.
  2. Is everyone going to buy-in? This may be a bigger concern than the defensive side of the ball. The Trojans don’t have the kind of star power on their roster that you’ll see at UCLA or Arizona, but the depth of their talent is impressive. There are seven or eight players on the roster that have a shot of playing in the NBA. At least five of them flirted with the idea of leaving school early to enter last year’s NBA Draft, meaning that there are going to be quite a few guys on this roster looking to impress NBA scouts. Not all of them are going to be able to get as many shots as they might like. Convincing players that want the be a star to embrace playing a role is the hardest thing to do at this level, and Enfield is going to have his work cut out for him.

Off the court, however, is a bigger problem.

Tony Bland, an assistant coach for USC, was arrested during the FBI’s sting operation investigating corruption in college basketball. He was alleged to have been paid $13,000 in bribe money to get two players currently on the USC team to work with a specific financial advisor when they get to the NBA. He also helped facilitate $9,000 that was supposed to go to the families of an unnamed freshman on the team and an unnamed sophomore.

Those players have not yet been positively identified, but there should be some concern as to whether or not those kids will actually be eligible to play this season.

I’m not sure there are five teams in the country that are going to be more talented than USC this season if they have all their pieces available. But until we get answers on how they are going to defend, who is going to be asked to play what role and who is going to be able to play, it’s going to be hard to know if they actually are Arizona’s biggest challenger in the Pac-12.

Louisville commit Jay Scrubb to skip college, turn pro

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Jay Scrubb will not play college basketball for Louisville this season.

The top JuCo prospect in the country, a product of John A. Logan College, will instead turn pro regardless of where he is projected to be picked in the NBA draft, his father told 247 Sports.

Scrubb is a 6-foot-6 wing with athleticism and the ability to knock down threes. He’s likely going to be a second round pick, but he would have been tremendously valuable for a Louisville program that already is dealing with a lack of depth.

David Johnson, Samuell Williamson and Malik Williams are all expected back for the Cardinals, and the program added Carlik Jones to the mix earlier this week. Scrubb would have been a perfect fit on the wing.

The Cardinals dropped from 15th to 22nd in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 without Scrubb.

Kentucky transfer Juzang commits to UCLA

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Johnny Juzang is going back to Cali.

The former top 30 prospect announced on Thursday that he will be transferring to UCLA. He picked the Bruins over Arizona, Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas Tech and Villanova.

A product of Harvard-Westlake and initially a member of the Class of 2020, Juzang committed to Kentucky after graduating early from high school.

He told reporters that he will be attempting to get a waiver to be eligible immediately. If he does receive the waiver, it would help the Bruins offset the loss of Chris Smith should the junior wing keep his name in the NBA draft.

Seton Hall lands commitment from top grad transfer Bryce Aiken

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We now know how Seton Hall will try and replace their starting backcourt of Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight.

On Thursday, Harvard guard Bryce Aiken announced that he will be committing to play for the Pirates. Aiken is a grad transfer that played four seasona for the Crimson. He was given an extra year of eligibility after playing just seven games as a senior. As a junior, he was arguably the best player in the Ivy League, averaging better than 22 points as a 6-foot-2 lead guard.

He’ll join Takal Molson, a grad transfer from Canisius, in the Pirate backcourt. Molson averaged 16.9 points last season.

It’s hard to imagine that duo being near as good as Powell, a first-team all-american, and McKnight, an all-Big East guard, but they won’t have to be. Seton Hall will likely be built around Sandro Mamukelashvili on the inside next season, and if Myles Cale, Jared Rhoden and Tyrese Samuel all take a step forward, Seton Hall has a chance to be one of the better teams in the league again.

College basketball’s best available transfers

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College basketball’s best available transfers have plenty to offer.

Among the group left there is scoring, size and proven production. Some players are going to higher levels after thriving at mid-major schools. There’s also a chance for a fresh start for talented players who couldn’t figure things out at their first stop.

Here’s a look at the college basketball’s best transfers.

Landers Nolley II, Virginia Tech

Bursting on the ACC scene this season, Nolley provided instant scoring pop for the Hokies. Nolley dropped 30 in his first college game against Clemson. From there, the wing proved himself to be a reliable high-major scorer. The redshirt freshman tapered off at the end of the season. He ended up at 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game. But he’s a weapon as a scorer that any team would love to add. Nolley recently named his top 11 schools. Alabama, Georgetown, Maryland, Memphis, N.C. State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Seton Hall, TCU, Texas Tech, UConn all made the cut.

D.J. Carton, Ohio State

This promising former high-end four-star prospect left the Buckeyes mid-season. The explosive left-hander was off to a strong start. Carton put up 10.4 points, 3.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. Then the freshman left the team for mental health reasons. Removing himself from the team late January, Carton never returned to basketball. Now, he’s one of the best available transfers. Shooting 40 percent from three-point range, Carton can get to the rack or knock down shots. High-major programs from all over have checked in on Carton. The Iowa native has plenty of options.

Johnny Juzang, Kentucky

After reclassifying to join the Wildcats a year early last May, Juzang is already exiting for another program. The freshman is a former high-end four-star prospect. The 6-foot-6 Juzang brings size and shooting to his next destination. Although he never properly cracked Kentucky’s lineup, Juzang worked his way into a respectable role. The freshman averaged 12.3 minutes per contest and 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. Arizona, Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas Tech, UCLA and Villanova are among Juzang’s top six. It’s not often that a Kentucky player is one of college basketball’s best transfers.

Jamarius Burton, Wichita State

The sophomore put together a strong all-around season for the Shockers. Burton put up 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting a respectable 38 percent from three-point range. The versatile perimeter threat can play multiple spots and often bullies his opponents with physicality. Burton became one of Wichita State’s go-to players by the end of the season. Burton is down to Marquette, Seton Hall, Texas Tech and Xavier.

Trey Wertz, Santa Clara

Wertz doesn’t have a lot of notoriety. But 58 coaches contacted Wertz’s family the first seven hours he was in the transfer portal. The sophomore is one of the hottest names in recruiting. According to a report from the Charlotte Observer, Wertz is down to Arizona, Butler, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Virginia. For two seasons, Wertz consistently put up strong numbers for the Broncos. A tall guard at 6-foot-4, Wertz put up numbers across the board. He’s a double-figure scorer (11.9 ppg) who also distributes (3.9 apg) and helps on the glass (3.5 rpg). This season saw Wertz improve to a 40 percent three-point shooter.

Luther Muhammad, Ohio State

Starting 56 games for the Buckeyes the past two seasons, Muhammad is one of the more experienced transfers. The two-way guard is a tough perimeter defender capable of locking down opposing guards. Muhammad can also go on scoring flurries if he gets hot from the perimeter. Consistency has been the issue. Take Ohio State’s games against Maryland this season as an example. In a win, Muhammad poured in 22 points and hit four three-pointers. In a loss, the sophomore went scoreless in 24 minutes. Sometimes, it’s hard to guess which version of Muhammad will show up. Muhammad is down eight schools. Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Georgia, New Mexico, Seton Hall, UCLA and West Virginia are involved.

Holland Woods, Portland State

This first-team all-Big Sky performer is highly productive. The 6-foot-1 point guard averaged 30-plus minutes in all three seasons with the Vikings. Woods did plenty when he was on the floor. Averaging 17.7 points and 5.2 assists per game as a junior, Woods is a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands. Perimeter shooting is the big problem. Woods has never been over 30 percent in his career. But with over 1,300 points and 500 assists in his college career, Woods should be able to come in and help right away. Woods could return to Portland State but he’s also considering Arizona State, Gonzaga, Oregon State and New Mexico State.

Cam Mack, Nebraska

In his only season at Nebraska, the 6-foot-2 guard showed his all-around ability. Mack put up 12.0 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. He has the only triple-double in Cornhuskers history — which came in a win over Purdue. Off-the-court issues are why Mack finds himself lower on this list. Nebraska suspended the sophomore multiple times during the season. Mack also put his name in the 2020 NBA draft process — but he’s maintaining his college eligibility. If Mack ends up staying in college, he’s talented enough to be a major force.

David DeJulius, Michigan

DeJulius entered the transfer portal just days ago after a promising sophomore campaign. The Wolverines relied on DeJulius as a key reserve guard who averaged 7.0 points and 1.5 assists per game in 20 minutes a contest. It was expected DeJulius would compete for a starting spot with the departure of Zavier Simpson. That won’t be the case now. It could be that DeJulius wants a chance to be a starter elsewhere. He’s a capable shooter who can put up points at the highest level. Even if DeJulius doesn’t improve at running an offense, he should help someone looking for perimeter pop and experience.

Joshua Morgan, Long Beach State

Morgan is the ultimate upside play among the best available transfers. The 6-foot-11 center was the Big West’s Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman. After putting up modest numbers in high school, Morgan added 18 pounds and showed he could compete with the big boys. Morgan averaged 8.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Ranking 13th in the nation in blocks, Morgan’s defensive presence at the rim is unique among available transfers. And with three years of eligibility left, there’s a lot of time to tap in Morgan’s upside. Morgan scored in double-figures against Arizona, UCLA, USC last season. Now, all three of those schools are among the many high-majors in pursuit.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.

As always, there are plenty of caveats here.

For starters, it is still March. Typically, when we publish the college basketball preseason top 25, it’s in April, after the national title game. By that point we usually have a better sense of who is leaving for the NBA, who is returning to school and where the best freshmen (and top transfer) will be playing.

That’s not the case this year.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

There are a handful of names that are obviously leaving school — Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman — but given that this year’s draft class is so weak combined with the fact that the world is social distancing and there may not be any workouts during the predraft process is throwing everything for a loop.

It’s hard to know at this point.

Which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.

So with that in mind, here is the current NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:

1. VILLANOVA

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Bryan Antoine, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
  • WAIT AND SEE: Saddiq Bey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

There’s a chance, albeit a fairly slim one, that Villanova can return everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country if everyone returns. And while Saddiq Bey is their best player, I think he is not only more likely to declare for the draft than Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but I also think that he will be easier to replace. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey is the best of the bunch, but having to force Caleb Daniels or Bryan Antoine over him is a better option than having to play Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon instead of JRE.

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)

2. GONZAGA

  • GONE: Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
  • COMING BACK: Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Joel Ayayi, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
  • WAIT AND SEE: Filip Petrusev, Jalen Suggs
  • NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Filip Petrusev

The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are in the unique position of waiting on a freshman to decide if he is going to go pro. The player in question is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s the guy to be a full-time point guard on a team competing for a national title. That spot is really the only question mark if Suggs opts to skip college and play overseas, because Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded, especially if Filip Petrusev returns, because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside.

3. BAYLOR

  • GONE: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
  • COMING BACK: Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague
  • NEW FACES: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark

The Bears should get all three of their guards back, assuming Jared Butler does not go pro, and with Mark Vital slated to return, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?

4. CREIGHTON

  • GONE: Kelvin Jones
  • COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Davion Mintz, Jacob Epperson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski
  • NEW FACES: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop

Creighton’s ranking depends on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decide to do. If they come back to school, the Bluejays will once again have one of college basketball’s most dangerous perimeters. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.

5. VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
  • COMING BACK: Jay Huff, Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff

The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft

6. MICHIGAN STATE

  • GONE: Cassius Winston
  • COMING BACK: Rocket Watts, Aaren Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham, Julius Marble, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
  • WAIT AND SEE: Xavier Tillman, Josh Langford
  • NEW FACES: Joey Hauser, Madi Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rocket Watts, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, Xavier Tillman

Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry. The key, however, is going to be Xavier Tillman. I think he’s a first round pick, and considering that he’s a married man with two kids already, he certainly could use the income. He’s the piece that brings it all together.

7. KENTUCKY

  • GONE: Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang
  • COMING BACK: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
  • WAIT AND SEE: Immanuel Quickley, E.J. Montgomery
  • NEW FACES: B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

My assumption is that Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans probably end up going pro. I think Immanuel Quickley is 50-50, but if a Kentucky player is 50-50, I’ll work under the context that the player is gone until he’s coming back. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties if Quickley is gone. Once again, the question is going to be in the frontcourt. Will Keion Brooks and E.J. Montgomery make the leap next year? Can Isaiah Jackson or Lance Ware take over the starting role?

8. KANSAS

  • GONE: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
  • COMING BACK: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack

When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.

9. TEXAS TECH

  • GONE: Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield
  • COMING BACK: Kyler Edwards, Terrance Shannon Jr., Davide Moretti, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Avery Benson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jahmi’Us Ramsey
  • NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Davide Moretti, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon, Joel Ntambwe

The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both build in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Davide Moretti (or Edwards) can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.

10. HOUSTON

  • GONE: Chris Harris
  • COMING BACK: Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, Fabian White, Justin Forham, Brison Gresham, Cedrick Alley
  • WAIT AND SEE: DeJon Jarreau, Nate Hinton
  • NEW FACES: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, Quentin Grimes, Nate Hinton, Fabian White

We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American.

11. SAN DIEGO STATE

  • GONE: Yanni Wetzel, K.J. Feagin
  • COMING BACK: Matt Mitchell, Nathan Mensah, Jordan Schakel, Trey Pulliam, Joel Mensah, Aguek Arop, Adam Seiko
  • WAIT AND SEE: Malachi Flynn
  • NEW FACES: Terrell Gomez, Lamont Butler, Che Evans, Keith Dinwiddie
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Malachi Flynn, Terrell Gomez, Jordan Schakel, Matt Mitchell, Nathan Mensah

The key here is going to be Malachi Flynn. A redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Washington State, Flynn is an All-American at the point that allows Brian Dutcher’s offense to run the way he wants it to run. Losing Yanni Wetzel will hurt, but Nathan Mensah started over him at the start of the year, and the defense that K.J. Feagin provided will be missed. But with Matt Mitchell back, he and Flynn should be able to provide enough firepower that the system will still run just fine. Remember, the Aztecs are coming off of a season where they lost just two games and will return 3.5 starters, including an All-American, if Flynn is back.

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25

12. DUKE

  • GONE: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier
  • COMING BACK: Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt
  • NEW FACES: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Mark Williams

The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if, as expected, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all head to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and a frontline that includes a bunch of freshmen and a grad transfer from Columbia is less than ideal.

13. IOWA

  • GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
  • COMING BACK: C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
  • WAIT AND SEE: Luka Garza, Jordan Bohannon
  • NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza

I’m assuming Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.

14. TENNESSEE

  • GONE: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden
  • COMING BACK: John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pemper
  • WAIT AND SEE: Josiah Jordan-James, Yves Pons
  • NEW FACES: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Corey Walker, Victor Bailey, E.J. Anosike
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to compete for an SEC title.

15. NORTH CAROLINA

  • GONE: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson
  • COMING BACK: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Caleb Love, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

The Tar Heels will lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked in my top eight.

RELATED: Coaching Carousel

16. FLORIDA STATE

  • GONE: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Dominik Olejniczak
  • COMING BACK: M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Raiquan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Nathanael Jack
  • WAIT AND SEE: Patrick Williams
  • NEW FACES: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Polite, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Devin Vassell/Patrick Williams, Balsa Koprivica

Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I think the system will continue to work even if both remain in the draft. And even if both came back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest?

17. WISCONSIN

  • GONE: Brevin Pritzl
  • COMING BACK: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl, Trevor Anderson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Ben Carlson, Lorne Bowman, Johnny Davis, Jordan Davis, Steve Crowl
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter

After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.

18. UCLA

  • GONE: Prince Ali, Alex Olesinski
  • COMING BACK: Chris Smith, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jake Kyman, Jules Bernard, David Singleton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Johnny Juzang
  • NEW FACES: Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Daishen Nix, David Singleton, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill

After turning their season around and finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season standings, UCLA returns everyone that played a major role in their rotation down the stretch of the season while adding five-star point guard Daishen Nix. A number of Cronin’s young pieces — Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton — really played well down the stretch. The two question marks: How will Tyger Campbell and Nix fit together, and will Chris Smith return to school?

19. WEST VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
  • COMING BACK: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Gabe Osabuohien, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson , Jalen Bridges
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe

The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.

20. RUTGERS

  • GONE: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
  • COMING BACK: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson

The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.

21. MICHIGAN

  • GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
  • COMING BACK: Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
  • WAIT AND SEE: Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Todd, Hunter Dickinson, Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Isaiah Todd, Hunter Dickinson

The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return at least one, if not both of Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Isaiah Todd and Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of David DeJulius and Eli Brooks.

22. LOUISVILLE

  • GONE: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry
  • COMING BACK: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry, Aidan Ighiehon, Jaelyn Withers
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Carlik Jones, D’Andre Davis, J.J. Traynor
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Carlik Jones, David Johnson, Jay Scrubb, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams

The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as senior Malik Williams this season. The addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones should help out quite a bit as well. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The major question mark is going to be who steps forward as the fifth starter now that Jay Scrubb has announced that he will be remaining in the NBA draft.

23. OHIO STATE

  • GONE: Kaleb Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Andrew Wesson, D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney
  • COMING BACK: Duane Washington, Luther Muhammad, C.J. Walker, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Seth Towns, Eugene Brown, Zed Kay, Justice Suenig
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington, Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young

This is another ranking that is based as much on who the coach is as it is based on the players on the roster. Ohio State will likely lose Kaleb Wesson to the NBA, but with a solid crop of guards to go along with Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and Harvard transfer Seth Towns, there is more than enough there for the Buckeyes to get back to the NCAA tournament.

24. RICHMOND

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Wilson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Grant Golden

Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

25. OREGON

  • GONE: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston
  • COMING BACK: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker, Francis Okoro, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson
  • WAIT AND SEE: N’Faly Dante
  • NEW FACES: Jalen Terry, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi, C.J. Walker

The Ducks will be losing Payton Pritchard, which is a major blow, but Will Richardson and Chris Duarte should be able to handle a bigger load. Eric Williams and Eugene Omoruyi are both impact transfers that sat out last season, and there is plenty of young talent returning on the Duck bench.

FIVE THAT JUST MISSED THE CUT

TEXAS

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Royce Hamm, Donovan Williams, Gerald Lidell, Will Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: None
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims

INDIANA

  • GONE: De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green
  • COMING BACK: Joey Brunk, Justin Smith, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Trayce Jackson-Davis
  • NEW FACES: Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, Justin Smith, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk

ARIZONA STATE

  • GONE: Rob Edwards, Mickey Mitchell
  • COMING BACK: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Romello White, Jaelen House, Khalid Thomas, Jalen Graham
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Marcus Bagley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Romello White

UCONN

  • GONE: Christian Vital, Alterique Gilbert, Sid Wilson
  • COMING BACK: Josh Carlton, Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, Tyler Polley, Brendan Adams, Isaiah Whaley
  • WAIT AND SEE: James Bouknight
  • NEW FACES: R.J. Cole, Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown-Ferguson, Richie Springs
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: R.J. Cole, James Bouknight, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Josh Carlton

STANFORD

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Spencer Jones, Lukas Kisunas, Jaiden Delaire, James Keefe
  • WAIT AND SEE: Tyrell Terry, Oscar da Silva
  • NEW FACES: Noah Taitz, Max Murrell, Brandon Angel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrell Terry, Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Spencer Jones, Oscar da Silva