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College Basketball Top 25: The pressing question for every team in our preseason rankings

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As we get ready for the Fourth of July holiday, we at College Basketball Talk will be rolling through the pressing questions for every team in the top 25.

Today, we take a look at the teams ranked in the top ten. 

On Monday, we dove into the teams ranked 11-25

What is the question that we will need answered for the best teams in college basketball next season?

1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • DOES KANSAS HAVE TOO MANY PLAYERS?

The best news for Jayhawks fans heading into the 2018-19 season is that, for the first time in three years, they actually have a roster that will fit the way that Bill Self loves to play. They have players that can bully defenders at the rim. They have a power forward with the potential to be an all-american and the ability to score in the low- and mid-post. They have plenty and shooters and scorers on the wings, and they have two point guards that are going to be fighting for the right to be named starter.

The problem, however, is that of the 13 scholarship players on the roster, 12 of them deserve playing time. Is David McCormack going to be able to get minutes behind Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa (assuming De Sousa can actually play)? If Dedric Lawson is going to be an all-american, how many forward minutes are going to be available for Mitch Lightfoot and K.J. Lawson, especially with LaGerald Vick, Marcus Garrett and Sam Cunliffe back in the fold? If Quentin Grimes ends up being the best perimeter player on the roster, as some project him to be, who is going to have to sacrifice their minutes to get him on the floor? At least at the point, Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson splitting minutes should be easy math.

The most difficult part of Bill Self’s job next season is probably going to be the massaging of egos.

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2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • ARE WE READY TO TRUST JOSH PERKINS?

Gonzaga was perhaps the biggest winner of the early entry period, as the Zags brought back both Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie who, along with transfer Brandon Clarke, make up what appears to be the best frontcourt in college basketball next season. Zach Norvell, who was dominant at times as a freshman, is back, as is Corey Kispert, who is ready to take a step forward even if it’s as a player more than as a producer. The only position where there is a real concern with this Gonzaga team is at the point, which is the most important position on the floor in the college game.

That is where Perkins resides. At one point considered a top 25 prospect in the country, Perkins has had a good career with the Bulldogs. This past season, as a redshirt junior, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 assists. Going against defenses in the WCC, Perkins is better than fine; he’s the best the conference has to offer. But we’re not talking about the Zags winning their league. We’re talking Final Fours and national titles here, and Perkins’ effectiveness as a decision-maker and a creator against the best of the best is where the doubt lies. If Perkins plays like a fifth-year senior that already has national title game experience, the Zags look like a good bet to get back to their second Final Four in three years.

3. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • WILL KENTUCKY HAVE TO SACRIFICE TALENT TO GET SHOOTING ON THE FLOOR?

The more I look at this Kentucky roster, the more I like this group. For my money, there is a clear-cut top four next season with Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky all having an argument to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Adding Reid Travis, a bully and fifth-year senior that can score in the post and hit the glass, should help improve what is still a very young roster; only in Lexington is a team with five freshmen, four sophomores and one senior considered old.

My concern with this group as of now is spacing. For my money, Coach Cal’s best five next season will include Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, Travis, P.J. Washington and one of Immanuel Quickley, Quade Green and Tyler Herro. Travis attempted 62 threes in four seasons at Stanford, with 61 coming last year. He’s a career 29 percent three-point shooter. Washington’s issues with shooting is why Kentucky was knocked out of last year’s tournament in the Sweet 16 and why Washington is still on campus and not an NBA roster. Hagans is an athlete, a defender and a competitor known for his ability to get to the rim, not his shooting. The same can be said for Johnson.

Quickley is a capable shooter, Green is probably slightly better and Herro is known for his stroke, but is one shooter on the floor going to be enough to create spacing? Maybe, but that doubt is why I have them a tick below Kansas and Gonzaga heading into the year.

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4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • DOES DUKE HAVE THE SHOOTING TO GO FULL SMALL-BALL?

I am all the way here for college basketball moving more towards small-ball, position-less basketball built on playing with pace and space. Watching Villanova batter everyone in their path with a barrage of threes last season was amazing. Basketball at its best, and on paper, Duke looks like a team poised to follow in those footsteps. Tre Jones, Tyus’ tougher little brother, will handle the point while Marques Bolden looks like he’ll finally get a chance to be Duke’s first-team center. But beyond that, the Blue Devils have wings on wings on wings.

R.J. Barrett, the nation’s No. 1 recruit and the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Cam Reddish, a potential top three pick. Zion Williamson, the viral superstar of the prep ranks that is tough and athletic enough to play some five for Duke despite standing just 6-foot-5. Even sophomore Alex O’Connell and junior Javin DeLaurier fit into that conversation. The problem, however, is that small-ball relies on the ability of those smaller players to be able to space the floor. Villanova was arguably the best three-point shooting team we’ve ever seen in the collegiate ranks. Golden State is so deadly because they have arguably the three best all-around shooters in the NBA on their roster.

This Duke team is not exactly known for their shooting. Zion is not a shooting threat. Neither is DeLaurier. Barrett is more of a slasher (although he’s spent time this offseason working with Drew Hanlen) while Reddish is thought of as a scorer more than a shooter. Even Jones, who can shoot, is at his best when he can turn a corner and get downhill. I love what Duke is trying to do, but I wonder whether or not they have the shooting to make it all work flawlessly.

5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • CAN ‘THE VILLANOVA WAY’ SURVIVE THE KIND OF TALENT EXODUS COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S ELITE DEAL WITH?

The narrative with this Villanova program the last three years is that they have built something out of nothing, growing players no one wanted into collegiate superstars. And while there is validity to their ability to develop players within their ranks, the truth is that the Wildcats landed a bunch of guys that a lot of very good teams wanted, made them better and built an absolute juggernaut, one that put three players in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, a list that doesn’t include the 33rd pick, Jalen Brunson, last year’s consensus National Player of the Year.

And now Nova will head into the 2018-19 season with a young roster that is missing two guys that would have been all-americans had they returned to school as we all thought they would in February. It begs the question: Can the Villanova machine keep running if their best players head to the league earlier than expected? I think that it will, but that is under the assumption that Villanova’s freshmen — specifically Jahvon Quinerly and Cole Swider — come in and contribute major minutes immediately while their sophomore class — Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillispie — take a step forward. I’ll bet on Jay Wright finding a way to make it happen.

6. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • HOW MANY BODIES IS TOO MANY BODIES?

Eric Musselman was going to have a difficult time trying to find a way to get every deserving player on his roster meaningful minutes before he found out that both Caleb and Cody Martin, the former an all-american candidate and the latter an all-MWC first-team player, were returning to school. Now, he’s looking at a situation where he had to run off two players that would have had an impact — Ehab Amin, who is now at Oregon, and Josh Hall, who hit the shot that sent Nevada to the Sweet 16 — just to get down to 13 scholarship players.

The Martin twins are going to play 30-plus minutes again this season. Jordan Caroline probably will as well, and I can’t imagine a scenario where Jordan Brown, a top 15 recruit, isn’t playing heavy minutes. That doesn’t leave much burn to go around. There are going to be players that sat out a season to transfer to Nevada that are going to spend this year glued to the bench. Nevada might be better off fielding two teams in the MWC this season.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

  • HOW WILL THE VOLS ADJUST TO BEING THE HUNTED?

Tennessee was one of the best stories in college basketball last season, and if it wasn’t for the years that Tony Bennett and Bruce Pearl produced, Rick Barnes would have been the runaway favorite to win National Coach of the Year. Tennessee was picked 13th in the SEC Preseason poll. They won a share of the league’s regular season title and they return essentially everyone from that team, including SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams.

No one expected that last year. No one will be caught unprepared this year, and that has tripped teams up in the past. Take Northwestern. One of the most under-discussed storylines from last season was Northwestern going from their first NCAA tournament to the preseason top 15 back to lovable loser in the span of about four weeks at the start of the season. They couldn’t handle the target on their back. That will be the key for Tennessee as we head into next season.

8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

  • WILL DE’ANDRE HUNTER BE ABLE TO PLAY THE FOUR?

The wording here is the key. The question isn’t whether or not Hunter is capable of playing the four at the college level. We know he is. The question is whether he will be able to given the way this Virginia roster is coming together. With Devon Hall and Nigel Johnson graduating, suddenly there is a complete lack of back court depth. Ty Jerome is still there, as is Kyle Guy, and they will be fine. Beyond that, the Wahoo back court consists of incoming freshman Kihei Clark and Kody Stattmann, neither of whom are thought of as immediate impact players, and sophomores Marco Anthony and Francesco Badocchi. Anthony played 13 games. Badocchi did not play.

That matters because Hunter’s ideal position is as a four. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He has the strength to guard bigs and the quicks to defend on the perimeter. He can make threes and attack defenders in isolation. He’s a prototype small-ball four, and that fact was never more evident than when UVA got torched by UMBC playing four guards. But if Bennett cannot trust one of those four young guards to play major minutes, Hunter is going to be slotted in at the three, and while the likes of Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Jack Salt will be very good in the frontcourt, I’m just not sure that playing big is the optimal lineup for Virginia.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

  • WHICH KANSAS STATE IS THE REAL KANSAS STATE?

This may seem like a silly question for a team that came within one win of getting to the Final Four, but it is important to remember here that the Wildcats entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed, reached the Sweet 16 by becoming the only No. 9 seed to ever beat a No. 16 seed and lost to a team from the Missouri Valley by 16 points to go home.

But they also beat Kentucky and Creighton during that run, doing so despite the fact that their best player and a potential all-american, Dean Wade, was on the bench with an injury. So, again, I ask you: Which Kansas State is the real Kansas State? The one that struggled with their perimeter shooting, couldn’t get a rebound if their life depended on it and finished the regular season with a 21-10 record? Or is it the one that played — and defended — with so much heart in the tournament, making a deep run despite the fact their their best player was on the bench?

Admittedly, I am smitten with this team, and I’m sure my ranking will be the highest that you see them this offseason. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, not if the Kansas State from last March shows back up again.

10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • DOES ROY WILLIAMS HAVE THE POINT GUARD HE NEEDS?

Every one of Roy Williams’ best teams have had elite point guard play. In 2005, it was Ray Felton. In 2009, it was Ty Lawson. In 2016 and 2017, it was Joel Berry II. Remember, the Tar Heels turned a corner in the 2015-16 season, winning the ACC, the ACC tournament and getting to the national title game, when Berry took over the reins as the program’s point guard from Marcus Paige.

This year, point guard duties are going to fall to Seventh Woods, Rechon Black and Coby White, the latter of whom in a five-star prospect known more for his ability to score than anything else. The other pieces are there. Luke Maye is a National Player of the Year contender. Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson and Nassir Little are plenty good enough on the wings. UNC’s three sophomore bigs will be able to handle the five. It’s that point guard spot that will determine just how good these Heels are.

N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand

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Kevin Keatts has some decisions to make this season at point guard with a bevy of attractive options with Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Missouri transfer Blake Harris all after minutes this season for N.C. State.

One of those options, though, just got taken off the table for the immediate future.

Beverly, who started 26 games and was second on the Wolfpack in 3s last year, broke a bone in his left hand, the school announced Monday. The sophomore will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.

The 6-foot guard from Hazard, Ky. averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season, putting up 9.5 points and 3.9 assists against just 1.2 turnovers. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Wolfpack will now lean on Johnson and Harris. Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Harris is a former four-star recruit who left Missouri midway through last year, but received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.

N.C. State, which made the tournament last season in Keatts’ first year in Raleigh, opens the season Nov. 6 against Mount St. Mary’s

 

Jury deliberates fate of 3 men in college basketball scandal

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NEW YORK (AP) — A jury quietly deliberated for five hours Monday on its first day considering the merits of claims by the government that three men conspired to cheat major college basketball programs by paying young athletes to sign with schools sponsored by Adidas.

Attorneys for the defendants contend their clients broke NCAA rules but no laws.

Deliberations began midday Monday after U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan instructed the jury. Five hours later, jurors went home without sending any notes. They resume work Tuesday morning.

Federal prosecutors have portrayed universities with some of the nation’s best college basketball programs as victims of a group of individuals who arranged to pay the families of top recruits tens of thousands of dollars so young athletes would go to Adidas-sponsored schools.

Prosecutors say the men tricked the schools into giving scholarships to players who should have been ineligible.

The defendants are Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.

Their attorneys told jurors over several weeks the government was overreaching when it brought the case against the three men and several others who are awaiting trial, including four former assistant coaches.

They say their clients were trying to help the schools build championship-caliber teams by steering the nation’s best high school athletes their way.

The lawyers argued that financially aiding struggling families of the athletes along the way was part of a process that involved big-brand shoe makers supporting the schools they sponsored in any way they could.

The scandal led to the firing of Coach Rick Pitino at Louisville and attracted scrutiny to other major college basketball programs. Pitino was not charged.

Key transfer ruled eligible to play for Virginia

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Virginia announced on Monday that forward Alabama transfer Braxton Key will be eligible to play for the Cavaliers this season.

Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.

His addition is critical for the Wahoos, as it will allow them to move De’Andre Hunter, a potential all-american, to the position that he is best-suited to playing: The four. It also adds perimeter depth to a roster that frankly did not have all that much. Prior to Key getting his waiver, Virginia’s perimeter depth behind Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome consisted of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.

Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.

Preseason AP Top 25 poll released

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Kansas coach Bill Self sees big holes when he looks at his roster after losing three starters, including Associated Press All-American Devonte’ Graham.

The voters in the AP Top 25 poll see something different: a roster restocked so well that Jayhawks will start the season as the nation’s top team.

Kansas checked in at No. 1 in the preseason poll released Monday, earning the top spot to start a season for the third time in program history, all under Self. The Jayhawks topped the ballot for 37 of 65 voters, nearly double that of No. 2 Kentucky.

“Obviously we lost a lot off last year’s team with Devonte’, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Malik (Newman), so I’m a little surprised that the writers put us there this preseason,” Self said in a statement to the AP. “It’s definitely a spot we welcome and certainly know the goal is to be playing to that ranking by when it counts the most.

“With the young players, we know it’s going to take some time before we’re anywhere close to where we’re going to be, but I do like this team and I think we have a chance to be very good.”

The Jayhawks return veteran starters in junior 7-footer Udoka Azubuike and senior Lagerald Vick from a team that reached its first Final Four since 2012. They’re also adding transfer help from Memphis twins Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as California’s Charlie Moore — all double-digit scorers on their previous teams.

And yet, the previous two times the Jayhawks started at No. 1 didn’t end well. The 2004-05 squad lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And the 2009-10 team that held the top spot for 15 of 19 weeks overall and won 33 games lost to Northern Iowa in the second round.

The ranking comes as the program finds itself entangled in the federal corruption case tied to payments used to steer recruits to certain schools. Testimony during the recent first trials included references to Self and sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa , though Self isn’t charged with wrongdoing and it’s unclear if De Sousa’s status will be affected.

CLEAR CHOICES

Voters established a clear top tier: Kansas, Kentucky, No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 4 Duke. Those four teams appeared in some combination at the top of nearly half the ballots (32 of 65).

John Calipari’s latest group of touted recruits helped the Wildcats earn 19 first-place votes to open as a top-5 team for the eighth straight season.

Gonzaga’s ranking is the program’s highest in a preseason AP poll, though the Zags have reached No. 1 during the regular season before. As for Duke, the Blue Devils had started No. 1 in each of the past two preseason AP polls.

The points gap between the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils (129 points) at fourth was slimmer than between Duke and fellow Atlantic Coast Conference program Virginia (166 points) at No. 5.

FRESH START

Speaking of Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, one of the biggest things to watch will be how well the Virginia responds to the most historic of tournament losses.

The Cavaliers ended the regular season as the unanimous AP No. 1-ranked team and the No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed, yet somehow became the first 1-seed to lose to a No. 16 against UMBC. Bennett said all the right things about learning from that moment. And his team returns Kyle Guy (14.1 points), Ty Jerome (10.6 points) and its best NBA prospect in sophomore De’Andre Hunter.

Virginia has its highest preseason AP ranking since Ralph Sampson’s final team opened at No. 1 in 1982-83.

LOFTY START

The Martin twins are back along with Jordan Caroline, and that has Nevada starting the year with the program’s highest ever AP poll ranking at No. 7 after last year’s NCAA Sweet 16 run .

CHAMPS AT 9

No Jalen Brunson, no Mikal Bridges, no Final Four most outstanding player Donte DiVincenzo. And yet reigning national champion Villanova checks in at No. 9.

The Wildcats still have Eric Paschall and Phil Booth back while adding Albany graduate transfer Joe Cremo. There’s also a bit of respect built into this ranking, both for the stature of program Jay Wright has developed (two national championships in three seasons) and for the Wildcats’ dominating romp through the postseason.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The ACC had the most teams ranked of any conference: Duke, Virginia, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 15 Virginia Tech (its highest spot since the 1995-96 season), No. 16 Syracuse, No. 17 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson.

The Southeastern Conference was next up with five teams: Kentucky, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 11 Auburn (the program’s highest ranking since 2000), No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 23 LSU.

The Big 12 had four (Kansas, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 20 TCU), while the Big Ten and Pac-12 each had three, led by No. 10 Michigan State and No. 14 Oregon, respectively.

THE WATCH LIST

Hello again to Porter Moser, Sister Jean and Loyola (Chicago), last year’s Final Four surprise . The Ramblers were only three points behind No. 25 Washington, putting them just outside the poll.

Marquette was next with high-scoring junior Markus Howard back, while Archie Miller’s second year at Indiana has the Hoosiers lurking nearby as well.

Several power-conference teams like Florida, Nebraska, Maryland and Wisconsin could find their way into the poll with a few early wins.

Here is the full poll:

1. Kansas (37 first-place votes)
2. Kentucky (19)
3. Gonzaga (1)
4. Duke (4)
5. Virginia (2)
6. Tennessee (1)
7. Nevada
8. North Carolina
9. Villanova
10. Michigan State
11. Auburn
12. Kansas State
13. West Virginia
14. Oregon
15. Virginia Tech
16. Syracuse
17. Florida State
18. Mississippi State
19. Michigan
20. TCU
21. UCLA
22. Clemson
23. LSU
24. Purdue
25. Washington

Others receiving votes: Loyola of Chicago 162, Marquette 124, Indiana 98, Florida 71, Nebraska 35, Maryland 28, Wisconsin 24, Notre Dame 22, Cincinnati 21, UCF 15, Alabama 15, Arizona 14, Buffalo 14, Louisville 11, Miami 10, San Diego St. 9, Texas Tech 6, Southern Cal 6, Butler 6, Texas 5, St. John’s 3, Arizona St 3, Providence 2, Xavier 2, Davidson 1, Missouri 1, Marshall 1, NC State 1.

No. 5 Villanova: Reigning national champs lose four players to NBA

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 5 Villanova.


By now, I think everyone on the planet has figured out that last season’s Villanova team was no fluke.

Villanova finished the 2017-18 offense as the most efficient that we have seen in the KenPom era in college hoops. They may just be the best college basketball team in the one-and-done era.

The only loss they took when they were at full strength last season came when Butler beat them in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and even then Villanova lost by eight despite the fact that the Bulldogs shot 15-for-22 from three.

Villanova had four players taken in the first 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. Three went in the first round, and that did not include the 2018 National Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, who was their lone second round pick.

It also did not include Eric Paschall, who could very well hear his name called in the first round come this June.

And that is where the discussion for this upcoming season starts.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

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VILLANOVA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The narrative surrounding Villanova this season is that the Wildcats are too young to compete at the level that we have become accustomed to.

That’s what happens when a team we are used to seeing roll out a lineup that is entirely made up of upper-classmen is staring at a roster that has a majority of freshmen and sophomores.

But what that line of thinking ignores is just how good — and old — the veterans on this team are going to be.

Let’s start with Eric Paschall, a fifth-year senior that many are projecting to put up All-American numbers this year. A potential first round pick, Paschall is a 6-foot-8 athletic freak that shot 46.1 percent from three after a dreadful, 1-for-25 start from distance last season. He scored 24 points in the national semifinals against Kansas and finished the year averaging 10.6 points despite playing on a team with four draft picks on it. He’s won a title, he was a redshirt the year Villanova won the title in 2016 and, as a freshman at Fordham, he averaged 15.9 points.

Long story short: He’s a beast, and he’s ready for his breakout season.

As is Phil Booth, another fifth-year senior for the Wildcats. Booth is a talented combo-guard that has been a critical piece for the Wildcats for half-a-decade. He scored 20 points in the 2016 national title game against North Carolina. He started last season over DiVincenzo. Just this past weekend he put up 41 points on those same Tar Heels in an intrasquad scrimmage between the two programs that have won the last three national titles.

Again, he’s a beast that is ready be the star of this program.

Phil Booth (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

There aren’t two players in the country that are better-suited to provide leadership than those two, and they are doing so in a program that has the best ‘culture’ in all of college basketball. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that Villanova is going to be too young when those two players are on the roster while Duke — who will start four freshmen — and Kentucky — who is “old” because they landed Reid Travis as a transfer — are consensus top four teams.

At some point, I should probably mention Joe Cremo as well. A grad transfer from Albany, Cremo has won a lot of basketball games in his career and should be a perfect fit for the way Villanova wants to play: He’s a shooter with positional versatility to can make read-and-react plays offensively and attack a closeout.

And while the argument that those other programs are more talented than Villanova do hold some validity, that’s ignoring the fact that the Wildcats are talented in their own right. Jahvon Quinerly is a five-star point guard that should push Collin Gillispie for starters’ minutes. Gillispie himself is a point guard that impressed in his limited minutes as a freshman. Cole Swider, at 6-foot-9, is the best shooter in the 2018 freshmen class and a perfect fit for the way that Villanova wants to play. Both Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey have the kind of size and versatility that Jay Wright loves; Bey scored 23 points and hit five threes in that scrimmage with UNC.

Then there is Jermaine Samuels, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

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BUT VILLANOVA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I fully believe that this Villanova team is going to outperform expectation, the truth is that there is some guesswork involved here.

We’ve seen Booth and Paschall shine in supporting roles in the past, and we’ve seen Villanova players go from being pieces to stars without a problem in the past, but we won’t know how Paschall and Booth are going to perform as the focal point of an offense until we actually see it.

The same can be said about everyone else in this program.

I think that Gillispie is going to be an impact player as a sophomore, but he was also a three-star recruit coming out of high school that is going to be asked to carry a much, much bigger load this season. Quinerly has all the talent in the world, but he’s also a point guard that is best known for making “Jelly-fam” a movement in New York City. Is he less Jalen Brunson than Skip To My Lou at this point in his career? We won’t know until we see him running Villanova’s offense.

Slater and Bey are promising and precisely the kind of projects that take two or three years to develop until Jay Wright. Swider’s shooting is going to get him on the floor immediately, but will he provide the defensive presence that Villanova is going to demand from? Can Dhamir Cosby-Rountree do what Darryl Reynolds did in 2016-17? How will Cremo adjust to playing in the Big East after starting his career in the America East?

Personally, under Jay Wright’s tutelage, I am just going to assume all of these questions are answered with the best-case scenario, or close to it.

But there certainly is a scenario where the players on this roster just are not yet ready to play the roles they are going to be asked to play.

Eric Paschall (Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

The one guy that I haven’t really delved into yet is Jermaine Samuels.

A former top 50 prospect that picked Villanova over Duke, Kansas and Indiana, Samuels is an athletic, 6-foot-6 wing that can guard-up or guard-down, make a three-pointer and attack a closeout. He checks all the boxes for the kind of prospect that Wright has turned into an NBA player — from Dante Cunningham and James Bell to Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Darrun Hilliard.

I fully expect Samuels to take that leap … at some point, but I do wonder if it is going to come this season. It sounds like Samuels is destined to be more of a role player than he is a star this year, and just how big of a role he is capable of playing is something that can change the way we view this group.

The biggest concern I have for Villanova is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. This group was somewhere between good and really good defensive for much of last year, but they lose some critical pieces from that group. We don’t know how well these freshmen are going to end up being defensively. Gillispie and Cosby-Rountree don’t exactly profile as elite defensive pieces, and while Booth and Paschall should be fine, the strength of Villanova on that end is more due to the collective than it is any brilliant individual defending. If the collective is a group of average or below-average defensive pieces, that’s an issue.

Which is where Samuels comes in.

Outside of Paschall, he probably has the best tools when it comes to playing the multi-positional, versatility-driven style of defense that Wright has thrived with. If he’s capable of giving 20-25 really good minutes this season, it will make Villanova better defensively. If he starts to look like he’s ready to ‘make the leap’, suddenly Villanova is much more dangerous.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

At the very least, Villanova once again looks like the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East again after their four-year reign of terror over the conference was snapped last season by Xavier.

But that said more about the Big East than it does about the Wildcats.

What it all comes down to for Villanova is how quickly the underclassmen reach a point where they can play like upperclassmen. How steep is Quinerly’s learning curve at the point? Will Gillispie truly be the new Ryan Arcidiacono? Will Paschall and Booth take the step forward and play like they deserve placement on first-team all-Big East?

I think Villanova has Final Four upset, and I just invested some money in Villanova (+3,000) to win the national title. That’s how bullish I am on them.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 6 Nevada
No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette