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Mountain West Preview: Nevada and everyone else?

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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.

Today, we are previewing the Mountain West.


The Mountain West had a Sweet 16 team and a second NCAA tournament bid last season as the league tries to regain its former basketball glory.

While finding multiple bids is much tougher than it used to be, the Mountain West brings a legitimate Final Four contender to the forefront this season while a few mid-level teams have NBA prospects and former McDonald’s All-Americans.

New coaches with Mountain West roots have entered at three programs and the league is trying to find balance after looking like a one-bid conference during some recent seasons. With a national contender, and some big-name players, the Mountain West will be a league to stay up late for this season.

Because of one team that will be awesome.

And at least one player that might hear his name called very early in next June’s draft.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Nevada is a legitimate Final Four contender.

Expectations are huge for Nevada this season. After a Sweet 16 run last season, the Wolf Pack have nearly everybody back, as head coach Eric Musselman also added quality depth through transfers and recruiting.

The return of the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline for their senior seasons is huge, as that trio are all All-Conference players. Point guard Lindsey Drew should also return from an injury while Portland transfer Jazz Johnson offers more insurance at guard. Other notable transfers include Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), Tre’Shawn Thomas (Omaha), Trey Porter (Old Dominion) and Corey Henson (Wagner). A McDonald’s All-American big man in Jordan Brown also joins the mix.

With a legitimate center and credible depth, Nevada won’t have to ride five or six players to heavy minutes at the end of the season like last season. The Martin twins are game changers, especially since Cody’s late-season move to point guard. Caleb Martin remains the league’s best overall player while Caroline isn’t far behind.

Nevada won’t be tested as much as other Final Four contenders thanks to a light Mountain West (more on that in a moment) but they still have the talent and experience to make a deep run in March. Now that they are the hunted, it’ll be fascinating to see how Nevada handles the immense pressure of being a national contender.

Jalen McDaniels (David Becker/Getty Images)

2. San Diego State has a chance to return to the NCAA tournament

After stealing an NCAA tournament bid last season by winning the conference tournament, San Diego State returns most of the core from that group. Replacing Trey Kell and Malik Pope won’t be easy, but the Aztecs will hope that some enticing young players develop into consistent go-to players.

It starts with sophomore Jalen McDaniels. The 6-foot-10 forward transitioned into a starter late last season as he started putting up double-doubles and showing scary potential at the end of the season. He’s firmly on the NBA radar — a potential first-round pick. McDaniels also has never scored more than 19 points in a college game. At the end of last season, McDaniels didn’t produce in some big games.

Other key players returning for San Diego State include senior guards Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley while sophomore forward Matt Mitchell was also an effective freshman as a double-figure scorer. If the young frontcourt develops while the senior backcourt stays consistent, then San Diego State might not need to win a tournament to get a bid. They’ve already knocked off Nevada twice last season and won’t be scared to face them. If the Aztecs earn some quality win like that, they might be good enough to be the league’s second tournament team.

3. New Mexico has some intriguing transfers as they hope for NCAA tournament return

The Lobos are the wild card in the Mountain West this season thanks to some talented transfers. It’s unfortunate that guard JaQuan Lyle will miss the season with injury. But New Mexico still has the frontcourt of Vance Jackson (UConn) and Carlton Bragg (Kansas/Arizona State) to work with.

Although New Mexico loses four of its top five leading scorers from last season, Bragg and Jackson have a chance to make an immediate impact. Jackson provides some stretch ability while Bragg had the talent to once be a McDonald’s All-American.

Underrated senior guard Anthony Mathis is also back along with sophomore Makuach Maluach. Both Mathis and Maluach shot better than 46 percent from three-point range last season. Senior Dane Kuiper is a returning starter who should provide some experience on the wing. With knockdown shooters, and capable interior play, New Mexico could surprise this season, as they have some talented players to work with.

Paul Weir (David Becker/Getty Images)

4. The Mountain West has three new head coaches

Some fresh blood enters the Mountain West this season in the form of three new head coaches. The main hire to keep an eye on will be Niko Medved at Colorado State. Returning to the Rams after spending time as an assistant coach there from 2007 through 2013, Medved comes to Colorado State as one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks.

Making three straight CIT appearances with Furman, and then Drake, Medved has done a quality job of getting some quick results at schools that aren’t easy to win at. With a solid program that he’s familiar with in Colorado State, Medved could end up being a quality hire for a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since Medved was last with them in 2013.

Justin Hutson takes over at Fresno State after being an assistant in the Mountain West at San Diego State and UNLV since 2006. Knowing the ins and the outs of everything with the league should be hugely beneficial for Hutson. It also helps that Hutson is inheriting a program that is in decent shape since Rodney Terry left for UTEP. The Bulldogs have front-court question marks for this season, but they do have plenty of backcourt talent that is intriguing.

At Utah State, Craig Smith gets a chance the regain the Aggies’ former glory as he replaces the fired Tim Duryea. Much like Medved, Smith has spent time as an assistant at Colorado State under Tim Miles as he is familiar with the league. Expectations will be high at Utah State, but Smith did an excellent job of turning South Dakota into a 20-win team in back-to-back seasons.

5. The league will seek its second two-bid season since 2015

The second half of this decade, the Mountain West has struggled to consistently put multiple teams in the NCAA tournament. Last season, it only happened once San Diego State got hot and unexpectedly won the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Although Nevada has the chance for a great season, the rest of the league is very uncertain when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. While the Mountain West would regularly get four and five teams in contention for bids in the early part of the decade, the league has looked more like a one-bid league in recent seasons.

Will the Mountain West get anyone into the field besides Nevada? It the Wolf Pack end up running most of the conference, then there won’t be many quality wins to go around and another unexpected conference tournament champion will be needed.

PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CALEB MARTIN, Nevada

Returning to college at the final hour of the NBA Draft deadline, Martin returns after a monster junior season with the Wolf Pack. Putting up 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range, Martin is one of the most consistent producers in college basketball. With a season of his brother, Cody, running the point, Nevada’s highly-efficient offense should be ready to roll once again.

THE REST OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • CODY MARTIN, Nevada: Transitioning to point at the end of last season, the 6-foot-7 Martin thrived as a jumbo playmaker in Nevada’s potent offense.
  • JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 sophomore could explode into a big-time NBA prospect. But he has to be more consistent and show that he’s a go-to player in his second year.
  • JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada: Playing his natural spot at the four this season, the two-time All-Mountain West performer should have a monster final season with Nevada.
  • JUSTIN JAMES, Wyoming: One of the nation’s most underrated players, James put up 18.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season despite battling an early-season ankle injury.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • SAM MERRILL, Utah State
  • DESHON TAYLOR, Fresno State
  • SHAKUR JUISTON, UNLV
  • NICO CARVACHO, Colorado State
  • ANTHONY MATHIS, New Mexico
Deshon Taylor (David Becker/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR

It’s hard to call Fresno State senior guard Deshon Taylor a breakout star after last season’s monster output. But after putting up 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season, the 6-foot-2 guard still doesn’t get a lot of national acclaim. After putting his name in the NBA Draft and pulling his name out, Taylor will be counted on for a big season after former backcourt running mate Bryson Williams transferred. That could mean more 20-point games while also being asked to get teammates easy looks.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE

Unquestionably one of the toughest jobs in all of college basketball, things haven’t gone according to plan for Dave Pilipovich during his time at Air Force. Five straight losing seasons in the Mountain West hurts, while the program has been held out of the postseason since a CIT appearance in 2013. While everyone acknowledges the Air Force job is difficult, this was a program that made two NCAA appearances and a deep NIT run during a span from 2004 through 2007. Winning is possible in Colorado Springs with the right mix of players.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Nevada gives the Mountain West a legitimate Final Four contender, but it’s hard to say how good the Wolf Pack actually is since they didn’t play another NCAA tournament-caliber team in the Mountain West this season.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing if Nevada can live up to the preseason hype. Being a potential top-five team and Final Four contender is some major pressure. That could especially be the case for a Wolf Pack team that is incorporating a lot of new pieces for this season. But if this Nevada team can put it all together, they have the potential to be scary good.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Nov. 19, San Diego State vs. Duke (Maui Invitational)
  • Nov. 27, Nevada at Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge Series)
  • Dec. 1, Nevada at USC
  • Dec. 1, Cincinnati at UNLV
  • Dec. 7, New Mexico vs. Saint Mary’s (Hall of Fame Classic, Los Angeles)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. NEVADA: Watching how Nevada operates its rotation will be something to monitor this season. Head coach Eric Musselman has typically liked to work with a shorter bench, but with this group, he has plenty of experienced options. If the Wolf Pack can interject some depth into the equation, then the Final Four is possible.

2. SAN DIEGO STATE: The Aztecs will need more from senior guard Jeremy Hemsley after a disappointing junior season. Once a double-figure scorer, if Hemsley can return to form, then San Diego State will be loaded with options in the starting lineup.

3. NEW MEXICO: To stabilize the roster, New Mexico brought in a quality stable of junior college recruits and freshmen, as some rotation pieces should also emerge from that pack. If the Lobos find some immediate contributors then they might be deeper than anticipated.

4. UNLV: Things looked promising last season for the Runnin’ Rebels until they lost six of seven to finish out the season. Replacing Brandon McCoy, Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson will be tough, but the Rebels have some talented newcomers and forward Shakur Juiston back.

5. COLORADO STATE: New head coach Niko Medved lost Prentiss Nixon to transfer, but he inherits an experienced core. Guard J.D. Paige and forward Deion Page are senior double-figure scorers while big man Nico Carvacho is a regular double-double threat.

6. BOISE STATE: Replacing Chandler Hutchison will be next to impossible but the Broncos have hope. Justinian Jessup should be in line for a bigger season while Alex Hobbs, Zach Haney and Marcus Dickinson have all contributed in the past.

7. FRESNO STATE: All-conference guard Deshon Taylor returns to give the Bulldogs a go-to player. Transfers should play a huge part for Fresno State this season as Braxton Huggins (New Mexico State) and Noah Blackwell (Long Beach State) should contribute right away.

8. WYOMING: Losing nine players from last season (including five transfers), this Cowboy team will look like a completely different team outside of Justin James. Wyoming needs to find newcomers to supplement James’ immense ability.

9. UTAH STATE: Losing Koby McEwen and DeAngelo Isby early is going to hurt. Thankfully, new head coach Craig Smith can turn to promising junior Sam Merrill as the Aggies look to get back on the winning track.

10. AIR FORCE: Two of three leading scorers return for Air Force as Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan are back. Expected to play slow once again, Air Force can be a tough out at home, but they need to improve dramatically on the road.

11. SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans went 4-26 overall and 1-17 in the league as they still lost their three leading scorers to transfer. The leading returning scorers are Oumar Barry (5.8 ppg) and Noah Baumann (5.2 ppg) as San Jose State once again looks like a bottom feeder.

No. 6 Nevada: Will the Wolf Pack be able to prove how good they are this season?

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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. 6 Nevada.


No one was a bigger winner at the NBA Draft early entry deadline than Nevada.

The Wolf Pack not only brought back both Caleb and Cody Martin, both of whom looked like they were as good as gone, but Jordan Caroline returned to school for his final year of eligibility while Jordan Brown, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American, announced that he will be playing his college ball for Eric Musselman.

The odds of all of those things happening were so low that the Wolf Pack had already promised their scholarships to other players. Ehab Amin, a transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, never even made it to campus, while Josh Hall, who hit the shot that sent the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 last season, was forced out, transferring to Missouri State.

Tough break.

But that is decidedly good news for Nevada fans, as they will have a chance to watch and root for the best the Mountain West has had to offer since Jimmer and Kawhi were running roughshod over the league seven seasons ago.

The real question for this group is not whether or not they are good enough to deserve a top ten ranking.

They are.

They have nine players on their roster that have spent at least three seasons playing college basketball, and the only one of those nine that did not averaged more than 13.2 points the last year they played is Lindsey Drew; he averaged “only” 8.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 boards as Nevada’s starting point guard last season before rupturing his achilles.

That also doesn’t include Brown, a top 15 prospect nationally.

The question is less about whether or not there is enough talent on the roster and more if there are enough minutes available to keep all this talent happy with their role.

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

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NEVADA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

There is just such a ridiculous amount of talent on this roster.

We need to start with the Martin twins. Caleb is the star. Last season he averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 boards and 2.6 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from three in a year where he spent much of the second half of the season battling a foot injury that was initially thought to require surgery. He is one of the nation’s best shot-makers, even if the shots that he makes tend to be a higher degree of difficulty that would be ideal. His twin brother, Cody, is the more versatile of the two. He averaged 14 points last year, but he also posted 6.0 boards, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks per night. With Lindsey Drew — the youngest son of former Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew — still working his way back from a ruptured achilles, Cody will likely take on the starting point guard role.

It sounds weird to say this, but Jordan Caroline took a little bit of a backseat to the Martin twins last season even though he himself managed to up his scoring numbers to 17.7 points per game. He’s a threat to go for 25 every time he steps on the floor; as a sophomore, he once put up 45 points and 13 boards in a win at Mexico.

All three of Nevada’s big names are transfers, which should tell you how this roster is made up. They’re far from alone, too: Trey Porter is a grad transfer from Old Dominion that averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 boards last season. Corey Henson, another grad transfer, averaged 14.6 points at Wagner last season. Nisre Zouzoua sat out last season at Nevada after averaging 20.2 points at Bryant in 2016-17. Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg at Portland) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg at Omaha) sat with him.

Nevada was one of the nation’s most dangerous teams offensively last season. They had three guys that could put 25 on you on any night, and that certainly isn’t going to change. How many teams in the country can bring four — potentially five, depending on if Drew can get back into the starting lineup — players off the bench that have averaged at least 13.8 points at the Division I level?

(The answer is not a single one.)

The other part of it is that these guys, they’re all old.

Nevada is going to start four guys that are redshirt seniors playing their fifth season at the college level. They’ll bring two more redshirt seniors off of their bench, as well as a trio of players that are simply on their fourth season in college; one true senior and a pair of redshirt juniors.

And I still haven’t mentioned the starting center for this group, Jordan Brown.

He is an athletic, 6-foot-11 high-flyer that will provide a dynamic to this team that no one else can provide — vertical-spacing, rim protection, work on the offensive glass.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Caleb Martin (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

BUT NEVADA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

There might actually be too much talent on this roster.

I know how silly that sounds, but there are legitimately 10 guys on this team that deserve to play major minutes and will expect to get shots during those minutes.

But where are those minutes going to come from?

Cody Martin averaged 35.6 minutes last season. His brother averaged 33.3, but that number was higher before he was injured. Caroline played 34.8 minutes last season. Those are the three-best players on the roster, and I would be shocked to see them each average under 30 minutes a night this year.

There are 200 minutes available to be played during a college basketball game, and those three account for roughly 90 of them. Nevada’s other two starters averaged roughly 28 minutes last season. Let’s call that 25 this year, meaning that Nevada’s starters will be responsible for 140 of the available 200 minutes. The five guys on the bench would be left with about 12 minutes each.

And that’s before we even broach the subject of who would be getting shots and when.

This is not a unique phenomenon in college hoops. Every coach has to deal with it from time to time, and I’m not sure there is anyone in the country that is better at getting his players to buy into a role than John Calipari at Kentucky. The year he won the national title, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the fourth and fifth options offensively. In 2015, the year they went 38-1 and made the Final Four, everyone played roughly 20 minutes a night. Karl-Anthony Towns averaged just 10.3 points.

The point isn’t to compare this Nevada team to that Kentucky team.

My point is that Musselman is going to have his work cut out for him getting the players on his roster, many of whom were brought into the program with the expectation of playing the minutes the Martin twins are going to be playing, to buy into their role and the team.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

The Wolf Pack, last season, were not a very good defensive team. They finished the year ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which was evidenced by the struggles they had stopping two anemic offenses in Texas and Cincinnati in the first two rounds of the tournament.

There were a couple of reasons for those defensive struggles:

  1. Nevada did not force a lot of turnovers.
  2. The Wolf Pack finished outside the top 200 in defensive rebounding percentage.
  3. Opponents shot better than 50 percent from two-point range.

In theory, this year’s team should be better on the glass and defending in the paint. Whereas there really wasn’t much size on the roster last year — for the most part, Musselman rolled out small-ball lineups with four or five guys all right around 6-foot-7 — this season Nevada will likely begin the year starting 6-foot-10 Trey Porter and 6-foot-11 Jordan Brown.

But that’s not guarantee. It ignores the benefits that come with putting a team on the floor where everyone is switchable defensively, not to mention limitations offensively that will come with having two big men playing together.

Either way, I think it will be Nevada’s ability on that end that will determine whether we are talking about a team with real national title potential or a highly-ranked team from the Mountain West that will sputter out early in March.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

The Wolf Pack are really, really good.

They are the class of their conference, and I would be shocked if they fell out of the top 25 at any point this season.

Part of that is because of how talented the are, but there is also a bit of an issue with their schedule. It’s not bad, per se, but there is a very real chance that the best team they play before the start of the NCAA tournament will be this Sunday’s exhibition with Washington, a contender for the Pac-12 title.

Nevada has road trips to Loyola-Chicago, USC and Utah. They play Arizona State on a neutral, and they host BYU and South Dakota State.

We’ve seen worse, that’s for sure, but with the Mountain West failing to provide them with a fellow top 25 team, I think we’re going to head into Selection Sunday talking about how we have yet to see Nevada prove they deserve the seed that they get.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

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

CBT Podcast: Breaking down our top 25, preseason All-Americans

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As the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk podcast returns, Rob Dauster was joined by Raphielle Johnson to breakdown the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and the preseason All-American teams that were released this week.

Here is a full rundown of today’s podcast:

OPEN: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Gonzaga are the clear-cut preseason top four.

19:30: Which top ten team is the most likely to be a bust?

22:30: What should we do with Loyola-Chicago heading into 2018-19?

25:15: Washington vs. Oregon as the Pac-12’s best.

30:00: Which team outside the top 25 will get to the Final Four?

32:05: R.J. Barrett vs. Carsen Edwards for Preseason Player of the Year and Zion Williamson vs. Tyus Battle for 1st team All-America.

39:40: Kentucky is No. 2 but doesn’t have a player on our 1st, 2nd or 3rd team All-America.

43:30: Who are the National Player of the Year sleepers?

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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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.

Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports preseason top 25. Over the course of the next five weeks, we will be taking long, in-depth dives into each of these 25 teams. You can follow along with that right here.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25. You can find them here:

No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Kentucky
No. 3 Gonzaga
No. 4 Duke
No. 5 Villanova
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


1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
  • Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
  • Projected starting lineup: Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike

Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into the year.

2. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Who do they add: Reid Travis, Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans
  • Projected starting lineup: Immanuel Quickly, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington, Reid Travis

As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, especially when Stanford grad transfer Travis is factored into the mix. The big question for Kentucky is going to be how they can put a team on the floor that can both shoot and play the kind of elite-level defense we all are expecting. Cal has plenty of weapons, and it will be fascinating to see how he decides to deploy them.

3. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
  • Who do they add: Geno Crandall, Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie

I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer additions of Clarke and Crandall as well as a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.

4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
  • Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier

The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door to make way for another loaded recruiting class. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. There’s a non-zero chance that Barrett, Williamson and Reddish could end up going 1-2-3 in the 2019 NBA Draft. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman
  • Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo, Saddiq Bey
  • Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider

Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing four of the top 33 picks in the draft. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for — Paschall and Booth are fifth-year seniors after all — and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels, and don’t be surprised when Paschall is an All-American and a first round pick come the end of the season.

6. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Josh Hall
  • Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
  • Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown

Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem, but this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player (Caleb Martin) deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season, and they basically bring everyone back. This is the best Mountain West team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.

7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

  • Who’s gone: James Daniel III
  • Who do they add: No one
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams

Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable players at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

  • Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
  • Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
  • Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt

I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.

9. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
  • Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
  • Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye

Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball this season that is better than Maye?

10. AUBURN TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Davion Mitchell, Mustapha Heron, DeSean Murray
  • Who do they add: Samir Doughty
  • Projected starting lineup: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley

Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.

11. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Shaun Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade

This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!

Dean Wade (David Becker/Getty Images)

12. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
  • Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear

The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.

13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman

I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better? What team is without warts?

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
  • Who do they add: Devin Vassell, David Nichols
  • Projected starting lineup: Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, Phil Cofer

I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning was key, as is finding some point guard depth now that C.J. Walker left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.

15. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
  • Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel

Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch. Will Fisher ever be healthy?

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

16. UCLA BRUINS

  • Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman, LiAngelo Ball
  • Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown

This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. With every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes are on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12 … if they decide they want to play defense.

17. WEST VIRGINIA

  • Who’s gone: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, D’Angelo Hunter
  • Who do they add: Jordan McCabe, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon
  • Projected starting lineup: Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate

West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, we have to trust that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.

18. OREGON DUCKS

  • Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
  • Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
  • Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol

For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and he’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect. They’re here because of the talent and Dana Altman, and we bought into that.

19. SYRACUSE ORANGE

  • Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
  • Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Eli Hughes, Robert Braswell
  • Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu

The Orange had no depth and very little perimeter shooting last season, but it looks like that was addressed in the offseason. With Battle and Brissett back in the fold, this Syracuse team has a chance to match watchable offense with one of college basketball’s very best defenses.

20. LSU Tigers

  • Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
  • Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Tremont Waters, Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams

LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.

Tyus Battle (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

21. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado

I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.

22. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
  • Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
  • Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, David Skara, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas

With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.

23. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

  • Who’s gone: Moe Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons
  • Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
  • Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske

Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.

24. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
  • Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
  • Projected starting lineup: Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Derek Funderburk

Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.

25. MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES

  • Who’s gone: Andrew Rowsey, Haanif Cheatam, Harry Froling
  • Who do they add: Ed Morrow, Joseph Chartouny, Joey Hauser, Brendan Bailey
  • Projected starting lineup: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sacar Anim, Sam Hauser, Matt Heldt

Marquette will be the second-best team in the Big East if they figure out how to defense. Howard is an all-american, while the Hauser brothers will provide plenty of offensive firepower. Chartouny’s addition is key, as is Morrow’s. Both are tough, veteran defensive presences.

THE SEVEN THAT JUST MISSED:

26. Loyola-Chicago
27. Louisville
28. Indiana
29. Washington
30. Purdue
31. Florida
32. Providence

Nevada faces challenging non-conference schedule

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Nevada will likely be a preseason top 10 team as the Wolf Pack have major expectations following last year’s Sweet 16 appearance.

With head coach Eric Musselman returning most of last season’s roster, while adding some key new pieces, Nevada has huge expectations entering the 2018-19 season. That means a proper non-conference schedule to challenge this team, which was released on Wednesday.

A Sweet 16 rematch with Loyola is one of the key games on the schedule as the Wolf Pack will head to Chicago for a game on Nov. 27. Nevada will also play some Pac-12 opponents with road games at USC and Utah and a neutral court game against Arizona State. BYU, South Dakota State and Grand Canyon are a few of the challenging opponents from mid-major leagues while the team also had neutral court games against Tulsa and either UMass or Southern Illinois.

It seems as though Nevada will only have a few cracks at top-25 caliber opponents during non-conference play, but this schedule doesn’t have a lot of bad games while also including a healthy amount of neutral games. Since Nevada won’t get as many challenges playing in the Mountain West as a typical top-25 team, they’ll have a lot of eyeballs on them during some of these games — particularly the USC and Arizona State matchups.

The rematch with Loyola should be another fun road test as the crowd should be rocking in Chicago for that one.

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.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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.