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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.

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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.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

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

CBT Podcast: Previewing the Big East

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On Tuesday, Rob Dauster was joined by Travis Hines to walk through the Big East team by team. Is this Villanova’s league to win again? Just how good is St. John’s now that Mustapha Heron is eligible? Can Marquette actually get any stops this season? Can Providence, Creighton or Seton Hall sneak into the top five of the league? Where is Xavier in the post-Chris Mack era?

You can get it all here:

9:40: Butler

14:10: Creighton

19:05: DePaul

21:40: Georgetown

27:20: Marquette

35:30: Providence

40:50: Seton Hall

49:55: St. John’s

57:05: Villanova

1:04:55: Xavier

2018-19 Big East Preview: Can Villanova withstand losing NBA draft picks?

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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 Big East Conference.


What do we make of the Big East this season?

Villanova is the headliner after winning its second national title in three seasons, but Jay Wright’s program is also emblematic of what’s going on across much of the league – turnover.

The Wildcats lost four of their top players.

Xavier turned over its roster and lost its head coach.

Creighton said goodbye to its backcourt.

Seton Hall bid farewell to Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington.

Does all that change clear a path for new challengers like Marquette or St. John’s, or does it simply mean more of the same with reloading over rebuilding?

Let’s dive into the Big East.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Are the ‘Cats back?

Jay Wright might not be in the one-and-done business, but he’s about to be tasked with something his colleagues who are, like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, go through each and every year — rebuilding a winner from near-scratch. Villanova lost its top four scorers (to the first 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft) off a team that won a second national title in three years, and while a step back is probably inevitable, the size of the stride might be negligible.

Sure, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVencenzo and Omari Spellman are collecting NBA paychecks, but Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are still Villanova students, as are five-star freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly and the rest of rest of Wright’s top-10 2018 recruiting class. Things ain’t exactly dire for Villanova. How far the ‘Cats slide — or how high they fly, depending on your perspective — may very well hinge on how Paschall steps into a starring role. He was an exactingly efficient offensive player a year ago, but he was also playing with four soon-to-be draft picks. If he’s able to join those ranks in a few months, Villanova probably isn’t going to be far off from the top of the Big East standings.

Or national rankings.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2. Xavier bets on itself

It’s always struck me as a little wild that you can draw a straight line from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle. The first taught the second, who taught the third. That’s some serious historical firepower, all one after the other. Now, I’m not saying Xavier’s coaching lineage is comparable to the development of the philosophy that has served as one of the primary influences of western civilization, but maybe I am?

Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack. That’s incredibly impressive longevity* with home run hire after home run hire. Xavier really is a model of consistent excellence on the bench. So, um, no pressure, Travis Steele.

*And, not that we’re keeping score or drawing out this dumb comparison, but that’s four (4) super successful college basketball coaches to three (3) revolutionary philosophers. Draw your own conclusions, is what I’m saying.

With Mack moving on to Louisville to replace a Hall of Famer, X turned to Steele, a Musketeer assistant for 10 years. Spending a decade at Xavier and working for both Miller and Mack seems to be resume enough to take over the program, given its history. Steele, though, will have to do more than rely on Xavier’s legacy of winning as Mack’s departure coincides with those of Trevon Bluiett, Kerem Kanter and J.P. Macura, a trio that won a lot of games in Cincinnati. Quentin Goodin, thankfully for Steele, is still with Xavier as are a host of grad-transfers that will help hold the fort until Steele’s top-15 2019 recruiting class gets to campus.

If, as my man Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” then Xavier certainly has developed a habit over the last 20 years. Can Steele maintain the routine?

3. Mullin’s make-or-break

Whatever designs St. John’s had on a quick rebuild when it hired legendary alum and Dream Teamer Chris Mullin have not materialized. Mullin has three successive losing seasons to his credit in Queens (though the Red Storm have increased their win total each year) and seven conference wins has been the high-water mark. St. John’s dreamed of the instant-turnaround that Fred Hoiberg, who also had NBA front office experience but no coaching resume, produced at his alma mater, Iowa State, but all they’ve done is exacerbate the slide that started under Steve Lavin.

If that’s going to change, it’s probably going to have to happen this season.

Mullin has without a doubt his most talented roster, and it’s one that has the look of being capable not only of breaking that .500 barrier, but competing, truly competing, in the Big East. Shamorie Ponds flirted with an NBA future, but instead returned for his junior season and will be a conference player of the year candidate. The Red Storm also were given a gift when the NCAA declared Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron immediately eligible, giving them one of the country’s most dynamic backcourts. St. John’s also has Justin Simon and Marvin Clark back plus some other intriguing transfer options.

With talent in tow, consistency and identity will likely be what determines St. John’s level of success this season. They’ve never really had either under Mullin, but they haven’t had this kind of roster, either.

Patrick Ewing (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

4. Ewing’s Year 2

Mullin isn’t the only Dream Teamer in the Big East, and he’s not the only one looking to build his alma mater back to former glory. Patrick Ewing’s first season at the helm at the Hilltop was something of a mixed bag in that the Hoyas didn’t win a ton of games, but the expectation wasn’t really that they would. Georgetown was pretty middling at everything (84th in offense and 119 on defense, according to KenPom) and the only two wins of note came back-to-back in February when the Hoyas beat Seton Hall and Butler.

So what’s the expectation for Ewing’s second season? Well, they’re not exactly raised exponentially. They are, however, raised, especially with Jessie Govan’s decision to return for another season. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 17.9 points and 10 rebounds per game as a junior, flashing elite skill on the boards and production on offense. Freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung inject some talent and excitement into the program as well. None of that likely adds up to a ton of wins, but there’s enough there to believe that Ewing has the Hoyas on a positive trajectory.

5. Marquette’s offense leads the way

Steve Wojciechowski may have lost Andrew Rowsey, who made 41.5 percent of his 301 3-point attempts, from last year’s team, but there remains plenty of offensive firepower in Milwaukee, starting with Markus Howard. The 5-foot-11 junior is among the country’s best shooters after going 46.4/40.4/93.8 last season, and will be a frontrunner for conference player of the year honors. Pair him with Sam Hauser, who shot 48.7 percent from 3 last year, and you’ve got yourself some long-range threats. Hauser’s younger brother, Joey, will also join the ranks this season, and the top-55 recruit should only bolster Marquette’s march toward being one of the best offenses in the country.

Shamorie Ponds (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s

There are plenty of contenders here in what will be a wide-open race, but the nod goes to Ponds, who will need to put up huge numbers if the Red Storm, even with Mustapha Heron in the fold, are going to find some success and get back to the NCAA tournament. He averaged 21.6 points per game last season, but also had one of the better assists rates in the country. Ponds also was productive defensively with 2.3 steals per game.

Ponds’ raw numbers might not duplicate what he did last year, but Heron’s presence should ease some of the burden that Ponds had offensively last year as he carried St. John’s offense with a huge usage rate. That should come down and allow his efficiency numbers to tick up – though his 3-point shooting will have to revert from his sophomore season (25.1) to his junior numbers (37.5) – and keep the Red Storm offense humming.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: One of the country’s best shooters, Howard will be the engine of Marquette’s offense.
  • ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova: With much of last year’s national championship roster in the NBA, Paschall will move into a major role – with major responsibilities.
  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler: Baldwin took an expanded role and ran with it last year, and he’s on pace to be one of the best scorers in Butler history.
  • PHIL BOOTH, Villanova: Booth had a strong 2017-18 dispute injury and he’ll be called upon to keep the Wildcats’ elite status.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • SAM HAUSER, Marquette
  • ALPHA DIALLO, Providence
  • MUSTAPHA HERON, St. John’s
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul
  • MARTIN KRAMPELJ, Creighton
Sam Hauser (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR

Markus Howard is going to generate the headlines and most of the attention for Marquette heading into the season, but Sam Hauser deserves some notice as well. The 6-foot-8 Wisconsin native shot an eye-popping 48.7 percent from 3-point range, and it wasn’t a product of a small sample size as he hoisted 195 shots from distance. He needs to defend better to transform into something special, but his shooting alone makes him likely to have a couple monster nights in the Big East.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE

Dave Leitao took DePaul to the NIT and back-to-back NCAA tournaments in his first stint with DePaul back in the early 2000s. His first three years back with the Blue Demons have gone…not as well. DePaul has gone 29-65 overall and 9-45 in Big East play during his second tenure. Safe to say, a program like Virginia ain’t about to come calling like the last time. It’s a very different world for the Blue Demons since Leitao led them to success, starting with the fact competing in the Big East is vastly different than doing it in C-USA. Given Leitao’s track record with the Cavaliers and now a three-year sample at DePaul, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason for hope that things will turn around for the Blue Demons.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Big East doesn’t have any national-title favorites, but the strength of the league could put a few teams into the second weekend.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

The conference’s guard play, from St. John’s Ponds-Heron duo to Marquette’s 3-point specialists to Villanova’s quest to replace Jalen Brunson to Kamar Baldwin running the show in Indianapolis, there’s a lot to like about the Big East’s backcourts.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Dec. 15, Villanova vs. Kansas
  • Dec., Georgetown vs. Syracuse
  • Dec. 29, Butler vs. Florida
  • Dec. 1, Creighton vs. Gonzaga
  • Dec. 1, Seton Hall vs. Louisville
Eric Paschall (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. VILLANOVA: Yeah, there are plenty of questions about how Villanova will reload given the heavy losses it sustained, but with how Jay Wright has navigated the program in recent years, is there really any doubting him? The Wildcats have put themselves among the premier programs in the country, and they’ve done it by replacing stars with stars. There are candidates on this roster, and here’s guessing they reach their potential.

2. XAVIER: Xavier decided to do what it does when it promoted Travis Steele, and given the history of hires at X, there are two ways to look at it. Either, one, this is a school that simply does not miss on coaches, or, two, they’re due for a dud.

Here’s guessing Xavier knows what it’s doing.

The Musketeers will have their work cut out for them this season with losses like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura (plus Sean O’Mara, Kerem Kanter and Kaiser Gates), but the infrastructure and culture remain and there is still talent on the roster. They’ll need more from Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall and the graduate transfers like Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage and Kyle Castlin will have to contribute, but Xavier has been through this before. It’s worked out.

3. PROVIDENCE: The Friars have been to five-straight NCAA tournaments and coach Ed Cooley has some major holes to fill after the departures of Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock, but the presence of Alpha Diallo and a healthy Emmitt Holt could be enough to catapult them to toward the top of the league. The 6-foot-7 Diallo will be asked to shoulder a significant burden on both ends of the floor, but his versatility and ability to score around the bucket make him a strong candidate for that role. An abdominal injury robbed Holt of last season, but if his health holds up this season, he and Diallo make for a formidable one-two punch.

4. ST. JOHN’S: The Red Storm already looked poised to make a move up the standings when Shamorie Ponds decided to return for his junior season, but the NCAA’s decision to grant Mustapha Heron immediate-eligibility after his transfer from Auburn solidifies the expectation that this is the year Chris Mullin breaks through to an NCAA tournament. That’s what happens when you’re projected to have one of the best backcourts in the country.

The Red Storm actually put up strong defensive numbers last season after being pretty mediocre on that end in Mullin’s first two years, but the offense sagged with Ponds simply carrying too much of the load. If they can build on what they did defensively last year and use the Ponds-Heron backcourt to power the offense, the hopes the program placed in Mullin might prove justified.

Markus Howard #(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

5. MARQUETTE: The Golden Eagles are going to score. A lot, probably. Markus Howard is going to get buckets. So is Sam Hauser. Joey Hauser, probably too. Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny is a nice addition as well. Marquette is going to put the ball in the basket.

Can they keep their opponent from doing the same with any sort of consistency? That’ll determine their season’s fate. Marquette’s defensive ranking at KenPom has slipped in every season under Steve Wojciechowski, from 69th in his first season to 182nd last year. That’s kept the last two teams, both having awesome offenses, from thriving. If it doesn’t improve this year, it’ll likely make it three in a row.

6. BUTLER: This feels too low for a Bulldogs team that weathered the loss of Chris Holtmann a year ago to go to a fourth-straight NCAA tournament and returns three starters, including Kamar Baldwin, but they’ll have to do some serious retooling after the graduation of 2,000-point scorer Kelan Martin, around whom everything revolved offensively.

Baldwin will be the key here as he steps into a bigger role and will be the focal point of defensive strategies. He was good last year, but also was short of great and that was with an All-American candidate by his side. If he grows along with his role, the Bulldogs will be just fine in their second year under LaVall Jordan.

7. SETON HALL: It’s a new chapter of hoops for Seton Hall and coach Kevin Willard with the losses of program stalwarts Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado, who helped lead the Pirates to three-straight NCAA tournaments and arguably keep Willard in place at Seton Hall after five-straight NCAA tournament-less seasons previously. That’s the type of chapter Seton Hall would just assume not re-read.

Myles Powell’s ability to assume a huge role will likely determine how the Pirates’ season unfolds. He was a supporting character a year ago, but was effective in his limited workload, converting at a 37.9 percent clip from deep and 43.3 percent overall. He’ll need to improve as a distributor and trim the turnover rate, but he’ll be given the opportunity to flourish.

8. GEORGETOWN: Most believe that Patrick Ewing is doing good things with his alma mater. That the program is poised to make progress and that, eventually, he’ll get the Hoyas back in the NCAA tournament. There’s maybe just not all that much to get excited about this season.

Jessie Govan is undoubtedly one of the Big East’s top players, but it’s hard to look at the rest of the roster and forecast a major improvement from last season’s team that won just five conference games. If some of the youngsters pan out immediately, maybe, but the upside just doesn’t appear to be all that significant for Ewing’s Hoyas in Year 2.

9. CREIGHTON: If history is a guide, Greg McDermott will get Creighton back to the NCAA tournament. It just might take a little bit. The Blue Jays will have to rebuild after losing their do-everything backcourt of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas but there are pieces in place to make that happen. Maybe just not this year.

It’s not unlike McDermott’s job after his son, Doug, wrapped up a historic career. The Blue Jays went to three-straight tournaments before a two-year hiatus gave way to the last two seasons’ success. Creighton may hit pause this year, but the Mitchell Ballock has the look of a potential future star and Creighton has raised its profile enough to believe it’ll be able to find a third era of success under McDermott.

10. DEPAUL: The Blue Demons have steadily upped their talent level as Dave Leitao makes another go at it in Chicago, but it has been significant enough through three seasons to really matter as they’ve finished last in the Big East in back-to-back years after finishing ninth in Leitao’s first season back at DePaul.

Max Strus proved he was a Big East-caliber player after starting his career in Division II, and Illinois transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands is a 3-point threat. The rest of the roter, though, remains largely unproven.

Rebuilding Villanova prepared for growing pains after NBA departures

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Under construction: The finishing touches on the more than $60 million in renovations to Villanova’s on-campus home and the national champions who will call it home.

On a miserable, soggy Tuesday, the glass entrance of the refurbished digs sparkled across the street from Villanova’s practice facility, the curtain about to go up on a project that forced the Wildcats to play a season at an NBA arena.

Yeah, that’s a 1-percenter type of problem.

The Wildcats are certainly among the elite after winning two national championships in three seasons, their basketball blood now as blue as the “V” in their logo. They’ve topped 30 wins in four straight seasons, and the 2019 forecast is again sky-high.

Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman all left for the NBA.

The Wildcats were feted with a parade and a rally at city hall.

Coach Jay Wright met Pope Francis.

“We’ve been very blessed the last five years,” Wright said on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats are set to raise the 2018 national championship banner next week — and also lower expectations for the season ahead. The NBA defections could rattle Villanova early as it seeks to find an identity.

“I certainly wouldn’t have us as a national title contender,” Wright said.

He means at this stage of the season — not necessarily by March.

Brunson was the AP national player of the year, and DiVincenzo scored 31 points and was the most outstanding player as the Wildcats beat Michigan to win the title. Bridges and Spellman both left voids that not even the most prized prospects could fill without some growing pains.

Exit, championship veterans.

Enter, freshmen Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater and Cole Swider, along with transfer Joe Cremo.

“I don’t think they realize yet what it’s going to be like,” Wright said. “How could they? They don’t know. But they’re going to get a taste of it early, and we’re going to have to learn from it.”

The Wildcats will have a national championship game rematch against Michigan on Nov. 14 at the revamped Pavilion, a tournament in Florida and games in December at Kansas and against UConn at Madison Square Garden.

Oh, and then a Big East slate in a conference the Wildcats have largely dominated under Wright.

Opening day came without the hype that will accompany those games. Quinerly, who had committed to Arizona before an FBI investigation forced him reopen his commitment, looked at home in a 2018 national champions T-shirt. He is the only guard in a recruiting class that was widely ranked among the top 10, and he has been pegged to replace Brunson to run the offense.

Wright is ready for the next few weeks to give him a better idea of how the new talent will fit.

Up first is the Hoops Mania kickoff that will give the Wildcats one more chance to bask in the 2018 title — and serve as a reminder of what has now become the norm at the campus in a tony Philadelphia suburb.

Wright had to laugh at a difference between the 2016 and 2018 champs that had nothing to do with the Nova roster.

“For whatever reason, the celebration didn’t go on as long this year,” he said. “I really think the Eagles’ Super Bowl (title), and I mean this seriously, has affected our city. I think everybody’s a little more confident, a little more relaxed. Fans. I think us winning in ’18 was celebrated nicely. But I don’t think anybody felt like we had to prove anything anymore as a city.”

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