It feels like college basketball makes a little more sense today than it did at this time last week.
That’s because, over the course of the last seven days, we’ve had a number of marquee non-conference battles, from the showdowns that took place during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to a wild Saturday that was headlined by a battle of top 20 teams to a Sunday that happened to feature the worst game between top ten teams that we’ve ever seen.
So there’s a lot to dig through.
And in a season where it doesn’t feel like there are any great teams, I will say this: I think that we’re starting to get some separation at the top.
Anyway, here is my AP poll with some explanation as to why I slotted teams in those spots.
1. LOUISVILLE (9-0, Last Week: 2)
2. OHIO STATE (9-0, 6)
I think there are only two teams this week that can justifiably be ranked No. 1 in a poll: Louisville and Ohio State.
And both have strong claims to the top spot. Louisville was No. 1 in the AP Poll last week and all they did was land a couple of double-digit wins over Pitt and No. 4 Michigan, who was No. 1 in this space seven days ago. They’re very much deserving of being the No. 1 team in the country.
But Ohio State has an argument as well. The Buckeyes beat North Carolina and Penn State by an average of 28.5 points this week, with the win over the former coming in Chapel Hill. The Buckeyes have three wins over 25 points or more over KenPom top 25 opponents. To put that into context, there have been just six instances this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more. Ohio State is responsible for half of them.
So they’re deserving of consideration as well.
3. KANSAS (7-1, 3)
If you forced me to put college basketball into tiers, I would have Kansas as the third team in the top tier. Hell, I think that there’s an argument to be made that they are the favorite to win the national title right now. They have the most unstoppable force of the elite teams – see: Azubuike, Udoka – and they have the best point guard play as well. They beat No. 20 Colorado by 14 on Saturday evening, a win that is going to age really nicely.
4. MICHIGAN (8-1, 1)
The Wolverines got smoked when they played at Louisville on Tuesday, which was hardly unexpected. Michigan was coming off of a trip to the Bahamas, where they played three games in three days, and it was the most obvious fade Michigan spot in the history of gambling. They bounced back on Friday by putting up 103 points on Iowa.
5. MARYLAND (10-0, 4)
Maryland is still undefeated despite trying their damnedest to not be undefeated anymore. The Terps needed to rally from 15 points down in the second half to avoid dropping a home game against Illinois, but they did it. I’m still torn on just how good this team is, but the talent is undoubtedly there.
6. GONZAGA (10-1, 8)
The Zags went into Seattle and picked off in-state rival Washington on Sunday night. That’s a really nice win for a team that seems to be flying under the radar a little bit. Remember the name Joel Ayayi. He’s the x-factor for Mark Few.
7. KENTUCKY (7-1, 5)
We just have to survive games against Georgia Tech and Utah in the next 10 days and we’ll get rewarded with the Wildcats taking on No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Ohio State in the span of one week. I’m already fired up.
8. ARIZONA (9-1, 9)
I discussed why on the podcast (at the 26:50 mark), but I actually feel better about Arizona after they lost at Baylor than I did before they played.
9. AUBURN (8-0, 10)
I’m still in on this Auburn team. They struggled with Furman at home, but the Palladins are well coached with good guard play. Teams like that are not going to be affected by Auburn’s pressure. There’s a reason they are still undefeated.
10. DAYTON (7-1, 12)
I guess that I’m still higher than the public on Dayton, and they rewarded me by going out west and taking care of Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. This is a really, really good team that spaces the floor, shoots a ton of threes and has Obi Toppin. They’re legit.
11. DUKE (9-1, 13)
Exactly seven days after they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin as the No. 1 team in the country, Duke turned around and went into East Lansing and handed the preseason No. 1 team in the country a beatdown. I don’t pretend to understand it.
12. OREGON (7-2, 15)
The Ducks bounced back from a tough trip to the Bahamas by beating Hawaii in Eugene over the weekend. We’ll get a better sense for just how good they are this weekend, when they head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.
13. BAYLOR (7-1, 17)
The Bears hung on to beat Arizona at home on Saturday despite playing what sounded like a road game in their own gym. That’s what happens in Big 12 country when your football team is playing for the conference title at the exact same time. The big question with Baylor is going to be whether or not Tristan Clark can ever get back to 100 percent.
14. VILLANOVA (7-2, 18)
The Wildcats have been pretty good since they were plastered by Ohio State in Columbus, and there is still rook for them to grow. Bryan Antoine has only played 38 minutes this season as he comes back from shoulder surgery.
15. UTAH STATE (9-1, 19)
Neemias Queta is back, which means that we can finally start to see the Aggies that we have been expecting to see since last March. When healthy, this is a dangerous group.
16. SETON HALL (6-3, 16)
The status of Sandro Mamukelashvili, who may have broken a bone in his wrist, is much more important than losing on the road at Iowa State. Without him, Seton Hall’s ceiling takes a significant hit.
17. MEMPHIS (8-1, 20)
Memphis just keeps winning without James Wiseman. On Saturday, they erased a 20 point deficit on the road against a pretty decent UAB team.
18. BUTLER (9-0, NR)
The most underrated team in college basketball right now, the Bulldogs picked off Florida in Hinkle this weekend after going into Oxford and beating Ole Miss.
19. TENNESSEE (7-1, 22)
The Vols have only played one game since returning from the Emerald Coast Classic. They get Memphis on Saturday. Buckle up.
20. VIRGINIA (8-1, 7)
The Wahoos can’t score. When you go from having Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter to Kihei Clark, Kody Stattman and Mamadi Diakite, you are going to take a step back.
21. NORTH CAROLINA (6-3, 11)
I’m not sure what to do with North Carolina. On the one hand, they looked awful this week. On the other hand, they’re a young team still learning how they are going to play that had to go up against the two best defensive teams in college basketball.
22. XAVIER (9-1, 24)
Xavier’s win over Cincinnati on Saturday should force you to take notice. All the people that Travis Steele bought beers for certainly did.
23. PURDUE (6-3, NR)
Purdue gave up 84 points in two games this weekend against Virginia and Northwestern. Matt Painter might be able to get to the NCAA tournament with my men’s league team.
24. FLORIDA STATE (7-2, 21)
Just when I was starting to buy in to the Florida State hype they go out and lose by 14 at Indiana, who promptly goes and loses by 20 to Wisconsin. I don’t know anymore.
25. MARQUETTE (7-2, NR)
I’ve been impressed with Marquette defensively. If you can guard and you have two players that are as good at getting a bucket as Markus Howard and Koby McEwen, you have a chance to win a bunch of games.
Every Selection Sunday journey begins somewhere. This year, that somewhere is East Lansing.
To no one’s surprise, Michigan State headlines our preseason edition of Bracketology. The Spartans have the talent, experience and depth to reach another Final Four.
MSU is joined at the top of the bracket by Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas. A host of other familiar names are close behind: Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Maryland and North Carolina. Other top four seeds include reigning National Champion Virginia and runner-up Texas Tech.
From there, the bracket is an open canvas.
The Big East figures to be a gauntlet – with seven or even eight teams in the mix. The Atlantic 10 and American conferences should place multiple teams in the field; both leagues are deeper than a year ago. It’s also highly likely that the Pac-12 returns to a more normal five or six bids.
Considering those points, and factoring in some capable at-large mid-majors, the odds of a power conference harnessing eight (or more) bids seems unlikely. At this point, on paper at least, expect a more balanced bracket come March.
PRESEASON BRACKET PROJECTION
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Arizona State vs. Illinois
Ole Miss vs. Notre Dame
NC CENTRAL vs. LIU-BROOKLYN
NEW ORLEANS vs. PRAIRIE VIEW AM
MIDWEST – Indianapolis
EAST – New York
1) MICHIGAN STATE
16) NC CENT / LIU-BROOK
8) NC State
9) Florida State
12) E. TENNESSEE ST
6) Saint Mary’s
11) Arizona St / Illinois
3) North Carolina
3) Ohio State
14) BOWLING GREEN
10) Iowa State
15) GA SOUTHERN
WEST – Los Angeles
SOUTH – Houston
16) NO COLORADO
16) NEW ORLEANS / PVAM
12) NEW MEXICO ST
12) MISSOURI STATE
4) Texas Tech
13) MURRAY STATE
13) W. KENTUCKY
6) UTAH STATE
11) Ole Miss / Notre Dame
3) SETON HALL
14) NORTH DAKOTA ST
15) UC-SANTA BARBARA
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
TOP SEED LINE: Michigan State is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas
Big East (6): SETON HALL, Villanova, Xavier, Marquette, Providence, Creighton
BIG 12 (5): KANSAS, Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State, Texas
Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Arizona State
American (3): MEMPHIS, Houston, Cincinnati
Atlantic 10 (3): VCU, Davidson, Dayton
West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s
Mountain West (1): UTAH STATE
ONE BID LEAGUES:BOWLING GREEN (MAC), EAST TENNESSEE STATE (SOUTHERN) MISSOURI STATE (MVC), IONA (MAAC), WESTERN KENTUCKY (C-USA), GEORGIA SOUTHERN (SBELT), HARVARD (IVY), NORTHERN COLORADO (BSKY), WRIGHT STATE (HORIZON), NEW ORLEANS (SLND), UC-SANTA BARBARA (BWEST), LIBERTY (ASUN), MURRAY STATE (OVC), CHARLESTON (CAA), RADFORD (BSO), NC CENTRAL (MEAC), NORTH DAKOTA STATE (SUM), NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC), VERMONT (AEAST), COLGATE (PAT), LIU-BROOKLYN (NEC), PRAIRIE VIEW (SWAC)
As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.
No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72
This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.
And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.
PICK: Davidson (+2.5)
WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66
Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.
(You’re going to notice trend here.)
But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.
Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?
PICK: Baylor (-5)
ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72
I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.
PICK: Under 146.5
TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63
I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.
PICK: Texas (+9)
FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65
The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.
PICK: Florida (-4)
ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)
KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70
This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.
PICK: Arizona (-6)
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.
It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.
COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.
Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.
RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.
Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.
No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.
JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.
STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.
Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.
UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.
BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.
UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.
The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.
SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.
BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.
NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.
Michigan State has all the pieces to go out and win a national championship this year. They have shooting. They have size. They have talented veterans in starting roles with promising younger pieces ready to push them for minutes. They have a Hall Of Famer running the show in Tom Izzo. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that they have this kid who just so happens to be the best player in college basketball this season. Cassius Winston, ever heard of him?
If there are concerns here, it’s that the Spartans are a little bit thin up front. Xavier Tillman is ready to take over the five-spot in a full-time role with Nick Ward gone, but the bigs behind him are young. Will Marcus Bingham be ready to play 20 minutes a night? What will be more interesting to see is if Izzo goes full small-ball. With Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Malik Hall on the roster, he has the bodies to do it, especially if Marquette transfer Joey Hauser finds a way to get a waiver from the NCAA.
Surprise, surprise: Kentucky is loaded again, especially in the backcourt. Ashton Hagans returns for his sophomore season where he will be joined by Tyrese Maxey in what may end up being the toughest, most competitive and best defensive backcourt in college basketball. Immanuel Quickly, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks will give John Calipari more than enough weapons to keep defenses guessing on the perimeter; those practice battles to earn playing time are going to be fun to watch.
The big question mark is going to be in Kentucky’s frontcourt, where E.J. Montgomery will look to take a P.J. Washington-esque step forward and Nick Richards will, hopefully, live up to his five-star potential. The addition of grad transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell will provide some depth and experience where the Wildcats really need it. It will be interesting to see if Coach Cal makes the decision to play small this year, because he certainly has the roster to do it.
WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
The NCAA investigation into Kansas and the possible ramifications of the Notice of Allegations that the university received last week will hang over the Jayhawks’ head all season long. That’s a given.
And with the understanding that this off-the-court stuff is something that Kansas is going to have to deal with all season long, let’s talk about what is actually happening on the court, because Kansas is going to be fascinating next season. The Jayhawks may have the best center in the country in Udoka Azubuike. At the very least, he’s the best low-post scorer in college hoops. They have one of the best point guards in Devon Dotson. They have one of college basketball’s breakout stars in Ochai Agbaji headlining a plethora of quality wing pieces – Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson. They have more frontcourt depth than just about anyone else, with Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot all fighting for minutes up front.
The big question is going to be what the Jayhawks do at the four. Dedric Lawson is the perfect player to slot in there, but he’s gone. In his stead, they have … well, I’m not really sure. They can play two bigs, but that will obliterate their spacing. The same can be said if Garrett slots in at the four. Agbaji would make some sense, but I’m not sure he’s capable of guarding college fours the way that someone like Josh Jackson was. There is no easy answer, which means that Self will have his work cut out for him.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch
The big news for Louisville is that they bring back Jordan Nwora, who looks to be the favorite to win the ACC Player of the Year award heading into the season. They also get back Dwayne Sutton, and Malik Williams, and Steve Enoch, and add a recruiting class that is exactly what you would expect someone like Chris Mack to bring into a program like Louisville. They have everything that you would expect out of a top five team …
… except clarity at the point guard spot.
There are options there. Darius Perry returns from last year’s team. Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer from St. Joseph’s, joins the program, as does four-star freshman David Johnson, who is dealing with a shoulder injury that could keep him out at the start of the season. Someone is going to have to win the starting job. Will they be good enough to carry the Cardinals to the top of the ACC?
WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
Maybe I’m overvaluing Villanova again because they’re Villanova, but I am quite bullish on them once again. I think the Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels are both in line for big seasons, and when combined with Bryan Antoine – who will hopefully be healthy by December – give Jay Wright three wings that fit perfectly with the way that he wants to play. Collin Gillispie isn’t Jalen Brunson, but not very many people are Jalen Brunson, so that’s a concern, but I think that he’ll be serviceable in the Big East this season.
And then there is all the young talent on the roster. Cole Swider should take a significant step forward as a sophomore. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a five-star recruit. Brandon Slater should be ready for a bigger role. The big concern here is that this team is still going to be very, very young for a Villanova team. We might still be a year away with this group.
WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey
This Duke roster is weird. Talented, but weird.
I like a lot of the pieces here. Vernon Carey is going to be a very good college basketball player. Same with Matthew Hurt. Wendell Moore should be able to impact the game on the defensive end of the floor from day one. Javin DeLaurier is a very useful role player, while the likes of Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Joey Baker and Jordan Goldwire will all be a year older this season.
The problem is that Duke doesn’t have very many lineups that they can play that will be good defensively and be able to create enough space for Carey to operate in the lane. That’s where Tre Jones comes into play. We wrote all about Mr. Jones and why his ability to shoot will be the most influential skill for any player in college basketball next season right here.
WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The outlook for Florida’s season changed dramatically when they landed a commitment from Kerry Blackshear Jr., the Virginia Tech grad transfer that picked the Gators over Tennessee and Kentucky. He is an All-American talent that will anchor the frontcourt for a team that has all the perimeter depth you would want.
It starts with Andrew Nembhard, who is going to have a big sophomore season and will pair with Tre Mann to handle Florida’s point guard duties. Scottie Lewis is going to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the sport next season, while Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson are back to round out Florida’s rotation.
WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev
Mark Few lost quite a bit off of last season’s roster, and there are more than a few questions about just who this team is going to be able to trust this season, but there is more than enough talent here for the Zags to once again make a run at being a top ten team.
Killian Tillie is back and healthy. Corey Kispert is a talent that has been waiting for more opportunity in Spokane. Filip Petrusev will finally be able to anchor the frontcourt on his own, while the likes of Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo are promising freshman that are going to push for minutes immediately. The big question is going to be in the backcourt, where a pair of grad transfers – Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder – are going to take the reins with a freshman – Brock Ravet – providing depth. All three are new to the program, and it’s never ideal to head into a season with such inexperience at the point guard spot.
WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith
There is nothing riskier than going all-in on a team coached by Mark Turgeon, but here we are. Losing Bruno Fernando hurts, but the Terps not only got Jalen Smith back, they also return Anthony Cowan. That could end up being the best 1-2 punch in the Big Ten this side of Michigan State.
What’s more promising is that the Terps have a loaded sophomore class. Smith is the name you know, but Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Ricky Lindo all had promising rookie campaigns, while the likes of Darryl Morsell and the Mitchell twins give Turgeon plenty of depth.
WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
I am a Tony Bennett stan, and I fully believe that the combination of Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff is the kind of malleable, versatile and talented frontcourt that will allow Bennett to flex his X’s-and-O’s muscles and get creative offensively, but I fully admit that putting Virginia in the top ten is likely beyond the top of their range.
They lost De’Andre Hunter. They lost Ty Jerome. They lost Kyle Guy. That’s a lot to lose, especially when Virginia was not planning on losing the latter two for another year. Will Casey Morsell be ready at the start of the season? Is Kihei Clark going to be able to handle the lead guard role in a ball-screen heavy offense? Just how good is Braxton Key going to be as a senior?
I don’t really have answers. But I’m willing to bet on Bennett figuring those answers out.
11. TEXAS TECH
WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Andrei Savrasov
WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke
The Red Raiders only return two players from last year’s national runner-up: Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards. But there is no one in college basketball that has proven to be better at finding a way to entirely remake a roster year after year that Chris Beard. Jahmius Ramsey is going to be one of the most productive freshman in all of college basketball this season – he is a perfect fit for Beard’s style of play – and the addition of grad transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield will help as well. Like Virginia, I’m not really sure how, exactly, it’s going to happen, but I fully believe that Tech is going to end up being right there in the mix at the top of the Big 12 once again this season.
WHO’S GONE: Paul White, Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol, Victor Bailey
WHO’S BACK: Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro
WHO’S COMING IN: N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Addison Patterson, Chris Duarte, Lok Wur, Chandler Lawson
PROJECTED STARTERS: Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Shakur Juiston
The Ducks are the toughest team for me in these rankings. On the one hand, they lost oh-so-very-much from last season. On the other hand, Payton Pritchard is back, as is Will Richardson, and they will be joined by a rebuilt roster with quite a bit of interesting talent: Freshmen N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Addison Patterson and Chandler Lawson; transfers Shakur Juiston, Anthony Mathis and Chris Duarte. Throw in Francis Okoro, and there are enough pieces here for Dana Altman to have fun figuring things out.
There’s an argument to be made that Seton Hall is going to be the best team in the Big East next season. This is essentially the same roster that Seton Hall had last season, which matters because Myles Powell returns for his senior season. He is one of the most dangerous scorers in all of college hoops. He is going to be an All-American. He’s awesome. He also has a solid supporting cast, with Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight and Sandro Mamukelashvili all back. Their ceiling will likely be determined by how good Jared Rhoden and Ike Obiagu end up being this season.
14. NORTH CAROLINA
WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
Cole Anthony is going to be the most productive freshman in college basketball this season. He’s a terrific athlete, a high-volume scorer and the kind of uber-competitive lead guard that will make North Carolina fans forget about Coby White fairly quickly. The problem for the Heels is that White isn’t the only guy they lost. Luke Maye, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams are all gone as well. I think Armando Bacot is going to be very, very good for UNC in the long term, and adding a pair of grad transfers in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling will certainly help, but there is going to be a learning curve early on for this group.
15. UTAH STATE
WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta
Once we got word that the knee injury suffered by star center Neemias Queta in the FIBA U20 Euros was not serious, we knew that Craig Smith and this Utah State team would be the best in the Mountain West and arguably the best outside the power conferences. Queta is one reason why. Sam Merrill, who might play his way onto All-America teams by the time March roles around, is probably a bigger reason why. All told, the Aggies bring back five of their top six from last season. They are going to be dangerous.
WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter
With everything going on around the program, it’s hard to believe that this team will be fighting with Oregon and Washington for Pac-12 supremacy. Nico Mannion and Josh Green, a pair of five-star freshman, are the headliners, and their jobs will be all-the-more important with Brandon Williams out due to a knee injury. UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard should provide some experience and depth, but the key is going to be how Sean Miller handles his frontcourt. Can Chase Jeter be trusted? Is Zeke Nnaji going to live up to the preseason hype? How good is Ira Lee?
17. SAINT MARY’S
WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
WHO’S COMING IN: Aaron Menzies, Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry
The Gaels have been to just two of the last six NCAA tournaments, but this looks like a season where they are going to get back. Jordan Ford is going to be this year’s mid-major star to know, while Malik Fitts is the kind of athletic and versatile small-ball four that will allow SMC to matchup with power conference programs. Throw in the return of Tommy Kuhse and Tanner Krebs as well as the addition of 7-foot-3 center Aaron Menzies, Randy Bennett has himself a squad.
WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones
The Musketeers are better than people realize. After a strong finish to last season, Travis Steele returns four starters, including potential breakout star Naji Marshall. Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones are all back as well, and with the arrival of recruiting class that includes five four-star players and a pair of immediately eligible transfers, Xavier has the look of a team that is going to make a run at the top of the Big East.
WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
LSU looked like they could be one of the worst teams in the SEC heading into this year. Then the school decided not to fire Will Wade. Then Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams and Marlon Taylor all decided to return to schol. Then Trendon Watford committed. Wade has done more with less. The x-factor is going to be when the NCAA drops their Notice of Allegations.
WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, MaCio Teague, Tristan Clark
I’ll be honest: I think I might actually have Baylor too low here. The Bears finished in the top half of the Big 12 last season despite missing Tristan Clark for all of league play. Now he’s back, as is the majority of their key pieces: Mark Vital, Devonte Bandoo. Throw in Davion Mitchell and Macio Teague, a pair of talented transfers, and freshman Jordan Turner, and Scott Drew might have his deepest team in Waco. He finds a way to get it done with guys that don’t really matter. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do now that he has a roster that’s good enough to give the Bears some level of expectation.
WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
Losing Chuma Okeke early to the draft hurts, but that was expect. Losing Jared Harper? That hurt more. The good news is J’Von McCormick showed flashes of being ready to take over for Harper, and it looks like Isaac Okoro is going to be able to do some of the things that made Okeke so good for Auburn. There are going to be some growing pains, but there is enough talent here for the Tigers to be relevant in the SEC.
WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Derrick Walker Jr, D.J. Burns
WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson
PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson
Missing out on Kerry Blackshear really hurt, because the Vols have everything other than a big man. Lamonte Turner should be able to make Tennessee fans forget Jordan Bone left early. Josiah James should have an immediate and significant impact as a freshman. There’s a lot to like about Jordan Bowden, too. But not having that rock to anchor the offense, a guy to fill the Grant Williams role, is why Tennessee is at the back end of the top 25.
WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva
The Rams being essentially everyone back from a 25-win team that went 16-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season, finished the year ranked seventh in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and adds an impressive recruiting class. Perhaps most important – Marcus Evans has had a full offseason to get himself healthy. Look out for the Rams.
25. OHIO STATE
WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson
I might be too low on the Buckeyes. Kaleb Wesson returns to school, and he will be joined by Luther Muhammad and Andre Wesson in the frontcourt. There is a lot to like about some of the young talent on OSU’s roster – particularly freshman point guard D.J. Carton – and as always, Chris Holtmann is as good as any coach in the country.
FIVE TEAMS THAT JUST MISSED
WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic
WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson
WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA FIRST TEAM
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
Winston is coming off of a season where he was a First Team All-American that averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists for a team that won 32 games, the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten tournament and reached the Final Four. This is also a team that brings back enough talent to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country in the NBC Sports Top 25.
With respect to the other players on this list, I don’t really think there is much of an argument here. When the best returning player in the sport is on the best team in the sport, you name him Preseason Player of the Year.
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
On the podcast above, I mentioned that I think that Howard is the guy that is the most likely to go from being in the conversation for First Team All-America in the preseason to out of the mix come March. There are two reasons for that. For starters, I think there is a real chance that the Golden Eagles end up being a team that falls in that 10-12 seed range come Selection Sunday, and the past has taught us that you need to have a truly special season to make a run at Player of the Year on a team that isn’t a title contender. The other reason is that there is a world where Howard’s efficiency goes in the tank. I like some of the other pieces that Wojo has at his disposal, but without the Hauser brothers, this is a different basketball team that is much easier to guard.
Howard’s going to get his, he’s going to have nights where he goes for 50 and he’s going to get on runs where he makes four, five or six threes in a row. He’s awesome. But when everyone in Milwaukee knows that he is getting the ball, how often will those runs come?
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
I am very high on Seton Hall this year, and the biggest reason why is the return of Powell, who has grown into one of the very best scorers in the country. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 23.1 points and put on some scoring displays that looked an awful lot like what Howard can do. He’s going to have a monster senior season, the battles between him and Howard are going to be legendary and the Pirates, with essentially everyone back from a season ago, should be good enough to make a run at a Big East title if things go well.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
Nwora was one of the breakout stars in college basketball last season, opting to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school for his junior year. A combo-forward and a big-time shot-maker, Nwora is the perfect fit for Chris Mack’s offense, and his presence is the biggest reason that the Cardinals enter this season as a top five team in the NBC Sports Top 25. The big question with Nwora is going to be where he improved this offseason. If he comes back to school as a more fluid and explosive athlete, someone that can put the ball on the floor and create at a higher level, there’s no doubt that National Player of the Year is within his range of outcomes. He’s that good and Louisville is that good.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis
I don’t think that Wiseman is going to be the most productive freshman in college basketball this season but I do think that he is going to be the best freshman. His combination of physical tools, athleticism and a system at Memphis that should allow him to show them off is ideal. My big question with Wiseman is how well his skillset translates to the role he is going to be asked to play in college. At the next level, I think that he becomes the next Myles Turner, an elite defensive presence that can space the floor and create matchup problems against bigger defenders. I do not expect that that will be the way he is used at Memphis – nor should it be – and it will be interesting to see just how well he can overwhelm players that aren’t as physically gifted as he is.
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA SECOND TEAM
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony is going to have a massive freshman season. I don’t see any way around it. He’s going to slot right into the role that Coby White vacated, he’s going to play at just as fast of a tempo and he is not going to have anywhere near the level of talent around him. I think that he’ll average 20 points and six assists. North Carolina’s ceiling will be determined by whether or not those 20 points come on 15 shots or 25 shots and if those six assists are paired with two turnovers or eight turnovers.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: Trying to figure out who to slot in as the All-American on Kansas is tough. I don’t think I can go with Udoka Azubuike after seeing the way Villanova neutralized him in the Final Four two years ago, and while I’m enamored with Ochai Agbaji, I do believe that he is still a year away from truly being in this conversation. That leaves the head of the snake, point guard Devon Dotson. He really came on down the stretch of last season, and as his turnovers went down and efficiency went up, Kansas improved. I think he has a big sophomore season.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., Florida: I really like Blackshear. He is a 6-foot-10, 250 pound big man that averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 boards and 2.4 assists on a slow-paced Virginia Tech team as their third option offensively. He can overpower smaller defenders in the post. He can make threes. He can beat bigger defenders off of the dribble. He is everything that Florida needed at the five this season.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I’m out on a limb on this one, and frankly, I think there are very valid arguments to make that both of Diakite’s frontcourt mates – Jay Huff and Braxton Key – deserve to be slotted here instead. But I love what Diakite provides defensively, I expect him to build off of a terrific NCAA tournament run and I’ll ride or die with UVA’s starting power forward. We’ll see if it pays off.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: If Anthony isn’t the most productive freshman in this class, it very well could end up being Stewart, who is an absolute hoss on the block. He is going to soak up Noah Dickerson’s shots and anchor the zone that they run defensively.
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA THIRD TEAM
ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland: I’m torn on Cowan. On the one hand, he’s the best player and the lead guard on a team with top ten talent. That’s good. The problem? Maryland guards seem to stop improving after a while. Melo Trimble never really got better during his three years on campus. Cowan didn’t take the leap we all expected him to take last season. Will he this year?
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: I had a very difficult time picking which Kentucky player I think will be their best. I can see the argument for Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery. I can see Kahlil Whitney being the guy. The Johnny Juzang hype train has already gotten rolling. But I’m going to go with Tyrese Maxey. He’s a terrific lead guard and John Calipari tends to do well with terrific lead guards.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: It feels like no one ever mentions Cumberland when discussing the best players in the country, but here is a rising senior that only went out and averaged 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent from three. That’s not bad.
SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Neemias Queta seems to be the name that most people know on Utah State, but Merrill was their best player last season. His return to school is why the Aggies cracked the top 15 in the NBC Sports Top 25.