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College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Kentucky’s No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.

Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.

Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.

It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.

1. KENTUCKY (2-0, Last week: 2)
2. LOUISVILLE (2-0, 4)
3. DUKE (2-0, 6)
4. MICHIGAN STATE (1-1, 1)
5. KANSAS (1-1, 3)
6. VILLANOVA (1-0, 5)
7. GONZAGA (2-0, 8)
8. MARYLAND (2-0, 9)
9. VIRGINIA (2-0, 10)
10. TEXAS TECH (2-0, 11)
11. OREGON (2-0, 12)
12. SETON HALL (2-0, 13)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (2-0, 14)
14. ARIZONA (2-0, 16)
15. UTAH STATE (2-0, 15)
16. SAINT MARY’S (1-0, 17)
17. XAVIER (2-0, 18)
18. LSU (1-0, 19)
19. FLORIDA (1-1, 7)
20. MEMPHIS (2-0, 21)
21. WASHINGTON (1-0, NR)
22. AUBURN (2-0, 22)
23. TENNESSEE (1-0, 23)
24. OHIO STATE (2-0, 25)
25. TEXAS (2-0, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 21 Washington, No. 25 Texs
DROPPED OUT: No. 20 Baylor, No. 24 VCU

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

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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)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • 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)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • 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)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • 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.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

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.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

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.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

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.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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Beginning in September and running up until November 5th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-2020 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

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

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble, Joey Hauser*
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

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.

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

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.

3. KANSAS

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

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.

4. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • 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?

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

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.

6. DUKE

  • 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.

7. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • 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.

8. GONZAGA

  • 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.

9. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • 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.

10. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

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.

12. OREGON

  • 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.

13. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

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
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Christian Keeling, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

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.

16. ARIZONA

  • 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.

18. XAVIER

  • 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.

19. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

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.

20. BAYLOR

  • 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.

21. MEMPHIS

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

I am lower than consensus on Memphis. I explained why here.

22. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

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.

23. TENNESSEE

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • 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.

24. VCU

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister, Tre Clark, Hason Ward, Nah’Shon Hyland
  • 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

DAVIDSON

  • 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

CREIGHTON

  • 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

WASHINGTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
  • WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart

COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: No one
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert

MARQUETTE

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
  • WHO’S BACK: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Ed Morrow, Jamal Cain
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Koby McEwen, Symir Torrence, Jayce Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Markus Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, Theo John

Bracketology: Michigan State headlines opening Field of 68

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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
MIDWEST REGION Arizona State vs. Illinois
WEST REGION Ole Miss vs. Notre Dame
EAST REGION  NC CENTRAL vs. LIU-BROOKLYN
SOUTH REGION NEW ORLEANS vs. PRAIRIE VIEW AM

MIDWEST Indianapolis   EAST – New York                 
Cleveland Cleveland
1) MICHIGAN STATE 1) KENTUCKY
16) IONA 16) NC CENT / LIU-BROOK 
8) NC State 8) Washington
9) Creighton 9) Florida State
Sacramento Tampa
5) Arizona 5) Baylor
12) HARVARD 12) E. TENNESSEE ST
4) Xavier 4) Villanova
13) LIBERTY 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Houston 6) Saint Mary’s
11) Arizona St / Illinois 11) Texas
3) North Carolina 3) Ohio State
14) CHARLESTON 14) BOWLING GREEN
Tampa Greensboro
7) Davidson 7) Auburn
10) Wisconsin 10) Iowa State
2) Florida 2) Duke
15) RADFORD 15) GA SOUTHERN
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Houston
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) LOUISVILLE
16) NO COLORADO 16) NEW ORLEANS / PVAM
8) Marquette 8) Colorado
9) Cincinnati 9) Providence
Sacramento Omaha
5) Purdue 5) MEMPHIS
12) NEW MEXICO ST 12) MISSOURI STATE
4) Virginia 4) Texas Tech
13) MURRAY STATE 13) W. KENTUCKY
Spokane Albany
6) UTAH STATE 6) LSU
11) Ole Miss / Notre Dame 11) Michigan
3) OREGON 3) SETON HALL
14) NORTH DAKOTA ST 14) COLGATE
Spokane Albany
7) Tennessee 7) VCU
10) Dayton 10) Alabama
2) GONZAGA 2) Maryland
15) UC-SANTA BARBARA 15) RADFORD

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Iowa State Ole Miss Georgetown Georgia
Alabama Illinois USC Iowa
Texas Arizona State Oklahoma State South Florida
Michigan Notre Dame Wichita State Mississippi State

TOP SEED LINE: Michigan State is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (7): MICHIGAN STATE, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

SEC (7): KENTUCKY, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss

ACC (7): LOUISVILLE, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, NC State, Florida State, Notre Dame

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)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

CBT Podcast: VCU’s Mike Rhoades and an SEC Preview

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Rob Dauster was joined by VCU head coach Mike Rhoades to talk though whether his team will actually be able to shoot this year, stories from VCU’s run to the Final Four and this (toothless) picture. Then Scott Phillips joins to walk through the final preview podcast of the preseason, the SEC. Here is the full rundown.

Open: VCU head coach Mike Rhoades

Alabama: 21:30

Arkansas: 26:40

Auburn: 30:30

Florida: 37:37

Georgia: 43:00

Kentucky: 46:00

LSU: 54:10

Mississippi State: 59:05

Missouri: 1:03:15

Ole Miss: 1:08:55

South Carolina: 1:11:35

Tennessee: 1:15:00

Texas A&M: 1:19:45

Vanderbilt: 1:22:40

SEC Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and Florida taking down Kentucky?

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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 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SEC.


The SEC is always going to be known as a football conference.

But the league’s basketball programs have done an adequate job of raising the bar over the last several years as an impressive seven SEC programs made the NCAA tournament last season.

Things continue to evolve in the SEC this season as seven McDonald’s All-Americans, a host of impact transfers and four new head coaches enter the fray. While some familiar faces are hovering near the top, the depth and overall quality of the SEC continues to get better each year.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Kentucky is as deep and talented as ever

It should come as no surprise that head coach John Calipari brought in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to Lexington for this season. Kentucky continues to be one of the nation’s elite recruiting schools as Calipari added multiple five-star freshmen (Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks) and a top-flight graduate transfer (Bucknell’s Nate Sestina) to a roster that returns a lot from last season.

Losing P.J. Washington, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis won’t be easy to replace but if anyone is capable of moving on from multiple pros, it’s probably Kentucky. The good news for Wildcats fans is the return of some quality players from last year’s team to go along with the new guys.

Point guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley both remain in the mix as Maxey and his scoring pop should fit in nicely with that group. Former five-star recruits E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are also back on the interior for Kentucky as Sestina’s floor-spacing should help give the Wildcat frontcourt some versatility.

How Kentucky handles things on the wing will be intriguing with Whitney and Brooks expected to earn some minutes there. Finding go-to scorers to replace Washington and Herro won’t be easy. But the makeup and fit of this Kentucky roster is solid compared to some teams Calipari has put together as he has a solid mix of returnees and newcomers.

2. Florida emerged as a title contender when Kerry Blackshear Jr. transferred in

Expectations were already high for Florida as they entered the 2019-20 season. The return of promising sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard and the addition of two McDonald’s All-Americans in Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann had a lot of Gator fans buzzing.

But it was the offseason graduate transfer addition of Kerry Blackshear Jr. from Virginia Tech that turned Florida into an overnight national title contender. Perhaps the best transfer in all of college hoops, Blackshear is the rare big man who you can play through on offense. Blackshear’s presence in the middle is massive for a Florida team that needed post scoring, veteran leadership and a safety valve if perimeter shooting isn’t working.

The Gators still need to see how their young pieces grow from last season if they want to truly be a title contender. But not many programs this offseason added a proven dude who can go out and get double-doubles against top-ten programs. The Gators will be must-see TV this season.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

3. LSU gets Will Wade back as they remain a top-25 team

The return of head coach Will Wade along with many key ingredients from last season’s Sweet 16 team makes LSU one of teams to beat the SEC this season. Although Wade and the Tigers dealt with a bunch of controversy last season they overcame the odds to capture the regular season title despite suspensions to Wade and starting guard Javonte Smart.

Although Wade never returned to the sidelines for the postseason following his suspension, the Tigers still had the talent to make it to the second weekend as Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams and Marlon Taylor all returned to school. Despite the departure of guard Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid, the Tigers remain a credible threat in the SEC this season thanks to last season’s returning depth and the addition of McDonald’s All-American forward Trendon Watford.

It’s unclear how LSU and Wade will respond to the scrutiny of him being back on the sidelines. But on paper, LSU has all that you need to repeat as league champs again this season.

4. Auburn and Tennessee remain strong despite big losses

Even though Auburn and Tennessee lose a lot of core players from last season, both programs should still be counted on to return to the top half of the SEC.

After last season’s surprise Final Four appearance, Auburn has to replace its starting backcourt of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown while do-it-all forward Chuma Okeke moved on to the pros as well. Luckily for the Tigers, Bruce Pearl’s bunch returns five experienced seniors while a deep recruiting class should make Auburn a deep team once again.

Following another successful 31-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance, Tennessee starts fresh with a new-look team that won’t run through Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Much like Auburn, the Vols have the benefit of an all-senior returning backcourt as Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are the key players to watch now for Tennessee.

While it doesn’t appear as though Auburn or Tennessee has the star power to match the SEC’s top teams in Kentucky, Florida and LSU, it’s difficult to count out two programs who have consistently been near the top of the league the past few seasons.

(Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

5. Four new coaches enter the SEC

The SEC’s coaching overhaul continued this offseason with the addition of four new coaches to the league. Three of the names should be immediately familiar to college basketball fans while the fourth name is a respected NBA veteran.

Nate Oats (Alabama from Buffalo), Eric Musselman (Arkansas from Nevada) and Buzz Williams (Texas A&M from Virginia Tech) all made the NCAA tournament with their respective programs last season as they are proven college coaches of former top-25 programs. Oats making the leap from the MAC to the SEC is perhaps the most enticing development to follow among the three “familiar” hires to the league but it will also be intriguing to see Musselman recruit at a bigger program and to see Williams run a program in his home state.

Vanderbilt’s hire of former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse is one of the most fascinating decisions in the country. While some will scoff at the notion of another NBA guy attempting his hand at high-level college coaching, Stackhouse put in the work getting coaching reps in the G League and as an NBA assistant before taking the leap to Nashville. Stackhouse will have to learn the ropes of recruiting and NCAA life but he has a shot to be successful.

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., Florida

A transfer from Virginia Tech who will start in the middle for the Gators right away, Blackshear might be the most productive big man in college hoops this season. Already a major presence for a Sweet 16 team last season, Blackshear was dominating title contenders like Virginia, Duke and North Carolina during his junior year as he put up monster double-doubles against all three programs. Blackshear’s consistent presence in the middle gives the young Florida offense someone to play through as the senior isn’t bothered by double teams or defenses geared to slow him down.

THE REST OF THE SEC FIRST TEAM

  • TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: A supreme backcourt scorer, the 6-foot-4 Maxey could be the most impactful of Kentucky’s five-star freshmen.
  • ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: The mega-athletic 6-foot-4 shooting guard stayed home as the three-level scorer is potentially a top-five pick in the next NBA Draft.
  • JAVONTE SMART, LSU: This is Smart’s team now with Tremont Waters and Naz Reid bolting for the pros as he should increase his production from last season.
  • REGGIE PERRY, MISSISSIPPI STATE: The 6-foot-10 sophomore should take a leap this season as Perry could become a double-double machine.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • KIRA LEWIS JR., Alabama
  • SKYLAR MAYS, LSU
  • SCOTTIE LEWIS, Florida
  • ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
  • BREEIN TYREE, Ole Miss

BREAKOUT STAR: A.J. Lawson, South Carolina

Before a late-season ankle injury stunted his momentum, South Carolina wing A.J. Lawson was having a very good freshman season. The 6-foot-6 Lawson shot 38 percent from three against SEC opponents while averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. As a sophomore, Lawson could grow into a dynamic offensive force as he has the size and skill to be among the SEC’s best players.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Will Wade, LSU

LSU’s Will Wade returns to the sidelines this season following a suspension at the end of last season. This will be a major storyline to keep tabs on this season. Wade not only faces the pressure of high expectations following the SEC regular season title and Sweet 16 appearance but he has the strange external pressure of the NCAA potentially looming. Even if the Tigers are successful once again this season, Wade will have detractors analyzing every move.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The SEC has multiple national title contenders among a deep field of six teams entering the field.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

I’m anxious to see if Florida can make the leap to national title contender. The addition of Kerry Blackshear makes the Gators such an intriguing team to watch.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Nov. 5, Kentucky vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic, New York City)
  • Nov. 10, Florida vs. Florida State
  • Dec. 21, Florida vs. Saint Mary’s (Sunrise, FL)
  • Dec. 28, Kentucky vs. Louisville
  • Jan 25, Tennessee at Kansas
(Elsa/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. KENTUCKY: Expectations will be high for Kentucky this preseason as they have perhaps the most talented roster in the country. While some Wildcat superteams of the past decade didn’t fit well together, the newcomers for this season’s team could fit nicely with the returning players. Finding go-to scoring will be something Kentucky has to figure out early as Washington’s incredible all-around play and Herro and Johnson’s toughness and bucket-getting will be tough to replace. But this Kentucky team has the length, depth and athleticism to be a defensive terror. It’s entirely conceivable that the Wildcats cut down the nets next Spring if things come together quickly.

2. FLORIDA: The Gators have a go-to post player (Blackshear), a stud lead guard (Nembhard) and Burger Boys (Lewis and Mann) who should make a major impact. It’s Florida’s other returning pieces that make them a more complete team. Sophomores Noah Locke and jack-of-all-trades glue guy Keyontae Johnson both return this season as the Gators have outstanding athleticism and defensive potential. Integrating the new guys into the mix and seeing how much of the offense flows through Blackshear in the post will be things to watch for early.

3. LSU: One of the true boom-or-bust teams of the 2019-20 season, it’s entirely conceivable that LSU repeats as SEC champions or completely bottoms out as Wade and company could continue to deal with NCAA issues. Regardless of off-court circumstances, the Tigers are really talented. Smart should adequately handle Waters’ responsibilities while replacing Reid will be handled by a committee of players. The late addition of Watford gives LSU a talented frontcourt piece who gives them a bit more offensive versatility than last season.

4. AUBURN: Following the Final Four run, the Tigers have to move on from some important players. While many programs would crumble after losing a first-round pick (Okeke) and starting backcourt (Harper and Brown) the Tigers still a lot of veterans back from the Final Four team. An all-senior backcourt of Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick should stabilize the perimeter and the frontcourt of Austin Wiley, Anfernee McLemore and Danjel Purifoy have been through a lot of SEC battles. Auburn will need to figure out who will do the scoring this season, but at the very least, five returning talented seniors and some notable newcomers should put the Tigers back into the top-25 conversation.

5. TENNESSEE: The Grant Williams/Admiral Schofield era is over as the Vols need to forge a new identity without its frontcourt stars. Thankfully for Tennessee, senior guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are both back while McDonald’s All-American guard Josiah-Jordan James should help right away. If Tennessee can get adequate production from its new frontcourt of Yves Pons and John Fulkerson then the guard play should be enough for the Vols to remain in the top half of the SEC.

6. MISSISSIPPI STATE: Featuring a roster still loaded with top-100 talents, Ben Howland’s group should make it back to the Big Dance this season. Replacing Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Aric Holman won’t be easy. Once Reggie Perry returned to school from the NBA Draft process, Mississippi State’s chances for a strong season increased rapidly. The sophomore forward should make a leap this season. Perry is flanked by big man Abdul Ado, talented scoring guard Nick Weatherspoon and senior guard Tyson Carter while promising sophomore Robert Woodard II could act as a glue guy with big defensive upside. The pieces are all there but the Bulldogs have to figure out its new scoring hierarchy while also adapting to having a young and unproven bench.

(David Becker/Getty Images)

7. ALABAMA: Inheriting plenty of SEC-caliber talents from Avery Johnson, new head coach Nate Oats gets to work with some known talents. The return of sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. was a huge development for the Crimson Tide as one of the nation’s youngest players a season ago gets another year to expand his game. Alabama has been waiting on former four-star prospects John Petty and Herb Jones to be more consistent and productive as Oats tries to figure out which buttons to push. Figuring out a so-so frontcourt rotation of Alex Reese and Galin Smith will be something to watch for. The Crimson Tide have talent but some returning vets have to be more consistent.

8. GEORGIA: Tom Crean’s team has talent but how it all fits could determine the Bulldogs’ fate. Freshman guard Anthony Edwards was a monster coup for Crean and his staff as the 6-foot-4 scoring guard could be one of the best newcomers in college hoops this season. Edwards will receive plenty of help from returning pieces like Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and Rayshaun Hammonds as all three have started. The unexpected loss of big man Nicholas Claxton to the NBA Draft puts a damper on Georgia’s ceiling. If Edwards lives up to the hype though then this could be a very dangerous team.

9. OLE MISS: After shocking the SEC and making the NCAA tournament in his first season last year, head coach Kermit Davis and the Rebels face unique expectations this season. The guard duo of Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler are both All-SEC caliber talents who lead the way. The sophomore class also has some intrigue with guard Blake Hinson and forward K.J. Buffen. And Davis should be commended for a very good recruiting class that features a solid mix of JUCO standouts (big man Khadim Sy and guard Bryce Williams) and freshmen (Austin Crowley and big man Sammy Hunter). Replacing Terence Davis — one of the nation’s most underrated players last season — could be the difference between this team going NCAA or NIT in 2020.

10. SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks managed a notable 11-7 record and fourth-place finish in the SEC last year as they remain a tough out again this season. Sophomore A.J. Lawson could be a breakout star this season and there’s a lot to like about the South Carolina offense the running through him. Veteran center Maik Kotsar is also back in the middle. Major question marks loom for much of the rest of the roster, however, as replacing Chris Silva and Hassani Gravett (two of the last Final Four pieces left on the roster) will be key. Sophomore Keyshawn Bryant and freshman guard T.J. Moss are two to watch as their development could be key.

11. ARKANSAS: With the entire roster returning besides for Daniel Gafford, the Razorbacks have some talent in place for new head coach Eric Musselman to work with. The guard group will be led by promising sophomore Isaiah Joe and double-figure scorer Mason Jones. Arkansas will have to learn how to play without an NBA-caliber big man in the middle so Joe and Jones could be important. Of course, with any Musselman outfit, transfers are prominently involved. The Razorbacks get help from SMU guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. (who started his college career with Arkansas) and UNC-Wilmington forward Jeantal Cylla.

12. MISSOURI: There are no more Porters for Cuonzo Martin to rely on (healthy or not) for this roster as the Tigers seek out a new identity. The inside-outside duo of guard Mark Smith and big man Jeremiah Tilmon is back for Missouri as they will be the experienced leaders. Some promising younger players like sophomore shooter Torrance Watson are also back while Evansville transfer Dru Smith should make an impact. But it’s hard to love a Tigers team that doesn’t have a lot of star power or a true go-to presence.

13. TEXAS A&M: New head coach Buzz Williams has a habit of getting more out of his guys than anticipated but it’s hard to say how a roster of players he didn’t recruit take to his style. Veterans like guards Wendell Mitchell, T.J. Starks and Jay Jay Chandler return while wing Savion Flagg cold take an overall leap after nearly turning pro. And Williams has already helped retain or recruit six new pieces that should immediately help.

14. VANDERBILT: Following a disaster of a winless conference season and loss of Darius Garland and Simi Shittu to the pros, former NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse takes over for Bryce Drew. The Commodores bring back two solid returning starters in guard Saben Lee and forward Aaron Nesmith. Besides for those two double-figure scorers Stackhouse’s program will be rebuilding.