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)
Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season.
It’s Holiday Tournament time!
Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.
So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.
1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
WHEN: Nov. 27-29
Michigan vs. Iowa State
No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon
FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.
I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.
FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.
TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?
FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.
4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.) TICKETS: Click here
Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU
FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.
TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?
PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCU–Tennessee.
5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
Miami vs. Missouri State
Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
UConn vs. Buffalo
FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?
TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?
PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.
6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) TICKETS: Click here
No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
Mississippi State vs. Tulane
Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
Utah vs. Coastal Carolina
FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.
TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.
7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL
WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1 TICKETS: Click here
No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
Texas A&M vs. Harvard
USC vs. Fairfield
Marquette vs. Davidson
FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.
TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.
Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?
PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.
8. LEGENDS CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Wisconsin vs. Richmond
No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico
FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.
TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.
PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Auburn–Wisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.
FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.
10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun) TICKETS: Click here
No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
Arizona State vs. St. John’s
FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.
TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.
PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.
11. WOODEN LEGACY
WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim) TICKETS: Click here
Providence vs. Long Beach State
Wake Forest vs. Charleston
UCF vs. Penn
Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona
FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for Arizona–Providence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.
12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC
WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City) TICKETS: Click here
Butler vs. Missouri
Oklahoma vs. Stanford
FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.
TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.
13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT
WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas) TICKETS: Click here
No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
Clemson vs. TCU
FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?
TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.
14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn) TICKETS: Click here
Ole Miss vs. Penn State
Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse
FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.
TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …
IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.
15. CANCUN CHALLENGE
WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27
Wichita State vs. South Carolina
Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia
FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.
TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.
16. PARADISE JAM
WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)
Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
Nevada vs. Fordham
Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green
FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.
TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season
PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.
IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?
Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue
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