The 2018-2019 season officially came an end on Monday night, and Virginia is your national champion after a wild, overtime win over Texas Tech. But while Cavaliers fans celebrate, the rest of the college basketball world has already turned their attention to next season.
So let’s do the same, with my “Way Too Early Top 25” for the 2019-2020 season.
Now before we get into the names, faces and teams to watch in 2019-2020, it’s important to give the same disclaimer we always do this time of year: Even though the 2019 season has ended, it’s still VERY early to truly figure out what teams will look like in 2019-2020. Players all over the country are testing the NBA Draft waters and we won’t know until late-May who is coming back to college. Not to mention that a number of big recruits (Cole Anthony and Matthew Hurt among others) are still figuring out their college destinations, a few head coaching jobs have yet to be filled, and transfers will alter the trajectory of other teams as well. Add in the fact that this ongoing FBI trial could continue to shake things up even further, and again, it’s REALLY early to try and figure out who will truly be elite or not in 2019-2020.
With that said, below is our best guess at what next season will look like. To be clear, some of the “who will stay” and “who will go” projections are simple guesses at this point. Some like Zion Williamson are obvious, but most aren’t, and so each player and team is a little different. In the case of a player like Tennessee’s Jordan Bone who has said “I plan on staying in the draft,” that is taken into account, but if a player is truly on the fence, I’m simply doing my best to guess what every player will do. I’m bound to get some of these wrong. It’s inevitable.
Still, here is the early “Way Too Early Top 25” for 2019-2020, and I’ll be sure to have an updated one in late April, after everyone has removed their names from the NBA Draft.
(*** This article published before the announcements that Mick Cronin would leave Cincinnati for UCLA, and before Michigan announced Iggy Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole will test the draft waters. We’ll continue to update as players make their “stay or go” decisions)
1) Michigan State Spartans
Key Returnees: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Kyle Ahrens, Xavier Tillman
Key Departures: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins
Key Additions: Malik Hall, Rocket Watts
While the season ended in disappointing fashion for Michigan State with a Final Four loss to Texas Tech, you could argue that it’s a minor miracle the Spartans were in this position in the first place. The Spartans not only lost two lottery picks off last year’s team coming into the season (Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson) but also lost two of their three best players (Joshua Langford and Nick Ward) to significant injury time once the games kicked off.
If anything, Michigan State was probably a year ahead of schedule in 2019, which set us up for what could be a monstrous 2020 season. The Spartans will lose key role players Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, but all the rest of their stars are underclassmen, and none are projected to be big-time NBA Draft picks. Therefore, it’s likely that they could returns stars like Cassius Winston, Ward and Langford, as well as the guys who stepped up in their absence this season like Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry. A big-time recruiting class is headed to campus with Rocket Watts and Malik Hall.
If anything an argument could be made that the Spartans may actually have too many good players next year, but it is a problem Tom Izzo will gladly take. Michigan State will be favored to win the title to start the 2019-2020 season.
2) Virginia Cavaliers
Key Returnees: Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark, Braxton Key
Key Departures: DeAndre Hunter*, Jack Salt
Key Additions: Kadin Shedrick, Casey Morsell
Yes, the Cavaliers are your 2019 national champion, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where they drop too far to start the 2019-2020 season. Tournament superstar DeAndre Hunter will almost certainly be gone, but just about everyone else should be back. That includes Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy who, barring somewhat surprising NBA decisions (Jerome is the more likely of the two to seriously considering testing and staying in the draft) will both be seniors after averaging a combined 28 points per game this year.
Add in Elite Eight heroes Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite, and four of the team’s five starters could be back, with Jay Huff and Braxton Key coming off the bench.
Whether you love Virginia or you hate them, they will once again be among the elite in college basketball next season.
3) Michigan Wolverines
Key Returnees: Jordan Poole, Zavier Simpson, Iggy Brazdeikis, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Key Departures: Charles Matthews
Key Additions: Jalen Wilson
Things ended in about as badly as they could for Michigan in the Sweet 16, although in the Wolverines defense, Texas Tech ended up making pretty much everyone look bad by the end of the tournament. It also shouldn’t change the fact that just about everyone is expected back for a team that still managed to win 30 games this season and was ranked No. 1 in the country for part of the year.
Outside of Charles Matthews (who has already announced he will hire an agent and stay in the draft) just about everyone else should return, ranging from point guard Zavier Simpson to big man Iggy Brazdeikis, who led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game.
The X-factor here though is Jordan Poole, a player with an NBA frame and skill-set who still hasn’t put it all together yet. Poole has a real draft decision to make, and if he does declare could be selected reasonably high based solely on potential. If he stays in, Michigan is a good but not great team heading into 2019-2020. If he returns, the Wolverines are a true title contender.
4) Maryland Terrapins
Key Returnees: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith, Ricky Lindo
Key Departures: Bruno Fernando
Key Additions: Makhi Mitchell, Makhei Mitchell
A lot of you probably think I’m crazy for ranking the Terrapins this high, but the bottom-line is that this is a club that finished in the Top 5 in the loaded Big Ten, were a Tremont Waters buzzer-beater from the Sweet 16 and return just about everyone of consequence not named “Bruno Fernando.”
Fernando is likely gone, but the big news came on Tuesday when freshman Jalen Smith elected to return to school after averaging 11 and seven as a freshman. Considering he’s a former five-star prospect, it isn’t unrealistic to assume that he might take a “Bruno Fernando-type leap” in Year 2. They also return the best point guard in college basketball that no one talks about in Anthony Cowan, and three wings who all improved drastically over the course of last season (Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Daryl Morsell).
Mark Turgeon has had heat on him basically since the day he arrived in College Park. But barring some sort of shocking NBA Draft decision between now and the end of May, this will be his best team at Maryland… by far.
5) Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley, Jemarl Baker
Key Departures: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro
Key Additions: Tyrese Maxey, Kalil Whitney, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
It must be a nice, pleasant change for John Calipari to know that he’s welcoming back veteran experience, with five or possibly six guys (barring a surprising transfer or early entry into the NBA Draft) with playing time expected to return.
The question now: After seeing P.J. Washington go from “good college player” to “All-American” in his sophomore year, can any of the returning players make a similar leap? The hope would obviously be that E.J. Montgomery develops into a go-to guy in the post, and the hope would also be that Ashton Hagans becomes more consistent at point guard (assuming he doesn’t mistakenly leave for the draft, something he hinted that he might consider after the Auburn game). Immanuel Quickley came on strong late, Nate Sestina is a nice versatile piece as a grad transfer, and the freshman class is again loaded, with Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney most likely to make an immediate impact.
I’d also add this: I’ve said on every podcast and Periscope that I’ve been on, that I’m simply not convinced that Tyler Herro is as certain to leave for the NBA as everyone is making him out to be. For all the talk of “I’m a bucket” he came up short in some of Kentucky’s biggest games, and could probably afford to add a little more strength to his frame before going pro for good. If he’s a surefire first rounder than yes, Herro should probably go pro. I’m just not sold he is in fact a surefire first rounder.
Only time will tell if Herro does return, but if he does, there’s a legitimate case for Kentucky starting the year at No. 1 or 2 in the country. If not, they’ll have to settle for “Top 5” and “absolutely capable of winning a national title” instead.
6) Duke Blue Devils
Key Returnees: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Joey Baker, Jack White
Key Departures: Zion Williamson*, R.J. Barrett*, Cam Reddish*
Key Additions: Vernon Carey, Boogie Ellis, Wendell Moore
To me, Tre Jones’ return to Duke (he officially announced it on Monday) is a total game-changer for the Blue Devils. No, he’s not a superstar, and yes his shot is a mess. But Jones is smart, steady and has already proven to be a really good college point guard. Add him in with Duke’s other veteran players and the Blue Devils – like Kentucky – will actually have a mix of talent and experience across their roster.
And the reality is, they need it, and need guys like Jones, Alex O’Connell and Javin DeLaurier to step up. That’s because for as great as Duke’s last freshman class was, next year’s freshman class is umm, lacking the same sizzle. Not only is there no one close to Zion Williamson, I’m not even sure there’s a Cam Reddish. Vernon Carey is a solid, but not game-changing low-post player and Boogie Ellis and Wendell Moore are shot makers, but not truly elite like the guys that proceeded them. Even if Duke adds five-star forward Matthew Hurt, I just don’t know how much that changes things.
Still, Jones return does help, filling a position of need, and adding a veteran’s leadership and experience that is also needed.
7) Oregon Ducks
Key Returnees: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Victor Bailey, Kenny Wooten, Will Richardson, Miles Norris
Key Departures: Paul White, Ehab Amin, Bol Bol*
Key Additions: C.J. Walker, Isaac Johnson, Chandler Lawson
It took a while for the Ducks to adjust to life without Bol Bol last season, but once they did, they got on a roll – and could, in theory, return virtually all their key pieces off a team that won the Pac-12 Tournament title and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Virginia.
Payton Pritchard is back at point guard (for what feels like, his 11th season) and Louis King emerged as a star late while averaging 13 points per game. Kenny Wooten blew up in the NCAA Tournament, and Victor Bailey is another grizzled vet. The Ducks again have a loaded freshman class coming in, highlighted by high-riser C.J. Walker.
8) Auburn Tigers
Key Returnees: Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, J’Von McCormick
Key Departures: Bryce Brown, Horace Spencer, Malik Dunbar
Key Additions: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams
In looking at the pieces returning for Auburn, I can’t totally tell if I have them too high or too low. But considering that this team beat some of the best programs in college basketball on their run to the Final Four (and should have beaten Virginia) and considering how much talent could come back, a preseason ranking in the Top 10 feels justified.
Again, it’s hard to know who will declare for the draft and who won’t, but Jared Harper should be back for his senior season after becoming one of the breakout stars of the NCAA Tournament, and role players Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy could all return as well. In theory, one of those guys could declare for the draft (maybe Wiley?) but none of them are expected to be drafted particularly high. So again, they could all be back. J’Von McCormick came up big for the Tigers late in the season and another solid recruiting class is expected to arrive, highlighted by Top 50 prospect Isaac Okoro.
Still, the wildcard here is Chuma Okeke. Outside of Harper he was probably Auburn’s most versatile piece, a big guy who could step out and hit three’s, who ended up averaging 13 points and six boards per game. Auburn’s entire season will rest largely on when Okeke comes back from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA Tournament, and what percentage he plays at.
9) Kansas Jayhawks
Key Returnees: Devon Dodson, Quentin Grimes, Udoka Azibuke, Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, David McCormack, Mitch Lightfoot
Key Departures: LaGerald Vick, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Dedric Lawson
Key Additions: N/A
The Jayhawks were the Fyre Festival of college basketball last season – the team that looked great on paper for a few months, but completely fell apart once the season started. And looking ahead to 2019-2020, it’s hard to know how to truly feel about them.
On the one hand they will lose Dedric Lawson, by far their best player last season, who declared for the draft on Monday and sounds like he plans on staying in. On the flip side, just about everyone else should be back, including emerging sophomore point guard Devon Dodson, the do-it-all Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbai and Quentin Grimes. Udoka Azibuke could be back in the front court (if he can stay healthy) and David McCormack made great strides late in the season for the Jayhawks. Don’t be surprised to see them add a grad transfer or two this summer if the right one comes along.
This team will certainly have holes next season, most notably that they won’t be deep and won’t shoot the three-ball well. But Bill Self is one of the best talent developers out there. If everyone who should return does, and they develop as expected, the Jayhawks should once again make another run at a Big 12 title.
10) Marquette Golden Eagles
Key Returnees: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey
Key Departures: Markus Howard*, Joseph Chartouny
Key Additions: Koby McEwen
Here’s the deal with Marquette: If they can convince Markus Howard to return for his senior season, there is a legitimate argument to put them at No. 2 or 3 in the country to open the year. With Howard back, Marquette would return their top SEVEN scorers off a team that was ranked in the Top 20 for virtually the entire season, a group of players who combined to average 72 points per game last season.
Again, if Markus Howard comes back, be ready for Marquette to start the season in the Top 3.
At the same time, I have been doing this long enough to know that you just don’t see guys who average 26 points in a power conference return to college basketball. Even though Howard is projected as a fringe first round pick, how much better can he really get with another year of college?
Therefore, I expect Howard to be gone, but I still have to keep the Golden Eagles relatively high with everyone else coming back to this team. Even without Howard, Marquette will have plenty of offense with the Hauser brothers and bulk down low with Theo John and Brendan Bailey. While there is no replacing Howard, transfer Koby McEwen (a former All-Mountain West guard) should help replace some of their production.
And if Howard does come back? We’ll adjust Marquette accordingly when our new Top 25 comes out in late May.
11) Louisville Cardinals
Key Returnees: Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch, Malik Williams, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry, V.J. King
Key Departures: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau, Jordan Nwora*
Key Additions: Samuell Williamson, Aiden Igiehon, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry
Full-disclosure: This is probably as high as you’ll see Louisville in any preseason ranking. And I get it, I’m taking a leap of faith, especially since if Jordan Nwora doesn’t come back (which I’m not projecting him to) than Louisville doesn’t have a “star” to build around. I get it. I really do.
Still, I like Louisville more than most for a few reasons.
One, this team overachieved in every way imaginable in Year 1 of the Chris Mack era. So while there is no obvious star, I do expect most of the key players to improve over the off-season because, well, that’s exactly what happened last year. Dwayne Sutton averaged 10 a game this year and could take a step up, and Steve Enoch is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential (assuming he returns to school). I’m also higher on freshmen Samuell Williamson and Aiden Igiehon more than most. Both, I believe, can be contributors right away next year.
Add it up and it makes Louisville one of the more intriguing teams to me coming into the season. I’m not quite sure how all the pieces fit together, but I do in fact like the pieces. And if Jordan Nwora comes back, look out. The Cards could start the season in the Top 5.
12) Seton Hall Pirates
Key Returnees: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Taruean Thompson
Key Departures: Michael Nzei
Key Additions: Tyrese Samuel
Like Marquette, Seton Hall has a star in the draft. Unlike Marquette, I’m not sold that Myles Powell will stay in the draft even after declaring a few days ago. Despite averaging 23 points per game last season he isn’t currently named on any major NBA Draft projection board.
And if Powell does come back, well, not only do the Pirates have their star back, but will return eight of their top nine players overall. That includes fellow backcourt guys Myles Cale and Quincy McKnight, as well as Sandro Mamukelashvili (say that 10 times fast), one of the most improved big men in the Big East this season.
Assuming that Powell returns to college, Seton Hall, yes Seton Hall, is a threat to get to the Final Four.
13) Texas Tech Red Raiders
Key Returnees: Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, DeShawn Coprew, Khavon Moore,
Key Departures: Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Norense Odiase, Brandone Francis, Jarrett Culver*
Key Additions: Kevin McCullar, Jahmius Ramsey, Terrence Shannon, Andrei Savrasov
This year’s national runners-up will lose four of their top five scorers – which sounds like a problem until you realize that they lost five of their top six scorers coming into this season. Therefore, this ranking is really a bet on Chris Beard. And if Beard could get to a Final Four and win the Big 12 after losing arguably more talent last off-season than he will this off-season, what reason do we have to drop the Red Raiders out of the Top 15?
Instead, we’ll leave them right there. Davide Moretti seems ready to handle more of the load at point guard, while role players Kyler Edwards and DeShawn Coprew should take a step up as well. Former Top 100 prospect Khavon Moore should be back from injury, and the Red Raiders will also welcome in the best recruiting class in school history, which includes Top 30 prospect Jahmius Ramsey. Oh, and you know Texas Tech will add a grad transfer or two before things are all said and done like they did this year with Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney.
In the end, this roster might not look like much on paper – but this year’s team didn’t look like much on paper either and they just played for a national title. In Chris Beard we trust.
14) Iowa Hawkeyes
Key Returnees: Tyler Cook, Luka Garza, Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp, Isaiah Moss, Connor McCaffrey
Key Departures: Nicholas Baer
Key Additions: Patrick McCaffrey
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Are they the team that started 20-5? Or the one that lost six of eight heading into the NCAA Tournament? The one that looked lost at times? Or took Tennessee to overtime and nearly advanced to the Sweet 16?
Only time will tell, but the bottom line is that this group returns its top five scorers, including Tyler Cook and the monstrous Luka Garza down low, with big-shot maker Jordan Bohannon returning in the backcourt. They also add big-time recruit Patrick McCaffrey (the coach’s son) to the core of this team.
Michigan State, Michigan and Maryland will get the buzz in the Big Ten. But don’t sleep on the Hawkeyes. They should be really good.
15) Arizona Wildcats
Key Returnees: Brandon Williams, Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello
Key Departures: Ryan Luther, Justin Coleman
Key Additions: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Zeke Njadi, Terry Armstrong
There are so many teams on this list who are tough to project because we simply don’t know what their roster will look like next season. Yet while Arizona’s roster is primarily set, what’s uncertain about them is their coach. Sean Miller is set to appear on the FBI witness stand on April 22nd, and it’s impossible to know whether or not he’ll say something that will cause him to be fired as the Arizona head coach on April 23rd.
Still, we live in an “innocent until proven guilty” society so for the time being, we’ll assume that Miller will be back next season – and if he is, the Wildcats will have a roster that might end up as the best in the Pac-12. Guards Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams will both be back after averaging double-figures this year, and McDonald’s All-Americans Nico Mannion and Josh Green will join them to bolster the back-court. The front court won’t be big, but will be athletic with Chase Jeter back for another season and Top 30 recruit Zeke Njadi to add depth.
Still, in the end this all depends on Miller’s future at Arizona. If he survives the summer, this might be a Top 15 team. If not, this roster could completely fall apart… and quickly.
16) Houston Cougars
Key Returnees: Armoni Brooks, Dejon Jerreau, Nate Hinton, Fabian White, Cedrick Alley Jr. Brison Gresham
Key Departures: Corey Davis, Galen Robinson Jr., Breaon Brady
Key Additions: N/A
In the last two years Kelvin Sampson has done things at Houston that literally haven’t been done in 30 years. And now that he’s locked up for the long-term, there’s no reason to think he can’t take this program to the next level.
Leading scorer Corey Davis will graduate and so too will point guard Galen Robinson, but to Sampson’s credit he’s built a program that’s set for the long-haul. Guard Armoni Brooks will be back after averaging 13 points per game, and former Top 100 recruit Nate Hinton should be able to take over the reins at point guard for Robinson. Also, look for DeJon Jerreau (a former Top 100 recruit in his own right) to make the leap himself after averaging nine points per game last season. Big guys Cedrick Alley Jr. and Fabian White should man things down low.
Again, this program is built for the long-haul. And along with Cincinnati, should be favorites in the AAC.
17) Xavier Musketeers
Key Returnees: Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin
Key Departures: Kyle Castlin, Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins
Key Additions: KyKy Tandy, Dahmir Bishop
This is my biggest leap of faith on this list so far, but I have a feeling the Musketeers will be REALLY good next season. Yes, Xavier missed the NCAA Tournament, but they also closed the season strong with six wins in their final seven regular season games and return their top four scorers off last year’s club.
That top four (Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin) will all be juniors or seniors, and all were relatively highly ranked recruits, so Xavier will have a combination of experience and talent. They will also probably add a grad transfer or two (they added three last off-season) and freshman KyKy Tandy should play a major role off the bench.
Look for the Musketeers to be one of the most improved teams in college hoops next season.
18) Cincinnati Bearcats
Key Returnees: Jarron Cumberland, Keith Williams, Tre Scott, Nysier Brooks
Key Departures: Cane Broome, Justin Jenifer
Key Additions: Samari Curtis
It isn’t often that I’ll defend Mick Cronin, but I’ll say this: The Bearcats won 28 games this past season, in what was supposed to be a “rebuilding year” for them. No matter what you think of the man, he can coach up a team in the regular season. Even if it almost always ends up in NCAA Tournament disaster.
Looking ahead to next year, Cincinnati returns its top three scorers and four of its top five overall. The star is obviously Jarron Cumberland who averaged a team-high 18.8 points per game in 2019, with Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks providing an inside presence.
Again, the 2020 season will probably end with the Bearcats losing early in the NCAA Tournament. But that doesn’t change the fact that they will be really good throughout the season itself.
19) Florida Gators
Key Returnees: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Keyontae Johnson
Key Departures: KeyVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes, Jalen Hudson, Keith Stone (transfer)
Key Additions: Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne
Mike White has put together back-to-back monster recruiting classes, and now it’s time for him to bring all that talent together and get the Gators to reach their potential. And if they do reach that potential, expect them to spend most of next season in the Top 15.
The Gators might have the most underrated backcourt in America with Andrew Nembhard emerging as a star this season and Noah Locke a consistent three-point threat on the wing. Florida will also have a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, arriving to add depth in the backcourt too. Florida won’t have a ton of size down low, but fellow freshman Omar Payne should help ease that burden.
Florida will be young and guard-heavy. But they are probably the most talented team in the SEC not named “Kentucky” or “Auburn.”
20) Villanova Wildcats
Key Returnees: Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Collin Gillespie, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Brandon Slater
Key Departures: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Joe Cremo, Jahvon Quinerly
Key Additions: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore
I know, I know. I have Villanova as the fourth “best” team in the Big East heading into next season, and even I can’t see them finishing in fourth place… and this is MY list. Still, I look at their roster and see a lot of good pieces, but question marks as well.
The Wildcats lost their two best players off last year’s team, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall (a combined 34 points per game) to graduation, meaning that the best returnee is Collin Gillespie, who Jay Wright couldn’t even play in certain situations last year. Jermaine Samuels is the most likely guy to make the “leap” after scoring double-figures in six of the Wildcats’ final eight games last season but that’s not assured. And even though the school signed two McDonald’s All-Americans (Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl) Villanova is a notoriously tough place for freshmen to finding big minutes and starting roles. Heck, they signed a McDonald’s All-American last year too (Jahvon Quinerly). And he transferred.
I’ll keep this team in the Top 20 because I trust Jay Wright that much. But they do have quite a few question marks.
21) NC State Wolf Pack
Key Returnees: Markell Johnson, C.J. Bryce, Braxton Beverly, Devon Daniels, DJ Funderburk, Jericole Hellems
Key Departures: Torrin Dorn, Wyatt Walker
Key Additions: Jalen Lecque
So I’ll be the first to admit that at various points last season, I got a little crazy overhyping NC State. Listen, we all have a weak spot. And mine is apparently Kevin Keatts.
Still, after barely missing the NCAA Tournament, just about the entire NC State roster returns. Torrin Dorn will be gone, but overall, the Wolfpack should return six of their top seven scorers overall, including Markell Johnson, who averaged just under 13 points per game last season. C.J. Bryce, Braxton Beverly and Devon Daniels can all get buckets, and if the Wolfpack are able to convince freshman Jalen Lecque to come to campus, he adds an entirely different dynamic in the backcourt. As a fifth-year high school player, Lecque is currently testing the NBA Draft process.
Add in returning talent to a group that has a major chip on their shoulder after being left out of the NCAA Tournament, and I expect the Wolfpack to be one of the most improved teams in college hoops next year.
22) Utah State Aggies
Key Returnees: Sam Merrill, Neemis Queta, Diogo Brita, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
Key Departures: Quinn Taylor, Dwayne Brown Jr.
Key Additions: N/A
This is one you might not see in other places, but the Utah State Aggies are truly deserving of a preseason, Top 25 ranking. The 2019 Mountain West regular season and conference tournament champions return virtually all of their key guys including league Player of the Year Sam Merrill (who averaged 21 points per game last season) as well as Neemis Queta, who averaged 12 and nine as a freshman last year. Point guard Abel Porter is back to run the show at point guard.
Craig Smith did one of the most impressive coaching jobs in college basketball last year. And he has a team capable of making even bigger noise in 2019-2020.
23) Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Returnees: Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusov
Key Departures: Josh Perkins, Geno Crandall, Brandon Clarke*, Rui Hachimura*, Killian Tillie*
Key Additions: Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Pavel Zakharov, Oumar Ballo
Like so many other powers from this season, it’s hard to peg exactly where Gonzaga should be ranked heading into the 2019-2020 season, because it’s hard to know who will be back. Right now it feels like Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke will both definitely declare for the draft and stay in (they’re projected to be lottery picks), and you’d think that Zach Norvell and Killian Tillie will seriously consider it.
Let’s assume that Tillie goes (it’s hard to return to college and risk further injury) and that Norvell returns, which would leave the Zags with two proven threats on the perimeter in Norvell and Corey Kispert, and an emerging big man down low in Filip Petrusov. They also add the best recruiting class in school history with Top 50 prospects Drew Timme and Anton Watson, and highly-regard African big man Oumar Ballo.
If the Zags get Tillie back in addition to Norvell than I’d be plenty comfortable moving them into the Top 15. But as things stand, they will still enter the year in the Top 25 and be favorites in West Coast Conference.
24) Georgetown Hoyas
Key Returnees: James Akinjo, Mac McClung, Josh LeBlanc, Jamorko Pickett
Key Departures: Jesse Govan, Trey Mourning, Kaleb Johnson
Key Additions: Omer Yurtseven, Qudus Wahab
Maybe I’m just out of my mind on this one, but I really like what Patrick Ewing has coming back in Year 3 at Georgetown. Remember, this is a team that was on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament conversation for most of February and early March and return most of their key pieces.
Yes, leading scorer Jesse Govan (17 points per game) is gone, but James Akinjo, Mac McClung and Josh LeBlanc all played major roles as freshmen, and should make a sizeable leap as sophomores. Akinjo was one of the most pleasant surprises in college hoops after averaging 13 and five assists this past season and could make a big leap. NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven and four-star recruit Qudus Wahab add size down low.
Call me crazy, but I’m buying high on the Hoyas.
25) North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Returnees: Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman
Key Departures: Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Coby White*, Nassir Little*
Key Additions: Armando Bacot
Full disclosure: I only snuck North Carolina in at No. 25, because I have faith that Roy Williams will get this team playing at a high level. But to be honest, there really isn’t all that much to like with this roster. Overall, the top five scorers will all likely be gone, with Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson graduating, and Coby White and Nassir Little entering the draft. It also means that this team has a bunch of big guys (Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks etc.) but not much talent or experience in the back-court.
Just about the only saving grace for Carolina is that they appear destined to sign Cole Anthony, the top point guard in the 2019 high school class and the son of UNLV legend Greg Anthony.
Once they sign Anthony I may move Carolina up a spot or two. But if he somehow goes somewhere else, it seems realistic that the Tar Heels could start next season outside the Top 25.
Just Missed: Tennessee Volunteers, LSU Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, Saint Mary’s Gaels, Memphis Tigers, Nevada Wolf Pack