College basketball is back TONIGHT ladies and gentleman and I could not be more excited for my favorite time of the year. Every team has lost stars to graduation and the NBA and replaced them with varieties of highly recruited freshmen, transfers, and grad-transfers. After one of the most exciting March Madness tournaments in recent memory with Loyola-Chicago advancing to the Final Four as an 11-seed and a 16-seed in University of Maryland-Baltimore County taking down 1-seed Virginia, we are primed for another season of joy, heartbreak, and a healthy dosage of upsets. Here is this year’s AP Preseason Top 25 heading into Opening Night:
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self and his coaching staff lost a lot of talent in last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, Devonte Graham, Malik Newman, and Svi Mykhailiuk, who were all essential pieces to their Final Four run a season ago. Instead, they bring in two 5-star recruits in guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, a 4-star big man in David McCormack, and KJ and Dedrick Lawson who both sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Also returning for the Jayhawks are big men Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, and Silvio de Sousa and guards LaGerald Vick and Marcus Garrett. This is a very deep Kansas team and has the potential to repeat their successes of last season.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Recruiting legend John Calipari has done it again. This season he has brought in four top-30 recruits including three 5-stars, in forwards Keldon Johnson (#7 overall), EJ Montgomery (#14 overall), point guard Immanuel Quickly (#25 overall), and Tyler Herro (#30). After losing Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, and Wenyen Gabriel to the NBA, the Wildcats still bring back point guard Quade Green, forward PJ Washington, and center Nick Richards to dominate the SEC and aim to make an extended run in the NCAA tournament.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Mark Few’s biggest loss after last season was forward Johnathan Williams who is now with the Los Angeles Lakers. They only brought in one Top 100 recruit in 4-star center Filip Petrusev. The team’s saving grace will be perhaps the best big man duo in all of college basketball in Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura and an experienced point guard in Josh Perkins. As the obvious West Coast Conference champion, look for the Bulldogs to once again receive a top-3 seed heading into March Madness.
4. Duke Blue Devils
I wrote about Coach K and his Blue Devils over the summer on their Canadian exhibition tour in which they dominated every team. Duke has the top three recruits from the Class of 2018 in RJ Barret, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson, who are all expected to be lottery picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. The only reason Duke is not ranked number one in the polls this season is they lost the majority of the team’s production from last season in Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr, and Trevon Duval. They only have three rotation players from last season on the current roster: Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, and Antonio Vrankovic. We could see some early season growing pains as they take on Kentucky tonight, but will be a top team in the ACC and look to make a deep run in the Tournament before having to restock for next season.
5. Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia lost two key players in Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall to graduation after losing to a 16-seed last season and didn’t sign a single Top 100 recruit. They still have a good core in Deandre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Braxton Key, Jack Salt, and Mamadi Diakite, but is it enough for a top-five rank? I would not have them this high but to each their own.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee brings back every key contributor from a 3 seed a year ago. All of Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner, Grant Williams, Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, and Yves Pons are back. They will be Kentucky’s primary competition this season in the SEC and could be a title favorite due to their plethora of experienced rotation members.
7. Nevada Wolfpack
Nevada was a very good, underrated team last season out of the Mountain West Conference. This is a team that I honestly do not know much about outside of their dynamic duo of twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin at the wing positions, but they should have an easy run at the MWC championship.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
Roy Williams and the Tar Heels lost Joel Berry and Theo Pinson after last season, but they still have top players in Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, and Seventh Woods. They also signed two 5-star recruits in scoring wing Nassir Little (#6 overall) and point guard Coby White (#23 overall). This is still a very good UNC team that will compete at the top of the ACC.
9. Villanova Wildcats
Villanova lost a lot of talent to the NBA in Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo after winning the NCAA title over Michigan a season ago. They did bring in three Top 100 recruits in 5-star guard Jahvon Quinerly and a pair of 4-stars in Cole Swider and Brandon Slater. They also bring back Phil Booth and Eric Paschall from last year’s starting lineup. Two Philadelphia Catholic League stars in Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will look to take another step as sophomores to lead Nova to another Big East title.
10. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo lost two stars to the NBA in Jaren Jackson Jr and Miles Bridges but still brings back a quality core of upperclassmen in Nick Ward, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, and Matt McQuaid. Izzo also brought in a trio of 4-star recruits in Marcus Bingham, Foster Loyer, and Gabe Brown. Their biggest competitors in the Big 10 will be Michigan, Purdue, and the Romeo Langford-led Indiana Hoosiers, who are unranked.
11. Auburn Tigers
Auburn is bringing back a lot of contributors from last season in Horace Spencer, Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, and Austin Wiley. They need all of these players to step up after Mustapha Heron’s graduation if they want to have any chance against Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC.
12. Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State will be a top three team in the Big 12 all year with Dean Wade leading the way. He should be a Wooden Award candidate by the end of the season. Outside of Wade, I do not know much about this team except that they were an Elite Eight team a year ago and Bruce Weber is a very solid coach.
13. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers lost two outstanding players in Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles after last season. Luckily for them they still have a top rim protector in Sagaba Konate, as well as Wesley Harris, James Bolden, and 4-star freshman and former internet sensation Jordan McCabe. With Bob Huggins and his Press Virginia style of defense, the Mountaineers almost assuredly will once again be a top team in the Big 12.
14. Oregon Ducks
Oregon has one of the best 2018 recruiting classes with a pair of 5-star recruits in Bol Bol and Louis King and three 4-star recruits in Will Richardson, Francis Okoro, and Miles Norris. Dana Altman also brings back starting point guard Payton Pritchard to lead the team. Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, will be a huge pickup for his 7’3 body, outside shooting stroke, and ball-handling for his size, while Louis King is a do-it-all scorer. Look for the Ducks to win the Pac-12 and go dancing once again with a high seed.
15. Virginia Tech Hokies
VA Tech brings back an outstanding duo in Justin Robinson and Nickeil Walker-Alexander to lead the team through a difficult ACC. They only brought in a single Top 100 recruit in wing Landers Nolley but should be near the top of the ACC come March.
16. Syracuse Orange
Jim Boeheim is bringing back a great core in Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Frank Howard to compete in the ACC. They also bring in a 4-star recuit in guard Jalen Carey to provide quality minutes. Syracuse should once again make the NCAA tournament but I do not see them making too much noise in the ACC tournament.
17. Florida State Seminoles
Terance Mann is a dynamite scorer and Christ Koumadje is a monster of a man at 7’4, 280 pounds, but I am not sure this will be enough for a Seminoles team looking to stay relevant in the loaded ACC.
18. Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs bring back both Nick and Quindarry Weatherspoon as well as Lamar Peters to build a name for themselves in the SEC. Add in 4-star Reggie Perry and big man Abdul Ado and I think the Bulldogs should be a higher ranked team.
19. Michigan Wolverines
The departures of Mo Wagner (NBA), Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (graduation) hurts John Beilein’s Wolverines a lot, but they still have studs in Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews to shoulder the load in a week Big 10 Conference. Add in two 4-star recruits in Brandon Johns and David DeJulius and Michigan could battle with Michigan State for the top team in the conference.
20. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU lost two key players in Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky after last season and will hurt the chances of TCU being a top team in the Big 12 behind Kansas, Kansas State, and West Virginia. The good news is point guard Jaylen Fisher is returning from injury and will be poised to get this team back to the NCAA Tournament.
21. UCLA Bruins
Son of NBA great Shaq, Shareef O’Neal will not play this season after undergoing preseason heart surgery, and the 4-star recruit will be dearly missed. Thankfully, the Bruins have Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, and 5-star recruit Moses Brown to shoulder the load in his absence. Jaylen Hands will be an All-Pac 12 player after learning from now-Indiana Pacer, Aaron Holiday, during his freshman season last year.
22. Clemson Tigers
Clemson lost two great players in Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham and will certainly hurt their chances in a tough ACC. In their stead, the Tigers will rely on Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell to lead the squad back to the NCAA Tournament. I do not expect this team to last in the Top 25 but will most likely still receive a March Madness bid
23. LSU Tigers
The tragic death of junior forward Wayde Sims will definitely serve as inspiration for an LSU team that has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2015. The Tigers restocked over last recruiting season with two 5-star recruits in Naz Reid (#12) and Emmit Williams (#21) as well as 4-star recruit Javonte Smart (#31). Reid is an explosive athlete with an impressive faceup game for his size. Paired with one of last year’s top freshman Tremont Waters, this could be a very exciting LSU team.
24. Purdue Boilermakers
Carsen Edwards is one of the best point guards in college basketball right now and with fellow star Evan Boudreaux, superb shot blocker, Matt Haarms, and three point sniper, Ryan Cline, Purdue could make some noise in the Big 10, even without last year’s stars Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas.
25. Washington Huskies
Washington will be led by last season’s leading scorer Jaylen Nowell, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle, and senior Noah Dickerson in hopes to take down Oregon and UCLA. The team should be in the upper half of the Pac-12 and will look to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 with Isaiah Thomas, Terrance Ross, and CJ Wilcox.
College basketball kicks off tonight with a multitude of games including the State Farm Champions Classic featuring 10 Michigan State vs 1 Kansas and 2 Kentucky vs 4 Duke starting at 7:00 PM ET.
Pictures Courtesy of:
University of South Carolina ’21