By Sean Bock
I realize we just wrapped up this year’s college basketball season, but why not start looking ahead a few months down the road to next year?
I’m going to give you guys my preseason top 25 based on what next year’s rosters look like if the season started today. So, take into account there will be some transfers, players keeping their names in the NBA Draft, and a handful of highly-regarded recruits who are still in the decision making process.
I know I’m going to be flat out wrong by the time the AP preseason poll comes out next October, but let’s just go ahead and run with it.
This is a no-brainer. The incoming recruiting class is the first in history to have the top three recruits (R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish) since the class rankings were established in college basketball a few years back. Marvin Bagley Jr. is a tough loss from a talent and productivity standpoint along with Grayson Allen, the most experienced player from this year’s bunch, but there’s plenty of talent coming back to put Duke into the national title conversation right away. While Barrett, Williamson, and Reddish headline this group, arguably the most critical player for the Blue Devils next year will be freshman point guard Tre Jones, the No. 9 player in the class and younger brother of former Duke PG Tyus Jones. Trevon Duval handled the point guard position well for a freshman, but Jones takes the mantra of “true point guard” to a whole other level as he does just about everything well on the floor. If this team can stay healthy, there’s no doubt and my mind they can make a run at the title.
If Bill Self can make a Final Four run with this year’s team, it’s national championship or bust next year. The losses of Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are significant, but the Jayhawks had three transfers on the bench this year who were the top players for their previous respective high-major rosters. Brothers Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson (Memphis) and guard Charlie Moore (Cal) practiced all year against a club who won its 14th straight Big 12 Championship and made it all the way to San Antonio. All three averaged 12 points or more in their seasons before making their way to Lawrence. Udoka Azubuike, who has NBA potential written all over him, will be a force after another offseason of workouts and will continue to be a problem down low if he can stay healthy. Also, the Jayhawks bring in a top-five recruiting class with three McDonald’s All-Americans: five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and four-star big man David McCormack. Another possible prospect to add to the fold is five-star recruit Romeo Langford, who is deciding between Indiana, Vanderbilt, and Kansas.
John Calipari had his youngest team ever this year, and his team will be pretty young in 2018-’19, but a lot of talent will be coming back. Plus, a pretty solid recruiting class is also making its way to Lexington. If I had to guess, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be on their way to making a good amount of money in the NBA after one season in school. That said, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Nick Richards, and Sacha Killeya-Jones will come back for another crack at the title, and the Wildcats will possess one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the nation. Quade Green will be handed the point guard duties unless Ashton Hagans, the top-ranked point guard in the 2019 class, reclassifies to 2018 and takes his talents to Lexington, which seems like a strong possibility at this point. The newcomers are McDonald’s All-Americans Keldon Johnson, a 6-foot-6 combo guard who is considered the best all-around player in the 2018 class, and Immanuel Quickley, another combo guard who could play a role similar to Devin Booker. Tyler Herro, a four-star shooting guard who was committed to Wisconsin at one point, is one of the best pure scorers in the 2018 class and will provide a much-needed outside shooting boost along with sophomore Jemarl Baker, who sat out this season recovering from knee surgery.
Fresh off its second national title in three years, Villanova is in prime position to go back-to-back, the first since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Even with Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson likely declaring for the NBA Draft, the Wildcats bring back plenty of firepower and have one of the best coaches in the game in Jay Wright. Omari Spellman will likely be back along with Donte DiVincenzo, who is poised to have a breakout junior year. Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, and Collin Gillespie will have a year under their belts and will play larger roles this time around. To replace Brunson, Wright brings in internet sensation and five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly along with sharpshooting stretch four Cole Swider. Brandon Slater is the lowest ranked of the three freshmen but is the type of wing player that fits in nicely to Wright’s system.
Mark Few has had some of his best teams at Gonzaga the past two years and was only a couple of buckets away from hanging a national championship banner in 2016. One of the best long-term prospects to come through the program, Rui Hachimura has improved year by year and has all the pieces around him to be dominant. Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell are the perfect couple in the backcourt and can hurt you in a multitude of ways. Corey Kispert chipped in quality minutes as a freshman and will only improve with consistent playing time. Forward Brandon Clarke, who sat out this season after averaging 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds at San Jose State, is a beast in the frontcourt and fits into the system perfectly. To round out the frontcourt, freshman big man Filip Petrusev was a force this year for the Geico National Champs Montverde Academy (FL) and will only get better once he gets accustomed to the college game.
6. North Carolina
The Tar Heels lose the veteran leadership of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, but Roy Williams has one of his best-recruiting classes in recent memory. Burger Boys Nassir Little and Coby White will make an impact from day one, and Rechon “Leaky” Black will play a limited but vital role. Luke Maye will look to build on his 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds he averaged this season. Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson are reliable threats from deep and will space the floor. Size will be an issue, but there are six or seven guys who can score 15+ points on any given night.
Auburn was the surprise team this year winning the SEC regular-season crown after being projected by many experts to end up in the back half of the league. The Tigers welcome back nearly everyone from that team and bring in three uber-talented players who were unable to suit up last season. Austin Wiley – a former five-star recruit – started 22 games as a freshman and posted solid numbers, but could not play this season due to a connection in the FBI investigation. Danjel Purifoy missed games as well for his involvement in the ongoing scandal. The most promising addition on the roster is VCU transfer Samir Doughty, who scored 9 points as a freshman. Bryce Brown, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper, All-SEC type guards, round out the backcourt for Bruce Pearl and are poised for another big year. Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore, and Horace Spencer did an excellent job of manning the paint area this year and will only be more intimidating with the addition of Wiley, Purifoy, and Doughty.
8. Michigan State
The Spartans will miss the services of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. – two projected lottery picks – but there’s plenty of balance on this Michigan State team for a possible Big Ten title. Cassius Winston will have even more weight on his shoulders now that it’s his team and he’ll do much of the heavy lifting from the point guard position. Josh Langford showed flashes of greatness during his sophomore season, and Nick Ward will benefit immensely after an offseason of workouts and testing the NBA Draft waters. Sparty’s recruiting class is not the most eye-opening, but it consists of guys who likely won’t be one or two year players and are in it for the long haul. It’ll be a difficult beginning without two All-Big Ten level players, but Tom Izzo will find a way to mold his team into contenders.
The Wolfpack found themselves in the Sweet 16 this year and were one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. With Caleb and Cody Martin’s future still in question, it’s a bit of a stretch to put Nevada in the top-10, but Eric Musselman’s use of the transfer market will pay off once again. Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), Jazz Johnson (Portland), Tre’Shawn Thurman (Omaha), Corey Henson (Wagner) all were double-figure scorers at their previous schools and will play a big part from day one. Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, and Josh Hall also return to round out a veteran-laden group that has a real chance to be the best mid-major squad in the country when it’s all said and done.
Like Auburn, the Volunteers weren’t expected to do anything in the SEC this year. Instead, Rick Barnes’ group shared the conference title with Auburn and return a good chunk of primary role players from 2017-’18 including SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams. Admiral Schofield has a chance to be a special player after averaging 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds his junior season. Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander will likely round out the starting lineup and were steady contributors this year when the season starts up in November. Yves Pons, a sophomore from France, will be a name to watch as he’s a raw prospect but is one of the top athletes in the country according to many experts.
In what was considered a wasted year with the sudden firing of Rick Pitino three weeks before the season and the hiring of assistant David Padgett, things seem to be looking upward for Cardinal fans with the addition of head coach Chris Mack. Ray Spalding will enter the NBA Draft and hire an agent while Deng Adel is testing the waters. V.J. King and Darius Perry are solid perimeter scorers who will get a lot of run. The loss of Anas Mahmoud down low stings, but former top-25 recruit and sophomore Malik Williams will take over the reigns and can become a more potent offensive threat than Mahmoud was. Steven Enoch, a UConn transfer, will provide a defensive boost in Mahmoud’s absence, which will make up for Williams’ lack of defensive talent. Louisville got its guy in Mack, and he has a lot of toys to play around with in his first season at the program.
12. Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams is going into year five at Virginia Tech and has maybe his most complete roster during his time in Blacksburg. The Hokies were a No. 8 seed in this year’s tournament but haven’t been labeled a ‘contender’ in the ACC because of the dominance of Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, etc. A player who I think has all-conference potential is sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who could become the man for this team. Justin Robinson returns to handle the point guard duties and Ahmed Hill is about as good as it gets from 3-point land. Chris Clarke can do just about anything you ask him to do and will play big minutes this year. Four-star shooting guard Landers Nolley is another deadly weapon from distance and has a ton of upside offensively. P.J. Horne and Wabissa Bede will see increased roles and consistent minutes in their sophomore season.
Yes, Virginia will always be remembered as the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament (S/O UMBC). But, Tony Bennett and company are ready to move on and should once again compete for an ACC title. Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson are all leaving Charlottesville, but there are plenty of returners who can take this team a long way, including America’s favorite backcourt duo in Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. A big question will be if De’Andre Hunter, the conference 6th man of the year who notoriously injured his wrist days before the NCAA Tournament, will come back for another go-around. Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, and Jay Huff will be responsible for manning the middle. Once again, Virginia will be a slow-paced team who relies on its defense a little too much. But, the Cavaliers have the personnel to make some noise, not necessarily a fabulous season like this one, but one where they are in the running for a conference championship and a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
14. West Virginia
Huggy Bear loses his favorite toy in Jevon Carter, who had one of the most illustrious careers in West Virginia history. Daxter Miles Jr. is another significant loss, but Bob Huggins is ready for the next challenge and the Mountaineers will be another tough team to beat this year. Sagaba Konate, America’s favorite shot blocker, Wesley Harris, and Lamont West are all 6-foot-8 forwards who are gracious rim protectors and can move very well for their size which causes a lot of issues for Press Virginia’s opponents. Esa Ahmad should be eligible for the whole season after being suspended for the first half of 2017-’18. He won’t make the same impact right away as Carter, but a kid I’m ecstatic to watch is four-star point guard Jordan McCabe. Known for his majestic ball-handling skills as a youngster, McCabe is one of the sleepers and the hardest working players in the 2018 class and is a superb do it all point guard who will do whatever it takes right away to crack the starting rotation. This kid will be special.
15. Kansas State
Bruce Weber has nobody leaving after his team made a surprising Elite Eight run and it’s insane to think a Weber coached team could compete at the top of the Big-12 with Kansas. Barry Brown and Dean Wade, the conference’s second and third-leading returning scorers, will form one of the highest-scoring duos in the country and give opponents nightmares. Xavier Sneed and Kamau Stokes are other guys who had solid seasons and will be a key part of next year’s roster. Cartier Diarra and Mike McGuirl are athletic specimens in the paint. Weber has a VERY real shot at making it back to the Regional Final.
The ‘Terps had their worst year since joining the Big Ten and the losses of Justin Jackson and Dion Wiley don’t bode well for Mark Turgeon and company. But, Kevin Huerter is a special four-year player along with Bruno Fernando, who quietly was one of the best freshmen in America this season. Anthony Cowan could be considered one of the top point guards in the Big Ten next year and could see time alongside Darryl Morsell, who played the third most minutes on the team as a freshman. What Maryland fans should be excited about is the incoming recruiting class. McDonald’s All-American forward Jalen Smith is a 6-foot-9 athletic and versatile prospect who can replace Jackson. Aaron Wiggins is a guy who can provide an offensive boost of the bench whether it be knocking shots down from the perimeter or taking his man off the bounce. Eric Ayala is a solid all-around combo guard who can go get a bucket or find his teammates for open looks. Turgeon’s seat is getting a little warmer in College Park and this team could save his spot on the throne, for now.
This was a really disappointing year in Eugene following a Final Four run in 2017. Bol Bol and Louis King are the big names, and potential one-and-done’s in Dana Altman’s most talented recruiting class during his time at Oregon. Payton Pritchard will be running the show at the point but will have to fight for minutes against top-50 recruit Will Richardson, an athletic point guard out of Oak Hill (VA). Miles Norris, a lanky 6-foot-8 forward, is a potent scorer with a smooth jumper and solid face-up game. He’s a project for the coaching staff as he needs to add some muscle and improve his motor, so it’ll be interesting to see how he comes along. Bol and defensive-minded Kenny Wooten will be a tough combination to score against and will alter a lot of shots with their length and shot-blocking ability. While this team does look exceptional on paper, they’ll need to find ways to mesh with all the talent on the roster.
The Bruins have an absolutely loaded roster, and expectations are high in Westwood which means it could be a make or break season for Steve Alford. Kris Wilkes is expected to return for his sophomore year and should be one of UCLA’s leading scorers. Former top-20 recruit Jaylen Hands will carry a much larger role at the point due to Aaron Holiday declaring for the NBA Draft. If Hands struggles, four-star point guard Tyger Campbell can step in and provide instant offense. Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, the two other Bruins who were suspended with LiAngelo Ball in the China Shoplifting incident, are ready to get back on the court and contribute. 7-foot sophomore Chris Smith had his moments in his first year but should get more consistent minutes his second year at the helm. Moses Brown and Shareef O’Neal, the two highest regarded members of the incoming class, are polished big men who can do a lot of damage. Other freshmen Jules Bernard and David Singleton can put the ball in the basket with the best of them. There’s no question Alford has a talented bunch at his disposal, but can he break through with them and keep his job?
The Tigers do lose a lot from this year’s team, Will Wade brings in an elite recruiting class which is rare for a football school like LSU. Naz Reid has NBA-ready talent and size for a big man, Emmitt Williams gets after it every possession and is just a tad less talent than Reid. and JaVonte Smart is a bulldog at the point and make a difference on both ends of the floor. Take into account Tremont Waters, who averaged 16 points and six assists as a freshman, also returns and is poised to have an even better sophomore campaign. Darius Days is another guy to be excited about at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and the ability to defend, rebound, and shoot the rock. He’s still developing, but he’ll only get better as the season progresses. If Will Wade’s team doesn’t find its way into the Big Dance, I’d be shocked.
20. Florida State
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the Seminoles made the Elite Eight. Leonard Hamilton was expecting to get C.J. Walker back to run the point, but he will transfer and explore other options. Two names I’m keeping an eye on are sophomore M.J. Walker and Terence Mann. Walker, a former McDonald’s All-American, didn’t seem comfortable his first year in Tallahassee but another summer under his belt will do him good and have him prepared for Round 2. Mann, the team’s second-leading scorer this year, very well could be ACC Player of the Year he performs like he did at the beginning of the 2017 and various parts of conference play. Phil Cofer was the leading scorer this year for the Seminoles and is still waiting to hear back if he is granted a medical redshirt for 2018-’19. Mfiondu Kabengele is another name to watch as he started to find his grove toward the latter half of the season.
There are still a lot of question marks concerning the national runner-ups. Mo Wagner’s stock is high as its ever been so he’s likely to leave and Charles Matthews also could enter his name in the draft although I think he should stay another year. With Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zavier Simpson will be the go-to-guy at the point and play around 35 minutes per game. Jordan Poole will be an important piece as well. We all know he can shoot the three ball, but he’ll have to keep improving other facets of his game such as attacking off the dribble and defense. Jon Teske will offer size without Wagner, and Eli Brooks will give the Wolverines depth at the one. The 6-foot-8 freshman forward Ignas Bradzeikis is a knockdown shooter along with classmate and versatile forward Brandon Johns. Being a John Beilenber, I have faith he’ll figure something out whatever comes his way. It’ll be interesting to see how this team adjusts (likely) without Wagner.
Jamie Dixon has done a spectacular job at his alma mater and has all his puppies in order to make it to the Big Dance for the second straight year. Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson are an experienced backcourt and could be regarded to as one of the best in the country. Desmond Bane is one of the elite shooters in the country and will stretch the floor. I’m very fond of four-star small forward Kaden Archie. At 6-foot-6, Archie has all the physical tools to go head to head with the nation’s best and has one of the better all-around games in the incoming freshman class.
The most decorated senior class in the Matt Painter era is over and done with, but there are still some leftovers. Carsen Edwards is already in the conversation for national player of the year after a breakout sophomore season. Matt Haarms will have to improve his offensive abilities a little more with the departure of Isaac Haas, but the addition of Dartmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux will take a little weight off his shoulders. The Boilermakers will compete at the top of the Big Ten, but in no way, shay perform am I expecting a season like this year. My main concern is the lack of production behind these Edwards, Haarms, and Bourdreaux.
Jalen Hudson is still deciding whether or not he will take his talents to the next level, so that is a big factor for where I placed the Gators. That said, I like the returning group of Jalen Hudson, Kevaughn Allen, Keith Stone, and Kevarrius Hayes, but I’m infatuated with Mike White’s incoming recruiting class. Andrew Nembhard will take over in Chiozza’s place, and Noah Locke is a smooth shooting guard who can shoot from just about anywhere. Keyontae Johnson is a physically gifted wing who can defend multiple positions at 6-foot-6.
I was feeling bold and needed another team to put in here, so I decided Vanderbilt would be my best bet. The Commodores will lose 1,000 point scorers Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance, but there is plenty of talent coming in. Darius Garland, the top point guard in the 2018 class, and five-star power forward Simi Shittu were both McDonald’s All-Americans and will have the ball in their hands from day one. Aaron Nesmith is another freshman who can make an impact as he’s a pure scorer and is deadly from three-point land. While this group may already seem special, Romeo Langford has Vanderbilt in his top three with Indiana and Kansas. If Bryce Drew can sway Langford away from his hometown Hoosiers, a special season is on the horizon.