We’re now inside 100 days until the start of the college basketball season, and most of the pieces are in place around the country. This version of the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 underwent the fewest changes from the previous month, with Oregon the big riser because it added UNLV graduate transfer Shakur Juiston. Only USC dropped out, and that was purely a numbers thing.
Before next month’s update, we should have news on five-star center N’Faly Dante, whose potential upcoming decision could affect Kentucky and Oregon. The top-10 recruit can reclassify and play immediately this fall. We will discuss him further in their individual sections, but he would be enough to move Kentucky to No. 2 and Oregon comfortably inside the top 15. (Ed. note: Dante committed to Oregon on Aug. 13) .
Given the nature of college basketball, there are bound to be a few more twists and turns before we get to the start of fall practice — but the national picture is essentially set in stone right now.
1. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans haven’t moved from this spot since the season ended, and it’s unlikely they’ll enter the 2019-20 campaign with anything but the No. 1 ranking. That ranking will be tested immediately, as Michigan State opens the season against Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. The point guard matchup between Cassius Winston and Ashton Hagans will likely dictate the game, but keep an eye on Xavier Tillman. He’s the type of player who can give Kentucky problems up front.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
We thought Kansas’ roster was set a month ago, then Bill Self went out and added some depth in point guard Dajuan Harris. He originally committed to Missouri State but reopened his recruitment, and when Kansas offered him in July, Harris decided to jump at the opportunity and reclassify into 2019. He’s not expected to play a huge role this season, given the return of All-American candidate Devon Dotson at the point. Overall, Self will have seven players on his roster who didn’t play a minute for the Jayhawks last season.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky’s roster seems pretty settled, but the Wildcats are still pushing for five-star recruit N’Faly Dante. He is expected to reclassify into the 2019 class and enroll in college in the fall, but he has yet to make up his mind — or choose a potential destination. The Wildcats and Oregon are the two favorites, and an announcement could come anytime. Without Dante, John Calipari will have to rely on returnees EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards and Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina down low. Dante could be a difference-maker. (Ed. note: Dante committed to Oregon on Aug. 13).
4. Florida Gators
Florida is a legitimate Final Four contender. Some might say we’re overrating the Gators based on the addition of Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., but he’s immediately the best big man in the SEC and a legitimate All-American candidate. High-level point guard Andrew Nembhard and McDonald’s All-American Tre Mann will operate in the backcourt, and five-star recruit Scottie Lewis has lottery-pick potential on the wing. Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson return, and there’s top-50 recruit Omar Payne. Coach Mike White has depth, talent and versatility.
5. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville took a hit to its early-season depth when freshman guard David Johnson suffered a shoulder injury that will sideline him for up to six months. Johnson was impressing in early workouts and was expected to push for a key role. The Cardinals have the depth to overcome his absence, though. Saint Joseph’s graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble will run the point, and Darius Perry and Ryan McMahon return. Five-star freshman Samuell Williamson and returning starter Dwayne Sutton could combine on the wings in a bigger lineup.
6. Duke Blue Devils
Mike Krzyzewski is facing another season with several new faces, but the Blue Devils do have some time to mesh in the early going. They open with Kansas in the Champions Classic but have a month before their trip to Michigan State in early December. A matchup in New York against Georgetown or Texas in late November could be a sneaky-tough test, though. What will help Duke’s newcomers adapt — especially on the defensive end — is Tre Jones at the point guard spot. There is more experience this season than last season, too.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga faced some backcourt questions entering the offseason, especially after Zach Norvell decided to keep his name in the NBA draft. But Mark Few now has several options on the perimeter. He landed graduate transfers Admon Gilder (Texas A&M) and Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) and could also see an improved Joel Ayayi on the roster next season. Representing France in the FIBA U19 World Cup, Ayayi was one of the more impressive players in the event, averaging 20.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
After essentially rebuilding the entire roster in the spring, Carolina will face one of the toughest early-season schedules in the country. The Tar Heels will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis with games against Alabama, Iowa State or Michigan, then likely either Gonzaga, Seton Hall or Oregon. Then there’s a four-game stretch against Ohio State, Wofford, Gonzaga and UCLA. Cole Anthony will be arguably the most productive player in the country, but he and his fellow newcomers — including two mid-major graduate transfers — will have to adjust early.
9. Villanova Wildcats
Even though we have Villanova in our top 10, it is a tough team to get a handle on heading into the season. The Wildcats were inconsistent last season and lost their two best players from a year ago. And their best newcomer, Bryan Antoine, suffered a shoulder injury that could affect the start of his career. We trust Jay Wright to figure things out, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he leaned on incoming freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl earlier than some people expect. Robinson-Earl just averaged 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds at the FIBA U19 World Cup.
10. Maryland Terrapins
If Maryland is to live up to its preseason hype — and with the inside-outside tandem of Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith leading the way, there’s plenty of hype — it will have to turn around its turnover issues. Last season, Maryland coughed it up on 20.6% of its possessions in Big Ten play, worst in the league. At the other end, the Terrapins forced a turnover on only 13% of their possessions, also worst in the league. That was part of the reason they went 7-8 in their final 15 games. With Cowan running the show at the point, that shouldn’t happen.
11. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech enters this season a bit differently than the past couple of years — even if the Red Raiders are facing another complete rebuild. But they have consensus top-15 hopes and are welcoming in one of the better recruiting classes in the Big 12. It will be interesting to see how Chris Beard’s team handles the bull’s-eye. While the newcomers have more hype, they still fit what Beard-coached teams do. Chris Clarke (a transfer from Virginia Tech) is the perfect versatile frontcourt piece, while top-50 recruit Jahmius Ramsey is a terrific two-way player.
12. Ohio State Buckeyes
The biggest reason for Ohio State’s struggles last season after the turn of the calendar to 2019 came on offense. The Buckeyes were near the bottom of the Big Ten in offensive efficiency, scoring fewer than one point per possession in 12 of 18 conference games. They struggled to make shots from the perimeter and turned it over on more than 19% of possessions. There’s more talent and versatility on this year’s team, though. Incoming freshman D.J. Carton and Florida State transfer CJ Walker should shore things up at the point, while top-50 recruits Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell provide scoring punch at the forward spots.
13. Memphis Tigers
We should get some insight into how Penny Hardaway plans to fit all the pieces together soon, as Memphis will travel to the Bahamas to play four games in less than a week. The final scores won’t be as important as getting a feel for potential lineups and combinations. The big question: Will Hardaway start five freshmen? Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa and James Wiseman would be the most talented lineup possible, and it will fit fairly well if Ellis can run the point and there’s enough perimeter shooting.
14. Seton Hall Pirates
After going 20-14 last season and losing by 16 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Wofford, Seton Hall will have to make a big jump to get into the top 15 nationally — especially considering it was just No. 60 at KenPom and No. 57 in the BPI. Defensively, the Pirates will be sound; on offense, they’ll have to see improvement. Essentially, Myles Powell needs help. He’s capable of carrying them on a given night, but Kevin Willard will need consistent second and third scorers. One name to watch could be Jared Rhoden, who saw a bigger role late in the season and showed flashes from the perimeter.
15. Virginia Cavaliers
This team has perhaps the most question marks in the country. Other teams have more newcomers or bigger rebuilds, but Virginia deals with a different level of expectation — and is facing a massive reloading effort. Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and Kihei Clark are known commodities, while Jay Huff could be in store for a breakout season. What about everyone else? Francisco Caffaro averaged 7.4 points and 9.0 rebounds at the FIBA U19 World Cup for Argentina, while Kody Stattmann put up 10.3 points for Australia. Late signee Tomas Woldetensae is a rare junior college transfer into Tony Bennett’s program, but he’s expected to provide shooting. And ESPN 100 guard Casey Morsell could start right away. Bennett will figure it out.
16. Baylor Bears
With Kansas bringing in so many newcomers and Texas Tech reloading after its title-game run, Baylor could get out to the hottest start in the Big 12 this season. A healthy Tristan Clark combined with the return of Jared Butler, Mark Vital and Mario Kegler and the additions of transfers Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and Macio Teague (UNC Asheville) give Scott Drew as much talent as anyone in the league. Butler created some buzz at the recent U19 USA Basketball training camp, and he’ll be counted on to run the show.
17. Oregon Ducks
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After an exodus following the season that saw three players leave early and two more transfer out (along with two graduates), Oregon has reloaded its roster — and might not be done yet. The recent addition of UNLV graduate transfer Shakur Juiston moved the Ducks into the top 25, as he averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds two seasons ago. Coach Dana Altman also has Oregon as the co-favorite, at worst, for five-star center N’Faly Dante, who could reclassify into 2019 and play this season. (Ed note: Dante committed to Oregon on Aug. 13). Throw in the return of Payton Pritchard and the spring addition of New Mexico graduate transfer Anthony Mathis, and Oregon will compete for the Pac-12 title.
18. Arizona Wildcats
It had been rumored for a few months, but news officially came down last week that Brandon Williams would miss the entire season after undergoing another knee surgery. Williams started 21 games last season and was expected to slot in between incoming five-star freshmen Nico Mannion and Josh Green. With Williams out, look for UC Irvine graduate transfer Max Hazzard — and returnee Devonaire Doutrive — to play a bigger role. One name up front receiving rave reviews early is Zeke Nnaji; he could start right away next to Chase Jeter.
19. Utah State Aggies
All of Logan, Utah, held their breath as reports came out of Portugal that star center Neemias Queta had suffered a knee injury at the FIBA U20 European Championship Division B. It turned out a bit better than expected — in other words, it wasn’t a torn ACL. And when Queta was on the court, he gave Utah State fans even more optimism for the upcoming season. He averaged 14.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, earning all-tournament honors. He and guard Sam Merrill will form one of the best inside-outside tandems in the country.
20. Saint Mary’s Gaels
The big question with Saint Mary’s this season will be its inside play. The Gaels’ best outfits under Randy Bennett have featured dominant post performers, from Diamon Simpson to Omar Samhan to Jock Landale. They won’t get that level of play this season, but Bennett will need someone to produce inside with the departure of Jordan Hunter. Jock Perry hasn’t been able to put it together, so Saint Mary’s could pin its hopes on Seattle transfer Aaron Menzies getting a waiver to play next season. He should be able to, but there’s been no official word just yet.
21. Xavier Musketeers
Expect a hot start for Travis Steele’s team. The Musketeers are very experienced, bringing back four starters and adding two veteran transfers from the Mid-American Conference. Their early-season schedule also looks pretty attractive, opening with four straight home games before heading to the Charleston Classic — where they will be favored to reach the title game (and likely face Florida). Their toughest true road game before Big East play will be at Wake Forest or TCU. This team should have plenty of momentum entering January.
22. Marquette Golden Eagles
The two-month stretch from late February to late April wasn’t great for Steve Wojciechowski’s program, losing six of seven games to end the season and then seeing Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser transfer. A few months later, though, it’s a lot more optimistic for the Golden Eagles. This is a team that improved drastically on defense last season, and Sacar Anim and Theo John are back to anchor it again. The key will be Utah State transfer Koby McEwen. If he can emerge as a consistent second option next to Markus Howard, Marquette will be in good shape.
23. Washington Huskies
Washington’s preseason hype despite losing five of its top six scorers from last season centers almost entirely on the addition of elite recruits Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Both players might only spend a few months on the Huskies’ campus, but we’ll get an early look at how they’re progressing, as Mike Hopkins is taking his team to Italy for 10 days this month. We’ll also potentially get a look at Kentucky transfer Quade Green, as a change of scenery could see him to return to his five-star form coming out of high school.
24. Colorado Buffaloes
After the Pac-12 didn’t have a team get higher than a 9-seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, we’re giving it four teams in the top 25 right now. Colorado isn’t getting the attention of Arizona or Washington or even Oregon, but the Buffaloes are going to be a factor in the conference title race. All five starters are back from a team that won 12 of its final 15 games. McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey are a vastly underrated duo. The Buffaloes can make a statement in early December with a trip to top-five Kansas.
25. LSU Tigers
It’s going to be an interesting season in the SEC next season. Kentucky and Florida are the heavy favorites to win the league, and both teams will be in the national top-10 to start the season. After the Wildcats and Gators, though, it’s entirely up for grabs. But LSU is well positioned to slide in as the third-best team. The return of guards Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor was key, as was the addition of five-star forward Emmitt Williams. The high-energy former five-star recruit will get his chance to produce up front with the departures of Nazreon Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams.
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