Kansas up, Michigan down in Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2019-20
The big picture of the 2019-20 college basketball season has become much clearer as we head into summer, with the NBA draft early-entry withdrawal deadline and the late signing period both in the rearview mirror. Since we last updated, eight of the 10 remaining ESPN 100 prospects committed to a school, as did a large number of graduate transfers -- meaning there were some big changes in the top 10 and toward the back end of the rankings.
There are still some decisions remaining that will affect potential rankings, of course, and there's always a wild-card reclassification or two to watch in July and August. So no, it's not a finished product just yet.
With the landscape far more settled than it was in early May, here's the updated Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 (and it might not be too early anymore):
1. Michigan State Spartans
While seemingly every other team in the country had massive changes throughout April and May, Michigan State was pretty stagnant -- in a good way. Cassius Winston announced very quickly that he was returning to East Lansing, and Nick Ward departed as expected. Outside of that, Tom Izzo knew exactly what roster he was going to have for the 2019-20 season. And even after all the dust settled, Michigan State looks like the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Winston is a Wooden Award favorite; Joshua Langford should return at full health; and Xavier Tillman could become one of the most productive players in the Big Ten.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky is bidding farewell to four starters, with PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro all leaving early for the NBA and Reid Travis graduating -- but the Wildcats received huge news near the NBA draft deadline, when EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards decided to return to Lexington. With those two providing depth up front, John Calipari has plenty of depth and options throughout his roster. Ashton Hagans is an elite defensive guard; five-stars Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney will push for starting jobs; and Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina and late signee Johnny Juzang bring shooting.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
For the first time in 15 seasons, Bill Self is not coaching the defending Big 12 regular-season champions. Can the Jayhawks start a new streak next season? After a spring filled with comings and goings -- and the roster still isn't quite settled just yet -- Kansas looks like a Final Four contender once again. Devon Dotson's decision to return to Lawrence gives Kansas one of the best point guards in the country, and Self received a big boost when Udoka Azubuike opted against turning pro and the NCAA cleared Silvio De Sousa to play next season. There are some lineup questions to figure out, but Kansas now at least has depth and versatility.
4. Duke Blue Devils
No more Zion Williamson, no more RJ Barrett, no more Cam Reddish. But Mike Krzyzewski is once again reloading with a highly touted freshman class that includes four top-35 prospects. Vernon Carey Jr. and Matthew Hurt, both top-10 recruits, form a talented frontcourt duo, and five-star wing Wendell Moore brings scoring and toughness. The Blue Devils also bring back Tre Jones, the lone returning starter from last season's team and one of the better point guards in America. Things will look very different for Krzyzewski's team next season, and the Devils won't be able to rely on one-on-one scoring as much, but there's still plenty of talent.
5. Louisville Cardinals
Chris Mack and the Cardinals had two big questions when the season ended. One, whom would they find to play the point guard position? And two, would Jordan Nwora enter the NBA draft? They figured out the first one quickly, with the addition of Saint Joseph's graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble, but the second question went down to the wire before Nwora announced he was heading back to Louisville. Steven Enoch also withdrew his name from the draft. Mack brings back most of the rest of the rotation -- and welcomes one of the elite recruiting classes in the country. McDonald's All American Samuell Williamson is the most college-ready of the group.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels have revamped their roster as much as any team in the top 25 since the season ended. After losing their top five players from last season, a top-10 ranking seemed unfathomable. But Roy Williams went out and landed No. 1 guard Cole Anthony, ESPN 100 guard Anthony Harris and two sought-after graduate transfers in Justin Pierce (William & Mary) and Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern). Combine that group with starting center Garrison Brooks and five-star recruit Armando Bacot and Williams once again has the talent to push for an ACC title.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga finally had some "consequences" for all the success it's had over the years. The Bulldogs had to bid farewell to three players who left early for the NBA draft in potential first-rounders Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke plus starting shooting guard Zach Norvell. They also lost starting point guard Josh Perkins, who was a senior. We still expect Mark Few to win 30 games this season, but the makeup of the personnel is different. Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev return up front, and Few brings in three ESPN 100 frontcourt players. The backcourt has questions, but landing Texas A&M grad transfer Admon Gilder was key.
8. Villanova Wildcats
If there was a year for Big East teams to slow down Villanova, last season was the one -- and the Wildcats still won an outright Big East regular-season title. And now the Wildcats are losing seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall but should be better. Five-star prospects Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl could start right away, although Antoine suffered a shoulder injury that could affect the start to his college career. But Jay Wright has plenty of pieces, with three returning starters in Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey plus expected improvement from Cole Swider and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree.
9. Maryland Terrapins
Mark Turgeon had three big NBA question marks heading into the spring: Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. Although Cowan took it to the deadline, the Terrapins ended up getting Cowan and Smith back, while Fernando turned pro. A Cowan-Smith inside-outside duo is enough to put the Terrapins near the top of the Big Ten heading into the summer. But Maryland also returns Darryl Morsell and Eric Ayala to the starting lineup, and Aaron Wiggins is a potential breakout player. Turgeon needs to find some inside help -- and he brings in ESPN 100 prospects Makhi Mitchell and Chol Marial.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
We should have learned from the last two seasons that a rebuild isn't that imposing of a task for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders. He's done it before, and he'll likely do it again this season. Top-10 pick Jarrett Culver leads an exodus of four starters and sixth man Brandone Francis from last season's national runner-up. Beard brought in reinforcements in the spring, though. Graduate transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and TJ Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) could start right away, and freshman Tyreek Smith fits Tech's mold. Davide Moretti is the lone returning starter, and he should team up with talented guard Kyler Edwards and incoming freshman Jahmius Ramsey.
11. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes have overachieved in back-to-back years, going to the second round in each of Chris Holtmann's two seasons in Columbus -- and they could take the next step in 2019-20 and make it to the second weekend. There are lots of options on this roster. Kaleb Wesson provides an anchor inside, and Holtmann added four-star forwards Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell. Top-40 point guard D.J. Carton enters the fold, as does Florida State transfer CJ Walker. Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad are back as returning starters. It's a young group, but there's talent and depth in Columbus.
12. Memphis Tigers
This is going to be the most talked-about team in the country for most of next season. The Tigers have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, led by No. 1 overall prospect James Wiseman and five-star forwards Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries. ESPN 100 guards Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones will also push for starting jobs. This team would likely be even higher had Little Rock graduate transfer Rayjon Tucker decided to play in Memphis instead of turning pro. Now comes the hard part: How will Penny Hardaway put this whole group together? The Tigers do lose all five starters from last season, so there's very little experience, but this roster can stack up against anyone in the country.
13. Seton Hall Pirates
Both Kevin Willard and Myles Powell are back in South Orange for another year, and therefore the Pirates have a chance to push Villanova in the Big East. Willard brings back everyone of note besides Michael Nzei. Powell is one of the best scorers in college basketball, forming an excellent backcourt duo with Quincy McKnight, who emerged as a lockdown defender late in the season. Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili also return as starters, and Seton Hall is in the mix for UNLV graduate transfer Shakur Juiston. Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu should make a difference defensively; he's one of the best shot-blockers in the country.
14. Virginia Cavaliers
Who knew Mamadi Diakite's NBA draft decision would shape Virginia's season so much? Diakite was the last remaining player to make his decision to withdraw from the draft, and Tony Bennett will be thankful he chose to return. So Diakite and Kihei Clark are both back, but Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De'Andre Hunter are gone. Bennett will need consistent production from Jay Huff and Braxton Key, and ESPN 100 guard Casey Morsell could be thrown into the starting lineup immediately. On paper, this ranking is too high. Since they're the defending champions and have won at least 29 games five of the past six years, though, it might be too low. So we'll split the difference.
15. Arizona Wildcats
After an uncharacteristic year in which the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament, there should be no issue getting back to the dance for Sean Miller's club next season. Much of the reason for optimism centers on a top-five recruiting class led by top-10 guards Josh Green and Nico Mannion, who played together on the AAU circuit and will both start immediately next season in Tucson. UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard brings shooting, and Brandon Williams returns as a starter in the backcourt. Chase Jeter and top-50 recruit Zeke Nnaji will anchor the interior. This is your Pac-12 favorite.
16. Utah State Aggies
Utah State is normally not one of the programs sweating out the final days of the NBA draft deadline, but the Aggies needed freshman center Neemias Queta to return to school -- and the high-ceiling big man did just that in late May. Queta can now resume forming one of the best inside-outside duos in the country alongside guard Sam Merrill. Those two are capable of carrying Utah State to the Mountain West title, but the Aggies have help with two other returning starters. Craig Smith did one of the best coaching jobs in America last season, taking a team projected to finish ninth in the league and guiding it to a share of the conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies can push for the second weekend next season.
17. Baylor Bears
Baylor has steadily risen up the rankings this offseason, not because the Bears continue to add pieces but because people are starting to realize the talent on this roster. Moreover, Scott Drew did a tremendous job with the team last season, and it should be even better in 2019-20. Sit-out transfers Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and Macio Teague (UNC Asheville) will push for starting jobs immediately in the backcourt, and double-figure scorers Jared Butler and Mario Kegler are back in the starting lineup. More importantly, starting forward Tristan Clark should be healthy after missing the last 20 games of the season; he was the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder before going down.
18. Florida Gators
Mike White's team will go from one of the most experienced groups in the SEC to one of the youngest, but this season's version will have more talent. On the way out is the core of KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone, while the Gators welcome McDonald's All Americans Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann to the program, along with top-50 big man Omar Payne. This ranking was in flux until returning point guard Andrew Nembhard withdrew his name from the draft; he's one of the best passers in the conference. White could take some time to figure out his best lineup.
19. Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels needed a West Coast Conference tournament title to reach the NCAA tournament last season, but Randy Bennett brings back four starters from that team -- so they should be comfortably in the field well before the second week of March. Jordan Ford is one of the best scoring guards in the country and Malik Fitts is an inside-outside threat in the frontcourt. Nearly the entire rotation for the Gaels returns from last season, sans starting big man Jordan Hunter. How Bennett gets inside production will determine whether Saint Mary's can push Gonzaga in the WCC.
20. Xavier Musketeers
Previous: next in line
The Musketeers didn't quite make the cut last time around, but with the entire quartet of NBA draft early entrants returning to the program, Travis Steele's team rises up the rankings. Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs will both handle the backcourt duties again, and versatile Naji Marshall could be one of the Big East's best players next season. Tyrique Jones returns up front. All four players averaged double figures. Ohio transfer Jason Carter, a 6-foot-8 forward, is expected to be eligible immediately, and he averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Bobcats. Steele also brings in a top-25 recruiting class.
21. Washington Huskies
Washington is going to be an interesting team to watch next season. There are plenty of expectations for the Huskies, with the additions of Kentucky transfer Quade Green and top-10 recruits Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart. But Mike Hopkins' team does lose four starters from last season, including Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell and the best defender in the country in Matisse Thybulle. Hopkins has won 48 games in two seasons at Washington and probably has his most talent on next season's roster; will that translate to another Pac-12 title for the Huskies?
22. Colorado Buffaloes
Previous: next in line
Arizona and Washington have more high-end talent than Colorado, but the Buffaloes finished last season winning eight of their final 10 regular-season games -- and now they bring back all five starters and everyone who played a key role in Pac-12 play. There's a good chance they'll be the best team in the league for the first couple of months of the season, if not longer. McKinley Wright is one of the best guards in the league, and Tyler Bey is vastly underrated on a national level. Tad Boyle hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2016, but that drought should end next season.
23. Marquette Golden Eagles
Previous: next in line
Marquette went from No. 2 in the first edition of the rankings right after the national championship game to completely out of the rankings during the next update. Now, the Golden Eagles are back in the mix despite the unexpected departures of Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser in April. Markus Howard is back and will once again make a run at the national scoring charts, but Utah State transfer Koby McEwen should ease some of the responsibility in the backcourt. Sacar Anim is a solid two-way player, and Steve Wojciechowski picked up a big boost with the reclassification of ESPN 100 guard Symir Torrence. Utah grad transfer Jayce Johnson and defensive anchor Theo John are the main pieces down low.
24. LSU Tigers
Previous: next in line
It's been a tumultuous spring for the Tigers, as it started with a mass exodus of players to the NBA with coach Will Wade suspended. Wade was eventually reinstated, and only Naz Reid and Tremont Waters kept their names in the draft. That means the perimeter trio of Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor are all back, as is high-motor forward Emmitt Williams. Wade's return also persuaded five-star forward Trendon Watford to come to Baton Rouge. Expect LSU to be in the hunt for some depth moving forward, but the top half of the roster is certainly good enough.
25. USC Trojans
Previous: next in line
There was some roster attrition for the Trojans after a subpar season, but they're optimistic thanks to a deep incoming class. It's led by five-star frontcourt prospects Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu, and four-star Max Agbonkpolo might have the highest ceiling of them all. Then there are grad transfers Quinton Adlesh (Columbia) and Daniel Utomi (Akron), both of whom can really shoot it. Jonah Mathews and double-double machine Nick Rakocevic are also returning starters. Talent hasn't been an issue the past couple of seasons for the Trojans, so Andy Enfield will have to make sure this team lives up to expectations.
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