SportsPulse: Now that March Madness is over we look ahead to the top 25 teams in the country heading into the 2019-20 college basketball season.
USA TODAY Sports
The 2018-19 college basketball season is officially in the books following this year’s NCAA tournament.
But now that Virginia has officially cut down the nets and March Madness is over, it’s time to focus on the season ahead.
Events of the offseason — players entering the NBA draft, transfers and late decisions of incoming freshmen – are sure to shake things up. But for now, here’s a look at the teams best positioned to be among the nation’s elite come November when the 2019-20 season tips off.
1. Michigan State (32-6 in 2018-19). It’s unlikely Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston leaves for the NBA, and the Spartans return a healthy Joshua Langford, the team’s second-leading scorer who missed more than half of 2018-19 with a foot injury. Underclassmen Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry figure to provide more production.
2. Kentucky (30-7). The Wildcats will have a roster overhaul, but that’s nothing new.Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Ashton Hagans likely will head to the NBA, but there’s a chance second-leading scorer Tyler Herro will stay.. Calipari welcomes another five-star class headed by top-10 freshmen Kahlil Whitney and Tyrese Maxey. But the real veteran boost comes with grad transfer Nate Sestina (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg at Bucknell).
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3. Michigan (30-7). If leading scorer Ignas Brazdeikis bypasses the NBA draft, then the Wolverines would return four of five starters from a Sweet 16 team. The lone anticipated departure is Charles Matthews. Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske are key pieces that should give coach John Beilein another team capable of winning Big Ten hardware.
4. Virginia (35-3). The Cavaliers will lose De’Andre Hunter, a projected top-10 draft pick, to the NBA. Ty Jerome is forecasted as a late first-rounder and Kyle Guy a second rounder, so there’s a chance both depart. That would leave role players Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark as the key returners. But there’s still reason for optimism. Coach Tony Bennett’s methodical offensive system and disciplined pack-line defense don’t graduate. And best believe Bennett has recruited a new cast of players who fit into his scheme.
5. Duke (32-6). The Blue Devils will lose lottery picks Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but fellow freshman Tre Jones announced plans to return.. Jones and a solid group of role players will blend well with the usual top recruits Mike Krzyzewski brings in. This year’s class is headed by No. 1 big man Vernon Carey Jr.
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6. Villanova (26-10). The Wildcats are losing mainstays Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, but coach Jay Wright has reloaded with a top-five recruiting class and ‘Nova will benefit from the development of younger players this past season, namely guard Collin Gillespie..
7. Gonzaga (33-4). Rui Hachimura is certain to depart, but fellow forward Brandon Clarke is less of a lock. Expect Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie to take on expanded roles, and Zach Norvell to become a leader. The Bulldogs are also in the rare position of having one of nation’s top recruiting classes.
8. Marquette (25-10). Much of the Golden Eagles’ 2019-20 prospectus hinges on All-American Markus Howard’s decision to turn pro. The 5-11 guard averaged 25 points a game as a junior, but it’s uncertain he’d even get drafted. Should he return stay along with the rest of Marquette’s core, a team that underachieved late in the season could rewrite the script next March.
9. Kansas (26-10). First-team All-American Dedric Lawson intends to keep his name in the NBA draft and that leaves coach Bill Self with a roster of youngsters that never fully developed this season.. Where it gets interesting is if 6-11 big man Udoka Azubuikecomes back for his senior campaign. That’d give Kansas a much-needed size. Quentin Grimes should break out as a sophomore..
10. Tennessee (31-6). The Volunteers graduate Admiral Schofield and lose Jordan Bone to the NBA draft. They also could lose coach Rick Barnes to UCLA. But should two-time SEC player of the year Grant Williams come back alongside a proven supporting cast, this team will be good enough to win the SEC and build off this past March’s Sweet 16 finish.
11. Cincinnati (28-7). The Bearcats are slated to return their top three scorers, including Jarron Cumberland (18.8 ppg). One concern is whether Mick Cronin remains as his name has popped among the coaching vacancies this offseason. Whoever is at the helm starting 2019-20, there’ll be ample talent to win the AAC.
12. Oregon (25-13). Bol Bol is for sure gone and Louis King is forecasted as a second-round pick. But floor general Payton Pritchard (12.9 ppg, 4.6 apg) and shot-blocking specialist Kenny Wooten are expected back from the Ducks’ late-peaking Sweet 16 team.
13. Washington (27-9). Mike Hopkins will have a revamped roster ready to win another Pac-12 title. The Huskies bring in two elite newcomers: Big man Isaiah Stewart is arguably the best of the freshman class and Kentucky transfer Quade Green will be eligible by January.
14. Maryland (23-11). Bruno Fernando is a projected lottery pick, but coach Mark Turgeon brings back a good chunk of his core, including leading scorer Anthony Cowan Jr. and rising sophomore big man Jalen Smith.
15. Ohio State (20-15). The Buckeyes are expected to have big man Kaleb Wesson, who will be in the running for Big Ten player of the year next season. Chris Holtmann also welcomes a stellar recruiting class that’s led by five-star point guard D.J. Carton.
16. Iowa (23-12). There’s a strong possibility leading scorer Tyler Cook turns pro, but coach Fran McCaffery has enough coming back to contend for a Big Ten title. Forward Luka Garza will be back and sharpshooter Jordan Bohannon is among a group of elite guards returning.
17. Baylor (20-14). Tristan Clark (14.6 pp, 6.3 rpg) will lead the Bears’ lineup as one of the country’s top big men after missing half of 2018-19 with a knee injury. That key loss last January should pay dividends in 2019-20, as it matured players late last season before bowing out in the second round of the tournament.
18. Louisville (20-14). Coach Chris Mack is off to a fast start at the helm of the Cardinals. After an overachieving first season, now Mack has a top-10 freshman class headed by Samuell Williamson. There’ll be enough incoming and returning talent, even with last year’s leading scorer, Jordan Nwora, is a projected first round draft departure.
19. Seton Hall (20-14). The Pirates bring back one of the country’s most explosive scorers in Myles Powell (23.1 ppg), who will be among the four of Seton Hall’s top returning scorers back.
20. North Carolina (29-7). Coach Roy Williams is set to lose his two most important players — Luke Maye to graduation and Coby White to the NBA. Five-star freshman Armando Bacot figures to pair with rising sophomore Garrison Brooks to form a formidable frontcourt.
21. Creighton (20-15). Coach Greg McDermott is expected to bring back all five starters, including leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander, from an NCAA bubble team that bowed out in the NIT quarterfinals.
22. Texas Tech (31-7). Coach Chris Beard said he deliberately tried to play old and his 2018-19 team was a reflection of that. But he’ll have to play much younger in 2019-20, as most of his roster graduates and Jarrett Culver is a likely lottery pick. Marksman Davide Moretti is the top returnee, and a top-15 freshman class is headed by shooting guard Jahmius Ramsey.
23. Minnesota (22-14). Leading scorer Amir Coffey has declared for the draft yet has a strong chance of returning. Then coach Richard Pitino gets back rising sophomores Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur, both of whom evolved nicely as freshmen.
24. Auburn (30-10). Leading scorer Bryce Brown graduates and it’s possible both Chuma Okeke and Austin Wiley will be headed to the NBA. That still leaves Jared Harper to ascend into an alpha dog role after his monstrous NCAA tournament that propelled the Tigers’ blue-blood-slaying Final Four run.
25. Arizona (17-15). While coach Sean Miller’s future is uncertain (he’s at the center of a bribery trial), perhaps his parting gift to the program would be one of the best freshman classes in the country. Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji are five-star talents good enough to get the Wildcats back to contending status.