The 2018-19 college basketball season officially ended Monday, with Virginia beating Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime. That means it’s already time to look ahead to next season.
Things will change, of course. There are NBA draft decisions to be made, players waiting to enter the transfer portal, high school players still unsigned. There is also the second federal trial on college basketball corruption beginning later this month, and that could bring college coaches or players into the headlines.
But we can talk about all that as the offseason progresses. For now, let’s get to the early 2019-20 rankings.
Assuming Cassius Winston comes back, the Spartans will likely open the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They lose Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, but everyone else is expected to return to East Lansing, and Winston could open as Preseason Player of the Year. Joshua Langford should return at full health, and Rocket Watts will be an impact freshman. Keep an eye on rising sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr., a potential breakout player up front. A healthy and focused Nick Ward would help, but Xavier Tillman has been an asset.
Before a late-season collapse, Steve Wojciechowski had Marquette atop the Big East and poised for a run in March. If Markus Howard returns to Milwaukee, expect the Golden Eagles to complete the task this time. The entire starting five should be back for Marquette, with Howard and the Hauser brothers leading the way. One key addition will be Utah State transfer Koby McEwen, who will bring size and versatility to the backcourt — and enable Howard to focus solely on scoring.
There are a lot of moving parts for Kentucky right now, but let’s say the Wildcats lose PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro, in addition to graduating senior Reid Travis. They still bring back Ashton Hagans and should have Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery up front. They also add one of the elite guard recruits in the country in Tyrese Maxey and a five-star two-way player in Kahlil Whitney, along with top-50 prospect Keion Brooks. Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina should help, and John Calipari could still add to the roster.
Virginia finally broke through and went to the Final Four, ending the constant consternation about whether Tony Bennett’s style can succeed in March. Can the Cavaliers repeat that success in 2019-20? De’Andre Hunter is going to be a top-10 pick, so he and Jack Salt will depart. Ty Jerome is a fringe first-rounder and could decide to leave. If Jerome returns, though, Bennett will still have a team capable of getting to the Final Four. Kihei Clark, Kyle Guy, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff will all be back.
After a subpar start to the season, Jay Wright somehow guided the Wildcats to an outright Big East regular-season title. Despite losing seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, expect the Wildcats to be better next season. Wright brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, led by five-star guard Bryan Antoine and impact frontcourt player Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Collin Gillespie, Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels are all back in the starting lineup, too.
No more Zion Williamson, no more RJ Barrett, no more Cam Reddish (we assume). With Tre Jones back and Mike Krzyzewski landing another piece or two in the spring, Duke will once again be near the top of the rankings. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden are both capable up front, and next season they will be paired with top-five recruit Vernon Carey Jr. Five-star Wendell Moore brings some scoring and toughness to the wing, and right now Duke is considered the favorite for unsigned top-10 prospect Matthew Hurt.
On paper, John Beilein doesn’t have a single senior. But the Wolverines will lose some players. Redshirt junior Charles Matthews went through Senior Day festivities in late February, and sophomore wing Jordan Poole could look to make the jump to the NBA. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis could test the waters. Assuming there isn’t a mass exodus, though, Beilein will still have a capable group, led by rising seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske. This team will continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, too.
Mark Few and Gonzaga are going to have another 30-win season. That’s just the way it goes. But don’t get it twisted; the Bulldogs won’t be bereft of talent, despite the expected losses of Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura and the graduation of Josh Perkins. Starters Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell will both be back, though Norvell could test the NBA draft waters. Killian Tillie should be healthy. Filip Petrusev could be poised for a breakout season. Plus, Few brings in a loaded recruiting class. The lone question will be at the point guard spot.
The Terps received a big boost when Jalen “Stix” Smith announced that he was returning for his sophomore season. Now they wait and see on Bruno Fernando. Had both bigs left, Mark Turgeon’s group probably drops out of the top 25. With Smith back, though, the Terrapins are going to be a factor in the Big Ten. Anthony Cowan returns at the point, and Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala and potential breakout Aaron Wiggins are back on the perimeter. Turgeon brings in some reinforcements up front, especially in the form of ESPN 100 center Makhi Mitchell.
The Buckeyes have overachieved in back-to-back years, going to the second round in each of Chris Holtmann’s two seasons in Columbus. Next year, though, they will enter the season with some expectations. Ohio State loses CJ Jackson (31 starts) and Keyshawn Woods (15 starts) but replaces them with five-star point guard DJ Carton and four-star forwards Alonzo Gaffney and EJ Liddell. Kaleb Wesson is an anchor inside, and starters Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad are also back.
11. Oregon Ducks
It’s tough to get a read on Dana Altman and the Ducks, given that they underachieved for the first two-thirds of the season and then got hot and made a run to the Sweet 16. They will definitely lose Ehab Amin and Paul White, and Louis King is ranked in the top 40 of ESPN’s draft board. Kenny Wooten could also test the waters. But if Wooten comes back, Altman will have a very talented group. Payton Pritchard is back at the point, with top juco prospect Chris Duarte and breakout candidate Will Richardson flanking him, and five-star forward CJ Walker joining the fold up front.
Kevin Willard decided to stay at Seton Hall after some initial flirtations with Virginia Tech, and now the Pirates have to hope Myles Powell returns to school too. Assuming Powell does, Seton Hall brings back everyone besides Michael Nzei. Powell is one of the elite scorers in the country, and Quincy McKnight developed into a lockdown defender late in the season. Willard will hope to get more out of Taurean Thompson, but he adds four-star forward Tyrese Samuel and shot-blocking big man Ike Obiagu.
13. 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? There are a lot of questions to be answered in Lawrence. Lagerald Vick is gone, Charlie Moore is gone, Dedric Lawson is likely gone, KJ Lawson is likely gone. What will Quentin Grimes and Udoka Azubuike decide to do? If both Grimes and Azubuike return, they will join high-level point guard Devon Dotson and part-time starters Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett and David McCormack.
What Chris Beard has done the past two seasons in Lubbock is unbelievable, and maybe we should stop doubting him just because he faces another Red Raiders rebuild. But he does have his work cut out for him. Brandone Francis, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase are all seniors, and Jarrett Culver is a top-10 pick. One difference between next season and the past couple of years, though, is that Beard is bringing in some high-level recruits. It starts with ESPN 100 prospects Jahmius Ramsey and Terrence Shannon, but Khavon Moore and Kevin McCullar are both redshirting, and juco transfer Khalid Thomas should also be factor.
The Cardinals have to hope Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch return to school next season, but if they do, this ranking might look way too low. Chris Mack loses point guards Christen Cunningham and Khwan Fore but 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, but it’s a six-man class that will be counted on immediately for the Cardinals. They could rise by the end of the spring.
It’s 48 wins in two seasons for Mike Hopkins at Washington, and he might have his best team yet next season. There are some significant losses, namely Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and David Crisp, but there’s an influx of talent heading to Seattle. It starts with elite recruit Isaiah Stewart, perhaps the most college-ready of any high school recruit in the country. Kentucky transfer Quade Green will slot in at the point guard spot. The X-factor will be unsigned top-10 prospect Jaden McDaniels. If he stays home and plays for Washington, the current favorite, look out.
17. Arizona Wildcats
The first team in the rankings that didn’t play in this year’s NCAA tournament, the Wildcats are going to rely heavily on the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. The headliners are top-10 guards Josh Green and Nico Mannion, who played together on the AAU circuit and will start immediately next season in Tucson. Freshman Brandon Williams was one of the bright spots for Sean Miller this season, and he’s the top returnee on the perimeter. Assuming that there are no Arizona-related issues in this month’s FBI trial, the Wildcats are a clear-cut top-20 team.
Craig Smith did one of the best coaching jobs in America this season, taking a team projected to finish ninth in the Mountain West and guiding them to a share of the conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Smith might have to develop some complementary options next season, but he brings back one of the better inside-outside duos in the country in guard Sam Merrill (20.9 PPG) and center Neemias Queta (11.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG). Merrill and Queta are enough to carry them to another conference championship.
19. Florida Gators
Even though they arrived on campus at different points, it felt like the core of KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone were in Gainesville for a long time. They’re all gone now, though, along with a couple of transfers. How will Mike White replace them? He has one of the better recruiting classes in the country, led by five-star wing Scottie Lewis, McDonald’s All-American point guard Tre Mann and top-50 big Omar Payne. Freshmen Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke lead a young group of returnees.
20. Houston Cougars
At this point, we should give Kelvin Sampson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is going to figure it out. After 60 wins in two seasons, he deserves that kind of credit. There are some key losses: top scorer Corey Davis Jr. and starters Galen Robinson and Breaon Brady. But Dejon Jarreau and Nate Hinton, who both came off the bench this season, might be the two most talented players on the team and should feature in bigger roles. Perimeter shooter Armoni Brooks is also back. Towson transfer Justin Gorham should help up front.
Randy Bennett’s team snuck into the NCAA tournament with a West Coast Conference tournament title, but the Gaels shouldn’t have as much trouble next season. Jordan Hunter is the lone senior, which means big-time scorer Jordan Ford and inside-outside threat Malik Fitts will be back to lead the way. Jock Perry is a player to watch in the paint. Even in a down year, Saint Mary’s was one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. The Gaels should pose more of a threat to Gonzaga in the WCC title race next season.
22. Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl fell 0.6 seconds short of the title game, but there were few teams in the country playing as well as the Tigers over the final month of the season. How will that carry into next season? Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer are definitely gone, and Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke could test the NBA draft waters. Because Pearl went 10-deep nearly every game, though, he brings back several rotation players. He also adds four four-star prospects, led by ESPN 100 forward Isaac Okoro. Should Harper come back, this ranking is too low.
The Tar Heels have been a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons, slotting in as a 2-seed in the other year. It’s hard to envision Roy Williams’ group getting back to that status next season. They lose essentially their top five players, with Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams, Coby White and Nassir Little all leaving. Garrison Brooks is the lone returning starter. Five-star Armando Bacot is an impact player up front, but the key will be whether Williams can land top uncommitted prospect Cole Anthony. He’s a game-changer.
24. Memphis Tigers
One of the most intriguing teams in the country next season will be Penny Hardaway’s Tigers. They lose four starters from a team that finished fifth in the AAC yet will have some hype heading into the year. No. 1 recruit James Wiseman is the prime candidate. He spurned Kentucky to stay home and play for Hardaway. Five-star forward DJ Jeffries is also entering the fold, and Hardaway has the Tigers in the mix for remaining ESPN 100 prospects Trendon Watford, Lester Quinones and Precious Achiuwa. There’s a lot to play out here.
Because Tennessee has won 57 games and earned a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons, they get a spot here — for now. Rick Barnes is being linked to the UCLA job, and Grant Williams and Jordan Bone are potential NBA early entrants. Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander are already gone. If Williams comes back, he could be preseason Player of the Year and would form a strong trio with Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. Five-star recruit Josiah James also enters the fold. We’ll wait and see on the Vols.