- It's never too soon to start thinking about next year. Who leads our way-too-early rankings for 2019–20?
Way-too-early is an understatement—there might as well still be confetti on the court in Minneapolis—but with another college basketball season all wrapped up, it’s a good time to look ahead to the fall, if ever-so-briefly. These rankings are going to look way different come October, noting the impending flurry of movement (between NBA draft decisions, coaching changes, grad transfers and uncommitted recruits, there’s a lot left to happen). Think of this less as a personal affront to your school, and more of a cursory look at the field.
1. Michigan State
This season: 32–7, Lost in Final Four
While the Spartans’ late-season run ended in the Final Four, they’ll return a large part of their core, graduating only Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, assuming Cassius Winston returns for his senior year. Xavier Tillman has emerged in a big way, Aaron Henry continues to improve, highly rated newcomer Rocket Watts adds scoring in the backcourt, and the Spartans should be easy Big Ten favorites entering the fall. Keep an eye on rising sophomore Marcus Bingham, who spent this season mostly on the bench but might actually be Michigan State’s best pro prospect.
This season: 30–7, lost in Elite Eight
The issue of heavy roster turnover is nothing new for the Wildcats, who are likely to lose PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro to the draft and will graduate Reid Travis. The good news: Kentucky brings in readymade backcourt scorer Tyrese Maxey, athletic wing Kahlil Whitney and versatile forward Keion Brooks to replace them. Ashton Hagans should end up coming back to run the point. It’s impossible to know exactly what this team will look like in November, but Kentucky may not fall off much, if at all. The addition of grad transfer Nate Sestina adds crucial depth in the frontcourt.
This season: 35–3, won national title
The national champs check in at third. We can assume De’Andre Hunter is off to the NBA. Ty Jerome may be going with him, but Kyle Guy should be back, along with the majority of the rotation. If they get Jerome back, the Hoos have a case to open the season at No. 1. Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and Kihei Clark will be asked to do more, and incoming freshman Casey Morsell could see minutes early. With how consistent and effective Tony Bennett has been in getting the most out of his players, Virginia should be able to manage just fine.
This season: 30–7, lost in Sweet 16
Michigan will lose Charles Matthews to the NBA, and Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis could potentially be out the door as well. Getting either of the latter two back would be huge, but this is a well-oiled program that will find ways to keep things rolling. At minimum, Michigan will bring back Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers (who will be a breakout candidate in a starting role). Top recruit Jalen Wilson could also make an early impact. There could be some holes on the wing, but at this point, you just kind of assume John Beilein is going to figure things out.
This season: 32–6, lost in Elite Eight
We know Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are headed out the door, but Tre Jones’s return adds a huge element for Duke, and should prevent it from dropping off too hard. Jones will be relied on to lead the team and improve his jump shooting. The Blue Devils' recruiting class is headlined by highly-rated center Vernon Carey, do-it-all wing Wendell Moore and scoring guard Boogie Ellis, and they remain in hot pursuit of stretch forward Matthew Hurt. This is a group that will need to jell quickly to contend, and you can expect a more interior-focused approach, with Carey as a focal point. Don’t expect them to dominate like they did this season, but Duke should, again, look like Duke.
This season: 24–10, lost in first round
For the Golden Eagles to remotely justify this ranking, Markus Howard has to come back. If he does, the expectations will be sky-high. Every other key player retuns and incoming Utah State transfer Koby McEwen could end up starting at guard and helping free up Howard. If Sam and Joey Hauser can take steps forward, it’ll help take pressure off Howard to do everything, and if the screws tighten a bit defensively, there’s a lot to feel good about with this group. Marquette will be out to prove a poor end to this season was more a mirage than anything. [EDITOR'S NOTE: After publish, Marquette announced that Sam and Joey Hauser are both transferring from the university).
This season: 26–10, lost in second round
Losing Eric Paschall and Phil Booth hurts Villanova from a leadership perspective, but there are a host of underclassmen on the roster, including Saddiq Bey who will undoubtedly benefit from another off-season together. Of course, it also helps that Paschall and Booth will be replaced by McDonald’s All Americans Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, both of whom should start immediately. Antoine is Villanova’s most talented recruit in a long time, and could be the top freshman in the Big East. Jay Wright should have the Wildcats in good shape once again.
This season: 33–4, lost in Elite Eight
Gonzaga reloads as well as any program, and should stay competitive even with Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke on their way to the NBA. They will need sharpshooter Zach Norvell back to reach their ceiling and stabilize a backcourt that loses Josh Perkins and Geno Crandall. It seems likely Killian Tillie will have to return to try and put together a healthy season, and with Filip Petrusev and Corey Kispert joining him, Gonzaga’s frontline should be rock solid. The Bulldogs also have a deep recruiting class on the way, led by center Drew Timme and forward Anton Watson, plus a trio of international recruits.The biggest question will be figuring out the minutes at point guard.
9. Ohio State
This season: 20–15, lost in second round
The Buckeyes graduate their starting backcourt of CJ Jackson and Keyshawn Woods, but have a host of young players ready to step up, and most importantly, should bring back standout center Kaleb Wesson, who will be one of the top players in the conference. A trio of incoming freshmen—point guard DJ Carton and forwards Alonzo Gaffney and EJ Liddell—should all help in some capacity. Noting the continuity and the job Chris Holtmann has been doing, the Buckeyes are looking good going into the summer.
This season: 25–13, lost in Sweet 16
Bol Bol is off to the pros, and Louis King will likely go with him, but with Payton Pritchard and a handful of underclassmen all returning, the Ducks should again be among the better Pac-12 teams. Three top-100 recruits are incoming, led by high-flying forward CJ Walker, plus top JUCO recruit Chris Duarte. Talent shouldn’t be an issue here. The key swing factor is whether or not Kenny Wooten returns, as he gives them a unique defensive backbone and can be a game-changer. Oregon’s late-season play was nothing if not encouraging.
This season: 23–11, lost in second round
The Terps will likely lose Bruno Fernando, but Jalen Smith is coming back, the rest of their core should return, and expectations will remain high. Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala and potential breakout Aaron Wiggins can all improve. There’s enough here to handle Fernando’s absence, particularly if Smith takes a big sophomore leap. This is a talented group with more left to prove.
This season: 26–10, lost in second round
Both Lawson brothers are out the door and Kansas’s season was weird as it was, but it's also getting a decent amount back. Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett should be back, and Quentin Grimes should probably stay. Although the Jayhawks' recruiting class looks underwhelming, this group should be expected to build on what was an uneven year overall. They may need a grad transfer or two to fill out the rotation.
13. Texas Tech
This season: 31–7, lost in national championship game
After a run to the national title game, Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens are among the key departures, but after the last two seasons, the Red Raiders have earned the benefit of the doubt. Chris Beard brings in a strong recruiting class led by Jahmius Ramsey, Terrence Shannon and 7-footer Russell Tchewa, and you can expect them to add another grad transfer or two to help fill out the rotation. Davide Moretti will be back. Although there should be some drop-off from what was a historically good defensive team, there’s still reason for optimism here.
This season: 17–15, missed NCAA tournament
Although it would appear Sean Miller’s fate as head coach is up in the air, Arizona should be fine so long as it can keep incoming standouts Nico Mannion and Josh Green in the fold. The Wildcats will be expected to help revive a down Pac-12, and both freshmen should be immediate starters, are ready to make an impact, and will help turn things around. Transfer Stone Gettings will also be eligible. They’ll need to get more out of Brandon Williams, and this will be a guard-driven team, but there’s almost no way they can be quite this bad again. This could be a bounce-back year if things shake out for the positive, but there’s still some roster flux that has to play out.
15. Seton Hall
This season: 20–14, Lost in First Round
The Pirates were quietly formidable this season, and while Myles Powell will have to return to justify a top-25 ranking, if he’s back, they’ll again be able to lean on him and hope to get more out of their returners. They’ll get all their key pieces back in what looks like a much stronger Big East overall. Powell hasn’t quite earned the spotlight he deserves as one of college basketball’s top scorers, but that time is coming.
This season: 20–14, lost in first round
While top scorer Jordan Nwora could be off to the NBA, Chris Mack has a highly-ranked recruiting class on the way, led by McDonald’s All-American Samuell Williamson and high-energy big man Aidan Igiehon. The Cardinals exceeded expectations in year one, and as Mack continues to phase his players in, there should be more where that came from. It’s not clear yet where the points are going to come from, but the talent level and roster quality is certainly trending upward. If Nwora is back, there’s reason to be bullish.
This season: 27–9, lost in second round
Although the Huskies lose four key players in Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and David Crisp, freshman Isaiah Stewart will be an immediate force up front, and headlines a solid recruiting class that could still include a second five-star talent in Jaden McDaniels. Quade Green will be ready to go after transferring in from Kentucky, and Nahziah Carter showed some flashes this season, as well. The turnaround under Mike Hopkins should continue, and Stewart, in particular, will be the key.
This season: 20–16, lost in second round
Florida should have quite a bit to look forward to next season with the arrival of McDonald’s All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, both of whom will be immediately crucial to the Gators’ success and could be program-changers. Mike White got good showings from his freshmen down the stretch, and assuming Andrew Nembhard is back, this will be a group that hopes to contend in the SEC. The big questions will again come up front, where the unproven Isaiah Stokes and Dontay Bassett and incoming freshman Omar Payne are slated to handle minutes. This could be a dynamic, perimeter-driven team, although they’ll have to be much more consistent this time around.
19. Saint Mary’s
This season: 22–12, lost in first round
The Gaels are getting nearly everybody back and should be able to build on what ended up being a solid season, particularly with conference rival Gonzaga set to retool. Jordan Ford is a dynamic scorer, Malik Fitts is an underrated presence on the wing, and Randy Bennett should have these guys ready for another step forward. They’re a bit of a dark horse coming in, but the group they have should continue to be solid.
20. Utah State
This season: 28-7, lost in first round
Provided shot-blocker Neemias Queta sticks around, the Aggies will be even more dangerous, bringing back nearly every key contributor from a team that was sneakily good. Sam Merrill was one of the best players in the conference, and with Nevada in a state of change, they should be the early-season favorites in the Mountain West. There’s potential for Utah State to keep building on this season.
21. North Carolina
This season: 29–7, lost in Sweet 16
Arguably no team will lose more than the Tar Heels, with Coby White and Nassir Little NBA-bound and Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams all graduating. Garrison Brooks is the only returning starter. Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black should be in for bigger roles. Five-star center Armando Bacot is in the fold, and North Carolina remains hot after top point guard recruit Cole Anthony. The tea leaves would suggest they’ll land him, but he’ll be tasked with a ton of responsibility out of the gate. Expect them to look into grad transfer options to try and add depth on the wing, too. They could start the season ranked higher than this, but a lot of dominos have to fall first.
This season: 33–4, lost in Sweet 16
Losing the starting backcourt of Corey Davis and Galen Robinson will sting, but the Cougars certainly have the depth to keep things rolling. Sophomore Dejon Jarreau, the team’s most dynamic player and an intriguing pro prospect, should be in line for more minutes. Everyone else returns. Kelvin Sampson is a hot name on the coaching carousel, but if he stays put, he’ll have a lot to work with again. Houston shouldn’t face too much of a drop-off.
This season: 31–6, lost in Sweet 16
Everything hinges on whether Grant Williams and Jordan Bone return to school. Neither are surefire first-rounders at this stage, but it also might be hard for them to raise their stock any further. Obviously, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander will be two major losses up front. Yves Pons will deserve more minutes, and incoming five-star guard Josiah James will be a huge help, too. This could be a top-10 team again, or this could be more of a rebuilding year.
This season: 22–14, missed NCAA tournament
All eyes will be on star freshman James Wiseman, who’s staying home to play for Penny Hardaway and aiming to carry Memphis back to the tournament for the first time since 2014. A solid recruiting class will come in with him, including forward D.J. Jeffries, and the Tigers also bring back a trio of freshman guards including starting point guard Tyler Harris. This is a team that will need to jell quickly, but with the presence of Wiseman, who could be the top pick in the 2020 draft, there’s more than enough talent here to build on a 22-win campaign and challenge in the AAC.
This season: 30–10, lost in the Final Four
There are a lot of variables here, but Auburn earns the last place based on its Final Four run. Chuma Okeke’s injury could complicate a leap to the NBA, but if he’s back, it’ll help a ton. Bryce Brown will be gone and Jared Harper could also be turning pro, so there will be work to do. The arrival of physical wing Isaac Okoro should help bolster the rotation, and Auburn’s frontcourt will remain plenty deep. Provided they can maintain some of their mojo, the Tigers should stay competitive.
On the cusp: Iowa, Creighton, Xavier, Cincinnati, USC