The college basketball season ended on Monday, but that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to talk about the sport even when we shouldn’t. There’s so much to be decided between now and next October — like, say, the NBA Draft, recruiting, transfers, coaches coming and going, whatever happens with the FBI — but we’re going to be wild and predict the Top 25 for next season. These predictions will absolutely be wrong, but content is content is content.
Duke will lose Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Gary Trent Jr., Tyus Jones and Trevon Duval, but they bring in R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, the top three recruits in the country. When the preseason rankings come around, no one will care that all three of those players are small forwards and that their games don’t really fit together, but Duke will forever be the preseason #1 and they will forever disappoint.
If Kansas can get to the Final Four with that team, just imagine what they can do with more talent coming in and another year of player development. The ‘Hawks are presumably returning Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike. They are set bring in five star recruits Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, plus maybe Romeo Langford, the 5th-rated recruit in the country. They’re also adding brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, who are likely to be significant contributors. Be scared of the Jays.
Ignore Virgnia’s last game when they became the first men’s team to lose to a 16-seed seed. This is a ranking of regular season performance, where the Cavs tend to excel before their play style is exposed in March. After earning the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, they’re returning most of their contributors and should be superb again.
Villanova will presumably lose a ton of quality players, but they’re still Villanova so they can only drop so low. Mikal Bridges is gone. Then if Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman do indeed leave, the Wildcats will have to scramble for their replacements. They should still have a bunch of returning players, most notably Donte DiVincenzo, and they will add five-star Jahvon Quinerly, the former Arizona commit. (Arizona doesn’t have any commits for 2018, by the way, and they lose their entire starting five, plus maybe Sean Miller.) (Hahaha.)
The Zags are returning virtually everyone from their Sweet Sixteen squad, sans Johnathan Williams. They should have great guards in Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr., and their presence inside should be ridiculous with Killian Tille and my love Rui Hachimura. They won’t be moving to the Mountain West, so this team will have to settle for an undefeated run through the WCC, an underseeding in the tournament, and an unsurprising Final Four appearance.
This is, more so than anything else, a wishful ranking. Tennessee shouldn’t compete for the National Championship, but this team is too cool to not have ranked this high. They return basically everyone from their SEC Championship team. We get another year of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, who should at the very least bully the SEC again.
North Carolina will lose point guard Joel Berry II, their rock for the past four years, but they should be able to replace him, at least in the regular season. Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson will lead the team and they have a top-10 recruiting classes coming in. (When did Luke Maye become an All-America candidate? Are we just pretending it’s normal this unathletic white dude just turned into one of the best forwards in the game? Is he drinking Tyler Hansbrough’s secret stuff?) The Heels will be fine, unfortunately.
Maybe it’s a good thing for Gonzaga that they won’t be in the Mountain West next season. The Wolf Pack proved in the NCAA Tournament that they are for real. They should be even better next season with Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Carolina all coming back. Watch out for them challenging the Zags for the title of best team in the West. (RIP, Pac-12 basketball.)
As their annual tradition, Kentucky will turn over basically their entire roster. There could be a surprising return — like maybe P.J. Washington pulling a Willie Caulie-Stein — but this will once again be an insanely talented team that will take time to gel.
The most notable subtraction from the Wolverines is arguably the most significant up to this point in the rankings, sans Jalen Brunson. That would be Moritz Wagner, the stretch-5 whose versatility allowed the Michigan offense to play a super efficient NBA-style offense. But Michigan will still have Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson, plus Jordan Poole, so they should be a high-quality team, albeit with a lower ceiling.
Tom Izzo just wasted his most talented squad and lose Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to the NBA, but the Spartans should be fine. They still have Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, who should develop into stars in the Big Ten.
12. TCU Horned Frogs
Assuming Jaylen Fisher returns to health, TCU should once again be a top 10 team at some point next season. With former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon at the helm, the Frogs leaped most of their competition with thorny defense and a lethally venomous offense that finished in the top 10 in KenPom’s efficiency rating.
13. Florida Gators
Sweet scorer Jalen Hudson and beefcake KeVaughn Allen will return next season, meaning the Gators will be very good at the very least. If Florida’s young players develop and their incoming recruits make an instant impact, they should challenge Tennessee and Kentucky for best the SEC. If they find consistency that alluded them last season, they could actually be one of the best teams in the nation.
West Virginia enjoyed a roller coaster year in 2017-18, but the highs make it tempting to believe in them again next season. They lose do-it-all point guard Jevon Carter, but they still return a ton of talented, experienced players, most notably big men Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate. If anyone in the Big 12 will challenge Kansas for the regular season title, it’s going to West Virginia or TCU.
The most successful trio in Purdue history since the Hummel-JaJuan-E’Twaun days will lose two of its pieces next year as Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards graduate. But that one returning piece, Carsen Edwards, is plenty good as a lead guard and he should be able to lead a solid team if the players around him develop. Purdue won’t be nearly as good as they were, but they should at least be a Big Ten contender.
Florida State surprised most of us with their Elite Eight run as a 9-seed. In their upsets of Xavier and Gonzaga, they showed that their young team has the defensive chops to lock down even the most dangerous offenses. Also, watch out for Terance Mann turning into Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
17. Oregon Ducks
It’s heartbreaking to see that the highest ranked Pac-12 team will be this low in the preseason Top 25, but I guess that’s just life now. Also, Arizona would have been in the top 15, but they, uh, have some issues right now. Anyway, I don’t think Oregon is very good, but they still have Payton Pritchard and Elijah Brown, plus they’re bring in five-star center Bol Bol (Manute’s son) and they might be willing to splurge on former Zona recruit, five-star Brandon Williams.
18. UCLA Bruins
UCLA, like Oregon, is hoping to clean up the mess Arizona has left behind. Not only will they (presumably) return Jaylen Hands, Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes, but they also added Shareef O’Neal (Shaq’s son) and five-star center Moses Brown, plus two other four-stars. Steve Alford will absolutely misuse all those players, but they’re talented enough to scare some folks.
If you remember those Marquette teams that were always talented and impossibly feisty on defense, you would never doubt Buzz Williams, VT’s current coach. He’s a great recruiter and he’s building something good with the Hokies. They’re only losing Justin Bibbs and his 13 points per game, so they return mostly everyone from a team that earned an 8-seed in the tournament.
20. Loyola Ramblers
Loyola’s magical run to the Final Four should earn them deserved hype for next season. The Ramblers will lose key starters Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson, but that’s not too big of a hit considering how deep and well-rounded the team is. It will be interesting to see if the Loyola program can use that Final Four run to become a mid-major power, like the Gonzaga of the Midwest.
Kansas State were never very impressive last season, but they kept working and working until they finally broke through in the NCAA Tournament, where they made a run to the Elite Eight, albeit with an easy path. The Wildcats don’t graduate anyone, so even though they don’t have anyone coming in, their continuity and player development should see them resemble the tournament-version of the team more so than the regular season version.
22. Auburn Tigers
Many of these Way Too Early Top 25s will have Auburn in the top 10 and maybe even the top 5. Those writers will say its because Auburn won a share of the SEC title and will return all their best players, including Mustapha Heron. But those writers aren’t considering the FBI. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl left Tennessee amid recruiting scandals and he’s currently being investigated by the FBI. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the Tigers won’t look quite the same in October, for whatever reason.
23. Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies would be top 15 if Robert Williams came back, but he’s not likely to spurn the NBA for a second time. Texas A&M returns mostly everyone besides Williams, and though that’s a significant loss, they’re in great shape next year because of their size and experience.
24. Clemson Tigers
I’m probably underrating Clemson here, but they had a ton of close wins last season and I’m not sure that will carry over. Then again, I haven’t watched a Clemson game since they had K.J. McDaniels and Jaron Blossomgame, so it’s impossible to say if those close wins were because of experience or luck.
IT’S HAPPENING, FOLKS. This isn’t even a ridiculous ranking and a few publications like Bleacher Report and The Athletic have CU in or just outside their top 25. This is because, in short, the Buffs are loaded with young players who are set to improve upon tantalizing skillsets. They’re also adding Evan Battey, promising prospects in Daylen Kountz and Elijah Parquet, and maybe a mystery graduate transfer that can contribute immediately. This team is stacked for the future; they just need everyone to develop together. McKinley Wright is going to lead the Buffs to a Sweet 16 (at least) at some point, maybe that can come a year or two ahead of schedule.