A Top 25 for 2018-2019 less than 24 hours after Villanova won the title? Yes. We do this every year. Last year’s early Top 25 had Gonzaga #1, then players went to the NBA, and Villanova came in at #9. Players have to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft by April 22; they can return to college without signing with an agent by May 30.
1 Duke (29-8, Lost in the Elite 8)
One word comes to mind: Unfair. The Blue Devils have, according to Rivals, the top three recruits in the country – forwards RJ Barrett (definitely 1-and-done), and human highlight reel Zion Williamson, plus shooting guard Cameron Reddish. So even with Marvin Bagley, Gary Trent, and Wendell Carter moving to the NBA, and Grayson Allen graduating, they’ll be stacked regardless of what happens with point guard Trevon Duval. The new point guard will be Tre Jones, a scoring machine who is the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped lead Duke to the 2015 National title. The Blue Devils will be the favorite to win the title. Marques Bolden will provide depth up front.
2 Kansas (31-8, Lost in the Final 4)
One of Bill Self’s best coaching jobs will be difficult to duplicate with heavy losses suffered with seniors Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, plus sophomore guard Malik Newman likely going to the NBA. But Self has embraced transfers, and they’ll play a major part in 2018-2019. The offense will return bouncy Lagerald Vick and brutish post players Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa. Expect former Arizona State wing Sam Cunliffe to slide into the Mykhailiuk role, and former Cal point guard Charlie Moore to start at point guard (unless five-star recruit Devon Dotson beats him out). Another 5-star recruit, Quentin Grimes, should take the starting spot when Newman departs. The real excitement though is reserved for the Lawson twins, Dedric and K.J., who came over from Memphis. Dedric averaged 19 and 9 with Memphis as a sophomore; KJ averaged 12 and 8. Self has won 30+ games three years in a row; he should make it four next year.
3 Villanova (36-4, Won National Title)
This is how much of a juggernaut Jay Wright has built: They won the title in 2016, went back to the Final 4 in 2018, and they are absolutely loaded for next year. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will almost certainly turn pro, leaving a leadership void, but there’s still a ton of talent, led by forwards Eric Paschall (junior) and Omari Spellman (freshman), assuming the latter comes back. Phil Booth will probably start at guard alongside Collin Gillespie, and Donte DiVincenzo will slide into the spot vacated by Bridges. (Given how well DiVincenzo played in the Title game, perhaps he tests the NBA waters.) Forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be the first big off the bench. Incoming freshman Jahvon Quinerly (PG), Cole Winder (PF), and Brandon Slater (SF) will see minutes. There will be more Final Four expectations.
4 Kentucky (26-11, Lost in the Sweet 16)
John Calipari might consider last year an accomplishment, given where they were in January, but there’s no way he expected to lose to Kansas State as 5-point favorites. Gone will be the team’s best two players, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and perhaps Hamidou Diallo (though he should stay and work on his game). Everyone else should be back, and the player I’m most excited about is Nick Richards, who barely played in the NCAA Tournament, but is more skilled than PJ Washington. If Quade Green starts at point guard, expect him to be joined by Top 20 recruits Keldon Johnson (SF) and Immanuel Quickley (G). Guard Tyler Herro will add to the young backcourt, which probably won’t be as good as the stacked frontcourt. Between sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel and freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, the Wildcats should be much bigger and deeper than last year.
5 Gonzaga (32-5, Lost in the Sweet 16)
We’ll never know how good the Zags were last year because 6-foot-11 gunner Killian Tillie (12.9 ppg) missed the Florida State loss. With him, I’m certain they win. The Zags lose forward Johnathan Williams, who led them in scoring and rebounding, and steady senior guard Silas Melson, but if nobody goes to the NBA, they’ll be a strong Final 4 contender. If sophomore Rui Hachimura returns, he could be an All-American. So could rising sophomore Zach Norvell, who blew up in the NCAA Tournament and might be their best player. Then there’s point guard Josh Perkins, Tillie and promising wing Corey Kispert (6.7 ppg). Keep an eye on transfer Brandon Clarke, who two years ago averaged 17.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg for San Jose State. If Hachimura and Norvell stay, make a futures play on the Zags during your next Vegas trip.
6 Nevada (29-8, Lost in the Sweet 16)
Eric Musselman’s team had perhaps the best season in school history with a trip to the Sweet 16, and there will be legit Final 4 aspirations next year. The Martin twins will be back, as will the Wolfpack’s best interior player, Jordan Caroline (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Replacing their best 3-point shooter (Kendall Stephens) will be difficult, but point guard Lindsey Drew will return from injury. Three transfers will provide much-needed depth: forward Tre’Shawn Thurman (12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg at Omaha in 2017); Nisre Zouzoua, a guard from Bryant University (20.3 ppg); and guard Corey Henson (14.6 ppg at Wagner). In a recruiting coup, 6-foot-9 power forward KJ Hymes picked Nevada over Clemson, Oklahoma and UVA.
7 Kansas State (25-12, Lost in the Elite Eight)
Before the year, nobody thought much of Kansas State’s talent, but after a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 and a run to the Elite Eight, the Wildcats’ core of Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed, Kamau Stokes and Cartier Diarra looks pretty good. Better yet, they’re all expected to be back for 2018-19. That gives Kansas State a returning starting five that includes a first-team All-Big 12 forward (Wade) and a second-team guard (Brown) who also made the all-defensive team. The challenge for Kansas State, as always, is recruiting. Coach Bruce Weber has just one commitment from the class of 2018, three-star guard Shaun Williams. But then again there was the late-season blossoming of big man Makol Mawien, who will be a junior next season. In short, the Wildcats will return a proven veteran team with two of the best scorers in the Big 12.
8 North Carolina (26-11, Lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament)
Losing seniors Theo Pinson and Joel Berry but it’ll hurt even more if Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson don’t return for their final seasons. If Maye sticks around to join Kenny Williams, and you toss in freshman Garrison Brooks, plus recruits SF Nassir Little (#5 overall) and SG Coby White (#25), and you’ve got another 25+ win season for Roy Williams.
9 Tennessee (26-9, Lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament)
Will be back in the NCAA Tournament after a devastating late loss to Loyola. Rick Barnes returns his best two players, SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams (15.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Admiral Schofield (13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 39 percent on 3-pointers). And his stacked sophomore class of guards Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden should make them, along with Kentucky, the favorites in the SEC.
10 Loyola-Chicago (32-6, Lost in the Final 4)
The MVC Player of the Year, Clayton Custer (13.4 ppg, 4.2 apg, 45 percent on 3-pointers), is back, and so is 3rd leading scorer Marques Townes (11.1 ppg), along with freshman bulldozer Cameron Krutwig (10.5 ppg). Freshman shooter Lucas Williamson (43 percent on 3-pointers) is ready for a larger role. Of utmost importance: Keeping coach Porter Moser, who after a rough go at Illinois State, looks like a potential star. But the Ramblers will be the hunted next year, and we saw how another team from Chicago handled that this past season after a nice 2017 March run. Northwestern went 15-17 despite returning its best three players, and missed the tournament.
11 Syracuse (23-14, Lost in the Sweet 16)
There’s good news … and more good news. The Orange don’t lose anyone from the rotation. Tyus Battle (19.2 ppg), Oshae Brissett (14.9 ppg) and Frank Howard (14.4 ppg) are back, and so is rapidly improving role player Marek Dolezaj (5.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg). Depth will be a challenge with Top 10 recruit Darius Bazley opting for the G-League, but point guard Jalen Carey should contribute immediately.
12 Auburn (26-8, Lost in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament)
The Tigers had four players average in double figures last season, and all of them return. In fact, nobody from the rotation graduates. Auburn lost six of its final 11 games, so Bruce Pearl will have a stacked team. Guard Bryce Brown’s going to need help from his teammates shooting 3-pointers if they want to make the leap to Final Four contender. The biggest question mark here is the status of Pearl, who was under fire before last season.
13 Virginia (31-3, Lost in the 1st Round of NCAA Tournament)
The stench from the UMBC loss won’t soon be forgotten. Virginia returns its top scorer (Kyle Guy, 14.1 ppg) and 3rd leading scorer (Ty Jerome, 10.6 ppg) plus promising freshman De’Andre Hunter, who missed that NCAA loss. The defense will be great, but will the offense improve? What does 30 wins mean if you don’t threaten to reach the Final 4? And they don’t have – as of now – any standout JUCOs or impact recruits coming in. The breakout star could be rising sophomore Marco Anthony, a combo guard who some think could be the next Malcolm Brogdon.
14 West Virginia (26-11, Lost in the Sweet 16)
Losing the great senior backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles is crushing, but as usual, Bob Huggins will have the a tournament team again. Sagaba Konate, the best shot blocker in college basketball, will be a junior. Forwards Lamont West (9.4 ppg) and Esa Ahmad (10.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) are back. Two names to watch: shooting guard Trey Doomes from Florida, and Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball, Jordan McCabe, who is an Instagram star.
15 Texas A&M (22-13, Lost in the Sweet 16)
Leading scorer Tyler Davis (14.9 ppg) is back, along with 2nd leading scorer Admon Gilder (12.3 ppg) and 3rd leading scorer DJ Hogg (11.1 ppg). They’ll miss jumping jack shot blocker Robert Williams. Ultra-quick guard TJ Starks is back. Top 100 shooting guard Antwann Jones is expected to be a contributor.
16 Michigan State (30-5, Lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament)
The bad news: Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are (likely) gone to the NBA. The good news: Nick Ward (12.4 ppg), Cassius Winston (49 percent on 3-pointers), and Josh Langford (11.7 ppg) are back. The Big Ten doesn’t look to have a powerhouse next year, and Tom Izzo needs to work his magic with all the 5-star recruits who haven’t signed anywhere yet to put the Spartans into that group. Robert Morris transfer Braden Burke was a big deal in high school two years ago, but averaged a modest 4.3 ppg and 2.7 rpg for the Colonials. He’ll add size (6-foot-11) to back up Ward.
17 UCLA (21-12, Lost in an NCAA Tournament Play-In Game)
Coach Steve Alford loses a solid pair of seniors – Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman – and two players will test the NBA waters: leading scorer Aaron Holiday and talented freshman Jaylen Hands. Still, they’ve got returning talent – Kris Wilkes (13.7 ppg) and Prince Ali (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg in just 22 minutes a game) – and a Top 10 recruiting class. Landing Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal – after he had committed to Arizona, but changed his mind when the FBI got involved – was a coup, and 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown will play plenty inside. How much scoring 4-star recruits Tyger Campbell and David Singleton give will be crucial.
18 Michigan (33-8, Lost in the National Title game)
With seniors Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson graduating, plus the likely loss of leading scorer and rebounder Moritz Wagner to the NBA, John Beilein will need some luck to get back to the Final 4. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews (13.0 ppg) will be the focal point of the offense, with the likely starting backcourt of Jordan Poole (hit the game-winner to beat Houston) and point guard Zavier Simpson. Incoming 4-star recruit Brandon Johnson should get minutes; and 6-foot-11 Top 150 player Colin Castleton will back up Jon Teske (3.5 ppg).
19 Cincinnati (31-5, Lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament)
The devastating choke against Nevada in the 2nd round will linger, but so will the loss of seniors Gary Clark (12.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Kyle Washington (11.3 ppg). But the team’s leading scorer Jacob Evans (13.0 ppg) is back, as are guards Jarron Cumberland (11.5 ppg) and Cane Broome (7.9 ppg). There’s plenty of depth, and freshman point guard Logan Johnson could crack the rotation as well.
20 Oregon (23-13, Missed NCAA Tournament)
After the Final Four trip in 2017, the Ducks just lost too much firepower to get back to the tournament. But if standout freshman Troy Brown (11.3 ppg) returns to join Payton Pritchard (14.5 ppg, 41 percent on 3-pointers) and Elijah Brown (13.6 ppg), they’ll be back in the dance. They also add three Top 30 freshman, including Manute Bol’s son, Bol Bol, a top 10 recruit as a center.
21 Virginia Tech (21-12, Lost in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament)
Senior guard Justin Bibbs was 2nd on the Hokies in scoring and made the most 3-pointers, so his graduation will hit hard. But everyone else is back, with point guard Justin Robinson (14.0 ppg, 39 percent on 3-pointers) and center Kerry Blackshear (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) expected to lead the way for Buzz Williams.
22 Florida State (23-12, Lost in the Elite 8)
Lose two of their two three scorers to graduation, but the bulk of Leonard Hamilton’s team from his best NCAA Tournament run will return. Guard Terance Mann (12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is back, along with MJ Walker (7.0 pg). Guard CJ Walker, who averaged 8-2-2, is transferring. Keep an eye on junior guard PJ Savoy, who had a nice NCAA Tournament run and shot 37 percent on 3’s last season. Both 7-footers, Chris Koumadje (1.5 blocks per game playing 16 minutes a game) and Ike Obiagu (2.1 blocks per game in 10 minutes a night) return.
23 Texas (19-15, Lost in the 1st round of NCAA Tournament)
Shaka Smart enters year four at Texas with zero NCAA Tournament wins after the collapse against Nevada. But there’s good news: Even though center Mo Bamba is off to the NBA draft, his next three best players are back – forward Dylan Osetkowski (13.4 ppg), and the backcourt of Matt Coleman (10.2 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Kerwin Roach (12.3 ppg, 3.6 apg). They were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country last year, and that must improve.
24 LSU (18-15, Missed NCAA Tournament)
When you can land two 5-star recruits – forward Emmitt Williams and center Nazreon Reid – and two 4-star recruits, you’re going to pop up on the early-season lists. Toss in their leading scorer returning (Tremont Waters 15.9 ppg, 6.0 apg) and 2nd leading rebounder (Skylar Mays, 11.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), and the only question we’ll have: Will they shoot the ball well enough?
25 Wisconsin (15-18, Missed the NCAA Tournament)
Nobody from the rotation graduates, and it appears nobody is leaving early for the NBA, so look for Ethan Happ (17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg) to have a monster senior year, and rising star Brad Davison to build on his 12.1 ppg as a freshman. The tournament streak ended last year but they start a new one in 2019.
Louisville (22-14, Didn’t Make the NCAA Tournament)
2017-2018 was a rough year for Louisville, and the program was rocked with Rick Pitino’s firing. They still came within a few plays of a NCAA Tournament appearance (who can forget the loss to Virginia up by 4 with a second remaining) but could not get the big wins. Chris Mack may have slightly muted expectations in year one, but expect a bounce back. They lose Anas Mahmoud and point guard Quentin Snyder, but if Deng Adel returns they could be a top 20 team.
Alabama (20-16, Lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament)
The loss of Collin Sexton to the NBA will obviously be massive, but Avery Johnson returns his next three best players. Donta Hall will be a 1st team All-SEC candidate, and freshman John Petty (10.2 ppg, 37 percent on 3-pointers) has star potential. Toss in guard Dazon Ingram and glue guy Herbert Jones and the Tide will be one of the best teams in the suddenly-great SEC. Four-star recruit Jared Butler will be the backup point guard to Johnson’s son.
Vanderbilt (12-20, Didn’t Make the NCAA Tournament)
Coach Bryce Drew got his team here with two massive recruiting wins – Top 10 recruit Simisola Shittu from Vermont, a versatile 6-foot-9 talent who should average double figures immediately, and dynamic point guard Darius Garland, the best player in the state of Tennessee. Add four-star wing Aaron Nesmith and this will be the best Commodores team since 2012, when Kevin Stallings had future NBA players Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins.
Purdue (30-7, Lost in the Sweet 16)
The March injury to Isaac Haas was unfortunate, as the Boilermakers had the talent to make the Final 4. Now Haas graduates, as does do-it-all wing Vincent Edwards, guard Dakota Mathias, and guard PJ Thompson. Purdue will go as far as All-American candidate Carsen Edwards (18.5 ppg, 40 percent on 3-pointers) will take them. Incoming guard Eric Hunter is one of the 10 best scorers in Indiana state basketball history. Keep an eye on Evan Boudreaux, a graduate transfer forward who averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg for Dartmouth in 2016-2017. He was going to play for Xavier, but bolted when Chris Mack left for Louisville.
Penn State (26-13, Won the NIT)
This one is dependent on what happens with Tony Carr. He is going to test the NBA waters, and if he stays in the draft, that’s a big loss. If he returns to Happy Valley, then the Nittany Lions can be a contender for the Big Ten title, and can try to be the latest team to springboard from a NIT title to a NCAA Appearance (like TCU last year).
Texas Tech (27-10, Lost in Elite Eight)
The Red Raiders will take a few steps back from their deepest tournament run ever and a #3 seed in 2018. Keenan Evans, Justin Gray, and Niem Stevenson will all be gone. But Chris Beard is a rising coaching talent, and they will still have high riser Zhaire Smith, Jarrett Culver, and Davide Moretti will move into the starting point guard role.