College basketball season is back Degens! And I for one could not be more excited. Much of the story lines will be the same to start the year, a brand new crop of highly touted freshmen, Duke starting off the year at the top, and Grayson Allen back for another year of dunking, tripping, and being Public Enemy #1! Many of the perennial blue bloods will be near the top of the rankings this year, which always makes the year more fun, but that doesn’t mean that someone won’t come from out of nowhere to create chaos, because of course that will happen. Here is a look at my top 25 to start off this season, as well as some of the players to watch out for in the months to come.
To the dismay of many, Duke is yet again the clear favorite heading into this season. Many ask, why? They were just as hyped up going into last year too, why will this year have a different result? Well last year, injuries to Harry Giles and Marques Bolden derailed the Blue Devils from the get go. Factor in Coach K having back surgery and the antics of Grayson Allen, and the adversity was too much. This year, a new crop of young freshman arrive in Durham, headed by Marvin Bagley, the potential #1 pick in the NBA Draft in June. The Blue Devils also bring in fellow five-star recruits Wendell Carter, Gary Trent, and perhaps most importantly, Trevon Duval, the top point guard in the class, a spot Duke did not have last year. The last two Duke national title teams both had true floor generals to run the show, and if Duval can be that guy, it could be smooth sailing for Coach K toward his sixth ring. Oh, and did I mention Grayson Allen is back? This could be a very special year in Durham.
#2 Michigan State
After the shocking surprise to return by Player of the Year favorite Miles Bridges, the Spartans were a lock to be a top 3 team heading into next year, and if it weren’t for Bagley committing late to Duke, I would likely have them in the top spot. If Cassius Winston and Josh Langford can take big steps forward this year, factored in with the contributions of five-star recruit Jaren Jackson, the Spartans will be very hard to beat in March. If you think Michigan State should be atop these rankings, well you will have your chance to be proven right very soon, as Duke and Michigan State will meet in the annual Champions Classic on November 14th. #1 vs. #2 this early in the year…..appointment television.
Arizona will have a great mix of youth and veteran leadership this year. Getting Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins to return to school was huge for Coach Sean Miller. Add the five-star recruit and the top freshman big man in the country in DeAndre Ayton, as well as other highly touted freshmen in Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph, and you have a Final Four contender. The development of Akot and Randolph will have to be rapid, however, as Alkins will miss the first few weeks with a broken foot that could keep him out until January. With Ayton having the ability to score from anywhere on the court, paired with a great backcourt in Trier and Alkins, the Wildcats will be awfully hard to guard.
The Jayhawks have a ton of veteran talent returning from last year, which as we saw with North Carolina last year, could be very crucial in winning the whole thing. Getting both Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk to return to school was huge for coach Bill Self, and adding transfer Malik Newman, who reports say has been unstoppable in the preseason, maybe have been even a bigger get. Newman, a former five-star recruit, had a horrid freshman year at Mississippi State and never really seemed to fit in. His talent was never in question, and a fresh start in Phog Allen Fieldhouse could be just what he needs. Freshman Bill Preston will be key off the bench and will be counted on to give the Jayhawks a spark on offense when called upon. An early season test looms large on November 14th in the Champions Classic against Kentucky.
Speaking of the Wildcats, another year, another ridiculous recruiting class put together by John Calipari. With Hamidou Diallo now eligible to play, as well as Kevin Knox very surprisingly committing to Kentucky after he was considered to be a Duke lock, Coach Cal will have two of the most athletic players in the country on the wings this season. Perhaps the most crucial player in this class will be fellow five-star recruit Quade Green, a player who plays a lot like former Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis. Based on talent, this is a top five team, but there are some questions that need to be answered: Who is the shooter for this team like Malik Monk or Jamal Murray was in years past? What happens when they get in foul trouble with such a short bench? That will remain to be seen, but if Green can develop into the player Ulis was, and they can find that shooter, Kentucky is an easy Final Four contender
Getting Phil Booth back for the Wildcats will be incredibly important for their success this year. After a great freshman year, Booth missed all of last year with a knee injury and was missed dearly. He will likely start the year on the bench, but look for him to break into the starting lineup at some point. The rest of Villanova’s success will rely on All-American Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, who will have to replace the offense that Josh Hart provided for this team. If they can do just that, along with solid contributions from Omari Spellman, then the Wildcats will be title contenders yet again.
#7 Wichita State
A switch from the Missouri Valley Conference to the AAC was a move that could be very beneficial for the Shockers. There is definitely more competition awaiting the former mid-major, but just as in the MVC, the Shockers will be the favorites in the AAC. Led by potential All-American Landry Shamet, Wichita will be more prepared for the big moments playing in the AAC, and will certainly fly under no one’s radar this year. If Shamet and sharpshooter Conner Frankamp can continue their offensive onslaught of their opponents, then a Final Four appearance is certainly in the sights for the Shockers.
#8 USC Trojans
The Trojans bring back their entire squad that nearly pulled the upset in the Round of 32 against Baylor, a game they probably should have won. That kind of experience should carry over into this year. The Trojans have one of the best frontcourts in the country that is led by Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, both of whom easily could have declared for the NBA Draft. A key under the radar addition that could be very beneficial down the stretch is the addition of Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, a former five-star recruit who simply didn’t fit in at Duke. If Thornton finds success in LA, USC is a legit contender.
#9 North Carolina Tar Heels
A Roy Williams coached team is never truly out of contention in any season, and this year is no different. The defending national champs return All-American and Player of the Year candidate Joel Berry for his senior year, as well as NCAA Tournament hero Luke Maye. The big question in Chapel Hill is what will the Tar Heels do in the post? With Kennedy Meeks, Tony Bradley, and Isaiah Hicks all gone, there could be some major problems in post scoring and rebounding. However, Roy Williams has done more with less, and if he can find a solution, UNC will be contenders yet again.
#10 West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia could be much higher on this list if they did not lose Elijah Macon, who left to turn pro, and Esa Ahmad, who is suspended the first 17 games of the season. While that is a major dent to the frontcourt for Bob Huggins, the return of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles will help the Mountaineers stay relevant until Ahmad returns. For a team that relies on their full court press defense to win games, it will be hard for Coach Huggins to play so hard with a very short bench, but Press Virginia has always been up to the task and will always stay in games with a defense that gives opposing teams nightmares
- Notre Dame
- St. Mary’s
Miles Bridges-Michigan State(POY)
Bonzie Colson-Notre Dame
Joel Berry-North Carolina
Marvin Bagley III-Duke
Michael Porter Jr.-Missouri
Angel Delgado-Seton Hall
Jock Landale-St. Mary’s
Landry Shamet-Wichita State
Mike Daum-South Dakota State