I can't wait to tip it off, baby! It should be thrilling to see teams progress and improve as the season rolls on. You see players and teams learn their strengths and weaknesses and adjust.
I'm going to go out on a limb and give up my preseason top 40. There have been a lot of rosters change across America, and the NBA draft happening much later has affected several teams. Right now, college schedules are absolute chaos. Some schools will have limited nonconference schedules. It is not easy to figure out how this season will go, but I will base this on players returning and players lost, coaching and the VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index), which is in overdrive, baby!
Here we go:
A team without its former WCC Player of the Year,Filip Petrusev,is my choice for No. 1 in America. Mark Few's squad is loaded, and it helped to have Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi withdraw from the draft and return to Spokane, Washington. Kispert is the best player in the WCC. One reason for enthusiasm is diaper dandyJalen Suggs, ranked in the top 10 on the ESPN recruiting list. A super player who also competed in football in high school, Suggs will be one of the premier diaper dandies in America. Up front, Drew Timme has showed signs of potential, and he will be called upon to produce more. He can handle the added responsibility. Forward Anton Watson can be a factor if he stays healthy; injuries have hampered him in the past. This could be the year Few cuts down the nets.
Jay Wright lost Saddiq Bey, the Julius Erving forward of the year. The Wildcats return a ton of talent, led by guard Collin Gillespie, who will be on preseason All-America lists. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels each averaged double-figure scoring, and they can do more damage. Bryan Antoine was highly recruited but plagued by injuries last season; if he returns to form, watch out. Wright also welcomes former Tulane standoutCaleb Danielsto the court, and he has double-figure scoring potential.
3. Baylor Bears
The Bears are a legitimate national championship contender with the return of Jared Butler and MaCio Teague, as both withdrew from NBA draft consideration. The Bears were one of seven teams to be ranked No. 1 during the last regular season. Defense was a key as Baylor ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense and held opponents below 40% on field goals. Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital are veteran factors. Tristan Clark, if he can stay healthy, can contribute. The Bears face Gonzaga in a nonconference contest and could meet Villanova in a tournament.
Tony Bennett's teams always do it with defense. TheCavaliers led the nation in scoring defense at 52.4 points per game and were second in field goal percentage defense at 36.9. They add a scoring threat in Marquette transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged almost 15 PPG in his last season. Kihei Clark is a tremendous leader in the backcourt as an exceptional defender and passer. Jay Huff showed signs of improvement late in the season, and he will contribute up front. This Cavaliers team is ready to make another run at the national title.
The Big Ten is loaded, and I am leaning toward a Badgers team loaded with experience. Wisconsin came on strong to tie for the Big Ten regular-season title. The Badgers have a reliable scorer up front in Nate Reuvers at 13 PPG. This team will have a lot of balance, and Brad Davison has been a clutch performer. Coach Greg Gard can rely onD'Mitrik Trice,Aleem FordandMicah Potter. All five potential starters averaged at least 8.5 PPG. Gard also has recruited talent to provide depth.
Rock Chalk Jayhawks fans will have plenty to cheer about, even withoutUdoka Azubuikeand Devon Dotson. Bill Self has the nation's top defender returning in Marcus Garrett. Ochai Agbaji is a consistent scorer who will have added responsibility. Look for major improvement up front from big man David McCormack. Diaper dandyBryce Thompson is talented and will fill up the stat sheet. Juco transferTyon Grant-Fosteris capable of impacting Kansas. There will be quite the battle between Baylor and Kansas in the Big 12.
Tom Izzo would love to make another Final Four run. It will be strange not seeing Cassius Winston in a Spartans uniform, butRocket Watts is ready to step up and lead the team. Michigan State also lostXavier Tillman. But Aaron Henry withdrew from the draft, and he needs to be a consistent scoring threat. Others are ready to step up, such asGabe Brown andMarcus Bingham. Izzo is thrilled to have Marquette transfer Joey Hauser, who should provide double-figure scoring. Malik Hall should contribute, as well.
Chris Beard has rejuvenated his roster by going the transfer route once again. It helped in his Final Four run, and he hopes for a repeat. Marcus Santos-Silva comes in from VCU and has double-double potential. If Mac McClung is eligible, the Georgetown transfer could put up big numbers. Wichita State transfer Jamarius Burton received a waiver, and he is eligible to play right away. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe scored in double figures for the Rebels. VeteransTerrence Shannonand Kyler Edwards also return.
Yes, the Blue Devils lost a lot.Vernon Carey, Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley combined to average over 46 PPG last season. Mike Krzyzewski needs Matthew Hurt andWendell Mooreto be consistent double-figure scorers up front. Joey Baker and Jordan Goldwire provide veteran leadership in the backcourt. Duke will rely on diaper dandies for a major impact.Jalen Johnson and Jeremy Roachwere both ranked among ESPN's top 20 recruits, and they should challenge for starting assignments.
Rick Barnes has a veteran factor withJohn Fulkerson returning up front. He is one of the best players in the SEC. Yves Pons averaged double-figure scoring last season, and he withdrew from the NBA draft; I expected even more from him this season. Transfers will be a factor for the Vols.E.J. Anosike, a transfer from Sacred Heart, was one of the nation's top rebounders. Oregon transferVictor Baileyis ready to perform.Josiah Jordan-Jamesappears ready to break through. Tennessee and Kentucky will battle for supremacy in the SEC.
The return of a healthy Marcus Zegarowski will put the Bluejays in the hunt with Villanova in the Big East. Zegarowski was injured late last season but is ready this time around. They did lose Ty-Shon Alexander, but they have enough returning talent to earn a high national ranking. Remember, this team tied for the Big East regular-season title last year. Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson considered the NBA draft but opted to return to Omaha. Mitch Ballock was a double-figure scorer last season who should have similar production.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes
Because the Big Ten is loaded, I have Iowa and Illinois a drop lower than some. Luka Garza is the clear-cut Preseason Player of the Year. He had 25 games with 20 or more points and 15 double-doubles against Big Ten competition last season. The key to success could be the return ofJordan Bohannonfrom a hip injury. Iowa also returns double-figure scorers Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick. Can the Hawkeyes live up to high expectations? It will not be easy in the loaded Big Ten.
Big Blue Nation will simply reload.B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew andIsaiah Jacksonwere all top 40 recruits on the ESPN charts. It may take a little time for them to mesh as a unit, but John Calipari has high hopes for this group.Keion Brooksreturns and will be called on for leadership and greater production. Davion Mintz come over from Creighton and he should help. The Cats will be ranked higher if Olivier Sarr is granted eligibility after transferring from Wake Forest.
Leonard Hamilton's team won 26 regular-season games and the ACC title last year. I felt they could have won the national title if the Big Dance was held. Hamilton lost top scorers Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest, but he has plenty of experienced players. Malik Osborne,M.J. Walker,Rayquan Evans, RaiQuan Gray and Anthony Polite are all back. Big things are expected from 6-foot-9 diaper dandyScottie Barnes, rated as one of the top five newcomers in America.
Last season was one of the roughest in Roy Williams' Hall of Fame career. Don't expect the Tar Heels to be down for long. Cole Anthony is gone, though UNC has several talented veterans returning. Garrison Brooks is one of the ACC's top returning players. Armando Bacot and Leaky Black should have a chip on their shoulders. The recruiting class is one of the best in America as fans will learn aboutCaleb Love and R.J. Davis right away.Day'Ron SharpeandWalker Kesslerwill also have an impact up front.
The Illini became a surefire preseason top 20 team when All-Big Ten guard Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn withdrew from the NBA draft and returned to Champaign. This dynamic duo will be on preseason All-America teams. Trent Frazier could improve into a double-figure scorer for the Illini. A good recruiting class, led byAdam Miller and Andre Curbelo, should provide depth for coach Brad Underwood. Illinois should be dancing for the first time since 2013.
Nate Oats has a loaded roster and could use 12 players. VeteransJohn PettyandHerb Jonesare back, but there is potential for more balanced scoring this season. CanadiansKeon Ambrose-HyltonandJosh Primo, along withAlex Tchikouof France, are three of the six newcomers to keep an eye on. This Tide team will make noise in the SEC, and I have them higher than some prognosticators.
Bobby Hurley has the potential for a special season, and it starts with guard Remy Martin, who withdrew from the NBA draft and should excel in Tempe. Diaper dandiesJosh Christopher and Marcus Bagleyshould have major impacts.Alonzo Vergeaveraged almost 15 PPG and is an underrated commodity on the national scene. They did lose transfer Romello White to Mississippi. The Pac-12 will not be easy as UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Arizona loom as contenders with the Sun Devils.
19. LSU Tigers
Recruiting allegations overshadow Will Wade's program, though this roster has plenty of talent. Trendon Watford is a legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidate.Ja'Vonte Smartand Darius Days are reliable veteran scorers, andCharles Manningmay be called on for greater production.Cam Thomasis a highly regarded diaper dandy coming in. The Tigers have potential and the NCAA looking over their shoulder.
Bob Huggins is ready to challenge Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech in the Big 12. Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe can produce a double-double on any given night. Miles McBride will have a greater role in the backcourt and could be one of America's most improved players.Emmitt Matthewsis also reliable in the backcourt.
21. UCLA Bruins
Mick Cronin's team came on late last season, going 11-3 in their last 14 games. The Bruins added forward Johnny Juzang from Kentucky, and he obtained immediate eligibility. Chris Smith is the top returning scorer. I love Tyger Campbell, whocan score and pass the rock. Jalen Hill could become closer to a double-double man this season. Can Cody Riley finally make a run at reaching his potential?
Juwan Howard has a lot of talent, but the Big Ten is a monster. Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske are among those lost. The Wolverines do have Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks andFranz Wagnerreturning. Howard has done a nice job recruiting, so the potential is there for another strong season despite the rugged Big Ten competition.
This should be a Cardinal team that makes noise in the Pac-12. Daejon Davis is a solid contributor up front.Oscar da Silvaand Lukas Kisunas have size and will be tough on the glass. Spencer Jones andBryce Willsalso have experience and should shine. NewcomerZiaire Williamsis expected to have an immediate impact. He is the top-rated prospect in over a decade. They lost Tyrell Terry; with him,they would have been a top-15 squad.
24. Houston Cougars
The Cougars are happy that Connecticut left for the Big East, making the AAC a drop easier. Kelvin Sampson has the league favorite.Quentin Grimes (onetime Kansas guard), DeJon Jarreau, Caleb Millsand Marcus Sasser are all capable of scoring in double figures, giving several legit threats. Arkansas transfer Reggie Chaney received his waiver and is eligible to compete right away.Tramon Markis a diaper dandy to keep an eye on.
Steve Pikiell did a terrific job last season as Rutgers was on the cusp of its first NCAA tournament trip since 1999. This season, it should get the job done.Ron Harper Jr.and Geo Baker, the team's two double-figure scorers last season, both return. They did lose Caleb McConnell, who started 21 games last season, to a medical redshirt.
The rest of the top 40:
26. Louisville Cardinals
27. Texas Longhorns
28. Oregon Ducks
29. Richmond Spiders
30. Seton Hall Pirates
31. Ohio State Buckeyes
32. Florida Gators
33. Arizona Wildcats
34. Memphis Tigers
37. Providence Friars
38. Oklahoma Sooners
39. Purdue Boilermakers
40. Northern Iowa Panthers