Florida makes big move in Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2019-20

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Thursday, July 11, 2019

We're starting to get a very clear picture of what the 2019-20 college basketball season is going to look like -- at least heading into the campaign. Most of the offseason personnel drama is over. Nearly every relevant graduate transfer has already made his decision, and there are zero remaining uncommitted ESPN 100 prospects.

So the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 you see today is likely to look fairly similar to the one come hoops season. But it's not set in stone just yet. UNLV graduate transfer Shakur Juiston is still waiting to pick a school -- and Oregon and Seton Hall are on his list. Houston is hoping to get a waiver for Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes. Then there are the potential reclassifiers from 2020 to 2019, including five-star big man N'Faly Dante and fellow top-35 prospects Kyree Walker and Addison Patterson, among others.

As we wait for those final dominoes to fall -- and we might not find out about all of them for a couple of months -- here's the updated Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

1. Michigan State Spartans

Previous: 1

Michigan State has remained in the No. 1 spot since the season ended and Cassius Winston announced he would be returning to East Lansing. While seemingly every other team has been undergoing roster changes, the Spartans are essentially the same team they were in mid-April. Along with Winston -- arguably the Preseason Wooden Award favorite -- Tom Izzo also brings back a healthy Joshua Langford and potential breakout candidate Xavier Tillman. A number of role players should see expanded roles next season, and Michigan State also brings in a talented recruiting class led by top-50 recruit Rocket Watts. Watts could add a bit of explosiveness to the perimeter group.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Previous: 3

After a spring filled with comings and goings, it looks like Kansas' roster is finally settled. And it's a good one. Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike both decided to return to Lawrence instead of keeping their names in the NBA draft, while the NCAA clearing Silvio De Sousa to play next season was a big boost. The Jayhawks then went out and landed ESPN 100 frontcourt players Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson, as well as Iowa graduate transfer Isaiah Moss, who initially committed to Arkansas. Moss brings much-needed perimeter shooting. It's a different-looking roster from last season, but there's a lot of depth and versatility on this roster.

3. Kentucky Wildcats

Previous: 2

Kentucky missed on Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., but the Wildcats are still in the mix for potential reclass candidate N'Faly Dante. John Calipari is clearly looking to shore up the frontcourt, but even if Kentucky's roster remains the same from now until practice begins, it's a potential Final Four group. Ashton Hagans is one of the best defensive point guards in the country, and the return of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards down low is a plus. As always, the Wildcats have plenty of newcomers: Five-stars Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney could start, while Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina brings a different dimension to the frontcourt.

4. Florida Gators

Previous: 18

Florida sees the biggest jump from the last time we updated the rankings, and that's entirely due to the addition of Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear is immediately an all-conference frontcourt player and one of the best big men in the country after averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season. He will team with sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard to form a high-level inside-outside duo. Mike White also welcomes one of the best recruiting classes in the country, led by McDonald's All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, along with top-50 big man Omar Payne. This team has a very high ceiling.

5. Louisville Cardinals

Previous: 5

While Duke welcomes another highly ranked recruiting class and North Carolina drew headlines all spring, Louisville could be the sneaky pick to win the ACC. The Cardinals answered their biggest personnel question entering the offseason when they landed Saint Joseph's Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble at the point guard spot. Then Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch withdrew their names from the NBA draft. Chris Mack will need his elite recruiting class to make an impact immediately, especially McDonald's All-American Samuell Williamson. Another name to watch among the newcomers is local product David Johnson.

6. Duke Blue Devils

Previous: 4

While Mike Krzyzewski brings in yet another loaded recruiting class, there are some questions about the roster that could spell trouble next season. Obviously there's no more Zion Williamson, no more RJ Barrett, no more Cam Reddish. But Tre Jones is back as one of the better point guards in the country, and three five-stars enter the fold in Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore. Shooting could still be an issue, however, and the offense will have to rely far less on individual abilities than last season. If the newcomers hit the ground running and Alex O'Connell can take a step forward on the wing, Duke won't fall too far.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous: 7

Mark Few is facing a true rebuilding -- or reloading, rather -- season in Spokane, after bidding farewell to three players who left early for the NBA draft in first-rounders Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, and starting shooting guard Zach Norvell. Senior point guard Josh Perkins also departed. So what's next? The Bulldogs went out and landed graduate transfers Admon Gilder (Texas A&M) and Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) to shore up the backcourt, and a recruiting class that includes three ESPN 100 frontcourt players will help. Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev also return up front. Thirty wins are still coming Gonzaga's way this season.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels

Previous: 6

Given that Roy Williams lost his top five players from last season, Carolina being ranked inside the top 10 is an impressive feat for the Tar Heels. But it's indicative of how efficient they were revamping their roster in the spring. The biggest piece was No. 1 guard Cole Anthony, but ESPN 100 guard Anthony Harris also came aboard. Graduate transfers Justin Pierce (William & Mary) and Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) could also push for starting roles. Williams will need productivity from his bigs next season, but he does have five-star freshman Armando Bacot and returning starter Garrison Brooksto rely on.

9. Villanova Wildcats

Previous: 8

If there was a year for Big East teams to slow down Villanova, last season was the one -- and the Wildcats still won an outright Big East regular-season title. And now, despite losing seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, Villanova should be better than last season and back in the national discussion. One of the biggest keys will be the health of five-star shooting guard Bryan Antoine, who suffered a shoulder injury that could impact the start of his college career. Fellow five-star freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will be one of the best players in the Big East. Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey are returning as starters.

10. Maryland Terrapins

Previous: 9

On paper, the Terrapins have the second-best team in the Big Ten and a clear top-10 team in the country. But they had a similar group last season, and despite finishing with 23 wins, they went just 7-8 in their final 15 games. So Mark Turgeon will have to figure out what ailed them down the stretch in order to reach their potential. Some of the optimism revolves around the expected improvement of Jalen Smith, who could be a first-round pick next spring. He teams with Anthony Cowan to form one of the best inside-outside tandems in the country. Aaron Wiggins is a potential breakout guy to watch.

11. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Previous: 10

Another reloading task for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders, but after a run to the national championship game, it's going to be difficult to underestimate them this time around. Four starters, including top-10 pick Jarrett Culverand sixth man Brandone Francis, are gone. Davide Moretti is the top returnee, and he stepped up his game considerably late in the season. Graduate transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and TJ Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) could both start up front right away. A deep freshman class also heads to Lubbock, led by ESPN 100 guard Jahmius Ramsey. If the newcomers buy into Beard's system, the Red Raiders won't miss a beat.

12. Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous: 11

Chris Holtmann has a young group on his hands in Columbus, but it's a team with a lot of talent and a number of different options. In other words, don't be surprised if it takes a few weeks for the Buckeyes to hit their stride. They went just 8-14 after the calendar turned to 2019 last season, so having consistent success late this season would be a welcome change for Ohio State fans. Kaleb Wesson will provide an anchor down low once again, and ESPN 100 freshmen Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell are versatile forwards. The point guard situation will be something to watch, but top-40 freshman DJ Carton will get a shot, and Holtmann also brings in Florida State transfer CJ Walker.

13. Memphis Tigers

Previous: 12

Despite not being No. 1 in the rankings -- or even in the top 10 -- the Tigers are going to be the headliners in college basketball next season. Part of that is due to Penny Hardaway being at the helm, but now he's bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, led by No. 1 overall prospect James Wiseman. There is a ton of hype surrounding the Tigers, but they've dropped a few spots after the initial high wore off from their spring commitment run. All five starters could be freshmen, with Wiseman flanked by five-star forwards Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries, and ESPN 100 guards Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones in the backcourt. Some potential problems include a severe lack of experience and how Hardaway fits all the pieces together.

14. Seton Hall Pirates

Previous: 13

After finishing the regular season with wins over Marquette and Villanova, and then making a run to the Big East title game, Seton Hall brings back everyone of note besides Michael Nzei. Myles Powell is one of the best scorers in the country, and he's capable of carrying the Pirates on the offensive end. Expect Seton Hall to be a high-level defensive group. Quincy McKnight emerged as a lockdown defender late in the season, and Seton Hall brings in Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu, who averaged an outrageous 2.1 blocks in just 10.7 minutes per game in 2017-18. Powell will need help on the offensive end if the Pirates are going to push Villanova in the Big East.

15. Virginia Cavaliers

Previous: 14

After losing Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De'Andre Hunter to the NBA draft, Virginia faces more questions entering the season than ever before under Tony Bennett. But Bennett deserves the benefit of the doubt after winning 29-plus games five of the past six years -- including last season's national championship. Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff form an intriguing frontcourt trio, and Kihei Clark returns in the backcourt. ESPN 100 guard Casey Morsell could start right away next to Clark. But Bennett will need someone to surprise and step up as a potential star. Late signee Tomas Woldetensae is an intriguing junior college prospect, and Argentina native Francisco Caffaro provides inside depth after a solid showing in the FIBA U-19 World Cup recently.

16. Arizona Wildcats

Previous: 15

While other rosters settled down over the past month, Arizona had plenty of movement. Devonaire Doutrive entered the transfer portal, then decided to return to the Wildcats. Point guard Alex Barcello also announced he was transferring. ESPN 100 prospect Terry Armstrong elected to pursue professional options -- as he was in danger of not qualifying. There are also questions about Brandon Williams' health moving forward. So the Wildcats are still in some flux entering the summer. But what's not in question is the talent. Top-10 prospect Nico Mannion and Josh Green enter the fold, while UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard brings shooting. Top-50 recruit Zeke Nnaji could surprise some people, and Chase Jeter was productive last season.

17. Baylor Bears

Previous: 17

Much of the optimism surrounding Baylor comes as a result of the way the Bears played in January and February last season. They were 11-5 in their first 15 games of the 2019 calendar year but finished the season losing five of their last six. But Scott Drew still overachieved given the injuries and attrition his team faced. And now he gets Tristan Clark back healthy after missing the last 20 games of the season. Clark was the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder before going down. Jared Butler, Mark Vital and Mario Kegler were all key pieces last season, and Drew also addstransfers Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and Macio Teague (UNC Asheville).

18. Utah State Aggies

Previous: 16

Coming off one of the most surprising seasons in college basketball in 2018-19, Utah State is hoping its 17-2 finish to the campaign carries over to the new season. The key cogs in last year's machine are all back: head coach Craig Smith, who did one of the best coaching jobs in the country; center Neemias Queta, who broke out as a freshman and then decided to return to school instead of keeping his name in the NBA draft; and guard Sam Merrill, who averaged 20.9 points and is the best player in the Mountain West. Combine those three with an assortment of returning role players, and the Aggies could push for the next step into the second weekend.

19. Saint Mary's Gaels

Previous: 19

The Gaels were barely in the NCAA tournament discussion entering the West Coast Conference tournament, but a win over Gonzaga in the title game put them in the dance -- and now Randy Bennett's team hopes to get back to the tournament in a more comfortable fashion. Jordan Ford is one of the nation's elite scoring guards despite struggling against Villanova in the first round. Malik Fitts is an inside-outside threat up front, and the Gaels return two other starters from last season's team. Saint Mary's campaign could come down to whether Aaron Menzies gets a redshirt to play next season -- and whether Cincinnati transfer Logan Johnson can play immediately.

20. Xavier Musketeers

Previous: 20

It's hard not to feel optimistic about this Xavier team. The Musketeers bring back four starters from last year's group, including Naji Marshall -- one of the most underrated players in the country. Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones are also back. Travis Steele welcomes two key transfers in Jason Carter (Ohio) and Bryce Moore (Western Michigan). Carter averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds and should start immediately. And we haven't even hit on Xavier's talented recruiting class that includes five four-star prospects, led by guard KyKy Tandy. The Musketeers won six of seven to end the Big East season after starting 11-13 -- we're betting the February version of Xavier will show up next season.

21. Marquette Golden Eagles

Previous: 23

After entering the offseason No. 2 in these rankings, Marquette plummeted following the surprise departures of Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser -- falling completely out of the rankings. The Golden Eagles then slid back into the rankings after landing Utah graduate transfer Jayce Johnson and the reclassification of ESPN 100 guard Symir Torrence. A closer look at the roster moves them a couple of spots higher. Markus Howard is going to be a preseason All-American, but the arrival of Utah State transfer Koby McEwen should ease some of the responsibility Howard has in the backcourt. Sacar Anim and Theo John also return as starters, and they lead Marquette's defense.

22. Washington Huskies

Previous: 21

Mike Hopkins loses his top five scorers from last season, but Washington has more hype entering 2019-20 than it has had at any time in recent memory. The Huskies bring in two top-10 prospects in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, both one-and-done candidates, as well as Kentucky transfer Quade Green. Stewart is perhaps the most college-ready of the elite 2019 recruits, while McDaniels' ceiling is through the roof. Green was a solid player at Kentucky but needed a change of scenery. Is the arrival of those three players enough to offset the departures of guys like Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle?

23. Colorado Buffaloes

Previous: 22

Arizona and Washington have more hype than Colorado due to their elite high-end talent, while USC and Oregon have more intrigue due to the arrival of deep classes of newcomers. But the Buffaloes have a legitimate chance to push for a Pac-12 title next season. They finished strong, winning 12 of their final 15 games, and now they return all five starters and every rotation piece from a year ago. McKinley Wright is one of the best point guards in the league, if not the country, while Tyler Bey is an underrated name nationally. One issue for Tad Boyle could be outside shooting; Colorado was one of the worst 3-point-shooting teams in the Pac-12 last season. That needs to change if the Buffs are to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.

24. LSU Tigers

Previous: 24

When it looked like LSU's head coach and entire starting five could be gone, the Tigers appeared to be headed for a tough season. But Will Wade was reinstated after a suspension in March, andJavonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Emmitt Williams all removed their names from the NBA draft. The losses of Tremont Waters and Nazreon Reid undoubtedly hurt; Waters was one of the best point guards in the country, and Reid had lottery talent when focused. But with the aforementioned trio going back to Baton Rouge, as well as the return of rotation guard Marlon Taylor and the addition of five-star forward Trendon Watford, Wade has enough talent on the roster to stay in the mix at the top of the SEC.

25. USC Trojans

Previous: 25

USC has struggled to live up to expectations the past couple of years, missing the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons despite having plenty of talent on the roster. Andy Enfield will be hoping this season is different, as he has a loaded team -- especially in the frontcourt. Five-star freshmen Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu enter the fold, joining double-double machine Nick Rakocevic. Four-star Max Agbonkpolo has a very high ceiling. Jonah Mathews is a returning starter, and Akron graduate transfer Daniel Utomi can really shoot it. The key will be point guard play. Derryck Thornton transferred, leaving returnee Elijah Weaver, Columbia grad transfer Quinton Adlesh and freshman Ethan Anderson to vie for minutes.

Next in line:

Harvard(previous: unranked)

VCU(previous: next in line)

Auburn(previous: next in line)

Oregon(previous: unranked)

Cincinnati(previous: unranked)

Dropped out:

Creighton(previous: next in line)

Georgetown(previous: next in line)

Davidson(previous: next in line)