- The last two months have brought plenty of roster movement in college hoops. How does our new Top 25 for 2019–20 shake out heading into the summer?
The NBA draft withdrawal deadline has passed and the calendar has flipped to June, providing a substantially clearer picture of the 2019–20 college basketball season than the blurry one we had after Virginia cut down the nets in Minneapolis. While there are still a few loose ends out there needing to be tied—namely in the form of late spring grad transfers, the vast majority of rosters for next season are set as offseason workouts get underway. How have the developments of the last two months changed our outlook for the fall?
We've re-examed our initial Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2019–20, producing a new list heading into the summer:
1. Michigan State
Original Ranking: 1
Key Players: Cassius Winston (Sr.), Xavier Tillman (Jr.), Joshua Langford (Sr.)
With a Player of the Year frontrunner in Winston, emerging star Tillman and a healthy Langford returning to lead a deep rotation, the Spartans are well-positioned for a Final Four return, and potentially more than that. Sophomores Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham should take steps forward, and talented freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall should figure into the mix, as well. It all revolves around Winston, who made the leap last season and has some unfinished business left to handle. This is the team to beat going into the fall.
Original Ranking: 2
Key Players: Ashton Hagans (So.), Tyrese Maxey (Fr.), Kahlil Whitney (Fr.)
Kentucky added grad transfer Nate Sestina and freshman Johnny Juzang to the mix, brings back EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, and should be able to lean on quality depth until John Calipari settles on his best lineup. Hagans returns to set the tone defensively and distribute the ball, and Maxey in particular will be relied upon to create offense in the halfcourt. This is an extremely athletic group that should be able to get stops and play in transition. You never know exactly how a Kentucky team will mesh at this point in the year, but expect them to figure things out as usual.
Original Ranking: 5
Key Players: Tre Jones (So.), Vernon Carey (Fr.), Matthew Hurt (Fr.)
Keeping Tre Jones around for another season will greatly stabilize an otherwise inexperienced group that will again be reliant on freshmen. Don’t expect Duke to approach last year’s levels of dominance—Carey, Hurt, Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore aren’t of the same caliber as Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett—but if they play together cohesively, this team can be just as successful. The Blue Devils won’t be able to run in the same fashion, but they have more perimeter shooting and a variety of offensive weapons playing around Jones. They’re in good shape again.
Original Ranking: 16
Key Players: Jordan Nwora (Jr.), Lamarr Kimble (Sr.), Samuell Williamson (Fr.)
Getting Nwora back was a massive win for the Cardinals, who look like legitimate ACC contenders on paper going into Chris Mack’s second season at the helm. Adding Kimble, a grad transfer from St. Joseph’s who averaged 15.6 points per game, adequately addresses the point guard questions. Williamson has plenty of upside and will be an X-factor if he hits the ground running. Factor in returning glue guys like Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch and Malik Williams, plus a highly-rated recruiting class, and the Cardinals should be able to build on last year’s success. It’ll be harder to label them overachievers this time around.
Original Ranking: 7
Key Players: Bryan Antoine (Fr.), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Fr.), Collin Gillespie (Jr.)
The Wildcats don’t have a great recent track record of implementing freshmen, but they’ll need instant help from Antoine and Robinson-Earl to justify this ranking. Antoine is an impressive, potential one-and-done talent, and Robinson-Earl is a savvy, college-ready frontcourt presence, so there’s reason for optimism there. Sophomore Saddiq Bey will be a popular breakout pick. With Gillespie back at point guard among a solid group of returners, Villanova could easily improve on last season’s mark.
Original Ranking: 12
Key Players: Devon Dotson (So.), Udoka Azubuike (Sr.), Ochai Agbaji (So.)
Dotson’s return was a massive coup for the Jayhawks, with his playmaking skills essential to the success of healthy Azubuike and finally-eligible Silvio de Sousa up front. Agbaji and Marcus Garrett will man the wings, and freshman Tristan Enaruna should be able to contribute at forward. This isn’t Bill Self’s deepest team, but Kansas should be tough and physical. If Dotson elevates his game, another Big 12 title is within reach.
Original Ranking: 11
Key Players: Anthony Cowan Jr. (Sr.), Jalen Smith (So.), Aaron Wiggins (So.)
Maryland brings back everyone but Bruno Fernando, and boasts one of the more talented teams in the country. Granted, they’ll have to put it all together, beginning with a more consistent year from senior point guard Cowan, but the Terps should be able to contend in the Big Ten with across-the-board improvement from their underclassmen, led by Smith, a sharpshooting big man. Freshman Chol Marial could be impactful if he stays healthy, and if Mark Turgeon gets more from returners Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell and Ricky Lindo, the upside here is significant.
Original Ranking: 8
Key Players: Killian Tillie (Sr.), Corey Kispert (Jr.), Admon Gilder (Sr.)
While Gonzaga has a lot of new pieces and quite a bit to figure out, this is one of the more stable programs in the country and won’t be lacking for talent. If Tillie can put together a full, healthy season, his ability to space the floor at an elite clip is a huge factor. Kispert is the only returning starter, but Gilder (a Texas A&M grad transfer) should add scoring punch, and a strong recruiting class that includes forwards Anton Watson and Drew Timme helps prop up the rotation. The backcourt could be an issue, but I’d bet on Mark Few to put the pieces together.
9. Ohio State
Original Ranking: 9
Key Players: Kaleb Wesson (Jr.), D.J. Carton (Fr.), Luther Muhammad (So.)
After testing the waters and returning, Wesson should emerge as one of the better post players in the country, and the Buckeyes have plenty around him, including the highly-ranked freshman trio of Carton, Alonzo Gaffney and E.J. Liddell. Chris Holtmann has done an admirable job in his first two seasons, and while this is a younger team, this could be his best group yet. With C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods gone from the backcourt, Carton will be the key, and if he lives up to billing as a floor leader, the Buckeyes should hang around the Big Ten’s upper crust.
10. Texas Tech
Original Ranking: 13
Key Players: Davide Moretti (Jr.), Jahmius Ramsey (Fr.), Chris Clarke (Sr.)
Who wants to bet against Chris Beard anymore? The Red Raiders retooled successfully after this year’s title run, with key grad transfers Clarke (Virginia Tech) and T.J. Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) set to factor in immediately at forward. Ramsey should start immediately at guard next to Moretti, the lone incumbent starter. Kyler Edwards and Deshawn Corprew return. This should again be one of the better defensive teams in the country, and they’ll challenge in the Big 12.
Original Ranking: 3
Key Players: Mamadi Diakite (Sr.), Kihei Clark (So.), Casey Morsell (Fr.)
Virginia’s three best players are gone to the pros, but it’s hard to fade Tony Bennett too much here, and Diakite’s return will be a boost on the defensive side. Clark will be relied upon to run the team, and Morsell should make an immediate contribution next to him at guard. They need much more out of Braxton Key and Jay Huff. This will season will be a litmus test for the defending champions, who will be out to prove their success is sustainable without Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter. They should still win a lot, but expectations have to be tempered a little bit.
Original Ranking: 24
Key Players: James Wiseman (Fr.), Precious Achiuwa (Fr.), Boogie Ellis (Fr.)
Penny Hardaway’s big experiment will make for one of college basketball’s most fascinating situations this fall, with the potential No. 1 draft pick in 2020 (Wiseman) leading a recruiting class that includes fellow five-star Achiuwa, and four-stars Ellis (a former Duke commit), D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quiñones and Malcolm Dandridge. Guards Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax return. This group could easily dominate the AAC; conversely, the various parts could be an awkward fit, as there are a lot of guys who need the ball. But if Hardaway can get the most out of them and his freshmen mesh quickly, this could be a lot of fun to watch.
13. Seton Hall
Original Ranking: 15
Key Players: Myles Powell (Sr.), Myles Cale (Jr.), Sandro Mamukelashvili (Jr.)
Getting Powell back for one more year cemented Seton Hall as Big East contenders, losing just one rotation player (Michael Nzei) and replacing him with transfer Ike Obiagu and freshman Tyrese Samuel up front. Powell’s not an eye-test guy, but he’s one of the most potent scorers in the country, and if the continuity offers a substantial boost, the Pirates will challenge Villanova atop the conference. Head coach Kevin Willard made a wise decision to stick around.
14. North Carolina
Original Ranking: 21
Key Players: Cole Anthony (Fr.), Justin Pierce (Sr.), Christian Keeling (Sr.)
This isn’t exactly a rebuilding year for Roy Williams, but things are going to look a lot different. Anthony figures to be one-and-done, will take the reins immediately at point guard and will likely lead them in scoring. The Tar Heels haven’t traditionally been reliant on grad transfers, but Pierce (William and Mary) and Keeling (Charleston Southern) were both sought-after additions. Those three might be one-year rentals, but at least UNC has the requisite firepower to remain atop the ACC, with Garrison Brooks and freshman Armando Bacot figuring in up front. They’ll go as far as Anthony can take them.
Original Ranking: 14
Key Players: Nico Mannion (Fr.), Josh Green (Fr.), Max Hazzard (Sr.)
Well, it looks like Sean Miller is sticking around, and a stacked recruiting class certainly makes his life easier as the Wildcats angle for a bounce-back season, with the Pac-12 very wide open. Mannion might be the most polished freshman guard in the country, and figures to be the engine. Grad transfers Hazzard (UC Irvine) and Stone Gettings (Cornell) give Arizona additional scoring. There are a lot of pieces to incorporate here, but it should be enough to bring them back to prominence.
16. Utah State
Original Ranking: 20
Key Players: Neemias Queta (So.), Sam Merrill (Sr.)
The Aggies are going to win a lot of games and are clear Mountain West favorites, with Queta coming back to join top scorer Merrill and form one of the country’s more underrated tandems. Nearly the entire 28-win team, including four starters, will be back in action, and while they won’t fly under the radar anymore, odds are they won’t have to.
Original Ranking: 18
Key Players: Scottie Lewis (Fr.), Andrew Nembhard (So.), Tre Mann (Fr.)
Getting back Nembhard, one of the top passers in the country, was huge for the Gators, who add potential lottery pick Lewis on the wing and another high-upside recruit in Mann. Florida certainly shouldn’t struggle to create offense this time around. Lewis could be a program-changing player, and while the Gators still don’t have a ton of depth up front, they should have more than enough to stay near the top of the SEC. Also keep an eye on forward Keyontae Johnson, who emerged as the team’s most versatile defender as a freshman.
18. Saint Mary’s
Original Ranking: 19
Key Players: Jordan Ford (Sr.), Malik Fitts (Jr.)
The Gaels should pose more of a challenge to Gonzaga in the WCC this season, with Ford and Fitts leading a team that returns all but one player (Jordan Hunter). Saint Mary’s was among the country’s most efficient teams on both sides of the ball and did a great job imposing its preferred, slow pace. Improving on a 22-win season seems like a layup.
Original Ranking: NR
Key Players: Ja’vonte Smart (So.), Trendon Watford (Fr.), Skylar Mays (Sr.)
LSU’s rocky offseason somehow resulted in a more stable outcome than expected, with Will Wade back as head coach and Smart, Mays, Emmitt Williams and Marlon Taylor rejoining the team after testing the NBA draft. Losing their two best players, Naz Reid and Tremont Waters, will understandably be a big blow for the Tigers, but the addition of five-star forward Watford helps with the scoring situation, and Smart and Mays will be one of the better backcourts in the SEC.
Original Ranking: 17
Key Players: Isaiah Stewart (Fr.), Jaden McDaniels (Fr.)
After winning 21 and 27 games in his first two seasons, Mike Hopkins struck it big with the five-star pairing of Stewart and McDaniels, who will keep the Huskies in the mix to win the conference on their way to next year’s NBA draft. Stewart should be among the best rebounders and most productive bigs in the country, and if McDaniels taps into his considerable potential, Washington should have another successful year. Despite the loss of four starters, there’s a lot to be excited about here.
Original Ranking: NR
Key Players: Tristan Clark (Jr.), Mario Kegler (Jr.), Jared Butler (So.)
Guards Makai Mason and King McClure depart, but Scott Drew brings back the rest of his rotation from a team that was sneakily pretty good, if inconsistent. The Big 12 looks watered down across the board, and there’s an obvious opportunity for the Bears to capitalize. They add UNC-Asheville transfer MaCio Teague to replace the holes in the backcourt, and should again mix a balanced offense with strong rebounding and interior defense.
Original Ranking: 10
Key Players: Payton Pritchard (Sr.), CJ Walker (Fr.), Will Richardson (So.)
The Ducks certainly lost a lot with Bol Bol, Louis King and Kenny Wooten turning pro, but Pritchard will be back, Richardson should take a step forward, and they should be able to retool just fine. Athletic forward Walker and JUCO transfer Chris Duarte will provide a big boost. Francis Okoro returns up front, as well. This is a situation that could break both ways, but there’s more than enough on the roster for Oregon to sustain its success.
Original Ranking: NR
Key Players: Naji Marshall (Jr.), Paul Scruggs (Jr.), Quentin Goodin (Sr.)
Zach Hankins and Ryan Welage are gone up front, but the Musketeers have a talented perimeter trio in Marshall, Scruggs and Goodin, and Tyrique Jones should step into more minutes. Ohio grad transfer Jason Carter (16.1 PPG) will also give them a boost inside. If all the incumbents play to their potential, they should be able to improve on 19 wins.
Original Ranking: 4
Key Players: Zavier Simpson (Sr.), Jon Teske (Sr.), Isaiah Livers (Jr.)
The Wolverines arguably lost more than any team in the country, with John Beilein’s surprising departure exacerbating the exits of Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews. But Juwan Howard will take the reins of an experienced team that knows how to win games, with Simpson and Teske again offering a staunch defensive backbone. It would be a mistake to write Michigan off too quickly, but this may still be something of a transition year.
Original Ranking: 25
Key Players: Austin Wiley (Sr.), Anfernee McLemore (Sr.), Isaac Okoro (Fr.)
Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke’s decisions to turn pro will hamstring this team’s ceiling. Bruce Pearl still retains five seniors from a Final Four team, adds in touted freshman Isaac Okoro and should be able to play the same frenetic, pressure-heavy style that’s worked for Auburn in recent years. The Tigers get the benefit of the doubt with this final spot.
Dropped Out: Marquette (previously No. 6), Houston (No. 22) and Tennessee (No. 23)