NCAA MBB Preseason Rankings Part Five
Twenty teams have been discussed and now we are finally at the top five. These are the creme de la creme, the cream of the crop, the elite programs heading into the college basketball season. Come tournament time expect most of these teams to be one or two seeds and conference champions in their respective conferences. This list includes three of the last four champions in division one men's basketball, as well as some consistent top seeds in the tournament. With all that being said, it is now time to announce my top five teams heading into the year.
5. Virginia (Last Year 23-7)
Gone: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
Coming Back: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
New Faces: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
Projected Starters: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff
The highest-ranked team in the ACC is not Duke or North Carolina this year, it is Virginia. The Cavaliers are the defending national champions (technically) and they will be a complete team once again, despite Mamadi Diakite leaving. Virginia has a nice recruiting class coming in, led by number thirty-eight on ESPN's Top 100 Jabri Abdur-Rahim. The Blair Academy product is the son of former NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim, so there will be huge expectations on this kid, despite the fact he is unlikely to start this year. Virginia has always been strong defensively only giving up 52.9 points per game last year - the fewest in the country. That being said, they were also 3rd-last in scoring, putting up just 57 points per game a year ago. But, as Bear Bryant said, "defense wins championships" so it's hard not to put such a good defensive team in the top five. If Virginia can just get to over 60 points per game this year, watch out cause not many teams will do the same against them.
4. Kansas (Last Year 28-3)
Gone: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
Coming Back Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
New Faces: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
Projected Starters: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack
Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks once again find themselves in the upper echelon of college basketball teams. This Kansas team will look a lot different with no Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson or Isaiah Moss this year, but they will be just fine. Bryce Thompson leads Self's recruiting class, as he was the top player in Oklahoma, and will start his freshman year. Returning players Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji - the third and fourth leading scorers last year - will be the leaders of this team in 2019-20. We will learn pretty early on how good this team can be, as it was announced they will take on Kentucky in the Champions Classic this year. The Jayhawks will be duking it out with my third-ranked team for Big 12 supremacy this year.
3. Baylor (Last Year 26-4)
Gone: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
Coming Back: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thambae
New Faces: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
Projected Starters: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark
Baylor was the team I would have picked to win the NCAA tournament last year had it not been canceled, and they are elite once again. Losing a player of Freddie Gillespie's caliber is tough, but to get Jared Butler and MaCio Teague back are pretty nice consolation prizes. I was a big fan of Baylor's recruiting class, as L.K. Cryer and Dain Dainja will play important minutes off the bench for the Bears. With so many crucial pieces back and youthful talent added, I think Baylor has another great shot to make a deep run in March. Scott Drew does not get enough credit as a head coach and I think he will prove he is one of the very best with this group. When you win over 60% of your games in the Big 12, it shows just how good you are as a college coach. Bear country is in for another fun season.
2. Gonzaga (Last Year 31-2)
Gone: Filip Petrusev, Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
Coming Back: Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert
New Faces: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
Projected Starters: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo
The Bulldogs just missed out on being the top team for me heading into the year. I would almost classify them as my 1B, because Mark Few has another talented group on his hands. Gonzaga had seven players average double-digit points last year and five of them are returning, so Gonzaga will be a high scoring bunch once again. They scored at the highest clip in college basketball last year with 87.4 points per game, almost five more than second-place Duke. The one knock on Gonzaga is always that they play in a nothing conference, but this year their non-conference schedule is grueling and will show how legitimate they are. They have Kansas, Baylor, Auburn and Iowa scheduled so far. So if they can win at least half of those games, they might finally get the credit they deserve. Mark Few might finally have the roster he needs to get over the hump and get that first championship.
1. Villanova (Last Year 24-7)
Gone: Saddiq Bey
Coming Back: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
New Faces: Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon
Projected Starters: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
The number one team heading into the college basketball season has to be the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright has won two national titles in the last four seasons and has another roster that could very well win it all again. The loss of Saddiq Bey will be tough, but outside of that, this team is full of veteran leadership. Senior Collin Gillespie will lead this group, along with Justin Moore and Jermain Samuels. No ESPN Top 100 recruits means that this year will fall strictly on the returning players, but they should be up to the task. Creighton will be the lone challenge for the Wildcats winning the Big East and if they can win their conference they will likely find themselves as a top seed in the NCAA tournament once again. Elite coaching, veteran leadership and depth is why I have Villanova at the top of my college basketball rankings heading into this year. Only time will tell whether or not they can live up to expectations.
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