College basketball season is complete for another season, but the time to begin looking ahead to 2018-19 is already upon us. Villanova claimed its second national championship in three seasons to conclude the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and there's reason to think Jay Wright's club will once again be the program to beat come another March.
However, a bevy of talented newcomers at established powers and veterans rotations at up-and-coming programs ensures the 2018-19 campaign will be as unpredictable and entertaining as everything that preceded Villanova's national championship.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Key Returners: Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth
Wild Cards: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman
New Arrivals: Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater, Cole Swider
Buzz: The last team to repeat as national champions — Florida in 2006 and '07 — did so when its core trio bucked expectations and spurned the NBA draft for a year. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman all opting to come back and make a run at a third Villanova championship in four seasons would make the Wildcats a clear preseason No. 1 in the same vein as the 2007 Gators.
But if even just one returns, joining a starting lineup with veterans Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and national championship game hero Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova should top the rankings. Jay Wright has a trio of outstanding prospects coming in, headlined by 5-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, so reinforcements await if there is an exodus to the NBA.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Key Returners: Sam Cunliffe, Silvio De Sousa, Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot, Lagerald Vick
Departures: Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk
Wild Card: Udoka Azubuike
New Arrivals: Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, David McCormack, Charlie Moore
Buzz: A strong case for Kansas as next season's preseason No. 1 can be made. Despite losing its top player from 2017-18, Devonte' Graham, the abundance of production expected to return blends with a bevy of newly eligible transfers and recruits to give Bill Self (above, right) arguably his deepest roster since the 2007-08 championship squad. But to quote Ric Flair, "to be the man, you've got to beat the man." Defending champion Villanova deserves top billing, but the 2018-19 Jayhawks are almost assured of the No. 1 spot when official polls arrive next autumn.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Returners: Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell Jr.
Departures: Johnathan Williams, Silas Melson
Buzz: Gonzaga reached its fourth consecutive Sweet 16 in 2018, and were it not for a hip injury forward Killian Tillie sustained early in the loss to Florida State, the Zags might have made it to back-to-back Final Fours. Double-double machine Johnathan Williams is gone, along with veteran leader Silas Melson. However, Rui Hachimura showed his star potential late in the season. Along with a healthy Tillie, the Zags will have one of the most talented frontcourts in the nation in 2018-19.
4. Virginia Cavaliers
Key Returners: Mamadi Diakite, Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Jack Salt
Departures: Devon Hall, Nigel Johnson, Isaiah Wilkins
Buzz: Virginia will embark on the 2018-19 season with the stigma of having been the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the NCAA Tournament, but that will only be a chip on the shoulder for Tony Bennett's Cavaliers. Much of the core from a team that ran roughshod over the ACC returns, including talented big man De'Andre Hunter. Hunter missed the NCAA Tournament due to injury.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Key Returners: Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O'Connell
Departures: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Wild Cards: Wendell Carter
New Arrivals: R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson
Buzz: Duke's 2018-19 billing could hinge on the decisions facing a talented corps of underclassmen. Based on comments his mother made, Wendell Carter seems like a probable early entrant into the NBA draft, joining Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. Even wtih all of the departures, the Blue Devils will still have a strong case for the preseason No. 1 designation — thanks to another star-studded recruting class.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Key Returners: Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Departures: James Daniel
Buzz: Coach Rick Barnes' teams at Texas had a reputation for underachieving. His 2017-18 Tennessee Volunteers completely bucked that trend, emerging emerging as one of the season's biggest surprises. There will be no sneaking up on opponents in 2018-19, as Tennessee could enter the campaign a preseason favorite to win the SEC. However the Vols respond to going from dark horse to favorites will be an interesting development. The return of a solid core, starting with breakout star Grant Williams, should have Tennessee prepared to meet the challenge.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Returners: Garrison Brooks, Cameron Johnson, Sterling Manley, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson
Departures: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson
New Arrivals: Rechon Black, Nassir Little, Coby White
Buzz: While the loss of veteran backcourt mates Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson leaves a big hole, Roy Williams reloads with a top 10-ranked recruiting. Nassir Little and Coby White should help offset the losses, and they join an established corps of returners. Luke Maye emerged as a superstar in 2017-18. He could be a national Player of the Year candidate in 2018-19.
8. Michigan State Spartans
Key Returners: Kenny Goins, Joshua Langford, Xavier Tillman, Cassius Winston
Wild Card: Nick Ward
Departures: Miles Bridges, Ben Carter, Jaren Jackson, Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn, Gavin Schilling,
New Arrivals: Marcus Bingham Jr., Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
Buzz: Three consecutive first-weekend exits from the NCAA Tournament have damaged some of the March mystique coach Tom Izzo built in his career, and the departure of NBA talents Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson leave significant voids. Nevertheless, Michigan State returns a solid rotation of experienced players to guide an impressive recruiting class. Marcus Bingham Jr., a high-4-star forward, could alleviate some of the sting in losing Bridges. Nick Ward (assuming he withdraws his name from draft consideration) will be poised for an All-America-caliber campaign as the Spartans' clear No. 1 option.
9. Kentucky Wildcats
Departures: Kevin Knox, Tai Wynyard
Wild Cards: Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, P.J. Washington
New Arrivals: Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickly
Buzz: Kentucky's preseason designation could fluctuate more than any other program's based on the decision of draft-eligible underclassmen. Kevin Knox declared on April 6 despite comments his father had made earlier. This was preceded by P.J. Washington's announcement on April 4 that he is testing the waters. Hamidou Diallo was considered a lock for the 2018 draft not long ago, but isn't yet a sure thing to exit.
While John Calipari's aligned his usual stellar recruiting class, coming off a surprising 11-loss season, the future's very uncertain. If one or two of the most likely draft entrants returns, Kentucky is likely a preseason top-10 team with a potential Final Four ceiling.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies
Key Returners: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kerry Blackshear, Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw, Justin Robinson
Departures: Justin Bibbs, Devin Wilson
Wild Cards: Devin Robinson, John Egbunu
New Arrivals: Jon Kabongo, Jarren McAllister, Landers Nolley
Buzz: Virginia Tech demonstrated its potential with ACC wins over North Carolina, Duke, and the biggie: An overtime road defeat of conference champion and rival, Virginia. Coach Buzz Williams has a strong foundation in place for 2018-19, and what should be his best team at Virginia Tech. The Hokies return a considerable rotation of contributors, paced by standout Justin Robinson. The addition of high-4-star recruit Landers Nolley provides further depth.
11. Kansas State Wildcats
Key Returners: Cartier Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade
Wild Card: Barry Brown
Buzz: Kansas State hit its stride at season's end, reaching the Elite Eight with suffocating defense. That's no accident: The 2017-18 Wildcats roster was made up of underclassmen who jelled over the course of a campaign. Their run in the NCAA Tournament provides momentum going into an offseason in which Bruce Weber's potentially will return all of its contributors. Barry Brown (who is testing the draft waters but could pull out before the deadline) is a rising star in the Big 12, and big man Dean Wade — limited by injury late in the season — could be an X-factor in the race to unseat Kansas from atop the conference.
12. West Virginia Mountaineers
Key Returners: Teddy Allen, James Bolden, Wesley Harris
Departures: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles
Wild Cards: Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate
New Arrivals: Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon, Jordan McCabe
Buzz: The loss of Jevon Carter cannot be overstated, as the Chicago-tough guard provided the heart-and-soul of a West Virginia team that reached back-to-back Sweet 16s. Nevertheless, Bob Huggins' presence on the sideline ensures the signature defensive tenacity will remain. What's more, the Mountaineers retain some promising contributors. Teddy Allen looks to make the leap into a star during his sophomore season. Should shot-blocking machine Sagaba Konate and fellow big man Esa Ahmad both withdraw their names from NBA draft consideration, West Virginia can start planning for a third consecutive Tournament lasting into the second weekend — perhaps longer.