Kentucky, Duke poised for another Final Four run
About a month has passed since Duke defeated Wisconsin for the 2015 championship, and we’ve already had a busy offseason.
Coaches have been fired and hired and headed to the NBA. Underclassmen have put their names into the draft or elected to return. Most transfers and incoming freshmen have found their landing places.
In that case, now is as good a time as any to revisit our early top 25 for the 2015-15 season. Since we last took a snapshot of the national scene, our top two teams, Virginia and North Carolina, lost key players while Duke, Kentucky and — surprise! — Cal added key recruits.
1. Kentucky (38-1, 18-0 SEC)
Losses: F Karl-Anthony Towns, C Willie Cauley-Stein, G Aaron Harrison, G Andrew Harrison, F Trey Lyles, G Devin Booker, C Dakari Johnson
Returnees: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, F Marcus Lee
New arrivals: C Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews, G Mychal Mulder
Outlook: In a rare string of recruiting losses, Kentucky lost out on guard Brandon Ingram (Duke), Cheick Diallo (Kansas), Malik Newman (Mississippi State) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) in postseason commitments. Kentucky filled one spot with Mychal Mulder, a standout shooter from the junior college ranks.
2. Duke (35-4, 15-3 ACC)
Losses: G Quinn Cook, C Jahlil Okafor, F Justise Winslow, G Tyus Jones
Returnees: F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen
New arrivals: F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, F Sean Obi, G Brandon Ingram, G Derryck Thornton
Outlook: If 2015 proved Duke could win a championship with a roster full of freshmen, the 2016 recruiting class proved Mike Krzyzewski could reload just as quickly. The team won’t be as stocked as the championship team, but the key holes have been filled with a big man (Jeter), a shooter (Kennard), a point guard (Thornton, who reclassified from the 2016 class to 2015) and a big, versatile shooter that has served Duke well in the past (Ingram).
3. North Carolina (26-12, 11-7 ACC)
Losses: F J.P. Tokoto
Returnees: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Justin Jackson, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry
Outlook: North Carolina was a candidate for preseason No. 1 the first time around with every key player returning. Since then, J.P. Tokoto elected to leave for the pros. Carolina should still be very good, but Tokoto was a standout defender. His departure tempers expectations a bit.
4. Kansas (27-9, 13-5 Big 12)
Losses: G Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander
Returnees: F Perry Ellis, G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
New arrivals: F Carlton Bragg, F Chieck Diallo
Outlook: Losing Oubre and Alexander is notable, but not unexpected in the big picture (even if both had uneven freshman seasons). The biggest victories came in recent weeks. Ellis decided to return to school, and Kansas was able to add top-10 forward Cheick Diallo, a freshman who should be an ideal fit in Kansas’ system.
5. Maryland (28-7, 14-4 Big Ten)
Losses: G Dez Wells, G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz
Returnees: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Jared Nickens, G Dion Wiley
New arrivals: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter Jr.
Outlook: Maryland was one of the biggest surprises in 2014-15, finishing second in the Big Ten. Next season will bring legitimate expectations. Melo Trimble and Jake Layman are back. Moreover, landing the top-10 prospect Stone was a major coup for Mark Turgeon. Forward Robert Carter Jr. also will be eligible after averaging 11.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14.
6. Virginia (30-4, 16-2 ACC)
Losses: G Justin Anderson, F Darion Atkins
Returnees: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes
Outlook: Virginia’s hopes of being a preseason No. 1 are probably dimmed with the surprising departure of Justin Anderson to the NBA Draft. That said, the Cavs’ preseason hopes last season were dampened when Joe Harris was believed to be an irreplaceable void. Virginia won the ACC regular season title anyway.
7. Michigan State (27-12, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Travis Trice, F Branden Dawson
Returnees: G Denzel Valentine, G Bryn Forbes, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling, F Marvin Clark Jr., G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
New arrivals: G Eron Harris
Outlook: Michigan State will miss Trice’s scoring punch and Dawson’s rebounding. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game for West Virginia in 2013-14, will help the former. Tum Tum Nairn will hold down the point guard spot and take over leadership of the team as just a sophomore.
8. Iowa State (25-9, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue
Returnees: F Georges Niang, G Monte Morris, F Jameel McKay, F Abdel Nader
New arrivals: G Hallice Cooke, G Deonte Burton
Outlook: The biggest story of the Iowa State offseason will be coach Fred Hoiberg’s recovery from open-heart surgery. The Cyclones are in good hands with Niang and Morris still on board. As usual, transfers — Cooke from Oregon State, and Burton, a point guard from Marquette — will round things out. The Cyclones are still in contention for two graduate transfers (Michigan’s Max Bielfeldt and Providence’s Tyler Lewis).
9. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 West Coast)
Losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Byron Wesley, G Gary Bell Jr.
Returnees: F Kyle Wiltjer, C Przemek Karnowski, F Domantas Sabonis, G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan
Outlook: Wiltjer could have left to begin a pro career somewhere, but his return means he’ll be a potential national player of the year candidate. Replacing Pangos at point guard will be no small issue. Otherwise, this is a team built for another run. The replacements include a handful of players who saw few if any minutes last season — McClellan (who was dismissed from Vanderbilt before landing at Gonzaga), Josh Perkins (who missed all but five games with a broken jaw) or redshirt Bryan Alberts.
10. Oklahoma (24-11, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: F TaShawn Thomas
Returnees: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodward
New arrivals: G Rashard Odomes
Outlook: The return of Hield, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is key as the Sooners look to stay in the mix in the Big 12. Most of the key pieces are back, but losing Thomas means the Sooners will rely even more heavily on the backcourt.
11. Notre Dame (32-6, 14-4 ACC)
Losses: G Jerian Grant, G Pat Connaughton
Returnees: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson, G Steve Vasturia, F Bonzie Colson
Outlook: The departures of Grant and Connaughton probably mean Notre Dame won’t come within a hair of the Final Four again, but there are plenty of pieces for Notre Dame to make noise in the ACC. Colson is a future star.
12. Wisconsin (36-4, 16-2 Big Ten)
Losses: F Frank Kaminsky, F Sam Dekker, G Traevon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, F Duje Dukan
Returnees: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter
New arrivals: G Brevin Pritzl
Outlook: Hayes’ decision to return to school is critical. The Badgers won’t be Final Four contenders again, but don’t forget that the Badgers were a consistent top-four Big Ten team regardless of personnel before this run in the last two seasons.
13. Indiana (20-14, 9-9 Big Ten)
Returnees: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon Jr., F Troy Williams, G Robert Johnson, G Nick Zeisloft, F Hanner Mosquera-Perea
New arrivals: F Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan
Outlook: Tom Crean could be well-positioned to return to the good graces of Indiana fans next season. Nearly everyone is back, and the frontcourt will get some desperately needed help from the 6-10 Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American.
14. Villanova (33-3, 16-2 Big East)
Losses: G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston, G Dylan Ennis
Returnees: G Josh Hart, G Ryan Arcidiacono, F Daniel Ochefu
New arrivals: G Jalen Brunson
Outlook: Hilliard was the closest thing Villanova had to a star player last season, but this was a balanced team with six guys averaging nine or more points per game. Losing Ennis, a graduate transfer, hurts. Nova adds the five-star point guard Brunson to a team that will already have a senior point guard in Arcidiacono.
15. Wichita State (30-5, 17-1 Missouri Valley)
Losses: F Darius Carter, G Tekele Cotton
Returnees: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, F Shaquille Morris, G Evan Wessel
Outlook: Wichita State already survived a tense moment when Alabama courted Gregg Marshall. Baker mulled the draft but elected to return to school. The Shockers can’t be dismissed as long as VanVleet and Baker are in the backcourt.
16. Arizona (34-4, 16-2 Pac-12)
Losses: F Stanley Johnson, G T.J. McConnell, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley
Returnees: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York
New arrivals: F Ryan Anderson, G Allonzo Trier, F Ray Smith, G Justin Simon, C Chance Comanche
Outlook: McConnell, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are big losses. Yet Sean Miller continues to reload with 247Sports’ No. 2 recruiting class featuring four top-50 prospects and Anderson from Boston College (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg in 2013-14).
17. Cal (18-15, 7-11 Pac-12)
Losses: F David Kravish
Returnees: G Tyrone Wallace, G Jordan Matthews, G Jabari Bird, F Christian Behrens
New arrivals: F Ivan Rabb, F Jaylen Brown
Outlook: Cal was already poised to take a step forward with the backcourt of Wallace, Matthews and Bird returning. Then, Cuonzo Martin beat out Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan for the No. 2 small forward prospect (Jaylen Brown), adding to a recruiting class that already included No. 2 power forward (Ivan Rabb). Cal should contend for the Pac-12 title.
18. Utah (26-9, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Delon Wright
Returnees: G Brandon Taylor, G Jordan Loverage, F Jakob Poeltl, G Dakari Tucker, F Brekkott Chapman
Outlook: Wright could have the biggest impact of any single departure in the country. He’s a lockdown defender and an efficient point guard, two things not easily replaced. Poeltl could have gone to the draft as an intriguing prospect, but he elected for more seasoning in college after a dominant finish to last season.
19. Louisville (27-9, 13-6 ACC)
Losses: G Terry Rozier, F Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear
Returnees: G Quentin Snider, F Chinanu Onuaku, F Mangok Mathiang, G Anton Gill
New arrivals: G Trey Lewis, F Damion Lee, F Raymond Spalding, G Donovan Mitchell, F Deng Adel
Outlook: Rick Pitino bolstered his young roster with a pair of transfers, adding Trey Lewis from Cleveland State and Damion Lee from Drexel. Lee was arguably the top graduate transfer available after averaging 21.4 points per game last season. Lewis hit 96 3-pointers for Cleveland State. That will be a welcome sight after long-range shooting was a problem all year for the Cards.
20. SMU (27-7, 15-3 American)
Losses: C Yanick Moreira
Returnees: G Nic Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Ben Moore
New arrivals: G Shake Milton
Outlook: SMU has been knocking on the door of postseason relevance for two seasons. First came a snub to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and then the questionable goaltending call in a loss to UCLA in the round of 64. Moreira is a substantial loss, but SMU returns enough to contend for another AAC title.
21. LSU (27-11, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Jarell Martin, F Jordan Mickey
Returnees: G Keith Hornsby, G Tim Quarterman, G Josh Gray, G Jalyn Patterson
New arrivals: F Ben Simmons, G Antonio Blakeney
Outlook: LSU underachieved in the Martin/Mickey era, reaching one NCAA Tournament and losing in a second-half collapse to NC State. The Tigers will be expected to contend in the SEC next season after adding Simmons, the top prospect in the 247Sports rankings. Blakeney is also a five-star prospect. LSU’s supporting cast of Hornsby, Quarterman and Patterson is solid.
22. Vanderbilt (21-14, 9-9 SEC)
Losses: F James Siakam, F Shelton Mitchell
Returnees: C Damian Jones, G Riley LaChance, G Wade Baldwin IV, F Luke Kornet, G Matthew Fisher-Davis, F Jeff Roberson
New arrivals: G Nolan Cressler
Outlook: The Commodores were an awfully young team last season and improved as the year went along. Jones’ decision to stay in school was huge. The one major departure is made up for by the arrival of Cressler, who averaged 16.8 points per game as a sophomore at Cornell.
23. NC State (22-14, 10-8 ACC)
Losses: G Trevor Lacey, G Ralston Turner
Returnees: G Cat Barber, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F Caleb Martin, F Beejay Anya
Outlook: The unexpected departure of Lacey to the NBA Draft will dampen expectations. He was the Wolfpack’s most consistent player on a team that sorely needed consistency.
24. Butler (23-11, 12-6 Big East)
Losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods
Returnees: G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Charbascz
New arrivals: G Tyler Lewis
Outlook: Dunham and Jones will be seniors, and 5-11 NC State transfer Lewis should take over the point guard spot. More important, Butler locked up coach Chris Holtmann with a contract extension. The gap between Butler and Villanova in the Big East is narrowing.
25. Michigan (16-16, 8-10 Big Ten)
Losses: G Max Bielfeldt
Returnees: G Caris LeVert, G Zak Irwin, G Derrick Walton, G Spike Albrecht, G Aubrey Dawkins
Outlook: Michigan was a preseason top 25 team before everything went wrong, starting with an injury to star Caris LeVert. Before falling to .500, Michigan reached an Elite Eight and a national championship game. Let’s give John Beilein another chance at this, especially after LeVert elected to return to school.
Others of Note
Baylor (24-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Kenny Chery, F Royce O’Neale
Returnees: F Taurean Prince, F Rico Gathers, F Johnathan Motley
Outlook: Not much was expected out of Baylor last season, but they made a nice run before losing to Georgia State in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears need to find a replacement for Chery at point guard to go with that solid front line.
Cincinnati (23-11, 13-5 American)
Returnees: F Octavius Ellis, G Troy Caupain, G Farad Cobb, F Gary Clark, G Kevin Johnson, F Shaquille Thomas
Outlook: Cincinnati’s roster returns essentially intact, but the Bearcats hope to have coach Mick Cronin for the season after he missed most of 2015 with a medical issue.
Florida State (17-16, 8-10 ACC)
Returnees: G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G Brandon Montay, G Devon Bookert, G Phil Cofer
New arrivals: G Dwayne Bacon, G Malik Beasley
Outlook: A pick for a sleeper? Florida State returns nearly everybody to a mediocre team and adds two top-25 prospects at guard.
Georgetown (22-11, 12-6 Big East)
Losses: C Josh Smith, G Jabril Trawick
Returnees: G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, F Isaac Copeland, G Tre Campbell, F L.J. Peak, F Paul White
New arrivals: C Jessie Govan, F Marcus Derrickson, F Kaleb Johnson
Outlook: Placing expectations on Georgetown is always a tricky proposition. Smith-Rivera is already a star, and his return was critical to the Hoyas’ hopes. Copeland was a highly touted freshman and should start to reach his potential as a sophomore.
Oregon (26-10, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Joseph Young, G Jalil Abdul-Bassit
Returnees: F Elgin Cook, F Dillon Brooks, F Dwayne Benjamin, F Jordan Bell
New arrivals: G Tyler Dorsey
Outlook: The Ducks will need to find someone to replace the scoring that Young provided the last two seasons, but the Ducks got major contributions from last year’s freshman class. Oregon adds a top-30 point guard in a class with three top-100 freshmen
Purdue (21-13, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Jon Octeus
Returnees: C A.J. Hammons, G Rapheal Davis, F Vince Edwards, G Kendall Stephens, C Isaac Haas, G Dakota Mathias
Outlook: The seven-footer Hammons elected to return to Purdue rather than the NBA Draft, meaning the Boilermakers are gearing up to contend for the Big Ten title.
Texas (20-14, 8-10 Big 12)
Losses: F Jonathan Holmes, F Myles Turner
Returnees: G Isaiah Turner, G Javan Felix, C Cameron Ridley, G Demarcus Holland
New arrivals: G Eric Davis, G Kerwin Roach, C Shaquille Cleare
Outlook: How much of a difference can first-year coach Shaka Smart make? Many of the same pieces of a team that was picked to challenge for the Big 12 title last season will return. Adding two four-star freshmen in Davis and Roach and Maryland transfer Cleare means the pieces are in place for Texas to contend for an NCAA spot or more.
Texas A&M (21-12, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Kourtney Roberson, G Jordan Green
Returnees: G Danuel House, G Jalen Jones, G Alex Caruso,
New arrivals: C Tyler Davis, F D.J. Hogg, G Anthony Collins
Outlook: The Aggies were NIT bound after a disastrous SEC Tournament, but they were on the fringe for most of the season. They hope a standout recruiting class puts them over the top. USF point guard Anthony Collins is also eligible immediately.
West Virginia (25-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Juwan Staten
Returnees: F Devin Williams, F Jonathan Holton, G Jevon Carter, G Daxter Miles Jr.
Outlook: The Mountaineers, who are still smarting from a 39-point loss in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky, will have to replace the point guard Staten, but they return nearly every other key player from a surprise team in 2014-15.