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Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2018-19

Bill Self

Bill Self

The NBA draft deadline has passed, marking one of the major milestones in the college basketball offseason. With the exception of a few lingering transfers, and a handful of recruiting signees still to choose homes, rosters for the 2018-19 season are set.

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Defending national champion Villanova finds its standing for a repeat shaken with numerous draft departures. On the other end of the spectrum, Top 25 newcomers Mississippi State and Nebraska won big with key returners spurning the pros. Kansas takes over the top spot, but the Jayhawks face challengers to their long-held Big 12 throne from the likes of West Virginia, Kansas State and TCU.

The ACC should be its usual dog fight, the SEC is both top-heavy and deep, and the Pac-12 appears poised for a rebound.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Key Returners: Udoka Azubuike, Sam Cunliffe, Silvio De Sousa, Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot, Lagerald Vick

College Football Rankings: Kansas

Departures: Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman

New Arrivals: Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, David McCormack, Charlie Moore

Buzz: Udoka Azubuike spurning the NBA draft completes the restructuring of a wildly talented, deep and experienced Kansas lineup for 2018-19. With the big man Azubuike back from a squad that reached the 2018 Final Four, Bill Self has the building block for what could be his best team since the 2007-08 national championship squad.

2. Virginia Cavaliers

Key Returners: Mamadi Diakite, Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Jack Salt

Virginia: college football picks against the spread

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 (above, right) 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.

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell Jr.

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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 Killian Tillie, the Zags will have one of the most talented frontcourts in the nation in 2018-19.

4. Duke Blue Devils

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Key Returners: Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O'Connell

Departures: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter

New Arrivals: R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson

Buzz: Duke undergoes significant roster turnover, so consider this ranking erring on the side of caution. This is a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team, after all. What's more, Duke welcomes the nation's best recruiting class. Coupling high-profile new talent like R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson with intriguing returners like Marques Bolden gives this Duke team a look reminisicent of the Blue Devils' 2015 national championship squad.

5. Nevada Wolf Pack

College Football Rankings: Nevada

Key Returners: Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Josh Hall

Departures: Elijah Foster, Kendall Stephens, Darien Williams, Hallice Cooke

New Arrivals: Jordan Brown, K.J. Hymes, Jazz Johnson

Buzz: A Mountain West Conference championship in 2017 paved the way for a Sweet 16 in '18, which could be the platform for a Final Four run in '19. Eric Musselman has certainly built on the promise of Nevada basketball, and the 2018-19 squad faces limitless potential.

No team was a bigger winner in May, landing a 5-star recruit in Jordan Brown, as well as the return of Jordan Caroline and brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, a trio that powered the Wolf Pack's 2018 success.

6. Michigan State Spartans

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

Key Returners: Nick Ward, Kenny Goins, Joshua Langford, Xavier Tillman, Cassius Winston

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 4-star forward, could alleviate some of the sting in losing Bridges. Nick Ward should have a monster season after spurning the NBA draft.

7. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee Football Schedule

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 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. How 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.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers

College Football Top 25 Rankings: WVU

Key Returners: Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, Teddy Allen, James Bolden, Wesley Harris

Departures: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles

New Arrivals: Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon, Jordan McCabe

Buzz: The loss of Jevon Carter cannot be overstated, as the Chicago-tough guard was the heart and soul of a West Virginia team that reached back-to-back Sweet 16s. However, Bob Huggins and West Virginia won big at the draft deadline with Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate each coming back to Morgantown. The duo gives a talented Mountaineers roster two solid cornerstones to perhaps push for the Big 12 regular-season title that eluded them this past season -- assuming No. 1 Kansas can be challenged.