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Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2019-20

Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2019-20

Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2019-20

Uncertainty best defines the state of college basketball in 2019. That extends from the game's future relationship with the NBA, as the One-and-Done Rule appears headed to a close; the forecast for programs probed in the recent FBI investigation; and onto the court. The race for the 2019-20 national championship is never certain 10 months out from the Final Four, but projecting how the campaign might unfold for this coming season feels more difficult than in recent years.

When running up against the unknown, falling back on the familiar is a reasonable option. To that end, some usual suspects lead the way in the post-NBA draft early-entry declaration deadline Top 25 for 2019-20. Kentucky and Michigan State have strong cases for No. 1, but don't sleep on Villanova. The 2016 and '18 national champions could be posed for a title run akin to the San Francisco Giants in MLB earlier this decade, when even-number-year championships fell their way on three occasions.

1. Kentucky Wildcats

Key Returners: EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards

Kentucky football schedule

Departures: Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson

New Arrivals: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Kelon Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontale Allen, Nate Sestina

Buzz: Kentucky losing a raft of NBA-caliber players, only for John Calipari and his staff to replace them with more, is nothing new. An intriguing angle to Kentucky's 2019-20 roster, however, is the veteran presence there to welcome the loaded freshman class.

EJ Montgomery's surprise withdrawal from the draft pool sets the foundation. Nick Richards gives Kentucky a potentially elite rim protector, which will work nicely in conjunction with Ashton Hagans' tenacious, on-ball defense. The addition of Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina (15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds per game in 2018-19) provides another veteran presence, who should immediately mesh in the same vein as Reid Travis a season ago. Now combine that with the influx of talent — in particular, 5-star prospects Kelon Brooks, Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney — and Kentucky has the formula for a Final Four run.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Key Returners: Xavier Tillman, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

Departures: Nick Ward, Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid

New Arrivals: Malik Hall, Rocket Watts, Julius Marble

Buzz: A three-year dip warranted concern that perhaps Tom Izzo no longer had the March touch. The 2019 Spartans emphatically refuted any such questions with a run to the Final Four, and very nearly a trip to the national title game. Michigan State's Elite Eight defeat of Duke sent a resounding message about the prospects for the 2019-20 team, too, as a pair of that game's stars — Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman — are back in East Lansing. The recruiting class also features a potential Miles Bridges-style impact player in Malik Hall.

3. Villanova Wildcats

Key Returners: Jermaine Samuels, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Cole Swider, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree

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Departures: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly

New Arrivals: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bryan Antoine, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon

Buzz: Jay Wright landed a loaded 2019 recruiting class, and the dynamic of Villanova basketball takes on another new face. Wright's constantly reinvented how the program competes, reflected in national championship runs with a team of veteran overachievers in 2016; and a roster of pro-caliber studs in '18.

The 2019-20 lineup marks another evolution, with Wright bringing in a star-studded recruiting class to mesh with a corps of promising returners yet to play their best ball. Colin Gillespie is poised for a breakout season, taking over for Phil Booth as the primary backcourt scoring option. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a supremely talented big man who should flourish right away.

4. Duke Blue Devils

Key Returners: Tre Jones, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O'Connell, Jack White

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Departures: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden

New Arrivals: Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley

Buzz: Zion Williamson's superhuman plays brought attention to Duke last season unmatched by any program since Kentucky's 2014-15 flirtations with a perfect season. The dream of a Final Four ended in a heartbreaking, Elite Eight defeat, and as expected, Williamson headlined an exodus of talented Blue Devils to the NBA. But as he's done repeatedly, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with another crop of immediate impact freshmen.

Post player Vernon Carey has the potential to be another high-profile star; perhaps not at the same level of Williamson, but he will have an impact all the same. With veteran Javin DeLaurier spurning the NBA draft, the Blue Devils have the foundation for the best front court in college basketball.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Returners: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr., Kyle Young

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

Departures: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods

New Arrivals: DJ Carton, EJ Liddell, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo, C.J. Walker

Buzz: Kaleb Wesson's decision to bypass the NBA draft his year gives Ohio State the cornerstone for a potential Final Four run in 2020. The Buckeyes overachieved last season, reaching the Round of 32 with a lineup made up largely of underclassmen — of which Wesson was the leader. His bullying game on the low block sets the tone for Chris Holtmann's preferred style of play, which is a physical, defensive-oriented approach.

The Buckeyes finished No. 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, per, and should be better this year. As Texas Tech and Virginia demonstrated, that's a recipe for a championship. The addition of three 4-star recruits adds depth, and transfer C.J. Walker is eligible after redshirting in 2019.

6. Louisville Cardinals

Key Returners: Jordan Nwora, Ryan McMahon, Malik Williams, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch

College football rankings: Louisville

Departures: Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau, Christen Cunningham

Arrivals: Samuell Williamson, Aidan Igiehon, David Johnson, Josh Nickelberry, Jaelyn Withers, Quinn Slazinski

Buzz: Louisville ran hot-and-cold in Chris Mack's first season at the helm. The Cardinals could beat some of the nation's best, but also endured periods of deep disappointment — like the unceremonious NCAA Tournament exit against Minnesota.

A much more experienced roster in 2019-20 should make for a much more consistent Cardinals team. Jordan Nwora returns to lead the way after averaging 17 points per game last season. Joining the veterans is an excellent recruiting class, with 5-star Samuell Williamson poised to make a splash from the outset.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returners: Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson, Sterling Manley, Leaky Black

North Carolina Football Schedule 2019

Departures: Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, Nasir Little, Coby White, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods

New Arrivals: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris, Jeremiah Francis, Justin Pierce, Christian Keeling

Buzz: North Carolina lost a *ton* of production from its 2018-19 roster, ranging from both supremely talented youngsters like Nasir Little and Coby White; to veteran leaders like Luke Maye and Cam Johnson. But behind those players a season ago were some high-potential Heels just waiting for their opportunity. In 2019-20, Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks have the potential to shine as an inside-out combo akin to Joel Berry II and Kennedy Meeks on the 2017 national championship team.

Depth was a hallmark of the 2019 Tar Heels, and the incoming crop of new faces should continue that look. Roy Williams signed an excellent recruiting class, headlined by 5-star prospects Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot. North Carolina should also get an immediate boost from Charleston Southern transfer Christian Keeling, who averaged more than 17 points per game all three seasons he was with the Buccaneers.

8. Seton Hall Pirates

Key Returners: Myles Powell, Taurean Thompson, Quincy McKnight, Ike Obiagu, Sandro Mamukelashvili

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Departures: Michael Nzei

Arrivals: Tyrese Samuel, DaShawn Davis

Buzz: Seton Hall ran into a buzzsaw against Wofford in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, a prime example of poor seeding. The Pirates will have that motivation fueling them in 2019-20, returning a roster loaded with talent veterans from last season's 20-win team. At the forefront is Myles Powell, a prime candidate to lead the nation in scoring next season.

Powell's an explosive combo guard who posted 23.1 points per game in 2018-19, whose knack for getting to the rim (and drawing fouls) keys the Seton Hall offense. With most of the primary contributors from a season ago back, Kevin Willard oversees one of the most experienced teams in the nation. Seton Hall is a prime preseason dark horse for a 2020 Final Four run, though that status should quickly disappear once Powell helps the Pirates into the Big East title race.

9. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusev

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Departures: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall 

Arrivals: Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Pavel Zakharov, Oumar Ballo, Martynas Ariauskas

Buzz: Gonzaga's fifth straight second-weekend run in the NCAA Tournament serves notice that Mark Few has this program firmly positioned among college basketball elite. For further evidence, consider how effectively the team is reloading, despite losing key pieces from arguably its most talented roster ever. Both Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are likely first-round NBA draft picks, but the 2019 signing class adds some new, prospective pro prospects.

Those who return, meanwhile, include Corey Kispert. Kispert became an integral part of Gonzaga's Elite Eight run last season. A full season of Killian Tillie back in the lineup provides a boost.

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Key Returners: Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew

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Departures: Jarrett Culver, Tariq Owens, Matt Mooney, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase

New Arrivals: Kevin McCullar, Andrei Savrasov, Jahmius Ramsey, Terrence Shannon, Tyreek Smith, Clarence Nadolny, Russel Tchewa

Buzz: Chris Beard's work elevating Texas Tech from a decent Big 12 program into a national championship contender is one of the more remarkable stories in college basketball over recent years. Tech reached the 2018 Elite Eight and came a few plays from a title last season in part due to the play of NBA first-rounders, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver.