North Carolina takes a hotly contested to spot ... for now
A champion has been crowned in college basketball, and while the shining moment will continue in Durham, the rest of the sport is starting to look to 2015-16.
Some programs are under more pressure than others in the coming days and weeks. Underclassmen will start to consider the NBA Draft, recruits will commit, and transfers will come and go.
We don’t have the most clear picture yet of what the start of 2015-16 will look like, but we’re nevertheless curious.
Here’s our first look at the top 25 for 2015-16, a list that’s certain to change based on the draft, recruiting or more time for thought on our part about the year ahead.
*indicates underclassmen who haven’t declared for the draft, but are still projected to be high first-round draft picks.
1. North Carolina (26-12, 11-7 ACC)
Returnees: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry
Outlook: The Tar Heels’ roster returns virtually intact with each of the top 10 scorers returning to Chapel Hill. After years of roster turnover and un-North Carolina-like results in the ACC, the fortunes should be ready to turn. Paige will be a National Player of the Year candidate and the cast around him continues to improve.
2. 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*
Returnees: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, C Dakari Johnson, F Marcus Lee
New arrivals: C Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews
Outlook: Expectations may be tempered after the last two seasons, especially if everyone who could leave for the NBA Draft does. Ulis is a playmaker, and at 5-foot-9, he’s not going pro. As usual, Kentucky adds the No. 1 recruiting class, though this one includes “merely” two top-20 recruits in Labissiere and Briscoe so far. Kentucky is still in on as many as five top-10 recruits who are likely waiting to see who goes to the draft for the Wildcats or other teams.
3. Virginia (30-4, 16-2 ACC)
Losses: F Darion Atkins
Returnees: G Malcolm Brogdon, G Justin Anderson, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes
Outlook: The Cavaliers will be loaded with seniors after back-to-back ACC regular season titles. The biggest question will be if Anderson takes a look at the NBA Draft. Virginia lost three of its last five (albeit to teams that made the Sweet 16 or better in Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan State), but the Cavs should continue to be contenders.
4. Duke (35-4, 15-3 ACC)
Losses: G Quinn Cook, C Jahlil Okafor*, F Justise Winslow*
Returnees: G Tyus Jones, F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen
New arrivals: F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, F Sean Obi
Outlook: The biggest decision will be that of point guard Tyus Jones, who may be a late first-rounder. If he returns, Duke will be among the national elite. As usual, Duke has talent waiting in the wings and arriving to the program. Obi is a Rice transfer who will be a key big man after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
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. That’s because standout freshmen Melo Trimble and Jake Layman will be sophomores and because 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. 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.
7. Kansas (27-9, 13-5 Big 12)
Losses: G Kelly Oubre
Returnees: F Perry Ellis, G Frank Mason, F Cliff Alexander, G Wayne Selden, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
New arrivals: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Kansas’ prospects depend quite a bit on potential NBA Draft departures, most notably the decision of Ellis. Even if the superstars are gone, are you going to be against Bill Self in the Big 12? Kansas is still on a couple of top 10 recruits for next year’s class.
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 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.
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: 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. 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.
11. NC State (22-14, 10-8 ACC)
Losses: G Ralston Turner
Returnees: G Trevor Lacey, G Cat Barber, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F Caleb Martin, F Beejay Anya
Outlook: Perhaps another year of Lacey and Barber and the rest of them playing together will help NC State hit its ceiling more often. That will be the expectation.
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 regarding the NBA Draft will be closely watched. His return means Wisconsin will remain in the Big Ten race. The Badgers lose a ton of experience from this year’s Final Four team, but rest assured Bo Ryan has something up his sleeve.
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 who committed to IU last week.
14. 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 and Hollis-Jefferson are big losses as would be Johnson when he makes it official. 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).
15. 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.
16. Oklahoma (24-11, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: F TaShawn Thomas
Returnees: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodward
Outlook: The Sooners’ prospects hinge on whether or not Hield returns. If he’s back, Oklahoma is a senior-laden squad capable of challenging for a Big 12 title. If not, Oklahoma may be a fringe NCAA team.
17. 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. Now, the Shockers will wait out Baker’s decision on the NBA Draft. If he returns, the Shockers can’t be dismissed as long as VanVleet and Baker are in the backcourt.
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. The return of big man Poeltl is critical for Utah’s hopes to contend in the Pac-12.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. Vanderbilt (21-14, 9-9 SEC)
Losses: F James Siakam
Returnees: C Damian Jones, G Riley LaChance, G Wade Baldwin IV, F Luke Kornet, G Matthew Fisher-Davis, F Jeff Roberson, F Shelton Mitchell
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.
22. 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.
23. 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: F Raymond Spalding, G Donovan Mitchell, F Deng Adel
Outlook: Rick Pitino will have his youngest team in quite some time, losing each of his top three scorers (four, if you count Chris Jones) and every player who averaged at least 20 minutes per game. The three-man freshman class is ranked fourth on 247Sports.com
24. 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.
25. Michigan (16-16, 8-10 Big Ten)
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, chiefly 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.
Others of Note
Arkansas (27-9, 13-5 SEC)
Losses: G Rashad Madden, F Alandise Harris
Returnees: F Bobby Portis, G Michael Qualls, G Anthlon Bell
New arrivals: G Dusty Hannahs, F Ted Kapita
Outlook: If Portis returns, Arkansas will contend for the SEC title. If not, Arkansas slides to the middle of the pack.
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.
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 could enter the draft. If he returns, the Boiler makers lose only one of their top seven scorers.
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
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.
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.