No. 1 Michigan State
The top spot in the country goes to the Michigan State Spartans who are coming off a Final Four run, beating Zion Williamson and Duke along the way. The Spartans lose experience in Kenny Goins, Nick Ward and Matt “Big Shot Quaido” McQuaid, but have more than enough to replace the void they’re leaving behind. That starts with unanimous AP Preseason POY Cassius Winston who is coming off an All American year in which he averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists. Xavier Tillman, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Kyle Ahrens were some of the integral pieces to last year’s Final Four team who return. Freshman Rocket Watts, Malik Hall and Julius Marble come into East Lansing with the expectation to contribute right away, especially the sharpshooting Watts who will likely be starting in place of injured senior Josh Langford. If Langford is eventually healthy and Marquette transfer Joey Hauser is granted immediate eligibility, this year’s Spartans will be Tom Izzo’s most complete team ever.
No. 2 Kentucky
Kentucky does what it does every offseason: Replace multiple first round draft picks with five-star recruits. P.J. Washington and Tyler Herro are gone, but a potentially more talented class including Kahlil Whitney, Keoin Brooks and Tyrese Maxey is coming in. John Calipari has the privilege to pair these freakishly athletic freshmen with talented returners in Nick Richards, E.J. Montgomery and Ashton Hagans. This could be Kentucky’s best defensive team since its 2011-12 team anchored by Anthony Davis.
No. 3 Louisville
For once the best player in the ACC will be someone not donning the blue of North Carolina or Duke. Jordan Nwora and his 17 ppg made a somewhat surprising decision to return to the Cardinal for his junior season. He is joined by former UConn big man Steven Enoch, knockdown shooter Ryan McMahon and a huge recruiting class highlighted by five-star wing Samuell Williamson. Louisville has one of the best two way teams in the country, and they look to take a massive leap forward in Chris Mack’s second year as head coach.
No. 4 Kansas
Despite Kansas potentially facing a postseason ban for NCAA violations, Bill Self will keep his team focused. The two biggest Jayhawks additions were perhaps their two most important losses last year. The most dominant big man in college basketball returns from injury in Udoka Azubuike, as well as previously suspended frontcourt partner, Silvio De Sousa. Kansas had an uncharacteristically poor recruiting year due to violations, however they have experience in the backcourt with Devon Dotson and Isaiah Moss. Ochai Agbaji needs to take a step forward to add further scoring options from the perimeter and Mitch Lightfoot finally has to produce as a senior. If those things happen and Azubuike stays healthy, Kansas can beat anyone in the country.
No. 5 Maryland
The Terps seem to have lofty expectations each year, yet they fail to live up to them. I’m reaching a little bit by putting Maryland at No. 5, but they have so much backcourt talent, it’s hard to ignore. Anthony Cowen Jr. could be the best point guard in the country outside of Cassius Winston and he’s joined on the perimeter by 6-foot-5 Eric Ayala, who shot over 40% from deep as a freshman. Bruno Fernando is obviously a huge (literally) loss, but Jalen Smith and 7-foot-2 freshman Chol Marial are well poised to fill his shoes. Granted that Mark Turgeon can figure out how to make this team work, Maryland could be a Final Four contender.
No. 6 Duke
No more Zion, no more R.J. Barrett and no more Cam Reddish. I was hesitant to put Duke this high because they really are only returning Tre Jones, but another stacked freshman class is in Durham. I’m not one to question Coach K and what he can do with an intelligent point guard and a boatload of five stars, however I just don’t see how this Duke roster fits together. Outside of Jones, they don’t really have any perimeter talent, as it seems to be extremely frontcourt heavy. On a positive note, Duke probably has the deepest frontcourt in the nation with senior captains Jack White and Javin DeLaurier backing up Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt. If Coach K leads this team to a national championship or even a Final Four, it could be one of his greatest coaching achievements.
No. 7 Florida
Florida lost a lot with standouts KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes departing Gainesville. They have potentially the most electric two freshmen coming in with high-flyer Scottie Lewis and four-star Tre Mann. The Gators also were active in the transfer portal, receiving a commitment from former Virginia Tech star Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear could be an All-American and fits very nicely into Mike White’s offense. Florida travels to UConn early in the season for one of the most exciting games at Gampel in recent memory.
No. 8 Gonzaga
Mark Few doesn’t want to hear me talk about how much Florida lost, or any other team in the country for that matter. Gonzaga lost both its starting frontcourt and backcourt with Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke all gone now. Mark Few also won’t complain. As much as Hachimura and Clarke provided last year, their frontcourt might be even better with Killian Tillie finally coming off a healthy offseason, as well as the addition of freshman Drew Timme. The Zags will be one of the best offensive teams in the country, but will only be in Final Four contention if freshman backcourt tandem Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder can mature quickly.
No. 9 North Carolina
Cole Anthony is entering his freshman year as one of the most hyped freshman point guards in the last decade. He’s very comparable to Coby White who they just lost, but seemingly just better in every way. An upgrade at point guard will go a long way, but outside of Coby White, Carolina loses Luke Maye, Nassir Little and Cam Johnson. Little underperformed last year, so 6-foot-10 freshman Armando Bacot can directly replace him. Roy Williams will need to recreate this UNC team, however when they play with tempo, the Tar Heels will be hard to defend
No. 10 Virginia
The defending national champions lost their three most important parts in Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Deandre Hunter. Kihei Clark will take over sole point guard duties from Ty Jerome. Jay Huff will anchor the paint with the absence of Jack Salt. Regardless of personnel we know that every year Tony Bennett will have one of the best defensive units in the country. Virginia will have a lot of 53-49 games, reminiscent of the Wisconsin game last year, but they win more of those than they lose. If that is the case this year, the Hoos will be back in ACC title contention again.
Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.