Mid-Summer Preseason Rankings
By Zachery Bonzheim
It’s the middle of the summer and the NBA Draft has just finished. We saw numerous underclassmen leave early and yet still, some decided to postpone their professional careers for another chance at raising a banner come April. With recruits falling into place and the early entry period over (along with the draft itself), next year’s team are shaping up in their final forms. Who is the team to beat and what teams saw stars leave for the draft? Here is a mid-summer preseason top 25.
1) Michigan State- Michigan State clocks in at number one on this preseason poll, why? Miles Bridges, yes the one that was a lock for the NBA lottery, decided to Sparty On for another year. Michigan State will return every single member of their historically best recruiting class along with adding Jaren Jackson (another surefire lottery pick). Expect Izzo not to just contend for a national title, but for Bridges to contend for a National Player of the Year.
2) Arizona- Sean Miller lost Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche, and Kadeem Allen, but returns one of Miles Bridges biggest challengers for the National Player of the Year in Allonzo Trier. Allonzo Trier along with Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins, and DeAndre Ayton make up a Wildcat team poised for a big year. Had Miller landed any of his three late-season targets in Trevon Duval, Brian Bowen or Brandon McCoy, they would be number one. Lucky for the Wildcats, they aren’t far behind.
3) Kansas- Kansas lost one of their statistically best players in recent memory in Frank Mason III and freshman freak Josh Jackson, but they are returning about the same amount of firepower that they lost. A trio of Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham, and Svi Mykhailiuk will make for an experienced backcourt that will be ready to continue rolling in the Big 12. Kansas may have lost Carlton Bragg, who never fit in, but freshmen Billy Preston is looking to make a national name for himself. Don’t be surprised if Graham takes over the reigns from Frank Mason III and leads his team deep into March.
4) Kentucky- UK lost a slew of talent when De’Aron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, and Isaac Humphries, all decided their time in Knoxville was over, BUT, they welcome Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, and Kevin Knox. Not to mention the special treat Calipari got when Hamidou Diallo came back (YES, a UK lottery pick returned). Had Briscoe and Humphries came back, it would be hard to argue that they weren’t the best team in the country.
5) Duke- Coach K and his squad lost lead scorer, Luke Kennard, along with key players in Amile Jefferson, Frank Jackson, and Jaysom Tatum. He also lost McDonald’s All-American, Harry Giles, but Giles role was far less than expected. Duke hit the late jackpot when Grayson Allen decided to stay and Trevon Duval signed. Duval, along with the rest of Duke’s big freshman class are poised to make a big push in the ACC. With potential starters being Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent, Marques Bolden, and Wendell Carter, the Blue Devils look legit to contend on the national stage.
6) Villanova- Villanova lost National Player of the Year finalist, Josh Hart, and 2016 Final Four hero, Kris Jenkins but returns a cast of well experienced Wildcats. Jalen Brunson is looking to take over the role as the superstar and is on many’s preseason All-American watch lists. Brunson along with Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Eric Paschall will all be expecting larger roles in Jay Wrights system. Finally, the Cats will add Omari Spellman, a five-star big man who redshirted last season. All of this adds up to another year of Villanova bullying the Big East.
7) Louisville- Lousiville’s offseason was rocky for a long time. Allegations of the team and the coach ran across headlines everywhere and star Donovan Mitchell left for the NBA. This all changed when Brian Bowen visited. The five-star wing had no interest in Louisville until late into the recruiting period when he signed after no not even including the Cards in his top-5. Bowen will bring big star power to the team. Him along with freshman, Malik Williams, who will look to hold down the post, will help the Cardinals rejoin the top programs in the country this season. But wait!!! Do not forget point guard Quentin Snider. Bowen may have NBA hype, but it is still Snider’s team. Don’t be surprised if he makes waves of his own this season.
8) Wichita State- The Shockers made the jump from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic where the their schedule will be harder, but possibly not hard enough to stop an undefeated season. Sophomore, Landry Shamet, showed major flashes last season in big games, none more important than their almost upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. Shamet along with Markis McDuffie, Darral Willis Jr., Shaquille Morris, Conner Frankamp, and Zach Brown, will all be looking to win a conference championship in their first year.
9) USC- USC beat SMU and Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s tournament, just a taste of what could come this season. The Trojans’ stars, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu returned to Southern California for a chance not only raise conference championships, but national championships. They also return Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart and welcome transfers Derryck Thornton (Duke) and Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville). This experienced and loaded roster has what it takes to see a deep tournament run.
10) West Virginia– Last year, the crowded Big 12 saw many stars forgo their eligibility and head to the NBA. Lucky for WVU, star player, Jevon Carter (13.5 ppg) stayed. Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” is a well-oiled machine ran by veteran leaders who know how to play fast and hard. He also was fortunate enough to see the return of Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles Jr., Lamont West, and Sagaba Konate. This team will look to be the best challenger of Kansas in the Big 12 next season and could break the Jayhawks streak.
11) Minnesota- Richard Pitino stepped out of his father’s shadow last season when his Golden Gopher squad caught fire. Last year was a great coming out party, but this year is going to be bigger. Minnesota returns star point guard Nate Mason who achieved All Big-Ten honors last season along with sophomore stud, Amir Coffey, and defensive anchor, Reggie Lynch. This team will continue to mature and play a smarter brand of basketball. The pressure is really on Pitino now. We all know they have the talent, but can they perform under pressure?
12) Purdue- Caleb Swanigan is gone, but the Boilermakers live on. The squad will revolve around two seven-footers in Isaac Hass and Matt Haarm, along with solid players in Vince Edwards, Carsen Edwards, and Dakota Mathias. Swanigan was Matt Painter’s do-it-all player, but this year they’re going to need a core that can replicate his complete play. Purdue is the reigning Big Ten champion and they only lost one key player, their team is shaping up to be one of the best in the Big Ten.
13) Cincinnati- Cincinnati is good. They went under the radar most of last season and picked up thirty wins… 30 WINS! Cincinnati is a team that sticks together. All three of their top scorers, Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark return. This with the increased role and ability of Jarron Cumberland and the addition of Cane Broome (Sacred Heart Transfer and Northeast Conference Player of the Year), makes for a high-octane offense ready to roll over the competition. The American Athletic looks to be a two-horse race between Wichita State and Cincinnati. If Kyle Washington can continue to improve and reach the All-American form he’s capable of, the Bearcats will repeat thirty win seasons.
14) Xavier- Xavier surprised all of us by reaching the elite eight last spring and continued to surprise us when Coach Chris Mack signed a top-15 recruiting class. Trevon Bluiett (18.5 ppg) will be an All-American if he continues to progress and J.P. Macura (14.4 ppg) has been a steady star for the Musketeer. These two along with one of the best classes Mack has signed while in Xavier, make for a team ready get back to the elite eight and further.
15) North Carolina- North Carolina lost a lot of players. They lost Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley… but kept one of the best players in the nation in Joel Berry III. Berry III, Theo Pinson, and Luke Maye will be the keys to the Tarheels competing at the same level as last year. Berry will be not only fighting for his team to repeat as champions but for National Player of the Year too.
16) Seton Hall- Seton Hall? In the top 20? Yes. Seton Hall is legit. After finishing 21-12 last year, they could easily achieve a 30 win season. One of the best-kept secrets in college basketball, Angel Delgado (15.2 ppg, 13.1 rpg), returns and looks to have back-to-back seasons averaging a double-double. One 15 point scorer a game is a lot, but how about three?! In addition to Delgado, the Pirates bring back Khadeen Carrington (17.1 ppg) and Desi Rodriguez (15.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Coach Kevin Williard’s team is hot and could challenge Villanova in the Big East next year.
17) Notre Dame- Two players make the Fighting Irish a contender. Bonzie Colson is a one man wrecking crew. After averaging over 17 points per game in addition to double figures in rebounds, he decided to come back for one more year. With Colson down low and point guard, Matt Farrell (14.1 ppg, 5.4 apg), running the show, the Fighting Irish will be a sight to see. Even if Notre Dame underperforms this season, Colson will still be one the best players to watch.
18) Saint Mary’s- Jock Landale was one of the nation’s best players in the post last season. He averaged about 17 points per game and 10 rebounds. While still being in a mid-major conference, their schedule will not face the same gauntlet as some of the other teams on this list. This being said, and the fact that Gonzaga lost a large portion of their key players, the Gaels could easily go undefeated.
19) Northwestern- Northwestern took Gonzaga, eventual national runner-up, down to the wire last tournament. If one call would have gone the Wildcats way, their historic season would have been so much more. Fear not, this team is loaded and ready to make the jump from happy to be dancing to chasing a banner. Bryant McIntosh will be one of the nation’s most efficient point guards this season and it’s on his shoulders to make his senior year the best in school history.
20) Florida- Florida finished 27-9 last year and almost made it to the final four after falling just short in the Elite Eight. The Gators lost Devin Robinson, Canyon Barry, and star player Kasey Hill, but return a roster ready to run the SEC. KeVaughn Allen, who dominated Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen, Chris Chiozza, and John Egbunu, along with a top-20 recruiting class, will grind out the season and challenge Kentucky for the crown in the SEC.
21) Miami (FL)- In Jim Larrañaga we trust. The last few years, Miami and again and again over exceeded expectations all thanks to Jim Larrañaga. This season the Hurricanes bring back Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown but more importantly welcome Lonnie Walker. Lonnie Walker is the schools best recruit ever…If Larrañaga could work his magic without top recruits, just imagine with them.
22) Michigan- Many are counting Michigan out. They lost Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, and DJ Wilson. Wilson was the leading scorer, Walton was the team leader, but neither was the best player. The Wolverines welcome back big man Moritz Wagner. For years, Michigan was bullied down low and last year was the first time they had a true answer in the Beilein era. Wagner in addition to the developing Xavier Simpson, a key role player in Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and top recruit Jordan Poole will compete at both the conference and national level.
23) Rhode Island- E.C. Mathews… E.C. Mathews… E.C. Mathews… The Rams lost Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson, but they return key player and possible All-American E.C. Mathews along with Jared Terrell and Stanford Robinson. Head coach Dan Hurley has turned the program around and made the team loaded with stars. Expect the Rams to be led by Mathews and to compete deep into the tournament.
24) Missouri- Mizzou brought in a new coach and new players to turn around last years worst team in the SEC. Cuonzo Martin was brought in to revamp the program and to this point, he has not failed. After being hired, Martin went to work and signed the number one recruit in the nation, Michael Porter Jr., who is often compared to Kevin Durant. Porter Jr. in addition to Jeremiah Tilmon, C.J. Roberts, and Canisius grad transfer Kassius Robertson (16.1 ppg) are looking to make waves in a weak SEC.
25) UCLA- Many people have ranked UCLA in the top-15 but I remain skeptical. Who did the Bruins lose? Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu went pro, while Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton graduated. Steve Alford brought in Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, and Cody Riley and was able to keep Aaron Holiday (12.3 ppg) and Thomas Welsh (10.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg). There have been big changes, many will wonder if the Bruins can repeat their dominance of the Pac12.
Teams That Missed the Cut (Alphabetical Order)
Alabama, Baylor, Butler, Gonzaga, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia