Duke First, UNC 14th In Pre-Season Picks

Chip Bremer

Amid the craziness of recent scandal, college basketball is moving forward, and the Blue Devils are once again leading the way. Surely, this has been one of the most turbulent off-seasons in recent memory, and things are still settling into place, but it’s time to start thinking about what we’ll see on the hardwood come mid-November and how things could evolve over the season. Here’s a quick look at the top teams for the upcoming season:

1. Duke. No team made bigger positive off-season headlines, than the Blue Devils who secured a very late (Aug. 16) commitment from stellar forward Marvin Bagley after he reclassified and graduated early to be eligible this season. Think of Bagley as a mix of the Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum we all expected to see last year—that’s how good he is. He’ll join other All-American freshmen (Tre­von Duval, Gary Trent Jr, and Wendell Car­ter), plus Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden. This team is as talented as any Coach K has had.

2. Arizona. The Wildcats are right there with the return of top wings Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, plus the addition of top center DeAndre Ayton and talented forward Emman­uel Akot (who also reclassified over the summer). Sean Miller has this program at the cusp, but keep an eye on this one because the FBI is still investigating agent ties to current players. Stay tuned!

3. Michigan State. When star forward Miles Bridges shocked everyone by announ­cing his return to the Spartans, expectations skyrocketed. With Bridges, MSU returns four of their top five scorers from last year, in­cluding center Nick Ward, and welcomes McD’s All-American Jaren Jackson to the lineup. Oh, and Ben Carter and Curt Schilling return from injury. This is by far the deepest team in the nation.

4. Kansas. The Jayhawks lost Frank Ma­son III and Josh Jackson, but return one of the best guards in the country in Devonte Gra­ham. He’ll be joined by Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman to form a formidable back­court. Svi Mykhailiuk returns for perim­eter firepower, and Arizona State transfer Sam Cuncliffe will help when he’s eligible mid-season. The frontcourt is thin, but talented with McD’s All-American Billy Preston and sophomore monster Udoka Azubuike.

5. Kentucky. Another year, another talented group of freshmen to drive the Wild­cats before they jump to the NBA. The names to remember are point Quade Green, scoring guard Hamidou Diallo, and forwards Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, and Jarred Vanderbilt (who will be out for a while with injury). The only thing is, this squad probably won’t shoot as consistently as John Cali­pari’s past teams, and the best shooter might be holdover forward Wenyen Gabriel who only shot 31.7 from behind the arc last year.

6. West Virginia. Bob Huggins has a good chunk of last year’s team returning, including POY candidate Jevon Carter, Esa Ahmad and Daxter Miles Jr. Nobody presses like the Moun­taineers, and no one forces as many turnovers as they do either (forced TOs on 27.6 percent of opponent possessions). They might be the one team that can end the Jayhawk’s dominance in the Big 12.

7. Wichita State. The Shockers return its entire lineup from last year’s 31-5 team that almost knocked off Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tourney. Point guard Lan­dry Shamet is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, but will be ready for the stretch run, along with Shaquille Morris, Mar­kis Mc­Duffie and Conner Frankamp.

8. Villanova. Jalen Brunson takes over a Wildcats team that lost key pieces Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, but will be ready to challenge with returnees Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo. Phil Booth also re­turns from injury, and freshman forward Jer­maine Sanders will have an impact. Plus, we will finally get to see what big man Omari Spellman can do after sitting out last season.

9. Florida. The decision of Devin Rob­inson to jump to the NBA after last season hurt a bit, but Mike White still returns a powerful lineup with returnees Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and John Egbunu, as well as some talented transfers, including Egor Koul­e­chov who averaged 18.2 PPG and shot 47% from beyond the arc for Rice a couple years ago.

10. Miami. This is clearly Jim Larrana­ga’s most talented team at Miami, now that McD’s All-American Lonnie Walker joins a backcourt with studs Bruce Brown and Ja­Quan Newton. According to reports from off-season workouts, though, the one to watch will be sophomore forward Dewan Huell who will be drawing a lot of NBA scouts to Coral Gables.

11. USC. There’s a program that’s been making a lot of noise on the west coast, and it isn’t UCLA. Andy Enfield’s Trojans return all the pieces from last year’s squad, including Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, Eli­jah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin. Plus, they add talented forward Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton.

12. Minnesota. The surprise team of last season returns all the key players including All-Big Ten scorer Nate Mason, Jordan Mur­phy, Amir Coffey and shot-blocker supreme Reggie Lynch. Coach Richard Pitino is making his father proud.

13. UCLA. The Bruins aren’t falling far behind after losing Lonzo Ball. In fact, they’ll return stronger than ever behind guard Aaron Holiday and big man Thomas Welsh (who both withdrew from the NBA draft), and a top freshman class that includes All-Americans Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Oh, and they’ve also got Lonzo Ball’s little brother LiAngelo who will bring added notoriety more than anything.

14. UNC. The Tar Heels are the defending NCAA champs, but this team will be much different than last year’s. They still have Joel Berry II running the show, plus Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. But despite additions to the backcourt in Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson and freshman star Jaleek Felton, the front court is dangerously thin and must rely on some un­tested freshmen.

15. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are particularly dangerous this year with one of the most dynamic frontcourt duos in Gary Clark and Kyle Washington. Plus, they return Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland, and bring in high-scoring Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome to bolster the backcourt.

16. Notre Dame. There are few players in the college game that will have as much of an impact on the floor than forward Bonzie Col­son, whose return along with long-range specialist Matt Farrell, will make the Irish a formidable opponent for anyone in the country.

17. Xavier. Losing Edmond Sumner was a devastating blow, but the return of leading scorers Trevon Bluiett (18.5 PPG) and J.P. Macura (14.4 PPG) and the addition of a top 10 recruiting class will keep the Musketeers in the thick of it.

18. Seton Hall. With star forward Angel Delgado spurning the NBA draft for another year of college ball, the Pirates became instant contenders, as they also return the remaining nucleus of Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Myles Powell.

19. Northwestern. Who would’ve thought that the Wildcats and the Gophers would be contending with Michigan State for tops in the Big Ten? Chris Collins’ team is no joke. They have a trio of talented scorers in Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law.

20. Gonzaga. No team lost as much as the runner-up Bulldogs, but Mark Few is just re­loading with another talented group of freshmen and transfers to go along with returnees Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Jonathan Wil­liams.

21. Alabama. Avery Johnson is building something special with the Crimson Tide, and it all starts with McD’s All-American guard Collin Sexton who wowed everyone in all the postseason/off-season events. He’ll have a solid lineup behind him, and several fellow freshmen to help carry the load.

22. Louisville. Now that the Cardinals are without Coach Rick Pitino and top recruit Brian Bowen, we must put them somewhere, and based solely on the returning talent, they can’t fall out of the Top 25. They still have a solid lineup with Deng Adel, Quentin Snyder, V.J. King, Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding.

23. St. Mary’s. The Gales are once again one of the top teams in the West, returning leading scorers Jock Landale, Calvin Herman­son and Emmett Naar. Plus, they add talented Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal to the lineup.

24. Virginia Tech. Don’t sleep on the Hokies! They are one of the deeper teams in the ACC, with returnees Justin Robinson, Ah­med Hill, Justin Bibbs and Chris Clark. Fresh­men Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede will make an instant impact.

25. Texas. There’s finally enough talent in Austin for Longhorn fans to get excited! Dynamic guard Andrew Jones returns and will be joined by freshmen Matt Coleman and big man Mohamed Bamba, who could be the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo.