Is your college football team bad this season? Have you given up on your NFL team already? Not a baseball or hockey fan? Don’t worry, the best sport is getting into gear…
College basketball season is almost upon us. Practice is in full swing, exhibition games are approaching, and the regular season tips off in less than a month with the star-studded Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
There are many storylines to follow this season, especially the trial surrounding the FBI’s probe into corruption in the sport. Duke brings in the country’s top three recruits, Villanova attempts to reload after winning the title and a pair of mid-majors have a real shot at winning the whole damn thing.
These are my top 25 teams heading into the season. While each team has its own in-depth story lines, I give you a brief look at what to expect from each team.
Any school on this list deserves a full-blown preview of its own, but I’ve attempted to give you a glimpse at each team in 25 words or less:
1. Kentucky Wildcats– Relatively experienced this year (P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green are back), Calipari also has solid incoming class, including transfer Reid Travis.
2. Kansas Jayhawks – The Jayhawks don’t have a go-to veteran like the past few years, but they’re loaded with talent, including the transfer Lawson brothers. Also: Bill self.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs – Mark Few has a very experienced team on his hands. Zach Norvell, Rui Hachimura and Co. could make a Final Four run. Tough non-conference schedule.
4. Duke Blue Devils – Country’s top three recruits are coming in, but not too deep after that. Top-5 seems a little high for unproven team, but it’s Duke.
5. Virginia Cavaliers – Living down UMBC will be tough, but UVA was great last year. The majority of that team is back with a chip on its shoulder.
6. Tennessee Volunteers – The starting lineup from last year’s co-SEC title team is back entirely. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams will be fun to watch.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels – Even in the top-10, UNC is a bit under the radar this year. Luke Maye’s good, but there’s more to this team.
8. Nevada Wolf Pack – Best team in school history, looking to build off Sweet 16 run. Martin twins and Caroline are all back, plus McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown arrives.
9. Villanova Wildcats – The defending national champs lost a lot, but Jay Wright always finds a way to reload. Phil Booth, Eric Paschall are joined by solid newcomers.
10. Auburn Tigers – Minus Mustapha Heron, a solid core is back, plus Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are eligible. Can Bruce Pearl put it all together?
11. Michigan State Spartans – Last season ended in disappointment and departure of the two best players. Izzo has good, not great team; seems to be when they do best.
12. Kansas State Wildcats – Bruce Weber went from hot seat to high expectations. The starting five from last year’s Elite Eight all return. The Wildcats should be excellent defensively.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies – Hokies should make tournament for third straight year – would be the first time in school history. How high can Buzz Williams take a developing team?
14. West Virginia Mountaineers – No more Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles or D’Angelo Hunter, so will Press Virginia be the same? I’m willing to bet Huggins finds a way.
15. Florida State Seminoles – One clock management flub from a possible Final Four. Leonard Hamilton gets a solid chunk of that team back. PG depth is a question mark.
16. Oregon Ducks – From Final Four to non-tournament team, now back to team capable of second weekend. Are you as excited to watch Bol Bol as I am?
17. Syracuse Orange – Boeheim has lived on the bubble most of the last decade, it seems. Returning a lot, Orange may be a sure tourney team this year.
18. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Time to build on an NIT run. Ben Howland’s best team at Miss. State is led by the Weatherspoon brothers and should make the tournament.
19. LSU Tigers – Decent veterans, very solid freshmen, and lofty expectations. This team will have a lot of adversity to overcome.
20. Michigan Wolverines – National runners up last season, the Wolverines have the pieces to replace who left. Can Beilein keep that defense humming and improve offensively?
21. Indiana Hoosiers – Romeo Langford is an Indiana high school legend. Can he become an IU legend and bring the Hoosiers back to relevance? Depends on supporting cast.
22. Clemson Tigers – Relatively experienced, despite losing Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham. If Brad Brownell can find some three-point shooting, they’ll be solid.
23. UCLA Bruins – Things were looking up in Westwood, but injuries to two promising freshmen (Shaq’s son Shareef; Tyger Campbell) are putting a damper on the hype.
24. Purdue Boilermakers – Carsen Edwards is phenomenal. He can’t run the show alone, though. Will be rebuilding process after losing four key players.
25. Maryland Terrapins – The Big Ten is revamped this year. Terps should be a tournament team, thanks to Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando.
Not enough for you? Here are five more teams just on the outside of the Top 25 to keep an eye on.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers – Ramblers weren’t a fluke. Porter Moser couldn’t schedule power-conference opponents, but they’ll be good with Custer, Krutwig and Townes. WATCH: Nevada at home in November!
TCU Horned Frogs – Jaylen Fisher returns from injury, and a good group of returning players should make for a Jamie Dixon-led tournament team.
Butler Bulldogs – Tough to replace Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman. But look for guys beyond Kamar Baldwin (McDermott, Baddley, newcomer Tucker) to make Dawgs a tournament team.
Providence Friars – Ed Cooley (READ THIS*) has a decent team led by Alpha Diallo. Big East is tough, but he should have them back to the tourney.
UCF Knights – Looks like Johnny Dawkins’ team may be favorites in the American. Senior leadership will be key for UCF. Can Tacko Fall finally breakout?
*If you don’t have an Athletic subscription, here’s another similar story about Ed Cooley and Sept. 11
Check back soon for more preseason content. Let me know if there’s a team, player or topic you’d like me to write about.
UPDATE: Compare my rankings to the actual AP rankings — I got 23/25 correct, 11 teams ranked correctly and seven others within one spot.