A post-draft deadline look at college basketball's 2018-19 Top 25

The Dagger
Kansas’ <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/136069/" data-ylk="slk:Udoka Azubuike">Udoka Azubuike</a>, left, and Silvio De Sousa celebrate after defeating Duke 85-81 in overtime of a regional final game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, left, and Silvio De Sousa celebrate after defeating Duke 85-81 in overtime of a regional final game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

At last, we have some clarity regarding next season’s college basketball landscape.

The deadline for early-entry prospects to withdraw from the NBA draft passed Wednesday night at midnight, so we now know which teams were hardest hit by draft declarations and which will begin next season in better-than-expected shape. That makes it a perfect time to release a new edition of Yahoo’s 2018-19 no-longer-way-too-early preseason top 25:

1. KANSAS
Key losses: G Devonte’ Graham, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, G Malik Newman, G Lagerald Vick
Key returners: C Udoka Azubuike, F Mitch Lightfoot, G Marcus Garrett, C Silvio De Sousa, G Sam Cunliffe
Notable newcomers: G Charlie Moore (transfer), F Dedric Lawson, F K.J. Lawson, C David McCormack, G Quentin Grimes, G Devon Dotson

Pencil Kansas in as the class of the Big 12 next season despite the departure of All-American Devonte Graham and three other members of the backcourt that led the Jayhawks to the Final Four earlier this spring. Bill Self will reload thanks largely to a strong crop of newcomers highlighted by a trio of incoming transfers. Dedric Lawson averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds at Memphis during the 2016-17 season and performed like a potential All-American on the Kansas scout team this year. The opportunity to pair him and either Udoka Azubuike or Silvio De Sousa together could force Self to abandon his four-guard look and go back to Kansas’ traditional high-low system. The mass exodus in the backcourt is certainly a blow, but Kansas has the perimeter firepower to absorb that loss. Charlie Moore should be able to step in at point guard, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson will make an immediate impact as freshmen and Marcus Garrett and K.J. Lawson should both see time at wing.

2. DUKE
Key losses: F Marvin Bagley III, F Wendell Carter Jr., G Grayson Allen, G Gary Trent Jr., G Trevon Duval
Key returners: G Alex O’Connell, F Javin DeLaurier, C Marques Bolden
Notable newcomers: F R.J. Barrett, G Cameron Reddish, G Tre Jones, F Zion Williamson, G Joey Baker

Don’t cry for Mike Krzyzewski even though Duke lost its entire starting five to the NBA draft. The Blue Devils perhaps gained even more than they lost with the top three — and four of the top eight — members of the Class of 2018 heading to Durham next year. R.J. Barrett is this year’s headline recruit. He led Canada to a FIBA U-19 gold medal last summer and recorded 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in a semifinal win over the United States. Cam Reddish is an accomplished wing scorer and Tre Jones could give Duke the quality point guard play it has lacked since his older brother Tyus led the Blue Devils to the 2015 national title. Zion Williamson unexpectedly spurned home-state favorite Clemson for Duke in January. He has unreal athleticism will provide an ideal complement to Marques Bolden in the frontcourt. In short, nobody will have more talent than Duke next season. The concern will be how quickly the pieces jell and whether there is sufficient outside shooting and commitment to defense.

3. GONZAGA
Key losses: F Johnathan Williams, G Silas Melson
Key returners: F Rui Hachimura, F Killian Tillie, G Josh Perkins, G Zach Norvell Jr., G Corey Kispert, C Jacob Larsen
Notable newcomers: F Brandon Clarke (transfer), G Joel Ayayi, F Filip Petrusev, G Greg Foster

The highest Gonzaga has ever been ranked in the preseason poll was No. 8 entering Adam Morrison’s junior season in 2005. The Zags may surpass that next fall after none of the highly touted members of  their young core even bothered to test the waters this spring. Gonzaga’s starters in the backcourt will almost certainly be veteran point guard Josh Perkins and the rapidly improving Zach Norvell, hero of the Zags’ Sweet 16 run this past season. The Zags could go smaller with Corey Kispert at small forward and Rui Hachimura at power forward or they could go big with Hachimura on the wing and Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie alongside him. Clarke, a former first-team All-Mountain West selection at San Jose State, should make an instant splash and help replace the interior production of graduated big man Johnathan Williams III. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 17.3 points in his final season with the Spartans and also blocks shots, defends and rebounds.

4. TENNESSEE
Key losses: G James Daniel III, G Chris Darrington
Key returners: F Grant Williams, F Admiral Schofield, G Lamonte Turner, G Jordan Bone, G Jordan Bowden, F Kyle Alexander,
Notable newcomers: F Zach Kent

Tennessee has been projected either last or next-to-last in the SEC in each of Rick Barnes’ first three seasons in Knoxville. Expect that to change in a big way this season. All but two of Tennessee’s rotation players are expected back from a team that shared the SEC title with Auburn and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. The lone players departing are James Daniel, a graduate transfer from Howard who averaged just over five points per game, and Chris Darrington, who logged only one minute in two NCAA tournament games. What that means is that Tennessee should contend for the SEC title again this season. Tennessee’s strength this past season was a defense ranked sixth in the nation. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are the two pillars of the offense, but the Vols could certainly benefit from adding a guard late either via the high school ranks or from the transfer market.

5. NORTH CAROLINA
Key losses: G Joel Berry II, F Theo Pinson
Key returners: F Luke Maye, G Kenny Williams, F Cameron Johnson, F Garrison Brooks, F Sterling Manley, G Seventh Woods
Notable newcomers: F Nassir Little, G Coby White, F Rechon Black

The remarkable careers of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson ended with a thud as Texas A&M blew out North Carolina in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament. Now the Tar Heels will have to move on without their two longtime perimeter stalwarts. North Carolina will reload behind skilled big man Luke Maye, a potential preseason All-American. When Roy Williams wants to go big, Maye can play alongside raw but promising young big men Garrison Brooks or Sterling Manley. When Williams prefers small ball, sharpshooting Cam Johnson can slide to power forward with heralded freshman Nassir Little at wing. The big question in Chapel Hill will be who starts at point guard alongside perimeter sniper Kenny Williams. Expect Seventh Woods’ playing time to increase and Coby White, a McDonald’s All-American, to step into a big role immediately.

6. NEVADA
Key losses: G Kendall Stephens, G Hallice Cooke, F Elijah Foster
Key returners: F Cody Martin, F Caleb Martin, F Jordan Caroline, G Josh Hall, G Lindsey Drew
Notable newcomers: F Jordan Brown, F Trey Porter, G Jazz Johnson, G Nisre Zouzoua, G Corey Henson, F Tre’Shawn Thurman, F Vincent Lee, C K.J. Hymes

Less than one hour before Wednesday night’s deadline for prospects to withdraw from the NBA draft, Nevada fans received the news they had been anxiously waiting to hear. Caleb and Cody Martin revealed they intend to withdraw from the draft and play one last season together at Nevada. The return of the Martin twins cements the Wolf Pack as a preseason top 10 team and ramps up the buzz for what was already indisputably the most anticipated basketball season in school history. Nevada now brings back five of its seven rotation players from last season’s team that won a school-record 29 games, captured the Mountain West title and advanced to the Sweet 16. The Wolf Pack also add the second McDonald’s All-American in program history and a slew of accomplished transfers who should provide the depth coach Eric Musselman lacked a year ago. Aside from finding enough shots for everyone, the only other issue for Musselman is that his roster is too full. Nevada will have to jettison two members of the team to get down to the limit of 13 scholarship players.

7. KENTUCKY
Key losses: G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, F Kevin Knox, G Hamidou Diallo, F Jarred Vanderbilt, F Wenyen Gabriel, C Sacha Killeya-Jones
Key returners: F PJ Washington, G Quade Green, F Nick Richards,
Notable newcomers: G Keldon Johnson, G Immanuel Quickley, G Tyler Herro, F E.J. Montgomery, G Ashton Hagans (expected to reclassify to 2018)

Kentucky will do what it always does after losing five prospects to the NBA draft. The Wildcats will reload behind another heralded freshman class. Look for heralded freshman Immanuel Quickley and sophomore Quade Green to split time at point guard and play alongside one another for long stretches too. High-motor slasher Keldon Johnson is likely to start right away at small forward. Kentucky’s frontcourt depth took a hit when Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel opted to stay in the NBA draft, but P.J. Washington’s return softens that blow. He’ll likely start alongside either sophomore Nick Richards or freshman E.J. Montgomery, though Kentucky may yet add another promising option if Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis commits later this spring. The concern for Kentucky would be if the pieces in that frontcourt would fit together properly. Plenty of talent of course, but is there enough floor spacing or rim protection?

8. VIRGINIA
Key losses: G Devon Hall, F Isaiah Wilkins, G Nigel Johnson
Key returners: G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome, F De’Andre Hunter, F Mamadi Diakite, C Jack Salt
Notable newcomers: G Kihei Clark, G Kody Stattman

It’s easy to forget how dominant Virginia was last season given the attention its historic NCAA tournament flameout received. The Cavaliers lost their best NBA prospect to a broken wrist days before the NCAA tournament and then became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed ever, spoiling a 31-win season in which they won the ACC by four games and also captured the league tournament title. Tony Bennett’s squad will be strong again next season as five of Virginia’s top seven players are back. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, both juniors-to-be, will provide perimeter scoring. Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt will bolster the interior defense. And following wrist surgery, versatile wing De’Andre Hunter should go from ACC sixth man of the year to all-conference. Virginia’s lack of guards who are adept at creating off the dribble in late-clock situations is a concern and Isaiah Wilkins’ absence will be felt defensively, but this is still an ACC title contender.

Villanova’s Phil Booth, left, celebrates the win with Eric Paschall, center, and Mikal Bridges after the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 97-73. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Villanova’s Phil Booth, left, celebrates the win with Eric Paschall, center, and Mikal Bridges after the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 97-73. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

9. VILLANOVA
Key losses: F Mikal Bridges, G Jalen Brunson, G Donte DiVincenzo, F Omari Spellman
Key returners: G Phil Booth, F Eric Paschall, G Collin Gillespie, F Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
Notable newcomers: G Jahvon Quinerly, F Brandon Slater, F Cole Swider, G Joe Cremo

While Villanova had been preparing for months to lose national player of the year Jalen Brunson and projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges, the Wildcats until recently could not have seen the other two departures coming. Donte DiVincenzo announced Tuesday that he was remaining in the NBA draft on the heels of his 31-point national title game performance. Omari Spellman followed suit on Wednesday, gambling that there is a place in the NBA for a 6-foot-9 big man who spaces the floor, rebounds and protects the rim. The loss of those four standouts is a massive blow for Villanova, but Jay Wright has the program rolling well enough that the Wildcats should still be considered the favorite to win the Big East next season. They’ll lean on returning starters Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, give heralded freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly the keys to the offense and hope that Jermaine Samuels and Albany transfer Joe Cremo can ease the loss of DiVincenzo and Cole Swider and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree can fill the void left by Omari Spellman.

10. AUBURN
Key losses: G Mustapha Heron G Davion Mitchell, F Desean Murray
Key returners: F Austin Wiley, G Bryce Brown, G Jared Harper, F Anfernee McLemore, F Danjel Purifoy, F Chuma Okeke, G Malik Dunbar, F Horace Spencer
Notable newcomers: G Samir Doughty

Bruce Pearl elevated Auburn from the depths of the SEC to a co-regular season championship last season. Now he has a chance to challenge Kentucky and Tennessee once again for an SEC title. Two of the three members of Auburn’s heralded backcourt from last season withdrew from the draft on Tuesday and opted to return to school.  Only all-SEC wing Mustapha Heron is gone for good, though he announced Tuesday that he will withdraw from the draft and transfer. A backcourt of Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and VCU transfer Samir Doughty should provide ample perimeter firepower even without Heron. The frontcourt should be much improved with Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy returning after missing all of last season as a result of allegations from the FBI investigation. Wiley, in particular, should provide the size and interior scoring Auburn’s frontcourt lacked last season. Last summer, he was one of the standouts on the bronze medal-winning USA U-19 team, averaging 10.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

11. KANSAS STATE
Key losses: G Amaad Wainright
Key returners: G Barry Brown, F Dean Wade, F Xavier Sneed, G Kamau Stokes, G Cartier Diarra, F Makol Mawien, G Mike McGuirl,
Notable newcomers: G Shaun Williams

Could Kansas State really be the second best team in the Big 12 next season? It’s possible with the Wildcats returning almost every key piece from a 25-win team that finished fourth in the league this past season and advanced to the Elite Eight with little-to-no production from its injury-plagued leading scorer. Dean Wade, a skilled 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 16.2 points per game this past season, should be preseason all-Big 12. So should Barry Brown, who averaged 15.9 points this past season and emerged as the league’s top perimeter defender. Xavier Sneed blossomed in March, Makol Mawien flashed potential as a frontcourt weapon and Cartier Diarra, Kamau Stokes and Mike McGuirl should each battle for playing time at point guard. Kansas State’s biggest weakness this past season was its inability to rebound. That could be one area Bruce Weber might seek to address on the transfer market if he can.

12. MICHIGAN STATE
Key losses: F Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., F Ben Carter, F Gavin Schilling, G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn
Key returners: F Nick Ward, G Matt McQuaid, G Joshua Langford, G Cassius Winston, F Xavier Tillman, F Kenny Goins
Notable newcomers: F Aaron Henry, F Marcus Bingham, F Gabe Brown, G Foster Loyer, F Thomas Kithier

Michigan State will at least bring back one key member of the frontcourt that carried it to the Big Ten regular season title last year. Nick Ward announced hours before Wednesday’s draft deadline that he intended to return to East Lansing for his junior year. Having Ward back means four members of Michigan State’s starting five are virtually set in stone — Cassius Winston at point guard, Matt McQuaid and Joshua Lanford on the wings and Ward at center. The wildcard is power forward, where Tom Izzo could go safe with veteran Kenny Goins or throw talented freshman Marcus Bingham into the fire. Expect Xavier Tillman to again push Ward for minutes at center and perhaps even play alongside him too. Two big issues for Michigan State last season were its tendency to turn the ball over too often and Ward’s inability to defend in space. Improving in those areas will be key for the Spartans’ Big Ten title hopes.

13. MICHIGAN
Key losses: G Muhammad Ali-Abdur Rahkman, F Moritz Wagner, F Duncan Robinson, G Jaaron Simmons, G Ibi Watson
Key returners: G Charles Matthews, G Zavier Simpson, G Jordan Poole, F Isaiah Livers, C Jon Teske, G Eli Brooks
Notable newcomers: F Ignas Brazdeikis, F Brandon Johns, G David DeJulius, C Colin Castleton, F Adrien Nunez

Charles Matthews’ decision to withdraw from the NBA draft dramatically increases Michigan’s upside next season. Now the Wolverines have five of their top eight players back from last year’s team that finished fifth in the Big Ten in the regular season before going on a massive run that ended one win shy of a national title. Defense is likely to be a strength for Michigan next season just as it was last year. Zavier Simpson wrecked opposing point guards during the second half of his freshman season with his ball-hawking instincts and lateral quickness, Matthews has the length and quickness to defend multiple positions and projected starting center Jon Teske is excellent defending ball screens. Finding ways to score without Moritz Wagner creating mismatches will be Michigan’s main challenge. Matthews could emerge as a go-to scorer if he can limit his turnovers and improve his consistency from behind the arc. Poole — the hero of Michigan’s second-round NCAA tournament victory over Houston — should enter the starting lineup as the Wolverines’ premier shooter and Livers and Teske could also take a leap. Of Michigan’s freshmen, the most ready is Brazdeikis, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-8 Canadian lefty with a handle.

14. OREGON
Key losses: G Troy Brown, F MiKyle McIntosh, G Elijah Brown, F Roman Sorkin
Key returners: G Payton Pritchard, F Kenny Wooten, F Paul White, G Victor Bailey, F Abu Kigab
Notable newcomers: C Bol Bol, F Louis King, G Will Richardson, F Miles Norris

While Dana Altman has molded newcomer-laden teams into Pac-12 title contenders before, this past season’s Ducks never appeared to click. They didn’t improve as rapidly as previous Altman teams have and failed to make a serious NCAA tournament push. Expect Oregon’s fortunes to get considerably better next season with the arrival of the most decorated recruiting class that Altman has ever signed. Five-star recruits Bol Bol, a 7-foot-3 center, and Louis King, an athletic small forward, should slide into the starting five right away, while Will Richardson and Miles Norris also have the potential to make an immediate impact. The big question facing Oregon is how next season’s roster will jell. Can Bol and sophomore shot blocker Kenny Wooten play alongside one-another effectively in the frontcourt? Is there enough shooting or ball handling on the roster? Is Payton Pritchard ready to assume the role of go-to scorer in his third year as starting point guard, or can one of the freshmen emerge? Time will tell.

15. VIRGINIA TECH
Key losses: G Justin Bibbs, G Devin Wilson
Key returners: G Justin Robinson, G Ahmed Hill, F Chris Clarke, F Kerry Blackshear, G Nickeil Walker-Alexander, G Ty Outlaw, C Khadim Sy
Notable newcomers: G Jonathan Kabongo, F Landers Nolley, G Jarren McAllister

Next season could be Buzz Williams’ best in Blacksburg. Four starters return from this past year’s NCAA tournament team and a combination of returners from injury and talented newcomers should provide ample depth. Robinson’s development was one of the biggest reasons the Hokies went to their second straight Big Dance last March. The rising senior raised his points per game (10.4 to 14.0), field goal percentage (41.3 to 46.4) and 3-point percentage (35.8 to 39.8) from his sophomore year to junior year, earning second-team All-ACC honors. Alexander-Walker was inconsistent as a freshman, but has good size and shooting ability. Hill averaged double figures this past season and shot over 40 percent from 3-point range. Clarke and Blackshear will anchor an energetic frontcourt that struggled on the glass this past season. Throw in the outside shooting of Outlaw and the size of Sy and some contributions from the freshmen, and Virginia Tech is definitely trending upward.

16. SYRACUSE
Key losses: none
Key returners: G Tyus Battle, F Oshae Brissett, G Franklin Howard, F Marek Dolezaj, C Paschal Chukwu, F Matthew Moyer
Notable newcomers: G Buddy Boeheim, G Jalen Carey, G/F Elijah Hughes

Syracuse has lived on the bubble the past few years, barely slipping into the NCAA tournament field in 2016 and 2018 and landing just outside the bracket in 2017. Don’t expect the Orange to be nearly as anxious on Selection Sunday next March. The somewhat surprising return of leading scorer Tyus Battle gives Syracuse a Top 25-caliber roster next season. Syracuse will have all five starters back from a 23-win team and a much stronger bench with a healthy Bourama Sidibe at center, East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes on the wing and incoming freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim providing guard depth. The additional firepower and depth should ensure that Battle, Oshae Brissett and Franklin Howard won’t have to shoulder so great an offensive load.  Battle shot sub-40 percent from the field as a sophomore and tallied more turnovers than assists, but he should be able to be more judicious picking his spots next season.

Florida State’s Phil Cofer, Terance Mann, Braian Angola, Trent Forrest and CJ Walker, clockwise from left, react after Michigan scored during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional final Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Los Angeles. Michigan won 58-54. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Florida State’s Phil Cofer, Terance Mann, Braian Angola, Trent Forrest and CJ Walker, clockwise from left, react after Michigan scored during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament regional final Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Los Angeles. Michigan won 58-54. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

17. FLORIDA STATE
Key losses: G Braian Angola, G CJ Walker, C Ike Obiagu
Key returners: F Phil Cofer, G Terance Mann, G PJ Savoy, G Trent Forrest, F Mfiondu Kabengele, C Christ Koumadje, G M.J. Walker, F Wyatt Wilkes, F RaiQuan Gray
Notable newcomers: G Devin Vassell, G David Nichols

Relying on fast-break offense, improved defense and impressive depth, Florida State made an unexpected run to the Elite Eight last month after finishing just 9-9 in ACC play. The Seminoles return enough talent from that roster that they should have a better regular season next year and return to the NCAA tournament. Florida State will once again have plenty of long, athletic wings with the slashing Terance Mann and the sharp-shooting PJ Savoy headlining the group. Mfiondu Kabengele is an emerging NBA prospect who flashed promise at both ends of the floor and former McDonald’s All-American M.J. Walker could also make a leap as a sophomore. Depth at point guard is a bit of a concern after CJ Walker announced he will transfer last week. Trent Forrest is a capable defender who excels at getting to the rim and drawing fouls, but he needs to improve his perimeter shooting.

18. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Key losses: G Xavian Stapleton, G Eli Wright
Key returners: G Quinndary Weatherspoon, G Nick Weatherspoon, F Aric Holman, G Lamar Peters, G Tyson Carter, F Abdul Ado
Notable newcomers: F Reggie Perry, F Robert Woodard, G DJ Stewart, C Jethro Tshisumpa

An appearance in the NIT Final Four qualified as progress for Mississippi State last season, but expectations will be higher next year. The Bulldogs not only return the core of this year’s team intact, they also add a talented recruiting class headlined by Reggie Perry, a 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American power forward. If Perry can bolster Mississippi State’s rebounding and provide some interior scoring punch, that would aid the Bulldogs’ chances of a big leap in Ben Howland’s fourth season in Starkville. The biggest concern for Mississippi State remains whether it will be able to shoot the ball well enough to sufficiently space the floor. The Bulldogs were 329th in the country in 3-point shooting this past season, and while Woodard and Stewart may help address that problem, it’s likely to remain a concern.

19. WEST VIRGINIA
Key losses: G Jevon Carter, G Daxter Miles, G D’Angelo Hunter, F Teddy Allen
Key returners: C Sagaba Konate, F Esa Ahmad, G James “Beetle” Bolden, F Wesley Harris, F Lamont West
Notable newcomers: G Brandon Knapper, F Derek Culver, G Trey Doomes, F Andrew Gordon, G Jordan McCabe, F Emmitt Matthews, G Jermaine Haley

For four years, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were the heart and soul of West Virginia basketball. Now Bob Huggins will have to move on without two guards who combined for more than 3,000 points, 800 assists and 500 steals. Among the options to absorb some of that available playing time include returning guard James “Beetle” Bolden, promising redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper and incoming freshmen Jordan McCabe and Trey Doomes. McCabe is a flashy point guard and Doomes is a slashing wing. The frontcourt is more settled for West Virginia and shot-blocking standout Sagaba Konate is the headliner. He’ll anchor a group that also includes former top 50 recruit Esa Ahmad and promising prospect Lamont West. There are likely to be growing pains for West Virginia without the leadership of Carter and Miles, but there’s enough talent and experience here for the Mountaineers to contend for a top three finish in the Big 12.

20. LSU
Key losses: F Duop Reath, F Aaron Epps, G Randy Onwuasor
Key returners: G Tremont Waters, G Skylar Mays, G Brandon Sampson, G Daryl Edwards, F Wayde Sims, G Brandon Rachal
Notable newcomers: F Kavell Bigby-Williams, F Naz Reid, G JaVonte Smart, F Emmitt Williams, F Darius Days

For a guy who didn’t inherit much from the previous LSU staff, Will Wade has worked quickly to replenish LSU’s roster. A pair of five-star prospects and two other top 75 recruits come aboard this summer, giving the Tigers an excellent chance to ascend in what should be a strong SEC next season. The returning star is Tremont Waters, a 5-11 dynamo of a point guard who averaged 15.9 points and 6.0 assists. Look for LSU to play lots of three-guard sets with Waters, JaVonte Smart and either high-scoring Skylar Mays or defensive ace Daryl Edwards. Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams and Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams each figure to make an immediate impact in the frontcourt. LSU flashed NCAA tournament potential at times this past season, but settled for an NIT bid because of inconsistency. Next year’s team will have far higher expectations.

21. UCLA
Key losses: G Aaron Holiday, C Thomas Welsh, F Gyorgy Goloman
Key returners: G Jaylen Hands, F Kris Wilkes, F Chris Smith, G Prince Ali, F Cody Riley, F Jalen Hill, F Alex Olesinski
Notable newcomers: C Moses Brown, F Shareef O’Neal, G Tyger Campbell, G Jules Bernard, G David Singleton, C Kenneth Nwuba

The fate of an important season for UCLA coach Steve Alford will be determined by how quickly he can get a team of promising newcomers to mesh. The Bruins have eight players who have never played a college basketball game before to go with a handful of rotation players from last season. The good news is the incoming freshmen are talented and redshirt freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley would have been part of the 2017-18 rotation were it not for the China shoplifting incident. Forward Kris Wilkes appears to be the best bet for a go-to scorer now that he has withdrawn from the draft and scoring guard Jaylen Hands could make a big leap too if he can limit his turnovers and shoot a higher percentage. The frontcourt will be loaded with length and athleticism and Campbell could be the sort of pass-first point guard needed to keep this collection of talent happy. Expect UCLA to be an up-and-down team that overwhelms some opponents with talent and struggles with sloppy turnovers, stagnant offense and shoddy defense against others.

22. TCU
Key losses: G Kenrich Williams, F Vladimir Brodziansky, F Ahmed Hamdy
Key returners: G Alex Robinson, G Jaylen Fisher, F Kouat Noi, F JD Miller, C Kevin Samuel, G Desmond Bane, G Shawn Olden
Notable newcomers: F Kaden Archie, G Kendric Davis, C Russell Barlow, F Yuat Alok

Even though TCU lost leading scorers Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodzianksy this offseason, the Horned Frogs still have a chance to build on their breakthrough season from a year ago when they reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. They bring back five players who averaged at least 7.9 points per game last season including point guard Jaylen Fisher, who missed the second half of last season due to injuries. Fisher, guard Desmond Bane and forward Kouat Noi figure to power an offense that ranked ninth in the nation in efficiency last season. The Horned Frogs were also excellent keeping opponents off the offensive glass last season, but they struggled to contest shots at the rim or the 3-point arc, an area where they must improve this season.

23. Loyola Chicago
Key losses: G Donte Ingram, G Ben Richardson, F Aundre Jackson
Key returners: G Clayton Custer, G Marques Towns, C Cameron Krutwig, G Lucas Williamson
Notable newcomers: G Tykei Greene, G Isaiah Bujdoso, G Cooper Kaifes, C Franklin Agunanne, F Aher Uguak

After winning 32 games, cruising to the Missouri Valley Conference title and making an improbable run to the Final Four, Loyola Chicago faces a new challenge this season. The Ramblers will attempt to show that they’re no one-hit wonder. Three of Loyola’s six top players from last season are back including Missouri Valley player of the year Clayton Custer. The dynamic point guard will team with returning shooting guard Marques Townes and ultra-efficient center Cameron Krutwig to form the core of next season’s team. Ben Richardson’s perimeter defense will be missed, but Lucas Williamson appears prepared to step into that role. New Mexico transfer Aher Uguak is a candidate to claim the last remaining vacancy in the starting five. Matching last season’s accomplishments will be very tough, but Loyola won’t fade from the national spotlight. The Ramblers will be efficient on offense, disciplined on defense and well-coached, all ingredients that will make them a tough out once again next year come March.

24. USC
Key losses: F Chimezie Metu, G Jordan McLaughlin, G Elijah Stewart
Key returners: F Bennie Boatwright, G Jonah Mathews, G Charles O’Bannon Jr., G Shaqquan Aaron, G Derryck Thornton, F Nick Rakocevic
Notable newcomers: G Kevin Porter, G Elijah Weaver, F J’Raan Brooks

USC won’t lack for motivation after being left out of the NCAA tournament last March despite finishing second in the Pac-12. The Trojans have a chance to return to the NCAA tournament next season despite the loss of three of their four leading scorers and the cloud of the FBI investigation still hovering over the program. Bennie Boatwright should be the focal point of USC’s offense next season after a February knee injury delayed the stretch forward’s ability to turn pro. Nick Rakocevic will likely start alongside him with freshman J’Raan Brooks also receiving considerable playing time. Replacing longtime stalwarts McLaughlin and Stewart in the backcourt won’t be easy, but USC has pieces. Derryck Thornton, the former Duke transfer, should share playing time at point guard with freshman Elijah Weaver. Kevin Porter will add instant scoring punch at wing alongside returners Jonah Mathews, Shaqquan Aaron and Charles O’Bannon.

25. WISCONSIN
Key losses: none
Key returners: F Ethan Happ, G Brad Davison, G Kobe King, G D’Mitrik Trice, G Brevin Pritzl, F Aleem Ford, F Nate Reuvers, G Khalil Iverson
Notable newcomers: C Joe Hedstrom, F Taylor Currie, G Trevor Anderson, G Tai Strickland

At the end of a disappointing season in which its 19-year NCAA tournament streak ended with a thud, Wisconsin offered a glimmer of hope. The Badgers won four of their last six and played Michigan State to a near-standstill in their two losses against the Spartans. Wisconsin has a chance to build off that finish now that standout Ethan Happ has decided to return for his senior season instead of turning pro. The all-Big Ten center will be the Badgers’ interior focal point, but there are also some promising options around him. Brad Davison emerged as a leader over the second half of his freshman season and will likely start at shooting guard. Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice can provide some much-needed playmaking that Wisconsin lacked after they got hurt 10 games into last season. Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson both improved defensively last season, while forward Nate Reuvers showed flashes of promise but needs to add strength. Expect Trevor Anderson, the Green Bay transfer, to have a role too after he impressed on the scout team. Ultimately, there are still a lot of questions with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have the potential for a strong bounce-back season.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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