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College Basketball 2018-2019 Sneak Peek

P.J. Washington, Kentucky
For the second time in three years, Villanova proved to be the last one standing, overcoming a chaoticseason to win it all. The Wildcats proved to be quite dominant, winning all six of their NCAA Tournament games by at least ten points, including thrashings of Kansas in the Final Four and Michigan in the National Championship. The scary thing? They could be even better next year, especially if reigning National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson decides to return for his senior season. However, there are no guarantees in this sport, and old powers Duke and Kansas should be stockpiled with talent this upcoming fall. 

Way-Too-Early Top Five

1. Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats have emerged as the model for what a college basketball program could be. They reload annually, and are as consistent as you can get, winning or sharing a Big East title all five years since the league reshuffled. It is nearly certain this team will lose Mikal Bridges, and after winning Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson probably will turn pro as well. Even if that is the case, 'Nova should still have Final Four talent. Donte DiVincenzo followed up a rock-solid season with a historical National Championship Game and could easily slide into the No. 1 scoring role. He will be joined by well-rounded guards Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth in the backcourt, while former Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and center Omari Spellman (assuming he stays) lead an imposing frontline. Add in highly touted point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who could slide into Brunson's spot, and this team will be still be incredibly talented and deep. With Jay Wright still at the helm, I would not rule out the Wildcats once more returning to the Final Four, and possibly doing even more.

2. Duke Blue Devils
Based purely on talent, Duke has the claim to be the nation's best team this upcoming fall, in large part to a recruiting class that has the country's top three prospects. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish already have a huge following, and all should be balling out in the NBA in a short amount of time. They will be supported by fellow big-name recruit Tre Jones, the younger brother of former Duke star point guard Tyus, and a solid supporting cast that will likely include center Marques Bolden and swingman Javin DeLaurier. There also is the chance the Blue Devils could retain some NBA talent from this year's squad, depending on what type of feedback Trevon Dural and Gary Trent get from scouts. If that is the case, this Duke squad will be jaw-dropping good, but let's not crown them National Champs just yet. There will be a learning curve for this team as they integrate all this young talent, and pure talent does not necessarily equate to a National Title. Even so, Duke still should be the clear-cut favorite in the always-strong ACC, and will threaten for Coach K's sixth Championship.

3. Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari teams are always going to be young, but last year's team took it to a whole different level. Amazingly, the Wildcats still managed to win the SEC Tournament and make the Sweet 16, and will have plenty of talented holdovers set to return. Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo are all likely going pro, but a core of forwards Nick Richards and P.J. Washington, along with point guard Quade Green will still be highly effective. There is also a good chance UK brings back two important frontcourt components, in sharpshooting Wenyen Gabriel and rebounding machine Jared Vanderbilt, who dealt with an injury-plagued '17-'18. As usual, Calipari will also bring in a great crop of big-name recruits, including guard Immanuel Quickley, wing Keldon Johnson and high-scoring Tyler Herro. This team will still be very young but another off-season working together and some new blood will ensure the SEC will run through Lexington once again.

4. Kansas Jayhawks
After getting a very good year from Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, Kansas will lean heavily on transfers in 2018-2019. Memphis transfers Dedrick and K.J. Lawson will be immediate contributors, particularly Dedrick, who had averaged 19 and nine his final year with the Tigers. Then, there is Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe, who can take the graduated Svi Mykhailiuk spot, along with product Charlie Moore will help out at point guard. Devonte Graham will be a huge loss, but the Jayhawks still return a decent group of veterans. Bouncy guard LaGerald Vick is a plus player, and Udoka Azuikbe could evolve into one of the Big 12's top players. Silvio De Sousa will also be back after a short-lived freshman campaign. He is still extremely raw, but he has the potential to have a big sophomore season with an off-season under his belt. This won't be quite as experienced as a KU squad as past years, but it is as talented as ever. Yet another Big 12 title should be in store in Lawrence.

5. Nevada Wolfpack
This may seem pretty high for Nevada, but depending on what happens with NBA Draft entries it could be just right. The Wolfpack's top three players from this past year's Sweet 16 squad, Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins both declared for the Draft, but none have hired an agent, meaning there is still a good chance they will be back. All three will have a legitimate shot at winning Mountain West Player of the Year. Losing the team's top shooter, Kendall Stephens, will sting, but reinforcements will arrive for head coach Eric Musselman. Underrated guard Nisre Zouzoua averaged over 20 points per game while at Bryant University, and can really stroke it. Add in guard Larry Drew, who should be back from injury, and there is a solid supporting cast in place no matter what happens with the trio. If the Martin twins and Caroline do return, this team has all the makings of a Final Four-caliber squad and maybe the best team to come out of the Mountain West in years.

Others in the Mix
Tennessee Volunteers: Rick Barnes managed to lead an extremely young Tennessee team to a three seed and second round bid in the NCAA Tournament this past season. They should make major strides with more experience in '18-'19, especially with the return of stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. A great group of sophomore guards, headed by Jordan Bone, will also ensure the Vols are among the class of what will be a very strong SEC.
Virginia Cavaliers: A stunning loss to 16-seeded UMBC overshadowed what was a marvelous 2017-2018 for Virginia. Sophomores Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome both had breakout years, and it is reasonable to think that they could get even better in their third seasons in Charlottesville. Add in the return of promising De'Andre Hunter, who missed that lone NCAA Tournament game, and UVA will still challenge for an ACC crown.
Syracuse Orange: Duke and Virginia should face real resistance from Syracuse this year, who should have nearly every big name back. Tyus Battle, their top offensive threat, will likely test the NBA waters but there remains a good chance he will be back. Athletic wings Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard will also be returning, and lengthy big Marek Dolezaj is just scratching the surface of what he can be. Highly touted recruit Darius Bazley is no longer joining the Orange after opting to go straight to the G-League, but this team should still be dangerous.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: One of the sport's most consistent programs should once more be dangerous this upcoming fall, as Gonzaga returns most of their core. Steady veteran point guard Josh Perkins is among the best in the land, and bigs Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura are full of potential. Promising wings Zach Norvell, who had a huge postseason, along with Corey Kispert should also be back, guaranteeing the Bulldogs' offense should be quite lethal.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers: Think that Loyola-Chicago's run to the Final Four was just a fluke? With the talent the Ramblers have coming back, they should once more be extremely dangerous. Star guard Clayton Custer will be back after winning MVC Player of the Year and shooting 45 percent from three last season. Marques Townes, the hero of their last-second victory over Nevada, is also set to return, as will their top big man, Cameron Krutwig. Loyola should also manage to retain their head coach Porter Moser, who will get plenty of attention from bigger schools, who looks like a rising star in the profession.

Storylines to Watch
Chris Mack Takes Over at Louisville: After a terrific job at Xavier following Sean Miller, Chris Mack is now set to take over at Louisville. It will be a tough adjustment going from the Big East to the always-loaded ACC, particularly at a place still recovering from major scandal. However, Mack has proven he can recruit the area very well, and develop some impressive talent. He should be able to build the Cardinals back into a powerhouse.
Oregon's Recruiting Class: After a Final Four berth in 2017, Oregon suffered through a pretty rough '18 season with most of their top talent gone. Head coach Dana Altman responded by landing one of the nation's top recruiting classes, only behind Duke in most recruiting rankings. Five-star newcomers Bol Bol, the son of NBA legend Manute, and small forward Louis King will make an immediate impact on the West Coast, and possibly assert the Ducks as a power player again in the Pac-12.
Can the Pac-12 Recover?: Its no secret the Pac-12 had a rough '17-'18 both on the football field and on the court. They managed just three teams in the NCAA Tournament, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, who were all ousted in the first games they played. The Wildcats will lose a big chunk of their core, as will ASU. If Oregon and UCLA's young talent grows up quick, the conference could still have a resurgent year, but the pressure is really going to be on next season.
Who Will Challenge Kansas in the Big 12?: The Jayhawks have won 14 consecutive Big 12 titles and while they should be dangerous once again next year, that streak will have to end sometime. West Virginia, Texas, Kansas State and and Texas Tech should all return enough to put some serious pressure on Bill Self and KU. Yet, managing to overtake the Jayhawks is certainly easier said than done, and Kansas will have a Final Four-caliber roster once again in 2018-2019.

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