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Way-Too-Early 2019 College Basketball Top 25

Nick Richards, Kentucky
While many people have turned their eyes to other sports, such as baseball or the NBA Finals, late May is a huge time for college basketball. May 29th was the last day players could remove their names from the NBA Draft and return to school. It is an ideal situation for players who didn't like the feedback they received from NBA scouts and instead want to work one more season to improve their games. Now that we officially know who is staying and going, it seemed like the perfect time to put together a way-too-early Top 25 for this upcoming fall. Plenty will be sure to change, but the top contenders should stay pretty firm at the top as they push through a long off-season.

1. Michigan State Spartans
Nick Ward was the only Michigan State player who could return who decided not to, opening the door for a big '19-'20 in East Lansing. Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston will return for his senior season as one of the clear-cut best players in the country. He'll run an offense that still boasts a healthy Joshua Langford, steady big Xavier Tillman and rapidly improving wing Aaron Henry. The Spartans will also be incredibly deep, returning a number of crucial role players. After falling in the Final Four this past season, next spring could set up to be incredibly special and possibly end with Tom Izzo's first National Title in two decades.

2. Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats came away as big winners yesterday, as they returned two important big men in E.J. Montgomery & Nick Richards. Montgomery was expected by many to go pro but now will have a chance to be one of the finest bigs in the SEC. Bucknell forward Nate Sestina will also play a big role in the frontcourt and will provide even more experience. The backcourt will miss sharpshooting guard Tyler Herro, but both Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are back, which will be huge. Kentucky also looks like a favorite to land versatile Virginia Tech forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., who withdrew his name from the NBA Draft but is seeking a transfer.

3. Duke Blue Devils
It is a new day for Duke, as Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish all will be high NBA Draft selections. With that being said, Tre Jones was a surprising returnee as the Blue Devils' steady sophomore point guard and he will usher in a new wave of freshman stars. Talented forward Matthew Hurt will join Javin DeLaurier and Jack White in the frontcourt, while wing Wendell Moore looks like a star. The only big concern for Duke will be the frontline, which is even thinner with Marques Bolden seeking professional opportunities. Youngster Vernon Carey is going to have to come in and be a star right away.

4. Louisville Cardinals
Chris Mack and Louisville got quite the present when forward Jordan Nwora, the ACC's Most Improved Player this past year, decided to return for his junior season. Nwora is a huge part of this Louisville offense and could project as one of the conference's best upcoming. However, he isn't the only important player back, as the Cardinals return seven of their top eight scorers from a strong 20-14 showing. Add in a number of high-profile recruits and Louisville seems like the greatest threat to Duke in the ACC this season.

5. Kansas Jayhawks
While their Big 12 Title run may be over, the Jayhawks remain the model for consistent success at the high-major level. Bill Self got two crucial players back for '19-'20 in guard Devon Dotson and big Udoka Azuikbe. Azuikbe will have to get 100 percent healthy, but is one of the best out there when he was, while Dotson has proven he can run the offense. Forward Silvio De Sousa was also ruled eligible by the NCAA recently, giving Kansas a talented big with upside. Small forward Tristian Enaruna will have to play big minutes on the wing as a newcomer, but should be able to handle it. It wouldn't be shocking to see Kansas return to Big 12 supremacy next spring.

6. Memphis Tigers
The buzz surrounding Memphis is palpable and they'll be a fascinating team to watch this next season. Head coach Penny Hardaway built on a strong showing to the second round of the NIT by adding in the top recruiting class in the entire nation. There is forceful big man James Wiseman Jr., versatile wing Precious Achiuwa, rock-solid guard Boogie Ellis and two-way force D.J. Jeffries are all coming in. They'll add on to a solid core that includes Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax. There will be some growing pains there, but Memphis will have astounding talent on this roster going up against an AAC that took a step back this off-season.

7. Villanova Wildcats
After a down year by their usual standards, Villanova is ready to get back into the National Title mix. They have a quality young core headlined by Collin Gillespie, Sadiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels that will lay the foundation for this squad. That core will be aided by a strong recruiting class, with two five-stars at the top. Bryan Antoine & Jeremiah Robinson-Earl drew rave reviews coming out of high school and head coach Jay Wright will get the most out of them.

8. Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett has time and time proven himself with the Cavaliers, but the reigning National Champs do suffer some key losses. The three big members of their team, De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, all decided to go pro. That will put more pressure on returning big Mamadi Diakite and quick point guard Kihei Clark. Forward Braxton Key has all the talent to break out this year in an expanded role and a decent recruiting class should lighten the load. It will be a tough road for a Title defense, but don't think UVA will be quiet either.

9. Maryland Terrapins
Mark Turgeron did a really great job with an incredibly young Maryland team this past season and that team will be a year older in '19-'20. Point guard Anthony Cowan was a huge late returnee as the leader and top player on this team. However, rapidly rising Jalen Smith may soon overtake him as the top option and the Terrapins should be pretty deep. Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala are proven contributors who should lock down starting roles. While MSU will be the Big Ten favorite, Maryland has Final Four talent.

10. UNC Tar Heels
A big chunk of last year's Tar Heel squad will be gone, including stars Luke Maye and Coby White. Despite this, UNC still has the tools to be a major factor in the ACC, thanks in large part to the arrival of Cole Anthony. The do-it-all is a one-man show who is widely viewed as the top player in the entire class. Yet, the Heels will also need some former role players to step up into larger spots, namely Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley.

11. Arizona Wildcats
The Pac-12 has been embarrassingly bad these last few seasons on the basketball court, but it looks like Arizona is ready to get back on the rise. Head coach Sean Miller landed a big-time recruiting class that is loaded with playmakers. Nico Mannion and Josh Green are both five-stars who played AAU ball together and will play instantly. They'll join a solid group of returnees that is led by Brandon Williams and Chase Jeter. Max Hazzard was another win for Miller, as the UC Irvine guard is a proven force in any backcourt.

12. Seton Hall Pirates
The Pirates have quietly become one of the Big East's most consistent winners and head coach Kevin Williard decided not to take the Virginia Tech job. He'll have a veteran group on his hands, led by guard Myles Powell, who decided to spurn the NBA for one more season. A solid core will also be returning alongside Powell, while the recruiting class includes a forward with significant upside in Tyrese Samuel.

13. VCU Rams
Well Shaka Smart will likely enter this season on the hot seat at Texas, his former VCU squad looks like the class of the Atlantic 10. Coach Mike Rhoades returns all six of his leading scorers from this past year's NCAA Tournament squad. Guards Marcus Evans and Isaac Vann lead a dynamic backcourt that completely outplayed most of the conference's competition a year ago.

14. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga was dealt a blow when talented guard Zach Norvell announced he would indeed stay in the NBA Draft, despite all the signs pointing to him returning. They should be able to withstand it thanks to the addition of Texas A&M transfer Admon Gilder, who will quickly become one of the WCC's top guards. Killian Tillie is an important returnee to help guide a youthful frontcourt, while big things are expected of Filip Petrusev. Petrusev showed flashes with the Bulldogs, and the former Serbian could take a Rui Hachimura-like jump.

15. Texas Tech Red Raiders
It doesn't pay to bet against Chris Beard and Texas Tech, who came agonizingly close to the National Title this spring. They will miss a number of key contributors, namely lottery pick Jarrett Culver, although the cupboard is far from bare. Guards Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards are a superb starting point, as are a number of impact transfers. Chris Clarke comes from Virginia Tech as a talented wing, while T.J. Holyfield was a nice get from Stephen F. Austin.

16. Iowa Hawkeyes
Even though Iowa ended this past season on a relative skid, they could be set up for a much bigger campaign. Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp return as the fuel of the Hawkeye offense, although losing Tyler Cook to the Draft stings. Luka Garza remains a workhorse on the block, while Iowa is hopeful for better things from the coach's son, Connor McCaffrey.

17. Utah State Aggies
Head coach Craig Smith is absolutely giddy at this Utah State squad, which returns its top four scorers from a 28-win team that shared a portion of the Mountain West Conference title. Neemias Queta put his name in the Draft but decided to return, giving the Aggies a force on the block who can swat shots. He'll be joined by Sam Merrill, who has the talent to be the MWC Player of the Year in '19-'20.

18. Auburn Tigers
Much like Texas Tech, the Tigers will lose some important pieces from a breakthrough Tournament team, namely point guard Jared Harper. That will leave Bruce Pearl with some retooling to do, but there is still some serious playmakers returning. Guards Samir Doughty & Anfernee McLemore have proven themselves as offensive weapons, while center Austin Wiley will step up and be their main go-to big man.

19. Ohio State Buckeyes
Kaleb Wesson was likely viewed as a second-rounder in the NBA Draft, so his return to Ohio State was somewhat surprising. He will be a Big Ten POY candidate, particularly after a strong showing to close last year. He will be joined by his brother, Andre, as well as guard Luther Muhammed, who steps into a bigger role with C.J. Jackson gone. Newcomer D.J. Carton will also be asked to step into a large role in the backcourt, although he looks up to the task.

20. Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels were having somewhat of a down year before late in the year, when a WCC Tournament upset of Gonzaga sprang them into the NCAA Tournament, where they went down to the wire against Villanova. They will miss  Jordan Hunter, but Randy Bennett will still bring back his top scoring threat, forward Jordan Ford. Other players will play bigger roles, but they should be very deep with seven players back who played 13 minutes per game last season.

21. Purdue Boilermakers
Losing Carsen Edwards obviously will hurt Purdue, but Matt Painter has proven he can reload as well as any coach in the nation. Nojel Eastern has proven he can run the show, although he isn't close to the scorer Edwards was. Down low, Matt Haarms will be back as will Trevion Williams, giving the Boilermakers one of the strongest fronts in the Big Ten.

22. LSU Tigers
There may be some lingering drama surrounding head coach Will Wade, but LSU should be able to push through it. They bring back a sturdy guard in Javonte Smart to lead the offense while Skylar Mays is a valuable shooter on the outside. Wade has been a demon on the recruiting trail for the Tigers and they now bring in five-star Trendon Watford, a versatile forward from Alabama.

23. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers and head coach Rick Stansbury got a huge win this week when star forward Charles Bassey decided to come back for his sophomore season. Bassey averaged a double-double this past season and looks like he could get even better with another year under his belt. With a number of others back, namely former high-profile recruit Josh Anderson, Western Kentucky looks like the overwhelming favorite in the C-USA.

24. Davidson Wildcats
The Wildcats have acclimated well to the Atlantic 10, and they are once again serious contenders entering next season. They have their top six scorers returning to a group that went 14-4 in conference play and was an NCAA Tournament contender. Guard Kellan Grady averaged 17.3 PPG last year and is a Conference Player of the Year candidate. This could be Davidson's best team top to bottom since Steph Curry was in town.

25. Washington Huskies
Even though Mike Hopkins will lose some key pieces of last year's top Pac-12 squad, the Huskies will rely on a few newcomers. Do-it-all defender Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell will be tough to replace, but Kentucky transfer Quade Green should be eligible mid-season and can handle starting PG duties. He'll guide the way for two impact freshmen, Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Stewart was a big get from Midwest country (La Porte, Indiana) who will immediately be one of the top forwards in the conference.

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