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College Basketball Preview 2019: My Top 25

Even though football season may be in full swing, the start of November brings a brand new season of college basketball into fruition. After last season's exciting finish, a crop of fresh faces and some familiar ones are sure to bring a new year of excitement, upsets and fun basketball. Here is how my preseason Top 25, and a couple others that could chaos come March.

1. Michigan State Spartans
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
BACKCOURT: Point guard Cassius Winston returns to East Lansing for his senior year as the favorite for National Player of the Year honors. Winston was really the engine that made MSU go last season, posting averages of 18.8 PPG and 7.5 APG, while shooting nearly 40 percent from three. Unfortunately, his fellow veteran backcourt mate, Joshua Langford, recently re-injured his foot that had kept him out for a big chunk of the 2019 season. Langford still hopes to be ready by Big Ten action, but the absence of the steady playmaker will hurt. Tom Izzo will be forced to turn to sophomore Foster Loyer and freshman Rocket Watts to see increased minutes. Loyer was solid in limited minutes last winter, while Watts is a superb shooter from deep.
FRONTCOURT: The Spartans got a big win over the off-season when Marquette transfer Joey Hauser announced he would be transferring to Michigan State. Hauser put together a quality freshman campaign with the Golden Eagles, putting up 9.7 PPG and shooting 45 percent from the field. He will team up with a number of Spartan mainstays in the frontcourt, namely junior Xavier Tillman and budding sophomore Aaron Henry. The Spartans are also hopeful swingman Kyle Ahrens will be 100 percent for the opener, after sustaining a scary injury in the Big Ten Championship last season.
OVERVIEW: Even though the loss of Langford for a significant period of time hurts, the Spartans are loaded with a ton of returning experience from a Final Four squad. With Winston at the helm and Izzo once again patrolling the sidelines, they seem to be the team to beat entering '19-'20. Izzo's first National Title in two decades seems like a distinct possibility.
2. Duke Blue Devils
BACKCOURT: While fellow teammates Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett both decided to go pro after one season in Durham, guard Tre Jones decided he still had unfinished business with the Blue Devils, deciding to return for his sophomore season. Jones is an excellent defender and the perfect guard to run Coach K's offense, but it will be interesting to see how he handles being the "veteran leader" in this Duke lineup. He'll be joined in the backcourt by fellow returnee Alex O'Connell and highly touted newcomer Cassius Stanley. O'Connell will play a critical role as the team's top shooter, while Stanley can defend multiple positions and should be able to make an immediate impact.
FRONTCOURT: Sure, losing a transcendent talent like Zion Williamson hurts, but the Duke frontline should still be one of the country's best. Five-star signee Vernon Carey looks like the next great Duke big, as a powerful finisher who is extremely active on the block. He'll form a dynamic 1-2 combo with fellow newcomer Matthew Hurt, who brings excellent versatility and a nice shooting stroke. While those two may start right away, don't overlook Duke holdovers Jack White and Javin DeLaurier. Both played an underrated role in Duke's success last season, and will be important in guiding the young talent on this roster.
OVERVIEW: Duke was extremely top-heavy last season, but the return of a good crop of veterans ensures Coach K will finally have the depth that has eluded the Blue Devils the last few seasons. Even if the new guys need some time to gel, Jones, White and DeLaurier will be able to guide this lineup through the perilous ACC.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
BACKCOURT: Much like Michigan State and Duke, Kentucky was handed a big win over the off-season when both Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley announced they would return for their second seasons in Lexington. Hagans, their top returning scorer, has all the tools to really take a jump, although he'll need to cut down on turnovers and prove he can evolve into a more complete offensive weapon. Quickley is going to have to compete with newcomer Tyrese Maxey for off-guard duties in this lineup. Maxey is an explosive combo guard who has received rave reviews from this coaching staff, and looks like the latest in a long line of John Calipari guards that have been selected at the top of the NBA Draft.
FRONTCOURT: Calipari rarely has returning experience in his frontcourt, but that isn't the case entering the new season. Both E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards decided to return, despite serious NBA attention. Richards is a great low-post defender, but Montgomery is the big returnee. Even though he wasn't healthy for a massive chunk of last season, Montgomery showed he can hurt defenses in a variety of ways and even stretch the floor a little bit. Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina also brings veteran experience. He doesn't have the pure talent of Richards or Montgomery, but should be able to acclimate to his new role quickly. Add in the usual crop of highly touted freshman, namely forward Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr., and this frontcourt should be really strong.
OVERVIEW: The return of so much veteran experience is huge for Calipari and Kentucky. It gives this team a really good starting point, even as they watch their young talent grow and develop. If Hagans and either Richards or Montgomery are able to really take that next step, it isn't unreasonable to think Calipari could finally return a National Championship, something he hasn't won since Anthony Davis was wearing Kentucky blue.
4. Louisville Cardinals
BACKCOURT: Youth abounds in the Cardinal backcourt, but there is no shortage of talent. A number of newcomers are likely to see big minutes right away, including Saint Joseph's graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble, and true freshman David Johnson, a Louisville native. Kimble averaged 15.6 points per game for the Hawks a season ago, and will bring immediate scoring potential. Veterans Ryan McMahon and Grant Williams should also see minutes. McMahon may be the best shooter on the entire team, both from three and at the free throw line.
FRONTCOURT: A versatile, well-balanced frontcourt should be the real guide for this Louisville squad. Junior wing Jordan Nwora is the best player on the team, their top returning scorer (17 PPG) and rebounder (7.6). Nwora isn't particularly flashy, but he has an excellent feel for the game, and seems to only be getting better under head coach Chris Mack. Senior Dwayne Sutton and junior Malik Williams will also play a crucial role. Sutton is a superb passer from the wing, while Williams is an absolute force in the paint, and one of the premier defenders in the ACC.
OVERVIEW: Mack's first season with the Cards wasn't perfect, but he showed the program was ready to return to the national stage. The returns of Nwora, Sutton and Williams give this team a great base to work with, and the newcomers should prove to make a real impact. The unforgiving ACC is going to be treacherous, but this Louisville team should be able to weather the storm.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
BACKCOURT: Bill Self's best teams in Lawrence always have a veteran guard leading the way, and while he isn't an upperclassmen, sophomore Devon Dotson fits that theme. After some early struggles, Dotson ended the year playing terrific basketball, and he gives this team a leader going forward. Junior Marcus Garrett is also going to play a huge role as an experienced playmaker who always takes on opposing team's best player and shuts them down. However, beyond those two, this backcourt has depth concerns. Losing Quentin Grimes, who decided to head to Houston, may hurt more than most realize.
FRONTCOURT: Even though he has struggled to stay healthy during his KU career, Udoka Azuikbe was a huge returnee for this Jayhawks team. At 7 feet tall and 270 pounds, Azuikbe is a load for any big to handle, and he has really worked on building an all-around game. He should be one of the best players in the entire Big 12 in '19-'20. Joining Azuikbe in this frontcourt will be junior Silvio De Sousa, senior Mitch Lightfoot, and Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss. Moss averaged 9.2 points per game a season ago for the Hawkeyes, and as a strong three-point shooter, he'll add an interesting element to this Kansas offense.
OVERVIEW: The Jayhawks' lengthy run atop the Big 12 might have ended last year, but don't expect KU to stay down for long. Self returns a ton of returning talent, and this team is significantly deeper than the last few years. The Jayhawks will also benefit from a weakened conference, as the Big 12 lacks much quality teams beyond a reloading Texas Tech team.
6. Virginia Cavaliers
BACKCOURT: Life after Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome won't be easy for UVA, but the cupboard is far from bare in Charlottesville. Head coach Tony Bennett will once again turn to the "next man up" approach, which means more of sophomore Kihei Clark and senior Braxton Key in the backcourt. Clark shot the ball very well last season and proved he could play smart basketball and not turn the ball over, while Key will grow into a starter after being the Cavaliers' sixth man last winter. Freshman Casey Morsell is also going to see minutes, as a pretty notable recruiting win out of Maryland.
FRONTCOURT: Although he may not be as naturally talented as other big men in the ACC, Mamadi Diakite looks ready to take the next step and become an All-Conference talent. Diakite is a well-rounded, mobile big who hit a couple huge shots for Virginia a year ago. He is an obvious breakout candidate going forward. Also back in the frontcourt is junior Jay Huff, who brings much needed length and defense (he is 7'1"). Then, there is also Sam Hauser, who will finish his collegiate career with the Cavs after three seasons with Marquette. Hauser has averaged over 14 points per game the last two seasons, and he will have to see big minutes right away with some of the losses UVA suffered over the off-season.
OVERVIEW: Three massive pieces to Virginia's National Title squad may be off to the NBA, but don't expect Bennett or UVA to slow down anytime soon. There is enough returnees back to carry on Bennett's "pack-line" defense, and the addition of Hauser is going to be huge. A second straight Title is probably too much to ask, but another postseason run isn't out of the question.
7. Maryland Terrapins
BACKCOURT: Steady point guard Anthony Cowan opted to spurn the NBA to once again run Mark Turgeon's offense in 2019-2020. Cowan is a quality scorer and a superb passer, averaging 4.4 assists per game a year ago. He'll spread the ball around to a number of different Terrapin scorers, including fellow guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. Ayala is an important shooter, knocking down 41 percent from three last winter, while Wiggins has the tools to be a fine defender. 
FRONTCOURT: Despite the loss of Bruno Fernando, Maryland still returns a lot of important pieces up front. Sophomore Jalen Smith looks ready to have a big second season in College Park. A former highly prized recruit, Smith is still streaky, but he oozes potential. Turgeon seems to believe he is ready to be the go-to guy in this offense. A number of underrated new faces will also see major minutes, with the big names being Chol Marial and Donta Scott. Marial is especially interesting, as a long 7'2" forward who can block shots and run the floor. 
OVERVIEW: Turgeon managed to win 23 games last season despite having one of the youngest teams in D1 basketball. With Cowan, Ayala and Smith back in the fold, I firmly expect the Terrapins to really grow into a formidable opponent. They certainly have the talent to compete with Michigan State for Big Ten supremacy.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
BACKCOURT: There are few freshman in college basketball that bring more hype to the table than new Tar Heel guard Cole Anthony. A springy, explosive playmaker that can score off the dribble and also hit the three, Anthony is fully equipped to be a star. It wouldn't be surprising to see the UNC offense lean on the youngster from the get-go this season. However, Anthony will need some supporting pieces to assist him in this backcourt. Senior Brandon Robinson and junior Andrew Platek both have been buried behind superior talent early in their Tar Heel careers, but now look ready to step up. Platek is particularly intriguing as a sharpshooter who can play really good defense.
FRONTCOURT: There is no Cole Anthony coming into this UNC frontcourt, but it should still be a formidable group. Junior Garrison Brooks displayed real finishing potential last year, and he could get even better with more opportunities in the low post. Junior Sterling Manley is also going to see an increase in minutes. That pair will have to mentor the youngsters coming in, which includes Armando Bacot and William & Mary transplant Justin Pierce. Pierce isn't young necessarily, but it will be a tough transition going from the Colonial Athletic Association to the ACC.
OVERVIEW: As the fourth team in my top eight coming out of the ACC, North Carolina won't get anything easy in the toughest conference in college basketball. Despite this, Anthony should be able to be a real rallying force for this maturing Tar Heel team, and Roy Williams has proven he can reload as well as anyone. 
9. Florida Gators
BACKCOURT: The Gators are going to be frightfully young in their backcourt entering the new season, but that doesn't mean there is any shortage of talent. Coach Michael White managed to bring in a pair of All-Americans in Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, who could both start right away. Lewis is especially hyped, as a high-volume scorer with size and athleticism. Florida does bring back some holdovers, with the big names being sophomores Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard. Nembhard considered going pro, but his return certainly helps Florida.
FRONTCOURT: There might not have been a bigger transfer in college basketball this off-season than Kerry Blackshear Jr., who decided to move on from Virginia Tech once coach Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M. A 6'10", versatile forward who has ample experience, Blackshear chose Florida over a number of other blue bloods. His addition will be especially vital to a frontcourt that loses a number of important options. Luckily, junior center Gorjok Gak is still around Gainesville after taking a redshirt a year ago. 
OVERVIEW: With the additions of Lewis, Mann and Blackshear, there is a massive influx of talent in this Gator program. If White is able to cultivate that talent, this Florida team certainly has the pieces to compete with Kentucky. After short-lived NCAA Tournament treks the last two seasons, a return to the Elite Eight could be in the cards.
10. Gonzaga Bulldogs
BACKCOURT: Losing program mainstays Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell leave a significant leadership void in Spokane, but coach Mark Few has shown he can reload. He managed to bring in his usual crop of graduate transfers, namely Texas A&M's Admon Gilder and North Texas' Ryan Woolridge. Both have proven they can handle the demands of high-major basketball, and they'll immediately see major minutes. Sophomore Joel Ayayi should be in store for a bigger role after barely seeing action at all last season. He impressed in the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer and has shown he can handle being a leading role.
FRONTCOURT: The Bulldogs must also deal with losses in their frontcourt, as both Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura were first-round NBA Draft selections this summer. Few will again need little-used options to step up in a big way, as well as a healthy Killian Tillie, who flirted with the NBA himself. Wing Corey Kispert is their top returning scorer, assist man, and rebounder. It will be interesting to see whether the junior is ready to go be the No. 1 guy. Sophomore Filip Petrusev is also going to see an expanded role, as the Serbian showed flashes of stardom a year ago.
OVERVIEW: No program in college basketball has been able to match the consistency of Gonzaga, and even with major losses, it's hard to see them taking much of a step back. Granted, the new transfers will have to gel quickly, and Kispert & Petrusev will have to step up. That would be a lot to ask at most places, but Few has proven time and time again he can lead 'Zaga back to a WCC Title.
11. Villanova Wildcats
BACKCOURT: Having a proven point guard at the helm has long been Jay Wright's recipe for success, and they have just that in junior Collin Gillespie. A steady, level-headed playmaker, Gillespie should look very comfortable engineering the Villanova offense this winter. He also has the luxury of being joined by some talented newcomers, including likely starting shooting guard Bryan Antoine. A five-star prospect, Antoine has great length for a two-guard, and should be featured heavily early. Less heralded but still important is Chris Arcidiacono, the younger brother of former 'Nova star Ryan.
FRONTCOURT: Antoine isn't the only prized recruit stepping onto Villanova's campus this season. Forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is also going to see minutes, and the Villanova coaching staff is already raving about him. He will be one of a number of Wildcats that will have to see a larger role with Eric Paschall off to the NBA. Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree is an excellent rebounder and solid defender, while sophomore Saddiq Bey has the upside to be a real factor. 
OVERVIEW: Although 'Nova will face plenty of resistance inside the Big East from Seton Hall, they still look like the slight favorites in the league. Gillespie gives them a veteran to run the show and if Robinson-Earl and Antoine live up to the hype, this Wildcats team is going to be tough to overcome. After a relatively down '19-'20, Villanova should be in store for a redemptive campaign.
12. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Davide Moretti, Texas Tech
BACKCOURT: New playmakers will have to step up in the Texas Tech backcourt, as a number of pieces from the National Runner-Up are gone. However, holdovers like Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards should be ready to make things happen. Moretti is a skilled shooter who played some key minutes for Tech last year, while Edwards has a ton of upside after a promising freshman season. Freshman Jahmi'us Ramsey is also sure to make an impact, as one of the highest-rated recruits in recent Texas Tech history.
FRONTCOURT: He may arrive with slightly less hype than Blackshear at Florida, but fellow Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke was a big get for Chris Beard. Clarke fits this Red Raider roster perfectly, as a premier defender that continues to improve from downtown. He didn't play for the Hokies last season, but he should still make a major impact. Another transfer, T.J. Holyfield, arrives from Stephen F. Austin and should immediately see minutes. Holyfield is a proven veteran who has started 101 games during his time with the Lumberjacks. Him and Clarke will have to play well, and Beard will also need others to step up.
OVERVIEW: Beard has proven that he has built a consistent winner at Texas Tech, and last season's National Championship appearance is just the beginning. There are some serious absences, but a number of high-profile transfers should help fill the void. Another deep postseason run could certainly be possible.
13. Utah State Aggies
BACKCOURT: Sam Merrill, the MWC Player of the Year in '18-'19, is back for another run in Logan. Merrill averaged 20.9 PPG a season ago as the top option in this Utah State offense, but he is an underrated passer who can really get his teammates involved. He should become more of a household name after being one of the best players in college basketball nobody knows about. Sophomore guard Brock Miller is a fine complementary piece in the backcourt, while junior Abel Porter is perhaps the best pure three-point shooter on the roster. Overall, five of Utah State's top six minutes guys from a season ago are back, with most of those minutes coming in this backcourt.
FRONTCOURT: Reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Neemias Queta returns for his second season with the Aggies. The springy seven-footer set a school record with 84 blocked shots last season, and is the defensive anchor of this Utah State team. Somebody else is going to have to step up alongside Queta in the frontcourt, possibly transfer Alphonso Anderson or rising sophomore forward Justin Bean. Lack of depth is somewhat of a concern, particularly with Queta nursing a knee injury entering the new campaign.
OVERVIEW: A 28-win 2019 was just the beginning for an Aggie program that should continue to get better and better under Craig Smith. The return of so much experience is a rarity in the modern world of college basketball, and there really isn't much competition from inside the conference beyond San Diego State. This could be a real postseason dark horse if things work out.
14. Memphis Tigers
BACKCOURT: A bunch of highly regarded true freshmen may be arriving in Memphis this season, but Tyler Harris will play a pivotal role as one of the few holdovers. Although just 5'9", Harris has great finishing ability and can still get to the rim. He will be particularly important as the only returning piece from Memphis' top six scorers last year. Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones and Damion Baugh will join Harris in the backcourt. None have played a minute of collegiate basketball, but the talent is there.
FRONTCOURT: According to most recruiting services, 7'1" center James Wiseman is the top newcomer in college basketball this year. A local product from Memphis East High, Wiseman is already making NBA folks drool with his athleticism, touch around the rim and freakish upside. He'll be a top option in this Memphis offense right away. Fellow newbies D.J. Jeffries and Precious Achiuwa were also big recruiting wins for head man Penny Hardaway. Achiuwa is also a five-star prospect like Wiseman, and a superb showing in the McDonald's All-American game has the Tigers thrilled to see what he can do.
OVERVIEW: There hasn't been this much excitement around the Memphis basketball program since John Calipari was head coach, as Hardaway brought in an extraordinary collection of basketball talent into town. With that being said, there is so much inexperience on this roster, that patience will be important as the youngsters figure it out. It would be really helpful if there was at least some veteran presence beyond Harris, but that won't be the case. All of these freshmen are going to need to learn quick, and play big minutes. Even so, the pure amount of talent, and the fact Cincinnati and Houston are reloading, makes Memphis the AAC favorite.
15. Seton Hall Pirates
BACKCOURT: Seton Hall has produced some impressive backcourt talent over these past few years, and Myles Powell is no exception. The superstar combo guard decided to pass on the NBA after putting up 23.1 points per game as a junior, while placing second in the Big East in steals. He is going to be the preseason Big East Player of the Year, and he hasn't shied away from the pressure. Another Myles, Myles Cale, is going to be back for the Pirates on the wing, while veteran Quincy McKnight should bring the ball up for this offense after leading Seton Hall in assists a year ago.
FRONTCOURT: Depth is not much of a concern in this Pirate frontcourt, as loads of experience is back in the fold. Junior Sandro Mamukelashvili, junior Taurean Thompson and senior Romaro Gill all have played a lot of minutes. Then, there is Florida State transfer Ike Ogiabu, a skilled shot-blocker who will be the final piece in a gigantic and imposing frontline. 
OVERVIEW: Villanova has been the most consistent winner in the Big East since it split, but Seton Hall has been right there, and they have a chance to be the favorite in '19-'20. They have everything you could want: a smart, hungry head coach, a proven go-to guy in this offense, veteran guards and a monstrous frontcourt. The Pirates should make their first Sweet 16 in roughly two decades.
16. Purdue Boilermakers
BACKCOURT: The real fuel of the Purdue offense, Carsen Edwards, may be gone but don't expect Purdue to disappear. They still return a crop of pieces that can certainly handle the scoring load, especially in this backcourt. Junior Nojel Eastern is an unconventional but effective piece who has played a lot of minutes for Matt Painter, while sophomore guards Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. will have to play a larger role. Losing Ryan Cline, a sharpshooter who did so much to space the floor for the Boilermakers, hurts more than you might expect. 
FRONTCOURT: Junior big Matt Haarms has been a steady option in this frontcourt the last two seasons, but he'll now be expected to play an even more important role as a No. 1 option. He led the Big Ten in blocked shots, but seemed to shy away offensively at times last winter. He'll have to be forceful underneath. Sophomores Trevion Williams and Aaron Wheeler are going to see lots of minutes at the forward spots. Williams is a real force on the low post, but he wasn't as in shape as he needs to be last season. Reports are that he has slimmed down and is ready for a big sophomore campaign in West Lafayette.
OVERVIEW: Losing such an important piece like Edwards is going to be a transition for Purdue, but Painter has proven he can rebuild as well as anyone. There is a lot of really solid options to work with, and this is a team that is going to have the depth to survive the rigorous Big Ten. They are still a serious candidate to put together some type of March Madness run.
17. Washington Huskies
BACKCOURT: Losing defensive stalwart Matisse Thybulle and point guard David Crisp puts Washington in a slight bind in their backcourt, but the hope is that some new faces can emerge. Chief among them has to be Kentucky transfer Quade Green. Green showed flashes with the Wildcats but was eventually pushed out by the additions of Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley. He is expected to be eligible to play by early December. Outside of Green, sophomores Elijah Hardy and Jamal Bey are going to have to step up after playing pretty sparingly a season ago.
FRONTCOURT: Head coach Mike Hopkins really proved his worth on the recruiting trail this cycle, by landing a pair of five-star prospects. Isaiah Stewart is the No. 3 overall recruit in ESPN's rankings, and he was a huge get from Big Ten country. The 6'9" mobile big is going to be a real force on the block from the beginning. Fellow five-star Jaden McDaniels also arrives to Seattle, albeit with slightly less fanfare. He can play and defend multiple positions, which will be huge for this Huskies team replacing some key pieces. It isn't just the freshmen that will see minutes in the frontcourt, as senior Sam Timmins was an important returnee, and Nahziah Carter is their top returning scorer.
OVERVIEW: The best team in the Pac-12 throughout last season, Washington is set to reload in a big way. Stewart and McDaniels will need some time to figure it out, but should make an impact, while Green has the talent to be the real engineer of the backcourt. I expect the Pac-12 to take a step forward after two straight dismal seasons, but UW should still be the team to beat in the league.
18. Auburn Tigers
BACKCOURT: Auburn is yet another team losing their best player, Jared Harper, but still retaining enough else to feel good about what they have going into the new season. Samir Doughty now looks like he'll be one of their go-to guys on offense. Doughty excelled as an off-ball, spot-up shooter last year, but he has the talent to be so much more. He is their top returning scorer, notching 7.3 PPG last winter. Senior J'Von McCormick is probably going to play point guard, and while he isn't Harper, he can still be pretty effective. 
FRONTCOURT: Prior to a knee injury that ended his season prematurely, Chuma Okeke was perhaps the most important player on this Auburn team as their best defender and a force on the boards. He was drafted No. 16 this past June, so others will again have to step up. Senior center Austin Wiley has proven he can handle the physical SEC, even though he isn't a go-to scorer. Along with Wiley, senior forwards Anfernee McLemore and Danjel Purifoy are experienced options that should keep the Tigers rolling. 
OVERVIEW: Bruce Pearl finally had his breakthrough at Auburn, leading Auburn agonizingly close to a National Championship appearance. It is nearly inevitable they'll take a slight step back without Harper and Okeke, but there is still enough experience to stay afloat in the ever-improving SEC. 
19. Baylor Bears
BACKCOURT: Even though the Bears don't have a real superstar on this roster, this backcourt is stocked full with versatile, well-rounded guards. That includes former Mississippi State transfer Mario Kegler, who ended last season on fire after a streaky start. Junior Mark Vital is Baylor's top returning rebounder, while sophomore Jared Butler is their top returning passer, averaging 2.7 assists last fall. Butler in particular has real potential, as he looked like a seasoned vet as a freshman last year and should take a sophomore leap.
FRONTCOURT: Now fully healthy, Baylor is excited to see what forward Tristian Clark can do. He was putting together a marvelous 2018-2019 before his season was ended because of a knee problem. Head coach Scott Drew believes he'll be 100 percent to begin the season, and he'll immediately become a go-to scorer. Senior Freddie Gillespie and sophomore Matthew Mayer are two sturdy wings that are going to contribute. Although his minutes dwindled at the end of last season, Mayer showed significant upside in last year's Emerald Coast Classic, including 18 against Nicholls.
OVERVIEW: Kansas and Texas Tech are the favorites in the Big 12 heading into 2019-2020, but don't overlook the Bears. There is a ton of scoring punch back, especially with Clark fully healthy and ready to go. They don't have as much size in the post as others in the league, but that shouldn't matter if their wings can play well.
20. Marquette Golden Eagles
BACKCOURT: If you're searching for National Player of the Year favorite, a good bet is probably Markus Howard, who returns to Milwaukee for his senior season. Howard is a high-volume scoring machine who put averaged nearly 25 points per contest last season. The offense will once again run through him, and he needs just 31 points to become Marquette's all-time leading scorer. Sure, Howard will need some help, especially with the Hauser brothers transferring. Senior Sacar Anim is a fine wing who played a big role in the stingy Golden Eagle defense last season. He'll be tasked with shutting down most opponent's top scorers.
FRONTCOURT: The absence of the Hauser brothers, the second and third leading scorers on this team last winter, seriously hampers Marquette up front. It will force guys like junior Theo John to see a massive increase in minutes. John still has a ways to go on offense, but he led the Big East in blocks last season and remains an imposing presence on defense. More help protecting the rim arrives in the form of Utah transplant Jayce Johnson. A seven-foot grad transfer, Johnson's length should be crucial in keeping teams from getting anything easy around the rim. Expect senior Ed Morrow and sophomore Brendan Bailey, both reserves a year ago, to see expanded roles.
OVERVIEW: Howard's return keeps Marquette in prime position to steal a Big East Title, even with Seton Hall and Villanova sure to be tough outs. The hope for Howard is that he can finish off his collegiate career with a deep Tournament run. The Golden Eagles were ousted quickly by Ja Morant and Murray State last March, but they have the talent to do some damage.
21. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
BACKCOURT: Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth is back in Bowling Green for WKU, and he will once again lead the Hilltoppers in minutes. In fact, Hollingsworth finished fifth in school history last season in minutes played, with 1,251. He is a versatile scorer as well as an adept passer (2.2 APG). Beyond Hollingsworth, head coach Rick Stansbury is turning to some newcomers, although they are not completely untested. IUPUI transfer Camron Justice averaged 18.6 PPG last season and can hit from downtown, as well as get to the line. Justice originally began his career at Vanderbilt, so he knows big-boy basketball. Freshman Jordan Rawls was a nice win on the recruiting trail; the four-star guard was considering a number of bigger schools but decided to join Stansbury at Western Kentucky.
FRONTCOURT: Stansbury proved his prowess on the recruiting trail prior to last season by landing five-star forward Charles Bassey, widely considered a one-and-done for the Hilltoppers. Instead, Bassey put his name in the NBA Draft then surprisingly decided to pull out, opening the door for what will likely be a huge sophomore season. He averaged a double-double (14.8 PPG, 10 RPG) for WKU a season ago, and has to be the favorite for the C-USA Player of the Year, especially if he can become more consistent. However, Stansbury is going to need somebody to emerge alongside Bassey, as the rest of the frontcourt appears pretty inexperienced.
OVERVIEW: Getting back Bassey immediately jolted WKU into national relevancy, even after a pretty quiet 2018-2019 when they went 20-14. He will be motivated and more confident now, and will have even more support in the backcourt besides Hollingsworth. I expect WKU to make their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013, and perhaps cause some chaos when they get there.
22. Saint Mary's Gaels
BACKCOURT: The Gaels have a history of producing high-quality guards (look no further than Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova) and they have the next in line with Jordan Ford. Ford has improved every single season with Saint Mary's, and he had a huge 2018-2019, averaging 21.1 PPG and playing nearly 37 minutes per game. He is the preseason WCC Player of the Year, and will be the guiding force behind an up-tempo, aggressive Gael offense. Former walk-on Tommy Kuhse returns to pair with Ford. Kuhse led the Gaels in assists last season, and will once again be counted on to keep this offense rolling.
FRONTCOURT: Head coach Randy Bennett has a history of going overseas to land impressive basketball talent, and he has a number of Australians on this roster ready to contribute. Towering junior Jock Perry is going to be pretty crucial as a rim protector, as the 7'1" center should take over for the departed Jordan Hunter. Newcomer Kyle Bowen will also see minutes, after playing for Australia in the 2019 World Cup. Bennett also has his share of returnees from more traditional backgrounds, including Malik Fitts. The former South Florida transfer really took to his new home, posting 15.2 points per game. He should be even better with more experience under his belt.
OVERVIEW: Last year was supposed to be a rebuild for Saint Mary's but instead, they shocked Gonzaga to earn the WCC's automatic Tournament bid. Now, Bennett's team is equipped with a fearless leader in Ford, along with a bunch of important supporting characters. With Gonzaga in a little bit of a rebuild, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Gaels overtake them on the West Coast.
23. Arizona Wildcats
BACKCOURT: After one of the worst seasons in recent Arizona basketball history, head coach Sean Miller went out and immediately landed three backcourt pieces that should quickly shift the tide in Tucson. Point guard Nico Mannion is one of the highest rated recruits in the 2019 class, and the type of dynamic playmaker who can build an entire offense around. He'll probably start at PG right away. He also landed another big name on the recruiting trail in Josh Green, a dominant transition scorer who has received rave reviews from high school scouts. Lastly, bringing in UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard was notable. Although not at the talent level of either Mannion or Green, Hazzard brings veteran experience and a steady intelligence. Also notable is former Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker, who struggled with his health in Lexington but can provide a spark off the bench.
FRONTCOURT: A number of former high-profile transfers dot Miller's revamped frontcourt. Former Duke big Chase Jeter has already proven he can work well under Miller, leading the Wildcats in rebounds last season. He is still a project offensively, but the tools are there. Beyond Jeter, former Nevada forward Jordan Brown and Cornell transfer Stone Gettings will see action. Brown was used sparingly by Nevada but has undeniable talent, while Gettings played three seasons with Cornell and looked the part. Also notable is freshman Zeke Nnaji, a skilled big who Miller was able to reel in despite plenty of interest elsewhere.
OVERVIEW: Following a 17-15 season in which they had a losing record in the Pac-12, Sean Miller went out and completely revamped this lineup. A bunch of stud freshmen and high-profile transfers will provide much needed assistance, but they will also need time. If things can work together, overtaking Washington for conference supremacy is within reach, but things good go the other way just as quickly.
24. Wisconsin Badgers
BACKCOURT: Nearly every important piece to the Wisconsin backcourt remains, namely Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice. Davison is a typical, hard-working Wisconsin guard that might not have the most talent, but gets the job done. Meanwhile, Trice still remains pretty streaky, but has proven he can be a leader of this offense when he is on. Veteran Brevin Pritzl is also back in the fold, while the Badgers are hopeful Kobe King can finally take the big jump. King has long shown upside in Madison, but his ill health has really restricted what he can do so far in his Badger career.
FRONTCOURT: Moving on from Ethan Happ, the centerpiece of Wisconsin basketball for a number of years, won't be an easy task. Happ topped 2,000 points, 1,200 rebounds and over 400 assists during his career and is now off to playing professional ball in Europe. With that being said, the Badgers still have some options up front. Junior forward Nate Reuvers looked ready to step into the spotlight last year and well he isn't quite at Happ's level yet, his shooting touch gives this offense a different element. Others are also going to have to show what they can do, including junior forward Aleem Ford and newcomer Tyler Wahl.
OVERVIEW: It isn't often we see teams take a step forward once their best player leaves town, but with how much remains intact at Wisconsin, that could possibly be the case. Certainly, the frontcourt is going to need to get better, but Reuvers certainly looks like he can handle being a top option. The consistency of the Badger program also gives you reason to feel good about their chances. With the exception of a frustrating '17-'18 season when they went 15-18, the Badgers haven't missed the Tournament since the late 1990s. 
25. Iowa State Cyclones
BACKCOURT: A pair of transfers should join sophomore Tyrese Haliburton in keeping the Iowa State backcourt rolling, even with Talen Horton-Tucker and Marial Shayok off to bigger and better things. Colorado State transplant Prentiss Nixon and former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton should see major minutes. Nixon sat out all of last year, but averaged 16.1 points per game his final season with the Rams, and can really stroke it. Haliburton, meanwhile, put together a strong freshman campaign and had a fabulous off-season. He could be in store for a real breakout season.
FRONTCOURT: Yet another former transfer should help guide the Cyclones, this one being senior forward Michael Jacobson. Jacobson began his career at Nebraska, but has proven his worth in the Big 12, and is now ISU's top returning scorer. Not necessarily flashy, Jacobson gets it done with a polished offensive skill set and good hustle. Junior Solomon Young missed most of last year with injury, but played a lot as a freshman. He should be counted on to produce, as well as small forward Zion Griffin, who appeared in 17 games last winter.
OVERVIEW: After a one-year March hiatus, the Cyclones returned to the Big Dance last season only to get knocked out by Ohio State in the first round. They lose two big pieces in Horton-Tucker and Shayok, but the returnees are solid and this is a school with a tradition of success. If the transfers can gel quickly, this is a real dark horse in the Big 12. 

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