The moment we have all been waiting for. The top ten of the NCAA preseason rankings. It should be somewhat clear who is on this list, but the order may be surprising to some. It is not as heavily populated by the traditional powers as one might think. You can find teams 30-20 here and 19-11 here.
NCAA Preseason Rankings: Part Three
Number 10 – Arizona State Sun Devils
Starters: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Josh Christopher, Kimani Lawrence, Jalen Graham
Bobby Hurley has done it again. Martin and Christopher are going to be outstanding together. The amount of offensive talent on this roster is staggering. The Sun Devils should be near the top when it comes to points per game and will easily hit the century mark a few times. The concern is can they guard anyone? The answer to that is most likely no so the offense becomes even more crucial. Verge needs to shoot well to create more space for Christopher so if you want to find an X-factor he is your guy.
Number 9 – Wisconsin Badgers
Starters: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter
The Badgers are one of the strangest teams in the nation. They have five fifth-year seniors. That is remarkable experience in the current college basketball landscape. Additionally, Wisconsin returns everyone of importance from last year. Trice and Davison make up a tough and skilled backcourt that has consistently improved on the offensive end. Reuvers and Potter are part of a talented and energetic frontcourt that can hold their own in the rough and tough Big Ten. Greg Gard has the pieces in place to have success. Are they a true contender? My gut says no because they do not have the high-end talent to compete with some of the teams above them. However, anyone can get hot for six games and cut down the nets.
Number 8 – Kentucky Wildcats
Starters: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson
The Wildcats are young, talented, and inexperienced. Surprised? Me neither. They lost seven scholarship players but replaced them all with a new freshman class. That class is led by Boston and Askew. The growing pains are going to be present like they are every year, but the talent is there. The question is, does this team fit Calipari’s style? The answer: no. Calipari loves to play in the half-court, mostly to limit turnovers from playing fast. This team is going to be much better running because they do not have shooting so the floor will be shrunk. Additionally, Kentucky would have a huge bonus if Olivier Sarr receives a waiver to play immediately, which seems like it has a decent chance due to a coaching change. While youth has not cut down the nets in recent history, Kentucky will be in the conversation at the end.
Number 7 – Illinois Fighting Illini
Starters: Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller, Da’Monte Williams, Kofi Cockburn
The Illini have not been highly touted in quite some time. Brad Underwood has worked wonders in Champaign and will now have his best team take the court. The return of Dosunmu, Frazier, and Cockburn is exactly what the doctor ordered. Pair that trio with Miller, the 33rd ranked recruit in the class, and the Illini have a lot of fight in them. The frontcourt is admittedly thin and lacks any true offensive talent, but it is tough and physical which goes a long way in the Big Ten. This Illinois team will not go 37-2 like the 2004-05 team, but they will absolutely make plenty of noise. They will be battling all season for the Big Ten crown and it will likely come down to which team can stay healthy all year long. Don’t sleep on this Illinois team though. They will punch you in the mouth and go on crazy scoring spurts.
Number 6 – Iowa Hawkeyes
Starters: Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffrey, Luka Garza
The Hawkeyes return a ton of experience and talent. They will be one of the few teams that actually gained players as opposed to losing any. While Garza and Wieskamp return, Bohannon will return from a medical redshirt year and hopefully stay healthy all season. This trio is as good as any in the nation. Garza is going to be the preseason favorite for Player of the Year. If he has as good a season as he did last year, Iowa will be in it for the long run. There is something about Iowa that seems to disappoint at times. They frequently get off to great starts and then falter. Since McCaffrey has been there, the team has been great, but they have always ended up underachieving. This year, that seems like it should not happen with so much talent and experience. Then again, remember Villanova and Jay Wright could not get out of the first round until they won two titles in three years. Let’s hope this is the year Iowa breaks that underachieving streak.
Number 5 – Virginia Cavaliers
Starters: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Thomas Woldentensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff
Virginia loses Mamadi Diakite which is going to be difficult to overcome. However, they landed Hauser from Marquette who will be eligible after sitting out one season. Hauser is the prototypical Virginia player and he is going to be fantastic this year. This starting lineup has shooting all over the place, but last year they were a bit inconsistent. Losing Diakite means that the defense has to take a hit. However, this year, the offense should be a bit better so it may offset itself. My concern is Kihei Clark. While he is a great player, his shot selection is questionable at times. As long as he attacks the hoop, makes plays for others, and makes a decent amount of kick-out threes, they will have no problems. All-in-all, Clark holds the keys for success.
Number 4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs
Starters: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Anton Watson, Drew Timme
Gonzaga was the number one team in the nation before Filip Petrusev chose to head overseas and turn pro. They still have plenty of talent and are a good choice to win the National Championship. Jalen Suggs will step onto the floor and be one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the nation. Pairing Suggs with Ayayi and Kispert is going to be very difficult to contain. The concern is the post play. Timme is very solid, but the depth beyond him is questionable. It is probably unwise to question Mark Few at this point so Gonzaga may be too low.
Number 3 – Duke Blue Devils
Starters: Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Matthew Hurt, Mark Williams
The Blue Devils lose plenty of talent but bring in 6 stud freshmen including 4 5 stars which makes them 3rd in 247sports rankings. They have just enough returning talent to help alleviate some experience concerns. So much so, that the best offensive player on the team, DJ Steward, is not even included in this starting lineup. This team will be able to do it all and should score often. The concern is the frontcourt but they may see some success playing a smaller lineup with Henry Coleman or Jaemyn Brakefield at the five spot. Realistically, the only reason they are not ranked higher is that there are questions with the returning sophomores.
Number 2 – Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats are a perennial powerhouse. Jay Wright always gets his team to compete and they always deserve plenty of accolades. This year, Gillespie and Robinson-Earl lead the charge with plenty of help from Samuels. Robinson-Earl is a good candidate to win National Player of the Year. Essentially, Villanova is in the position they always are: favorites to win the Big East and contenders to reach the Final Four. If they get any contribution from the bench and avoid injuries this team is very solid. Remember, never sleep on Jay Wright. Villanova has become a perennial powerhouse and can be considered a Blue Blood. They seemingly outperform expectations yearly and it is always with experience leading the way.
Number 1 – Baylor Bears
Starters: Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark
The Bears are loaded. Baylor is returning essentially everyone minus Freddie Gillespie. They also are adding two four-star freshmen that should make a big impact, most notably, LJ Cryer. Baylor basketball involves physicality and a ton of rebounding. That will continue with the bruising frontcourt of Vital and Clark. Additionally, I will make the early prediction that Jared Butler wins Big 12 Player of the Year. The only true concern is their ability to shoot, but they have some sharpshooters on the bench that can help alleviate those issues. Realistically, Scott Drew has a great shot to reach the Final Four, he just has to allocate team minutes appropriately.
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