College basketball is back, and with it comes the return of The Sports Fan Journal's College Hoops Power Rankings. Like last year, we’ll consider a team’s season-long performance as well as their current form to highlight the most threatening teams in the game. One change from a season ago is that we are expanding the rankings from 10 teams to 15. Without further ado, here are our initial 2018-19 college hoops power rankings.
Much to the dismay of Duke haters across the country, this year’s Blue Devils are not only stacked with talent, but they could end up being one of the most fun teams in college basketball. Top-ranked freshman R.J. Barrett leads the way and will team up with the well-rounded and versatile Cam Reddish and athletic specimen Zion Williamson. Expect a lot of highlights out of Durham.
Bill Self finds himself with an embarrassment of riches entering the 2018-19 season. Key pieces Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa and Lagerald Vick return from last season’s Final Four team. Transfer Dedric Lawson is an All-American candidate, while the Jayhawks also add highly-touted freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. Expectations will be sky-high in Lawrence.
The beat goes on at Kentucky. John Calipari experienced the familiar NBA exodus, and reloads again with a heralded recruiting class headlined by E.J. Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans. But there’s more to this year’s Wildcats than the diaper dandies. Former McDonald’s All-Americans Quade Green and Nick Richards return for their sophomore seasons. The biggest x-factor could be Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis, who averaged 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a season ago. This year Kentucky boasts more experience and is primed to add to the Kentucky tradition.
The Bulldogs’ Sweet 16 appearance last season was a step back from their appearance in the 2017 national title game, but they are poised to make up for it this year. Key contributors Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins return and will be bolstered by a pair of transfers in Brandon Clarke and Geno Crandall. Don’t sleep on the Bulldogs this year.
The Cavaliers made the wrong kind of history last year when they became the first No. 1 seed to lost to a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament. But they’re primed to put that behind them this year, projecting as Duke’s primary competition at the top of the ACC. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter missed the shocking tournament loss with an injury and is expected back at full strength. He will be joined by Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Jack Salt. Virginia has been one of the steadiest programs in the nation over the past five years and the only thing missing is a deep March run. This could be the year.
Tennessee returns its top six scorers from a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will lead the way. They’ll get support from Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. The Vols have the versatility to play the position-less basketball that become en vogue. They should be a factor at the top of the SEC.
NBA talent, depth, experience, inside-outside balance… the Wolf Pack has all of it. Led by twins Cody and Caleb Martin, Nevada is poised to improve upon last year’s Sweet 16 run.
It should be an interesting year at Villanova. Unprecedented roster turnover leaves the Wildcats entering the season with more questions than the program is used to. But Phil Booth and Eric Paschall remain and are poised for breakout seasons. Jahvon Quinerly headlines a top 10 recruiting class that will be expected to make an immediate impact, while the progression of sophomores Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels will be key for ‘Nova. The ‘Cats should be better at the end of the year than they are at the start, and that’s a scary prospect.
The Tar Heels look to bounce back from a disappointing second-round tournament exit after an excellent regular season. Senior Luke Maye, who averaged a double-double last year, is the focal point. Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley will support Maye in the frontcourt, where Roy Williams hopes for some improvement in 2018-19. Freshman Nassir Little should make an immediate impact, easing some concerns about Williams’ recruiting in the process. The biggest question is who steps in for Joel Berry II at the point, but UNC should be a national factor once again.
Like the Tar Heels, the Spartans suffered a second-round defeat in the tournament. They lose two key contributors in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Tom Izzo hopes that the experience of Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston will help offset the losses and help Michigan State meet expectations.
The Wildcats won 25 games and reached the Elite 8 last year. Big man Dean Wade and guard Barry Brown Jr. return, while JUCO transfer Austin Trice should help on the glass for a team that finished last in the Big 12 a season ago. Junior Xavier Sneed is a breakout candidate. In-state and conference rival Kansas is loaded, but the Wildcats could make things interesting in the Big 12.
After posting a 26-8 record in 2017-18, the Tigers return Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke. Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley return form suspension, which will help to offset the losses of Mustapha Heron, Desean Murray and Davion Mitchell to the transfer market. This year Auburn has designs on building on last year’s success and making noise in the SEC.
The loss of Jevon Carter will hurt, but the return of Sagaba Konate will ease some that pain. Konate is one of the premier defensive players in the country, a fearsome barrier at the rim that makes opponents attacking the basket think twice. Esa Ahmad will be a presence in the frontcourt as well. The backcourt will have to step up to replace Carter, but there should be plenty of enough talent to keep the Mountaineers relevant.
The recent trend at Syracuse has been doing just enough to get into the tournament, and then surprising people with respectable tournament runs. This year the Orange shouldn’t be sneaking up on anybody. They return Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard, and should be a factor in a loaded ACC.
Junior guard Payton Pritchard will set the tone, a pair of big-time recruits will garner much of the attention. 7’2” Bol Bol and 6’9” Louis King bring plenty of excitement to Eugene. There should be enough in place for the Ducks to compete for the Pac-12 title and return to the NCAA tournament after a trip to the NIT a season ago.
Lurking: Virginia Tech, Florida State, Mississippi State, TCU, UCLA, Michigan, Clemson, Washington
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