It is a joyous day for college basketball fans, as today is the tip-off to the 2019-2020 NCAA men’s basketball season. Tonight’s Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden looks to be an exciting one, as four of the top teams in the nation will square off. Duke and Kansas will begin proceedings, and Kentucky will face Michigan State in the nightcap.
There are already a lot of storylines around nearly all of the top teams in the nation, which has made it tough to pick an out-and-out favorite for this year’s title. As such, there will be a lot to discuss, lots of expectations that will be dashed and quite a few surprises likely to pop up. We will try to provide some insight as we give you our season-opening power rankings.
1. Michigan State
Tom Izzo once again has the Spartans in the heart of the college basketball conversation, following their run to last year’s Final Four. Led by a dominant point guard in Cassius Winston, and with most of their key pieces back from last season, this team has leadership, depth and size all over the court.
Cassius Winston is a consensus preseason All-American.
And he is wise. Good stuff from Winston before Michigan State plays Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/IlQET4LmQ2
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 5, 2019
The injury to Joshua Langford is concerning, and their lack of a second big to help out Xavier Tillman could be an issue, but we will find out quickly just how good this team is, as they face a daunting schedule in November.
There may not be a team happier to actually start the season, and change the discussion around their program, than the Jayhawks. After the Adidas scandal, and an infamous Late Night in the Phog, Bill Self will be ready to get people talking about the return of Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson and Silvio De Sousa (who has been cleared by the NCAA). Outside shooting could be a problem, but there will be few teams that can compete with the size and depth of the Kansas frontcourt, especially in the non-conference schedule.
There is not a backcourt in the nation that compares to what Kentucky brings to the table. Sophomores Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley will partner with newcomers Tyrese Maxey and Johnny Juzang to provide an attack that few will be able to come close to matching.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) March 2, 2019
However, there are serious question marks pertaining to the interior, after John Calipari missed out yet again on multiple key big-man recruits. Nate Sestina’s addition will help, but if junior Nick Richards and sophomore EJ Montgomery fail to step up and take pressure off of the guards, Kentucky could run into problems.
The Gators will challenge Kentucky for the SEC crown, but it may take a little while for them to reach their potential. Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann headline a terrific recruiting class, while senior grad transfer Kerry Blackshear’s decision to join the Gators (over the Wildcats) will immediately vault their frontcourt to another level. Sophomores Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson should take a big step forward after solid freshman campaigns. Everything depends on how long it takes for Mike White to determine how to mix his ingredients, but the Gators should be rolling by the time conference play starts up.
It’s hard to replace someone like Zion Williamson. It’s even harder to replace three players taken in the top 10 of the NBA draft. Thankfully for the Blue Devils, point guard Tre Jones returns to lead a very talented group of incoming freshmen, and Alex O’Connell and Jack White will provide some experience as well.
The one thing this year’s team has that last year’s did not is depth, and freshmen Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore will all be key assets for Mike Krzyzewski. There will be no easing-in period for the young players, as Kansas will provide a huge challenge on opening night.
— Overtime (@overtime) March 2, 2019
6. North Carolina
An outstanding recruiting class led by point guard Cole Anthony, one of the five best players in the nation, immediately vaults the Tar Heels right back into the national-title conversation.
However, with four starters departing, this is a team that may find itself struggling a fair amount with a very tough early season schedule. There are serious questions about outside shooting and wing play, so the Tar Heels’ interior partnership of Garrison Brooks and five-star big man Armando Bacot will be relied on from the jump.
UNC Signee Armando Bacot Highlights from the Jordan Brand Classic pic.twitter.com/0bRu53VQpQ
— HeelsUpdates (@HeelsUpdates) April 21, 2019
The Cardinals are a team that could easily be in the top three, but the questions surrounding point guard bring them down a bit. After the departure of senior Christen Cunningham, Louisville will look to junior Darius Perry and grad transfer Lamarr Kimble to lead the attack. Whoever wins the job, their primary goal will be to get the ball to Jordan Nwora, the ACC preseason Player of the Year. If Chris Mack can find a floor general and the Cardinals can find consistent outside shooting, they will be in the hunt for the ACC title.
Water is wet. The sun rises in the East. Mark Few continues to reload in Spokane. Despite the loss of their four best players from a year ago, the Bulldogs should once again be among the biggest teams in the nation, led by the return of Killian Tillie (who is out an undisclosed amount of time after having knee surgery a month ago), Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev in the frontcourt.
7-foot #Serbian product Filip Petrusev had one of the most productive showings in @FIBA U19 World Championship history, averaging an impressive 19 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 APG, 2 BPG + 2 SPG in 26 MPG on an efficient 67% FG%@DraftExpress + @Mike_Schmitz report >> https://t.co/9ZMZLYgzgp pic.twitter.com/zmmOdGXqMh
— DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) July 20, 2019
They also added important graduate transfers in guards Admon Gilder from Texas A&M and Ryan Woolridge of North Texas. If their trio of top-100 freshmen are able to be reliable contributors, the Zags will once again be in the hunt for a high seed come tournament time.
The Ducks surprised a lot of people last year, as the No. 12 seed made it all the way to the Elite Eight and nearly took down Virginia. Peyton Pritchard returns to run the point and will lead an attack boosted by incoming freshmen Addison Patterson and C.J. Walker, along with a pair of grad transfers. The team will get even better if N’Faly Dante is eligible in December, but they should still be the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 with or without his services.
Bruno Fernando is the only major loss to last year’s 23-win team, but the Terps’ defense will slip a bit without his presence. Point guard Anthony Cowan and power forweard Jalen Smith give them an inside-outside combo among the best in the nation, and their returning depth is bolstered by a solid recruiting class. If they can improve their defense from last season, and get a bit more outside shooting, they should be able to edge out Ohio State for second place in the Big Ten.