Duke, Villanova, Kansas lead early look at top 2019 contenders
Villanova is the current team of the decade with two titles in three seasons and is on target to compete for more.
But tapping the Wildcats as a 2018-19 preseason No. 1 without knowing player decisions would be premature.
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Oh, and then there are the transfers. The market is flooded and late-season acquisitions could go on well into the summer.
But that shouldn’t stop anyone from at least earmarking the teams that have a chance to make the Power 36 Summer Edition.
And there are plenty.
An actual Power 36, yes a 1-36 ranking with a No. 1 team, will be available for your delight and debate later in the spring after the NBA draft withdrawal deadline.
For now, let’s just consider which teams start out the spring as contenders for spots.
This shouldn’t come as a shock but the ACC and rising SEC could dominate the rankings with a slew of teams.
Let’s go in conference order for candidates among the 11 leagues that should provide the teams for the rankings (after conferring with the respective leagues):
American: Expect UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to be the teams to watch early. If Tacko Fall, BJ Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins are all healthy and ready to go, then UCF could be the team to beat. But don’t ever dismiss a Mick Cronin-coached team. Houston loses Rob Gray but the program has elevated itself to NCAA tournament status. Tulsa, Temple and Memphis (with new coach Penny Hardaway) have the personnel to crack the top group, but wouldn’t make the Power 36 in the summer. And I refuse to dismiss Wichita State or SMU. These programs/coaches are too good and have proven that they will be in the mix.
A-10: This is a tricky one. Will there be a team in the Power 36? Maybe not to start, but there are plenty of teams vying for spots. The consensus seems to be to lean toward Saint Joseph’s with Charlie Brown and Lamar Kimble back or Saint Louis with Jordan Goodwin, Jalen Johnson, Hasahn French and Javon Bess. But, don’t for a second dismiss Davidson. The Wildcats have a star in Kellan Grady. Yes, Peyton Aldridge is gone, but Davidson will be in the mix to win the league. Book it. Rhode Island is still a toss-up based on who returns and the unknowns seem to be VCU and Dayton. Regardless, the league should be deeper.
ACC: The ACC could dominate the top of the Power 36 with Duke as the possible No. 1, considering the Blue Devils have the top three players in the class of 2018 matriculating this fall. Expect North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, NC State and Syracuse to all vie for spots in the Power 36 throughout the season. Experience will matter, though, as it always does. And that’s why locking in Duke as the top team in the country based solely on talent may not be so simple. None of the four teams that made it to San Antonio relied mostly on freshmen.
Big East: Villanova could/should be the class of the league, assuming the Wildcats don’t get gutted by early-entry decisions. Let’s assume that there isn’t a mass exodus, and with the addition of Cole Swider, the Wildcats should be right back near the top. Donte DiViencenzo is more than capable of being the star once Jalen Brunson is gone. But never assume everyone stays.
The Big East was top heavy with senior-laden teams. So, there will be a bit of reshuffling. Marquette could be the sleeper team with Markus Howard, Sam and Joey Hauser and transfer Ed Morrow. Providence still has Alpha Diallo, Nate Watson and David Duke. Xavier returns Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs, Quentin Goodin and Kaiser Gates.
Big Ten: The Big Ten will once again be a tough read. The early-entry decisions at Michigan will indicate where the Wolverines fall. But they’ve proven to never be discounted. Michigan State did lose Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges but the depth is still in place for the Spartans to make a play. Ohio State is headed for a rebuild. Purdue, too, but not a complete overhaul at all.
The risers could be Maryland with Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter back, Wisconsin (return of D’Mitrick Trice and Kobe King to go along with Brad Davison in the backcourt), Nebraska (based on early-entries), Northwestern and Iowa. Penn State won the NIT but the momentum was halted with Tony Carr now gone. Still, the Nittany Lions will be in the chase for a bid. Let’s see how the rosters shake out at Indiana, Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. So, if you haven’t noticed, it’s way too premature to project this league.
Big 12: Kansas will be tabbed to win its 15th-straight league title and could make a play for the top spot in the Power 36, even with Devonte' Graham and Malik Newman gone. Kansas got to the Final Four in what was considered a down year for them. Ha! Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike headline its returning talent. Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson come in. Kansas State got to the Elite Eight way ahead of schedule. The Wildcats will be loaded with upperclassmen with Dean Wade and Barry Brown Jr. This team came together well in the NCAA tournament and should carry the momentum into the fall. Iowa State could be the sleeper that rises up and should be in the Power 36 with Lindell Wigginton, who declared for the draft but hasn't hired an agent, a likely stud returnee.
West Virginia did lose its heart in Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., and Sagaba Donate is testing the NBA draft process. Still, Esa Ahmad could anchor a strong returning nucleus. TCU has three starters back including Jaylen Fisher. Texas Tech lost five seniors but Jarrett Culver could give the Red Raiders plenty. Let’s take a wait and see approach with Texas. There is oodles of talent in Austin, but the Longhorns could get hit hard by early entries. And clearly dismissing Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma isn’t an option, either. This league is always deep.
MVC: Loyola-Chicago wasn’t a fluke. The Ramblers earned every bit of their Final Four appearance. And the loss of Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson and Ben Richardson will hurt. But the return of Clayton Custer, Lucas Williamson, Cameron Krutwig and Marques Townes make the Ramblers a threat to be in the rankings at the beginning and end of the season.
MWC: Nevada could be a beast if everyone returns. That’s a big if. Cody and Caleb Martin, as well as Jordan Caroline, could all be tempted to leave. But if they are given the right advice that they’re not locks and come back then there is no reason to believe Reno won’t be hopping again come March. New Mexico could be loaded, too, with a host of transfers ready to deliver for the surprising Lobos. San Diego State and Boise State should also once again be in the hunt for bids and cameos in the poll.
Pac-12: Arizona is in a complete overhaul, so the Wildcats won’t be in the Power 36. Washington will be — and very high. The Huskies return each key piece of the team that won 21 games and added Jamal Bey. That’s four seniors back for Washington, including Matisse Thybulle. Five returning starters mean the Huskies are going to be very good. Oregon will have Kenny Wooten back and Bol Bol to watch. There is enough returning, even if without Troy Brown, for the Ducks to fly high again.
UCLA should be right back where it belongs with Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski. Remember, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who were both suspended for the China theft incident, return. Don’t sleep on Arizona State with the losses of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice with a host of transfers and the return of Remy Martin, Mickey Mitchell and Romello White. Stanford’s appearance here all depends on Reid Travis. If he’s back, then so are the Cardinal. They were close this past season. This should be a breakout year for Jerod Haase. Daejon Davis, Oscar Da Silva and KZ Okpala lead the charge.
Colorado has McKinley Wright IV and that keeps the Buffaloes around for me. Dismissing Oregon State and Utah would also be a mistake. The Utes could build off this year's NIT runner-up finish.
SEC: The SEC could have 11 teams vying for bids and spots in the rankings. No joke. But a lot of that will depend on all of the early entries. Seriously, it is still premature to bank on who will be in or out. But Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, LSU and Missouri are all worthy of consideration throughout the poll from the top 10 to the bottom. The only three real rebuilds in the league are Georgia, South Carolina and Ole Miss. Choosing who will be in the poll once the returning players are known will be the toughest chore of any league.
There were highs and there were lows. We grew to love this team, as we know you did. We didn't capture our ultimate goal of winning the championship, but this season was undoubtedly a success. We faced adversity, we grew up and we captured an SEC championship. #EmbraceTheJourney pic.twitter.com/jgzuFaEy33— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 30, 2018
WCC: Gonzaga is top 10 good again. Losing Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson is a hit but Zach Norvell Jr. and Rui Hachimura are stars. Josh Perkins will be a senior, Killian Tillie a junior, Corey Kispert a sophomore. And the coaching staff is banking on Brandon Clarke to be a star. BYU is an unknown but could surprise. Saint Mary’s is never off the map, even in a retooling season.