The NCAA college basketball championship was played Monday, so Tuesday gave us one of the new annual traditions of college sports writing: the “way-too-early” top 25 lists for next season.
When it comes to college basketball, I find these projections almost laughable — more so than football — since many NBA prospects haven’t declared and the loss of one starter changes a team way more than a loss of one starter in football. Not naming Villanova as the No. 1 team entering next season is crazy because there’s a hypothetical that every player who just thrashed Michigan and Kansas over the weekend is back. But that’s not very likely.
Kansas is No. 1 on 3 of them
So Villanova just throttled Kansas on Saturday in a national semifinal and won the national championship and the Wildcats could bring back National Player of the Year winner Jalen Brunson, who Sports Illustrated has projected as the 29th pick in this year’s draft. Alas, losing Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman would take away what made this Wildcat team so special: five elite 3-point shooters on the floor with two true forwards, so you don’t lose anything defensively and rebounding wise. So I get it. Villanova losing Brunson, Bridges and Spellman certainly takes them from No.1 to somewhere in the top 10. If Spellman returns I’d pick the Wildcats as No.1.
However, Kansas is the No.1 team in three of these lists because it brings in a recruiting class with three McDonald’s All-Americans and a transfer class that features three elite players: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore. That’s combined with likely returning players Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick and Silvio De Sousa among others.
There is a chance the Jayhawks get Malik Newman to return, and if that happens, Kansas would need another player to leave via transfer, as they are currently one player over the scholarship limit. If 5-star guard Romeo Langford picks Kansas, more roster finagling is needed, but only strengthens Kansas’ current selection.
It’s got to be a good thing for the Big 12 that that a member school could start the year with championship expectations. It also means that Kansas will be the overwhelming favorite, like most years, to win the league.
Following the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Texas found itself on these lists. Last year it wasn’t immediate. Texas appeared on these early top 25 lists only after Texas coach Shaka Smart and his staff landed Mo Bamba.
This year, with Texas possibly returning Smart’s most experienced team, the Longhorns are nowhere to be found on these rankings. Maybe this is just what Smart needs and wants: an under-the-radar start with an under-the-radar good team returning.
Kansas State is getting the love it deserves
The Wildcats were a game away from the Final Four and return every key player from this past season’s team. So far Dean Wade and Barry Brown are set to return and Xavier Sneed gives K-State a solid big three. Throw in point guards Kamau Stokes and Cartier Diarra and March breakout star Makol Mawien and this team could be really good.
West Virginia, TCU likely to be ranked; No Texas Tech
After a breakout season, it would have made some sense for Texas Tech to wind up at the end of these projections, but they were not. Tech is losing too many players and coach Chris Beard’s track record isn’t long enough for Tech to wind up on these rankings by name alone. The Red Raiders should get some love though if Zhaire Smith returns, but I wouldn’t expect them to be in the preseason top 25 after the graduation losses they’ll suffer.
That’s not the case for West Virginia and TCU, who despite losing multiple key, program-defining seniors, are set to be top 25 preseason teams this fall. Both have interesting and exciting pieces back (Esa Ahmad for WVU, Desmond Bane and Jaylen Fisher for TCU), but a lot of this may have to do with the talented coaches on the sidelines (Bob Huggins and Jamie Dixon) and their long track records of producing solid teams every year.