(Article written by Sports Staff member Mitchell Osterlund)
Going into the 2019-2020, Michigan State was presumed to be the almost unanimous number one across the country. About a week ago news broke that the Spartans will be without their second leading scorer from last season, Joshua Langford. With the injury, the Spartans have fallen from number some of the other top 10 teams leap frog the Langford-less Spartans.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks come into the new year off a disappointing 2018-19 campaign with arguably the deepest roster in college basketball. Kansas is led by one of the best centers in the country in Udoka Azubuike and one of the best young guards in Devon Dotson. The Jayhawks front court boasts one of the best centers in the country in Azubuike, athletic big man who helped anchor a Final 4 run in Silvio De Sousa, former 5 Star and promising talent David McCormack, and energy man Mitch Lightfoot. Dotson is complimented on the wing by last seasons late rising star Ochai Agbaji and versatile wings like Marcus Garret, Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, and Tristan Enaruna. This roster gives Bill Self the option to go small ball with versatile wings like Wilson and Enaruna or pound it down low with Azubuike and De Sousa. The return of De Sousa and additions of shooters in Moss, Wilson, and 4 Star freshman Christian Braun gives the Jayhawks the most well-rounded roster in the country this season.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Even after losing Tyler Herro, PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, and Reid Travis, the Wildcats still return one of the best lineups in the nation. Led by returning guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, the Wildcats look to build on last seasons Elite 8 run. The wildcats are versatile, adding 5-star guard Tyrese Maxey and 5-star forwards Khalil Whitney and Keion Brooks, along with 4-star forward Johnny Juzang, who reclassified to join the Wildcats this year, they will have the ability to play big or small. The return of EJ Montgomery along with grad transfer Nate Sestina (who averaged 15.8 PPG and 8.5 RPG while shooting 38% from 3), the Wildcats will be able to stretch the floor and run with anyone in the country. If Hagans, Montgomery, and Quickley take the next step and the freshmen are as good as advertised, there might not be a more feared team than the Wildcats.
3. Louisville Cardinals
Staying in the state for the next team in the rankings, is the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals return 63% of the scoring from last season, including bonafide star Jordan Nwora. Coming off a season averaging 17 PPG and 7.6 RPG, Nwora looks to lead the Cardinals on a deep tournament run. The Cardinals return 5 players that averaged over 7 PPG and another who averaged 5.4. They also bring in the number 12 recruiting class including 5-star Samuell Williamson and 4-stars Aidan Igiehon, David Johnson, and Josh Nickelberry. The Cardinals are led by one of the best players in the country and have enough depth and versatility to be a terror for opposing teams on a nightly basis
4. Florida Gators
The Gators won the offseason recruiting battle for heavily coveted big man Kerry Blackshear. The Virginia Tech transfer averaged 15 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.5 APG last season with the Hokies. The gators also return stud point guard Andrew Nembhard, sharpshooter Noah Locke, and versatile swing man Keyontae Johnson. The Three of those players combined to average 25.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, and 7.3 APG. To help the depth they also have athletic big man Gorjok Gak back from injury and are bringing in the 8th best recruiting class in the country. The recruiting class includes 5-star guard Tre Mann, 5-star forward Scottie Lewis, and 4-star big man Omar Payne. The Gators will have the depth and versatility to compete with any team on a nightly basis
5. Duke Blue Devils
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, Coach K has to bring in a new recruiting class to replace most of his production from a year ago. Outside of stud point guard Tre Jones, the Blue Devils don’t return another player who averaged over 5 ppg last season. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they return Jones along with 4 impact Freshman. The Blue Devils have the number 3 ranked recruiting class which includes 5- stars Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt along with 4- star guards Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley. The main concern for the Blue Devils is depth and shooting. The Blue Devils only return one player who shot above 30 percent from 3 last season in Alex O’Connell. Outside of Hurt, the freshmen aren’t known for their 3-point shooting. The Devils will need Jack White, Joey Baker, and Matthew Hurt to be reliable 3-point options along with an improvement on Tre Jones’s jumper to help initiate the offense. If the Blue Devils can make threes at a respectable clip and get quality minutes from the bench, they will be a force come March.
6. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo’s Spartans are obviously worthy of a number one ranking because they are led by arguably the best player in the nation Cassius Winston. The problem is their second leading scorer and Winston’s right-hand man, Joshua Langford will be out until at least January. Winston is coming off an impressive junior season where he averaged 18.8 PPG and 7.5 APG. The main question surrounding the Spartans outside of Langford’s absence will be can Xavier Tillman absorb Nick Ward’s role as the starting center. With only one player listed above 6’9, Michigan State will have to lean on Tillman to shoulder the load down low. The other question is if Marcus Bingham is ready to step up and be a solid back up big for the Spartans. The Spartans will still compete every night with Winston leading the offense, but Langford’s absence will force talented sophomore Aaron Henry to take the next step and freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall to shoulder some of the scoring earlier than expected. With Langford this is a top 3 team, without him they will need to rely on some unproven pieces to compliment Winston.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels lost their top 5 leading scorers from last season but still managed to reload as well as any team in the country. It started by adding a top 5 recruit in Cole Anthony and 5-star center Armando Bacot. They also added two of the top grad transfers on the market in Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce. Keeling, the Charleston Southern transfer, averaged 18.7 PPG, 7 RPG, and 2.8 APG while shooting 38% from 3. Pierce averaged 15 PPG, 9 RPG, 4 APG on the season for William and Mary. The Tar Heels also return Garrison Brooks to bolster the front court. With solid veteran leadership and impact freshman Cole Anthony, the Tar Heels will be one of the most dangerous teams on a nightly basis.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga lost a big chunk of its production from a year ago with the loss of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr., and Josh Perkins. The Bulldogs did well in the grad transfer market, adding Ryan Wooldridge (11.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 4.8 APG) Admon Gilder (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.6 APG). The Bulldogs also return seasoned veterans in a now healthy Killian Tillie and sharpshooter Corey Kispert. The Bulldogs also boast the 13th ranked recruiting class which adds multiple bodies to the frontcourt with 4-star bigs Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov, and Oumar Ballo and 4-star forward Anton Watson. The Bulldogs have 6 players listed at 6’10” or above and have experienced guard play on the perimeter which will be a lethal combo come March.
9. Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall returns all of their starting 5 from a year ago besides Michael Nezi. They return one of the best scorers in the country in Myles Powell, who averaged 23 PPG last season. They return veteran guards Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale along with big man Sandro Mamukelashvili. The biggest addition is Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu who sat out last season because of transfer rules. In his lone year at Florida State, Obiagu was one of the most lethal shot blockers in the nation, averaging 2.1 BPG in just over 10 minutes. With the addition of Obiagu, the Pirates have a legit rim protector for the defensive end and a pick and roll threat for the offense. The pirates will have one of the more experienced lineups in the country along with arguably the best scorer which will make them a serious threat to any team on their schedule this season.
10. Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats are an interesting team coming into this season, but with Jay Wright at the helm you can never count them out. Their highest returning scorer is Collin Gillespie at just 10.9 PPG. However, the Wildcats are bringing in the 5th ranked recruiting class to give the team some much needed depth. The Wildcats are bringing in 5-stars Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine along with 4-stars Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. Along with Gillespie, the Wildcats return Jermain Samuels, Saddiq Bay, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree who combined for 19.7 PPG. With a solid core of returning players poised to take the next step, and a talented freshman class the Wildcats are poised to make some noise.