- College basketball is back.
- With the season tipping off Tuesday night, it’s time to get acquainted with this year’s top NCAA teams.
- After reaching last year’s Final Four, the Michigan State Spartans headline the AP Top 25 preseason poll with 60 first-place votes.
- The other Final Four teams from last season – the Virginia Cavaliers, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and Auburn Tigers – clock in at No. 11, No. 13, and No. 24, respectively.
- The Kentucky Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, Duke Blue Devils, and Louisville Cardinals round out this year’s top five.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s been seven months since the Virginia Cavaliers completed the ultimate redemption arc and brought home their first-ever NCAA Championship trophy, and we’re finally ready to ring in the 2019-20 college basketball season.
After reaching last year’s Final Four, the Michigan State Spartans headline the AP Top 25 preseason poll with 60 first-place votes. But unlike last year, when seven different teams received first-place votes to open the season, only the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats and No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks earned votes for the top spot.
Two ACC teams – the Duke Blue Devils and Louisville Cardinals – round out the top five teams in the AP Poll. The other Final Four teams from last season – the Cavaliers, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and Auburn Tigers – clock in at No. 11, No. 13, and No. 24, respectively.
Check out Business Insider’s previews for the nation’s top teams before the season tips off below:
10. Villanova Wildcats
Head coach: Jay Wright
Last season’s record: 26-10, 13-5 in the Big East
Players to know: G Collin Gillespie (10.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.8 APG), F Saddiq Bey (8.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 APG), F Jermaine Samuels (6.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 APG)
The Villanova Wildcats have been a dominant force in college basketball in recent years, bringing home two National Championships in the past four seasons. And even though last year wasn’t the most spectacular for Jay Wright’s squad – a second-round NCAA tournament exit has become disappointing for this nouveau Blue Blood – Villanova looks primed to bounce back this year. Wright welcomed in the No. 5 recruiting class in the country while returning several strong pieces from last season. Junior guard Collin Gillespie will be tasked with leading the backcourt, while classmate Jermaine Samuels and sophomore Saddiq Bey will be responsible for guarding the rim.
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
Head coach: Roy Williams
Last season’s record: 29-7, 16-2 in the ACC
Players to know: G Cole Anthony (18.0 PPG, 9.5 APG, 9.8 RPG Oak Hill Academy), F Garrison Brooks (7.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.3 APG), F Sterling Manley (3.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.2 APG)
Roy Williams lost five of his leading scorers from last season, but his two five-star recruit pickups should help offset the losses of Cameron Johnson, Coby White, Luke Maye, Nassir Little, and Kenny Williams. Freshman Cole Anthony is a feisty floor general with exceptional scoring ability and impressive handles to boot, while junior Garrison Brooks will look to fill the void on the block for North Carolina. The Tar Heels sat atop the ACC and made a Sweet 16 appearance a year ago, and Williams will look for similar results with this season’s young but talented roster.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Head coach: Mark Few
Last season’s record: 33-4, 16-0 in the WCC
Players to know: F Killian Tillie (6.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 APG), F Corey Kispert (8.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.0 APG), G Admon Gilder (13.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.5 APG at Texas A&M)
Mark Few is one of only a handful of college coaches who have stuck to developing their talent rather than leasing players for a year at a time. And even though he lost many of the stars who led the Bulldogs to an Elite Eight, Sweet 16, and National Championship game in the past three seasons, Gonzaga is primed to be one of the nation’s strongest units once again. Senior forward Killian Tillie returns to the court after a slew of injuries kept him sidelined for the bulk of last season, while a duo of graduate transfers will look to make up for all that was lost in the backcourt with point guard Josh Perkins’ departure. Expect the Zags to lean on their seasoned leadership to defend their WCC crown and make another play at a National Championship this year.
7. Maryland Terrapins
Head coach: Mark Turgeon
Last season’s record: 23-11, 13-7 in the Big Ten
Players to know: G Anthony Cowan (15.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.4 APG), F Jalen Smith (11.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.9 APG), G Eric Ayala (8.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.1 APG)
There hasn’t been this level of expectations for the Maryland Terrapins in multiple years, but the hype surrounding this season’s team is justified. Head coach Mark Turgeon returns seven of his eight leading scorers from last season and freshmen who figure to contribute from the get-go. After an LSU buzzer-beater knocked them out in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, the Terps resolved to come back stronger than ever. Senior guard Anthony Cowan – who has appeared on a handful of preseason All-America team lists – is ready to lead them to the top of the Big 10 and deeper into March Madness.
6. Florida Gators
Head coach: Michael White
Last season’s record: 20-16, 9-9 in the SEC
Players to know: F Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 APG at Virginia Tech), G Noah Locke (9.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.6 APG), F Keyontae Johnson (8.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.3 APG)
Michael White’s Gators struggled to break .500 last season. Still, a revamped roster that includes the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation and the country’s top graduate transfer in forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. has helped launch Florida to the No. 6 spot in the AP Top 25 preseason poll to start the year. In addition to its new pieces, returning sophomores Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson – both of whom were amongst the team’s top-five scorers last season – are primed to step into larger roles and help lift the Gators to the top of the SEC.
5. Louisville Cardinals
Head coach: Chris Mack
Last season’s record: 20-14, 10-8 in the ACC
Players to know: F Jordan Nwora (17.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 APG), F Dwayne Sutton (10.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.9 APG), C Steven Enoch (9.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.2 APG)
Listed on many publications’ first-team All-America preseason teams, junior forward Jordan Nwora is primed to lead the most talented – and most highly-anticipated – Lousiville Cardinals team in years. Four of head coach Chris Mack’s five leading scorers from last season return to Derby City looking to best their first-round NCAA tournament exit. If Nwora and seniors Dwayne Sutton and Steven Enoch are firing on all cylinders this season, this battle-tested veteran squad may have what it takes to come out on top of a stacked ACC.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Last season’s record: 32-6, 14-4 in the ACC
Players to know: G Tre Jones (9.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.3 APG), C Vernon Carey Jr. (21.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.6 APG at University High School), F Matthew Hurt (37.4 PPG, 12.4 RPG at John Marshall Senior)
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has fully leaned into the one-and-done craze that has swept the NCAA. After losing his three leading scorers – RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish – to the NBA Draft in June, the Duke Blue Devils return only one of their consistent starters from last season. Still, that starter is point guard Tre Jones, who is primed to orchestrate the offence and lead a very young but very talented core into the 2019-20 season. Coach K reeled in three five-star recruits and four in the class of 2019’s top 35 to help offset all the team lost to the NBA. Expect freshmen big men Vernon Carey Jr. and Matthew Hurt to make an immediate impact for Duke as it tries to repeat as ACC champions.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
Head coach: Bill Self
Last season’s record: 26-10, 12-6 in the Big 12
Players to know: G Devon Dotson (12.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG), G Ochai Agbaji (8.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 APG), C Udoka Azubuike (13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.6 APG)
Devon Dotson is prepared to be the floor general for one of the most stacked teams in college basketball. With senior big man Udoka “Doke” Azubuike returning from an injury-laden season and sophomore Silvio De Sousa finally taking the court after NCAA violations sidelined him for the year, the Kansas Jayhawks have the potential to do big things this year. If Kansas’ continued off-court issues don’t become too much of a distraction, the No. 3 Jayhawks could return to their former glory and win the Big 12 regular-season title after breaking their streak of 14 consecutive years atop the conference last season.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Head coach: John Calipari
Last season’s record: 30-7, 15-3 in the SEC
Players to know: G Tyrese Maxey (22.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG at South Garland High School), G Ashton Hagans (7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.3 APG), F E.J. Montgomery (3.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.4 APG)
As has become customary for the Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari lost his top five leading scorers and four of his five starters from last season. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, Calipari has reloaded his roster in a major way, securing four of the top 40 players in the class of 2019 and two of the top 15. Freshman point guard Tyrese Maxey has been listed on many publications’ preseason All-America teams. Meanwhile, guard Ashton Hagans and forward E.J. Montgomery are both poised to have breakout seasons as they step into bigger roles on the court.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Head coach: Mike Izzo
Last season’s record: 32-7, 16-4 in the Big Ten
Players to know: G Cassius Winston (18.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.5 APG), F Xavier Tillman (10.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.6 APG), G Joshua Langford (15.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.3 APG)
Just months after forging their way into the Final Four last season, Mike Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans are once again primed to compete amongst the best teams in the country. Cassius Winston – a first-team All-America selection and a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award last year – returns for his senior season despite boasting considerable NBA prospects. He’s joined by classmate Joshua Langford in the backcourt and junior Xavier Tillman down low, both of whom will play a more considerable role with the losses of Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid, and Kenny Goins.
Now check out the top players to watch in college basketball this season:
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