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The 2018-19 college basketball season, which starts with the 2K Sports Classic on November 6, could be one of the most wide-open ever. For the first time in a long time, the top teams do not appear to have an overwhelming amount of one-and-done talent.
While Duke did manage to land the top three recruits in the nation (RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson), the consensus is that this year’s freshman class is one of the weaker classes in recent history.
When you add in the fact that defending champion and perennial power Villanova could be losing all four of its top scorers to the NBA (Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges for sure, and potentially Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman as well), it becomes awfully difficult to figure out which team will be ranked #1 to start the season.
Here are the most-likely:
If either DiVincenzo or Spellman returns to school – and it’s pretty likely that at least one will – Villanova will be set up well for 2018-19. They would have at least three double-digit scorers back from last year’s title team, including Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, and would see now-sophomores Connor Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree take on much bigger roles.
Unlike most years, Jay Wright will also be bringing a five-star point guard (Jahvon Quinerly) into the fold, and he should help ease the transition from outgoing National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson.
Not many people realized how dominant Villanova was going to be heading into the 2018 NCAA tournament. They were even pegged as a likely bust by Mike Ortiz Jr at DYSTnow.com. (To be fair to Mike, he did correctly predict that Virginia, UNC, and Oklahoma would exit early, and that Syracuse would make a run.)
Yet Nova made their title run look easy, winning every game by double digits.
“Don’t doubt Jay Wright” is starting to become conventional wisdom, and enough voters may have adopted that line of thinking that the Wildcats start the year at #1.
Duke Blue Devils
Last year, the Blue Devils had the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation and were almost a consensus preseason #1.
This year, they again have (by far) the best recruiting class in America, but are not a shoo-in to start at the top of the rankings. Why? As mentioned, this year’s recruiting class is not a strong one, on the whole. In addition, they are losing all five starters from 2017-18 and don’t have much in the way of returning talent.
Last year, the incoming freshman had senior Grayson Allen to look to for veteran leadership. This year, junior Javin Delaurier will have to fill that role. Unlike Allen, he doesn’t have the experience of leading his team to a national championship under his belt already.
Coach K once again has the most talented roster in the country at his disposal, but will voters really buy into this being the best team after watching the last few Duke iterations fail to live up to their sky-high potential?
Kansas is kind of the forgotten team in the race for preseason #1. They are likely losing four of their best players (Devonte Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick); their incoming class is good but not exceptional; and they have become embroiled in the recruiting scandal/FBI investigation, which may lead to the departure of big-man Silvio De Souza.
When you accentuate the positives, however, a decent case for #1 emerges.
Udoka Azubuike will probably be back for his junior season , giving Bill Self a monstrous interior presence. And the 14-time Big 12 reigning champs will be adding an exceptional transfer, Dedric Lawson, along with his less heralded brother KJ, both formerly of Memphis.
Dedric, a 6’9 PF, will be in the running for Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 19.2 PPG and 9.9 RPG in his sophomore season with the Tigers.
That still leaves the question of the backcourt. Luckily, that’s where the recruiting class is strongest, with a pair of five-star guards coming in: Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson.
Relying on freshmen in March has not been a winning formula in the past, but it’s not unheard of for such teams to have success. Just look at Wichita State, which made its big run to the Final Four when Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker were baby-faced rookies.
At this point, it’s still too early to say who is the favorite for preseason #1. So much depends on who stays in the NBA draft and who returns to school. But it’s very likely that one of the three teams above tops the initial lists.