March Madness is over and the college basketball world has officially started the long, grueling months before the start of the 2018-19 season. Villanova was crowned national champions for the third time in school history and will have bragging rights until a team dethrones the Wildcats, which won’t happen for at least another eleven months (unless Villanova wins the title again).
So, seven months until the season begins and a little under one year until the 2019 National Championship. In other words, it’s going to be a very long offseason.
Fear not, while the offseason doesn’t include any games aside from closed-door scrimmages and summer tours, the only ways to fill the void is with discussion, debate and of course speculation. The first thing that comes to mind for offseason discussion is the “Way too early top five” lists.
No. 1: Villanova Wildcats
ESPN has Kansas in the top spot of its “Way-Too-Early” and AP put Duke at No. 1. The defending champions deserve to be at the top until somebody knocks them off and here’s why: While the Wildcats will most likely lose redshirt junior guard/forward Mikal Bridges, there’s a strong possibility that the 2018 Wooden Award winner rising senior guard Jalen Brunson returns along with redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. Other players like rising redshirt senior forward Eric Paschall and rising sophomore forward Omari Spellman will have another year to develop and lead the charge for Villanova.
Jay Wright will welcome five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four-star Cole Swider and four-star Brandon Slater. With a solid recruiting class and the possibility of key players returning, Villanova will be right in the mix for national championship talk.
No. 2: Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks lose redshirt sophomore guard Malik Newman to the draft and will also lose seniors Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who averaged 17.3 and 14.6 points per game, respectively. That means Kansas loses its top three scorers, which seems problematic, but Bill Self’s squad will still have firepower.
Next season will see a lot of new faces in Lawrence. Transfers K.J. and Dedric Lawson will come in along with five-stars Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes and four-star David McCormack. Another thing to keep in mind is the Jayhawks are still in the Romeo Langford sweepstakes. With or without Langford, KU will be right where they always are — competing for the Big 12 title and among the title talk.
No. 3: Duke Blue Devils
There’s no dispute that Duke will be one of the most exciting teams to watch next season. With the top recruiting class in the country, Duke will be able to make up for its departing players. Five-stars R.J. Barret, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones will all be part of the hype surrounding the Blue Devils. The downfall of this team will be senior leadership from key players. Without a player like Grayson Allen, this team will have to rely on players stepping up. With a coach like Mike Krzyzewski, the leadership will be there on the sidelines. It’ll be a matter of who’ll step up on the court.
No. 4: Virginia Cavaliers
Yes, UVA is coming off of a season where they lost to the No. 16 seed UMBC. That’ll never be left out of the discussion when talking about this team. The Hoos lose Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall but will have Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter back for next season. If Guy and Jerome keep on steadily growing as players, they’ll be a great threat next season.
No matter what, last season’s UVA squad was historically good on defense. Tony Bennett is a great coach, but will always be knocked for not being able to get the job done in March. With the fuel from being embarrassed by UMBC, Bennett will be able to fire up his team and look for redemption next season. There was a time when people criticized Jay Wright because he “couldn’t get wins when it mattered”. Now he’s won two national championships. It’ll be interesting to see if Bennet and UVA can finally get over the hump.
No. 5: Kentucky Wildcats
Never doubt what John Calipari can do with a solid group of freshmen. With a recruiting class that boasts five-stars Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, they’ll all fit right in Calipari’s style. The return of rising redshirt sophomore Hamidou Diallo will give Cal another year to mold the athletic guard, but the Wildcats will have to make up for the departure of forwards Kevin Knox and potentially PJ Washington, along with the possibility of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander declaring for the draft.
Kentucky will always find a way to be a contender. This season was supposed to be a down year for the Wildcats, but instead made a Sweet 16 run that was cut short by an upset-filled 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The beauty of “way too early” lists is that they’ll most likely be wrong when the season gets underway. While the offseason journey is a long one, college basketball will be back before we know it.