Sadly, Wisconsin is probably not returning to the Top 5 any time soon. Here are the five teams most likely to open next season at the top of the rankings.
Virginia deserved better. It doesn’t matter if it was because of the tournament committee, an unfortunate injury or the vast underground conspiracy to continue the success of Duke basketball, the Cavaliers should have received better placement than having to play Tom Izzo in the second round of the tournament.
They won the most difficult conference in the country and only had one loss when their star offensive player Justin Anderson went down with a broken shooting finger. After that, their offensive struggles were exacerbated by a slow tempo and Anderson just wasn’t the same when he returned.
Almost every productive Cavalier should return next season, and that makes Virginia scary good. Imagine this season’s Wisconsin team, but with an elite defense. Then clean the drool off your newspaper or keyboard.
It feels weird to put a team with this much uncertainty all the way up at No. 2, but the ceiling of their talent is too high to ignore.
The Wildcats are of course losing an amount of talent that would cripple any other team in the country. Head coach John Calipari said he expects Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison to leave. That’s the entire starting lineup.
However, since they are Kentucky, the incoming recruiting class could easily mitigate that loss. Of the six uncommitted Top 10 recruits in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Kentucky is in the mix for five of them. That’s in addition to the two five-stars Calipari has already signed.
Add all those potential gains to likely (not guaranteed) returnees Dakari Johnson, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, and this team should be just fine.
And maybe this time, Calipari might actually look at tape of his Final Four opponent.
3. North Carolina
The Tar Heels make it this high because they will bring back every player in their usual rotation except for the athletic, but flawed and replaceable, J.P. Tokoto. Unfortunately, that group of players still has some stuff to work out..
Don’t let its Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin fool you, North Carolina is one of the worst outside shooting teams in the country. Its only reliable shooter is rising senior Marcus Paige, and he’s already tasked with basically running their entire offense, as usually happens with point guards in Roy Williams’ system.
The frontcourt will be stacked with enough talent to win it all thanks to the presence of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson, but the Tar Heels need at least one more reliable guard to break out in order to threaten for a title. If Joel Berry can take over point and shift Paige into a shooting guard role he can also play, this team becomes lethal.
I’m having trouble trying to describe the feel of Kansas right now, but two words that come to mind are talented and hollow. They should return every meaningful player beyond underperforming freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, but it just feels like Kansas will have trouble breaking into the Top 3.
Anyone who watched Kansas play late last season saw a hard ceiling for this team. Wayne Selden Jr. is nowhere close to being the star guard he was hyped up to be as a recruit, Perry Ellis shouldn’t carry a frontcourt offense and Frank Mason III doesn’t have many more talents he can improve.
Then I look at Bill Self, mutter “11 straight Big 12 championships” and rank them No. 4.
Melo Trimble might be the best point guard in the country next year, Jake Layman profiles as a Sam Dekker-esque scorer the Terps can ride for certain games and Diamond Stone, while a hurtful tweeter, is still a premier freshman center that Maryland fans are ecstatic to land.
Although they lose their workhorse in Dez Wells, this should be the most talented roster for Maryland in quite some time and the clear-cut Big Ten favorite. Of course, the conference is a little deeper this year, so it’s not on the scale of Wisconsin going into this season.