NCAA Basketball Preseason Top 25
Photo Credit: USA Today


FSM’s NCAA Basketball Preseason Top 25


1. Michigan State – Has it really been 20 years since Mateen Cleaves and the boys from Flint captured Izzo his first and only championship? Sparty went to the Final Four last season (Izzo’s 4th such trip), and they return a veteran core that includes arguably the nation’s best player, Cassius Winston. Michigan State is my pick to cut down the nets in Atlanta.


2. Louisville – Rick Pitino is a legend and Hall of Famer. That didn’t stop the scandal-ridden coach from being shown the door after a couple of sex scandals, and an FBI investigation wore out his welcome at the Yum Center. Chris Mack came in and made everyone forget about that with stellar recruiting, and a team that’s absolutely loaded this season. Junior forward Jordan Nwora will be an All-ACC selection, and most likely an All-American when it’s all said and done. Louisville to me is a Final Four club at the very least.


3. Memphis – In the one-and-done era, it’s been a 2 horse race between Duke and Kentucky in landing the best of the best high school talent. Penny Hardaway came in and out recruited them both. Once thought of as a gimmick hire, Hardaway and his partner in crime Mike Miller have the top recruiting class in the land, and sky-high expectations to go along with it. If James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa and Boogie Ellis can mesh, there’s no reason to think this team can’t make a deep run come tourney time.


4. Florida – The Gators were already going to be good. They return 3 super sophomore starters in Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, and Andrew Nembhard. All those guys averaged 8 or more ppg and logged a ton of minutes as freshmen last season. Mike White went out and landed a top 10 class to pair with them. That alone makes Florida neck and neck with Kentucky. However, forward Kerry Blackshear Jr decided to leave Virginia Tech after testing the NBA draft waters. The grad transfer is a double-double threat every night and makes Florida the clear cut favorite in the SEC.


5. Kentucky – Big Blue Nation always has an embarrassment of riches, and this season is no different. Hard to call a couple of trips to the Elite 8, and a Sweet 16 as of late disappointing, but the Wildcats haven’t been to the Final Four since 2015. The folks in Lexington get antsy when that’s the case. A solid group of returnees led by Ashton Hagans and another ridiculous recruiting class featuring Johnny Juzang and Tyrese Maxey could easily get Calipari back into title contention though.


6. Oregon – Dana Altman did a lot of heavy lifting late in the recruiting cycle. Big man N’Faly Dante chose the Ducks over Kentucky, then reclassified from 2020 to 2019. On top of that 5-star CJ Walker will join him to become a terrifying twin tower set up. Altman also got busy bringing in a pair of supremely talented MWC transfers, Shakur Juiston (UNLV) and Anthony Mathis (New Mexico). Throw in Rutgers transfer Eugene Omoruyi and returning point man Peyton Pritchard, and Oregon is a darkhorse to make it to the Final Four.


7. Duke – Zion Williamson was the most hyped player in the history of the one-and-done (Probably the most hyped player since LeBron actually). He created a media frenzy like none other, but the Blue Devils only reached the Elite 8 with what was billed as their best recruiting class of all time. An Elite 8 is still a phenomenal season, but Coach K and those that camp out in Krzyzewskiville expected a banner. How do you help alleviate the sting of that kind of first world problem? You bring in another 5-star laden class loaded with juggernaut freshmenVernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, and high flyer Cassius Stanley will have the Dukies ready to compete for a shot at a title. Sophomore point guard Tre Jones will also have something to say about it.


8. Gonzaga – Sustained excellence is the phrase that comes to mind when you think about the Zags. Sure, they play in the WCC, but they play as exciting a schedule in their out of conference slate as anyone in the country. After a trip to the Elite 8 a year ago, Killian Tillie, the do-it-all center from France, and Texas A&M transfer Admon Gilder will keep The Kennel barking.


9. Maryland – Mark Turgeon has recruited with the best of them, but the last couple of seasons have been up and down for the Terps. After missing the tournament in 2018, they seem to be back on track in a major way. Bruno Fernando is gone, but a talented backcourt in Eric Ayala and Anthony Cowan Jr will have teams fearing the turtle. Twins Makhel and Makhi Mitchell are DMV products who will make an immediate impact as true frosh.


10. Kansas – It took 14 years for someone to dethrone KU as Big 12 regular-season champions, but last year it finally happened. It was also a disappointing season for the Jayhawks in that they were bounced in the Round of 32. If big man Udoka Azubuike can stay healthy, and pair well with frontcourt mate Silvio De Souza (Sat out last year due to the FBI investigation), you’re looking at a team that can easily reclaim their spot on top.


11. North Carolina – It’s odd when you see a Blue Blood reload with transfers, but that’s what Roy Williams did. Christian Keeling, Ryan McAdoo, and Justin Pierce all started their careers at group of 5 schools, but they bring plenty of scoring and experience to the table. Add in a phenom frosh PG like Cole Anthony and a 5 star big like Armando Bacot, and it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of chemistry the Tar Heels can manage to display.


12. Seton Hall – Angel Delgado isn’t walking through those doors for the Pirates, but that doesn’t matter. Guard Myles Powell is one of the premier scorers in America. As good as he is, Powell isn’t a one-man show. Kevin Willard can rely on 8 of his top 9 ppg guys returning for this season. To me, Seton Hall is another dark horse who could get to Atlanta.


13. Texas Tech – Few programs have enjoyed the sort of meteoric rise that the Red Raiders have under Chris Beard. In year 2 of his regime they were in the Elite 8, and last year they were in the title game fighting tooth and nail against Virginia. Beard is known for taking unheralded guys like Zhaire Smith and Jarret Culver into the first round of the NBA draft, and he’ll have some serious talent in freshman Jahmius Ramsey who could continue that trend of draft picks.


14. Villanova – The new blue blood on the block. The Wildcats won 2 national championships in 3 seasons, and Jay Wright cemented himself as a Hall of Famer in doing so. Nova might not have a title team on their hands this year, but forward Saddiq Bey and point guard Collin Gillespie will have them in the conversation for a Big East title, and they’ll absolutely be a team that can reach the 2nd weekend of March Madness.


15. Virginia – It’s definitely a 30 for 30 type story. After being the first ever one seed in the history of the NCAA tournament to lose to a 16 seed, some programs would have collapsed. Not Virginia. They used it as a rallying cry. The following season they were cutting down the nets as National Champs. They did lose 3 key members of their squad to the NBA draft in Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter, but Tony Bennett isn’t going to let that keep him down either. Kihei Clark, Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key all played 20 or more mpg the year before and should pick up where the draft picks left off.


16. Colorado – The Buffaloes have been good, not great in the Pac-12 under Tad Boyle. This is the team that could change that. Tyler Bey is a streaky shooter, but the stretch 4 is a walking double-double. Add to that a veteran core that played every single minute last season, and you have a team that could give Oregon a serious run for Uncle Phil’s money.


17. Houston – The last time the Cougars were this good consistently, they had a nickname; Phi Slama JamaKelvin Sampson’s name used to be synonymous with controversy because of stints at Oklahoma and Indiana, but now he’s heralded as the guy who got Houston back on the map. Usually a guard-oriented team under Sampson, the Cougars will rely on a loaded frontcourt this season. Brison Gresham, Chris Harris Jr, Cedrick Alley, and Fabian White Jr will make sure Memphis isn’t the only AAC team being talked about on Selection Sunday.


18. St. Mary’s – It’s a testament to how good Randy Bennett and the Gaels have been that the mighty Zags haven’t just completely dominated the WCC. Stretch 4 Malik Fitts is their best player and shoots the 3 at a 40% clip. A nice backcourt lead by Jordan Ford will shoot St. Mary’s into the NCAA tournament.


19. VCU – Havoc is long gone, but the Rams never went away. VCU has a team absolutely loaded with seniors. Jon Axel Godmundsson is the best of that bunch. He scored 17 PPG and pulled down 7 RPG. Guard Kellan Grady is the team’s returning leading scorer at 17.3 ppg. Having this much depth and experience makes them the class of the A10, and a lock to win the league’s bid come March.


20. Utah State – The surprise team from last season, the Aggies came out of nowhere to win a share of the MWC regular-season title with UNR, and win the MWCT title outright. Sam Merril is a 21 ppg a night scorer, and one of the best guards in the entire country. Craig Smith returns his entire core from last season, which makes Utah State a sure-fire top 20 team.


21. Xavier – After Chris Mack bolted for Louisville, his top assistant Travis Steele was tasked with competing in a loaded Big East. The Musketeers did pretty well, going 9-9 in league play, and almost getting to the 20 win mark at 19-16. They ended up in the NIT but should be in the NCAA Tourney this year since they return 4 starters.

22. Baylor – There’s a lot to be said about the consistency of Scott Drew, and his ability to always bring in top-flight talent to Waco. The Bears are absolutely stacked in the backcourt. They have skill and shooting that few teams are going to be able to match. Kansas proved to be mortal, and Baylor is a team that can have them finishing outside of the top spot for the 2nd consecutive season.


23. Georgetown – There’s been a trend lately of bringing back former NBA superstars to their alma maters in order to resurrect programs that have seen better days. Patrick Ewing has the Hoyas recruiting at a high level, and playing at a fast pace. Guard Mac McClung is one of the most exciting leapers you will see at just about any level, but he needs to be less erratic in running the team. If he calms down and plays the way he’s capable, Georgetown will breakthrough.


24. Purdue – The Boilermakers gave Virginia all they could handle in the Elite 8 but ultimately came up just short of a Final Four appearance. This season if Matt Painter and his club want to have another deep run, they’ll have to rely on a defensive frontcourt that blocks a ton of shots. If big men Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams have standout seasons, so too will Purdue.


25. Arizona – U of A took a sabbatical from the Top 25 last year amidst a scandal-ridden offseason that saw former assistant Book Richardson sentenced to jail time in the FBI investigation. Despite the controversy, Sean Miller is somehow still employed in Tucson, and recruiting at an all-time high level. Two of those amazing recruits are point guard Nico Mannion, and wing Josh Green. Both are game-changers and should have Arizona making headlines for wins, on top of paying players for their services.


Jeffrey Waddilove