Featured photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
We’re roughly one month removed from the National Championship Game, which can only mean one thing: time to look to next season. 2015-16 is shaping up to be one of the best in a while for college basketball with so many of the top players from a year ago choosing to remain in college. The recruiting class isn’t as heralded as some in the past have been, but that just means a more even distribution of the wealth and a deeper college basketball landscape. However, only 25 teams can make the list. Here are the top 25 teams as of right now and the 15 teams anxiously awaiting their jump up into the polls:
1. North Carolina
Players Returning – Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Joel James
Players Gone – J.P. Tokoto, Desmond Hubert
Players Coming In – Luke Maye, Kenny Williams
UNC brings back almost everyone from last year, including point guard Marcus Paige. Last season, Paige averaged 4.5 assists per game last year and his 14.1 points per game mark from last season should improve in his senior campaign. Perhaps the deepest team in the country, the Tar Heels will be able to run their fast-paced offense to a tee, tiring out opponents who lack the bodies to keep up. And when they want to play half-court offense, they can feed the trees of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, who averaged 11.4 and 12.9 points per game respectively in 2014-15.
Players Returning – Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Dion Wiley, Damonte Dodd
Players Gone – Dez Wells, Richaud Pack, Jonathan Graham, Evan Smotrycz
Players Coming In – Diamond Stone, Jaylen Brantley, Robert Carter, Ivan Bender, Rasheed Sulaimon
Maryland lacked a real dominant inside presence last year, but that should change with Georgia Tech-transfer Robert Carter being eligible and incoming freshman Diamond Stone, in addition to Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd to add depth down low. Melo Trimble, the breakout freshman point guard from a season ago, is back, and his lanky friend Jake Layman will accompany him in the starting lineup. Transfer Rasheed Sulaimon gives Maryland a starting lineup with five potential future NBA players.
Players Returning – Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, London Perrantes, Evan Nolte, Marial Shayok
Players Gone – Justin Anderson, Darion Atkins, B.J. Stith
Players Coming In – Jarred Reuter, Darius Thompson
The Cavaliers would be number one if Justin Anderson had decided to come back. Even without him, though, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. Malcolm Brogdon will likely be in consideration for the Preseason First Team All-America Team, London Perrantes and his 4.6 assists per game are back and the pack-line defense Tony Bennett runs should be in top form yet again.
4. Iowa State
Players Returning – Georges Niang, Monté Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader, Matt Thomas
Players Gone – Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue
Players Coming In – Nick Noskowiak, Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton
Iowa State brings back arguably the best point guard in the country in Monté Morris, one of the country’s best scorers in Georges Niang and a best down low in Jameel McKay. The Cyclones have lacked consistency in the past, but they should have the experience to overcome those bumps in the road.
Players Returning – Perry Ellis, Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden Jr., Devonte Graham, Brannen Greene, Svi Mykhailiuk
Players Gone – Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre
Players Coming In – Cheick Diallo, Carlton Bragg
Cheick Diallo will hopefully provide the power up front that Kansas lacked in the past. The Jayhawks could be poised to have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Diallo and Perry Ellis, who averaged 13.8 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game last year. The backcourt will be solid as well, with Frank Mason III leading the way.
Players Returning – Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson
Players Gone – Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook
Players Coming In – Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton, Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter, Sean Obi
Four of their five starters from last season’s national championship team won’t be wearing a Duke uniform in 2015-16, but with the recruiting class the Blue Devils are bringing in, they will be reloaded. Derryck Thornton answers Duke’s point guard question heading into the offseason, Grayson Allen should be even better after a summer of development, and Brandon Ingram and Chase Jeter, two of the best freshmen in the class, will bring even more talent and depth to the roster.
Players Returning – Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard
Players Gone – Frank Booker, TaShawn Thomas
Players Coming In – Christian James, Akolda Manyang, Rashard Odomes
Buddy Hield choosing to return for his senior year was the best offseason news Oklahoma could have received. His 17.4 points per game last season was best in the Big 12, and with a summer of development he could push 20 points per game. Three other starters are back for the Sooners, a team that likes to play with mainly it’s starting five.
Players Returning – Kaleb Tarczewski, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Elliott Pitts, Dusan Ristic, Gabe York, Craig Victor
Players Gone – Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley
Players Coming In – Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon, Ryan Anderson, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche, Mark Tollefsen
The loss of senior leader T.J. McConnell hurts, but the Wildcats have enough talent coming back and in to make up for the loss. Justin Simon comes in to help at the point guard position, and with Kaleb Tarczewski coming back and the addition of Mark Tollefsen, Arizona will be powerful down low once again. Five-star Allonzo Trier comes in to help alleviate the loss of some key players from last season.
Playing Returning – Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress
Players Gone – Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Dakari Johnson
Players Coming In – Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder
Obviously losing seven players to the NBA hurts. Kentucky in 2015-16 will not be on the brink of an undefeated season like they were last year. However, three key players with plenty of talent are returning and they’ve reloaded at least enough to be in the preseason top ten with highly-rated recruits such as Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe coming in.
Players Returning – Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins, Phil Booth
Players Gone – JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard II, Dylan Ennis
Players Coming In – Jalen Brunson, Tim Delaney, Donte DiVincenzo
Villanova lost part of their core from last season, but adding Jalen Brunson is a huge piece for the Wildcats. Pairing him with Ryan Arcidiancono means Villanova could have the best backcourt duo in the country. Key players Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu return for a team that should be early favorites to win the Big East again.
11. Southern Methodist
Players Returning – Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy, Keith Frazier, Ben Moore, Sterling Brown, Ben Emelogu
Players Gone – Yanick Moreira, Ryan Manuel, Cannen Cunningham, Justin Martin
Players Coming In – Shake Milton, Sedrick Barefield, Jarrey Foster, Simeon Carter
The Mustangs return four of their top five scorers from 2014-15, including point guard Nic Moore, who finished the season tied atop the AAC in assists with 5.2 per game. With essentially the same core as last year minus only Yanick Moreira, SMU should be even better than last season.
12. Wichita State
Players Returning – Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Evan Wessel, Rashard Kelly, Shaquille Morris
Players Gone – Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, Ria’n Holland, Tevin Glass
Players Coming In – Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Tyrone Taylor, Eric Hamilton, Connor Frankamp, Anton Grady
This Wichita State team has the potential to easily be top 10, returning the trio of Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel, not to mention the addition of transfers Anton Grady and Connor Frankamp. This is another team that could rival for the best backcourt in the country. They will be the favorites to win another Missouri Valley championship.
Players Returning – Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, Jonathan Motley, Lester Medford, Al Freeman
Players Gone – Kenny Cherry, Royce O’Neale
Players Coming In – King McClure, Jake Lindsey, Wendell Mitchell, Joseph Acuil
With Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, Baylor will have one of the best, if not the best, frontcourts in the country. Without Kenny Cherry, though, the Bears might have some difficulty with ball handling. It will be up to Lester Medford to hold it down at the point guard position, but he will have help in the backcourt from incoming freshman King McClure.
14. Michigan State
Players Returning – Denzel Valentine, Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, Marvin Clark Jr., Javon Bess
Players Gone – Travis Trice, Branden Dawson
Players Coming In – Eron Harris, Deyonta Davis, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens
If Caleb Swanigan had remained committed, Michigan State would be in my top 10. Instead, they’re at 14, with a solid recruiting class, West Virginia-transfer Eron Harris and the return of Denzel Valentine, as well as several role players from last season’s Final Four team. The Spartans should be back near the top of the Big Ten.
Players Returning – Isaiah Taylor, Kendal Yancy, Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley, Damarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, Prince Ibeh
Players Gone – Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes
Players Coming In – Eric Davis, Kerwin Roach Jr., Shaquille Cleare
The problem at Texas has never been the talent; the problem has been coaching. The Longhorns are under new management now. Shaka Smart should be able to do wonders with a team that returns most of the talent from last year’s team, which should have been much better than it was. Expect Texas to bounce back from last season’s disappointment in a major way.
Players Returning – Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Durham, Andrew Chrabascz, Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman
Players Gone – Alex Barlow, Kameron Woods, Austin Etherington
Players Coming In – Tyler Lewis, Nate Fowler, Sean McDermott, Jordan Gathers
Butler brings back three double-digits scorers in Kellen Durham, Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Chrabascz. The Bulldogs welcome former NC State point guard Tyler Lewis to the lineup, as well as former St. Bonaventure shooting guard Jordan Gathers. Butler should be right back toward the top of the Big East standings in 2015-16.
Players Returning – Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Spike Albercht, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Mark Donnal
Players Gone – Max Biefieldt
Players Coming In – Moritz Wagner, Duncan Robinson
A year removed from devastating injuries that ruined 2014-15 for the Wolverines, Michigan returns virtually everyone from a roster that has plenty of talent. Caris LeVert’s decision to remain in college instead of go to NBA means Michigan brings back their best player from last season.
Players Returning – Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, Nick Zeisloft, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emmitt Holt
Players Gone – Max Hoetzel, Stanford Robinson
Players Coming In – Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan, Ogugua Anunoby
Indiana is another Big Ten returning just about everybody from a season ago, including their phenomenal point guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell averaged 16.1 points per game and 4.9 assists last year, putting him sixth in scorer and fourth in assists in the Big Ten in his junior campaign. Incoming freshman Thomas Bryant should be able to make an immediate impact to turn the Hoosiers into a Big Ten title contender.
Players Returning – D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland, Paul White, Tre Campbell
Players Gone – Joshua Smith, Jabril Trawick, Aaron Bowen, Mikael Hopkins
Players Coming In – Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Goven, Kaleb Johnson, Akoy Agau
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s return is huge for the Hoyas. The question for Georgetown will be their interior size, but without a question the guard play will be there. Isaac Copeland, a member of the All-Big East Rookie Team, comes back, and their recruiting class helps reload Georgetown and poise them for another successful season.
Players Returning – Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Kyle Draginis, Eric McClellan
Players Gone – Kevin Pangos, Byron Wesley, Gary Bell Jr., Angel Nunez
Players Coming In – None
The front line of Gonzaga will once again be outstanding. Kyle Wiltjer is one of the most versatile players in the country, and Przemek Karnowski is nothing short of a beast down low. This team will not be as good as last year’s, though. The big question for this Bulldogs team will be how they can replace the production of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.
21. Notre Dame
Players Returning – Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson, V.J. Beachem
Players Gone – Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton
Players Coming In – Rex Pflueger, Elijah Burns, Max Ryan
Last season’s Notre Dame team only really went six deep. Two of those six players are gone, but Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson all return to give the Irish a respectable starting lineup. The question for Notre Dame will again be depth, but we will see how much depth they really need after almost making the Final Four with six players.
Players Returning – Troy Caupain, Octavius Ellis, Gary Clark, Farad Cobb, Shaquille Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Coreontae DeBerry, Deshaun Morman, Quadri Moore
Players Gone – Ge’Lawn Guyn, Jermaine Sanders
Players Coming In – Jacob Evans, Justin Jenifer, Tre Scott
This Cincinnati team returns everybody and adds a few talented players to complement them. Rising junior Troy Caupain will lead the attack at point, and Octavius Ellis will extend the battle down low. Ellis averaged nearly 10 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game on an extremely balanced 2014-15 squad. 2015-16 should look similar, with everyone having a summer to improve.
23. Texas A&M
Players Returning – Daniel House, Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones, Alex Robinson, Peyton Allen
Players Gone – Jordan Green, Kourtney Robinson, Antwan Space, Davonte Fitzgerald
Players Coming In – Tyler Davis, Elijah Thomas, D.J. Hogg, Admon Gilder
Texas A&M is on the rise, hauling in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. In addition to their phenomenal freshmen, the Aggies return their three leading scorers from a season ago in Daniel House (14.8 ppg), Jalen Jones (13.7 ppg) and Alex Caruso (9.1 ppg). This team narrowing missed the tournament last year. They should be in with ease in 2015-16.
Players Returning – Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter,
Players Gone – Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Duje Dukan
Players Coming In – Brevin Pritzl, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen, Khalil Iverson, Andy Van Vliet
It’s going to be interesting to see how Bo Ryan can do with this team. It’s substantially worse than the previous two years, but Bo Ryan always finishes in the top four of the Big Ten. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, big contributors the last two seasons, are back to lead this team, as well as some tall freshmen who will make their presence known early.
Players Returning – Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer, Jabari Bird, Kingsley Okoroh
Players Gone – Dwight Tarwater, Christian Behrens, David Kravish
Players Coming In – Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Davon Dillard, Tyson Jolly
Cal will have a deadly trio of Tyrone Wallace, who averaged 17.1 points per game, 4.0 assists per game and 7.1 rebounds per game in 2014-15, Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, two of the highest ranked recruits of this class. This isn’t even including the return of Jordan Mathews, who average 13.6 points per game last year, and the potential commitment of Caleb Swanigan. The Golden Bears should have themselves a good year in a much improved Pac-12.
Best of the Rest:
29. Miami (FL)
30. North Carolina State
32. West Virginia
36. Florida State