It always seems too early to launch a preseason poll in college basketball.
But this offseason presents a unique predicament for the game's prognosticators. Along with the typical unknowns related to NBA draft decisions and possible transfers, we're still not sure what further implications will come from the FBI's investigation into corruption in the sport.
We will go with what we know -- or what we know right now -- in this early look at the top 25 for the 2018-19 season.
Again, all of this comes with fine print because the prominent players anchoring their respective teams' rankings could choose to turn pro before the deadline for early entrants. Either way, we're confident we've identified the top teams entering next season.
We just completed one of the most improbable Final Four pairings of all time with Loyola-Chicago joining major programs Kansas, Michigan and Villanova on the same stage. Now it's time to look ahead.
Bill Self's squad should defend its Big 12 title streak and make another run in the NCAA tournament. He'll have more talent. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but Malik Newman -- if he returns -- will enter next season as a preseason All-American after his dominance of the NCAA tournament landscape. Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike should also return, joining a top-10 recruiting class that features a pair of five-star guards: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Wait. There's more. Self will also add Memphis transfers K.J. Lawson (12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG in 2016-17) and Dedric Lawson (19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG) and Cal transfer Charlie Moore (12.2 PPG, 1.1 SPG), who are all eligible to play next season. Oh, and Romeo Langford, a top-five recruit who is unsigned, could still pick the Jayhawks, too. That's a helluva talent pool for Self.
Before he left for the Pitt job, Jeff Capel helped Mike Krzyzewski sign the top incoming recruiting class in America. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish are ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the 2018 class. Add Tre Jones -- the younger, more athletic brother of Tyus Jones, who won Most Outstanding Player honors during Duke's run to the 2015 national title -- and you have a terrible matchup for any opponent in America. Gary Trent Jr. returning for another year to play with former high school teammate Tre Jones or Trevon Duval coming back to build on this season might elevate this team to the top spot on this list. The Blue Devils will start the season as national title contenders either way. The 2014-15 team won it all with a young roster. But that group had senior leadership ( Quinn Cook) that next season's team will lack.
This lofty position for the national champion depends on the return of Jalen Brunson. He could win the Wooden Award and still return to chase a third Final Four appearance in four seasons while sustaining his draft position somewhere in the back of the first round or early in the second round. But even if he leaves, the team won't fall far. Mikal Bridges is a lottery pick who will cash in on his talent, but Omari Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth all return for Wright's squad. Plus, Jahvon Quinerly -- the five-star point guard who originally committed to Arizona -- arrives, assuming he's not tied up with any challenges related to the FBI investigation after he was reportedly connected to former Arizona coach Book Richardson. If the Wildcats get Quinerly and return the key pieces from this season's run, they will enter next season as a real threat to win the Big East and a possible favorite to win a national championship. Remember, Wright hasn't lost back-to-back games in five years. Consistency is a guarantee under Wright.
For more on how the Wildcats will look in 2018-19, check out Villanova's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
John Calipari's squad missed a chance to rumble to the Final Four in a region that lacked a top-four seed, a first in NCAA history. Before that loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16, however, the Wildcats were 9-1 in their previous 10 games. It took some time, but Calipari's team figured things out late in the season. Kevin Knox's father claims the potential lottery pick could return next season, although Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, another lottery prospect, will probably be gone to the next level. Still, Kentucky will add another top-five recruiting class led by Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, a pair of perimeter players who will ensure Calipari boasts another potent pool of young talent. This group should steal some of the momentum from this season and get off to a better start in 2018-19.
For more on how the Wildcats will look in 2018-19, check out Kentucky's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Auburn athletic director Allen Greene gave Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence last week. It was a significant gesture of support for the polarizing coach who lost former assistant Chuck Person when he was arrested in the FBI probe and two players, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, who were both ruled ineligible this season but can return in 2018-19. Despite the drama, Pearl still captured a slice of the SEC title in one of the league's strongest years. Mustapha Heron (16.4 PPG) and others could test the draft waters. But Pearl could lose a player or two and still enter next season with a stacked roster, one that will also feature a healthy Anfernee McLemore.
Mark Few's team didn't have Killian Tillie (hip injury) when it lost to Florida State in the Sweet 16. The big man who connected on 48 percent of his 3-point attempts this season should come back for another year to impress NBA scouts. He's not the only intriguing pro prospect on the roster. Rui Hachimura, the 6-foot-8 talent, averaged 11.6 PPG this season, while Zach Norvell Jr. averaged 12.7 PPG and made 37 percent of his 3-pointers. This group will also get another year from savvy point guard Josh Perkins (5.3 APG). Brandon Clarke, a 6-8 transfer eligible next season, averaged 17.5 PPG at San Jose State during the 2016-17 season.
History's everlasting stain will never leave this program. Virginia became the first 1-seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a 16-seed (UMBC). The criticism of every hater who questions the promise of Virginia's grind-it-out style in the postseason was validated that day. But that loss does not change what we witnessed last season: a Virginia team that manufactured the most effective defense in the advanced stats era. The Cavaliers will lose key catalyst Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall, but Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Jack Salt and a healthy De'Andre Hunter, the program's best NBA prospect since Malcolm Brogdon, should all come back for another year and a chance to redeem themselves from last season's postseason failure.
For more on how the Cavaliers will look in 2018-19, check out Virginia's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Rick Barnes won SEC Coach of the Year honors after a Tennessee team picked to finish at the bottom of the league shared the SEC title with Auburn. The Vols, who finished the season ranked within the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com, will boast more ambitious aspirations next season when all but one player ( James Daniel) will likely return to a roster filled with youth. Grant Williams (15.2 PPG), the SEC Player of the Year, is one of the top six scorers on the roster from 2017-18 set to come back and help Barnes chase a national championship. Admiral Schofield averaged 13.9 PPG and made nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Tennessee will have a talented crew next season.
For more on how the Vols will look in 2018-19, check out Tennessee's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Will Cameron Johnson (12.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) return? He should -- both to help his personal cause (his 3-point shooting clip dropped from 42 percent to 34 percent) and to pursue a national title. The Tar Heels will have the pieces to snatch another ring for Roy Williams. Three of the team's top four scorers will return. Luke Maye will start next season as a preseason All-American. Coby White is a five-star point guard. Nassir Little, a 6-7 wing ranked 10th in his class, just earned MVP honors in the McDonald's All American Game. Williams will lose veteran leader Joel Berry II, but the top-10 recruiting class and the return of two all-ACC-level players should position the Tar Heels to compete for another crown in the ACC and NCAA tournament.
For more on how the Tar Heels will look in 2018-19, check out North Carolina's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
10. Nevada Wolf Pack
Caleb Martin (18.9 PPG), Jordan Caroline (17.7 PPG) and Cody Martin (14.0 PPG) -- the top three scorers from a Nevada team that averaged 83.0 PPG -- are all set to return to Eric Musselman's squad. Down 22 points against Cincinnati, one of the top defensive teams in America, the Wolf Pack climbed out of the hole to win. If the Martin brothers return for another season, Nevada should possess the firepower to sustain its breathtaking offense, which finished within the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. The most fascinating element of this team last season was its ability to play at above-average pace while maintaining the lowest turnover rate in America (its two turnovers against Cincinnati were the fewest in the past 20 years of the NCAA tournament).
For more on how the Wolf Pack will look in 2018-19, check out ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Tom Izzo's team has managed turnover as well as any program in the country during his tenure. Even when the personnel changes, the Spartans maintain the same approach: crash the offensive glass and dominate the paint. If Nick Ward returns, the Spartans will again possess the most significant big man in the Big Ten and a guard named Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 49.7 percent from beyond the arc) to lead the squad. You can't replace Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. They're unique talents. Marcus Bingham, a 6-9 top-100 big man, will work with Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins to form a strong frontcourt and back a Big Ten contender.
For more on how the Spartans will look in 2018-19, check out Michigan State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Again, this is the early, early top 25. Many assumed Moritz Wagner would leave after a strong 2016-17 campaign (12.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG). But he returned for his junior season. Another year seems unlikely, however, after his performance in the Final Four. Wagner (14.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG) boosted his numbers this season and connected on nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers for the second consecutive year, awesome numbers for a 6-11 prospect. He'll probably take his talents to the next level. But John Beilein should return Charles Matthews, another NBA prospect, Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson on a Michigan team that took a 13-game win streak into the Final Four. Plus, a top-20 recruiting class features standout Ignas Brazdeikis. Beilein won with an elite defense this season, and if he can maintain those high marks, his team should start the season as Big Ten contender again.
For more on how the Wolverines will look in 2018-19, check out Michigan's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
West Virginia has finished first or second in defensive turnover rate for the past four seasons, a streak that aligns with the presence of Jevon Carter. Bob Huggins has parted with critical players in the past, but Carter has been the identity of the program over the past four seasons. Still, a West Virginia team constructed around Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate (3.2 BPG) can still tussle with the best of the Big 12. The Mountaineers won't easily replace an impactful player like Carter. With their style, however, and the returning talent, they're still a top-tier squad in the Big 12, the best league in the country pound-for-pound last season.
For more on how the Mountaineers will look in 2018-19, check out West Virginia's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
14. Florida Gators
Michael White's squad lost Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov. Now, Jalen Hudson, who led the team with 15.5 PPG and 40 percent from the 3-point line, is also testing the NBA waters. If he returns -- and he should -- he'll join KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone as the key players on a roster that will also welcome a nationally ranked recruiting class filled with athletic wings. More than 40 percent of Florida's field goal attempts came from the 3-point line this season. Plus, the Gators played top-25 defense with an undersized lineup. They can do the same next season.
15. Syracuse Orange
To stay here, the Orange would need Tyus Battle -- a projected late first-round pick on ESPN.com -- and Oshae Brissett to return. If that happens, Jim Boeheim will have the personnel to start next season the way last season ended with wins over Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State in the NCAA tournament. He gets Frank Howard back. Five-star prospect Darius Bazley chose to turn pro and enter the G League, but Boeheim is Boeheim. Syracuse will figure it out.
For more on how the Orange will look in 2018-19, check out Syracuse's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Virginia Tech lasted for only a game in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Not the ending Buzz Williams anticipated. In wins over Virginia, North Carolina and Duke this season, however, the Hokies showcased their potential. Now it's time to ask if they can take the next step after last season's 10-8 finish in the ACC. They lost their final three games after a Feb. 26 win over Duke, but Justin Robinson (14.0 PPG, 40 percent from the 3-point line) is back, along with three of the top four scorers from last season's squad. Williams has another strong team that could take the next step in ACC play.
For more on how the Hokies will look in 2018-19, check out Virginia Tech's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
Loyola-Chicago received 43 votes in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the 2017-18 season. The Ramblers spent the bulk of the season, however, overlooked, despite a top-30 defense, a 40 percent clip from beyond the arc and a true road win over Florida. They won't fly under the radar entering next season. Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, two heroes from the school's run to the Final Four, will drive next season's squad with the help of Cameron Krutwig (60.5 percent on shots inside the arc). The Ramblers will lose key seniors Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson and Ben Richardson. But the trio of returning leaders proved their worth in the NCAA tournament.
For more on how the Ramblers will look in 2018-19, check out Loyola-Chicago's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
18. Clemson Tigers
Brad Brownell entered the season on a warm seat, desperate for an NCAA tournament berth. This season's success changed the perceptions of Brownell and his program, which will welcome back three of the top five scorers from last season's squad: Marcquise Reed (15.8 PPG), Shelton Mitchell (12.2 PPG) and Elijah Thomas (10.7 PPG). Brownell's team relied on its top-10 defense in 2017-18. The Tigers will again next season. He has enough coming back to justify this slot.
Bruce Weber has finished outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency just three times in a 17-year coaching career. With another elite defensive squad, Weber's Wildcats reached the Elite Eight, where they lost to Loyola-Chicago. But every key member of that team returns. Barry Brown and a healthy Dean Wade might make Kansas State the most imposing threat to KU's Big 12 title streak. Xavier Sneed, who made clutch plays throughout the postseason, is back, too. All signs point to another trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for Kansas State.
For more on how the Wildcats will look in 2018-19, check out Kansas State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
20. LSU Tigers
Will Wade might have the surprise of the 2018-19 season. Yes, the Tigers finished 8-10 in the SEC and lost to Stephen F. Austin and other nontournament teams. But Tremont Waters (15.9 PPG, 6.0 APG) is a scary talent on a young team that should improve this offseason. Plus, Waters will have a five-star frontcourt with incoming freshmen Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, the top stars of a recruiting class ranked fifth on ESPN.com.
For more on how the Tigers will look in 2018-19, check out ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.
21. TCU Horned Frogs
With Jaylen Fisher sidelined by a season-ending knee injury, the Horned Frogs finished 8-8 over the final 16 games of the season. They reached the tournament but never their potential without the 6-2 point guard. He's back for 2018-19, along with Alex Robinson, Kouat Noi, JD Miller and Desmond Bane. Jamie Dixon will also add a top-30 class with three four-star recruits. This TCU squad could compete for the Big 12 crown in Dixon's third season.
22. Butler Bulldogs
LaVall Jordan led his alma mater to the NCAA tournament in his first season as head coach. He'll lose Kelan Martin, but Kamar Baldwin averaged 19.0 PPG and finished 7-for-7 from the charity stripe in two NCAA tournament games. Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott both return. And Jordan will add former Duke freshman Jordan Tucker, too. Tucker will be eligible after the first semester next season. The Bulldogs should get back to the NCAA tournament.
Leonard Hamilton's squad surprised everyone with its Elite Eight run. Terance Mann (12.6 PPG) was a star in his team's win over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 (18 points). He's one of the young pieces FSU will bring back next season. Hamilton's team had only a handful of bad losses and it finished 9-9 in a strong ACC. And the NCAA could give Phil Cofer (12.8 PPG) a sixth season of eligibility after he missed the bulk of the 2015-16 season due to injury. CJ Walker's decision to transfer hurts FSU's prospects, but there is still a respectable ceiling for this team.
The NBA isn't desperate to find more 6-1 point guards. That's why Carsen Edwards' decision to enter the draft feels more like a learning opportunity than a career move. The sophomore who led Purdue with 18.5 PPG should come back for his junior season. That's the only way Purdue will earn top-25 consideration after losing the strongest senior class in America. But with Edwards and Matt Haarms (2.1 BPG), Matt Painter will have a strong inside-outside combo. Depth is a concern, but Dartmouth grad transfer Evan Boudreaux (17.5 PPG) will join the program after decommitting from Xavier following Chris Mack's move to Louisville. Since 2007, Painter's team have ended a season outside the top 50 on KenPom.com twice. This will be a solid team in 2018-19.
25. Oregon Ducks
Dana Altman will probably lose Troy Brown Jr., the top-20 NBA prospect on ESPN.com, but multiple key players, including top scorer Payton Pritchard (14.5 PPG), return. Plus, Altman will possess a class ranked third on ESPN.com, a group that includes five-star prospects Bol Bol and Louis King. Altman will have the brand of lengthy athletes that helped him reach the Final Four last season. This year's team never found a rhythm. Next year's squad, however, feels like an Altman team.
For more on how the Ducks will look in 2018-19, check out ESPN Recruiting's class rankings.