Best- and worst-case scenario for each Top 25 team
We're less than two months from the start of the 2018-19 college basketball season. It will likely resemble past years, with multiple blue bloods expected to reign.
Offseason exhibition tours by Kentucky and Duke only boosted the anticipation for the debuts of the two best recruiting classes in the nation.
But we're also intrigued by the rest of field. Teams like Tennessee, Gonzaga and Nevada could all make a run to Minneapolis for the Final Four. There are so many possibilities and pitfalls.
Here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for our top 25.
Best case: With the addition of grad transfer Reid Travis, John Calipari's Wildcats possess the frontcourt depth and star power (freshman Keldon Johnson looked like a preseason All-American during UK's trip to the Bahamas) to capture the coach's fifth SEC crown and his second national championship if they can identify reliable shooters.
Worst case: Kentucky's abundant youth and its lack of pure shooters are legitimate concerns, but anything short of a top-three finish in the SEC and a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament seems unlikely, even in a disastrous season.
Best case: Bill Self boasts America's best backcourt, a group so strong five-star recruits Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson could come off the bench and the Jayhawks would still dominate. And using Dedric Lawson, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Memphis, as a point forward could help KU capture its 15th consecutive Big 12 title and win the national championship.
Worst case: Without the services of last season's experienced backcourt, a team full of ball-hungry wings and point guards could win the Big 12 but stumble and lose in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, which has happened five times under Self.
Best case: Duke's preseason trip to Canada changed perceptions of Zion Williamson, a 6-foot-7 athlete who finished 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in one game and did whatever he wanted. Once the Blue Devils get healthy (Alex O'Connell, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish missed all or part of the tour due to injuries), they could win the ACC crown and, like 2014-2015's young group, snatch another national title.
Worst case: Where will the shooting come from? Duke shot 31.7 percent from beyond the arc on the Canada trip; a similar mark during the season could cost the Blue Devils a spot atop a stacked ACC and make them spectators at next year's Final Four.
Best case: Mark Few is still chasing his first national championship. And with Rui Hachimura, a projected first-round pick; Killian Tillie, the WCC tournament's MVP; and Brandon Clarke, a San Jose State transfer who averaged 17.5 PPG in 2016-17, he has the right combination to own the WCC and achieve that feat.
Worst case: The Bulldogs aren't vulnerable in the WCC, but their struggles against a long, athletic Florida State squad (Gonzaga finished 5-for-20 from beyond the arc) could portend their exit in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Best case: Last season, the Vols won the SEC regular-season crown despite being picked to finish at the bottom in the preseason. This season, Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, return. That tandem could lead the Vols back to another conference title and a run to Minneapolis with their top-10 defense and elite 3-point shooting.
Worst case: The SEC is stacked with Auburn, Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi State, teams capable of pushing the Vols out of the conference race and into an unfavorable seed, which could result in another early, disappointing exit in March.
Best case: After adding Jordan Brown, a McDonald's All-American, and some notable transfers, Nevada enters the season with the most dangerous offensive unit in the country, a group that could produce multiple Wooden Award candidates (see: Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline) while leading the Wolf Pack to the summit of the Mountain West and the school's first Final Four.
Worst case: Eric Musselman's crew had a double-digit lead on Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16 before its sub-100 defense kicked in. That remains the concern for a team that won't surprise anyone in the tournament this season.
Best case: Last season means nothing. De'Andre Hunter is an NBA prospect. Kyle Guy is an ACC Player of the Year candidate. Tony Bennett's defense will, per the norm, finish in the top five nationally and Virginia has the tools to win the conference and avenge last season's first-round exit and make a run to the national championship.
Worst case: Ask UMBC. Virginia could win every game prior to the NCAA tournament and still lose early. Believe nothing about a 1-seed that lost to a 16-seed until you see it.
Best case: When North Carolina last captured the national title, Roy Williams had one of the nation's tallest lineups. A crew that will likely start All-American candidate Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and five-star recruit Nassir Little could start a small-ball revolution that ends with an ACC crown and another trip to the Final Four.
Worst case: A team without former lead Joel Berry II (1.16 points per possession when he was on the floor) could stumble to a finish outside the top five in the ACC and a first-weekend exit in the NCAA tournament.
Best case: Tom Izzo is counting on Nick Ward (12.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Cassius Winston to help Michigan State win another Big Ten championship and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. That's a real possibility for this group.
Worst case: Ward no longer has the benefit of facing defenses that were more concerned about future lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. Michigan State could finish outside the top three in the Big Ten for just the third time since 2007-08 and fail to escape the first weekend again.
Best case: Jay Wright, the MacGyver of college basketball coaches, lost four players from last season's NCAA title team (three NBA first-round picks and the Wooden Award winner), but Eric Paschall is the next pro prospect who should anchor a squad that wins the Big East crown and enters the NCAA tournament as a Final Four sleeper.
Worst case: Villanova lost the most potent foursome in America. Even with five-star prospect Jahvon Quinerly replacing Jalen Brunson, this could all end without a Big East title and with a first-weekend exit during an understandably difficult season.
Best case: A team that lost Mustapha Heron returns Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy following a yearlong suspension. And Wiley, a 6-foot-11 center, boosts a defense that had problems protecting the rim in 2017-18. An SEC crown for a team that returns two of its top three scorers (Jared Harper, Bryce Brown) and a rally to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament seem reasonable.
Worst case: Auburn finished 5-6 in its last 11 games, wrestled with turnovers and made 27 percent of its 3-pointers in the six losses. If those challenges remain, there will not be an SEC title and lengthy postseason run for this squad.
12. Kansas State
Best case: Without a healthy Dean Wade (16.2 PPG, 44 percent from beyond the arc), the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight. Every key player is back and if they can sustain their top-25 defense and improve upon a mediocre mark from beyond the arc, Kansas State could shock the world and steal the Big 12 title from rival Kansas before another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Worst case: A squad that finished 5-5 in its last 10 conference games due to its problems on the offensive glass and sputtering offense could fall short of the hype, ending the season outside the top three in the Big 12 and with a first-weekend loss in the NCAA tournament.
13. West Virginia
Best case: Bob Huggins has finished first or second in defensive turnover rate in each of the past four years. And the return of NBA prospect Sagaba Konate should help Huggins produce another stellar defensive effort, compete for the Big 12 championship and win a couple of games in the NCAA tournament.
Worst case: Huggins manufactured that swarming defensive unit with Jevon Carter, America's best two-way player last season. Carter is gone, which means WVU could fall out of contention in the Big 12 and end the season fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
14. Virginia Tech
Best case: Three double-digit scorers from last season's NCAA tournament squad return, a group anchored by Justin Robinson and including Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who has garnered NBA buzz this offseason. A Hokies team that beat Duke, UNC, Virginia and Clemson could evolve into a serious sleeper in the ACC race and earn a top-four seed in March.
Worst case: A program that finished 70th in adjusted defensive efficiency can't be trusted. The team that finished 3-5 in its final eight games could finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC and secure an unfavorable, dangerous opening-round matchup.
Best case: Bol Bol could mature into a versatile threat who can do things a 7-foot-2 athlete should not be able to do. Add Payton Pritchard and five-star wing Louis King and Dana Altman will field one of the best inside-outside attacks in college basketball. The Ducks could own the Pac-12 if Bol justifies the hype and leads this team to a second-weekend tourney finish.
Worst case: With a more experienced group and a top-15 pick (Troy Brown Jr.) last season, Oregon finished sixth in a bad Pac-12 and made the NIT. Rinse. Repeat.
Best case: Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard and Tyus Battle averaged 48.5 PPG last season. All three return to a Syracuse squad that made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 after a win over Michigan State in the second round. This trio's return, and the top-five defense it backed, should increase Syracuse's chances of another second-weekend appearance and a top-five finish in the ACC.
Worst case: This is Syracuse. That's really the only thing to say here. If the Orange enter Selection Sunday on the bubble after another inconsistent season with a sub-100 offense you can't trust, who will be surprised?
Best case: John Beilein's offseason extension made sense after he was courted by the Detroit Pistons following his run to the national title game. He lost Moritz Wagner, but Charles Matthews, a star during that run, is back to prove he's a legit NBA prospect. Plus, newcomer Ignas Brazdeikis looked good during the team's offseason trip to Spain. This team could have a highly ranked defense, win the Big Ten and make another deep tourney run.
Worst case: Wagner was a big man who could stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting. That's a huge loss that could force Michigan to fall out of the top three in the Big Ten.
18. Florida State
Best case: Florida State's wins over Missouri, Xavier and Gonzaga that preceded a four-point loss to Michigan in the Elite Eight raised expectations for the upcoming season. Terance Mann returns and Phil Cofer gets a sixth year of eligibility. This a genuine sleeper to win the ACC crown and reach the second weekend again.
Worst case: This is a squad that finished 13th in the ACC in defensive efficiency and lost six of 10 games before its Elite Eight run. No significant pieces were added, meaning FSU could fall to the bottom half of the league and miss the NCAA tournament with another late slide.
Best case: Can you say repeat? After Wichita State reached the Final Four in 2013, the Shockers won 35 games the following season, despite doubts about their staying power. With Clayton Custer, Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig all returning from last season's Final Four team, the Ramblers could generate the same crippling defense and impressive 3-point shooting to win the Missouri Valley Conference and make another deep run.
Worst case: The fairy tale could come to an end. A team that lost three of its top six scorers could miss out on the title in a tough MVC and, with limited nonconference opportunities, miss the NCAA tournament.
Best case: Remember when Brad Brownell was on the hot seat? Well, that's no longer the situation following Clemson's 25-win season, Sweet 16 run and fourth-place finish in the ACC. The Tigers return a trio of double-digit scorers (Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas) who will again lead a program that beat Auburn by 31 points in the Sweet 16. The Tigers have the talent to again produce a top-10 defense, compete for the ACC title and reach the second weekend.
Worst case: Clemson could finish outside the top five in the ACC and grab a double-digit seed if the team that failed to score 60 points in five of its 10 league losses struggles to score in ACC play again.
Best case: Will Wade might have the most dangerous team in America. He certainly has the team everyone should fear in the SEC. Tremont Waters has a chance to put together an All-American season. Wade also has a top-five class led by big man Naz Reid, the 12th-ranked player in 2018. LSU is perhaps this season's Tennessee: an unknown SEC team ready to compete for the title and chase an NCAA tournament berth.
Worst case: The Tigers finished 136th in adjusted defensive efficiency. If that persists, LSU could return to the NIT.
Best case: Ben Howland impressed many with his team's performance in the NIT. A group anchored by Aric Holman, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters won 25 games last season and welcomes in No. 29 recruit Reggie Perry. If the Bulldogs can improve upon last season's 31.5 percent clip from the 3-point line, a top-tier finish and NCAA tournament berth are both possible.
Worst case: A team that couldn't shoot outside 15 feet still can't shoot outside 15 feet. That's a good way to finish in the bottom half of the SEC and return to the NIT.
Best case: Jaylen Fisher gives TCU one of the best point guards in America. The Horned Frogs made the tournament even though Fisher missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury. With a top-30 class joining an experienced crew, TCU is a sleeper in the Big 12 and likely NCAA tournament team.
Worst case: The school just announced another surgery for Fisher. He's expected to be ready for the season, but that's a scary announcement. TCU finished 8-8 without him. This is not a Big 12 contender or tournament team if he's not healthy.
Best case: In his first year on the job, LaVall Jordan led his alma mater to the NCAA tournament, where it suffered a three-point loss to Purdue in the second round. Kamar Baldwin, the hero of that run, is back and ready for a breakout season. If he can fill the void left by Kelan Martin, Butler could contend for the Big East title and another trip to the NCAA tournament.
Worst case: Without Martin, Butler could tumble into the bottom half of the Big East and finish the season with an NIT berth.
Best case: Matt Painter is excited about Carsen Edwards' coming back to lead this group and prove to NBA scouts that he can play guard at the next level. He scored 18.5 PPG last season but he could lead the nation in scoring, as Matt Haarms and Dartmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux help the Boilermakers chase the Big Ten championship and a trip to the second weekend in March.
Worst case: Purdue lost one of the best senior classes in America. Edwards could ultimately try to carry too much weight as Purdue falls out of the Big Ten race and into the NIT.