The 2018-19 men's college basketball season is officially done and dusted after Virginia edged Texas Tech in overtime of the national championship game last night, completing one of the most amazing year-to-year turnarounds in memory. (UMBC jokes probably won't sting as much when you can just flash your shiny new championship ring at the haterz.) The end of a season can mean only one thing, though: it's time to begin the way-too-early look-aheads to next season!
Obviously, there's a certain level of foolishness in this idea now, when there is still so many details to sort out re: early departures for the NBA Draft, transfers (coming in and coming out), coaching changes, late recruiting commits, and everything else that could (and will) shake things up between now and next November. So, you know, consider these projections extremely provisional and for entertainment purposes only.
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The biggest takeway here? The Mitten State could be the center of the college basketball universe next season. Michigan State is expected to return everyone from this year's team except Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid. Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston and Nick Ward could test the NBA Draft waters, but neither appears to be close to a first round pick. Those two, plus a healthy Josh Langford, could give Sparty a fearsome senior trio to build around next season and has them picked to be preseason #1 (by everyone expect Sporting News, who tabbed Virginia as #1).
But the experts also like Michigan a lot, too, as they could return everyone from this year's squad except Charles Matthews. That said, their roster for next year looks very much in flux, after Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis announced today that they would be testing the NBA Draft process. Michigan's status as a potential Top 5 team next year hinges on whether they return to Ann Arbor or stay in the NBA Draft.
After the two Michigan schools, Maryland is the Big Ten team with the biggest buzz. Star forward Jalen Smith announced his intention to return to Maryland yesterday; if fellow talented twin tower Bruno Fernando does the same, Maryland will be running things back with basically the exact same squad they had this year, only more experienced and led by senior point guard Anthony Cowan. #FearTheTurtle may be very real next year.
Ohio State is the fourth Big Ten team getting some early preseason love, although the experts are all over the map on their preseason credentials. ESPN and Sports Illustrated have them as a fringe Top 10 team heading into next year, while The Athletic has them as a fringe Top 25 team and Jon Rothstein doesn't even rank them in his early Top 25. The case for Ohio State is that they return Kaleb Wesson, who ought to be one of the Big Ten's best big men next season, and are bringing in three Top 50 recruits, including Iowa prep D.J. Carton at point guard. Chris Holtmann has done well with "lesser" talent in his first two seasons in Columbus, but he may get to play with some blue chip toys next year.
Our beloved Iowa Hawkeyes are the next Big Ten team garnering preseason attention. Rothstein is the most bullish on the Hawkeyes, pegging them for #15 at the moment, just ahead of USA Today, who has them at #16. Although when it comes to bullish projections, no one seems more infatuated with Iowa's 2020 prospects than Joe Lunardi, as Joey Brackets has Iowa slotted as a 3-seed (!!!) in his way-too-early 2020 bracket. Sporting News has them at #21 and while neither ESPN nor Sports Illustrated ranks them in their preseason Top 25, both list them among the first teams out of the Top 25 (basically the "others receiving votes" section of these polls). Only Seth Davis at The Athletic isn't buying the positive vibes for the Hawkeyes; he doesn't list them among his Top 25 or his Next 20. The Iowa appreciation seems to be largely driven by the fact that Iowa is currently set to return every key contributor but Nicholas Baer from last year's team. Of course, if reports are correct and Tyler Cook does decide to enter (and stay in) the NBA Draft, that would almost certainly result in some significant downturns in the perception of Iowa's stock next season.
The only other Big Ten teams garnering any love in the Way-Too-Early Top 25s are Purdue and Minnesota. Purdue isn't even ranked on three of the polls, but they're also as high as #9 on Sporting News' preseason Top 25. Of course, the polls that omit the Boilermakers are probably factoring in Carsen Edwards' decision to go pro (which seems final); losing their do-everything playmaker and scoring sensation figures to drop Purdue a notch or two. USA Today is the only preseason poll that lists the Gophers and even that's predicated on Amir Coffey deciding to return to the Twin Cities next year.
Looking ahead to next year, it seems like Michigan State will almost certainly enter the year as prohibitive favorites to win the Big Ten, especially if Michigan does end up losing Poole and/or Brazdeikis. Maryland looks like a good bet to challenge for a Top-4 finish in the Big Ten as well and if Ohio State's stud freshmen can get up to speed by the time conference play rolls around, the Buckeyes seem like they could be a force near the top of the league.
Still... there's room at the top for some new faces. Edwards' departure is a massive blow for Purdue and the departures of Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson suggest that it might be time for REBUILDING SZN in Wisconsin. Even without Cook, Iowa ought to have a team next year with an enormous amount of experience -- and a fair amount of talent, too. If they can find a way to put the pieces together in the most optimal combinations -- and play defense on a more consistent basis -- maybe Iowa can go from a very solid season to a very special one.