The college basketball offseason is painfully long, but the start of season is finally upon us.
And what better way to celebrate this joyous occasion than to prognosticate the seeding of teams we’ve yet to see play a real game?! 😉
Preseason projections are a completely different animal than the in-season version. There are no RPIs, strengths of schedule, quality wins, or bad losses to use as measuring sticks when comparing teams.
Instead, I spent the last month and a half consuming an unhealthy amount of preseason content and analysis.
At this point of the year, I don’t spend as much time on the actual bracketing, but this format also gives me the chance to give some brief thoughts on my projected field as well as the teams that just missed the cut.
Andy’s Preseason Projected Field of 68
- North Carolina – A preseason injury to All-American guard Marcus Paige may get the Heels off to a slow start, but Roy Williams has plenty of firepower at his disposal with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson all back in the UNC frontcourt.
- Kentucky – The Kentucky cupboard has been restocked with another tremendous recruiting class, led by Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray. The offense should flourish with sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis at the helm.
- Kansas – The eligibility of freshman Cheick Diallo is still up in the air, but the Jayhawks are the pick in the Big 12 until proven otherwise. Perry Ellis and Frank Mason will provide veteran leadership and should mesh well with talented newcomers like Diallo and Carlton Bragg.
- Maryland – Melo Trimble and Jake Layman are the returning headliners, while transfer Robert Carter and freshman Diamond Stone will provide muscle on the inside. The Terps won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but then again, they won’t need to.
- Duke – The reigning champs lost four starters, but Championship Game hero Grayson Allen is back along with a slew of top-notch recruits, led by forward Brandon Ingram and point guard Derryck Thornton.
- Virginia – Even without Justin Anderson, the Cavaliers have a strong nucleus with Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, London Perrantes, and Mike Tobey back. You can also count on another elite defensive performance from Tony Bennett’s pack-line scheme.
- Villanova – ‘Nova should once again be the class of the Big East thanks to the inside-outside duo of Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono, while freshman Jalen Brunson gives the team yet another talented scoring option.
- Iowa State – Fred Hoiberg is gone, but fortunately for Cyclones fans, All-Conference performers Georges Niang and Monte Morris aren’t. Throw in Jameel McKay inside and Naz Long in the backcourt, and new coach Steve Prohm has the luxury of a solid – and offensively explosive – nucleus in his first season in Ames.
- Oklahoma – The Big 12 is loaded with returning talent, and OU guard Buddy Hield, last season’s conference POY, is the best of the bunch. The Sooners return other key contributors as well, led by Isaiah Cousins who sounds poised for a big senior year.
- Wichita State – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker form one of the nation’s top backcourts, and Cleveland St. transfer Anton Grady will give the Shockers a strong presence inside as well. They will be the class of MVC once again and should approach 30 wins.
- Gonzaga – The frontcourt is loaded for the Zags, led by All-American Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, but it may take some time to adjust to the loss of three senior guards.
- Michigan State – Obviously the losses of Travis Trice and Branden Dawson hurt, but the addition of transfer Eron Harris and talented freshman Deyonta Davis should help ease the blow. The overall talent level is high, and I can’t bet against Izzo getting the pieces to fit.
- Arizona – The Wildcats lost a ton of talent but have a number of intriguing pieces poised to fill those roles even after losing freshman Ray Smith for the season. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson will be the workhorse for Sean Miller’s club.
- Indiana – Led by Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers should once again boast one of the nation’s top offenses. The Big Ten schedule sets up well for IU, but this team needs to make huge strides defensively if they want to make a deep NCAA run.
- California – Don’t be surprised if Cuonzo Martin’s club knocks Arizona off its perch atop the Pac-12. Freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb will contribute immediately, while junior guard Tyrone Wallace will push for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
- Purdue – Freshman Caleb Swanigan joins an already talented Purdue frontline, while Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards are back on the wing. The only question is at the point, where UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill will be handed the keys.
- Vanderbilt – Big man Damian Jones is one of the nation’s best frontcourt players, and the Commodores can surround him with multiple talented shooters. Don’t expect them to challenge Kentucky, but Vandy should finish second in the SEC.
- Connecticut – With SMU ineligible, the Huskies appear to be the favorite for the AAC auto-bid. Daniel Hamilton will look to build on a productive freshman year, Amida Brimah provides UConn with a presence in the lane, and transfer Sterling Gibbs will be a settling influence in the backcourt.
- Utah – Replacing Delon Wright won’t be easy, but the Utes have four starters back, led by big man Jakob Poeltl and guard Brandon Taylor. Larry Krystkowiak’s squad should continue to be one of the nation’s best defenses as well.
- Baylor – The Bears are loaded up front with Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, and Johnathan Motley, but a lot will depend on the backcourt play following the loss of Kenny Chery.
- Notre Dame – The likes of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton won’t be easily replaced, but the Irish still have an elite guard in Demetrius Jackson to go with double-digit scorers Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia.
- Michigan – Injuries derailed the Wolverines last season, but now Caris LeVert is back to team up with Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton. There are questions up front, but John Beilein should have plenty of pieces to work with.
- Butler – Veterans Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham give the Bulldogs a strong 1-2 punch, and NC State transfer Tyler Lewis should slide in nicely at the point. The frontcourt is less clear, but Butler’s defense should be solid once again.
- Cincinnati – Mick Cronin will be back on the bench for the Bearcats, and virtually everyone is back from last season’s team. Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark are a solid frontcourt duo, and Troy Caupain provides experience at the point. You know the defense will be tough, and the offense should be improved as well.
- Oregon – The Ducks must replace Joseph Young, and foot injuries to Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell will test Oregon’s improved depth. Look for them to lean more on Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook while freshman guard Tyler Dorsey gets his feet wet.
- Wisconsin – Outside of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, there aren’t a lot of known commodities on the Wisconsin roster. Bo Ryan has earned the benefit of the doubt though, and Ethan Happ sounds like other breakout players we’ve seen during Ryan’s tenure in Madison.
- LSU – Ben Simmons might wind up as the National Player of the Year, and the Tigers brought in a number of other impressive newcomers. LSU definitely has the talent to outperform this seed, but I’m in “show me” mode with coach Johnny Jones, who has struggled to get the most out of his roster before.
- Texas A&M – The Aggies brought in a number of highly touted recruits, but they also have the luxury of a strong returning nucleus, led by Danuel House, Jalen Jones, and Alex Caruso.
- Georgetown – The Hoyas have an incredibly young team, but senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will be a stabilizing influence in the backcourt. Isaac Copeland looks like the sophomore most likely to take the next step.
- Miami (FL) – The strength of the ‘Canes lies in the backcourt with Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez leading the way, but the interior play of Tonye Jekiri will be key.
- Florida State – Three double-digit scorers return for the ‘Noles, led by Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Montay Brandon. Leonard Hamilton also added a number of talented newcomers, highlighted by Dwayne Bacon, to an experienced roster.
- West Virginia – “Press Virginia” will be back again wreaking havoc on the hardwood, and generating points off of turnovers will be key with Juwan Staten gone. Devin Williams is the lone returning double-digit scorer, but there are a number of guys in the 7-8 ppg range.
- Xavier – The Musketeers need to sort out who will replace Dee Davis at the point, but they have experienced pieces in the backcourt with Remy Abell and Myles Davis to pair with breakout candidates Jalen Reynolds and Trevon Blueitt.
- Texas – Shaka Smart inherits an experienced roster in Austin, including a solid point guard in Isaiah Taylor. It will be interesting to see how Smart tailors his “havoc” system to the personnel he has as well as how it works against better competition.
- San Diego State – The Aztecs will still have stingy defense as their calling card, but the offense could be improved if freshman Jeremy Hemsley can make an instant impact at the point. Forward Winston Shepard should lead the way from a scoring standpoint.
- North Carolina State – Junior point guard Cat Barber will lead the way for the Wolfpack, but they need Abdul-Malik Abu to take on a much larger role on the interior as a sophomore.
- Rhode Island – Dan Hurley has a loaded roster led by E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, and the Rams look poised to challenge for the A-10 title in what looks like a three-horse race with Davidson and Dayton.
- Louisville – Given the roster turnover and controversy hanging over the program, the Cardinals are a tough team to peg. Transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis will be expected to shoulder a heavy load since none of the returnees scored over 4.1 ppg.
- Boise State – The return of fifth-year senior Anthony Drmic was critical for the Broncos, and he’ll lead a strong nucleus of experienced players like James Webb III and Nick Duncan.
- UCLA – Bryce Alford is the top returnee for the Bruins, who need some combination of Tony Parker, Thomas Welsh, and Jonah Bolden to step forward and provide frontcourt production and stability.
- Dayton – Dyshawn Pierre is suspended for the first semester, but Dayton managed to play well while being short-handed last season. Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith will shoulder the load while Pierre is out.
- Davidson – The Wildcats return three double-digit scorers, led by Jack Gibbs who scored 16.2 points and dished out nearly five assists per game. They should boast one of the nation’s most efficient offenses once again.
- BYU – The Cougars are faced with the challenge of replacing Tyler Haws, but do-it-all senior Kyle Collinsworth and sharpshooter Chase Fischer give Dave Rose’s team a solid foundation.
- Valparaiso – Coach Bryce Drew has essentially everyone back from a team that nearly sent Maryland packing in the Big Dance last year. Big man Alec Peters is arguably the Horizon League’s top player, but there is a lot of depth on the Valpo roster.
- Tulsa (Last Four In) – Shaq Harrison and James Woodard form arguably the best backcourt in the AAC, and Tulsa has tons of experience with seven scholarship seniors on the roster.
- Ohio State (Last Four In) – Since I don’t see the Big Ten getting eight teams in, it came down to OSU and Iowa for the seventh bid. The Buckeyes are incredibly young but brought in a number of talented pieces, which I think Thad Matta can mesh together over the course of the season.
- Georgia (Last Four In) – Veteran guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines lead the way for UGA, but they need Yante Maten to make a big jump inside in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
- Marquette (Last Four In) – I think the Big East can get five teams in this season, and if that’s the case it should be Marquette and Providence fighting for that fifth bid. I like what Wojo was able to do in his first season, and this year he adds a big-time recruit in Henry Ellenson to go with the likes of Duane Wilson and Luke Fischer.
- Stephen F. Austin – The Lumberjacks won 29 games last season, and they are once again the favorite to win the Southland. Conference Player of the Year Thomas Walkup leads the way for SFA, who looks to have solid depth throughout the roster.
- UAB – Nearly everyone is back from the squad that knocked out three seed Iowa St. on the first day of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Look for Robert Brown to lead the way for the Blazers, who will be locked in a close race with Old Dominion throughout the season.
- Belmont – The Bruins always seem to be in the NCAA mix, and this year should be no exception. Guard Craig Bradshaw and forward Evan Bradds give Rick Byrd the OVC’s best inside-outside combination.
- Central Michigan – Coach Keno Davis brings back all five starters and his top seven scorers, most notably guard Chris Fowler who scored over 16 points per game and led the MAC in assists.
- Iona – Guard A.J. English averaged 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists last season and should win MAAC Player of the Year as a senior. Replacing David Laury won’t be easy, but there is a ton of offensive firepower on this team.
- UC Irvine – Seven-foot-six center Mamadou Ndiaye is sight to behold, while Luke Nelson and Alex Young form an experienced backcourt tandem. The Anteaters gave Louisville all they could handle in the NCAA Tournament last season, and they seem likely to make a return trip.
- Columbia – The Ivy League should be one of the more compelling conference races with Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale all in the mix. Stud guard Maodo Lo and the return of Alex Rosenberg led to my selection of the Lions, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of those four teams win it.
- Louisiana-Lafayette – Senior forward Shawn Long flirted with entering the NBA Draft but returned to school, making the Ragin’ Cajuns the favorites in the Sun Belt. There’s solid depth in the backcourt as well, and seven of their top eight scorers are back in all.
- James Madison – The Dukes just announced that big man Yohanny Dalembert will miss time with a knee injury, but he should be back in time for conference play, where he’ll form a formidable one-two punch with guard Ron Curry. If everyone stays healthy, it should be a great race between JMU and Hofstra in the Colonial.
- South Dakota State – Led by senior guards Deondre Parks and George Marshall, the Jackrabbits boast the Summit League’s top backcourt. There are some question marks up front, but I’m giving them the nod over rival North Dakota St.
- Stony Brook – Big man Jameel Warney is the favorite to win America East Player of the Year for a third straight season, but the Seawolves are no slouch in the backcourt with Carson Puriefoy and Longwood transfer Lucas Woodhouse.
- New Mexico State – The Aggies lost a number of key pieces from last year’s squad, but they’re still the heavy favorite in the WAC thanks in part to sophomore forward Pascal Siakam and junior guard Ian Baker.
- Coastal Carolina – The Big South should be a three-way battle between Coastal Carolina, High Point, and Winthrop. The Chanticleers are my pick thanks to a solid backcourt and the interior presence of Badou Diagne.
- Weber State – The Big Sky race should be an interesting one with Weber St. and Montana pegged as the favorites. I gave the Wildcats the edge based on the inside-outside combination of double-double machine Joel Bolomboy and junior guard Jeremy Senglin.
- Bucknell – Senior Chris Hass should challenge for Patriot League Player of the Year, and the Bison have no shortage of options in the frontcourt. Guard depth might be an issue, but for now I’m giving them the edge over Lehigh.
- Chattanooga – Despite losing Coach Will Wade to VCU, the Mocs should be the class of the SoCon thanks in part to the one-two punch of Casey Jones and Justin Tuoyo.
- North Florida (First Four) – The Ospreys are looking for a return trip to the Big Dance, and they have a solid group of returnees on the roster, led by talented guard Dallas Moore. Look out for NJIT in the Atlantic Sun, though.
- Texas Southern (First Four) – Southern should battle the Tigers for the SWAC crown. I gave Mike Davis’ squad the nod thanks to a solid nucleus and the return of forward Jose Rodriguez.
- Robert Morris (First Four) – The Colonials lost some key pieces from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad, but leading scorer Rodney Pryor is back to pace the offense. Mount St. Mary’s should be in the NEC hunt as well.
- Hampton (First Four) – Dwight Meikle returns after leading the Pirates in scoring and rebounding last year, and he’ll be joined by a trio of senior guards who all scored nearly 10 points per game.
First Four Out
- Iowa – As I mentioned with Ohio St., the Hawkeyes were right in the mix for one of the final spots. I have questions about the depth and think the losses of Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni will prove to be bigger than expected.
- Providence – Kris Dunn is arguably the nation’s top player, and that may ultimately be enough to get Ed Cooley’s squad back to the Big Dance. The Friars will need to play uptempo based on their lack of size, but for me, there are just too many question marks right now.
- Florida – I loved the hire of Mike White, and the cupboard isn’t bare in Gainesville. While improved, I don’t think the SEC gets six teams in, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Gators knock Georgia out of the picture.
- Pittsburgh – Outside of Jamel Artis and Michael Young, there are a lot of questions for the Panthers. Jamie Dixon is hoping a number of transfers can provide the answers.
Next Four Out
- UNLV – The talent on the UNLV roster is undeniable, but Dave Rice’s teams have underachieved with talented rosters in the past. I won’t be the least bit shocked to see them in the field of 68, but I need to see things come together on the floor first.
- Oregon State – The Beavers surprised people last season, but with Gary Payton II and a number of key players back as well as a strong recruiting class, expectations have been raised. Wayne Tinkle’s team has had some preseason injury woes, but they still have the look of a dangerous team in the long run.
- Syracuse – While I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Orange go dancing, missing Jim Boeheim for the first half of the ACC season and a myriad of question marks pushed them outside of my field.
- Old Dominion – As mentioned above, the Monarchs will battle it out with UAB for the C-USA crown. Guard Trey Freeman does it all, and the backcourt will assuredly be the strength of this team.
Follow Andy on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops as the season gets underway.