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Bossi's Best: The “must-get” players for 10 top programs



Bryan Antoine is a “must get” for Villanova.

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With the month of July’s three live periods just under a month away, the question on the table is this: Which prospects fall into the category of “must-get”? In this week’s Bossi’s Best, National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi looks at 2018’s final AP Top 25 and discusses which 2019 target is most important for the teams that finished in the top 10.

MORE BOSSI’S BEST: The 10 most intriguing recruiting battles to watch | Projected NBA first-rounders who have surprised | The 10 toughest beats of the past five years | Teams most impacted by the NBA Draft Combine

1. Virginia – Drake London 

Why he’s a “must-get”: The more I see London play, the more I can’t help but think that Tony Bennett has a vision of Malcolm Brogdon 2.0 when he watches London. The physically tough, smart and rapidly improving London is the type of guy Bennett has turned into a star in the past. Also important here is that London is a high-level wide receiver recruit, as well, and wants to play both basketball and football. North Carolina wing Patrick Williams is another key target for the Cavaliers that is reaching “must-get” status.

The competition: Primarily the Pac-12, but most specifically USC and Oregon look to be the biggest competitors so far.


2. Villanova – Bryan Antoine 

Why he’s a “must-get”: A talented combo guard with size, skill and shot-making ability, Antoine looks like a great fit for Villanova. Jay Wright’s teams have been so good the past few years because of interchangeable parts, lots of shooters and knowing that they have an alpha personality to go to as a scorer, and Antoine would seem to fit that bill perfectly. Not to mention, the Jersey product is right in the Wildcats’ Mid- Atlantic recruiting wheelhouse.

The competition: Duke, Kentucky, Florida and Kansas round out Antoine’s final five.


3. Xavier – Harlond Beverly 

Why he’s a “must-get”: The Michigan scorer is somebody Xavier has spent a bunch of time with, and new head coach Travis Steele already had a great relationship with him while he was an assistant under Chris Mack. Steele and his staff have cast a pretty wide net in the 2019 class, but given all the factors, Beverly looks like their best chance to make a splash with a big-name target.

The competition: Beverly is still pretty wide open, and the high-scoring combo has others like Michigan State, Missouri, Louisville, USC, VCU, Northwestern, Ohio State and more in the mix.

4. Kansas – Jeremiah Robinson-Earl 

Why he’s a “must-get”: A skilled and aggressive power forward, Robinson-Earl looks like a perfect fit for Bill Self’s offense, and he would allow for more of a return to the high-low offense. Robinson-Earl is especially important if Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson leaves for the NBA after the 2018-19 season. On top of that, Robinson-Earl is a homegrown kid who was raised about 45 minutes from Allen Fieldhouse. Self has to love that he gets to coach Robinson-Earl this month on USA Basketball’s 18U National Team.

The competition: Arizona, Iowa, Kansas State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, UCLA, Wake Forest and others.


5. Michigan State – Keion Brooks 


Keion Brooks

Why he’s a “must-get: The Spartans should be in pretty good shape regardless of what happens in 2018-19 recruiting. Sure-shooting guard Josh Langford or big man Nick Ward could leave for the NBA after their junior seasons, but they are far from locks to leave early. Even so, a strong 2018 class has the Spartans covered across the board. Brooks stands out, though, because he is a skilled combo forward who can shoot and rebound that would give the Spartans some offensive kick and polish that they might not have in that spot.

The competition: Indiana and Kentucky look to be the main competition here, although Brooks’ top 10 also includes North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Georgetown, Purdue, Iowa and UCLA.


6. Cincinnati – Diante Smith 

Why he’s a “must-get”: The Bearcats always do a pretty good job of keeping their true intentions under wraps, but it’s hard to imagine that Smith isn’t a major target for them. The soon-to-be four-star wing is an athletic and attacking wing who fits the mold of guys who have had success for them in the past. They also have need for an impact wing player. I have to figure that they are eager to see Jacob Evans get drafted and use his development as a major selling point.

The competition: Smith was one of the hottest names of the spring evaluation period and has Auburn, Xavier, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, USF, Miami, TCU and many more chasing his services.


7. Michigan – D.J. Carton 

Why he’s a “must-get”: The Wolverines are already ahead of the game after landing their primary – and maybe most necessary – target in Jalen Wilson, a top 40 combo forward. Like in-state foe Michigan State, John Beilein has Michigan in good shape for 2019-20 regardless of who he does or doesn’t get, but Carton is as close to a “must-have” as there is. He’s got explosion, he’s a ball-mover and a year to learn under Zavier Simpson could be huge for his development.

The competition: Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State, Marquette and Xavier round out his top six.


8. Gonzaga – Drew Timme 

Why he’s a “must-get”: The Zags are another squad that is already in good shape with 2019 recruiting and roster stability. Already in the fold are a pair of in-state products in tough four-star combo forward Anton Watson and high-scoring, three-star point guard Brock Ravet. Who better to round things out with than a skilled big man like Texan Drew Timme? He can handle, he takes up space, he’s a great passer and he racks up points and rebounds.

The competition: Timme has been very cautious not top tip his hand and has Baylor, Illinois, Texas, Kansas State, Arizona, Oklahoma State, TCU, Purdue, Virginia, Florida, Ohio State and many more chasing him.

9. Duke – Vernon Carey Jr. 

Why he’s a “must-get”: As loaded as the Blue Devils 2018 recruiting class was, the one thing the class lacked was a great low-post scorer. The way things stand, they are looking lean on the interior for this season and beyond, so an impact guy like 2019’s current No. 1 player – and likely another big man, too – has got to be up there.

Some could say a point guard like Cole Anthony tops the list, but as good as freshman Tre Jones should be, he doesn’t look like a one-and-done, so Duke should be OK at the point whether they get Anthony or not. But if the Blue Devils miss on an impact big man for a second year in a row ,things could get interesting in Durham.

The competition: Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State and North Carolina round out Carey’s top five.


10. North Carolina – Armando Bacot 

Why he’s a “must-get”: Bacot isn’t the sleek, super-mobile big man that Roy Williams has loved to have in his big-man friendly system. But, Bacot is skilled, rebounds very well and while the Heels will still have size during Bacot’s freshman season, their lone skilled post scorer, Luke Maye, is going to be long gone. UNC is considered to be in great shape with Bacot early, which makes locking him up even more important.

The competition: Oklahoma State, Ohio State, VCU, Georgetown, Virginia and Virginia Tech are among the primary competition.


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Report: UConn alleges Ollie violated NCAA rules



UConn reportedly conducted an investigation into former basketball coach Kevin Ollie’s tenure and concluded that he violated NCAA rules, thereby justifying his termination without receiving the remaining $10 million on his contract.

According to documents obtained by the Hartford Courant under the Freedom of Information Act, the school alleges that Ollie set up a call between a recruit and former UConn player Ray Allen, shot baskets with a recruit on an official visit and was aware that three players were working with an outside trainer on campus — all NCAA violations.

In a letter to Ollie contained in the documents, UConn athletic director David Benedict wrote: “At the time of your hire, the importance of absolute compliance in running our men’s basketball program was stressed to you by president (Susan) Herbst and then-athletic director Warde Manuel. That makes the violations I … describe all the more troubling.”

In a statement to ESPN in March, Ollie said he fulfilled his obligation to promote an atmosphere of compliance throughout his tenure. Michael Bailey, the director of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement saying that UConn was employing a double standard by firing Ollie for cause while not dismissing other coaches, including Jim Calhoun, who were found to have violated NCAA rules.

Ollie, a former star for the Huskies and NBA veteran, coached UConn to the national title in 2014. But the Huskies missed the last two NCAA tournaments and he was fired in March. UConn finished 14-18 in Ollie’s final season.

ESPN’s Myron Medcalf contributed to this report.


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College & HS

Why Reid Travis is the one-and-done Kentucky needs



With Reid Travis announcing his decision to transfer to Kentucky, John Calipari’s squad is now the team to beat in college basketball. Yes, Kentucky has enjoyed an extensive stretch as a national title contender under Calipari, who has led the Wildcats to a national championship and four Final Four appearances.

But Travis, an All-Pac-12 forward from Stanford who averaged 19.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG last season, is a next-level addition who makes the Wildcats a threat against any opponent in the country.

Coaches in the Pac-12 expect him to dominate in the SEC.

When asked to describe Travis, immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, Cal’s Wyking Jones used one word: “BEAST!!!”

Travis is the catalyst behind our decision to move Kentucky to No. 1 in our Way-Too-Early Top 25.

“He’s a kid that you played against that you had an unbelievable amount of respect for because he was competitive, tough and really good,” said Jones via text.

Kentucky was previously No. 3 in our poll, anchored by the return of PJ Washington (10.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG), a tenacious big man who showed promise at the NBA draft combine, and the arrival of ESPN’s No. 2 recruiting class. Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson are all five-star wings. Quade Green and Nick Richards return.

E.J. Montgomery, a five-star big man, Washington and Travis could form the nation’s best frontcourt.

Lorenzo Romar, now head coach at Pepperdine, was an assistant at Arizona last year when Travis averaged 21.5 PPG and 10.0 RPG in two games against Deandre Ayton and the Wildcats.

“He’s really good,” Romar said. “He’s very strong. He has very good footwork from 17 feet and in.”

Travis, by all accounts, is one of the strongest men in college basketball, too.

“He is impossible to guard one-on-one at the college level,” said one Pac-12 assistant. “He imposes his will offensively, gets to the strong hand and physically dominates opponents. He’s a great college player. It’s a huge loss for the Pac-12.”

There is more to Travis, however, and his decision.

This is a young man who was a five-star recruit but has never made the NCAA tournament at Stanford. His numbers alone weren’t enough to elevate a team that struggled to surround him with sufficient talent some years and wrestled with injuries in others.

At Kentucky, Travis will be the powerful centerpiece of a team with national championship ambitions.

He can also be a key voice for a young team. Calipari’s greatest challenges with his teams in the last two years were attached to a lack of vocal leadership in the locker room. But Travis is a veteran who has to win now. The young Wildcats will follow him and respond to his sense of urgency and work ethic.

Travis fought back from a leg injury that cost him 22 games during the 2015-16 season. He averaged 17.4 PPG the following season.

When he couldn’t find a solution for his troubling free-throw challenges, he used a virtual-reality simulator, which implemented crowd noise and other distractions, to help him improve.

He made 68 percent of his free throws last season. Not impressed? Well, he made 46 percent of his free throws during his freshman season.

That’s who Calipari just added to his roster.

Travis is a young man who earned this moment. He won’t squander it.

And the team Travis now leads could follow him to Minneapolis, his hometown, for the Final Four.

That might sound like a fairy tale. But everything about this intriguing Kentucky team is real.


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College & HS

Impact transfer boosts Kentucky to No. 1



A few weeks ago, we told you the NBA draft early entry withdrawal deadline had solidified the preseason hierarchy of the 2018-19 college basketball season.

There was always a chance that a transfer or an unfortunate injury could alter the landscape, but we figured we knew enough about every team’s roster to project a solid list of preseason rankings.

Then, Reid Travis, an all-Pac 12 forward who averaged 19.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG at Stanford last season, announced that he’s transferring to Kentucky, where he’ll be immediately eligible to compete for the Wildcats in 2018-19.

That changes things.

Although one move is not typically enough to make us update the Way-Too-Early Top 25, this is different, so we’re rearranging the top of the rankings to account for a New No. 1.

1. Kentucky

Previous rank: No. 3

The arrival of Reid Travis gives Kentucky one of the nation’s top big men, a player who recorded 16 double-doubles last season, but has not played with the elite athletes he’ll join in Lexington.

The former five-star recruit might be the strongest player in college basketball. He’s a force around the rim who made 56 percent of his shots inside the arc. He’ll play next to PJ Washington, who averaged 10.8 PPG and 5.7 RPG last season, to form America’s top frontcourt. Five-star big man E.J. Montgomery is in the mix, too.

With the fleet of high-level guards John Calipari will have on his roster, this lineup could resemble the North Carolina team that won the national title in 2017 by essentially grabbing every offensive rebound in sight and bullying opponents in the paint.

The presence of Travis will make life much easier for Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Keldon Johnson — all five-star wings — and returnee Quade Green.

The Wildcats boast a veteran, proven big man, an athletic frontcourt and talented wings on what will be the most intriguing Kentucky roster since Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Devin Booker all played together during the 2014-15 season.

2. Kansas

Previous rank: No. 1

Bill Self will boast one of the nation’s most potent frontcourts in 2018-19 with Udoka Azubuike and Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson (19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 2016-17) in his starting rotation. Self has been successful at Kansas when he has multiple big, talented bodies around the rim, dating back to the Jayhawks’ national championship team in 2008 which featured Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson alongside guards Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers.

Lawson’s presence will allow Azubuike to focus on doing the dirty work on both ends of the floor that pushed the Jayhawks into the Final Four last season. Self will also pair Cal transfer Charlie Moore (12.2 PPG, 1.1 SPG in 2016-17) with five-star recruits Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. K.J. Lawson, Dedric’s brother, will also give the Jayhawks another proven talent.

3. Duke

Previous rank: No. 2

Duke knew the players they would lose soon after the NCAA tournament, which allowed time to assess the arrivals of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish — ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the 2018 class — months before they don the blue and white for Mike Krzyzewski.

We have questions. How will Duke use Williamson? How will Reddish and Barrett share the ball? Can freshman Tre Jones — the younger, more athletic brother of Tyus Jones, who won Most Outstanding Player during Duke’s run to the 2015 national title — run the show?

Remember, however, these are all “Do I drive the Maserati or the Porsche to work today” questions. This is a disastrous assignment for any opposing coach. Duke will be a force. Again.

4. Gonzaga

Previous rank: No. 5

Mark Few knew what he had long before Wednesday’s deadline after both Killian Tillie, who missed Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss to Florida State with a hip injury, and Rui Hachimura, the versatile 6-foot-8 specimen, both announced their returns shortly after the season ended.

If Tillie stays healthy and makes 48 percent of his 3-pointers again, he’ll find a spot in the NBA. And Hachimura is a jump shot away from a lucrative future as a pro. Zach Norvell Jr. (12.7 PPG) is a West Coast Conference Player of the Year candidate. Few will also have Brandon Clarke, who averaged 17.5 PPG for San Jose State in 2016-17.

This is one of the most athletic teams Few has had. Likely WCC champs? Yep. National title contender? Yep. You’re not surprised. This is what the Zags do.

5. Tennessee

Previous rank: No. 6

Kudos to Admiral Schofield for exploring his pro prospects by entering the draft before making the right decision to return to Knoxville to chase a first Final Four appearance in school history. The Vols are stacked and ready to defend the SEC title they shared with Auburn in 2017-18.

Schofield will pair with SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams (15.2 PPG) to form one of the nation’s top duos.

We know the Vols will defend well — they ranked in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency last year — and Rick Barnes reminded doubters he’s still one of the game’s elite coaches with his effort last year. Things are trending up for Tennessee.

6. Nevada

Previous rank: No. 9

While Nevada awaited monumental decisions from Caleb Martin (18.9 PPG), Jordan Caroline (17.7 PPG) and Cody Martin (14.0 PPG) — the top three scorers from a team that averaged 83.0 PPG last season — Eric Musselman received a commitment from 6-10 Jordan Brown, ranked No. 31 in 2018.

Good news. Then, Caroline announced his return. Wonderful news. The return of the Martin twins? The best news. They’re a pair of 6-foot-7 wings who chose to come back to pursue a national championship and become legends in Nevada basketball history.

Grad transfers Ehab Amin (Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and Trey Porter (Old Dominion) enhance this team’s depth. Nevada might be the most exciting team in America next season.

7. Virginia

Previous rank: No. 7

Was that necessary? The UMBC Event Center now possesses a giant banner that commemorates UMBC’s historic win over Virginia, the first 1-seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a 16-seed. The Cavaliers may never rid themselves of the shame, but they’re back again as a national title contender.

Here’s a crazy prediction: Virginia will finish the year within the top 10 in defensive efficiency. And Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Jack Salt and a healthy De’Andre Hunter, the program’s best NBA prospect since Malcolm Brogdon, will put together another impressive win tally, snatch a great seed in the tourney and, well, we’ll see what happens after that.

8. North Carolina

Previous rank: No. 8

The return of Cameron Johnson (12.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) gives the Tar Heels a seasoned star to replace the on-court leadership of Joel Berry II, who led the team to the national title in 2017. Johnson can help bolster his professional prospects (his 3-point shooting success rate dropped from 42 percent to 34 percent last season) as well as UNC’s goal of pursuing another national title.

The Tar Heels will have the pieces to snatch a fourth ring for Roy Williams. Three of the team’s top four scorers will return. Luke Maye, who was quietly the most important stay-or-go player not named Donte DiVincenzo, will start next season as a preseason All-American. Coby White is a five-star point guard. Nassir Little, a 6-7 wing ranked No. 10 in 2018, earned MVP honors in the McDonald’s All American Game.

A top-10 recruiting class and the return of two All-ACC-caliber players should position the Tar Heels to compete for another title in both the ACC and NCAA tournament.

9. Michigan State

Previous rank: No. 10

Michigan State coaches wondered if Nick Ward would make the best decision and come back for one more season. He did. That helps Tom Izzo, who has navigated turnover as well as any team in the Big Ten.

Ward (12.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG) can compete for Big Ten Player of the Year next season with Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. He’ll lead a unit that also features guard Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 49.7 percent from beyond the arc). Michigan State averaged 1.20 points per possession and made 42.7 percent of its 3-pointers with Winston on the court last season, according to

You can’t replace Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. They’re unique talents. But Marcus Bingham is an ESPN 100, 6-foot-9 big man who will work with Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins to form a strong frontcourt and back a Big Ten contender.

10. Villanova

Previous rank: No. 2

Donte DiVincenzo made the smart decision to stay in the draft after earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the Final Four and excelling at the combine. And you can’t blame Omari Spellman for chasing his dreams in a league that salivates over athletic big men who can stretch the floor.

Their departures change our assessment of Villanova, a team that had a chance to win its third national title in four years had those two returned. Still, Jay Wright will put out a winning team. Double-figure scorers Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are back. Collin Gillespie (39.4 percent from the 3-point line) is the next “Where’d he come from?” candidate on a team with a habit of promoting previously anonymous young shooters.

Don’t forget the introduction of five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly. Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo (17.8 PPG) is in the mix now, too.

11. Auburn

Previous rank: No. 11

Yes, Bruce Pearl lost a few key players off a squad that shared the SEC championship. But the drama is over for the Tigers, who move forward with a collection of talent that’s still among the best in the country.

Austin Wiley, who missed last season due to his connection to the FBI bribery probe, tested the NBA waters but ultimately withdrew. Mustapha Heron (16.4 PPG), the team’s leading scorer, entered the draft but withdrew and decided to transfer. That’s a significant loss, but Bryce Brown and Jared Harper will both return.

Desean Murray, the team’s leading rebounder, decided to leave and compete elsewhere as a grad transfer next season. But Danjel Purifoy, who also missed last season due to the FBI probe, is set to return and Anfernee McLemore should bounce back from a serious leg injury at some point next season. The Tigers will vie for the SEC title in 2018-19.

12. Kansas State

Previous rank: No. 12

The records never matter whenever Kansas and rival Kansas State compete in the Sunflower Showdown. But this year’s edition of the series could impact the Big 12 title hunt.

Coming off an Elite Eight appearance, the Wildcats, who lost to just one team outside’s top 50 last season, will try to block KU’s attempt to extend its record-breaking streak of conference titles.

Bruce Weber has finished outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency just three times in a 17-year coaching career. He’ll have another elite defensive squad along with Barry Brown, who wisely withdrew from the NBA draft.

13. West Virginia

Previous rank: No. 13

West Virginia has finished first or second in defensive turnover rate for the past four seasons, a streak that aligns with the presence of guard 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. Both Konate and Ahmad withdrew from the NBA draft — good for the Mountaineers, bad for the Big 12.

The Mountaineers won’t 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.

14. Virginia Tech

Previous rank: No. 14

Virginia Tech only lasted for a game in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments, which wasn’t the ending Buzz Williams anticipated. In wins over Virginia, North Carolina and Duke last season, however, the Hokies showcased their potential. Now it’s time to ask if they can take the next step after last year’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.

15. Oregon

Previous rank: No. 15

Dana Altman lost Troy Brown Jr., a first-round draft prospect, but multiple key players, including top scorer Payton Pritchard (14.5 PPG), return.

Plus, Altman brings in the third-ranked recruiting class, a group that includes five-star prospects Bol Bol and Louis King. Bol was only four blocks short of a triple-double in the Nike Hoop Summit last month. The 7-foot-2 athlete and top center prospect in his class is a breathtaking talent.

Altman will have the brand of lengthy athletes that helped him reach the Final Four in 2017. Last year’s team never found that rhythm. Bol could, however, turn this program into a Pac-12 power and NCAA tournament squad again.

16. Syracuse

Previous rank: No. 16

To enter next season as a top-25 team and ACC sleeper, Jim Boeheim needed Tyus Battle (19.2 PPG), who climbed the mock draft boards via his fabulous effort throughout the NCAA tournament, to come back for another season. On Wednesday, Battle announced his return. And now Cuse fans can begin to think about next season.

What if Battle, Oshae Brissett (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG) and Frank Howard help the Orange start the 2018-19 season the way they ended 2017-18 (with wins over Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State in the NCAA tournament)? A strong opening chapter would make Cuse fans forget Darius Bazley picked the G League over a year with Boeheim.

17. Michigan

Previous rank: No. 17

Charles Matthews (13.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG), who announced his return Wednesday, is a 6-foot-6 athlete who can play multiple positions and made 55 percent of his shots inside the arc. He’s capable of taking the next step in his offensive game as the centerpiece of John Beilein’s attack.

With Matthews, the Wolverines will again play an aggressive defensive style. Worried about the departure of Mo Wagner? We get it. He was a star. But throughout the postseason, the Wolverines remained an astute and impressive defensive unit whenever Wagner was on the bench (0.87 points per possession allowed, according to That’s why they’re here.

Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson also come back to a Michigan team that took a 13-game win streak into the Final Four. Plus, a top-20 recruiting class features standout Ignas Brazdeikis, a promising perimeter player.

18. Florida State

Previous rank: No. 20

Terance Mann was a star in Florida State’s Sweet 16 win over Gonzaga (18 points). He’s one of the young pieces FSU will bring back next season.

Leonard Hamilton’s squad had only a handful of bad losses in 2017-18 and it finished 9-9 in a strong ACC. The Seminoles should improve in 2018-19, now that the NCAA has granted Phil Cofer (12.8 PPG) a sixth season of eligibility after he missed the bulk of the 2015-16 campaign due to injury.

C.J. Walker’s decision to transfer hurts FSU’s prospects but there is still a respectable ceiling for this team, which deserves more hype after its Elite Eight run.

19. Loyola-Chicago

Previous rank: No. 18

Loyola-Chicago received 43 votes in the final AP Top 25 poll. 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 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 lost key seniors Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson and Ben Richardson. But the trio of returning leaders proved their worth in the NCAA tournament.

Plus, the Ramblers will rack up a bunch of victories in the Missouri Valley Conference and impress voters all year.

20. Clemson

Previous rank: No. 19

Remember when Brad Brownell was on the hot seat? That’s in the past. With three of the top five scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team — Marcquise Reed (15.8 PPG), Shelton Mitchell (12.2 PPG) and Elijah Thomas (10.7 PPG) — set to return, the Tigers can build on last season’s surprising finish.

If Clemson can play top-10 defense again, the Tigers could rise to the top tier of the ACC and spend more time in the NCAA tournament this time around.

21. LSU

Previous rank: No. 21

Will Wade might have the surprise team of 2018-19. Yes, the Tigers finished 8-10 in the SEC and lost to Stephen F. Austin and other non-tournament teams. But Tremont Waters (15.9 PPG, 6.0 APG) is a scary talent on a young team that should improve.

Plus, Waters will have a five-star frontcourt with incoming freshmen Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, the top stars of a fifth-ranked recruiting class, along with Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams. Not sure you can find a more intriguing group in the SEC.

22. Mississippi State

Previous rank: 22

During the NIT, Ben Howland’s squad beat Nebraska, Baylor and Louisville (by 23 points) — three legitimate bubble teams on Selection Sunday — before losing to Penn State in the semifinals.

Aric Holman, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters — three of the top four scorers from last season — all entered the NBA draft without hiring agents. All three will return this season, joined by point guard Nick Weatherspoon (10.8 PPG).

So the best players on a 25-win team will join a top-20 recruiting class led by power forward Reggie Perry (No. 27 in ESPN 100). Sounds like Howland might have an SEC sleeper in 2018-19.

23. TCU

Previous rank: No. 23

You can define TCU’s season as before and after Jaylen Fisher. With Fisher sidelined by a season-ending knee injury, the Horned Frogs finished 8-8 over the final 16 games of the season. They crawled into the NCAA tournament but never reached their ceiling without the 6-2 point guard.

He’s back in 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.

24. Butler

Previous rank: No. 24

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 and returns alongside Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott. Butler will also add Duke transfer Jordan Tucker, who will be eligible in December after the first semester.

Jordan, the second-youngest coach to lead a team to the NCAA tournament last season, should lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament with this underrated group.

25. Purdue

Previous rank: No. 25

The NBA isn’t desperate to find more 6-1 point guards, which is why Carsen Edwards‘ decision to enter the draft always felt more like a learning opportunity than a career move. The sophomore who led Purdue with 18.5 PPG is back for his junior season. That’s why Purdue earned top-25 consideration after losing the strongest senior class in America.

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.


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