Knightlife College Basketball Preseason Top 25

Knighlife College Basketball Preseason Top 25
By: Tycen Gray
Top 25 (AP Poll Ranking in Parentheses)

  1. Duke (4)

I’m buying in on the unity of the youth on this year’s Blue Devil squad. Top recruit from the 2018 class RJ Barrett is a complete basketball player that is silky smooth. 2018 recruits Tre Jones and Cam Reddish are also athletic, heady basketball players that will create nightmares for other teams. Also, who in the realm of college basketball can guard the 6’7” 285-pound athletic freak beast that is Zion Williamson?
2. Kansas (1)
Kansas is the heavy favorite across the board to win the national title. They return 7-footer Udoka Azubuike and swingman Lagerald Vick. In addition, twin point-forward transfers Dedric and KJ Lawson are eligible, along with point guard Charlie Moore. They also brought in 5-star guard prospects Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson to contribute to the team. This team is EASILY the most talented in the land, but the concern is how well will these transfers and young guys mesh as they battle for supremacy on the floor?
3. Kentucky (2)
The word around town is that this is John Calipari’s best team since the 2015 squad that went 38-1 a few seasons ago. Kentucky roped in the brick house graduate transfer that is Reid Travis, and ties him into a squad that already returns Nick Richards, PJ Washington, and Quade Green. Freshmen Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro have bolstered the strength of the Wildcats’ backcourt, and now Calipari has the right mix of youth and veteran presence to make a serious run at a national title.
4. Nevada (7)
I am ALL IN on the Nevada Wolfpack this season. The head coach, Eric Musselman, has professional basketball coaching experience, and he will coach up some future pros on this year’s assembly. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin are 6’7” wings that can run 1-4, along with the long 6’7” Jordan Caroline. The missing piece that Musselman was able to acquire was a 6’11” 2018 McDonald’s All-American in Jordan Brown. Reno will be bumping all year long with a national title contender on their hands.
5. Gonzaga (3)
Zaga returns Josh Perkins at point guard, and also the versatile frontcourt that is Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie. The Bulldogs will be really, really good this year, but I am just not quite as high on them as other people are. I question their talent and depth on the wings.
6. North Carolina (8)
College basketball fans across the country have gotten so used to North Carolina being a big, tough, rebound and post heavy basketball team year in and year out. Soon we all will have to get ourselves accustomed to the small ball attack that the Tar Heels will dominate with this year. Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman will be a revolving door at center, but they may not need them at all. All-American candidate Luke Maye and Cam Johnson will serve as the small frontcourt for UNC, as they place freshman phenom Nassir Little along Kenny Williams and fellow rookie Coby White in the backcourt. The 3-ball will be prevalent in Chapel Hill this season.
7. Tennessee (6)
The regular season SEC champions return all five starters as Rick Barnes is bringing basketball haven to Knoxville. SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams, will continue to be a tough matchup night in and night out, along with the buffest wing in the NCAA in Admiral Schofield. This team could very well be the best defensive unit in the nation, and can carry it deep into the tournament.
8. Virginia (5)
Speaking of defense, here is last year’s top defense. However, it seemed to disappear in their last game of the season, as they became the first 1-seed to lost to a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament (thanks for ruining my bracket UMBC). In hindsight, they were without De’Andre Hunter in that matchup, who is easily the best player on Virginia’s team. Mix him with returning starters Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Jack Salt, and there is certainly enough here to avenge history.
9. Villanova (9)
The reigning NCAA champions lost their four top scorers from that championship squad, and will take an inevitable step back. Regardless, Jay Wright is the currently the best coach in college basketball, plain and simple. He returns inside-out power house Eric Paschall alongside an electric veteran guard in Phil Booth. Top 10 recruit Jahvon Quinerly, a staple of the #JellyFam, will be the floor general for a team that is still oozing with talent and potential.
10. Auburn (11)
Auburn was hit hard by injuries last year, yet still managed to get a 4-seed in the dance. The Tigers lose a massive piece, Mustapha Heron, to the transfer wire but they bring back some players from the injured list. Bryce Brown and Danjel Purifoy return for Bruce Pearl, as well as a healthy pair of center Austin Wiley and wing Anfernee McLemore. Auburn will prove to be slightly better than last year’s campaign
11. Kansas State (12)
Here is another team that returns all five of their starters and look to build upon a surprising run to the Elite Eight in March. Kamau Stokes and and Barry Brown Jr.  run the show in the backcourt, as St. Louis product Xavier Sneed and Dean Wade will continue to be inside-out threats in the front court. Depending on Bruce Weber, this team can exceed expectations again.
12. Syracuse (16)
Oh hey, another veteran team finding ways to bolster its 2018-19 first impression. This team is tall and long, and even that does not do them justice. The Orange will throw out a starting lineup of 6’5”, 6’6”, 6’8”, 6’10” and 7’2”. By the way, they all have incredible wingspans and all were starters last season. The notorious Syracuse 2-3 zone will give teams insurmountable amounts of headaches every night, and the offense will be spearheaded by three perimeter players who are all pro prospects: Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett.
13. Oregon (14)
With anticipation of being the best team in the PAC-12, Oregon is also touted as one of the most intriguing teams in the nation, and they hold lots of excitement around them. They have acquired two extremely long freshmen in 7’2” Bol Bol and 6’9” Louis King. Both are skinny players that are versatile and super-skilled. They will create a trio with returning point guard Payton Pritchard, who might be the best player in the conference. The sky is truly the limit for Dana Altman and his Ducks.
14. Virginia Tech (15)
Buzz Williams brings back a well-rounded machine in the Virginia Tech Hokies. Guards Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will take the load of the scoring, along with contributions from the ever so versatile Chris Clarke. Virginia Tech will most certainly be competing for a conference title in the ACC.
15. Michigan State (10)
Bouncing back from the losses of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. will be extremely tough for Michigan State, but never underestimate Tom Izzo, especially when he has a point guard like Cassius Winston. Izzo also has a couple of capable scorers on the outside in Matt McQuaid and Joshua Langford. Nick Ward is a huge physical presence in the paint, and the Spartans should definitely be looking at a Big 10 title in a weaker conference this year.
16. West Virginia (13)
Bob Huggins will not bring a cease to the Press Virginia movement anytime soon, but he will have to work with some different guards this year. Esa Ahmad and shot-blocking sensation Sagaba Konate will anchor the frontcourt, while James Bolden will step into a bigger role along with freshman Jordan McCabe, a top 100 guy who was a YouTube sensation at 12 years old with his mind-boggling handles. Bob Huggins will push this team to a load of wins, but a Final Four could be a stretch.
17. Florida State (17)
Florida State has a bevy of really good Three-And-D guys: Phil Cofer, Trent Forrest, PJ Savoy, Terance Mann, MJ Walker. Throw in 7’4” Christ Koumadje to protect the basket and you have a group of well-rounded veterans playing really good basketball. Florida State lacks a true star to be reliable when they need it, which could really bring the team down. However, this could be quite the shallow ranking when it is all said and done.
18. UCLA (21)
UCLA would be even higher on the list had it not been for the season-ending condition and injury to freshmen Shareef O’Neal and Tyger Campbell. With that being said, UCLA still has a three-headed monster on the outside with Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, and Prince Ali. Add freshmen Moses Brown in the middle, a big body that can also step outside, and you have a very dangerous team on your hands. Just imagine next year when O’Neal and Campbell come back.
19. LSU (23)
LSU looks prime to finally living up to the hype they have received in years past. Sophomore sensation Tremont Water is back to hit big-time shots and take over games. LSU also brings in two high-caliber recruits in Ja’vonte Smart and an athletic, versatile big man in Naz Reid. Also, Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams will patrol the middle to create a squad that has incredible potential.
20. Washington (25)
Mike Hopkins is the heart and soul of this basketball team, and he is the head coach. Hopkins has a great mix of length, scoring, and defense from this squad who is without a true star. It is only right that a Jim Boeheim disciple would institute a 2-3 zone, and Washington will certainly give a high-octane conference fits with their zone.
21. Michigan (19)
Michigan brings back a very solid lineup of Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, Isaiah Livers, and Jon Teske. Losing Mo Wagner to the NBA and Muhammad -Ali Abdur-Rahkman to graduation will hurt this team. However, Jon Beilein is a top tier coach in the nation and will push this team, which could be slept on, a long way.
22. Marquette (NR)
There are two national consensuses on the Marquette Golden Eagles. Number one: They can flat out put the biscuit in the basket. Number two: They play no defense. Personally, I believe they will take the defensive criticism to heart and work hard to fix that. Whether they have the athletes to turn it around will be the question, as Markus Howard and Sam Hauser will get their share on offense.
23. Florida (NR)
Florida is supremely underrated in the national eye. They certainly lost a scrappy, true floor general in Chris Chiozza and three-point specialist Egor Koulechov. However, they still have veteran guard KeVaughn Allen and more than capable pieces in Mike Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Keyontae Johnson, Gorjak Gak, Kevarrius Hayes, Dontay Bassett, Deaundre Ballard, and Keith Stone. The Gators will be deep, athletic, and just fine this season.
24. Mississippi State (18)
Mississippi State plays a slow style of basketball that focuses on getting to the rim. The Bulldogs have steller guards in the Weatherspoon brothers and Lamar Peters on the perimeter, along with a long presence Abdul Ado. Ben Howland will control the games and set his players up for success.
25. St. John’s (NR)
How is St. John’s only receiving three votes in the AP Poll???? They have a Preseason All-American in point guard Shamorie Ponds and they bring in a big-time transfer on the wing from Auburn, Mustapha Heron. Chris Mullin is also in a “prove it” season now that there is some potential around this team, the Red Storm faithful are looking for some fireworks. I am waiting for them too.