These teams may have a lot of question marks on paper right now. But whether it’s because of a program’s winning track record or a coach’s knack for developing talent, they should still win a bunch of games in 2018-19.
Here are some schools who fit the description.
Villanova lost Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to the NBA in the offseason. That’s a ton of talent. They were the four best players on the Wildcats’ national championship team.
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And yet, Villanova is ranked ninth in the preseason AP Poll despite only welcoming one highly-touted freshman in Jahvon Quinerly. As it should be. Bridges and DiVincenzo were afterthoughts when they got to Villanova; they left as stars. It’s hard to find a Wildcat player in the last five years who didn't exceed recruiting expectations. That’s the ultimate compliment to Jay Wright.
He has Phil Booth and Eric Paschall returning. Quinerly could be a stud, and Joe Cremo is a highly-regarded transfer. That said, this still doesn’t look like a top 10 team on paper, but Wright has given us every reason to believe Villanova will be just fine this year.
Yes, the other team that played in the national championship game. Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson are gone, but Michigan should still have a good season.
Remember, the Wolverines weren’t expected to do what they did last year. They started off 7-3, which is fine, but isn’t quite what you’d expect from an eventual national runner up. John Beilein was able to put together his best defense at Michigan down the stretch.
Despite all that the Wolverines lost, some talent returns. Charles Matthews should have a monster year. Jordan Poole is skilled and, let's just say, very confident. That’s a fun combination. Some players who aren’t even on our radar will pop, because that’s just what happens at Michigan.
The Wolverines could struggle early on, but look for Beilein to have it rolling by February.
Mike White is one of the best young coaches in the country, and despite losing Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov, the Gators should have a nice year.
The top of the SEC is stacked, with Kentucky and Tennessee leading the way. But Florida could surprise some people and finish third. Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen (a candidate for a bounce back year) form a lethal wing scoring duo, and White is an innovator on both sides of the ball. Florida plays small and shoots a lot of 3s on offense. The defense is flexible; the Gators can switch or pressure foes on pick-and-rolls depending on their personnel.
The Gators have won four NCAA tournament games in the last two years. There’s not a ton of hype in Gainesville this season, but you’ll be seeing them in March again.
Can Carsen Edwards fit into an offensive system? Absolutely. We saw it last year. But how much fun would it be to watch him run wild?
Edwards may have a chance to do so this year with Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards leaving. The Purdue point guard is one of the craftiest shot-makers in the game; he averaged 18.5 points on 40.6 percent 3-point shooting as a sophomore. Edwards has a real chance to approach 25 per game as a junior.
Matt Painter is also an excellent coach. It’s hard to doubt the Painter-Edwards duo. Purdue teams are always sound defensively and take the right kinds of shots on offense; a lot of 3s and a lot of attempts deep in the paint.
Purdue will need other guys to emerge behind Edwards. Matt Haarms is already a beast defensively, but his offense has to come along. The Boilermakers may not be as good as they were last year, but they’ll compete for a Big Ten championship.
Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are gone, as is Chris Mack. But it’s hard to argue with Xavier’s recent track record.
The Musketeers hired an internal replacement in Travis Steele, and the consistency since 2000 has been remarkable. They’ve made the NCAA tournament the last five years, 12 of the last 13, and 16 of the last 18.
Xavier isn’t the only Big East team with uncertainty, either, hence why there are three teams from the league on this list. The Musketeers don’t bring much back on paper, but there’s reason to like some of their pieces. Naji Marshall looks like he could blossom into a two-way terror. Paul Scruggs flashed in limited minutes last year. Someone will probably emerge from nowhere.
It’s a bridge year for Xavier, but that doesn’t mean it will drop off a cliff.
Cincinnati’s overall success has been downplayed because of a few NCAA tournament losses, but the Bearcats have been really, really good the last two seasons. They’ve won a combined 61 games in that span.
Jarron Cumberland, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome return, which is enough to stay afloat despite losing Jacob Evans, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington. The AAC is a toss-up this season. NCAA.com’s Andy Katz predicts UCF to win the league. He may be right, but UCF has a lot of question marks itself. The Bearcats are still the team to beat with Wichita State, SMU and UConn rebuilding.
Cronin has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the regular season. How far will this team advance in March, though? Time will tell.
Butler may have only lost two starters, but one of them was Kelan Martin. Martin was quietly one of the best players in the country last year, averaging 21.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. And Butler was reliant on its stars; Martin and Kamar Baldwin combined to average 36.9 points per game. On some nights, they were the only Bulldogs who could create quality shots.
But Butler always seems to find a way to outperform preseason expectations. Duke transfer Jordan Tucker will be eligible for the second semester of the season to slide into Martin’s role. Baldwin has sneaky Big East Player of the Year potential, and this team has shooters to surround him with in Sean McDermott and Paul Jorgensen.
Tucker will be key here. Baldwin may have to carry an unreasonably heavy offensive load until he’s eligible. But if Butler can manage those games without him, it should finish close to where it did last year.
8) Ohio State
Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Andrew Dakich and Kam Williams are out. But Chris Holtmann might be the most underrated coach in the country.
Ohio State wasn’t supposed to do much of anything last season. It was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten in the preseason poll. The Buckeyes wound up going 25-9 and reaching the Round of 32. Bates-Diop blossomed into a legitimate Naismith candidate after a few inconsistent college seasons.
Holtmann did the same type of stuff at Butler. The Bulldogs’ program was in danger of spiraling when he took over for Brandon Miller. Butler would earn a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament in his first season. Holtmann maximizes what he has, and Ohio State welcomes in some talented transfers and freshmen. The Buckeyes will likely dance once again.