The early-entry deadline is over. Rosters can now be set. And so, too, can a new preseason Power 36. This is a projection of teams that have the goods to be in the field in 2020. Of course, it’s not the 36 at-large pool since there will be automatic qualifiers. But this is our list of the Power 36 teams that could potentially be in the next NCAA tournament:
1. Michigan State: The Spartans have the preseason Big Ten Player of the year in Cassius Winston back at the point. The depth is in place at every position. Watch Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry become stars this season.
2. Kentucky: The Wildcats now have an experienced lead guard in Ashton Hagans and got a huge boost with the return of bigs Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery. John Calipari will have depth and another shot at a Final Four.
3. Duke: The Blue Devils have an elite recruiting class yet again. But the most important recruit was getting Tre Jones to come back. Javin DeLaurier will have even more of a significant role and should shine. The Blue Devils will have one of the best point guards at both ends of the court. This freshmen class won’t have the hype of last season but will need to have as much impact (see: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt).
4. Memphis: Penny Hardaway got the top recruiting class in the country. The Tigers are loaded led by James Wiseman. The question for Memphis is the same one that dogged Duke and Kentucky at times recently is the lack of experience late in the season or in the NCAA tournament. Memphis will need to get there first and win the AAC. But it’s all obtainable.
5. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lost a lottery pick in Jarrett Culver. But don’t fret. Texas Tech is now a legit program that will continue to be in the mix. Look for break out seasons from players like Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards. The Red Raiders’ defense will keep them in position to make another run. Tech may be too high amid this list. And that’s fine. But I’ve been burned by sleeping on Texas Tech the last two seasons!
6. Virginia: The Cavaliers won the title and naturally lost multiple players to early entry in Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter. But the Cavaliers will defend like they always do and the core of Kihei Clark, Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite make the Cavaliers still an ACC title contender and a threat to go far.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates got Myles Powell back and that means they have one of the best shooters/big shot makers in the country. Kevin Willard has plenty of options on the perimeter, the bigs to finish and the chip after falling flat in the NCAA tournament. The Hall will wear the target well of being the front runner in the Big East.
8. Kansas: The Jayhawks could have the most intimidating frontcourt in the country with Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa. Getting Devon Dotson (Quentin Grimes is transferring) will allow KU to have the necessary experience on the perimeter. If this team stays healthy then they will be in the chase for a Final Four berth.
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9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels landed Cole Anthony, arguably one of the most impactful incoming freshmen. Leaky Black could be ready for a breakthrough. Getting more reps for Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Robinson means UNC will be a team to watch much more in the ACC. Pay attention once this team starts to mesh.
10. Louisville: The Cardinals got the news they needed when Jordan Nwora and Stephen Enoch announced they were returning. Both can become highly productive yet again in the ACC. Chris Mack has this team playing with purpose, passion and pride. If Ryan McMahon can continue to be a knock down shooter, too, then the Cardinals should have the pieces for a monster March.
11. Maryland: The Terps have an experienced lead guard in Anthony Cowan Jr. — a must to compete for the Big Ten title — and one of the top rising bigs in Jalen Smith. Mark Turgeon had a terrific crew last season that was going to get better. Keep an eye on the improvement of Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins. Losing Bruno Fernando is a big loss around the rim, but there is plenty left to mount a Final Four run.
12. Florida: Mike White has done an outstanding job of keeping the Gators as a legit SEC contender. Andrew Nembhard’s decision to return gives the Gators one of the top lead guards in the country. He’s a big-shot maker. Keyontae Johnson will be one of the rising stars. This team defends well and will be in the mix throughout the season.
13. Gonzaga: The Zags knew they were going to lose Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. Zach Norvell’s decision to stay in the draft came as a bit of a surprise. But getting Killian Tillie back for his senior season is a monster pickup. If Tillie can stay healthy then the Zags will have sensational stretch shooter. Corey Kispert is ready for a breakout season. Filip Petrusev can be a major factor, too. The arrival of Oumar Ballo is being celebrated and transfer Admon Gilder, too. The key will be who can be the leader at the point without Josh Perkins. Expect the Zags to be in the thick of a chase for a high seed in March.
14. Villanova: The Wildcats will take some time to absorb losing the experience of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. But come on, this is Nova and the Wildcats won’t drop. Collin Gillespie is ready to be the next leader at the point. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels could be on the verge of being stars. Cole Swider is ready for a break out season, too. Landing a top-five recruiting class will keep the Wildcats in the chase, as well. Depth won’t be an issue next season.
15. Xavier: The chase for the Big East title will include Xavier. The Musketeers were one of the hottest teams in the league in the final month last season. Naji Marshall is one of the top scorers that gets little national pub. The sleeper pickup is grad transfer Jason Carter from Ohio. He’s a scorer who can come in and help the Musketeers immediately.
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16. Purdue: Yes, I know, Carsen Edwards is gone. And yes he could do a bit of everything for the Boilermakers. Yes, Ryan Cline was special during the NCAA tournament. But Matt Painter has the goods to keep his program in the chase for a Big Ten top three finish. Expect Trevion Williams to be a force inside along with Matt Haarms, giving the Boilermakers an extremely difficult tandem. Aaron Wheeler has the chance to be a stud on the perimeter. And Nojel Eastern is already one of the top defenders in the country.
17. Baylor: The Bears have a player that is getting overlooked who could end up as a Big 12 player of the year and his name is Tristan Clark. He was the Bears’ best player before he got hurt last season. He’ll be back and should be a scoring machine for the Bears. Losing the big-shot making of Makai Mason stings but Baylor will have the length, athleticism and defenders to make them a tough matchup.
18. Ohio State: Kaleb Wesson’s decision to return gives the Buckeyes an anchor in the post who will be a beast to move. A highly-touted recruiting class comes in and the expected growth of Luther Muhammad makes Ohio State a sleeper to watch. The Buckeyes should be a contender for a top-four finish in the Big Ten.
19. Utah State: The Aggies will be the pick in the Mountain West with the return of Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta. The Aggies will have a scoring wing and a power player inside. The combination means Utah State should be able to score in any matchup. The issue will be can this team handle being the hunted. They weren’t a season ago and won the league. Now the expectations are on Utah State to deliver a league title.
20. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing has a squad that should be in the chase for the Big East title. Yes, the backcourt is that good with James Akinjo and Mac McClung. The loss of Jessie Govan hurts but not as much when realizing Omer Yurtseven is eligible. The Hoyas can’t afford to stumble early like last season. This team needs some confidence and momentum. If it comes then the Hoyas will be a team to watch all season.
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21. Illinois: Get on this bandwagon now. The Illini have figured out how to play for Brad Underwood. And the team returned without taking a hit from the draft. Ayo Dosunmu can be first team all-Big Ten. Trent Frazier is a big-shot maker. And few bring as much passion to playing as Giorgi Bezhanishvili. The glue guys like Andres Feliz make this roster ready for a major jump.
22. Auburn: The Final Four run helped Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke (even though he tore his ACL) decide to leave for the NBA draft. And the loss of Bryce Brown is a hit. But the return of Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy gives the Tigers the anchors needed to put themselves in position for another tournament bid.
23. Marquette: The Golden Eagles were a top five team after the Final Four with the return of Joey and Sam Hauser. Now they are gone, off to Michigan State and Virginia, respectively. But the Golden Eagles have Markus Howard and no one else does. Howard can go for 40, even 50, on a given night. He is a game changer. And having Sacar Anim as an improving sidekick gives the Golden Eagles a chance to regain its footing as a Big East contender. Defense of course is a must and the Golden Eagles can’t always get in a shoot out.
24. Washington: The Huskies took a hit when Jaylen Nowell decided to stay in the NBA draft. But that was the only unknown. Washington has plenty of good news with the eligibility of Quade Green, the transfer from Kentucky, to lead the offense. Nahziah Carter is ready to be a star. And the recruiting class led by Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart gives the Huskies stars. Washington is my pick to win the Pac-12.
25. Arizona: The Wildcats have a highly-touted recruiting class led by Nico Mannion. The addition of UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard is a huge add since they desperately needed experience on the wing. If this season is not disrupted by any results of an NCAA investigation then the Wildcats should be in a thick of a race for the Pac-12 title.
26. VCU: The Rams should be the pick in the A-10 with Marcus Evans leading this experienced squad. VCU could easily be ranked higher if the Rams are able to pick up quality wins in the non-conference.
27. Colorado: The Buffaloes are my sleeper team to make a break through and get into the NCAA tournament. Colorado has an excellent guard in McKinley Wright IV and a Tyler Bey as a lead scorer. The Buffaloes just need to find consistency and not drop games they shouldn’t early in the season.
28. Wisconsin: The Badgers lost Ethan Happ but the offense may move more freely without him inside. That means the shots have to go down for Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl. The onus is on Nate Reuvers to defend in the post and score close to the basket (not just as a stretch forward).
29. Houston: The Cougars took a hit when Armoni Brooks stayed in the draft. But there is something special in Houston now under Kelvin Sampson. The toughness is ingrained in the system. And Sampson is high on Dejon Jarreau and Fabian White Jr., as a 1-2 punch for the Cougars.
30. Providence: The Friars got Alpha Diallo back to give them the needed Big East player of the year candidate to mount a campaign for a bid. The Friars were extremely young last season but the expected development of players like David Duke and Nate Watson gives Ed Cooley plenty of hope to be back in the tournament.
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31. Davidson: The Wildcats got great news when Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson decided to come back. That gives Bob McKillop the 1-2 punch needed to chase for the A-10 title and get back to the NCAA tournament.
32. Tennessee: The Vols now have a culture where winning is running through the veins. The Vols lost a lot of talent with the departures of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone. So there is hesitation here but Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons could be ready to bust out and create their own path to the tournament.
33. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels made a late surge to win the WCC tournament and earn a bid. Losing Jordan Hunter stings but Jordan Ford leads and experienced crew that should be giving Gonzaga fits yet again in the league. The WCC is going to be deeper with Pepperdine and BYU still in the mix for bids, but the Gaels have the upper hand heading in as the Gonzaga chaser for now.
34. Penn State: The Nittany Lions got Lamar Stevens back and that means they have a potential double-double player on a given night. If Myles Dread and Mike Watkins make the necessary jump then the Nittany Lions should have the pieces in place to finally make the NCAA tournament.
35. NC State: Markell Johnson is coming back to the Wolfpack and that means they’ve got a difference maker. The Wolfpack will need Braxton Beverly to bury shots as well and this team must continue to dictate tempo. But in the chase with Florida State, Syracuse, Clemson and a few others the Wolfpack might be able to have the edge on finishing in the top half.
36. Creighton: The Bluejays took a hit when Martin Krampelj decided to stay in the draft. But the return of Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitch Ballock and Davion Mintz gives the Bluejays enough to push for the Big East to have a banner season with a majority of the teams making the field.
In the mix: LSU, Florida State, South Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Cincinnati, South Florida, Oregon, Arizona State, New Mexico State, Kansas State, TCU, Syracuse, Vermont.