22. Arizona State Sun Devils
Following their blistering start to the 2017 season the Sun Devils collapsed. As a result, this year’s team is being overlooked. Luguentz Dort, a true freshman out of Montreal, is a legit player. To start the season, Dort is averaging north of 20 PPG and 7.0 RPG. ASU’s frontcourt is in good hands as well with Kimani Lawrence playing a pivotal role. While the Sun Devils can score with ease, the team will only go as far as its defense takes them.
Image Source: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
21. Indiana Hoosiers
Archie Miller’s team has the requisite talent to make a run in his second season on campus. Led by Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, the Hoosiers have two difference-makers in their starting lineup. While Langford has shown the ability to score at will, the 6-foot-6 guard must do a better job distributing the ball. In addition to being a capable scorer, Morgan provides a steady defensive presence. Freshman Rob Phinisee has shown flashes of being a lead playmaker and as a result will likely see more minutes as the season progresses.
Image Source: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
20. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue is the type of team that nobody will want to see on their side of the bracket. Galvanizing the Boilermakers is Carsen Edwards. The junior guard has seemingly made another jump this season. Edwards averaged 18.5 PPG a season ago and is currently pouring in more than 25 a game this year. The Boilermakers play good defense and have improved offensively in recent years. With eight players averaging 15 or more minutes per game, Purdue boasts the depth necessary to compete in the Big Ten. A brutal non-conference schedule will test the program early, but could be a benefit come tournament time.
Image Source: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
19. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles shocked everyone last year as they advanced to the Elite 8 as a No. 9 seed. And while they won’t be catching anyone by surprise this season, there is still plenty to be excited about. FSU is a well-rounded team. 10 players crack the rotation for Leonard Hamilton — led by senior Terance Mann. Mann has always shot well from the field (57 percent for his career) but has struggled from deep. Albeit a small sample size, Mann is shooting 62 percent from three thus far. An experienced team, FSU will look to use its athleticism to its advantage. It may not always look pretty, but the ‘Noles know how to win.
Image Source: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
18. Iowa Hawkeyes
So far, so good for the Hawkeyes. Unheralded in the Big Ten due to the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin stealing all the headlines, the Hawkeyes have quietly impressed through five games. Sophomore Luka Garza has been the best player early on due in large part to impressive shooting from the field. In order to take the next stop offensively, however, the team must do a better job moving the ball. In their win over Oregon, the Hawkeyes shot an impressive 29-of-33 from the line. If the team continues to shoot lights-out from the line they will be tough to beat in close games.
Image Source: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
17. Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders have followed up their Elite 8 run with a great start to the new campaign. Native son Jarrett Culver has helped Tech jump out to a 6-0 start. He has seen his shooting and rebounding numbers both improve, but what is making the biggest difference thus far is his passing. Culver’s willingness to get his teammates involved is resulting in a balanced attack. However, what makes Tech dangerous is its defense. Currently allowing 51.0 PPG — 3rd in the NCAA — the Red Raiders suffocate the opposition. Future contests with Memphis and Duke will give a better idea of how good this team may be.
Image Source: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
16. Virginia Tech Hokies
Similar to Florida State, Virginia Tech will be an overlooked team for most of the year. Known primarily as a ‘football school’ the Hokies are rarely given the benefit of the doubt. Already sporting an impressive win over Purdue, Tech relies heavily on four players — Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Ahmed Hill. Alexander-Walker is undoubtedly the Hokies most important player.
Second on the team in assists, the sophomore guard also leads the Hokies in scoring and rebounding. Having to face offensive powers in the ACC on a regular basis, the Hokies will rely on their defense to win games. If they continue to allow only 60 PPG, Tech will be in for a good season.
Image Source: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports
15. Texas Longhorns
For the first time since Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin were on campus, there is a buzz emanating from Austin. Shaka Smart is still looking to advance past the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time as head coach of the Longhorns. Senior guard Kerwin Roach is off to a fast start — including a 32-point effort against North Carolina. The team hasn’t shot well through six games, yet they still boast a 5-1 mark. Smart’s team has enough talent defensively to make some noise in March, but the shots must start to fall at a more efficient rate if the team wants to truly contend.
Image Source: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
14. Oregon Ducks
While 5-star freshman Bol Bol will grab all of the headlines in Eugene, Dana Altman’s squad is much more than a one man show. Bol has lived up to the hype — 21.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG — but the key to Oregon’s success is its depth. Payton Pritchard leads the team in minutes and assists. Eight players are averaging at least 17 minutes per game. Oregon’s second highly-touted freshman, Louis King, is still recovering from a torn meniscus. A top-20 recruit, King will likely be inserted into the starting lineup upon his return — giving the Ducks another powerful weapon.
Image Source: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
13. Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State’s run to the Elite 8 last season was unexpected, yet not entirely impressive. This season, however, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Wildcats make another deep run. K-State is one of the most experienced teams in the nation — led by three seniors (Barry Brown Jr., Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade), three juniors (Makol Mawien, Xavier Sneed, Austin Trice) and a sophomore in Cartier Diarra. Third nationally in points allowed (56.3), the Wildcats’ stout defense can help the team battle Kansas for the Big 12 crown.
Image Source: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
12. Wisconsin Badgers
Following a disappointing 2017-18 campaign, Wisconsin appears poised to challenge the top teams in the Big Ten. Ethan Happ has been great to start the year — averaging 18.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 5.3 APG — but the most encouraging sign may be the improved play of sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice. While his minutes have remained the same from a year ago, Trice’s production has nearly doubled. After averaging less than 10 points a season ago, Trice is averaging nearly 17 PPG while shooting 46 percent from the field and 57 percent from three. The Badgers remain a force defensively — 57.8 points allowed — but their offense must continue to produce if they want to challenge the Michigan schools.
Image Source: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
11. Villanova Wildcats
The defending champions were humbled early thanks to a blowout loss to Michigan and a stunning loss to Furman. However, it would not be wise to count this team out. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have the ability and poise to right the ship for the Wildcats. Jay Wright remains one of college basketball’s elite coaches. Sophomore guard Collin Gillespie has embraced a larger role and is currently the team’s third-leading scorer. If five-star freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly can get going, Nova may takeoff. Winners of two of the past three National Championships, The Wildcats will remain a threat until someone knocks them off their perch.
Image Source: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
10. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee is playing like a team that is still upset over its elimination last March. Rick Barnes’ Volunteers are off to a strong start. An overtime loss to No. 2 Kansas — a game which they should have won — remains their only blemish. Grant Williams, a 6-foot-7 junior, has been a man amongst boys. In addition to Williams’ strong start, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone have enjoyed upticks in their play. The Vols rely heavily on six players and sparingly utilize two others. If there are any concerns about this team aside from depth, it would be its free-throw (66 percent) and three-point (34 percent) shooting.
Image Source: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
With its biggest rival occupying all of the nation’s attention, North Carolina is comfortable flying under the radar. Roy Williams’ Tar Heels are 1-of-3 ACC schools to have a legitimate shot to cut down the nets. Utilizing a blend of experience and promising youth, the Tar Heels are lighting up the scoreboard. Seniors Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye are contributing 30 points and nearly 15 rebounds per game. Five-star recruits Nassir Little and Coby White, especially White, have displayed why they were highly-touted players coming out of high school. With upcoming games against Michigan, Gonzaga and Kentucky, the Tar Heels will have an opportunity to announce themselves as one of America’s best teams.
Image Source: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
8. Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari’s decision to embrace the one-and-done era has largely worked out. However, after a humiliating loss to Duke to open the season, Calipari’s team has failed to impress. Calipari’s decision to bring in Reid Travis, a graduate-transfer from Stanford, has paid dividends thus far. Travis’ ability has been on full display and his experience could be crucial as the season wears on. Freshman guard Keldon Johnson leads the team in scoring, but must do a better job of getting his teammates involved. This isn’t the best team Calipari has fielded at Kentucky, but there is plenty of talent to get the job done.
Image Source: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
7. Michigan State Spartans
The pain of a season-opening loss to Kansas has been eased by five-straight convincing victories. A rarity during the one-and-done era, Michigan State relies heavily on upperclassmen. Two juniors, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston, lead the team in scoring. Out of eight players who receive more than 14 minutes on the floor, six are upperclassmen. Tom Izzo’s bunch is scoring 90 points per game while yielding a little more than 66. An encouraging sign long-term is Sparty’s ball movement — 21.2 APG ranks second in the nation. The Spartans may not be the highest ranked team in the Big Ten, but they could be the most feared member come tournament play.
Image Source: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
6. Michigan Wolverines
After falling just short of a National Championship last year, Michigan was barely inside the top-20 to start the season. Then, the Wolverines traveled to Villanova and ambushed the champs. Michigan’s 27-point victory captured everyone’s attention. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, a 4-star recruit out of Ontario, has been the focal point offensively. Charles Matthews and Isaiah Livers have entrenched themselves as essential players. However, what makes the Wolverines a contender is their defense. Michigan is allowing an NCAA-best 48.3 PPG. For a team only shooting 64 percent from the charity stripe and 32 percent from three, Michigan’s sensational defense is a huge advantage.
Image Source: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
5. Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada is loaded. Eric Musselman has done a great job bringing talent to the desert. Following a near trip to the Final Four a season ago, the Wolf Pack have a realistic chance to make another deep run. The Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, are back. Jordan Caroline is a walking double-double in the frontcourt and has improved his effort on the glass his senior year.
Musselman managed to nab 5-star recruit Jordan Brown — a 6-foot-11 forward who is a potential lottery pick down the road. Nevada’s deep rotation also features five transfers — Jazz Johnson, Tre’Shawn Thurman, Trey Porter, Corey Henson and Nisre Zouzoua. Nevada can blitz nearly any opponent — as its 90 PPG average may suggest.
Image Source: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
4. Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers will likely win a ton of games. The only time this team will be judged is in March. If they stay within themselves, which they have to this point, the Cavaliers will lockdown opponents with one of the best defensive schemes in the nation. Currently allowing the second-fewest points per game (49.3), Virginia has eased through the early part of their schedule. De’Andre Hunter has elevated his game offensively, averaging close to double the 9.2 PPG his freshman year.
Ty Jerome has furthered his all-around game. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 2.0 steals and 4.0 APG to go along with 14 PPG. Kyle Guy may be the key to success this year. Guy has struggled shooting so far, but when he plays to his potential Virginia is a very difficult team to beat. A top-2 seed is not out of the question, but how will the Cavaliers react once they take the floor in March?
Image Source: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
A disappointing end to last season won’t be forgotten unless Gonzaga makes a deep run in the tournament this March. However, a win over No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational Final will help with the pain. The Zags are a bonafide threat, and possibly better than Mark Few’s team that reached the title game two seasons ago. Rui Hachimura is a lottery pick. Sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. (17 PPG and 5 RPG) and forward Brandon Clarke (16 and 7.5 RPG) have been sensational.
Point guard Josh Perkins does a masterful job running the offense and is averaging 8.0 APG. The Bulldogs are scoring 97.7 PPG — without Killian Tillie, arguably their second best player. The Zags shoot well, move the ball and can protect the rim. This team is for real.
Image Source: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
2. Duke Blue Devils
It is possible that Duke may have the first three picks of the 2019 NBA Draft on its roster. If not picked 1-3, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are all near locks to be selected within the first six or so picks. With the plethora of talent on its roster, there is no reason for Duke to come up short. However, there are a few potential pitfalls for the Blue Devils. As seen in their loss to Gonzaga, the Dukies struggled from three. Barrett showed his youth by settling for one-on-one opportunities instead of running the offense, and Williamson didn’t receive much help defensively. Factoring in Coach K and Duke’s overall talent, it would be a disappointment should they not reach the Final Four.
Image Source: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
1. Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks entered the season ranked No. 1 and have two victories over top-10 teams under their belt. As a reward, Kansas has moved down in the rankings and sits at No. 2. Not that they will mind much, but Bill Self will surely try to further motivate his team with the slight disrespect thrown their way. The best Jayhawk thus far? Lagerald Vick. Yes, the same player whom the university was ready to part ways with. Vick has been on fire from the field and beyond the arc.
Forward Dedric Lawson and center Udoka Azubuike combine to form an imposing frontcourt. Azubuike, averaging less than 22 minutes per game due to foul troubles, would be putting up monster numbers if he could stay on the court. With freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes playing at a high level, this squad’s potential is limitless.
Image Source: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports