Virginia ranked fifth to begin the 2018-19 season and finished No. 1 on Monday with an 85-77 overtime win over Texas Tech.
There’s even more good news for Cavaliers fans: Virginia should be back in the top 10 to begin next season.
Like most top programs, Virginia still has some decisions to make. It’s assumed sophomorewill head to the NBA, and and could both take peeks at the league. Jerome is considered a fringe first-round pick.
Fortunately, the Cavaliers have time. The deadline to declare is April 21, but players can withdraw and maintain their college eligibility until May 29.
That won’t stop us from putting together a way-too-early top 25 one day after the 2018-19 season ended.
And it starts in East Lansing, Mich.
1.(32-7, Final Four)
Tom Izzo reached his eighth Final Four this season and could have an even stronger team next fall. The Spartans could retain three starters from their tournament run, including star point guard. They also bring in two top-100 recruits in combo guard Rocket Watts (No. 32, according to ) and power forward Malik Hall (No. 55).
2.(30-7, Elite Eight)
Kentucky could lose three players in the first round of the NBA draft (, , and ) but still returns , , and . Of course, there’s also the No. 2 class in the country, led by small forward Kahlil Whitney (No. 7) and combo guard Tyrese Maxey (No. 9).
3.(30-7, Sweet 16)
The Wolverines’ position will depend heavily on a couple of draft decisions. If freshmanand sophomore both return to school, John Beilein has a top-five team. If not, Michigan will slide down.
4.(35-3, national champion)
Tony Bennett’s team has been as consistent as any, with four 1-seeds and a 2-seed in the last six seasons. Much of the team’s core, including, , and , will be back.
5.(32-6, Elite Eight)
The Blue Devils have made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances but their last Final Four came in 2015. The news thatwill be returning for his sophomore season helps. Combine that with a top-10 class led by forward Vernon Carey and they should be right back in the mix.
6.(30-10, Final Four)
The Tigers lose, but both and have the option to return. If 6-foot-11 can stay healthy, he’s an added weapon, too.
7.(33-4, Elite Eight)
and are expected to leave early. But the Bulldogs still have a solid returning group if and – neither of whom are projected first-round picks – come back. The incoming class is ranked fifth by .
8.(20-15, second round)
Chris Holtmann has won 45 games in two seasons with the Buckeyes, furthering an already solid reputation built at Butler. He should have a better team next season, combining three returning starters (includingand ) with a top-15 recruiting class.
9.(20-14, first round)
The Cardinals struggled against a tough schedule late in Chris Mack’s first year, losing eight of their final 11. But a team with only two seniors in the rotation still put together some nice wins. This ranking is contingent upon the returns ofand , who both declared for the draft but left open the option of returning to school.
10.(23-11, second round)
Though sophomore sensationmight be headed for the pros, the Terrapins got good news when 6-foot-10 freshman announced he’ll be back. Maryland was among the youngest teams in the country this season (349th in experience, according to ).
11.(25-13, Sweet 16)
The Ducks have made three Sweet 16s in four years. Oregon would love 6-foot-9 freshmanto return, but if he doesn’t, , , and will lead a group with more experience.
12.(26-10, second round)
The Wildcats lose leadership again as seniorsand depart, but Jay Wright has proven capable of reloading with 14 NCAA Tournament appearances in 15 years. , , and are all expected back. Villanova also has the No. 3 recruiting class.
13.(29-8, Sweet 16)
Does talented sixth manreturn? If so, the Seminoles will once again be a ranked team. Guards and will provide experience while Leonard Hamilton brings in a top-15 class.
14.(20-14, first round)
The Pirates kept their head coach, Kevin Willard, who was reportedly a candidate at Virginia Tech. If they also keep, the star guard who declared for the NBA Draft, they’ll be a top-20 team and Big East contender. Seton Hall reached the tournament with only one senior this season.
15.(29-7, Sweet 16)
Projecting the top 25 the day after the title game is often a guessing game and no team is harder to slot on April 9 than North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been a top-10 team four years running but now lose their top five scorers. Roy Williams and his staff need to get incoming freshman center Armando Bacot some help.
16.(20-16, second round)
The Gators will bank on youth to succeed in 2019-20.and are both coming off strong freshman seasons and will become the faces of the roster. Mike White will surround them with a top-10 class that includes three players ranked in ‘ top 50.
17.(26-10, second round)
The Jayhawks might be a close second behind UNC in terms of the hardest team to project right now. Kansas awaits a decision from freshman guard, but point guard should be back. Former McDonald’s All-American forward showed some strides late in his freshman season.
18.(24-10, first round)
There will be a lot of hype surrounding the Golden Eagles ifand his 25 points per game return. All five starters should be back, which begs the question: Can they rediscover the form that had them positioned to win the Big East before they lost their final four conference games? The program hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013.
19.(33-4, Sweet 16)
Since a losing season in his first year with the Cougars, Kelvin Sampson has averaged 25.8 wins per year over the last four. Entertaining guardwill depart, but Houston returns much of its roster. Look for 6-foot-3 guard and 6-foot-5 guard to lead the Cougars back to the NCAA Tournament.
20.(20-14, second round)
Scott Drew took a team that lost nonconference games to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin to the NCAA Tournament. And he did it without arguably the Bears’ most talented player, forward. If Clark is healthy, Baylor should be tough again. Guard and forwards and are all returning starters.
21.(17-15, no postseason)
The Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. But a core that includes guardand forward will get reinforcements from what is currently the in the country. Arizona signed two five-stars: point guard Nico Mannion and small forward Josh Green.
22.(25-8, first round)
The Rams might have been a year ahead of schedule in 2018-19, winning the Atlantic 10 in a year they were picked to finish seventh. That’s good news for 2019-20. Guardwill be one of the better mid-major players in the nation.
23.(22-12, first round)
Speaking of top mid-major players, guard(21.1 points per game) will lead one of the country’s more experienced rosters next year. The Gaels project to have a starting five that includes two seniors and two juniors.
24.(27-9, second round)
The Huskies have plenty to replace, most notably, , and (likely) . But a good recruiting class and Kentucky transfer Quade Green should provide a quick reload.
25.(31-7, national runner-up)
The Red Raiders lose a lot., , , , and will not be on the roster next season. Chris Beard, though, has done nothing but win at the Division-I level. Guard will provide a veteran presence for the No. 14 recruiting class in the country.
Three on the edge:, ,
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