Happy Way-Too-Early Top 25 Day!
The college basketball season ended Monday night, with Virginia winning the national championship in a thrilling final over Texas Tech. (With the Cavaliers’ win, Ricky LINDO hangs out da WINDO is our bracket challenge champion.) And now it’s time to look forward to next year.
Within, like, an hour of last night’s game ending, seemingly every major publication published its “way-too-early” preseason top 25 for 2019-20. Maryland, which is slated to return the bulk of its roster, is a constant in those lists, with the Terps even earning some top-10 recognition.
Jalen Smith announced his decision to return for his sophomore year Monday morning, which answered perhaps the most pressing question of the spring. There’s a lot of offseason left, but it looks like Maryland doesn’t have many unknown variables remaining—it’s mostly just Bruno Fernando officially deciding to stay or leave, and what Maryland does with the scholarship his departure would open up. But if these super-unscientific rankings are any indication, Terps fans have a lot to look forward to.
Where Maryland’s stacking up
The dispersion here is somewhat surprising, as even the most optimistic rankings take Fernando’s expected departure into account. Maryland spent most of this season in the low 20s, so pundits are expecting a step forward.
Smith is returning, so if Fernando returns, the starting lineup should be exactly the same. Even if the First Team All-Big Ten center leaves, though, the Terps will have plenty of continuity. The backcourt of Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell will be back, and Smith will anchor the frontcourt.
The summer-long speculation would be around the fifth starting spot. Sixth man Aaron Wiggins would be the choice if Mark Turgeon is comfortable going small, but maybe Ricky Lindo or Makhi Mitchell makes significant strides and earns a starting role. And don’t forget about Serrel Smith Jr. or Donta Scott, who probably won’t start but should certainly be rotation pieces. And if Joshua Tomaic, Trace Ramsey, Makhel Mitchell or [insert potential 13th player here] are ready to be in that rotation, then it’s icing on the cake.
In the Big Ten
Michigan State and Michigan met in the Big Ten title game this spring, and with nearly all of the pieces returning on both squads, they’re looking like the clear co-frontrunners in the conference again. Michigan State is top-two in nearly every list and the most popular choice at No. 1, while Michigan is a staple in way-too-early top fives. However, the Wolverines appear to be losing a lot more than widely expected just last night.
Ignas Brazdeikis, which is somewhat of a surprise.
The Spartans are being projected to return Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman, and it’s easy to bank on youngsters Aaron Henry and Foster Loyer taking the next step.
Michigan’s Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole have all declared for the draft and hired agents, and while at least Poole still seems likely to return, Brazdeikis is leaning pro. Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and a strong group of role players. It’s hard to imagine the Wolverines not being formidable again.
Ohio State has been a trendy pick in some of these. The Buckeyes are No. 9 on SI’s list and No. 10 on ESPN’s, but are off some boards completely. Coming off a Round of 32 appearance, Chris Holtmann’s team loses two seniors but returns Kaleb and Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad, and brings in five-star point guard DJ Carton and four-star forwards Alonzo Gaffney and EJ Liddell.
Purdue, the regular-season co-champion in 2019, should lose Carsen Edwards, while Iowa is expected to lose big man Tyler Cook—both players have declared for the draft and seem likely to stay there. The Hawkeyes have been listed as high as 15th (Rothstein) and are a mainstay in the high teens and low 20s, while Purdue is No. 19 on SB Nation’s list and 20th in two others.
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois all made appearances late in top 25s or in honorable-mention sections. Indiana and Nebraska made Seth Davis’ top 45. Penn State’s offseason hinges on Lamar Stevens’ decision, Rutgers should return a lot of pieces, and Northwestern ... well, there’s always the grad transfer market.
No matter how you slice it, the expectations for Maryland will be as high as they’ve been since the 2015-16 season. And with the way this year’s team clearly meshed on and off the court, there’s reason for fans to believe the 2019-20 squad to reach its potential in a way that group never quite did. Making the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend after barely missing it this time is an obvious goal, but the season is long, and Maryland has the chance to accomplish quite a bit throughout the coming winter.
Only seven months away.
This story has been updated to reflect Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole declaring for the NBA Draft.