64 Reasons to Be Excited for the 2018–19 College Basketball Season

Opening night of the 2018–19 college hoops season is less than a month away, and we can't wait. Here's why.
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College basketball is almost back. We're less than a month away from the start of the season, which kicks off on Tuesday, Nov. 6 this year, and team practices are well underway across the country. Here are 64 reasons we can't wait for the 2018–19 season:

1. Duke’s Fab Freshmen

By now, you’ve heard the hype. If you’re not familiar with the Blue Devils’ freshman class—five-stars R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus, who led Duke to the 2015 national championship), plus four-star Joey Baker—you will be, and very soon. Duke having a stellar recruiting class isn’t new, but its 2018 class is uniquely unprecedented. Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all consensus top-five recruits, the first time ever that one school landed three of the top five in a class. And luckily for college hoops fans, the two schools that have the remaining two—No. 3 Nassir Little, of UNC, and No. 5 Romeo Langford, of Indiana—are both on the Blue Devils’ 2018–19 schedule. Four of the top five recruits in a single class all on a collegiate floor at once? Sign us up. —Molly Geary

2. Joe Cremo and New-Look Villanova

The reigning champs are going to look mighty different this season. Gone are National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Final Four Most Outstanding Player Donte DiVincenzo and starters Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman. But Jay Wright has supplemented returnees Eric Paschall, Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie with five-star freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four-stars Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and a key transfer: Albany guard Joe Cremo. The Wildcats could turn out to be one of the winners of the grad transfer market due to the 6’4” Cremo, who averaged 17.8 points and shot 45.8% from three as a junior for the Great Danes, all while posting an excellent offensive rating. While there’s certainly a notable leap going from the America East to the Big East, he should bring scoring punch and a veteran presence to a coach and a program that is used to churning out high-powered offenses. —MG

3. Louisville Resets Under Chris Mack

It’s a new era in Louisville, for the second straight year. But while last season was marred by turmoil, including Rick Pitino’s ouster just weeks before the season, the saga of five-star recruit Brian Bowen and constant negative attention on the program, the Cardinals can now attempt to start fresh under Chris Mack. Mack had great success at Xavier, leading the Musketeers to the NCAA tournament in eight of his nine seasons and reaching at least the Sweet 16 in four of them, and he brings immediate optimism to Louisville. While the Cardinals aren’t likely to contend for the ACC title in 2018–19, an NCAA tournament bid is certainly on the table, and Mack has already made inroads on the future of the program, nabbing the commitments of four top-100 recruits in the 2019 class. —MG

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4. Luck of the Irish Part II?

How do you top hitting the game-winner in both the Final Four and the national championship game, knocking off undefeated UConn in the process? Arike Ogunbowale may be about to find out. A season after an injury-depleted Notre Dame stunned the Huskies, then defeated Mississippi State to win its first national title since 2001, the Irish look primed to be even better this year. Not only are Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey all back, but All-America center Brianna Turner is healthy after missing the entire 2017–18 season with a torn ACL. Turner was one of a whopping four players the Irish lost to ACL tears, and another of the quartet, former four-star recruit Mikayla Vaughn, is back as well. Add in a top-10 recruiting class, and it’s hard to say the Irish aren’t the favorites to repeat. —MG

5. What Will Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean Do for an Encore?

The Ramblers, and by extension Sister Jean, the nun who served as their No. 1 supporter and turned 99 years old over the summer, were the darlings of the 2018 NCAA tournament—and that was before they improbably made a run to the Final Four. The magic of that journey may be over, but don’t expect Loyola-Chicago to fade back into obscurity. Three of its starters and double-digit scorers are back: Clayton Custer, the Ramblers’ leader (and leading scorer), Marques Townes, whose dagger three helped sink Nevada in the Sweet 16, and Cameron Krutwig, who as a freshman went toe-to-toe with Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in the Final Four, scoring 17. —MG


6. The Return of Tom Crean Face

Half of the time, it looks like a pyrotechnic display has just gone off two feet in front of him. The other half of the time, it looks like a pyrotechnic display has just gone off within his soul. Everyone has their favorite frozen-in-time reaction shot of the former Indiana and Marquette head coach, and now a new era of Crean Face dawns as the 52-year-old Michigan native takes over a sleepy Georgia program after a one-season sabbatical. The challenge of getting the Bulldogs to tread water in the increasingly deep SEC is enough to drive more composed coaches to hysterics, and the internet will be ready and waiting for whatever frustrations and elations await Crean in Athens. —Eric Single

7. A Champions Classic for the Ages

Not only does the college basketball schedule start a few days earlier this year, but it kicks off with the annual Champions Classic doubleheader. Kansas and Michigan State will square off in one battle, then Duke and Kentucky will meet in the nightcap. In all, 10 of the 2018 class’s top 25 recruits are set to take the floor that night. The Spartans are the only team without any, but MSU will bring plenty of experience and cohesion to the floor to face a revamped Jayhawks roster, while the Blue Devils–Wildcats showdown will feature a bonanza of freshman and sophomore talent—plus Reid Travis. —MG

8.The Romeo Langford Experience

He is only the fourth player in Indiana high school history to surpass the 3,000-point mark. Speakers invoked Oscar Robertson and Abraham Lincoln, among other luminaries, at his commitment ceremony. It would take a series of unfortunate events to keep him out of the 2019 NBA draft's lottery picks. But for the next four months, Romeo Langford is the centerpiece of Indiana Hoosiers basketball, and a fan base hungry to return to national relevance will hang on every bucket as the pride of New Albany dons the crimson and cream. Langford isn't the only five-star entering the fall with outsized fanfare, but he's the only one whose arrival in college basketball has the feel of a multi-year culmination. —ES

9. Revenge of the Hoos

How do you recover from being on the wrong side of an unprecedented tourney upset? There's no blueprint for the journey Virginia is about to embark on, so it's too early to tell whether it's a good thing that the Cavaliers brought almost every contributor to last year's infamous No. 1 overall seed back. Sharpshooters Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will quarterback head coach Tony Bennett’s, er, methodical offense, sophomore X-factor De'Andre Hunter has returned to 100% health and Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt have been groomed to take the next step on the interior. Some will advise you to ignore them until March; we say catch as much of a season fraught with narrative intrigue as you can. —ES

10. Will Anyone Be the Next Trae Young?

Trae Young didn’t quite come out of nowhere last season—he was a five-star recruit and ranked 20th in his class—but few foresaw his meteoric rise to take over college basketball. He wasn’t even guaranteed to be a one-and-done before the season began, yet he left as one of the biggest locks in the class to depart for the NBA after one year. Along the way, he became a household name, even despite the fact that both he and Oklahoma cooled off from their absurd early-season pace. Every year, college hoops fans enter the season dreaming that one of their freshmen could have the kind of impact that Young did; the kind that can put a school on the map and make each game appointment TV. We know the obvious names in the class—ones like Zion, Langford, Little and Barrett—but will anyone transcend their ranking and take college basketball by storm? —MG

11. The Maui Invitational Field

The showcase event of Feast Week rarely disappoints, but this year's field is deeper than ever—in part because the tournament's Division II host Chaminade has been squeezed out of the bracket. (The Silverswords will be back in the field in 2019 and in all odd-numbered years over the life of the tourney's current contract.) Three potential top-five squads—Duke, Gonzaga and Auburn—will take the court at the Lahaina Civic Center, as will an Arizona team with no shortage of on- and off-court intrigue, a new-look Xavier plotting its next move without coach Chris Mack and an Iowa State team most expect to make noise in the Big 12. The prospect of a Blue Devils–Bulldogs championship game on the day before Thanksgiving threatens to distract from the other 11 intriguing games in store. —ES

12. The Lawson Bros in Lawrence

One of the biggest impact moves for the 2018–19 season came back in April 2017, when brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, formerly of Memphis, announced they would transfer to Kansas. And after sitting out the 2017–18 season, the two are now poised to play essential roles on a KU team that could be the preseason No. 1. The 6’ 9” Dedric could wind up the Jayhawks’ best player after averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore for the Tigers, though his three-point shooting (27.0% on 3.5 attempts per game) needs improvement. K.J., a 6’ 8” guard/forward, averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a sophomore at Memphis. While the pair may not garner quite the same stats on a loaded Kansas team, they’re expected to be instrumental as the Jayhawks shoot for their first national title since 2008. —MG

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13. Tennessee and Auburn Trying to Prove They're Here to Stay in the SEC

The Volunteers used their 13th-place finish in the media's preseason SEC poll as fuel, buying into coach Rick Barnes's message and grinding down everyone in their path. The Tigers saw their ultra-talented lineup jel under the direction of Bruce Pearl, even as the fallout from the FBI investigation cost them an assistant coach and two returning starters before the season began. After outpacing a high-ceiling Florida team and a five-star-laden Kentucky team in league play, both Tennessee and Auburn enter the new year bracing for the stiff competition from ... a high-ceiling Florida team and a five-star-laden Kentucky team. The SEC is getting deeper and deeper, as its defending co-champions may soon learn. —ES

14. A NET Gain?

In August, the NCAA announced that it is replacing RPI as its primary evaluation tool for men’s Division I teams with a new system called the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET. The NET will rely on a variety of criteria and comes on the heels of the introduction of the quadrant system, which raised the profile of wins on the road or at neutral sites. We’ll see next February and March just how much the change will impact NCAA tournament seeding or how bubble teams are viewed, but one thing seems certain: The new system won’t end the debates over résumés or the age-old question of whether an at-large bid should go to a 26-win mid-major or a mediocre Power 5 team. —MG

15. Arizona After the Fallout

The specter of eventual NCAA sanctions stemming from Wildcats assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson's arrest in connection with the FBI investigation lingers in Tucson, but embattled head coach Sean Miller hasn't let that mar his recruiting efforts: Arizona's 2019 class has two-five stars in the fold and sits ninth in the 247Sports composite rankings at this stage of the cycle. Miller will be hard-pressed to replace Deandre Ayton and his other four starters from a year ago, who all jumped to the draft or ran out of eligibility after a first-round loss to Buffalo. Even in a Pac-12 short on powerhouses, things could occasionally get ugly on the court for the Wildcats. —ES


16. The Race for James Wiseman

The hottest in-season recruiting battle will likely be for the services of the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, James Wiseman. Wiseman’s recruitment is largely thought to be a tug-of-war between Kentucky and Memphis, though he recently announced a top five that also includes Kansas, Vanderbilt and Florida State. The intriguing part about Kentucky vs. Memphis is, of course, the coaching impact: the Tigers are the most recent former school of current Wildcats coach John Calipari, while new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway coached Wiseman in high school and could make him the centerpiece of the Tigers’ revitalization. We’re used to seeing Calipari pull in elite recruits, but he has his hands full in this highly-competitive race for the 7-footer. —MG

17. The Year of the Junior?

This year’s junior class is positively stacked. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at only some of the top names in it: Carsen Edwards, Tyus Battle, Shamorie Ponds, Dedric Lawson, Rui Hachimura, Markus Howard, Grant Williams, Sagaba Konate, Udoka Azubuike, Ky Bowman, Killian Tillie, Nick Ward, Kyle Guy and Anthony Cowan. We could keep going, but we’d be here all night. While it’s freshmen who often dominate the headlines, especially in the preseason, it’s the junior class that could wind up stealing the show. At the very least, expect several National Player of the Year contenders to emerge from this group. —MG

18. What’s Next for the UConn Women?

After winning four straight national championships from 2013 to ’16, UConn is now doing the chasing. While the Huskies have kept dominating women’s college basketball, going a combined 72–2 over the last two seasons, they have nothing in terms of titles to show for it. Back-to-back Final Four stunners have sunk them, and now they enter a year where Notre Dame is likely to be the preseason No. 1. After losing in heartbreaking fashion two years in a row, how will the Huskies respond? Leading scorers Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier are back, but Azura Stevens, Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams are not. Geno Auriemma does, however, add two of the nation’s top-five recruits: No. 1 Christyn Williams and No. 5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Will it be enough to bring another national title to Storrs? —MG

19. Sagaba Konate Blocks

For reasons unknown, opponents are still trying to take the ball to the rim when Konate is on the floor for West Virginia. We cannot stress the dangers of that approach strongly enough.

The Mali native broke West Virginia’s freshman blocks record two years ago and upped his average to 3.2 per game last season, the third-highest in Division I. As his highlight reel shows, it’s not the volume of rejections that makes him an outlier but the fearlessness and ferocity behind them. Without Jevon Carter around to pester ballhanders, Konate assumes the responsibility of being the scariest part of the Mountaineers’ relentless defense. —ES

20. Zion Williamson Dunks

Williamson's freakish athleticism and roof-raising finishes have earned him viral fame and more than 1.7 million Instagram followers, and reports out of Duke's preseason prep indicate that Williamson's highlight-reel flushes will translate to the college game. The crowd reactions in his high-school mixtapes fluctuate between awe, joy, delirium and horror. Who knows how the rest of his game will fit within Duke’s stacked lineup, but the first time he gets a chance to uncork one inside Cameron Indoor Stadium is guaranteed to be one of this season's signature moments. —ES

21. Non-Zion Williamson Dunks

Hang on now—while Zion’s dunks are jaw-dropping, he’s not the only one we’re excited to see throw down. Who can forget Jordan Davis, who might have had the Dunk of the Year last season for Northern Colorado? Then there’s Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton, Arkansas’s Daniel Gafford, Texas’s Kerwin Roach, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando … and don’t forget about the non-Zion freshmen. USC’s Kevin Porter, UNC’s Nassir Little, Georgetown’s Mac McClung, LSU’s Emmitt Williams and Naz Reid and Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey are all among the rookies who could rock rims this year. —MG

22. The Penny Hardaway Hype Train

Memphis replaced Tubby Smith this offseason with local basketball royalty, and while the rumors that Drake and Justin Timberlake would attend the Memphis Madness preseason party didn't pan out, the honeymoon phase of Penny Hardaway's introduction to college coaching promises to last all year long. If freshman Antwann Jones, Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax look the part and the Tigers make noise in the AAC even before Hardaway gets a chance to flex his recruiting muscle over a full cycle, expectations will skyrocket heading into 2019–20. —ES

23. Bol Bol

The 7'2" son of the late basketball icon Manute Bol is less of a curiosity and more of a gamechanger than his 7'6" father was, with a more developed offensive arsenal and even a dangerous stroke from beyond the arc. On top of creating some comical photo ops when smaller players switch onto him, the top-ranked center in this freshman class could reset the bar for an Oregon program whose "Tall Firs" won the first NCAA tournament in 1939. —ES

24. Chris Lykes

Miami officially lists its sophomore point guard at 5'7" and 161 pounds; take those measurements as seriously as you like. Lykes makes up for his stature with a smooth handle, endless creativity in traffic and a willingness to pull up for jumpers without a moment's notice to catch defenders off-guard. After seeing his role increase throughout his freshman campaign, he will loom large as the Hurricanes' night-in, night-out floor general. —ES

25. Gonzaga-BYU Is the New Gonzaga-St. Mary’s

The college basketball viewing audience at large only has time for so much West Coast Conference action, and thus many neutrals view Gonzaga's regular season through the lens of how the Bulldogs navigate their non-conference tests and how they play against their primary competition in the otherwise overmatched WCC. For most of the past decade, Randy Bennett's St. Mary's teams have played the foil. Now, with forward Yoeli Childs back and backcourt mates T.J. Haws and Nick Emery reunited after Emery withdrew from school last November citing personal issues and a looming NCAA investigation, BYU may be the Zags' toughest challenger. The teams meet in Provo on Jan. 31 and in Spokane on Feb. 23. —ES


26. One Last Ride for The Dauminator

If Mike Daum played for a major conference school, he’d almost certainly be a name that most casual college hoops fans are well familiar with. Since he plays for South Dakota State, “The Dauminator” continues to fly under the radar, even as he begins the senior season of a stellar career. Daum was an unheralded recruit from small-town Kimball, Neb., who averaged an impressive 15.2 points as a freshman, then exploded over the last two seasons while winning back-to-back Summit League Player of the Year awards. Daum is a force in the paint and will stretch opposing defenses out to the perimeter, where he made 42.5% of the 6.5 threes he attempted last season. As a junior, he averaged a double double with 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds, leading the Jackrabbits to a third straight NCAA tournament and pouring in 27 in a loss to Ohio State. —MG

27. Kentucky’s Crowded Backcourt

The Wildcats never lack for talent, but when Ashton Hagans announced late this summer that he was going to reclassify from the class of 2019 and join the 2018 Wildcats, it raised some eyebrows around college basketball. John Calipari already had point guard Quade Green returning and had signed point guard Immanuel Quickley, shooting guard Tyler Herro and swingman Keldon Johnson into his initial 2018 class. Who will be squeezed out of the starting lineup? This is Calipari we’re talking about, so there’s always an inscrutable plan to maximize every player’s potential by late February, but his rotational decisions against Duke in the Champions Classic and beyond will be as fascinating as ever. —ES

28. Chris Clemons, 5’9” Scoring Machine

The nation’s leading returning scorer is a name you probably don’t recognize. After averaging 25.1 ppg as a sophomore at Campbell, Clemons’s numbers took a slight downturn as a junior, and he finished fourth in the nation at 24.9 ppg. Per kenpom.com, he took a whopping 36.1% of the Fighting Camels’ shots when on the floor, half of which came from beyond the arc, where he shot 37.1%. But Clemons is far from a chucker; in fact, among players used on at least 28% of their team’s possessions when on the floor, he ranked 17th in offensive rating. One of Clemons’s finest performances of last season came in the CBI quarterfinals, when he made six of 11 three-pointers as part of a 35-point effort in a win over New Orleans. —MG

29. St. John’s and UCLA Putting It All Together … Right?

The St. John’s and UCLA programs have had vastly different recent histories, but their situations are more alike than you may think. Head coaches Chris Mullin and Steve Alford both enter a critical year, even if the expectations for each aren’t the same. On paper, Mullin has his best Red Storm team yet and must now bring on-court results and a return to the NCAA tournament. Alford has consistently brought in top talent, including a top-25 recruiting class in each of his years in Westwood, but he has yet to take the Bruins deeper than the Sweet 16. Plenty of eyes will be on these two programs and coaches all season. —MG

30. Nassir Little

Before Little committed to North Carolina a year ago, the Tar Heels hadn’t had a consensus top-five recruit since Harrison Barnes in 2010. They’ve had plenty of success regardless, making back-to-back title games in 2016 and 2017 and winning the latter, but the addition of 2018’s No. 3 recruit comes at a perfect time in Chapel Hill. The graduation of Theo Pinson left a hole at the wing, one the dynamic Little should immediately fill as he teams with Luke Maye as the Heels’ top go-to options. The McDonald’s All American Game MVP will draw plenty of oohs and aahs along the way, and we can’t wait to see him in UNC’s trademark up-tempo offense. —MG

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31. Will Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Marquette Ever Miss?

As a freshman, Howard led Division I in three-point field goal percentage (54.7%), and he built on that last winter with a much-deserved usage increase, hitting 102 threes and averaging 20.4 points per game, including a 52-point performance against Providence. Fellow junior Hauser (14.1 points per game, 48.7 3P% in 2017–18) can fill it up in his own right from the wing, and his little brother Joey Hauser joins the team as a top-50 recruit in the eyes of most outlets. The Golden Eagles might not beat everyone, but they can score with anyone. —ES

32. Syracuse Not Playing Possum This Time

In two of the past three years, the Orange have been ticketed for a one-and-done stay in the NCAA tournament, only to suddenly transform from one of the weakest at-large teams in the field to an unkillable underdog that toppled trendy tournament favorites Virginia (in 2016) and Michigan State (in 2018). Whether you attribute that trend to dumb luck or to the genius of Jim Boeheim, Syracuse shouldn’t need to sweat out Selection Sunday, with do-everything guard Tyus Battle leading an experienced group of returnees headlined by fellow double-digit scorers Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard. A third Sweet Sixteen in four years wouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. —ES

33. Louisville Super-Scorer Asia Durr

Mark Asia Durr at your own risk. The 5’10” guard is entering her senior year for Louisville, and she’s got unfinished business to address after the Cardinals were eliminated by Mississippi State in overtime of the Final Four, ending a 36–3 season. Durr can score with ease and light up the perimeter with her range, as she did when she made nine threes in a school record 47-point outburst against No. 5 Ohio State last November. It was one of eight games in her career so far with 30 or more points, a number likely to go up this season, and she has shot 40.1% from beyond the arc across three years at Louisville. —MG

34. The Fearsome Fletcher Magee

Aside from having one of the best names in college basketball, Fletcher Magee is flat-out good. The Wofford senior is one of the nation’s best shooters, having connected on 43.9% of his three-pointers last season while averaging 9.9 attempts per game. The 6’4” guard has risen steadily over his career, going from an unranked recruit out of Orlando to someone who had pre-draft workouts with NBA teams last May before withdrawing his name and returning to the Terriers. Magee had 27 points in Wofford’s stunning upset of North Carolina last December and will get another crack at the Tar Heels on opening night in a nationally televised affair. —MG

35. The Big Ten Slate Gets B1G-ger

Last season, the Big Ten tried something different. In order to host its conference tournament in New York, it had to end its regular season a week early, which meant adding a couple conference games for every team in early December, just days after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. This year, it’s happening again—but not for the sake of the tourney, which is back in Chicago. Instead, it’s because the league schedule has increased from 18 to 20 games. That means Big Ten December basketball for everyone! In fact, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, there will be at least one Big Ten game every night. It’s actually a great way to break up a time of year when many Power 5 teams wind up playing cupcakes; instead, we get games of far greater importance. —MG

36. The UConn Rebuild Begins Under Dan Hurley

It’s been a tough last couple of years for UConn, and a brutal 14–18 showing in 2017–18 led to a bitter break with coach Kevin Ollie that included allegations of NCAA violations by the school. Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley was hired in March, and the goal for him is simple: Bring Connecticut, a program that’s won two national championships this decade, back to relevance. Hurley already has a plan for how he’s going to accomplish this, as he detailed to SI.com earlier this summer, and he’ll have a strong weapon at his disposal in 2018–19 in senior Jalen Adams. The rebuild in Storrs may not be instant, but the Huskies’ journey under Hurley will be one to watch, and it starts this November. —MG


37. Nevada Is Back and Nevada-er Than Ever

The Wolf Pack weren't the most unexpected Sweet 16 team last March—that honor goes to Loyola-Chicago—but they were certainly the weirdest, with identical twins Caleb and Cody Martin in starring roles on a transfer-laden roster, a head coach not afraid to let his crazy hang out in Eric Musselman and a flair for the dramatic that Texas and Cincinnati learned about the hard way in two heart-stopping tournament escapes. The core of that team has returned with its eyes set on a preseason top-10 ranking, a Mountain West crown, a better seed and, if everything breaks right, maybe even the first Final Four in school history. — ES

38. Matt Haarms’s Hair

Purdue's backup center was thrust into the spotlight last March when Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the Boilermakers' first-round win, exposing millions more viewers to his carefully maintained coiffure.

With Haas out of eligibility, the 7'3" sophomore will need to ramp up his production from 2017–18's 4.8 points per game average—and maybe ramp up his hair gel application to match that increased workload. —ES

39. Silent Night

Division II Taylor University is home to one of the coolest traditions in college basketball. Ever since 1997, on the first Friday before finals week in early December, the Indiana school holds its annual “Silent Night” game. Students dress up in a variety of costumes and begin the contest eerily silent, remaining so until the Trojans score their 10th point. When that happens, the arena erupts into wild cheers, as seen below. At the end of the game—which Taylor University has never lost—the students lock arms to “Silent Night,” completing the tradition.

This year’s “Silent Night” game will be Dec. 7, 2018. —MG

40. R.J. Barrett Backing Up the Hype

The No. 1 prospect in the class of 2018 chose Duke over Oregon and Kentucky and immediately became the headliner of a historically loaded Blue Devils freshman crop. With NBA scouts watching his every move and a season-opening showcase against Kentucky looming, the Canada native will be pressed to back up his all-around talent right away. The aggressive left-hander's feel for slashing to the rim and scoring in transition seems like the most bankable weapon on an inexperienced Duke team that will be learning about itself on the fly. —ES

41. The High-Flying Thundering Herd

Marshall entered the tournament as a 13-seed and knocked off Wichita State, but Dan D'Antoni's 2018-19 team promises to be more watchable than your average Cinderella encore. As the head coach's last name may suggest, Marshall plays fast and takes a boatload of threes—the seventh most in the country last year—and Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks have returned with an eye toward improving upon the 42.8 points per game averaged between them. The Herd's New Year's Eve game against Virginia will be a whiplash-inducing clash of styles. —ES

42. Battle 4 Atlantis Chaos Again?

Last year's edition promised some of the most compelling matchups of the early-season tournament circuit, with Purdue, Arizona and Villanova in the field and destined to meet in the later rounds. They never saw each other in the Bahamas, as the Boilermakers lost to Tennessee and Arizona lost to NC State. (Villanova went on to win the whole thing.) This year's field is just as stacked, with potential heavyweights Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin headlining a group that also includes Butler, Oklahoma and Stanford. The final promises to be must-see TV on Black Friday—unless everything goes off the rails again. —ES

43. Western Kentucky on the Rise

One year after losing five-star Mitchell Robinson, who left the school in September to focus on NBA draft preparation, Western Kentucky finally has an elite freshman in Charles Bassey. Bassey reclassified to 2018 in June and instantly became the No. 9 recruit in the class, and now he can make the Hilltoppers a legit team to look out for out of Conference USA. Rick Stansbury’s team won 27 games in 2017–18, and WitKU could be even more dangerous now despite losing three starters. It won’t have guard Lamonte Bearden for the start of the season after the senior was recently declared ineligible for the first semester, but Taveion Hollingsworth can help pick up that slack. Meanwhile, the frontcourt will be potent between the 6’11” Bassey and Auburn transfer Desean Murray, who averaged 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Tigers. —MG

44. Tremont Waters, LSU’s Big-Shot Artist

Waters averaged 15.9 points, 6.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals in his freshman campaign as the most exciting part of an LSU team that struggled to find its footing in Will Wade’s first season on the sidelines. With six games of 25 points or more under his belt (including his college debut), he can explode at any time—or he can carry the team more methodically and hit a cold-blooded dagger at the perfect moment. —ES

45. Harvard’s Push to Get Back to the Tournament

For four straight years, Tommy Amaker made the Crimson the mid-major conference champ no one wanted to see on the tournament’s opening weekend, but just as quickly as Harvard arrived as a March staple, it finds itself entering 2018-19 on a three-year drought, with tough losses to Yale and Penn in the Ivy League’s four-team tournament in the past two seasons. The jewels of the top-25 recruiting class of 2016 (which ranked higher than three of the previous year’s Final Four teams) are now juniors determined to reestablish the Crimson as the class of the league and an opening-weekend sleeper. —ES


46. Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, Triple-Double Machine

It took just a season and a half (48 games) for Sabrina Ionescu to break the women’s NCAA record for most career triple-doubles, notching her eighth in December 2017. By the end of the season, Oregon’s all-around star had added two more, giving her a total of 10 triple doubles heading into her junior year—when she can now chase the record (12) for men or women, set by BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth in 2016. Ionescu, a potent 5’11” point guard, has helped lead the Ducks to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and averaged 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 6.7 rebounds last season. Oregon will enter 2018–19 with high expectations, and Ionescu and her stat-stuffing ways will be right at the center of them. —MG

47. Virginia Tech’s New Hump to Get Over: Winning a Tournament Game

In the final years of Seth Greenberg's tenure in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech was largely known for its regular appearances in bracketologists' First Four Out lists. After bottoming out under James Johnson and needing two years to find their footing under Buzz Williams, the Hokies have now made the tournament in back-to-back years—only to come up short in the first round twice. Almost all of the key pieces from last year's team are now seniors, and dynamic sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker joins them after passing on the pros to form a lineup that should make Virginia Tech a tough out at any time of year. —ES

48. Fran McCaffrey Freakouts

It’s getting harder and harder to find head coaches who truly fly off the handle in the face of officiating slights or sloppy efforts by their own players. Luckily, we have McCaffrey, who in his nine years at Iowa has been good for at least one epic sideline tantrum or ejection per season.

The Hawkeyes’ 4–14 finish in conference play last year did his boiling point no favors. —ES

49. Carsen Edwards Takes Over

Normally when a team loses four senior starters, it’s in deep trouble. And maybe things won’t always be smooth sailing for Purdue. But when the one starter you do bring back is someone as talented as Edwards is, it’s hard to not keep high expectations. Edwards broke out with a huge sophomore season in 2017–18, averaging 18.5 points and shooting 40.6% from three as the go-to guy on a team stacked with veterans. Now, the Carsen Edwards Show has fully taken over in West Lafayette, as the junior will be depended on even more to lead a cast that includes Matt Haarms, Nojel Eastern and Dartmouth grad transfer Evan Boudreaux. How high can he lift the Boilermakers? Stay tuned. —MG

50. Buffalo Bringing the #MACtion

The team that shot the lights out in Boise to knock off fourth-seeded Arizona in the first round of the tournament is more than a one-upset wonder. Buffalo’s high-flying style under coach Nate Oats should set the pace in the MAC again after the Bulls return most of the squad that breezed through the league last spring—seniors CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris all averaged more than 15.0 points per game. West Virginia, Syracuse and Marquette are officially on upset alert when they cross the Bulls during non-conference play. —ES

51. Kansas State Is Back for More

The Wildcats’ path to the Elite Eight in 2018 was undoubtedly made a lot easier by No. 16 UMBC knocking out No. 1 Virginia, but Kansas State going on a run and beating Kentucky shouldn’t have been that unforeseen. It quietly finished fourth in a deep Big 12, held back from an even higher finish due to struggles against the conference’s top three teams. Leading scorer Dean Wade missed most of the NCAA tournament run, but he and the rest of last year’s rotation, including Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed and Kamau Stokes, are all back. This will be a veteran team that now has the March experience to boot. If K-State can get over the hump and grab some marquee wins in conference play, look out. –MG

52. Kellan Grady and the Curry Connection

Back in 2008, a young Kellan Grady watched Stephen Curry lead Davidson on a magical Elite Eight run and instantly idolized the prolific shooter, following his career as it moved to the NBA. Fast-forward 10 years, and Grady is a Wildcat himself, coming off a freshman season that would make his idol proud. Grady averaged 18 points on 50.1% shooting, making 37.2% of his threes to help lead Davidson to the NCAA tournament. His first collegiate game ever saw him drain seven of 10 three-point attempts, and he topped 30 points three times, including a 39-point effort in a triple-overtime win over St. Bonaventure. Grady wasn’t even the Wildcats’ leading scorer last season—that honor went to Peyton Aldridge and his 21.2 ppg average—but this year it’s his show. Can he keep following in Curry’s footsteps and bring more magic to Davidson? —MG

53. The ACC Tournament’s Return to North Carolina

It has wandered up the East Coast for three long years, but in 2019, the ACC tournament returns home. Championship week's most consistently deep and dramatic tourney—Big East fans, your mileage may vary—will be back in the state that has hosted 51 of its 65 renditions. Washington D.C. and Brooklyn were perfectly adequate sites, but the proximity to so many member schools and the regional history involved makes win-or-go-home games in the Tar Heel State feel that much more significant. After one year in Charlotte this season, the tournament heads to its true home in Greensboro in 2020 before heading north once again. —ES

54. The Badgers Look to Start a New Streak

Wisconsin’s incredible 19-year NCAA tournament streak came to an end in 2018, but the drought may be short-lived. The Badgers have a solid collection of young talent that’s led by wily veteran Ethan Happ, who probably feels to opposing fans like he’s been wreaking havoc in the paint for 10 years now. Brad Davison is a prime candidate for a breakout after averaging 12.1 points on 40.5% shooting as a freshman—all while playing with an injured shoulder that required offseason surgery. The Badgers scuffled to a 3–9 start in Big Ten play until starting to click in February, which is why you shouldn’t look at their 15–18 record last season and underestimate this bunch. —MG

55. Savannah State’s Group of Chuckers

There is shooting your shot, and then there is shooting every shot, as practiced (and dare we say, perfected) by MEAC contender Savannah State. Nobody in the country took more three-pointers last season than the Tigers' 1,304—in fact, the next closest team shot 171 fewer. Coached by Horace Broadnax, the point guard of Georgetown's "Hoya Paranoia" 1984 national championship team, the offense has a permanent green light from long range, and the consequences of that freedom to fire at will as soon as humanly possible make for a surreal viewing experience. Savannah State doesn't even shoot the long ball particularly well, finishing 2017-18 right at 30.0% as a team, but when you take more than 40 per game, that hit rate will do the job more times than not. —ES

56. Vanderbilt’s First-World Problem: Getting the Most Out of Its Five-Star Freshmen

Bryce Drew’s third year at the helm in Nashville will be all about his biggest recruiting coup yet: the signings of point guard Darius Garland and power forward Simi Shittu, the first five-stars to choose the Commodores since John Jenkins in 2009. Garland, whose mother works at Vanderbilt and who led the charge in luring other top players to join him in black and goal, and Shittu, the highest-rated signee in school history, will be thrown into the fire in an effort to get Vanderbilt back to the SEC’s top tier. It’s too early to wonder whether either will become the first one-and-done in Vandy history, but if that’s a decision to be made, it means that Drew will have done his job this year. —ES


57. Lindell Wigginton’s Follow-Up Act

Lindell Wigginton may have been one of the most underrated freshmen in the country last season. He didn’t always grab the same headlines that many of his peers who are now in the NBA did, but quietly put up 16.7 points and shot 40.1% from three for Iowa State in a down year for the Cyclones. His return to Ames for a sophomore season seems to ensure he’ll be under-the-radar no longer. Expect a big year—and probably more show-stopping dunks—from Wigginton for what should be an improved Iowa State team. —MG

58. Nebraska’s Best Chance at a Tournament Win Yet

Head coach Tim Miles’s rebuild seems to be coming to an inflection point. Nebraska earned a double-bye in the Big Ten tourney before almost making the NCAAs and now returns its top four scorers, including seniors James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr. With each passing year it becomes more glaring that the Cornhuskers are the only major-conference program without an NCAA tournament win to its name. Barring a collapse, Miles should have a chance to make March history in Lincoln. —ES

59. Texas Southern’s Crazy Schedule

Head coach Mike Davis accepted the top job at Detroit Mercy after taking the SWAC powerhouse Tigers to four NCAA tournaments in five years, but he leaves behind one last year of aggressive non-conference scheduling, a tactic designed to toughen up his team for conference play (and bring in some guaranteed money for the program). New coach Johnny Jones will lead Texas Southern into road tests at Gonzaga, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Baylor, Georgia and elsewhere, giving major-conference fans a sneak peek at 7'2" center Trayvon Reed and company as they attempt to avoid a repeat of last fall's 0–13 start against similar competition. —ES

60. High Hopes for Tacko Fall and UCF

The Knights were expected to be a factor in the AAC last preseason, before third-year Johnny Dawkins learned that his son Aubrey, who had transferred from Michigan to play for his father, would miss the year with a shoulder injury. Then leading scorer B.J. Taylor missed non-conference play, center Tacko Fall cut his season short to have shoulder surgery, and just like that, all the positive momentum had vanished in Orlando. Dawkins and Taylor are hoping for a interruption-free campaign, while Fall, the 7’6” center whose height made him a high school sensation, gives UCF a potential crossover star should it follow through on its potential this time around. —ES

61. Party Like It’s 2009 in Starkville

One of the longest current NCAA tournament droughts in the Power 5 belongs to Mississippi State, which also owns by far the longest drought in the SEC. The Bulldogs are the only team in the conference that hasn’t been to the Big Dance in the last four seasons, and their last appearance came in March 2009, back when the top song in the country was “Right Round” by Flo Rida and John Calipari was days away from leaving Memphis for Kentucky (feel old yet?). Under Ben Howland, MSU has made strides in the right direction, and the program appears poised to take a big step in 2018–19. With their top six scorers all back, including brothers Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon, the Bulldogs are a trendy pick to not only go dancing but challenge as a top-25 team nationally as well. —MG

62. Baylor’s ‘Double Trouble’ Frontcourt

Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox accounted for 41.1% of the Lady Bears’ scoring in 2017–18 and are back to deliver head coach Kim Mulkey her ninth consecutive Big 12 title. Brown will be on national player of the year shortlists as a senior; Cox, who has Type 1 diabetes, nearly averaged a double-double last season as a sophomore. On their shoulders rest Baylor’s hopes of starting a new streak of Elite Eight appearances after the previous run of four straight was snapped by an upset loss to Oregon State in last year’s Sweet Sixteen. —ES

63. Senior Sendoffs

Let’s hear it for the seniors, the players who came back for one last season and will have spent four years shaping this sport and endearing themselves to fans, growing from unsure freshmen into veteran leaders. This year’s senior class is strong, with names like Ethan Happ, Luke Maye, Caleb and Cody Martin, Reid Travis, Charles Matthews, Jon Elmore, Chris Silva, Admiral Schofield, Barry Brown, Bennie Boatwright, James Palmer Jr., Phil Booth, Juwan Morgan and many more headlining it. Everyone can’t go out with a fairy-tale ending, but many memorable moments await this season as this class gets one last hurrah in college. —MG

64. UMBC, the Reigning Kings of College Hoops Twitter

UMBC’s stunning 20-point upset of No. 1 Virginia last March was also a win for the social media age. As the Retrievers were shocking America, first by hanging around enough to be tied at halftime and then by exploding to pull away over the final 20 minutes, the @UMBCAthletics Twitter account was garnering its own viral attention for its clever and witty play-by-play, including brilliant takedowns of anyone who dared doubt it could pull off the impossible.

Following the madness on Twitter was nearly as entertaining as the game itself, and the account hasn’t lost its snark to this day. Here’s hoping the Retrievers keep shocking the world. —MG