The great joy and the ultimate frustration of each college basketball season lies in the information overload. With hundreds of games every weekend setting the tone for 32 different conference races and building toward the selection of 68 teams to play for a national championship, it is impossible to process every significant event that happens on the hardcourt between early November and early April. That has led to the rise of several statistical databases, ratings systems and performance metrics designed to distill the lessons of each game into a digestible format. Those tools may be finely tuned and authoritative, but no one number tells the story of an entire season. That’s why we set out on an ambitious project.
Like we do every year, SI’s editors set out to project the top 25 teams in the nation entering the 2019–20 season. Then we expanded the projections out—way, way out—to include the other 328 teams in Division I. Without the benefit of a comprehensive projections model, we looked at each team’s returning production, multi-season trajectory and notable newcomers to assemble a full-field ranking of every team that might play a role, however small, in determining the 2020 national champion. Below are the results, with insights and information on the SI preseason Top 25 and dozens of notable teams on the outside looking in.
1. Michigan State (1st in Big Ten): Senior 6' 1" point guard Cassius Winston—the preseason player of the year favorite—and junior 6' 8" forward Xavier Tillman are back, along with most of last year’s Final Four team. Four-star, 6' 2" guard Mark (Rocket) Watts adds depth.
2. Kentucky (1st in SEC): The Wildcats bring in lottery-ready freshmen in 6' 3" guard Tyrese Maxey and 6' 6" forward Khalil Whitney, but 6' 9" grad transfer Nate Sestina (Bucknell) might be the secret sauce.
3. Louisville (1st in ACC): Chris Mack has five players back from a 20–14 team; adding St. Joe’s transfer Lamarr Kimble, a trigger-happy 6-footer, and 6' 6" five-star wing Samuell Williamson will lift the Cardinals to the Final Four.
4. Duke (2nd in ACC): The Blue Devils are loaded, as usual, with five-star freshmen; this year the prize recruits are 6' 10" Vernon Carey and 6' 9" Matthew Hurt. With (relatively) experienced sophomore Tre Jones running the offense, the new big men should thrive.
5. Kansas (1st in Big 12): Behemoth center Udoka Azubuike returns after a right-hand injury, jitterbug guard Devon Dotson passed on the NBA, smooth-shooting wing Isaiah Moss transferred from Iowa and 6' 9" Silvio de Sousa of Angola is eligible (for now). The Jayhawks’ toughest opponent in a quest for another Big 12 title is the NCAA, which continues to investigate recruiting violations.
7. Maryland (2nd in Big Ten): Five stellar sophomores form the foundation, and 6-foot senior Anthony Cowan (15.6 ppg, 4.4 apg ) wants to leave the Terps with a title.
8. Florida (2nd in SEC): The five best Gators not named Kerry Blackshear Jr. are 6' 5" or shorter, which will cause matchup headaches for coach Mike White.
9. Villanova (1st in Big East): The backcourt has suffered injuries to junior Collin Gillespie (broken nose) and 6' 5" freshman Bryan Antoine (shoulder surgery), but the arrival of five-star Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a 6' 9" forward, eases the pain.
10. Ohio State (3rd in Big Ten): Not only do the Buckeyes have two-thirds of their scoring back, including 6' 9" post Kaleb Wesson (14.6 ppg), but they also have three four-star recruits when Wesson (3.2 fouls per game) has to go to the bench.
11. Virginia (4th in ACC): The defending champs lost their three best players, but their ruthless, Pack-Line D remains intact. Point guard Kihei Clark, a 5' 9" sophomore, is the most likely breakout candidate.
12. Gonzaga (1st in WCC): The Zags’ latest impact transfer is 6' 4" point guard Admon Gilder (Texas A&M), who will feed forward Killian Tillie—if the 6' 10" senior can stay healthy. He missed 22 games last season with foot and ankle injuries.
13. Texas Tech (2nd in Big 12): Chris Beard’s fearsome D will feature eight new players, including versatile 6' 6" forward Chris Clarke, a grad transfer from Virginia Tech.
14. Saint Mary's (2nd in WCC): Nearly every rotation player is back, including senior guard Jordan Ford (21.1 ppg) and 6' 8" junior forward Malik Fitts (15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg).
15. Seton Hall (2nd in Big East): When 6' 2" senior Myles Powell decided to return, the Pirates' title hopes got a big boost. How far they go depends on 7'2" Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu.
16. Memphis (1st in AAC): The beauty of landing five top 60 recruits in the nation’s No. 1–ranked class is that they don’t all have to thrive right away. Even if, say, 6' 9" wing Precious Achiuwa (No. 15) and 6' 3" guard Boogie Ellis (No. 38) struggle, 7' 1" James Wiseman (No. 1), 6' 7" forward D.J. Jeffries (No. 52) and 6' 5" guard Lester Quinones (No. 58) can pick up the slack.
18. Baylor (3rd in Big 12): Tristan Clark, a 6' 10" forward who led the Bears in scoring before injuring his left knee last January, is back, but can UNC-Asheville transfer MaCio Teague or ex-Auburn guard Davion Mitchell run the point?
19. NC State (5th in ACC): Senior playmaker Markell Johnson (12.6 ppg) and versatile wing C.J. Bryce (11.6) lead an experienced crew under Kevin Keatts, 47, who impressed in his first ACC season after arriving from UNC-Wilmington.
20. LSU (3rd in SEC): While the NCAA reportedly continues to investigate the Tigers for recruiting violations, a pair of 6'4" Baton Rouge natives—senior guard Skylar Mays and sophomore forward Javonte Smart—helps them challenge for the SEC title.
21. Utah State (1st in Mountain West): The Aggies can count on 20 points per game from electric, 6' 5" senior guard Sam Merill, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, and could see significant improvement from 7-foot Portuguese sophomore center Neemias Queta (11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.4 blocks).
22. VCU (1st in A-10): Guard Marcus Evans, a 6'2" redshirt senior, was basically the Rams’ entire offense last year; another threat (possibly 6' 6" sophomore Vince Williams) needs to emerge. With more than 80% of the team’s minutes returning, the pressure D should be ferocious, as usual.
23. Xavier (3rd in Big East): The Musketeers’ top four scorers are all back, led by 6' 9" senior Tyrique Jones (11.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg). The rest of the team is almost entirely new, including three transfers and five freshmen, the most talented of whom is 6' 1" combo guard KyKy Tandy.
24. Purdue (4th in Big Ten): An elite backcourt departs, but the Boilermakers still have inveterate hair-fixer 7' 3" Matt Haarms at center and junior forward Nojel Eastern, a defensive stopper. Offensively, they’ll need a large and immediate contribution from guard Jahaad Proctor, a 6'3" High Point transfer (19.5 ppg).
25. Colorado (2nd in Pac-12): With 6-foot junior point guard McKinley Wright IV (a contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year) and 6' 7" junior forward Tyler Bey (who led the team with 13.6 ppg and 9.9 rpg), the Buffaloes are sure to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish in the conference. They also get 7-foot center Dallas Walton back after his right-ACL injury.
26. Texas (4th in Big 12)
27. Creighton (4th in Big East)
28. Marquette (5th in Big East)
29. Wisconsin (5th in Big Ten)
30. Auburn (4th in SEC)
Shaka Smart is on the hot seat at Texas (No. 26) even after last year’s NIT title. He’s got numerous pieces in the backcourt, including Andrew Jones, who makes his return after recovering from leukemia last year. The Longhorns bring in two four-star centers after losing Jaxson Hayes and Dylan Osetkowski up front. Creighton (No. 27) needs junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander to establish himself as one of the best players in the Big East if they’re to improve on last season. Defensive development could drive Greg McDermott’s team back to the tournament.
Marquette (No. 28) lost both Sam and Joey Hauser, but 5’11” walking bucket Markus Howard is still around. The Golden Eagles collapsed at the end of last season, with Howard having some rough games. He could use some help. And some rest. Their in-state rivals, Wisconsin (No. 29), bring back the two key members of their backcourt in D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison. The Badgers looked lost offensively without Ethan Happ last year, and now he’s graduated. Their defensive prowess, featuring Davison’s elite charge-taking, should keep them from falling too far. Auburn (No. 30) lost its three best players, but with four-star forward Isaac Okoro as one of seven freshmen reinforcements in town, and Bruce Pearl still behind the bench, don’t expect the Tigers to collapse completely.
31. Houston (2nd in AAC)
32. Washington (3rd in Pac-12)
33. Michigan (6th in Big Ten)
34. Providence (6th in Big East)
35. Ole Miss (5th in SEC)
36. Arizona (4th in Pac-12)
37. Tennessee (6th in SEC)
38. Florida State (6th in ACC)
39. Cincinnati (3rd in AAC)
40. Notre Dame (7th in ACC)
41. Illinois (7th in Big Ten)
42. Georgetown (7th in Big East)
43. Iowa (8th in Big Ten)
44. Arkansas (7th in SEC)
45. Indiana (9th in Big Ten)
46. Butler (8th in Big East)
47. West Virginia (5th in Big 12)
48. Davidson (2nd in A-10)
49. New Mexico State (1st in WAC)
50. Penn State (10th in Big Ten)
Houston (No. 31) got a preseason boost when the NCAA granted the waiver for Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes to play immediately, and the Cougars’ backcourt of Grimes, DeJon Jarreau and Nate Hinton will be their strength. Alpha Diallo returns to anchor Providence (No. 34), but the X-factor that could swing the Friars' season may be UMass point guard transfer Luwane Pipkins. Washington (No. 32) and Arizona (No. 36) are a pair of Pac-12 schools that brought in big-time recruits, but while the Huskies will be looking to maintain last season’s momentum, the Wildcats are needing to bounce back. Despite coming off its worst season in years, don’t be surprised if Notre Dame (No. 40) rebounds nicely after bringing back the bulk of its roster and getting Rex Pflueger back from an ACL tear.
Is this the year that Illinois (No. 41) and Georgetown (No. 42) get back to the NCAA tournament? A young, talented roster on both teams brings promise. Look out for Arkansas (No. 44) as a potential SEC sleeper; new coach Eric Musselman has an under-the-radar budding star in Isaiah Joe and added SMU grad transfer Jimmy Whitt Jr., among others. West Virginia (No. 47) is hoping a frontcourt led by Derek Culver and freshman Oscar Tshiebwe helps make last season an anomaly, while New Mexico State (No. 49), who we last saw ending in March heartbreak vs. Auburn, remains the class of the WAC and a legitimate mid-major threat.
51. Alabama (8th in SEC)
52. Oklahoma State (6th in Big 12)
53. Arizona State (5th in Pac-12)
54. Iowa State (7th in Big 12)
55. Dayton (3rd in A-10)
56. Mississippi State (9th in SEC)
57. USC (6th in Pac-12)
58. Temple (4th in AAC)
59. East Tennessee State (1st in Southern)
60. South Florida (5th in AAC)
61. Wichita State (6th in AAC)
62. Vermont (1st in America East)
63. Georgia (10th in SEC)
64. Oklahoma (8th in Big 12)
65. Texas A&M (11th in SEC)
66. Syracuse (8th in ACC)
67. UCLA (7th in Pac-12)
68. Kansas State (9th in Big 12)
69. Missouri (12th in SEC)
70. Rutgers (11th in Big Ten)
71. Harvard (1st in Ivy)
72. Miami (FL) (9th in ACC)
73. Belmont (1st in OVC)
74. Oregon State (8th in Pac-12)
75. BYU (3rd in WCC)
It was a rough 2018-19 for Alabama (No. 51), but transfers James Bolden (from West Virginia) and Jahvon Quinerly (from Villanova, only if he wins an eligibility appeal with the NCAA) should give the Tide a boost. Kira Lewis Jr. impressed as a freshman and could take another step with ex-Buffalo coach Nate Oats now running the show. Oklahoma State (No. 52) probably thought the Crimson Tide had it easy given all the chaos Mike Boynton dealt with in Stillwater, but the Cowboys now return most of the team that finished the season strong. Look out for sweet-shooting guard Lindy Waters, who almost brought down Texas Tech in Lubbock single-handedly. Dayton (No. 55) has gone with an alternate team-building plan. The Flyers have four transfers who could play significant roles this season joining current studs Obi Toppin (14.4 ppg) and Jalen Crutcher (5.7 assists).