Richey's predictions and rankings for the 2019-20 men's basketball season

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Richey's predictions and rankings for the 2019-20 men's basketball season

Rosters for the 2019-20 season are mostly set now that the NBA Draft early entrant deadline has passed. Some will still change — nearly 900 transfers available this offseason — but there’s certainly more clarity at this point. So we tasked Illinois beat writer and AP Top 25 voter SCOTT RICHEY with breaking down the college basketball scene as June begins:

Big Ten Player of the Year

1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Odds are the Spartans’ point guard will be an unanimous selection for preseason player of the year. And he’s the frontrunner for the end of the year, too.

2. Lamar Stevens, Penn State

Stevens’ return makes the Nittany Lions a potential NCAA tournament team. He’s borderline unstoppable when he’s at his best.

3. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Should the Illini guard pull off a sophomore leap — bumping his solid freshman production to lock lottery-pick status — he might get Illinois back to the NCAA tourney.

Still-Too-Soon Top 25

1. Kentucky

Another mix of veterans (even if just sophomores) and elite freshmen makes the Wildcats a championship contender.

2. Michigan State

Three of the top four scorers returning for a Final Four team means another shot at that elusive second title for Tom Izzo.

3. Duke

Tre Jones' return coupled with another five-star loaded, top five recruiting class will keep the Blue Devils rolling.

4. Kansas

A healthy Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson's return and an eligible Silvio De Sousa should mean more success.

5. North Carolina

The Tar Heels had plenty of roster turnover, but two elite freshmen and two key grad transfers certainly help to reload.

6. Gonzaga

Point guard is a question mark for Mark Few's squad, but a Killian Tillie-led frontcourt has the potential to dominate.

7. Louisville

Jordan Nwora pulling his name out of the NBA draft was huge and pairs a veteran presence with a top 2019 class.

8. Maryland

Few teams will be able to boast as good an inside-out combination as the Terps will with Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan.

9. Seton Hall

Four of five starters (plus several rotation pieces) return for Kevin Willard's Pirates after last year's 20-win season.

10. Memphis

The challenge for Penny Hardaway after landing six top 100 players in the 2019 class is figuring out his rotation.

11. Arizona

Even with controversy swirling around Sean Miller, he still landed a top five class anchored by two top 15 guards.

12. Villanova

Returning players will see their roles increase and will also be challenged by the No. 9 overall 2019 class.

13. Texas Tech

Chris Beard has basically rebuilt his entire team, but he did so with high end grad transfers and top recruits.

14. Virginia

Time to see if Tony Bennett's system can withstand losing Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter in one offseason.

15. LSU

The Tigers will return five of their top eight players and added a five-star recruit. Long live Will Wade?

16. Ohio State

The Buckeyes' success might hinge on how big an immediate impact freshman point guard D.J. Carton can have.

17. Baylor

While there might not be anything super exciting about the Bears, they've got an NCAA tourney-caliber team.

18. Utah State

Now that Nevada isn't Nevada anymore, the Mountain West is Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta and the Aggies to lose.

19. VCU

Mike Rhoades lost just two complementary pieces from last year's A-10 champs that won 12 straight to end regular season.

20. Auburn

Bruce Pearl has to hit the reset button on his backcourt, but the Tigers' frontcourt will be experienced and dangerous.

21. Purdue

Sure, the Boilermakers lost two of their best scorers, but Matt Painter has proven he can revamp his roster.

22. Davidson

The top six scorers are all back for the Wildcats, but Kellan Grady's health (nagging knee injury) will be important.

23. Saint Mary's

Taking down Gonzaga atop the WCC probably isn't in the cards, but the veteran Gaels will make it interesting.

24. Florida

Pairing sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard with freshman Scottie Barnes makes for an intriguing Gators backcourt.

25. Washington

Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels could be a wild frontcourt. Just try to ignore the Huskies' guard issues.

National Player of the Year

1. Markus Howard, Marquette

Think Howard did a lot for the Golden Eagles last season? Imagine how productive he'll be with less help. The career 43 percent three-point shooter is a tremendous scoring threat.

2. Myles Powell, Seton Hall

The argument can be made Powell was deserving of at least some All-American honor last season when he averaged 23.1 points, four rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Pirates.

3. Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Winston's usage went up during his junior season, but his efficiency didn't really take a hit beyond three-point shooting (where he still made 40 percent of his attempts).

On the hot seat

1. Danny Manning, Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have followed up Manning's only winning season (19-14 with a First Four berth in 2016-17) with consecutive 11-win campaigns. He's 65-93 in five years at the helm.

2. Jim Christian, Boston College

Even one of the top guards in the country in Ky Bowman couldn't help the Eagles last season. Their 14-17 record was Christian's fourth losing record in five seasons on Chestnut Hill.

3. Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech

Pastner hit the ground running with a 21-win season in his first with the Yellow Jackets. He's 27-37 since, and off-the-court issues (even if he's not in the wrong) draw more headlines.

Up-and-comers

1. Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro

The former UNC walk-on (member of 2005 title team) got the Spartans' job at 29 years old. After five losing seasons to start his tenure, he's 81-25 the past three years.

2. Travis DeCuire, Montana

If DeCuire can build off consecutive 26-win seasons — and NCAA tournament appearances — he's bound to draw interest. Hiring him away from his alma mater will be the trick.

3. Earl Grant, Charleston

Grant inherited a Cougars' team in the midst of turmoil after Doug Wojcik's firing. After a 9-24 first season, Grant has won 89 games in four seasons, including three with at least 24 wins.

Impact freshmen

1. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Coby White turned a one-year stint as the Tar Heels' point guard into likely lottery pick status. Anthony might be even more dynamic with the ball in his hands.

2. James Wiseman, Memphis

The consensus No. 1 player in the class can do things on the basketball court that most 7-footers can't. He's the centerpiece of the Tigers' accelerated rebuild.

3. Josiah James, Tennessee

Rick Barnes' Volunteers need some immediate help. Enter James, who averaged 29.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.3 blocks and 4.9 assists as a high school senior.

Illinois schedule breakdown

1. Arizona

The Illini's trip to Tucson on Nov. 10 will be reciprocated in 2020 when the Wildcats visit Champaign. It's the type of scheduling Brad Underwood said he'd pursue when he got the job in March 2017.

2. Missouri

As long as Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett are Tigers the rivalry game — of which Illinois' five-year win streak was snapped last December — will be hotter than ever.

3. Old Dominion

Jeff Jones' Monarchs won 26 games, reached the NCAA tournament and should return the bulk of their roster. The Conference USA champs won't be an easy opponent.

Under-the-radar seniors to know

1. Sam Merrill, Utah State

The Aggies' scoring leader didn't even explore his NBA options. His decision was to always return to Logan, Utah, after averaging 20.9 points, 4.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds as a junior.

2. Yoeli Childs, BYU

Good news for new BYU coach Mark Pope. He won't have to replace Childs, who pulled his name out of the NBA draft after putting up 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season.

3. Jordan Ford, Saint Mary's

The 6-foot-1 guard made a huge leap as a scorer during his junior season, bumping his scoring average from 11.1 to 21.1 points per game while maintaining his elite three-point shooting.

Top conferences

1. ACC

The league has not only the reigning national champs in Virginia but also three more teams — Duke, North Carolina and Louisville — that could be in the hunt for the 2020 title.

2. SEC

Football and baseball aren't the only top sports in the SEC. Auburn is coming off a trip to the Final Four, and John Calipari might have one of his more talented Kentucky teams.

3. Big Ten

Michigan State is a preseason national championship contender, but the Spartans will be challenged by Maryland, Ohio State and potentially more throughout the Big Ten season.

Top venues

1. Rupp Arena

While the data for the 2018-19 season has yet to be released, the last time Kentucky wasn't ranked first or second in average attendance was 1976.

2. The Palestra

Come for the cheesesteaks, stick around for one of the most iconic basketball arenas in the country. Even though small in size, the Philadelphia landmark epitomizes college hoops.

3. Pinnacle Bank Arena

The still new home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers (opened in 2013) has a distinct professional arena vibe and is located right in the thick of the bustling Haymarket District.

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