After Villanova’s victory, here are 15 teams to watch for next season

SHARE After Villanova’s victory, here are 15 teams to watch for next season

Michigan and Villanova tip it off in the final game before — what else? — next season. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO — This, we can assure you about the 2017-18 college basketball season: It’s over. Villanova rolled past Michigan 79-62 to win its second NCAA title in the last three seasons.

And this, we can assure you about the 2018-19 season: It’s ridiculously early to pretend to know what’s going to happen. Fortunately, the Sun-Times has someone on its very staff who’s equal to the double-edged task of being ridiculous and pretending to know things.

Some players we don’t expect to leave college for the NBA Draft will do just that, and others will spring the reverse surprise on us. There will be news on the coaching, recruiting and (hey, no biggie) FBI fronts. For the most part, though, we have a good idea of what the landscape will look like. So let’s get to it.

Five that could win it all

It’s not a complete list, but if we had to roll right now with these teams against the field, we’d feel pretty good about our chances.

Villanova: Who turns pro? Mikal Bridges? Seems likely. Jalen Brunson? He has a tough decision. Omari Spellman? It would be a shame. If a couple of them stick around, this is your no-brainer preseason No. 1.

Duke: Mike Krzyzewski is all-in on the one-and-done thing. The Blue Devils are expected to have five new starters, including the top three recruits in the land — R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish — and a fourth five-star player in Tre Jones.

Kansas: The Jayhawks will be deep and dangerous with a blend of highly regarded transfers, top recruits and returnees. The combined impact of the Lawson brothers — Dedric and K.J., who sat out this season after transferring from Memphis — might be the key.

Kentucky: John Calipari will have a smaller-than-usual influx of McDonald’s All-Americans — still, at least a pair of them — but the bigger deal is he’ll have several players back from a team that won the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Gonzaga: Four of the top five scorers back from a 32-game winner? That sounds like a plan.


Villanova crushes Michigan 79-62 for second national title in three years

DePaul athletic department being investigated by NCAA: report

Four trying to bounce back

Each of these programs is in good position to pick up the pieces, but it won’t be easy.

Virginia: How shaken are the Cavaliers after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round? Will chants of ‘‘U-M-B-C!’’ follow them to every corner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and beyond? All but two of the key players from a league champ — regular season and tournament — will be back.

Xavier: Let’s see, the Musketeers (a) lost as a No. 1 seed in the second round, (b) must say farewell to their top three scorers and (c) watched their coach, Chris Mack, shove off for Louisville. It all equals (d) uh-oh.

Wisconsin: What was more impressive, the Badgers’ streak of 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances or their 16-year run of top-four finishes in the Big Ten? Either way, both are over. Greg Gard has essentially his whole roster returning.

Notre Dame: After a hard-luck season, the Irish must move on without Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. With a top-10 recruiting class coming in, Mike Brey has the seeds of an eventual ACC contender.

Three steps forward?

Let’s just say the past season wasn’t a barrel of fun for these teams.

Illinois: Players are coming and going — mostly going — in a blur as coach Brad Underwood builds the program he wants. Everyone’s excited about Ayo Dosunmu, the Morgan Park guard who’s on the way. Improving on 14 victories will happen. Getting to the NCAAs probably won’t.

Northwestern: What a bummer of a season it was for a team that widely was expected to make a return trip to the Big Dance. It’ll be hard to get back with Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey gone, even with promising recruits in their place.

DePaul: The only thing that would make things less pleasant for coach Dave Leitao and beleaguered athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto is an NCAA investigation. A step forward for the Blue Demons? Don’t bet on it.

Two Big Ten co-favorites

Heading into what’ll be perceived as another down year for the conference, two teams from the same state will split most of the preseason picks for first place.

Michigan: Will Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews depart for the NBA? If former St. Rita star Matthews returns, he might become an all-league first-teamer.

Michigan State: Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. are off to the NBA, but Tom Izzo has a bunch of grinders back and five highly touted recruits coming in.

One question about Loyola

Will the Ramblers be ranked in the preseason Top 25?

Prediction: Yes — in the 23-to-25 range.

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