- Duke – The Blue Devils are most experts favorite to win the National Championship. Coach K brings back a good mix a veterans along with top flight recruits. Grayson Allen is the consensus Preseason ACC Player of the Year. He will be joined by Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and Chase Jeter. As if this wasn’t enough, throw in two highly touted freshmen, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles (currently injured) and you can see why Coach K’s bunch is preseason number one.
- Kentucky – Coach Cal brings his typical young roster to the table at number two. The Cats will be depending heavily on guards Isaiah Briscoe (Soph), De’Aaron Fox (Fr) and Malik Monk (Fr). Don’t see surprise to see Kentucky use various combinations until they settle in on a rotation during conference season. Edrice (Bam) Abedayo (Fr) and Derek Willis (Sr) should be able to hold their own in the paint. The Cats have enough talent to get through their non-conference schedule until Calipari figures out his rotation. Early on, expect them to look rough at times but they will be well-rounded by tourney time.
- Villanova – Returning players from a National Championship team can work for or against you. I trust in Jay Wright’s case, he will find a way to keep his player’s egos in check. Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and, National Championship hero, Kris Jenkins all return for the Wildcats. Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds will try and chip in to make up for the losses of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Villanova is, once again, favored to win the Big East (realistically, their only challenger is Xavier) so Wright should be able to build upon last season’s championship run.
- North Carolina – The Tar Heels have an interesting mix of returning players. There’s no doubt that they will take a step back in some areas with the losses of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson but Coach Roy Williams still has enough talent in Chapel Hill to do some damage. The biggest obstacle will be the conference they play in. Duke, Louisville and Virginia are all top flight teams and pose different challenges to the Heels. If Williams expects to be around on the final weekend, he’ll need Justin Jackson, Joel Barry II, and Kennedy Meeks to all take a step forward. The loss of Pinson will hurt the Heels early on but that should give Nate Britt plenty of minutes. Isaiah Hicks will join Meeks in the middle and should be a solid rim protector. As always the question for the Heels will if they have enough perimeter shooting to get them through the season. If so, they should contend for a Final Four spot.
- Kansas – I went back and forth on whether to put Kansas at 4 or North Carolina at 4 because the Jayhawks should win the Big XII (again) but they have more questions than the Heels. Kansas returns a solid backcourt in Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham but the question will be do they have enough in the paint. The Jayhawks success could be tied to the development of freshman Josh Jackson. For Kansas to go deep into the tournament, they will need someone to develop into a go to post player.
Marcus “Mook” Washington is the host of Making The Cut. Follow Mook on Twitter: @mtcwithmook and IG: MTCWithMook