Here is a way-too-early look at eight contenders who could find their way to Minneapolis April 6 and 8 for the 2019 Final Four. None from the Big Ten, though, sorry, Gophers fans.
Bill Self broke UCLA’s record for consecutive league titles with 14 — and it could be 15 if three McDonald’s All-Americas and three high-profile transfers can replace Devonte' Graham and possibly Malik Newman (who could leave for the NBA).
Winning two NCAA titles might be enough for Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges to call it a career in college. But Final Four MVP Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall had breakout games in San Antonio and are ready to lead. McDonald’s All-America and Jelly Fam member Jahvon Quinerly replaces Brunson at point guard.
Because Auburn backed coach Bruce Pearl despite his program being investigated, things are still looking good — for now. The Tigers could return their top eight scorers, including all-league players Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Will leading scorer Mustapha Heron declare for the draft?
Every year, John Calipari brings in high-profile freshmen, and every year the early projections love the Wildcats’ talent. But how many returning players will Kentucky have to complement that youth, most notably guys like PJ Washington, Quade Green and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Duke Blue Devils
Coach K replaced Coach Cal as the One-and-Done King, especially with his greatest recruiting class ever that included the three best prospects in 2018. That doesn’t even include Apple Valley’s Tre Jones, who could be playing a Final Four in his home state.
The Volunteers are expecting to have all of the pieces back from their SEC regular-season champion, including conference player of the year Grant Williams. Rick Barnes could have a top-five preseason team entering the 2018-19 season.
How does Tony Bennett’s team respond to the UMBC first-round upset debacle? Possibly by coming back with a vengeance. The Cavaliers certainly have the firepower, likely returning two of the best backcourt players from their ACC title team, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.
Failing to return to the Final Four was a blow considering everyone was back from the 2017 national runner-up squad. Leading scorer Johnathan Williams graduates, but the frontcourt should be in good hands with Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura — if they both don’t turn pro.