Way-too-early preseason rankings have been out since before the national championship game between Villanova and Michigan, but there's still much to sort out with the national landscape of the 2018-19 season. We're still about two weeks away from the early-entry deadline, although the NBA draft combine will help sort out some of the guys who should come back. There are dozens of notable players who tested the waters without an agent -- but here are the ones who will help shape the narratives heading into next season.
Luke Maye, North Carolina:
While most people have focused on the decisions elsewhere, there has been very little attention paid to Maye's stay-or-go quandary. That is strange, given that Maye might be the best returning player in college basketball if he decides to come back. He had a breakout campaign last season, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Maye carried the Tar Heels at times, especially early in the season. With Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson gone, Roy Williams badly needs Maye to come back to Chapel Hill. Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams would form a solid returning trio, and five-star recruits Nassir Little and Coby White could push for starting spots right off the bat. If Maye departs, though, there will be a lot for Williams to replace with the newcomers. (Update: Maye will stay at UNC.)
These are the decisions everyone has been talking about since the national title game, when DiVincenzo won Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring 31 points off the bench against Michigan. Spellman also had a breakout March, and put himself on the NBA radar. Villanova could be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both players come back, although last week's addition of Albany graduate transfer Joe Cremo has led some people to believe DiVincenzo could be leaning toward keeping his name in the draft. Jay Wright has not been hit too hard by early entries in the past, but he already has lost Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges this year -- one more would drop Villanova in the preseason rankings. With that said, the Wildcats rarely miss a beat with replacements and also bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Cole Swider is a name to watch.
No coach has been more active this spring on the recruiting trail than John Calipari, landing five-star senior E.J. Montgomery and five-star juniors Ashton Hagans, D.J. Jeffries and Tyrese Maxey. Hagans is expected to reclassify and join the team next season. But the frontcourt is still a major question mark without knowing what these three players are going to do. If all three -- or even two of the three -- return, the Wildcats are fine up front. Nick Richards is also back and Montgomery is ready for an immediate role. Kentucky could also keep its eye out for any late graduate transfers who become available, specifically in the frontcourt. Assuming Hagans reclassifies, the perimeter group is versatile and talented.
This one is interesting. After Nevada landed McDonald's All-American Jordan Brown last week, the Wolf Pack now sit at 15 scholarships for next season. It's doubtful they're going to run off any of the five sit-out transfers, three freshmen or two graduate transfers they have -- meaning two of this group are likely to stay in the NBA draft. Caroline is expected to return, so is Nevada preparing for life without the Martin twins? They added graduate transfers Ehab Amin and Trey Porter this spring, and also picked up Brown. On the perimeter, the replacement production will have to come from Amin and sit-out transfers Nisre Zouzoua, Corey Henson and Jazz Johnson. If Nevada finds a way to get all three back, this is a legitimate preseason top-10 team.
The Tigers might have the most riding on the early-entry deadline. Will Bruce Pearl have to deal with the ultimate disaster scenario? Probably not. After initially leaning toward hiring an agent, Heron can now go either way -- and he's still the most likely to enter the draft. Wiley was cleared during the conference schedule to play the 2018-19 season, so there's no reason for him to stay in the draft. Harper should come back. Brown had a terrific season, but one more year in college could help. Auburn is involved with several sit-out transfers, and is also looking for a point guard for next season, although that's more for depth given that Harper is the lone point guard on the roster. If all four players return, Auburn will be back in the SEC title hunt.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas:
The Jayhawks won the Big 12 tournament without Azubuike, so what's the big deal, right? Not so much. Azubuike is essentially irreplaceable, given his 7-foot, 280-pound size and nation-leading 77.0 percent 2-point shooting. He's a dominant rebounder and just provides a dimension very few teams possess. Bill Self is bringing in David McCormack at the 5 and Silvio De Sousa should be ready for more minutes, but the Jayhawks would be awfully thin down low if Azubuike departs. Most of the newcomers -- a group that includes three sit-out transfers and five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson -- play on the perimeter. If Azubuike returns, this might be the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
A whirlwind season for the Bruins ended in the First Four in Dayton, and then do-everything point guard Aaron Holiday left early for the NBA draft. In what will be a key season for Steve Alford, he'll need all hands on deck -- including Hands and Wilkes, who were both invited to the NBA draft combine. Hands has loads of potential at the point guard spot, and Wilkes is a versatile forward who can score inside and out. UCLA does have an elite recruiting class coming in, and freshman Tyger Campbell would have much more on his plate if Hands leaves. If everyone comes back, Alford will have enough talent to make noise in the Pac-12.
For a team that finished below .500 in the Big Ten and didn't make the NCAA tournament, Maryland has several players with varying NBA draft interest. Justin Jackson already declared and signed with an agent, but Heurter and Fernando are just testing the waters. Huerter is one of the best shooters in the country, and Fernando has flashed intriguing offensive skills. Mark Turgeon should have an NCAA tournament team on his hands if both players come back, as Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell are also back on the perimeter and the coach brings in a high-level recruiting class led by five-star forward Jalen Smith. With that said, high school seniors Serrel Smith and Trace Rasmey both committed to Maryland last month and the Terps are still involved with sit-out transfer Brandon Cyrus. Former target Anthony Tarke committed to UTEP on Thursday.
Charles Matthews, Michigan:
Matthews parlayed a stellar March into NBA draft hype, and could press his luck and keep his name in the draft. It's not a done deal that he returns to Ann Arbor. If he leaves, John Beilein is without his top four scorers from the team that lost to Villanova in the national title game. The Wolverines are pursuing Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves, but he wouldn't be eligible immediately. Jordan Poole, he of the buzzer-beater against Houston, would take much of Matthews' minutes, although incoming freshman Ignas Brazdeikis was uber-productive at the high school and AAU level and should make an impact. Matthews' return would give Michigan a deep and talented perimeter.
Tyus Battle, Syracuse:
This one could go either way, although there is plenty of buzz that Battle is going to keep his name in the draft. He blew up as a sophomore, becoming one of the most dangerous scorers in the ACC. The Orange are pursuing unsigned 2018 prospect Robert Braswell on the wing, and he probably would pick up some of the minutes Battle potentially leaves behind. However, former East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes would also be thrust into a major role. If Battles returns, Syracuse has the makings of a potential top-25 team.
Brian Bowen, South Carolina:
Not only could Bowen sign with an agent and keep his name in the draft, he might not ever be cleared to play college basketball after what happened at Louisville. He hasn't been seen by many people since last spring at high school all-star practices and games but was one of the better scorers in the 2017 class. Frank Martin has been busy this spring, landing 2018 prospects T.J. Moss and Alanzo Frink, as well as Georgetown graduate transfer Tre Campbell. South Carolina is also one of the favorites for recently reclassified big man D.J. Burns, who was an ESPN 60 prospect in 2019, and has been involved with former North Carolina guard Jalek Felton.
Jontay Porter, Missouri:
The Porter-Missouri marriage might not last more than one season. Michael Porter Jr. played only two games for the Tigers, and Jontay might be gone after one season. Jontay showed versatility and skill as a freshman, making 40 3-pointers and also proving himself as a very good shot-blocker and rebounder. Cuonzo Martin could be facing something of a rebuild if Jontay leaves, given Michael is already gone and Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett are graduating. Martin has been busy on the transfer market with Mark Smith (Illinois) and Dru Smith (Evansville), but there isn't much left in the way of graduate transfers or available 2018 prospects.
Should come back:
Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Matt Painter badly needs Edwards to return, and the thinking here is that he will. The Boilermakers lose their other four starters from last season, and Edwards would enter next season as a likely preseason All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year.
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech: Okogie could sneak in as a second-round pick, so it actually might end up benefiting him to stay in the draft -- which would be a brutal loss for Josh Pastner and the Yellow Jackets. He averaged 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds for a team that went 13-19. (Update: He's staying in the draft.)
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: After Wisconsin missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, the Badgers should be back in the hunt -- if Happ comes back. They don't lose any key rotation players from last season, and Happ would give them a legitimate go-to-guy.
Sagaba Konate, West Virginia: One of the nation's best shot-blockers, Konate is a guy who could help himself at the combine. He's tough, physical, has a mean streak -- and he fits Bob Huggins' system perfectly. Another year to refine his offensive game would help.
Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State: Wigginton was one of the most underrated freshmen in college basketball last season, despite the Cyclones finishing a distant last in the Big 12. Steve Prohm had several transfers sitting out that could be ready to give Wigginton some support.
James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr., Nebraska: After just missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, Tim Miles is back in Lincoln for his seventh season. He'll need his two leading scorers back in the fold if the Cornhuskers are going to take the next step, though.
Juwan Morgan, Indiana: Romeo Langford's commitment has raised the expectations in Bloomington next season, but Morgan unexpectedly leaving early would damper the hype somewhat. He led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding last season.
Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, Clemson: Brad Brownell and the Tigers were one of the biggest surprises in the country last season, and Mitchell and Reed have to return to keep the momentum going. If not, Brownell loses his top four scorers.
Nick Ward, Michigan State: It was an up-and-down season for Ward, but Tom Izzo will need him in an expanded role next season after the departures of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.. With those two leaving, Ward should have more room to operate down low.
Shamorie Ponds, St. John's: Back-to-back wins over Duke and Villanova showed the potential of the Red Storm, but they never put it together consistently. If Ponds returns -- along with the arrivals of sit-out transfers and incoming freshmen -- St. John's will once again have the pieces.
Jalen Hudson, Florida: The Gators already lose Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov from last season, and Hudson could take on a much bigger scoring role if he returns. He had huge back-to-back games in November against Gonzaga and Duke, but his streaky shooting led to some inconsistency.