INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, that was fun. Who wants to run it back?
If only it were so simple. Monday's national title finale was like every other in at least one way: When the final horn sounded, a familiar, noisome intuition -- it's over -- hit us in the gut. It always does. Amid the joyous pomp and celebration, the first Monday in April is also painfully sad, because it always accompanies the end. No more wall-to-wall NCAA tournament weekends. No more "College GameDay." No more random 11 p.m. ET starts on the West Coast. No more January nights when you really ought to get some sleep, but hey, Kyle Wiltjer might get 40, and why would you want to miss that?
No more Wisconsin. No more Duke. No more college hoops at all, not for seven whole months. The end.
It's sad, right?
"I've never used the term 'ended' that I can remember," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said last week. "There's always a process. Whether you're a senior or whatever, there's always something else in life coming. I hate to say, 'Oh, we ended with this.' If we won the championship, this is how we ended. No, it's beginnings. OK? There's other things coming in life."
Thanks, Coach. We needed that.
Indeed, it would be hard to find a better guiding principle for the Way-Too-Early Top 25. It's all in the name, of course: April 6 really is way, way too early to rank the 2015-16 season's top 25 teams. There are draft decisions to account for, recruits to be signed, transfers to lament, and coaching changes to finalize. In a month, when we come back to these rankings, they'll almost certainly look different. In October, they might be unrecognizable.
But that's all part of the process. Everything -- even the official end to 2015's brilliant tournament -- doubles as a new beginning. Seen in the proper perspective, the 2015-16 season begins now.
Way-Too-Early Top 25
Call this the benefit of the doubt. We know Kentucky will be good. We're not quite sure how good. But if recent history is any indication, they will deserve to start the season with a No. 1 ranking, almost by default, almost regardless of how many of the current Wildcats declare for the NBA draft in the coming days.
Almost. Defensive star Willie Cauley-Stein is headed to the NBA draft, and he'll likely be joined by potential top pick Karl-Anthony Towns, probable first-round pick Trey Lyles and sophomore guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. The question is what happens from there. Could Devin Booker, a prototypical NBA shooting guard, surprise everyone and stay? Does Dakari Johnson, who might have sneaked into the first round last summer but now looks like a second-round lock, decide to return again? What about raw, freaky leaper Marcus Lee?
Here's what we are (almost) sure Kentucky will have: Point guard Tyler Ulis (whose size limits his NBA potential), senior forward Alex Poythress (who lost his junior season to a torn ACL and needs to return to make NBA scouts feel safe again), and, of course, the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, including No. 3 overall prospect Skal Labissiere, No. 13 overall prospect Isaiah Briscoe on the wing, and, knowing John Calipari, at least another NBA prospect (or five). Figuring out what form UK's final 2015-16 roster will take is impossible at this early date. There are just too many discrete possibilities to work through.
But when you're John Calipari? When you've been the preseason No. 1 in two straight Novembers, been to four Final Fours in six seasons, turned a wide swath of the NBA into your personal alumni association, and you have this combination of possibilities? The benefit of the doubt is the least we can do.
For more on how the Wildcats will look in 2015-16, check out Kentucky's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
In six short years, Tony Bennett has not only lifted Virginia from mediocrity to heights last glimpsed when Ralph Sampson roamed the grounds. He's also thrust the ACC -- long a plaything casually traded between Duke and North Carolina -- into a more broadly competitive era. After losing his two best players from a team that swept the 2013-14 league titles, the Cavaliers were somehow even better in 2014-15, beginning the season 19-0, playing the best non-Kentucky defense in college basketball, and complementing it with an efficient, consistent offense that ranked among the nation's very best.
Then, of course, Justin Anderson -- enjoying an All-American campaign spurred in large part by otherworldly perimeter shooting -- broke his hand in the first half of a Feb. 7 win over Louisville. The Hoos finished the regular season with just one more loss, but even when Anderson returned in March, they were never quite the same.
The good news? Almost everyone will be back. Senior forward Darion Atkins is the only surefire departure. Anderson appears to be a fringe first-rounder. If he returns alongside Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, London Perrantes and Mike Tobey, UVa might well be the preseason national title favorite. If Anderson does leave, the Cavs will still be the best defensive team in the country, and promising freshman guard Marial Shayok could step into Anderson's shoes as a sophomore. Whatever the decision, Bennett's team will be one to reckon with -- a fact the rest of the college basketball world has suddenly learned to expect.
For more on how the Cavaliers will look in 2015-16, check out Virginia's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
How good is this group of Tar Heels? And how much can the same group of players improve? That's the big story heading into the 2015-16 season in Chapel Hill, where every single rotation player from a good-but-not-great 2014-15 campaign is slated to return. That not only means the same starting core surrounding star point guard Marcus Paige -- including J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson -- but what could be a breakthrough campaign from guard Justin Jackson, who had drastically improved by the end of his freshman year. Freshman forward Theo Pinson should bring even more to an already overflowing front line, as will four-star freshman forward Luke Maye. The annual assumption in college basketball is that merely returning players is, in and of itself, an indicator of success -- that veteran players are always destined to improve. Sometimes, that's true. (See: Badgers, Wisconsin.) But sometimes, those teams merely are what they are. Tar Heels fans will be hoping for more of the former than the latter in the year to come.
For more on how the Tar Heels will look in 2015-16, check out North Carolina's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
No coach in college basketball has done a better, more effective job of incorporating transfers than Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, and 2015-16 is no different: Hallice Cooke (Oregon State), Deonte Burton (Marquette) and Darien Williams (junior college) will join up with the Cyclones next season. But the real story of this roster is just how little turnover it will experience. Hugely versatile point-forward Georges Niang eschewed the NBA this spring, announcing his intention to return along with his reasons: to wash out the bad taste of that opening-round upset to UAB. That alone would be enough to make the Cyclones a Top-25 team to start the season. That Niang will return alongside an established group of veterans -- from a hot-shooting, turnover-allergic backcourt (Naz Long, Monte Morris) to a high-flying, rim-running 5 (Jameel McKay) -- makes this team a national title contender.
For more on how the Cyclones will look in 2015-16, check out Iowa State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
The heat was already on, and then it got hotter. By March 2014, Mark Turgeon had ended his third season in College Park without an NCAA tournament appearance, and an apathetic 17-15 showing in 2013-14 had fans worried about the overall direction of the program. Then out of the blue, five players transferred out of the program, including a handful of key contributors. A downward spiral appeared imminent. Now look: The Terps are coming off a stellar 28-7 season; bringing back star freshman guard Melo Trimble, junior forward Jake Layman and promising freshman wing Jared Nickens; and adding the biggest recruiting score of Turgeon's tenure, both literally and figuratively, in 6-foot-10 five-star center Diamond Stone. Turgeon has a few rotation roles to fill around the margins, but that core four is more than enough to slot the Terps as the preseason Big Ten favorite -- and by a wide margin. Not so hot now, is it?
For more on how the Terrapins will look in 2015-16, check out Maryland's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
Don't forget just how good Villanova was. Sure, it's tempting -- even coach Jay Wright admitted that the Wildcats' second straight first-weekend tournament loss, this time as a No. 1 seed, would "define" the outside world's impression of his program. But still: Nova was a buzz saw in 2014-15, a team that spent two-plus months relentlessly shredding one of the nation's deepest conferences (the Big East) and -- even with departures to account for -- it's not hard to picture a similar level of performance in the season to come. Darrun Hilliard II and JayVaughn Pinkston leave massive holes to fill, and the unexpected April transfer of guard Dylan Ennis added another. But co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono is back, along with starters Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu and immensely promising sophomore wing Kris Jenkins. Meanwhile, Wright is adding an elite recruit to the mix: No. 2-ranked point guard Jalen Brunson. Villanova looks like one of the best, most versatile teams in the country once more -- no matter what happens next March.
For more on how the Wildcats will look in 2015-16, check out Villanova's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
Before Kyle Wiltjer became a dominant offensive force in Spokane, he transferred from Kentucky. Before he transferred from Kentucky, he came to a realization: He wasn't an NBA prospect, at least not yet. Despite returning to the court with one of the most efficient offensive games in college basketball, Wiltjer's physical tools still haven't impressed NBA scouts -- many mock drafts don't even consider him a second-round pick -- which means he should be back for his senior season at Gonzaga. If he is, the Zags will be a national title contender, one led by a loaded frontcourt, which also includes center Przemek Karnowski and forward Domantas Sabonis. Replacing Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. won't be easy. How's that for an understatement? But Josh Perkins (a four-star guard who chose Gonzaga over UCLA, and broke his jaw early in the 2014-15 season) and Kyle Dranginis are more than talented enough to fill in.
The Jayhawks will look awfully familiar in 2015-16. Freshman wing Kelly Oubre Jr. began the season in shaky form, turned into a reliable slasher, and still provided a minor shock when he announced his decision to turn pro. That may be the Jayhawks' only notable departure. Oubre's highly touted classmate, Cliff Alexander, proved to be too raw to play a major role as a freshman; he could benefit as much as any player in the the sport from another year in the Bill Self developmental churn. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III and Brannen Greene -- who should slide into Oubre's spot, and provide more 3-point shooting in the exchange -- are the same group that fended off a brutal Big 12 for KU's 11th straight regular-season title. Throw in Top-25 recruit Carlton Bragg, and there's no inherent reason to expect anything less from the Jayhawks in the year to follow.
If star guard Buddy Hield returns -- and with a late second-round draft projection, chances are good that he will -- Oklahoma will be the best non-ISU-related reason why Kansas won't extend that bonkers conference title streak to No. 12. Save powerful big man TaShawn Thomas, Hield would be joined by most of OU's stellar 2014-15 roster, including Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Coach Lon Kruger also has added a solid recruiting class led by four-star small forward Christian James, who should provide immediate help on the wing, and redshirt freshman Dante Buford, a former top-100 prospect, could be a sneaky boost in the paint. If the Sooners defend at a top-10 per-possession rate again -- and there's no reason to expect otherwise -- they could easily replicate last season's success. And maybe more.
For more on how the Sooners will look in 2015-16, check out Oklahoma's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
For a few days there, Shockers fans had every reason to fret. Coach Gregg Marshall was being wooed, hard, by Alabama, to the tune of a reported $4 million-per-year contract offer. In the meantime, guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker -- cornerstones of the team's unprecedented three-year run of success -- took the first small steps toward investigating their NBA options. An era seemed likely to end. And then, just like that, Marshall was back. A group of deep-pocketed WSU boosters, led by billionaire Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch, cobbled together enough cash to give Marshall a big raise from his previous $1.75 million salary. With their head coach back, and their first-round draft prospects in doubt, Baker and (especially) VanVleet seem at least slightly more likely to return. The Shockers have places to fill -- Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter are both graduating -- but the most important positions are no longer at significant risk of vacancy.
For more on how the Shockers will look in 2015-16, check out Wichita State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
11. Duke Blue Devils
Duke's immediate future is nearly as hard to parse as Kentucky's. The Blue Devils are just as deserving of deference. Star freshman Jahlil Okafor is likely to be the top overall pick in this summer's NBA draft; Justise Winslow may well end up in the top five. And senior guard Quinn Cook is gone, taking his deep reservoir of leadership and experience with him. The big question is whether guard Tyus Jones will follow suit. On the one hand, Jones is a potential lottery pick in his own right, and there aren't too many areas of the kid's game that he couldn't improve just as easily on an NBA roster as in Durham. But his draft stock could benefit from a season spent as the bona fide, undisputed, high-usage Duke star -- which, even with more elite prospects on the way, the Blue Devils' downgraded roster would provide. We'll see.
12. Arizona Wildcats
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will enter the NBA draft. Stanley Johnson is sure to join him. Point guard T.J. McConnell graduates this spring. Those were already three massive losses for Arizona coach Sean Miller, and that was before Monday's news that junior forward Brandon Ashley -- whose projected NBA draft position lies somewhere late in the second-round, if that -- will enter the draft anyway. That's four starters gone. Will center Kaleb Tarczewski make the fifth? Tarczewski isn't projected to sniff the first round, either, but perhaps he could come to believe that his status won't improve with another college season under his belt. (We might disagree: If Tarczewski can develop a bit of low-post touch and boost his offensive rebounding numbers in a more open frontcourt situation, NBA GMs might be more interested.) Anyway, if Tarczewski does return, the Wildcats could still have one of the nation's best defensive frontcourts -- one that would pair quite nicely with a backcourt of Gabe York, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and Miller's usual smattering of elite recruits, Allonzo Trier chief among them. If Tarczewski leaves, Arizona takes another major hit. Time will tell. For now -- given Miller's success, and the talent he will have regardless of its experience -- No. 12 feels like a fair place to split the difference.
When Jerian Grant's ill-fated desperation heave failed to down Kentucky in the Elite Eight, the Irish immediately waved farewell to two favorites. Grant is the biggest senior departure to account for. When he returned to the lineup in 2014-15 (after missing the prior year on an academic suspension), he was the hot-shooting, lane-plunging, All-American heart of Notre Dame's stellar offense. But as good as Grant was, fellow senior Pat Connaughton -- who, at 6-5, was the team's best shooter and best defensive rebounder, and why the Irish could spread the floor on offense without being dominated on defense. He also was the team's unflappable emotional leader, a trait that should keep him in good stead as he transitions to a potentially lucrative career in professional baseball. And yet the Irish's immediate future remains bright. Demetrius Jackson continues to emerge on the perimeter; wing Steve Vasturia was a timely force in the NCAA tournament; and forward Zach Auguste, who went toe-to-toe with Kentucky's much bigger defense, will be one of the best big men in the ACC. The Irish may not reach 2014-15's lofty heights, but they won't be far off.
For more on how the Fighting Irish will look in 2015-16, check out Notre Dame's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
14. Utah Utes
Losing a player like Delon Wright -- not only the nation's most efficient point guard, but also, arguably, its most disruptive perimeter defender -- is never easy. But if center Jakob Poeltl decides to come back for another season would be best possible palliative. Key word? If. The 7-footer from Austria -- hardly a nation known for its basketball products -- emerged from total obscurity to become one of the nation's best big men, a rebounding, shot-blocking force at the center of Utah's brilliant defensive shell. If Poeltl does turn down a chance at the NBA's first round, coach Larry Krystkowiak will have a trio of hot-shooting seniors -- Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker -- forming the other half of a potentially devastating inside-out attack. If Poeltl stays, Utah could still be great. If he goes? Good is the new ceiling.
15. Baylor Bears
In 2014-15, Baylor coach Scott Drew built a deserving No. 3 seed out of the kind of parts no one much fancied before the season began: An undersized brute of a forward (Rico Gathers) and a bunch of mostly unheralded guards (particularly Kenny Cherry, and Royce O'Neale). But the combination worked, because the Bears grabbed misses on more than 40 percent of their possessions, and those rebounds often turned into open 3s against out-of-position Ds. Can Drew whip up that formula again? Possibly. Gathers, Johnathan Motley and Taurean Prince will be back to terrorize opposing frontcourts once more. Cherry and O'Neale will not. But Drew has restocked his backcourt with another typically strong recruiting class, and building around Gathers & Co. is a luxury many coaches would love to have.
16. Indiana Hoosiers
Despite a late slide toward the bubble, Tom Crean's 2014-15 Indiana team -- which was comprised almost entirely of guards -- slightly overachieved overall. Help is on the way: Last week, four-star center Thomas Bryant announced his commitment to the Hoosiers, and suddenly the Hoosiers don't look quite so small. There is some question as to whether either junior point guard Yogi Ferrell and sophomore wing Troy Williams will be back next season, but neither are particularly prized by NBA scouts; either departure would be a mild surprise. If both are back, Indiana's starting lineup of Ferrell, James Blackmon, Robert Johnson, Williams and Bryant may well be the Big Ten's most talented. If either (or both) leave, the Hoosiers faithful should still feel optimistic.
The Wolfpack revealed their true talent in March, upending No. 1 seed Villanova on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. A week later, they pushed Louisville -- whom NC State beat on the road in February, just before losing to Boston College, which pretty much sums it up -- to the brink. Now the fun really begins. Ralston Turner is the only significant departure to account for. Everyone else is back. The biggest name involved is Trevor Lacey, who would be a nightmare to guard even if he weren't playing alongside the insanely fast, appropriately nicknamed Anthony "Cat" Barber. Freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu's bullying performance against Villanova prefaced greater things to come; fellow big man Beejay Anya is one of the nation's best shot-blockers. If these guys can just guard consistently -- something Mark Gottfried's teams almost never do -- they're scary-good. Just ask Villanova.
For more on how the Wolfpack will look in 2015-16, check out NC State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
18. LSU Tigers
LSU basketball fans, assuming they exist, began November with a glorious vision: That, when the class of 2015's top overall prospect -- uber-star Ben Simmons -- arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he would join two fellow first-rounders and form a bona fide national title contender. Instead, both Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey will take their talents to the NBA, and what could have been an obscenely loaded team will instead have to settle for being merely fascinating. By all accounts, Simmons is the real deal, not only a preternaturally skilled future pro but a great, unselfish passer to boot. And he'll be joined by fellow McDonald's All American Antonio Blakeney, the No. 2-ranked shooting guard, and No. 14-ranked player, in the ESPN 100. What else will LSU have? There is rising senior Keith Hornsby, who had a solid 2014-15 as the Tigers' lone perimeter threat -- and could, in an ideal configuration, pair with Blakeney to spread the floor and keep defenses honest against Simmons. Unfortunately, given the Tigers' lack of execution in key moments all season, and the occasionally baffling (and baffled) work of coach Johnny Jones, it's a major stretch to use the words "LSU" and "ideal configuration" in the same sentence. Simmons is not to be missed. Beyond that, who knows?
No coach whose 2014-15 season finished outside the Final Four will lose as much marquee talent as Rick Pitino, who waved farewell to Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear after the Cardinals' Elite Eight loss to Michigan State. For most coaches, those goodbyes would likely herald the coming of the dreaded rebuilding year. For Pitino, they just mean finding creative solutions. Point guard Quentin Snider flashed promise after he replaced the dismissed Chris Jones in the lineup late in the season, experience which may prove vital moving forward. Mangok Mathiang will be just as long and disruptive around the rim as ever, Chinanu Onuaku was one of the country's best offensive rebounders, and the incoming class includes three top-100 players, including No. 31, Deng Adel, who will likely earn starter's minutes from day one. Adel's classmates -- Donovan Mitchell and Raymond Spalding -- are less heralded, but intriguing pieces all the same. How quickly can Pitino get this group up to speed? How good can Anas Mahmoud -- a freshman center most famous for being the latter half of the best quote of Pitino's 2014-15 season -- get? There are plenty of questions here. But we'd bet on Louisville's coach to find the answers.
For more on how the Cardinals will look in 2015-16, check out Louisville's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
The Musketeers have made a habit of Sweet 16 incursions in recent seasons. Their latest -- which ended with a hard-fought loss to Arizona -- set the table for an extended run of success. Replacing center Matt Stainbrook won't be easy, and not just because Stainbrook, a part-time Uber driver, looked less like a Division I athlete than your college dorm mate who spent way too much time on Reddit. He was also a brilliant low-post anchor on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, senior point guard Dee Davis was a high-level distributor who quietly keyed much of the Musketeers' overall offensive success. But coach Chris Mack's returners are awfully good, too: Trevon Bluiett just completed the first of what projects to be a stellar four-year career; Myles Davis is a lethal outside-in scorer; center Jalen Reynolds looks more than capable of taking on Stainbrook's minutes; and former Indiana guard Remy Abell is in line for a major senior campaign. Xavier will miss the big fella. Heck, we all will. But Mack's well-coached bunch has a bright future ahead.
21. Texas Longhorns
Uncertainty always surrounds coaching changes. So it is for Texas, which, after a disappointing finish from an obviously talented team, fired 17-year veteran coach Rick Barnes and hired the hottest name on the market, VCU coach Shaka Smart. Freshman forward Myles Turner is gone, as expected; senior wing Jonathan Holmes has exhausted his eligibility. It remains to be seen what the rest of the Longhorns do. If everyone -- especially sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor, as well as guard prospects Kerwin Roach Jr. and Eric Davis -- sticks around, it's not difficult to imagine Smart picking up where he left off at VCU, pressing opponents and pushing the pace (even if he'd have to moderate the havoc to accommodate plodders such as Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert). The Longhorns' transition constitutes a drastic stylistic shift in the long term. For now, Smart might just make this thing work.
22. Texas A&M Aggies
There are returning players of note here: Jalen Jones, Alex Caruso,and especially Danuel House, who played well when a foot injury wasn't keeping him off the court. But any and all A&M-related bullishness stems entirely from the incoming class Billy Kennedy has assembled -- one that ranks behind only Kentucky and Arizona in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings thus far. If centers Tyler Davis and Elijah Thomas are as good as advertised, Kennedy could have one of the SEC's best frontcourts on his hands.
For more on how the Aggies will look in 2015-16, check out Texas A&M's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
Kris Dunn has a major decision to make. After Dunn became one of coach Ed Cooley's first major wins on the recruiting trail, two shoulder surgeries in three years hid Dunn's talent behind a never-ending rehabilitation. When he finally emerged in early December, he was the butterfly let free from its cocoon, his wings a transcendent gift for passing. Dunn led the nation in assist rate in 2014-15 -- exactly half of his possessions ended in assists -- and, as an athletic 6-3 guard who posted the nation's fourth-highest steals percentage, it's no wonder NBA draftniks see him as possible lottery pick. But he's not a guaranteed lottery pick, and another year spent working on his ballhandling and shooting could vault him into rarefied draft air. Then again, few players are as familiar with the cruelty of injury, and how comprehensively it can rob you of your game, and why risk it? Point is, what Dunn decides to do will change Providence's trajectory entirely. With him, Cooley may well have the best guard in the country, and ask Kevin Ollie how far one great guard can take you. Without Dunn, Providence might not crack this list.
For more on how the Friars will look in 2015-16, check out Providence's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
What was supposed to be a transition season instead turned into the most surprising Final Four appearance of Tom Izzo's career. How's that for a superlative? So: Where do the Spartans go from here? Seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, the two obvious keys to MSU's unlikely run, are gone. Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and most of the Spartans' margins -- Tum Tum Nairn, Gavin Schilling, Bryn Forbes, et al -- are back. There are a couple of potential season-changers here. The first, West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, has been practicing with Michigan State for a year, and could emerge as Izzo's lead guard when he takes the court next fall. The second is incoming freshman Deyonta Davis, who is touted as an active, athletic, raw rebounding 4, which could make him the perfect successor for the departed Dawson. Izzo will have more at his disposal than first meets the eye.
For more on how the Spartans will look in 2015-16, check out Michigan State's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.
If the theme of this Way-Too-Early Top 25 is deference, what better way to end it than this? By now, Badgers coach Bo Ryan has earned an honorary spot in every preseason poll until his career is over -- even when his team is as devastated by turnover as this. Frank Kaminsky, the dominant national player of the year, is gone. Sam Dekker, the clutch master of the 2015 NCAA tournament, will almost certainly forgo his senior season for a spot in the NBA lottery. Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan are all seniors. Within that group lies the vast majority of Wisconsin's minutes, points, production and experience. But not all of it. Bronson Koenig has rounded into a brilliant offensive player, and Nigel Hayes may well return for his chance in the spotlight. The rest of the lineup is a total work in progress.
But come on: Do you really want to be the guy who picks Wisconsin to struggle? Do you really think they'll finish worse than fourth in the Big Ten for the first time ever? Would you really assume Ryan won't find a way to turn Hayes and Koenig and a bunch of pieces into another top team? Do you really think the end of the most brilliant season of Ryan's Division I coaching career really is the end?
Good luck with that. We'll bet on Wisconsin, and on the close of 2014-15 being just one more point in Ryan's never-ending process. Or, as he would call it, the beginning.
For more on how the Badgers will look in 2015-16, check out Wisconsin's returning players and incoming recruits and ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings.