This would also be my de facto Final 4, elite 8, etc. Here we go, 2015-16...
10. Kentucky: Kentucky sent 87 players to the Association but should still be very good. A dominant interior team with indifferent back court play at times, the opposite should be true this season. I believe Tyler Ulis will shine and has a running mate in Canadian freshmen, Jamal Murray who has looked fantastic this summer. The 'Cats also return Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, two talented post players. As is always the case, the Wildcats bring in more impressive young talent. Along with Murray, they added big man Skal Labissiere and guard Isaiah Briscoe. The SEC is rapidly improving and will be a battle for Kentucky this year.
9. Michigan State: The B1G will be a bloodbath this season, so any team could end up here but I'm betting on Tom Izzo and Denzel Valentine. They caught fire late last year to make their run getting some key play from returning players. Look for Bryn Forbes to become a bigger scoring threat and for West Virginia transfer Eron Harris to play a big role. They'll be good this year and Izzo is putting the finishing touches on arguably his best recruiting class for the following year. Any worry about him slowing down deep into his tenure have been erased.
8. Arizona: Sean Miller enters the season as "Best Coach To Never Make a Final Four". They lost an awful lot from last year's squad who got shot off the court by the Badgers. Despite that, I look for Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski to take big steps forward. Transfer Ryan Anderson will be a nice addition as will grad transfer Mark Tollefsen. The best of the freshmen will be G Allonzo Trier.
7. Virginia: The Cavs are not going anywhere. Off two great regular seasons, Coach Tony Bennett is crushing it in recruiting. It won't mean much this year but he didn't need much this year despite losing Justin Anderson.They still return Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Anthony Gill. Keep an eye on Marial Shayok, a silky smooth sophomore. Virginia will have to prove themselves come March but they'll be in the mix.
6. Maryland: Coach Mark Turgeon is doing great work at Maryland. Entering their second season in the B1G, they are the favorites to win a stacked conference. The return of Melo Trimble was great news. They also add solid transfers Rasheed Sulamion and Robert Carter. Of course, they also add touted freshmen big man Diamond Stone. The sky is the limit for this talented squad.
5. Oklahoma: I'm probably higher on Oklahoma than most people but this is a veteran-laden team with one of the nation's best back courts with Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. Hield is my pre-season pick for Big XII POY. Ryan Spangler saw his numbers dip a bit last year but look for those to improve this year. I also like sophomore big man Khadeem Lattin to break out. JUCO transfer Akolda Manyang will be looked upon to provide solid minutes in the paint. If they get good play from him, the Sooners will be very dangerous come March.
4. Villanova: Another team I'm higher on than most has a lot to prove come March after fizzling out in the round of 32 the last two years. As is often the case under Coach Jay Wright, this team will be perimeter oriented, lead by senior Ryan Arcidiacono and super frosh, Jalen Brunson, son of Rick. The Wildcats aren't bereft of talent inside by any stretch. Big man Daniel Ochefu has steadily improved each year and the senior could be a surprise breakout player. Guard Josh Hart could take a big step this year, too. They should be the class of the Big East.
3. North Carolina: This should be Roy Williams best team since his last national championship. They only lose J.P. Tokoto off last year's Sweet 16 team. Marcus Paige returns to run the show and the Tar Heels should see big leaps from sophomores Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson & Joel Berry. They also return Brice Johnson & Kennedy Meeks on the inside. It doesn't appear any sanctions are awaiting them this year. They'll be tested come March as the ACC will be insane good this year.
2. Duke: Duke? Again?! Yeah, they simply re-loaded, adding Derryck Thonrton to run the point and Luke Kennard and Brandon Ingraham to join him in the back court. That doesn't include the return of Grayson Allen who was the spark plug in the title game. The front court is more experienced with the returns of Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson. Neither is a superstar but if one or the other takes a leap like they're capable of, this team will be fun. They also add Rice transfer Sean Obi who could be a very solid rotation player. Freshmen Chase Jeter will get plenty of minutes and is a guy who should only get better as the season rolls along.
1. Kansas: This is a bit of a stretch. That said, I like this team a lot. They have a talented and veteran back court returning. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden can be maddening at times but I'm betting on them to shine this year. Brannen Greene became a dangerous shooter as the season went along last year and can be a weapon for them. Up front, Perry Ellis is somehow still around. He's joined by Jamari Traylor and Arkansas transfer, Hunter Mickelson. Carlton Bragg, a freshmen was a top recruit who may be the most talented of all those mentioned. The top player may end up being Cheick Diallo, a super talented freshmen. It's a nice mix of veterans and young studs in Lawrence this season. It's a very good opportunity for Bill Self to win a second national title