by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheeet.com Editor

What next, college basketball in October?

Once upon a time, the college hoops season didn’t begin until early December, but across the past 50 years, the tip-off date has inexorably moved sooner and sooner. We do not recall a college campaign opening sooner than next Tuesday’s November 5, but here we are, and it’s nearly a full slate at that!

In accompanying TGS college day-by-day forecasts this season, you’ll note inclusions of games involving Big Sky, Metro-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, Summit, and Southern entries, as those loops are all now included in the regular “big board” this new campaign as the “extra” slate of games has been eliminated. Many sports books in Nevada and elsewhere will be posting still more college games this fall with the nine other leagues, though numbers in games involving MEAC, Patriot, Southland, etc. teams will not usually be posted until the morning of the contests. Those games are also not slated to appear in any of the schedule books. (Note also that our debut of this season’s College Ratings will appear in next week’s Hoops Issue 4.)

So, as another college season commences, it’s also time for our annual look at the TGS Preseason Top 40, which appears below. With football season still in full swing, upcoming weeks will include several popular “Best of TGS Hoops” features from the past before we pivot our editorial focus to basketball into December.

Ready or not, college hoops is here, along with our following TGS Preseason Top 40.

1-FLORIDA...It was the most anticipated move of the offseason. We’re talking about the destination of ex-Virginia Tech PF Kerry Blackshear, who seemed ticketed to various locales as a grad transfer before landing in Gainesville. When last seen, Blackshear was terrorizing Duke and almost single-handedly knocking Zion Williamson & Co. out of the Dance in the Sweet 16 before Michigan State did the honors in the Elite 8. Now an already-loaded Gators side adds one of the best rebounders and inside scorers in the country. Moving ahead with Blackshear, don’t expect foes to play ping-pong off the offensive glass vs. Florida as was the case much of last season. Three other returning starters including emerging soph PG Andrew Nembhard, and a big-time recruiting haul by HC Michael White gives the Gators their most talent since Billy Donovan’s heyday at the O’Connell Center over a decade ago.

2-DUKE...The power of ESPN and the other major networks has never had the capacity to distort perceptions more than nowadays, case-in-point last year’s Coach K edition that might have been the most-overhyped team in college hoops history. Zion, RJ, and Cam have moved on, but Duke is rarely caught short on the talent front, and it might have been more important for PG Tre Joens to stick around another year anyway as the glue piece for the Blue Devils on the floor. Jones gives Coach K perhaps the country’s best point guard, and this year’s crop of one-and-dones led by frontliners 6-9 Matthew Hurt and 6-10 Vernon Carey should ensure another deep March run for the Kryzewskis.

3-KENTUCKY...Only at a place like Kentucky could the support base be grumbling, but John Calipari isn’t going anywhere after signing a lengthy extension. We wonder if some of the Lexington blue-bloods recall the couple of Billy Gillispie years, and realize that only an elite coach such Calipari can guarantee a chance at the Final Four every year. Don’t act so spoiled, Cat fans! Last year’s squad began the year ranked 351st out of 353 D-I sides in experience, and this year’s edition is a bunch of graybeards by comparison. This term, “only” two frosh, electric SG Tyrese Maxey and SF Kahlil Whitney, were among the top ten recruits nationally, and they join a roster with a bit more seasoning than a year ago, led by an experienced PG in soph Ashton Hagans, who hould make the Cats go once more. At least to the Sweet 16, from where all remaining teams can then take their chances.

4-GONZAGA...Things are rolling nicely for Mark Few, so much so that even when he loses a pair of first-round NBA draft picks (Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke), his Zags don’t figure to downgrade too much. The transfer pipeline has added a couple of new nuggets, as long-range bombers Admon Gilder (ex-Texas A&M) and Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) should provide the perimeter pop needed around another big and deep Few frontcourt featuring holdovers Killian Tillie (another likely first-round pick), Corey Kispert, and Filip Petrusev. How the backcourt eventually replaces the multi-year leadership provided by departed Gs Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell will probably determine how deep the Zags go in March, but they’ve got a few months to figure things out in Spokane, and Few once again should not find the WCC too much of a bother.

5-KANSAS...Is the other NCAA “shoe” about to drop on the Jayhawks, who have been ensnared in the FBI probe since the outset? Whatever the outcome, KU is hip deep with the investigation due in good part to its involvement with Adidas, and the NCAA is circling the wagons. Stay tuned for further developments. Since we can never be sure the NCAA is going to throw the book at anybody (especially a hoops blueblood) after letting North Carolina skate two years ago, we won’t even project an outcome. Assuming KU can avoid trouble, however, Bill Self has a potential Final Four entry after soph PG Devon Dotson and 7-0 C Udoka Azubuike pulled their names from the NBA Draft list last June, and the NCAA decided to lift the suspension on 6-9 Silvio de Sousa.

6-MICHIGAN STATE...It seems as if Tom Izzo has won more than one national title (2000, with the team headlined by Mateen Cleaves) in his quarter-century run at East Lansing. There have been several Final Four trips along the way, including an unexpected ride last March, and a return visit would be no surprise. Star G Cassius Winston’s decision not to enter the NBA Draft was met with a sigh of relief at the Breslin Center and gives the Spartans the catalyst they need to make another deep run. But not all news is good; the recent foot injury suffered by explosive wing Josh Langford, who was also hurt down the stretch last season, likely keeps him out all year, and we admit we were ready to place the Spartans atop the rankings until this news broke a few days ago. Word is that Izzo thinks one of his frosh Gs, Rocket Watts, could make an immediate impact to fill that gap, and 6-6 sr. wing Kyle Ahrens is now healthy, after, like Langford, being hurt down the stretch a year ago. Still, with another top-shelf recruiting haul, Izzo figures in the national mix again, especially if a young frontline delivers as expected. But will the absence of Langford keep Izzo from the title game again?

7-NORTH CAROLINA...While we have come to wonder a bit about Roy Williams as a game coach as his career has progressed, no mentor has been able to blend newcomers with holdovers as consistently well and into a forceful unit as ‘ol Roy. Adjustment phases just seem to move more quickly in Chapel Hill, where the Heels once again lost considerable firepower to the NBA, but have several frisky and eager blue chip frosh such as PG Cole Anthony and C Armando Bacot to work alongside several holdovers like PF Garrison Brooks and SG Brandon Robinson (who might miss the first couple of weeks with injury) who have been aching to get their chance to be featured. Ridding the offense of me-first Coby “Kobe” White (now the problem of the Chicago Bulls) might actually prove a plus for teamwork.

8-LOUISVILLE...Chris Mack proved he could win at Xavier and now is his chance to do it at the ‘Ville as well. Keeping versatile 6-7 F Jordan Nwora in the fold instead of losing him to the NBA Draft was the first domino to fall the Cards’ way. Next was crafty PG Lamarr Kimble transferring in as a grad from St. Joe’s where he was well-schooled under Phil Martelli and scored almost 16 ppg a year ago for the Hawks. With plenty of experience, feature performers, and another well-regarded crop of recruits, the ‘Ville should make a deep run in March unless the NCAA intervenes (the Cards are one the schools, like Kansas, in the middle of the FBI investigation).

9-MARYLAND...Unlike football, where the Terps continue to bang their heads against the wall in the Big Ten, Maryland hoops is more than holding its own in the loop and indeed could be Michigan State’s top challenger this winter. One of the nation’s youngest teams a year ago still made it to the Dance as a 6-seed, won a game once it got there, and was 1.6 seconds and a Tremont Waters LSU alley-oop away from the Sweet 16, and returns almost everyone plus a well-regarded frosh class. Among the four returning starters is arguably the Big Ten’s, if not the nation’s, top-rated PG in Anthony Cowan, Jr., while 6-9, 230-lb. frosh Makhi Mitchell is regarded as one of the country’s top diaper dandies. Marc Turgeon might have Maryland’s best chance to storm the Final Four since the Gary Williams era.

10-MEMPHIS...Okay, Penny Hardaway has already proven he can do part of the job with his alma mater Tigers, able to recruit a fertile local base and land perhaps the nation’s top incoming class highlighted by do-everything 7-1 C and Bluff City product James Wiseman, regarded by many as the nation’s top recruit, and all-name 6-9 PF Precious Achiuwa was not rated far behind. They‘re the headliners in what is almost a new “Fab Five” lineup save for soph PG Tyler Harris, who will try to lasso everything together for this precocious bunch oozing with upside. We’ll find out soon enough if Hardaway is up to coaching at as elite a level as he is recruiting after the Tigers could only get to the second round of the NIT in his coaching debut a year ago.

11-SETON HALL...Kevin Willard might have the best team at the Hall since the P.J. Carlesimo era thanks to bombs-away G Myles Powell and his 23 ppg pulling out of the NBA Draft and deciding to take one more spin around the block at the Pru Center. The immediate goal beyond making the Dance is to not be a one-and-done again as the past two years, but with Powell and a new rim protector in 7-1 Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu, the Pirates might be the beast of the Big East. As long as there is nothing more to Willard’s 2-game suspension to start the season, it’s full speed ahead for the Hall.  12-TEXAS TECH...Those of us who waited for the second coming of Bob Knight on the sidelines (and realized early that it wasn’t son Pat) finally have our guy in Chris Beard, who came within a few ticks of stealing the national title a year ago. This season will test our faith in Beard, who only has one returning starter in G Davide Moretti. But Beard has plugged in transfers before and could again this term, with versatile wings Chris Clarke (ex-Virginia Tech) and T.J. Holyfield (ex-Stephen F Austin) ready to hit the ground running.  13-VIRGINIA...Like the Toronto Raptors in the NBA, nobody is expecting a repeat title run by the Cavs, but underestimate them at your own peril. Remember, Tony Bennett has been getting his teams to punch above their weight since his days at Washington State (the Cougs haven’t made the Dance since he left after 2008). Major personnel losses since a year ago to be sure, but some key returning cogs in Fs Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, and PG Khei Clark, still remain. Add in Bennett’s trademark “Pack-Line” defense, and the ‘Hoos are again going to be no fun to play against.  14-OHIO STATE ...Chris Holtmann proved he could coach at Butler and is doing the same in Columbus, taking the Buckeyes to the second round of the Dance each of the past two seasons. Advancing to the Sweet 16 and maybe beyond looks possible with rugged 6-9, 270-lb. jr. Kaleb Wesson deciding to stick around and wait another year to put his name in the NBA Draft and joined up front with one of the nation’s most-prized frosh, 6-6 PF E.J. Liddell. The Bucks could be Michigan State and Maryland’s top challenger in the B1G.  15-VILLANOVA...This is still a ‘Nova program that has won two of the last four national titles, and where an ouster in the second round of the Dance is now considered undershooting expectations. In truth, Jay Wright did not have a roster as loaded a year ago as his title teams of 2016 & ‘18, and there has been some roster churn, including touted G Jahvon Quinerly transferring out to Alabama after last season. There are also no seniors on the roster, but there is experience nonetheless with three returning starters led by jr. G Collin Gillespie, and a touted frosh class featuring the next big thing on the Main Line, 6-9 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

16-COLORADO...Tad Boyle has taken the Buffs to the Dance on multiple occasions and could be the Pac-12’s highest seed next March. CU rallied to the edge of the bubble last winter and returns almost the same look with all five starters still in the fold, led by crafty jr. PG McKinley Wright IV. Injuries and suspensions thinned the rotations a year ago, but as long as those things don’t repeat, this looks to be Boyle’s deepest Boulder edition.  17-UTAH STATE...The Utags haven’t won a game in the Dance since Stew Morrill’s team in 2001, but this might be their best chance since. After winning the Mountain West Tourney and qualifying for the Dance last March, a return engagement is likely with 6-11 soph C Neeimas Queta developing into a monster and 6-5 G Sam Merrill off of a 21 ppg scoring output last year. We suggest to those in Logan to enjoy 2nd-year HC Craig Smith while you can.  18-OREGON...The Ducks caught fire down the stretch last March and rolled thru the Pac-12 Tourney and into the Sweet 16, where they almost knocked off eventual winner Virginia. Dana Altman has long since proven he can win with a variety of personnel mixes, and helping offset some of last season’s graduation losses is the presence of sr. PG Payton Pritchard, the lone holdover from the 2017 Final Four team. Before the end of the season, five-star 6-8 frosh F C.J. Walker might be the best player in the Pac-12, while New Mexico grad transfer G Anthony Mathis was one of the best bombers in the Mountain West.  19-LSU...Will Wade has proven he can get players into the Maravich Center, which is a good thing because his best performers continue to leave town early, such as G Tremont Waters and F Naz Reid from last year’s Sweet 16 entry. But local product soph Javonte Smart can pick up the PG role from Waters, and 6-9 frosh phenom Trendon Watford might make them forget about Reid quite quickly in Baton Rouge.  20-XAVIER...The Musketeers have been a factor under various coaches for a couple of decades now and Travis Steele is going to be expected to do more than qualify for the NIT, which is all his first X could muster last term. But Steele’s team made a spirited run to the edge of the bubble, returns four double-digit scorers, and has added Ohio grad transfer F Jason Carter, who scored almost 17 ppg and snared nearly 7 rpg a year ago for the Bobcats.

21-AUBURN...Bruce Pearl was desperately unlucky not to get to the title game last April, as the folks at Toomer’s Corner still can’t believe the Tigers lost that national semi to Virginia. Now they’ve also got to worry about the NCAA investigation that has identified the Tigers along with Kansas, Louisville and others, and former asst. Chuck Person has already been indicted and fired. We’ll see what happens next. But despite heavy graduation losses, never underestimate Pearl, who returns some building blocks in srs. 6–7 sr. Anfernee McLemore and 6-11 Austin Wiley, who have both battled injuries, and a touted frosh class that includes Tyrell Jones, heir apparent to graduated Jared Harper at the point.  22-SAINT MARY’S...Randy Bennett had to beat Gonzaga in the WCC Tourney final to make the Dance last March and did it, not the first time for the Gaels over the Zags in recent years, either. About all this next edition at SMC might be missing is a legit rim protector after Jordan Hunter’s departure, but he’s the only starter not back in the fold, with sr. G Jordan Ford (21.1 ppg) looking like another Matthew Dellavedova in Moraga, and rugged 6-8 F Malik Fitts a powerful presence in the paint. Teamwork, passing, and no holds-barred defense make the Gaels a hoop purists’ joy.  23-DAVIDSON...Bob “Leslie Nielsen” McKillop has been at this for over 30 years in the Charlotte suburbs and is no stranger to the Big Dance, making it with several teams (nine in total) other than those featuring Steph Curry. The Wildcats expect to make it back to the Dance again with a lineup featuring all five starters from a year ago led by A-10 Player of the Year 6-5 G Jon Axel Gudmundsson (17 ppg, 5 apg) and a defense that allowed only 65.6 ppg & 40.8% FG shooting. 24-LIBERTY...That was quite a breakthrough last season for the Falwells, who not only made it to the Dance but dumped Mississippi State in the first round for the Flames’ first-ever NCAA Tourney win. Almost everyone returns for HC Ritchie McKay, led by do-everything 6-6 wing Caleb Homesley. With last year’s success comes a rugged non-league slate featuring trips to LSU and Vandy of the SEC as well as the Bahamas Showcase and Jerry Colangelo Challenge in Phoenix. The team to beat for sure in the Atlantic Sun.  25-BAYLOR...The Bears arrived a year early for Scott Drew last season and even won a game in theBig Dance. So that’s a minimum expectation this season with almost everyone back on a deep squad with no real star performers. But plenty of functional ones and a couple of potentially-explosive transfer Gs in ex-Auburn Davion Mitchell and ex-UNC Asheville MaCio Teague (Big South Frosh of year in 2016-17).

26-HOUSTON...Kelvin Sampson has done a complete coaching rehab at UH and is staying loyal to the Cougs, signing a 6-year contract even as he has been getting attention from suitors who wouldn’t have even bothered with a call not long ago. Matching last year’s 33 wins and Sweet 16 appearance might be a tall order with only one starter returning, but ex-UMass transfer G DeJon Jarreau looks ready to assume a more-featured role, and sources say to watch frosh dagger-thrower Caleb Mills. UH will go small-ball with no starter likely over 6-7, but that’s how Sampson prefers things.  27-PURDUE...We wonder how life will be at Mackey Arena post-Carsen Edwards, but to underestimate HC Matt Painter would be a mistake, as the Boilermakers were winning and making the Dance for Painter long before Edwards showed up. Still, he’ll be hard to replace, as will be backcourt mate and sharpshooter Ryan Cline (111 triples LY), so this might be more of a traditional Purdue “bully-ball” look, feeding the ball into punishing 7-3 Dutch C Matt Haarms on the blocks. Painter, who prefers to rotate his bigs, might instead want to get 6-9 soph Trevion Williams on the floor with Haarms as much as possible.  28-VCU...It’s still a form of “Shaka Ball” a couple of coaches downstream for the Rams, but Mike Rhoades has VCU in familiar territory once again after winning the A-10 and returning to the Dance last March. Four starters return from one of the nation’s best defenses that held foes to beneath 40% FG shooting and forcing 4 TOS pg more than the previous year. The toughest matchup in the A-10 might be rugged 6-6 F Issac Vann, who plays a rugged inside-outside game and is adept at getting to the FT line.  29-TENNESSEE...There is likely to be some dropoff in Knoxville after Rick Barnes looked to have the Vols headed to the Final Four before getting derailed in the Sweet 16 last March. Only one starter returns (G Lamonte Turner) in what will be a smaller and more mobile lineup than the past few seasons, with Turner and sr. F Jordan Bowman expected to assume leadership roles after contributing more than complementary pieces last year. Watch ballyhooed frosh PG Josiah-Jordan James, as sources say “JJJ” could take the SEC by storm.  30-MARQUETTE...If we were projecting an early Top Ten last April, we might have included the Golden Eagles, but that was before the Hauser brothers Joey and Sam decided to transfer out. What is left behind is prolific G Markus (with a “k”) Howard, a bomber deluxe on the perimeter who scored 25 ppg a year ago, and a collection of role players and transfers led by another sharpshooter, Utah State transfer Koby McEwen, who will make it difficult and dangerous for foes to gang up on Howard. Can Wojo make this mix as effective as a year ago, when Marquette made the Dance?

31-MISSISSIPPI STATE...Now that Ben Howland has gotten the Maroon to the Dance, will it become a habit in Starkville? After toying with the idea of entering the draft, 6-10 soph Reggie Perry wisely decided to stick around the SEC for another year to hone his game, and provide Howland with real interior presence. A 10-game suspension keeps key G Nick Weatherspoon sidelined at the outset, though he’s slated to be back in December. Strange a year ago was a Howland team sagging a bit on the stop end but picking up the pace on offense, which might be the Bulldogs’ recipe again to return to the Dance, especially if 6-6 RS frosh slasher D.J. Stewart is as good as advertised.  32-ILLINOIS...We’re betting the hire of HC Brad Underwood two years ago begins to start paying dividends right about now for the Fighting Illini. Underwood, who won at Stephen F Austin and (for one year) at Oklahoma State before landing in Champaign-Urbana, could make a quick recovery from last year’s 12-21 mark thanks to 8 of the top 9 scorers returning to the fold, led by explosive jr. G Trent Frazier, and the addition of 7-foot, 290-lb. Jamaican frosh C Kofi Cockburn, who could prove a ferocious addition in the paint.  33-WASHINGTON...Mike Hopkins has imported to Seattle the Syracuse style he learned from Jim Boeheim, including a variation of the Boeheim zone that has caused Pac-12 foes fits the past couple of years. So did stopper wing Matisse Thybulle, maybe the nation’s best defender now doing his thing with the Philadelphia 76ers. But there is still plenty of length across the floor, and now some quality size with touted frosh 6-9 Jaden McDaniels and 6-9 Isaiah Stewart. Another Big Dance visit is expected.  34-CREIGHTON...They’re also holding their breath in Omaha as the Bluejays are one of the schools targeted in he FBI investigation and potentially looking at some NCAA penalties not long down the road. Stay tuned. In the meantime Greg McDermott should have another bombs-away squad after setting a school record with 372 canned triples a season ago. Idaho State grad transfer C Kelvin Jones likely fills a frontline gap left by early departures Martin Krampelj and Samson Froling, but Creighton remains fueled by its perimeter, where 6-5 jr. Mitch Blaylock returns and capable of doing things like hitting 11 of 12 triples as he did vs. DePaul in the Big East Tourney last March.  35-FLORIDA STATE...Leonard Hamilton has taken several teams to the Dance so we don’t want to discount the Noles just because they lost 6 of their 8 top scorers from last season. One of the returnees is sr. PG Trent Forrest, a valuable orchestrator, and history has shown us that Hamilton can plug in new pieces when needed. This term, it’s a couple of frontline transfers, ex-Ole Miss C Dominik Olejniczak and ex-Rice F Malik Osborne, while 6-8 frosh wing Pat Carroll has arrived in Tallahassee ready to shoot the 3-balls.

36-VERMONT...The Catamounts are usually into the Dance or playing for a shot to get in from the America East. It was the former last term and UV put a scare into Florida State in the first round before falling by only 7. Once again, the Cats ought to dominate the AE, which has no chance to compete against rugged frontliners 6-7 Anthony Lamb (21.2 ppg LY) and 6-11 Daniel Giddens, sorts usually not seen in these parts.  37-NC STATE...Kevin Keatts succeeded at UNC-Wilmington and has won 45 games his first two spins in Raleigh, though the Pack won’t be satisfied with another NIT berth this season. Keatts likes to play small-ball and has plenty of seasoning and savvy on the perimeter, including one of his charges who followed him from Wilmington, 6-5 sr. C.J. Bryce, and we suspect Keatts is going to make good use of 6-8 Lehigh grad transfer Pat Andree, who nailed 42% of his triples for the Mountain Hawks last term.  38-BYU...Could the WCC get three teams into the Dance in March? Maybe so, as most in Provo expect the transition to new HC Mark Pope (over from nearby Utah Valley) won’t be so drastic. Especially as Pope has brought with him 6-5 grad transfer Jake Toolson, a 16 ppg scorer for the Wolverines last year who can also shoot it from deep (45% triples LY). Along with versatile 6-8 F Yoeli Childs (21.2 ppg in 2018-19, though suspended first nine games) and sr. G T.J. “I’m not 40 years old!” Haws (18 ppg LY), they give Pope a legit 3-pronged attack.  39-ARIZONA...We still don’t know how Sean Miller is holding onto his job as the FBI investigation has already nailed former Cat assistant Book Richardson. But Miller keeps landing blue-chippers and some around the Pac-12 say that 6-3 frosh PG Nico Mannion might be a transformational player in Tucson, while some believe another frosh, 6-11 Zake Nnaji, has an NBA future, and gives the Cats the sort of “stretch-4" they didn’t have last year. Another of those could be 6-9 Cornell transfer Stone Gettings. Also in the fold is grad transfer G Max Hazzard, a high-volume 3-point shooter who, when last seen, was leading UC Irvine to its first-ever Big Dance win last March (against Kansas State).  40-HARVARD...Tommy Amaker always has an Ivy contender and with a bit of good injury luck for once, the Crimson could get back to the Dance after making it as far as the NIT second round a year ago. A narrow loser to Yale in the Ivy Tourney title game, Amaker could do one better this winter with four starters back in the fold. Keeping G Bryce Aiken (20.2 ppg LY but having missed 31 of 63 games the past two seasons) and F Seth Towns (2018 Ivy POY but down with a knee injury last season) healthy will help Amaker get back to the Dance, which he visited four times in a row from 2012-15 with the Crimson.

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