Candid Coaches: Who will be the best team in college basketball in the 2018-19 season?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on 10 questions we asked them.

Duke and Kentucky remain co-favorites to win the 2019 NCAA Tournament, according to oddsmakers. But Kansas is right there with them and guaranteed to be No. 1 in some, if not most, preseason rankings. In other words, there is no consensus No. 1. So it was unsurprising that no team got even 40 percent of the vote when we asked more than 100 college basketball coaches the following question:

Who will be the best team in college basketball in the 2018-19 season?

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CBS Sports / Mike Meredith
TeamVoting
Kansas 38 percent
Kentucky 18 percent
Duke 15 percent
Gonzaga 11 percent
Tennessee 9 percent
Virginia 5 percent
Nevada 2 percent
Villanova 2 percent

Quotes that stood out

On Kansas ...

  • "They've got enough coming back. Have had some guys sitting. Add that to what they've added in terms of their recruiting class, and they've got all the makings of a national championship team. When Bill Self likes his team, you're in trouble. I think he likes this team. Deep, big and can overwhelm you at a lot of positions."
  • "Kansas is talented, deep and old. They have to be the favorite to win it all. Dedric Lawson is going to dominate that league."
  • "They have the best mixture of talent and experience. Plus, they have the transfers that have proven they can play and score at a high level."

On Kentucky ...

  • "Kentucky is going to be a little older than usual. That'll make all the difference in the world."
  • "I just got a chance to watch Kentucky [play exhibitions in the Bahamas]. It looks like their talent-level is off the charts. And I think the world of [John Calipari] as a basketball coach. I don't think he gets the credit he deserves. He gains notoriety in a lot of ways. But nobody talks about him as a top-level tactician."
  • "I don't know if they have a freshman star like Anthony Davis or Karl Towns. But they have five-star kids like always. And getting Reid Travis was big. They've got experienced guys. That helps a lot."

On Duke ...

  • "On paper the individual talent Duke has is ridiculous. If Coach K can get those guys to blend together and play to their ceiling, they will be tough to beat."
  • "Nobody has more talent than Duke. They have three lottery picks."
  • "Duke might have some ups and downs early because they're so young. But that's the team with the highest ceiling. R.J. Barrett is ridiculous."

The takeaway

As I've written before, to me, this is a question for which there are two acceptable answers: Kansas or Kentucky. So the top two answers we got from coaches make sense. And even though I have Kentucky No. 1 in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one), I have no issue with the coaches preferring Kansas. It's reasonable and, I can admit, possibly right.

Because Kansas is loaded.

What I like most about the Jayhawks is how they check every box. Hall of Fame coach? Check. Proven Division I performers? Check. Five-star freshmen? Check. Future pros? Check. Depth? Check.

Kansas has everything you need to win a national title -- including five players who have already averaged more than 12.0 points per game at the high-major level. The best of the bunch should be Dedric Lawson. He's a 6-foot-9 transfer who averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds two seasons ago at Memphis. And multiple people close to KU's program have told me they expect him to be the Big 12 Player of the Year.

So, yeah, Kansas, is great on paper.

But Kentucky is too.

Needless to say, the Wildcats have another stellar freshman class filled with five-star recruits. But the key, I think, is the likelihood that three of their top six players will be non-freshmen who have already averaged more than 9.0 points per game at the high-major level -- among them Stanford transfer Reid Travis. The last time John Calipari had that -- again, three non-freshmen on his roster who have already averaged more than 9.0 points per game at the high-major level -- was in the 2011-12 season. The result was a national title.

As for Duke, like one coach accurately noted, nobody has more individual talent. Freshman R.J. Barrett will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Fellow freshmen Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are also projected lottery picks. And this is why the Blue Devils are the co-favorites with oddsmakers. But the reason I'm hesitant to label them similarly is because they don't return a single player who has ever averaged even 13.0 minutes or 4.0 points in college. And, for what it's worth, a team built that way has never won a national championship.

Could Duke be the first?

Of course.

Only a fool would count Mike Krzyzewski and three lottery picks out in August. But Kansas and Kentucky, for all the reasons stated, seem like safer picks to be consistently great. And the results of our poll reflect that opinion.

CBS Sports' Candid Coaches series for college football

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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