Way-too-early top 25 for the 2017-18 college basketball season

North Carolina is your 2017 national champion. Confetti has fallen and settled on the University of Phoenix Stadium court. The final notes of One Shining Moment have sounded. A wonderful college basketball season is behind us.

And, just like that, a new one has begun.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

A long offseason is ahead, but there’s no reason to delay the anticipation. So it’s top 25 time — way-too-early, absurdly early, foolishly early top 25 time.

A lot will change between now and November. Six five-star recruits remain uncommitted. Plenty of momentous NBA draft early-entry decisions haven’t yet been made (we’ve made educated guesses below). Players will transfer. Injuries will bite. The following rankings will surely look different two months from now, and even more different six months from now. But with all that being said…

Ladies and gentlemen, your first look at the top 25 for the 2017-18 college basketball season:

1. KENTUCKY
Key losses: F Derek Willis, G Dominique Hawkins, G Mychal Mulder, G Malik Monk (projected), De’Aaron Fox, F Bam Adebayo (projected)
Key returners: Isaiah Briscoe (projected), Isaac Humphries (projected), Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
Notable newcomers: G Hamidou Diallo, F P.J. Washington, C Nick Richards, G Jarred Vanderbilt, G Quade Green, F Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Outlook: John Calipari has a five-man lineup of five-star recruits, one at every position, set to arrive for the 2017-18 campaign. Diallo has been on campus since January, and might be the best of the bunch. The Wildcats also have two highly-touted 2016 recruits, Gabriel and Killeya-Jones, who should be sticking around for their sophomore seasons. If Briscoe and Adebayo choose to stay too, watch out — this is the preseason No. 1. If one or both leave… uh, still, watch out. Big Blue could be scary.

2. ARIZONA
Key losses: G Kadeem Allen, F Lauri Markkanen, G Kobe Simmons (projected), G Allonzo Trier (projected)
Key returners: G Rawle Alkins (projected), G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, C Dusan Ristic, F Chance Comanche
Notable newcomers: G Dylan Smith, F DeAndre Ayton, G Brandon Randolph, F Ira Lee, G Alex Barcello

Outlook: A few big NBA draft decisions have yet to be made, so it’s difficult to project Arizona, but even if all three of Simmons, Trier and Alkins leave, this has the looks of a top-10 team. Jackson-Cartwright and Ristic are very solid college players, Comanche has a big developmental offseason ahead of him, and the incoming freshman class is one of the nation’s best (it also could still grow). Ayton should start, and likely star, from day one. If Alkins returns, as it seems he should, the Wildcats will be clear favorites in the Pac-12. If Trier does as well, the Wildcats are probably the preseason No. 1.

3. KANSAS
Key losses: G Frank Mason, C Landen Lucas, F Josh Jackson (projected)
Key returners: G Devonte’ Graham (projected), F Svi Mykhailiuk (projected), G Lagerald Vick, C Udoka Azubuike, F Carlton Bragg, F Dwight Coleby
Notable newcomers: G Malik Newman, G Sam Cunliffe, F Billy Preston, G Marcus Garrett

Outlook: Not many teams can lose the national player of the year, a top-five NBA draft pick and a starting center and return to the top five the following year. But, by the same token, not many teams — or rather, no other team — can win 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, claim a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament eight years in a row, and claim a top-four seed 17 years in a row. Kansas is in a league of its own. And despite the losses of Mason and Jackson, the 2017-18 Jayhawks will be outstanding. Graham is ready to be a lead guard. Mykhailiuk and Vick are already above average Big 12 wings, and should be even better next year. Azubuike showed a lot of promise before his injury. Add in transfers Newman and Cunliffe (who isn’t eligible until the second semester), two talented freshmen and possibly one or two more recruits, and a 14th-straight Big 12 title, plus another top-two seed, seem very probable.

4. GONZAGA
Key losses: C Przemek Karnowski, G Jordan Mathews, F Zach Collins (projected)
Key returners: G Nigel Williams-Goss (projected), F Johnathan Williams, G Josh Perkins, F Killian Tillie, G Silas Melson, F Rui Hachimura, C Jacob Larsen, G Zach Norvell
Notable newcomers: G Corey Kispert

Outlook: We feel a little uneasy slotting the Zags this high given the expected loss of both rim-protectors, but there’s still a ton to like about next year’s roster, especially if Williams-Goss returns after coming so close to a national title. A frontcourt of Williams and Tillie would be very potent on the offensive end. The backcourt will have loads of experience and ability. There are also the wildcards of Larsen and Norvell, both of whom redshirted this past year. Gonzaga could essentially be adding two more top-50 recruits if both are what the Zags think they could be — and we’ve seen how the program has used redshirt years to great effect with other players. So even with the departures, this could be one of Mark Few’s most talented teams.

Gonzaga should be a contender again next year if Nigel Williams-Goss stays in school. (AP)
Gonzaga should be a contender again next year if Nigel Williams-Goss stays in school. (AP)

5. WICHITA STATE
Key losses: None
Key returners: F Markis McDuffie, G Landry Shamet, F Shaq Morris, F Zach Brown, G Conner Frankamp, F Darral Willis, F Rashard Kelly, G Daishon Smith, F Rauno Nurger, G Austin Reaves
Notable newcomers: G Samajae Jones

Outlook: Wichita State is reportedly likely on its way to the American Athletic Conference. If it weren’t, offseason discussion of a possible unbeaten season wouldn’t be outlandish — that’s how good this Shockers team is going to be. All 10 members of a 10-man rotation are back, and so is coach Gregg Marshall. Wichita State finished the 2016-17 season eighth in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and should find itself back in the top 10 from the jump next year.

6. VILLANOVA
Key losses: F Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins, C Darryl Reynolds
Key returners: G Jalen Brunson, F Mikal Bridges, G Donte DiVincenzo, G Phil Booth, F Eric Paschall, C Omari Spellman
Notable newcomers: F Jermaine Samuels, F Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree

Outlook: The greatest senior class in school history is gone; on the other hand, a handful of players are ready to blow up. Bridges could be a star with some refinement of his offensive game. Brunson was overshadowed by Hart, but is one of the best point guards in college basketball. DiVincenzo will be a popular breakout candidate. Spellman, the freshman center who was ruled ineligible last season, was the missing piece in Villanova’s frontcourt puzzle, but his delayed arrival could be worth the wait. If Booth is healthy, and if one of the freshmen emerges as a contributor, this is a top-five team. If neither of those things occurs, it’s still the Big East favorite. Plus… Jay Wright. He’s great. Even if you have questions about the talent or depth, at this point, you can’t doubt the program.

7. LOUISVILLE
Key losses: C Mangok Mathiang, G Tony Hicks, G David Levitch, G Donovan Mitchell (projected)
Key returners: G Quentin Snider, F Deng Adel (projected), C Anas Mahmoud, F Jaylen Johnson (projected), F Ray Spalding, G V.J. King, G Ryan McMahon
Notable newcomers: C Malik Williams, G Darius Perry, F Jordan Nwora

Outlook: Losing Mitchell would be a blow, but Louisville has enough pieces in reserve to take the potential blow in stride. Snider had a down year that was interrupted by injury, but should be the team’s leader as a senior. Adel and Johnson have both entered their names for the draft, but neither has hired an agent; both should be back. King at times appeared ready to step into a more significant role alongside Snider. Williams, the best of four incoming freshmen, will make the four-man frontcourt rotation fearsome. If Mitchell goes (he is also testing the waters without hiring an agent), Louisville lacks the star power of most top-10 teams, but it will have depth, experience and a Hall of Fame coach. That’s more than most teams can say.

8. DUKE
Key losses: F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, F Jayson Tatum, F Harry Giles, F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard (projected)
Key returners: G Grayson Allen (projected), G Frank Jackson (projected), C Marques Bolden
Notable newcomers: F Wendell Carter, G Gary Trent Jr., G Alex O’Connell

Outlook: Duke is the single most difficult team to project on this list. A month from now, it could be looking at an eight-man rotation of Jackson, Allen, Kennard, Carter, Mohamed Bamba, Trent Jr., Trevon Duval and Kevin Knox. (The Blue Devils are in the mix for Bamba, Duval and Knox — the top three uncommitted class-of-2017 prospects and all top-10 recruits — and are serious players for all three.) It also could miss out on the recruits, lose Kennard and Allen, and be left with a threadbare roster that would struggle to compete in the top tier of the ACC. The most likely scenario seems to be that Allen and Jackson return to form a formidable backcourt with Trent and O’Connell, and the Blue Devils get one of the three big unsigned high school players. That would be an ACC contender and a borderline top-five team.

That’s right, college basketball fans. Grayson Allen could be back at Duke for his senior year. (Getty)
That’s right, college basketball fans. Grayson Allen could be back at Duke for his senior year. (Getty)

9. WEST VIRGINIA
Key losses: G Tarik Phillip, F Nathan Adrian, G Teyvon Myers, F Brandon Watkins
Key returners: G Jevon Carter, F Esa Ahmad, G Daxter Miles, F Elijah Macon, F Lamont West, F Sagaba Konate
Notable newcomers: F Derek Culver, G Brandon Knapper, F D’Angelo Hunter

Outlook: Adrian’s departure leaves a sizable hole in the Mountaineer frontcourt, but Bob Huggins has the talent and depth to fill it. He also still has the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year in Carter, one of Carter’s two backcourt running mates and the Big 12 sixth man of the year, Miles, and a bevy of frontcourt options. Ahmad and West should rise into larger roles. Provided a third guard steps up, West Virginia should be the main competition for Kansas in the Big 12.

10. NORTH CAROLINA
Key losses: C Kennedy Meeks, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Stilman White, F Justin Jackson (projected)
Key returners: G Joel Berry, G Theo Pinson, F Tony Bradley (projected), F Luke Maye, G Kenny Williams, G Seventh Woods
Notable newcomers: G Jalek Felton

Outlook: The defending national champions will likely lose three starters and a fourth rotation player, but there’s a lot to like about next year’s projected core. Even if Berry doesn’t improve, he’s a first team All-ACC candidate. Bradley should take a giant leap forward with more playing time. The thing to like more than anything else, though, might be Roy Williams and his coaching staff. They’ve led one of the best developmental programs in the country over the past five years. They will need big offseasons from one or both of Williams and Woods if they’re to successfully defend their ACC title, but given the year-to-year individual improvement of other players in the recent past, you’ve got to trust that those offseason strides will be taken, and that Carolina will be better next winter than it looks to be on paper right now.

11. MICHIGAN STATE
Key losses: G Eron Harris, G Alvin Ellis, F Miles Bridges (projected)
Key returners: F Nick Ward, G Cassius Winston, G Josh Langford, G Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, G Matt McQuaid, F Kenny Goins, F Gavin Schilling
Notable newcomers: F Jaren Jackson, C Xavier Tillman

Outlook: According to Tom Izzo, Bridges is having a tougher time with his NBA decision than many, including Izzo himself, expected. If Bridges surprises all of us and stays in East Lansing, the Spartans are a top-10 team. Even if he jets for the pros, though, Sparty might be the Big Ten favorite. The other three members of a sparkling freshman class are back, as is Schilling, a chiseled 6-foot-9 senior who missed all of last season due to injury. Toss two stud recruits into the equation, and possibly a third, and the Spartans look primed for a return to the top tier of college hoops.

12. FLORIDA
Key losses: G Kasey Hill, G Canyon Berry, F Justin Leon, F Devin Robinson (projected)
Key returners: G KeVaughn Allen, C John Egbunu, G Chris Chiozza, F Kevarrius Hayes
Notable newcomers: G Jalen Hudson, F DeAundrae Ballard, F Isaiah Stokes

Outlook: Mike White has done an incredible job in just two years in Gainesville, and although roster turnover could take its toll, there aren’t overwhelming reasons to expect steep regression in year three. Robinson has declared for the draft without signing an agent for the second-straight year. Even if he leaves, Allen, Chiozza and Hudson, a transfer from Virginia Tech, will form one of the SEC’s best backcourts. Hayes showed promise late in the season after Egbunu went down with an injury. If Robinson returns for his senior season, the Gators could challenge Kentucky for the conference crown.

13. CINCINNATI
Key losses: G Troy Caupain, G Kevin Johnson
Key returners: G Jacob Evans (projected), F Kyle Washington, F Gary Clark, G Jarron Cumberland, F Nysier Brooks
Notable newcomers: G Cane Broome, G Keith Williams

Outlook: The Bearcats should have their two best players back in Evans and Washington. They’ll also welcome the addition of Broome, a transfer from Sacred Heart. Broome was the 2015-16 NEC player of the year. After a mandatory year on the sidelines, the 6-foot guard is ready to confront the AAC head-on. Mick Cronin’s teams are always strong on the defensive end; if Broome, Evans and Washington become a threatening trio on the offensive end, Cronin could have his best Cincinnati squad yet.

14. USC
Key losses: None
Key returners: F Chimezie Metu (projected), F Bennie Boatwright (projected), F Shaqquan Aaron (projected), G Jordan McLaughlin, G Elijah Stewart, G De’Anthony Melton, G Jonah Mathews, F Nick Rakocevic
Notable newcomers: G Derryck Thornton, G Charles O’Bannon Jr., G Jordan Usher

Outlook: If NBA draft decisions go Andy Enfield’s way, the Trojans will have everybody back from a team that fell a few possessions short of the Sweet 16. Enfield went 2-16 and 3-15 in the Pac-12 in his first two seasons in Los Angeles, but as he’s gotten his own players in to replace the leftovers of the previous regime, his program has been steadily rising. The 2017-18 season could turn out to be what USC has been building toward.

USC could be a power in the Pac-12 if Bennie Boatwright returns to school. (Getty)
USC could be a power in the Pac-12 if Bennie Boatwright returns to school. (Getty)

15. SAINT MARY’S
Key losses: G Joe Rahon, F Dane Pineau
Key returners: F Jock Landale, G Emmett Naar, G Calvin Hermanson, F Evan Fitzner, F Tanner Krebs
Notable newcomers: G Kristers Zoriks

Outlook: St. Mary’s has won 29 games two years in a row, and has the majority of the core of both those teams back for a third year. The most important piece is Landale, who finished the year second in Ken Pomeroy’s player of the year rankings. The Gaels don’t have the talent of a Gonzaga or a Wichita State, but it’s clear that what Randy Bennett has built in Moraga is sustainable.

16. BUTLER
Key losses: F Andrew Chrabascz, G Kethan Savage, G Avery Woodson, G Tyler Lewis
Key returners: F Kelan Martin, G Kamar Baldwin, F Tyler Wideman, F Sean McDermott, F Nate Fowler
Notable newcomers: G Paul Jorgensen, F Kyle Young, G Christian David

Outlook: The pedigree of Butler’s system and player development overrides some of the concerns that arise from the losses of four senior contributors. So does the presence of Martin, who returns as the Bulldogs’ best player and best scorer. Baldwin is going to be a stud by the end of his career, and could already be one of the better point guards in the Big East as a sophomore. He’ll play alongside Jorgensen, who transferred in from George Washington a year ago. Chris Holtmann has also signed arguably the best recruiting class in school history. At the least, Butler should maintain its place in the Big East’s top four for the fourth consecutive season.

17. TCU
Key losses: F Brandon Parrish, F Karviar Shepherd
Key returners: G Alex Robinson, F Kenrich Williams, G Jaylen Fisher, F Vladimir Brodziansky, G Desmond Bane, F JD Miller
Notable newcomers: C Kevin Samuel, G R.J. Nembhard, F Andre Pierce, F Lat Mayen

Outlook: Lists of 2017-18 surprise teams, meet TCU. TCU, meet 2017-18 surprise teams lists. The two will be inseparable over the next seven months. The Horned Frogs have all five starters from the 2017 NIT championship squad back in 2017-18, plus starting point guard Jaylen Fisher, the top recruit in school history, who broke his wrist in the NIT opener. TCU was better than expected in year one under Jamie Dixon, and will be better yet in year two. The pieces are there for a first tournament bid in 20 years.

18. NOTRE DAME
Key losses: F V.J. Beachem, G Steve Vasturia, F Austin Torres, F Matt Ryan
Key returners: F Bonzie Colson (projected), G Matt Farrell, G Temple Gibbs, G Rex Pflueger, F Martinas Geben
Notable newcomers: F D.J. Harvey

Outlook: The Irish won’t have too much depth, but Mike Brey has favored a short rotation in recent years anyway. With Farrell and Colson (likely) back and Gibbs hopefully evolving into a 25-minute-per-game player or something more, the core is strong. Also at Brey’s disposal will be Harvey, Notre Dame’s highest-rated recruit since Demetrius Jackson.

19. UCLA
Key losses: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Ike Anigbogu (projected)
Key returners: Aaron Holiday (projected), Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman
Notable newcomers: F Kris Wilkes, G Jaylen Hands, F Cody Riley, F Jalen Hill, F Chris Smith, F LiAngelo Ball

Outlook: The two players most responsible for transforming UCLA from a sub-.500 disappointment into a national title contender are off to the NBA. Two other starters are also moving on. Anigbogu, who’d be a popular breakout candidate if he were to stay, could turn pro as well. There’ll be a ton of roster turnover, but Holiday is ready to be the Bruins’ catalyst; Welsh is as steady as they come; and at least three or four of the freshmen will contribute, if not excel, right away. This will be a different team without Ball, but it still could be a good one.

Steve Alford’s Bruins should be in the thick of Pac-12 title contention again next season. (Getty)
Steve Alford’s Bruins should be in the thick of Pac-12 title contention again next season. (Getty)

20. MINNESOTA
Key losses: G Akeem Springs
Key returners: G Nate Mason, F Amir Coffey, C Reggie Lynch, G Dupree McBrayer, F Jordan Murphy, F Eric Curry, F Davonte Fitzgerald
Notable newcomers: G Isaiah Washington

Outlook: The Gophers have almost everybody back from a 24-win team — one that didn’t lose in February, and claimed a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. “Almost everybody” includes an All-Big Ten point guard (Mason), a shot-blocker extraordinaire (Lynch) and rising star (Coffey). Another year of experience for McBrayer, Murphy and Curry, plus the addition of Washington, a top-100 guard, should give Richard Pitino a strong seven- or eight-man rotation.

21. NORTHWESTERN
Key losses: F Sanjay Lumpkin, F Nathan Taphorn
Key returners: G Bryant McIntosh, F Vic Law, G Scottie Lindsey, C Dererk Pardon, F Aaron Falzon, F Gavin Skelly, G Isiah Brown
Notable newcomers: G Anthony Gaines

Outlook: This — 2017-18 — was supposed to be the year. Not last year. But now that last year was the year, the upcoming season looks even more promising. Lumpkin is the only significant loss. The McIntosh-Law-Lindsey trio will be even better. Pardon is at worst a second-tier Big Ten big man. Falzon will return from a knee injury that took his entire 2016-17 campaign. The only issue: Northwestern won’t play a true home game all season. It has been pushed 15 miles west of campus to Allstate Arena by renovations to its normal home, Welsh-Ryan Arena.

22. TEXAS A&M
Key losses: G J.C. Hampton, F Tavario Miller
Key returners: F Robert Williams, F D.J. Hogg, G Admon Gilder, F Tyler Davis, F Tonny Trocha-Morelos, G J.J. Caldwell
Notable newcomers: G Duane Wilson, G Savion Flagg, G D.J. Starks, G Jay Jay Chandler

Outlook: The Aggies, like TCU, could be a sneaky surprise pick. They not only more or less have all five starters returning; they have a player, Williams, who would have been a first-round pack had he declared for the draft. They will also get much improved play at point guard from the combo of Caldwell, who was ruled ineligible last season, and Wilson, a graduate transfer from Marquette. A&M underachieved in 2016-17, but could have a big bounce-back year in 2017-18.

23. ALABAMA
Key losses: G Corban Collins, F Jimmie Taylor, F Bola Olaniyan
Key returners: F Riley Norris, F Braxton Key, G Dazon Ingram, F Donta Hall, G Avery Johnson Jr., G Ar’mond Davis
Notable newcomers: C Daniel Giddens, G Collin Sexton, G John Petty, F Alex Reese

Outlook: There is a lot to like here. Sexton is a consensus top-10 recruit. Giddens, a transfer from Ohio State, is a former top-50 prospect and projects as a big-time shot-blocker. The class of newcomers is the reason Alabama is in this top 25. But don’t sleep on the returning core either. Key and Ingram were solid as freshmen, and should improve. Norris is a capable secondary scoring option. Avery Johnson should get to the tournament in his third season in Tuscaloosa.

24. MIAMI
Key losses: F Davon Reed, F Kamari Murphy
Key returners: G Ja’Quan Newton, G Bruce Brown, F Anthony Lawrence, G Dejan Vasilijevic, F Dewan Huell, C Ebuka Izundu
Notable newcomers: G Lonnie Walker, G Chris Lykes, C Deng Gak, F Sam Waardenburg

Outlook: Reed and Murphy were staples for the Hurricanes over the past two seasons, and the losses of those two will sting, but Jim Larranaga has a lot of bright, young talent on hand heading into 2017-18. Brown had an excellent freshman year; Vasilijevic and Huell showed plenty of promise too. Lawrence and Newton will provide necessary experience. A top-10 recruiting class, headlined by Walker, will inject the Hurricanes’ roster with skill and verve. That roster should take Miami to a third NCAA tournament in a row, and could have it challenging for a top-four place in the ACC.

25. VIRGINIA
Key losses: G London Perrantes, F Marial Shayok, G Darius Thompson, F Jarred Reuter
Key returners: F Isaiah Wilkins, G Devon Hall, G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome, C Jack Salt, F Mamadi Diakite
Notable newcomers: G Marco Anthony

Outlook: Transfers have gutted the Cavs’ roster of some depth and a couple starters, and their best player has graduated, but who are we to doubt Tony Bennett? Virginia has finished in the KenPom top 15 four years running despite roster turnover. If the Hall-Guy-Jerome backcourt trio gels on the offensive end, the frontcourt of Wilkins, Diakite and Salt is strong enough to make it five years in a row.

Others considered: Purdue, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, Xavier, Baylor, Rhode Island, SMU, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Providence, Nevada, Virginia Tech, Texas, Maryland, Indiana, Texas Tech

What to Read Next