It’s time to talk about what’s on everybody’s mind: the 2017-18 college basketball season! (What do you mean this season just ended?)
North Carolina has won the 2017 National Championship so now it is time to start thinking about the 2017-18. Over the next month or so, some players will leave for the NBA Draft or transfer to other schools, some will elect to spend another year in college, and several high schoolers will decide where they will earn their degrees (or at least ball out for a season).
As we enter this transition period, it’s instructive to take a look at what next season’s rosters might look like and what that means for those teams. Teams like Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas naturally reload every offseason and will remain, once again, in the national title conversation. Others are bringing back a mess of talent and have a legitimate shot at taking down the blue bloods. These way-too-early top 25 rankings for the 2017-18 season are just that: way too early. But it’s still fun to speculate, and it’s definitely a good idea to prepare for the season to come.
1. Louisville Cardinals
Key Players Leaving: Mangok Mathiang
Key Players In Limbo: Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson
Key Players Returning: Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud, V.J. King
Key Additions: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora
Louisville is going to be very good next season. Despite postseason disappointments in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments, the Cardinals established a great foundation for the coming year. Only senior Mangok Mathiang is definitely gone from last season’s squad that finished 25-9 and third in the ACC, and he was only the team’s fifth-leading scorer. Point guard and team leader Quentin Snider will be back along with three key bench players ready for a larger role. On top of all that, although Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson declared for the NBA draft, neither are likely to actually stay in the pool, meaning a total of three of Louisville’s top-four scorers should return. With three top-100 recruits coming in on top of all that, this is already a potential Final Four team. That just leaves star Donovan Mitchell who, like Adel and Johnson, declared for the draft but did not hire an agent. Mitchell led the team with 15.6 points per game and is a phenomenal defender as well. If Donovan Mitchell decides to return for his junior season, Louisville will go from great team to instant national title favorite.
2. Arizona Wildcats
Key Players Leaving: Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Kadeem Allen
Key Players In Limbo: Allonzo Trier, Trevon Duval (recruit), Brandon McCoy (recruit), Brian Bowen (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Rawle Alkins, Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche, Parker Jackon-Cartwright
Key Additions: DeAndre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello
Midway through the season, Arizona appeared to be a national title favorite and solidified that status by winning the Pac-12 tournament. Unfortunately the Wildcats did as Arizona does and lost before the Final Four, but expectations will be much higher come 2017-18. Knowing what we know now, Arizona should be considered a favorite to reach a Final Four but, much like Louisville, the Wildcats’ status will jump to national title favorite if one key player returns. Allonzo Trier made the most of his suspension-shortened season, putting up a team-high 17.2 points per game in addition to 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Miller signed four top-100 recruits to replace the exiting talent and the crown jewel is center DeAndre Ayton, the No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN. Soon to be sophomore Rawle Alkins will see an increased role and veteran center Dusan Ristic will be a wonderful asset off the bench to spell Ayton. Arizona will have more than enough talent to reach its first Final Four under Miller, and if Trier comes back, too, watch out.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Key Players Leaving: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Isaiah Briscoe
Key Players In Limbo: Bam Adebayo, Mohamed Bamba (recruit), Kevin Knox (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries, Mychal Mulder
Key Additions: Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
At the end of each season, Kentucky’s story is the same. Every offseason Kentucky loses a ton of talent, and every offseason it adds just as much back. Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Isaiah Briscoe all declared for the draft and signed agents, so they are all gone. Seniors Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins will depart as well. Bam Adebayo declared for the draft, but did not sign an agent so his status is up in the air, but if he leaves that will be five major contributors leaving and only two players who averaged more than 10.0 minutes per game returning. But none of that really matters. Calipari added six top-40 recruits to fill the void and still has two more irons in the fire in Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox. Another year, another Kentucky team loaded with young, NBA-ready talent. So it goes in Lexington.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Players Leaving: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
Key Players In Limbo: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Kevin Knox (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Tony Bradley, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson
Key Additions: Jalek Felton, Brandon Huffman
Fresh off a national title, the Tar Heels will lose the two men that gave their front court its pop. Justin Jackson is likely to depart for the NBA leaving the real question mark hovering over point guard Joel Berry. The Most Outstanding Player of this year’s Final Four will more than likely at least test the waters on going pro, and he may even follow through, stay in the pool, and try to capitalize on all the hype from the championship run. If he leaves, the Tar Heels will be put in a tough position without a reliable, experienced point guard. But if he returns, Roy Williams’s squad will return enough players, have enough experience, and add enough talent (shooting guard Jalek Felton is a five-star recruit) that it will contend at the top of the ACC once again.
As an aside, this past national title was Williams’s third, one more than the legendary Dean Smith had in his career. Yes, you read that right. Dadgum Roy has more national championships at North Carolina than one of the greatest head coaches in college basketball history – the man that the Tar Heels’ stadium is named after. The world is a mysterious place.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Key Players Leaving: Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones
Key Players In Limbo: Grayson Allen, Kevin Knox (recruit), Trevon Duval (recruit), Mohamed Bamba (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden
Key Additions: Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr.
The rollercoaster ride is finally over. We can officially say that Duke did not live up to the hype. The near-unanimous preseason favorite coming into the season, the Blue Devils danced between dominance and mediocrity all year, epitomized by their ACC tournament victory immediately followed by their first-weekend exit from the Big Dance. Duke will lose a ton of talent this offseason. Freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles declared for the draft. Thursday Luke Kennard, capitalizing on a stellar sophomore campaign, followed suit, but Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants have become some of the best recruiters in the nation. Signees Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. are both top-10 recruits and Duke is still in on three other top-10 recruits. The Blue Devils should land at least one of Kevin Knox, Trevon Duval, and Mohamed Bamba and could possible land two, which would be huge for Duke’s 2017-18 prospects. The biggest decision remaining, though, belongs to Grayson Allen. If he returns for his senior season, the team will be his and his alone. Frank Jackson showed plenty of signs of dominance during his freshman season and Marques Bolden has potential, too, but it’s Allen’s potential departure that looms largest for the Blue Devils. The astronomical expectations of this year are gone, but Duke will still be good next season. It’s overall quality, though, will depend on Allen’s and those three high school recruits’ decisions.
6. Wichita State Shockers
Key Players Leaving: None
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Everyone! Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Darral Willis Jr., Shaquille Morris, Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Rauno Nurger, Daishon Smith
Key Additions: Asbjorn Midtgaard
The KenPom darlings will be back in full swing next season. The Shockers finished eighth overall on KenPom.com and return every single important player from that roster. It doesn’t matter whether it plays in the Missouri Valley Conference or the American Athletic Conference – the Shockers were unanimously extended an invitation to join the American earlier this week and will more than likely accept it – Wichita State is going to be fantastic next season. Leading scorers Markis McDuffie and Landry Shamet will only improve on last season’s success; sharp shooter Conner Frankamp will remain just as lethal, if not more so, from distance; and the defense, ranked 13th overall by KenPom.com and 14th in points allowed per game, will remain just as constricting. The Shockers aren’t going anywhere, folks, and a Final Four run next season shouldn’t shock anyone (you’re welcome for the pun).
7. Kansas Jayhawks
Key Players Leaving: Josh Jackson, Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg
Key Players In Limbo: Trevon Duval (recruit), Kevin Knox (recruit), M.J. Walker (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike
Key Additions: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
Kansas was billed coming into this season as one of the best teams in the country and for most of the year that was true. Kansas won yet another regular season Big 12 title and reached the Elite Eight. But what the Jayhawks are sure to learn this coming year is it’s tough to replace a Naismith Player of the Year and Wooden Award winner. Frank Mason III averaged 20.9 points and 5.2 assists per game and shot an astounding 47.1 percent from three-point range. He will be missed and so will future top-five pick Josh Jackson for that matter, who averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game of his own. It will be up to Devonte’ Graham to take the leap forward and replace Mason as Kansas’s main option, and he is capable of that. The Jayhawks also add five-star recruit Billy Preston and former top-10 recruit Malik Newman will make his debut after redshirting last season. Newman averaged 11.3 points per game during his freshman season with Mississippi State, and after a full year practicing with Bill Self and company he should hopefully have improved, though adjusting back to game speed may take some time. Kansas will still be Kansas, obviously, but we’ll more than likely notice Mason’s absence throughout the year.
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8. Michigan State Spartans
Key Players Leaving: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III
Key Players In Limbo: Miles Bridges, Brandon McCoy (recruit), Brian Bowen (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Nick Ward, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn, Kenny Goins, Gavin Schilling
Key Additions: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
Even in a down year, Tom Izzo still found a way to win a tournament game. The only player of real significance leaving from last year’s team is Miles Bridges, a projected lottery pick who, to his credit, is apparently legitimately considering staying in East Lansing for his sophomore season. If he does return, move Michigan State up into the top three easily, maybe even put the Spartans at the very top of the list. But even if he does go to the NBA, Izzo has plenty of ammo to work with in 2017-18. Nick Ward, Joshua Langford, and Cassius Winston were three of the top five scorers last season as freshmen and four other major contributors from the past couple of years are back as well. That’s seven solid contributors without even mentioning top-20 recruit Jaren Jackson. The sophomores will play the largest role on this team next season, but it’s depth will go a long way toward helping Michigan State get back to the Final Four. And if Bridges returns, oh boy will this team be fun to watch.
9. Villanova Wildcats
Key Players Leaving: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth
Key Additions: Omari Spellman, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
The title defense did not end well. Despite living up to its billing as the reigning national champion and a great team overall all season long, Villanova fell during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But overall, Villanova was a great team this year, and even though it will lose far and away its best player as well as the man that owns the most iconic shot in the school’s history, next year Villanova will get something that it lacked all last season: a true big man. Omari Spellman, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward, was forced to redshirt this season after the NCAA ruled that he had failed to finish his academic qualifications in time for the start of the 2016-17 season. Spellman should be good to man the paint next season for Jay Wright and the Wildcats and he’ll have a plethora of guards around him. Second-leading scorer Jalen Brunson is ready to become this team’s alpha, wing Mikal Bridges continually improved as the year progressed, Donte DiVincenzo exceeded expectations during his freshman season, and Phil Booth will be back after missing most of the year with a knee injury. The expectations won’t be as high for Villanova next season without Josh Hart around, but it might very well have a better season in 2017-18.
10. Florida Gators
Key Players Leaving: Kasey Hill, Justin Leon, Canyon Barry
Key Players In Limbo: Devin Robinson, John Egbunu
Key Players Returning: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone
Key Additions: Jalen Hudson, Isaiah Stokes, DeAundre Ballard, Chase Johnson
Nobody expected Florida to be as good as it was this past season, and yet the Gators finished second in the SEC and reached the Elite Eight. Because of that, there are expectations in Gainesville for this coming season. If both Devin Robinson and a healthy John Egbunu return next season, Florida will give Kentucky legitimate competition for SEC supremacy. Robinson averaged 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while providing an offensive threat from both the perimeter and the paint. Robinson alongside top scorer KeVaughn Allen, late-season breakout star Chris Chiozza, and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson would create a fearsome quartet on both sides of the ball. The three four-star recruits that are coming in along with the role players returning from last season will play nice complimentary roles alongside that foursome. Mike White is going to have a talented team on his hands next season, better even than this year’s team that reached the Elite Eight so long as Robinson hangs around.
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11. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Players Leaving: Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews
Key Players In Limbo: Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss
Key Players Returning: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Killian Tillie
Key Additions: Corey Kispert
How do you follow up the greatest season in the history of your school? That will be the question following around Gonzaga all next year. Mark Few brought his team to its first Final Four but fell just a minute short of a championship. For the next month or so, the cloud of “almost” will hang over the program but soon enough, everyone, program and fans alike, will only look at last season as a resounding success. “The Mountain that Rides,” Przemek Karnowski, and shooting guard Jordan Mathews are out the door and seven-footer Zach Collins will likely follow them out the door and head to the NBA. The real question is whether or not Nigel Williams-Goss joins Collins at the professional level. Projections vary on Williams-Goss. They range anywhere from early second round to undrafted, so there’s at least a reasonable chance Gonzaga’s best player comes back for one more crack at a title. Gonzaga still has talent without Williams-Goss, but he is what will make Gonzaga go from really good to great next season.
12. West Virginia Mountaineers
Key Players Leaving: Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Jevon Carter, Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles Jr., Elijah Macon, Lamont West, Sagaba Konate
Key Additions: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper
Despite unexpectedly losing forward Devin Williams to the NBA prior to the season, West Virginia lived exactly up to expectations this year. Expected to be a top-15 team, the Mountaineers remained inside the top 10 for most of the year, finished tied for second in the Big 12, and came within a possession of reaching the Elite Eight. West Virginia’s expectations should remain about the same coming into next year. Yes, the Mountaineers will lose four players from this season’s absurdly deep 10-man rotation, but they will return the best two. Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad were the only double-digit scorers for West Virginia last season and both will take on ever-increasing roles next year. In addition, Daxter Miles, Elijah Macon, and Sagaba Konate will take on larger roles as will Beetle Bolden, Lamont West, and Maciej Bender. Outside of Carter, there are no stars on this team, and even calling Carter a star is pushing it, but there will once again be a ton of depth, balance, and effort from Huggy Bear and West Virginia. Press Virginia will be right back at it again next season.
13. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Key Players Leaving: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Jock Landale, Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar, Evan Fitzner, Tanner Krebs
Key Additions: Kristers Zoriks
Saint Mary’s was a really good team last season, not just compared to the rest of the West Coast Conference but compared to the rest of the country. The Gaels three best players are coming back next season, which means they are once again going to be one of the better teams in the country. Star center Jock Landale will enter his senior season with a ton of promise after a season that saw him average 16.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar averaged more than 22.0 points per game together last year and both will be able to up their totals with the departures of Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau. Don’t be surprised if Saint Mary’s turns out even better next season than it was this season.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Key Players Leaving: V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Rex Pflueger, Temple Gibbs, Martinas Geben
Key Additions: D.J. Harvey Jr.
Losing V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia is unfortunate for an offense that ranked 18th in efficiency according to KenPom.com last season and was the driving force for the team, but Notre Dame has more than enough to compensate for it, namely Bonzie Colson. Colson averaged a double-double last season with 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, both team highs. He even threw in 1.4 blocks per game for good measure. Having Colson back will go a long way toward reestablishing Notre Dame’s dominance next year. Matt Farrell, another double-digit scorer, will continue to lead the offense at the point, but the real success of the Fighting Irish’s season will hinge on the emerge of guys like Rex Pflueger and Temple Gibbs – role players from a year ago that weren’t required to consistently contribute offensively but will now be tasked with bearing a significant burden. If Mike Brey can coach them up to snuff, which should be expected at this point, Notre Dame will be as competitive as always.
15. USC Trojans
Key Players Leaving: None
Key Players In Limbo: Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
Key Players Returning: Jordan McClaughlin, Elijah Stewart, De’Anthony Melton, Shaqquan Aaron, Jonah Mathews, Nick Rakocevic
Key Additions: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon Jr., Jordan Usher
USC could be in store for its best season in more than a decade next year if, and only if both Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu return. USC has a ton of talent in the backcourt: two double-digit scorers from last season, three solid role players, and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, who will become eligible to play again next year. However, Boatwright and Metu are the only real, solid, consistent contributors in the front court and both were phenomenal last season (15.1 and 14.8 points per game respectively). Both declared for the draft but neither hired agents so a return is more than possible for both players. If both go, the front court will be left bereft of any real talent whatsoever. If one stays, there will at least be one player to fill the void. If both stay, USC will have enough talent in both the back court and the front court that it could conceivably compete for a Pac-12 title.
16. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Key Players Leaving: Akeem Springs
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer, Reggie Lynch, Eric Curry
Key Additions: Isaiah Washington
Richard Pitino has brought Minnesota basketball back from the dead. The Golden Gophers had not reached the NCAA tournament since Pitino took over the program in 2013 and had not finished above .500 in conference play since 2004-05. A gradual return to relevancy was expected this year, but not the huge jump that actually occurred. And after finishing 23-8 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten, the Golden Gophers will return every key player from last season’s squad except for one, setting them up for an even better season in 2017-18. Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, and Dupree McBrayer were the four leading scorers for Minnesota in 2016-17 and, barring injury, they will lead the Gophers in scoring once again. The difference this time is that they will have an extra year of experience under their belts and legitimate postseason experience. If a few of the bench players from last season can step up, when Minnesota gets a five-seed in next season’s NCAA tournament, it might actually deserve it.
17. Xavier Musketeers
Key Players Leaving: Edmond Sumner, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard
Key Players In Limbo: Trevon Bluiett
Key Players Returning: J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara, Kaiser Gates, Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones
Key Additions: Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden
Even after losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the year midseason and suffering through an awful February, Xavier still reached the Elite Eight. Call it a successful year, and the Musketeers can thank Trevon Bluiett for that run. Xavier’s hopes for next season rest entirely on Bluiett’s shoulders. If he leaves for the NBA, the Musketeers will follow up their Elite Eight season with, more than likely, an average season in the Big East. If he returns for his senior season, he alone is talented enough to take this team to the top of the Big East and beyond. Bluiett averaged 18.5 points per game last season, which on the surface might seem really good but not quite good enough to boost a team up singlehandedly. However, Bluiett also had 19 games of 20 points or more and one obnoxious game against Cincinnati when he put up 40 points and shot 9-for-11 from three. J.P. Macura and Sean O’Mara seem like capable players, but if Xavier wants to have any legitimate postseason aspirations at all, it needs Bluiett to come back.
18. Butler Bulldogs
Key Players Leaving: Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Kethan Savage, Tyler Lewis
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin, Tyler Wideman, Nate Fowler
Key Additions: Paul Jorgensen, Christian David, Kyle Young
Butler loses four main players from its rotation, but is one of the few teams in the country that is capable of replacing them without recruiting superstars. Leading scorer Kelan Martin will be back as will fellow double-digit scorer Kamar Baldwin, and head coach Chris Holtmann is one at the best in the business at promoting the right players in the offseason. The Bulldogs will also add George Washington transfer Paul Jorgensen who will be able to serve as a solid back-up off the bench. Martin and Baldwin will take on the lion’s share of the work, but thanks to the fact that this team is used to building through its system, there’s enough balance here to once again compete in the Big East and potentially reach another Sweet Sixteen.
19. Miami Hurricanes
Key Players Leaving: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Bruce Brown, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence Jr., Dejan Vasiljevic, Dewan Huell, Ebuka Izundu
Key Additions: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak
There is a lot of potential with this Hurricanes squad – like, could potentially establish itself as a top-10 team potential. Miami loses top-scorer Davon Reed and top-rebounder Kamari Murphy, but returns several key players ready for primetime and brings in its best recruit in many, many years. Bruce Brown is ready to explode onto the scene after a year that saw him average 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game and take over certain games all by his lonesome as a freshman. Ja’Quan Newton is incredibly talented but also incredibly frustrating. He averaged 13.5 points per game as a point guard, but also finished with 3.4 assists against 3.3 turnovers per game. If he can focus this offseason on reducing the turnovers, he could become one of the ACC’s best point guards. Then there’s Lonnie Walker, ESPN’s No. 18 overall recruit. The five-star, 6-foot-4 shooting guard looks like a one-and-done with the kind of talent Miami may have never seen before. Jim Larranaga is a fantastic coach, and if the pieces fall in the right spots, Miami could become one of the nation’s best teams.
20. Cincinnati Bearcats
Key Players Leaving: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, Gary Clark, Jarron Cumberland, Tre Scott
Key Additions: Cane Broome, Keith Williams
Cincinnati was the epitome of a team that lived up to its above average billing all season. The Bearcats were never great, but they were consistently very good, finishing second in the American and winning a tournament game before being knocked out by UCLA. Team leader Troy Caupain may be gone next season, but Cincinnati’s top-three scorers will all return for Mick Cronin. Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, and Gary Clark all averaged more than 10.8 points per game, and both Washington and Clark averaged more than 6.8 rebounds per game. The defense will be just as constricting as it was this season – 15th in defensive efficiency and eighth in points allowed per game – and now the key players will have another year’s postseason experience under their belt. The Bearcats aren’t adding any impact recruits, but the returning talent should be enough to compete at the top of the American once again alongside Connecticut, SMU, and now Wichita State.
21. Oregon Ducks
Key Players Leaving: Chris Boucher, Dylan Ennis
Key Players In Limbo: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, Brandon McCoy (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Payton Pritchard, Casey Benson
Key Additions: Troy Brown Jr., Victor Bailey Jr.
Oregon had a phenomenal year. The Ducks finished tied atop the Pac-12, reached the Pac-12 tournament title game, and, despite losing stud Chris Boucher during the Pac-12 tourney, still reached the Final Four, nearly knocking off North Carolina. They deserve their No. 3 ranking in the final coaches poll. Unfortunately, the Ducks probably have the most talent in limbo than any other team in the country. Star forward Dillon Brooks, potent guard Tyler Dorsey, and defensive monster Jordan Bell all could leave for the NBA or return next season. If all of them return, Oregon will once again push for a national championship, but it’s more than likely that at least one of them will enter the draft pool. With Payton Pritchard and Casey Benson as the only key players returning from 2016-17 and Troy Brown Jr. the only impact freshman joining the squad, the Ducks will need at least one of the Brooks-Dorsey-Bell trio to return to be nationally relevant. Unfortunately, with all of their draft prospects sitting around the early second round, it’s too tough to predict right now what will happen.
22. UCLA Bruins
Key Players Leaving: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Ike Anigbogu
Key Players In Limbo: Brian Bowen (recruit), M.J. Walker (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman
Key Additions: Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, LiAngelo Ball
UCLA will bring in four top-50 recruits this season, but their work is cut out for them replacing all the players on their way out of Los Angeles. Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are draft-bound, Ike Anigbogu just joined them, and Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have graduated but Ball will clearly be the most difficult to replace. Ball’s ability to run the offense both in transition and in the half court was as close to professional as a college player can get, which is why he’s projected to go top-three in the NBA draft. Ball averaged 7.6 assists (best in the country) to go along with 14.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, so even though the four players definitely out the door were the Bruin’s top four scorers and they all will be tough to replace, it will be the void left by Ball that is the most difficult to fill. Holiday and Welsh are capable scorers and they hopefully will get help from five-star small forward Kris Wilkes and five-star point guard Jaylen Hands, but Hands is not Ball. UCLA should still have enough talent to compete in the Pac-12 and reach the tournament, but because of all the talent it lost, especially Ball, expectation should be tempered heading into 2017-18. It’s unlikely the Bruins repeat the magic of this past season.
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23. Northwestern Wildcats
Key Players Leaving: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
Key Players In Limbo: None
Key Players Returning: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Dererk Pardon, Isiah Brown, Gavin Skelly
Key Additions: Anthony Gaines
If you hadn’t heard, Northwestern made the tournament for the first time in its storied history this past year. More tournaments will follow. Chris Collins has built himself a legitimate program in Evanston, Illinois and the Wildcats’ top five scorers will all be back next year. Northwestern wasn’t great at anything this year, but it was good to really good at everything. The Wildcats slowed down the pace of the game, played solid defense, and converted on offense. There was no flourish, but they got the job. There’s no reason to expect anything less from Northwestern next season, and there’s good reason to suspect it improves with a year’s worth of experience. Don’t be surprised if Bryant McIntosh and company get a better seed than an eight-seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
24. Baylor Bears
Key Players Leaving: Ishmail Wainwright, Al Freeman
Key Players In Limbo: Johnathan Motley, Trevon Duval (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., Terry Maston, King McClure, Jake Lindey
Key Additions: Tristan Clark
Baylor will be dominant in the post once again with the return of Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and Terry Maston, and they will be even more so if Johnathan Motley comes back, too (he declared for the draft Monday but did not hire an agent). Al Freeman is unfortunately transferring but point guard Manu Lecomte will be back to man the back court which will go a long way toward maintaining stability in the offense, particularly in the hypothetical scenario of Motley’s absence. Baylor surprised everyone last season by jumping from unranked to one of the top teams in the nation and it reached a Sweet Sixteen before getting throttled by South Carolina. It’s not unreasonable for the Bears to reach those heights again, but expectations should be lowered in the event that Motley heads to the NBA.
25. Michigan Wolverines
Key Players Leaving: Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal, Duncan Robinson
Key Players In Limbo: D.J. Wilson, Moe Wagner, Mohamed Bamba (recruit)
Key Players Returning: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Xavier Simpson
Key Additions: Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers
The darlings of the postseason, Michigan stands to lose just about everyone from last year’s team. Seniors Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal, and Duncan Robinson – two of Michigan’s stars and two of its most essential bench components – are out the door and underclassmen D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner may bolt for the NBA. Both declared for the draft, but neither hired agents so at least there is some hope at Michigan. If all six of those players head out, 84.2 percent of the Wolverines’ scoring last year will exit Ann Arbor. That’s a lot. That’s way too much to expect any sort of repeat next year from a team that doesn’t constantly bring in five-star McDonald’s All Americans like Duke and Kentucky. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Xavier Simpson are capable of picking up some of the offensive slack, but this ranking inside the top-25 is based entirely on at least one of either Wilson or Wagner staying with Michigan for one more season.
Honorable Mentions: Virginia, Alabama, Creighton, Virginia Tech, TCU
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