The title game was last Monday, but it’s never too early to talk about next season.
The 2017-18 season is in the books, Villanova is a champion yet again, and it’s time for the offseason to begin. Players are starting to declare for the NBA draft with and without official representation, and it is going to take another two months to figure out exactly which players will return to college next season (the deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft this year is May 30).
Still, it’s fun to take a look at what next year’s elite squads might look like, and that’s exactly what we are going to do here. These five teams (like most years) are going to be among the nation’s elite next season and could very well be the AP’s preseason top five when the poll comes out in the fall.
Definitely Gone: Mikal Bridges
Almost Certainly Gone: Jalen Brunson
Possibly Gone: Omari Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo
Definitely Returning: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Collin Gillespie
New Recruits: Jahvon Quinerly (Composite No. 25), Cole Swider (No. 39), Brandon Slater (No. 47)
Villanova is definitely losing its best player, will almost certainly lose its leader (and AP National Player of the Year), and could also lose the big man that makes its three-point barrage of an offense so devastating. And none of that matters. Championship-game-hero DiVincenzo may test the draft waters – it only stands to reason that he would at least get some feedback after his 31-point performance – but he will almost definitely return next season. If and when he does, he’ll be playing alongside Booth and Paschall, both of whom were key components of this year’s title run.
Joining that trio will be this year’s key reserves: Cosby-Roundtree and Gillespie. A traditional big, Cosby-Roundtree will add a new element to Villanova next season. The option to put out a more traditional lineup will give the Wildcats’ offense a curveball to throw at opposing defenses. An offense where all five players can reliably hit threes is dangerous, but it’s even more dangerous when the opponent has to account and prepare for a true big man that can bully you down on the low block. Gillespie will see his shot total increase, and he’s already proven himself a solid deep threat, shooting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc on 71 shots this season.
Add on top of that a top-notch recruiting class and you have the makings of a team that can place yet another national championship trophy to its mantle. Quinerly can take over for Brunson as a point guard who can control the tempo, shoot off the dribble, and set up his teammates; Swider is a long, knock-down shooter who can either begin to replace Spellman or complement him; and Slater is Bridges-like. If Spellman does decide to return? Dear lord will this team be nearly impossible to beat.
Definitely Gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Almost Certainly Gone: Wendell Carter
Definitely Returning: Marques Bolden, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Jordan Goldwire
New Recruits: R.J. Barrett (No. 1), Cam Reddish (No. 2), Zion Williamson (No. 3), Tre Jones (No. 9)
Once again, Duke will probably be the most talented team on paper next season. Although Allen, Bagley, Carter, and Duval are leaving (and Trent might join them), the Blue Devils replace them with arguably the greatest recruiting class of all-time. Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson are the top-three composite recruits in the incoming class, marking the first time the top-three recruits will all head to the same school. Heading to Durham with them is top-10 recruit and No. 1 point guard Tre Jones, younger brother of former-Dukie and national champion Tyus Jones.
Those four together on the floor will be a lethal combination, at least offensively. Jones is an elite facilitator and can create his own shot when necessary; Williamson is an athletic monster most famous for his dunking abilities; Barrett will likely be the purest and most talented scorer in all of college basketball next year; and Reddish isn’t far behind Barrett and Williamson in terms of scoring and athleticism. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will work in Bolden and DeLaurier for some true size inside, and O’Connell for some outside shooting, but the main four players of this team are clearly the freshmen.
The wild card is Trent. Although he will definitely at least declare for the draft, most boards currently have him as mid-second-rounder, and if he isn’t satisfied with that and/or doesn’t hear inside information that he’ll be selected near the first round, he could return to Duke to improve his draft stock for 2019.
If he does return, the Blue Devils will become extra elite. Trent not only adds his ability to drain threes at an absurd clip, he also adds a level of experience this version of Duke lacks. He would be the only returning Blue Devil that averaged more than 12.9 minutes per game in 2017-18. The Duke defense might be a question mark again next year, but the Blue Devils will still possess an elite offense. They will be a title contender yet again on talent alone, and if Trent returns, watch out.
Definitely Gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick
Possibly Gone: Udoka Azubuike
Definitely Returning: Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett
New Recruits: Dedric Lawson (Transfer, Memphis), K.J. Lawson (Transfer, Memphis), Charlie Moore (Transfer, Cal), Quentin Grimes (No. 11), Devon Dotson (No. 19), David McCormack (No. 34)
Four of Kansas’s top-five scorers are gone – two to the scourge of graduation, two to the allure of making millions of dollars – but the Jayhawks arguably reloaded better than any other team in the nation. Yes, possibly even better than Duke. With three top transfers and three top-35 recruits coming in, Kansas has one of the best overall incoming classes in the country.
The Lawson brothers were two of the most sought-after transfers on the market last year and both are heading to the Jayhawks. Dedric Lawson – a 6-foot-9 power forward – is the more prolific of the two. During his 2016-17 campaign at Memphis, he averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.1 blocks per game. His younger brother K.J.– a 6-foot-8 wing – averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game that same season.
Add onto that point guard Charlie Moore and three recruits with the talent to contribute immediately and you have the makings of a team that might have some growing pains from having not played together yet, but with a ton of talent.
Udoka Azubuike is the key man that could return or could decide to join his teammates in the NBA draft pool. More than likely he will anchor the interior in Lawrence next season. Hopefully he’ll be able to solve his conditioning and foul woes so that the seven-footer can play more than 23.6 minutes per game during his junior season. Freshman David McCormack will work in with him, but Azubuike must be the driving force inside.
Other than Azubuike, no returning player averaged more than 19.2 minutes per game during the 2017-18 season. This is going to be a brand spanking new team for head coach Bill Self, but it has plenty of talent and plenty of collegiate experience, albeit not experience at the Kansas level. The Jayhawks will make a solid run at a 15th straight Big 12 championship and another Final Four appearance. Hell, maybe Self even walks away with a second title.
Definitely Gone: Johnathan Williams, Silas Melson
Definitely Returning: Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert
New Recruits: Brandon Clarke (Transfer, San Jose State), Filip Petrusev (No. 67)
Gonzaga had the 10th-most efficient team in the country this season, something that seemed to be overlooked because of how dominant the previous Gonzaga team was. But this year’s Bulldogs were extremely strong, and next season they will return four of their top of scorers and only two players from their regular rotation. That makes for a dangerous 2018-19 Gonzaga team.
The Zags lose the imposing Johnathan Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward who was powerful in the paint and strong off the dribble, but return both Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie, who are both probably better overall basketball players.
Hachimura is a tantalizing future NBA draft pick. He doesn’t shoot well from distance, but the 6-foot-8 Japan native is incredibly skilled down low. He has an array of shots to use with his back to the basket and he can even face up and hit the mid-range jumper, which forces defenders to play him honestly down low. He is also a freak of an athlete with a huge ceiling, meaning what we’ve seen from him so far (11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in just 20.7 minutes per game) could only just be scratching the surface. Tillie can play inside, but is more of a prototypical stretch-four. The frenchman hit 47.9 percent of his threes last season. His ability to stretch the defense allows for guards to penetrate and Hachimura to work inside less harassed than he should be.
Alongside the big men, Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. return to continue their roles as the Bulldogs’ top scoring guards. Perkins will have to play more on the ball with Silas Melson’s exit, but he proved himself more than capable of playing the point this season, averaging 5.3 assists per game.
Once again, Gonzaga is loaded with returning talent, solid players waiting in the wings for an increased role (see: Kispert, Corey) and new players that redshirted last season (see: Ayayi, Joel and Clarke, Brandon). Don’t think that 2016-17 was an aberration. Gonzaga will be a legitimate threat to win a national title next season.
Definitely Gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Almost Certainly Gone: Hamidou Diallo
Possibly Gone: Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington
Definitely Returning: Wenyen Gabriel, Quade Green, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones
New Recruits: E.J. Montgomery (No. 12), Keldon Johnson (No. 13), Immanuel Quickley (No. 15), Tyler Herro (No. 32)
For the umpteenth time, Kentucky is bringing in a strong recruiting class. Cool. What makes this team so intriguing heading into next season is how many players could return from this past season’s team. Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have declared and signed with agents, but everyone else from a team that won the SEC tournament and reached the Sweet Sixteen could return next season.
To be honest, Hamidou Diallo heading to the NBA would probably be addition by subtraction. He never really gelled with the team, had more turnovers than assists, and shot only 33.8 percent from deep. Everybody else, though, would make great additions to the squad if they returned.
Due to injury, Jarred Vanderbilt never really reached his full potential last season, but he showed plenty of flashes that if he were healthy for a full season, he could make a run at being one of the best big men in the country next season. Wenyen Gabriel will be back for his junior season to provide some front court depth and the ability to stretch the half court. PJ Washington declared but did not hire an agent. If he returned, Kentucky would then have three returning contributors in the front court along with freshman E.J. Montgomery. That’s the kind of combined experience and talent Kentucky hasn’t had since their 2014-15 run. I’m not saying the Wildcats will go undefeated until the Final Four, but it bodes well.
Quade Green will bring experience to the back court alongside freshmen Immanuel Quickley. The backcourt might also include 2019 top-10 recruit Ashton Hagans if Cal can convince him to sign and reclassify (reportedly a possibility). Then there’s Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro, two wings who could adeptly take over the Kevin Knox role. I know I’m going out on a limb by saying this, but if this team finds a way to gel together, it will be dangerous.
Honorable Mentions: North Carolina, Auburn, Virginia, Nevada
Edited by Peyten Maki.
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