Three-hundred and forty-six Div. I college basketball programs will aim to dethrone North Carolina from atop the national championship landscape in the 2017-18 season. The coming weeks will shape the contenders, as programs await NBA draft decisions for some of their top players, and transfer possibilities loom.
Baring those caveats in mind, it's hardly too early to take a quick gauge of the next campaign. Some honorable mentions that did not make the Top 25:
- South Carolina
- Virginia Tech
And regarding Purdue, considering the following null-and-void if both Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Hass spurn the NBA. Biggie Swanigan alone puts the Boilers back in the Top 25. With that, onto the rankings.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Key Returners: Devonte' Graham, Lagerald Vick
Departures: Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas
Wild Card: Svi Mykhailiuk
New Arrivals: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett
Buzz: Kansas loses a budding superstar in Josh Jackson, who began hitting his stride late in the 2016-17 season. Lawrence also parts way with Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Frank Mason III. And yet, the outlook for the Jayhawks improved in the last week, thanks to an influx of transfers. Memphis imports and brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson join Sam Cuncliffe (Arizona State) and Malik Newman, already in the fold for the past several months.
With Devonte' Graham already declaring his intent to return, the the additions of Newman and Cuncliffe (in December) ensures Kansas won't just maintain in 2017-18: The Jayhawks become the team to beat.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
Departures: Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Mychael Mulder
Wild Card: Bam Adebayo
New Arrivals: Hamidou Diallo, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Buzz: John Calipari loses great players. John Calipari adds great players. The circle of college basketball continues. Despite freshmen phenoms De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk leaving as expected, Kentucky replenishes its ranks with a stellar signing class. The possible addition of Pittsburgh transfer Cam Johnson could add veteran firepower. Should Bam Adebayo return after testing the NBA draft waters, he could be primed for a monster season.
3. Arizona Wildcats
Key Returners: Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder
Departures: Kadeem Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons
Wild Cards: Rawle Alkins, Chance Comanche Allonzo Trier
New Arrivals: De'Andre Ayton, Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, Alex Barcello
Buzz: Arizona loses plenty of star power in Lauri Markkanen; veteran leadership from Kadeem Allen; and potential out of Kobi Simmons. Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier both have big decisions to make, and should both return that could elevate Arizona to No. 1. But even without the duo, Sean Miller returns solid veterans in Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Kenau Pinder, providing a foundation around a talent-rich recruiting class, the crown jewel of which is big man De'Andre Ayton. Ayton is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2017 signing class.
Should center Chance Comanche return – he's testing the waters – he could be a breakout star in 2017-18.
4. Wichita State Shockers
Key Returners: Darral Willis, Shaquille Morris, Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Zach Brown
Buzz: Despite boneheaded seeding from the NCAA Tournament selection committee, Wichita State proved to be one of the nation's best teams in 2017. Just ask Kentucky, which needed a last-second defensive stand to hold the Shockers off in the Round of 32. Head coach Gregg Marshall returns every key contributor from a 31-win team that spent much of last season ranked in the top 10 of the KenPom.com metrics.
The Shockers' rough defensive style and disciplined offense make them the clear favorites immediately upon moving into the American Athletic Conference.
5. Florida Gators
Key Returners: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone
Departures: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry
Wild Cards: Devin Robinson, John Egbunu
New Arrivals: DeAundrae Bullard, Chase Johnson, Isaiah Stokes, Mike Okauru
Buzz: Florida looked like the best team in the nation at some point in January, before losing center John Egbunu to a knee injury. Even without him, the Gators dominated Virginia and outlasted Wisconsin en route to the Elite Eight. He could be a centerpiece for a Final Four-caliber squad in 2017-18 – but if not, head coach Mike White has plenty to work with to build on last season’s success.
KeVaughn Allen is a budding star, whose profile gained national attention during the NCAA Tournament. He'll be a breakout performer in the season to come.
6. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Returners: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson
Departures: Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews
Wild Cards: Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss
Buzz: Don't expect Gonzaga's first Final Four run to be its last. While the Zags flourished behind a trio of transfers, only Jordan Mathews was a guaranteed one-and-done. Johnathan Williams should be back next season, and last season’s breakthrough star, Nigel Williams-Goss, is not a projected first-rounder in the upcoming NBA draft. He could be a national player of the year contender and boost his stock with one more year in Spokane. Should ultra-talented big man Zach Collins returns, Gonzaga will earn some preseason No. 1 votes.
As it currently stands, Gonzaga has a solid foundation with underrated wings Josh Perkins and Silas Melson back in the fold.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Returners: Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson
Departures: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
Wild Cards: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley, Theo Pinson
New Arrivals: Jalek Felton, Sterling Manley, Andrew Platek, Brandon Huffman
Buzz: Necessary preface – Should All-American and ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson return, the defending national champions immediately move up several spots, perhaps all the way to No. 1. Jackson emerged as a primary scoring option for North Carolina in the past season, but his lockdown, man-to-man defense proved vital to the Heels' national title run.
UNC’s preseason forecast also hinges on the decision facing 2017 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry II, as well as promising big man Tony Bradley. If he decides to return for his sophomore season, Bradley is poised to fill the rebounding void left by Kennedy Meeks.
8. Louisville Cardinals
Key Returners: Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud
Departures: Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks
Wild Cards: Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell
New Arrivals: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
Buzz: The coming weeks will dictate Louisville's 2017-18 forecast perhaps more than any other program around college basketball. Should the trio of Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson and Donovan Mitchell all return for another year, Rick Pitino has his best lineup since the 2012-13 team brought home a national championship. While their decisions linger, Louisville loads up with an impressive signing class. The headliner is 7-footer Malik Williams, a 5-star prospect who should have an immediate impact.
9. Xavier Musketeers
Key Returners: J.P. Macura, Sean O'Mara, Kaiser Gates
Departures: Edmond Sumner, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard
Wild Card: Trevon Bluiett
New Arrivals: Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder, Brady Ernst, Kentrevious Jones
Buzz: A trendy Final Four pick last offseason, Xavier faced adversity with the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner midway through the campaign. He's off to the NBA, but the Musketeers figured it out in the last month of the 2016-17 season.
Trevon Bluiett's impending professional decision (and some off-the-court issues) looms, but even without the prolific scorer, Xavier has reason to expect this past Elite Eight run will serve as a launching pad for bigger things. The addition of 4-star recruits Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall provides further reason for excitement.
10. Oregon Ducks
Key Returners: Payton Pritchard, Kavell Bigby-Williams
Departures: Dylan Ennis, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher
Wild Cards: Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell
New Arrivals: Troy Brown, Abu Kigab, Victor Bailey
Buzz: Oregon's first Final Four in 78 years nearly produced a national title game appearance – despite a lackluster semifinal from Dillon Brooks. The Pac-12 Player of the Year may or may not return to Eugene, but if he does, expect huge numbers from him as he seeks the title that evaded the Ducks. Ditto Jordan Bell, whose NCAA Tournament performance was historic. While Dana Altman awaits their NBA decisions, the Oregon head coach brings in a top-10 recruiting class, and welcomes back high-potential role players Payton Pritchard and Kavell Bigby-Williams.
11. Duke Blue Devils
Key Returners: Marques Bolden
Departures: Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III
Wild Cards: Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson
New Arrivals: Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O'Connell
Buzz: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has seen just about everything in his long, illustrious career, including an exodus of talent for the NBA. Such is the scenario for Duke in the coming offseason, but there's no reason for Blue Devil faithful to sweat. Coach K is replenishing his roster with just about as much pro-potential talent as Duke loses, adding 5-star recruits Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter.
Trent is the son of former Ohio Bobcats standout Gary Trent Sr., nicknamed the Shaq of the MAC for his tenacious interior play. That style fits Carter more than Trent, who should be a nice backcourt mate for veteran Grayson Allen, should he return to Durham.
12. UCLA Bruins
Key Returners: G.G. Goloman
Departures: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford
Wild Card: Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, Ike Anibogu
New Arrivals: Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, Jalen Hill, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Chris Smith
Buzz: UCLA blended one-and-done talent with established playmakers nicely last season, seemingly giving Steve Alford a recipe for success. So long as the veterans who should return do, UCLA has the makings of a similar roster in 2017-18. Thomas Welsh, Ike Anigbogu and Aaron Holiday could all be All-Pac-12 performers next season, provided they return to Westwood.
They would join the nation's No. 2-ranked recruiting class, headlined by 5-star prospects Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. Wilkes and Hands should transition into the roles Leaf and Ball occupied a season ago, and local prospect Cody Riley could be a significant force on the interior at 6-foot-7 and about 240 pounds.
13. Michigan State Spartans
Key Returners: Nick Ward, Tum Tum Narin, Cassius Winston
Departures: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis
Wild Cards: Miles Bridges
New Arrivals: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
Buzz: Michigan State featured a three-man rotation of freshman last season that – if all return to East Lansing – has Final Four potential. Guard Cassius Winston and forward Nick Ward are back, barring any surprise NBA announcements, but the star of the group – big man Miles Bridges – is wait-and-see.
Bridges immediately becomes a preseason All-American if he returns, and he'll benefit from sharing a frontcourt with 5-star freshman Jaren Jackson. The Indiana high school basketball standout might be the most promising Spartan center recruit since Zach Randolph.
14. Cincinnati Bearcats
Key Returners: Kyle Washington, Quadri Moore, Jarron Cumberland, Gary Clark, Tre Scott
Departures: Troy Caupain
Wild Card: Jacob Evans
New Arrivals: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme
Buzz: All but one key figure in Cincinnati's 30-win campaign could be back for more, should Jacob Evans spurn the NBA draft. With a lineup of Evans, Kyle Washington and Quadri Moore, Mick Cronin's Bearcats would be one of the most impressive squads heading into next college basketball season – and a possible preseason top-10 team.
15. Miami Hurricanes
Key Returners: Bruce Brown, Ja'Quan Newton, Dewan Huell, Dejan Vasiljevic
Departures: Davon Reed
New Arrivals: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
Buzz: A top 10-ranked recruiting class joins an established corps of veterans at Miami, making for an intriguing dark-horse contender in next season's loaded ACC race. Jim Larranaga scored his first major win of the offseason early, when Bruce Brown declared he would return for the 2017-18 season.
Incoming freshman Lonnie Walker could be an instant force for the Hurricanes.
16. West Virginia Mountaineers
Key Returners: Esa Ahmad, James Bolden, Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles
Departures: Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Myers, Nathan Adrian
New Arrivals: Derek Culver, De'Angelo Hunter, Teddy Allen, Brandon Knapper, Wesley Harris
Buzz: The spot Gonzaga occupied in the national title game could very well have gone to West Virginia, which had the Zags on the ropes in the Sweet 16. Many of the key performers from last season's Second Weekend lineup return, including defensive dynamo Jevon Carter and rebounding machine Esa Ahmad. Those are two cornerstones around which to build a team that plays with the aggressive, frenetic style Bob Huggins-coached teams rely on.
17. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Key Returners: Jordan Murphy, Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Eric Curry, Dupree McBrayer
Departures: Akeem Springs
New Arrivals: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris
Buzz: Minnesota's surprising season came a year ahead of schedule. The overachieving Golden Gophers of a season ago look like potential Big Ten contenders in 2017-18, bringing back just about every key component from the previous campaign's run.
Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason are both early challengers for Big Ten Player of the Year as the established leaders for Richard Pitino's squad. Highly regarded 4-star freshman Isaiah Washington could provide additional firepower.
18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Key Returners: Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger
Departures: V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Matt Ryan
New Arrivals: D.J. Harvey
Buzz: Mike Brey scored a major victory when talented Bonzie Colson announced his intention to return to Notre Dame for another season. Colson will contend for ACC Player of the Year as centerpiece of a veteran team.
Notre Dame currently has just one recruit coming in, but he's a good one: 4-star D.J. Harvey. Don't be surprised to see the Irish add another to fill the void left by Matt Ryan, who is transferring.
19. Villanova Wildcats
Key Returners: Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth
Departures: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins
Wild Cards: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson
New Arrivals: Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree, Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie
Buzz: Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins were the heart and soul of the last two, outstanding Villanova teams. Their departures leave a considerable void, but talented duo Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson could fill the void – if they return. Both have NBA potential, but their futures are unclear.
Jay Wright adds a potential future star in Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree, an elite-level local prospect with the ability to make an immediate splash. Villanova also gets back Phil Booth, who missed all but three games in 2016-17 due to injury. Booth was a surprise star of the Wildcats' national title win over North Carolina last April.
20. Saint Mary's Gaels
Key Returners: Jock Landale, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Jordan Ford, Stefan Gonzalez
Departures: Joe Rahon
New Arrivals: Kristers Zoriks
Buzz: A Top 25 team for most of the 2016-17 season, Saint Mary's retains all but one key piece to last season's success. West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Joe Rahon is difficult to replace, but big man Jock Landale – arguably the most improved player in the nation a season ago – and guard Emmett Naar give Saint Mary's plenty of experience to build around.
21. USC Trojans
Key Returners: Elijah Stewart, Jordan McLaughlin, Nick Rakocevic
Departures: Charles Buggs
Wild Cards: Bennie Boatwright, De'Anthony Melton, Chimezie Metu, Shaqquan Aaron
New Arrivals: Charles O'Bannon Jr., Jordan Usher, Victor Uyaelunmo
Buzz: Perhaps more than any other team in this very early Top 25, USC's forecast may hinge more on the decisions some key players make regarding the NBA. Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu could be a dynamite inside-outside combination, should both return to USC for one more run.
Regardless, Andy Enfield continues to recruit well. The incoming 2017 signing class features two potential Day 1 contributors in Charles O'Bannon Jr. (whose dad was a 1990s standout at rival UCLA), and Jordan Usher. But pairing the duo with a more veteran roster could be the difference in the Trojans competing for a Pac-12 title, and falling to the middle of the conference.
22. Northwestern Wildcats
Key Returners: Bryant McIntosh, Derek Padron, Isiah Brown, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey
Departures: Nathan Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin
New Arrivals: Anthony Gaines
Buzz: Reaching the first NCAA Tournament in program history wasn't the culmination of head coach Chris Collins' efforts. Northwestern is primed for big things, beginning with a Top 25-caliber team in 2017-18.
Guard Bryant McIntosh headlines the veteran roster, which also returns promising post player Derek Padron, and athletic swing man Scottie Lindsey.
23. TCU Horned Frogs
Key Returners: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Vladimir Brodziansky
Departures: Karviar Shepherd, Chris Washburn
New Arrivals: Kevin Samuel, R.J. Nembhard, Andre Pierce, Lat Mayen, Andre Rafus, Shawn Olden
Buzz: NIT champion TCU finished the 2016-17 season ranked in the top 40 of the KenPom.com metrics. The Horned Frogs came a long way in Jamie Dixon's first season as head coach, and should elevate to greater heights in his second campaign.
Dixon is recruiting well in the Lone Star State, adding a pair of 4-star Texas prospects to a lineup returning last season's breakout performer, Vladimir Brodziansky, and highly touted 2016 recruit Jaylen Fisher.
24. Michigan Wolverines
Key Returners: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson
Departures: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr.
Wild Cards: Moritz Wagner, D.J. Wilson
New Arrivals: Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks
Buzz: Michigan's run through the Big Ten Tournament and subsequent dash to the Sweet 16 – which came one basket shy of extending into the Elite Eight – earned the Wolverines a spot in the top 20 of the final KenPom.com rankings. Not bad for a team that began March very much on the bubble.
The outlook for 2017-18 is similarly tenuous. Seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin are out, but underclassmen Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson could be the pillars Michigan needs to contend in the Big Ten next season – so long as they're not NBA-bound.
25. Nevada Wolf Pack
Key Returners: Jordan Caroline, Leland King, Lindsey Drew, Josh Hall
Departures: Marcus Marshall, D.J. Fenner
Wild Card: Cam Oliver
New Arrivals: Shawntrez Davis
Buzz: Trent Johnson and Mark Fox established Nevada as a mid-major powerhouse during the 2000s. In his second season, Eric Musselman recaptured some of that magic in leading the Wolf Pack to Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships, as well as the program's first NCAA Tournament in 10 years.
Nevada will be the team to beat in the Mountain West again next season, but the bar doesn't rest at simply making the NCAA Tournament. This is a lineup with Sweet 16 potential, assuming Cam Oliver returns. Oliver's the key piece along with Jordan Caroline to give Nevada a one-two punch no one in the conference can handle. The Pack should be able to build off an already-impressive 28-win resume from the past season.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.