Duke, Kentucky, reigning champion Villanova lead the national scene
Duke and Kentucky haven’t met in the NCAA Tournament since the 1998 Elite Eight. If that drought ends in 2016, the matchup could be epic.
Sure, Duke and Kentucky have faced each other during the season on a somewhat regular basis, splitting their last four meetings.
But that epic NCAA matchup is the only piece that’s been missing in the Coach K vs. Coach Cal rivalry. They’ve faced each other in November. They’ve sparred verbally during the spring. They’ve competed for recruits.
Now, the final piece of the puzzle could be an epic Final Four matchup.
At least that’s the way Athlon Sports sees it. Duke is our preseason No. 1 team, followed by Kentucky at No. 2. Of course, other teams have plenty of reason to believe they have Final Four potential as well — Villanova returns enough to challenge for a second consecutive title. Oregon carries the flag for the Pac-12 after an Elite appearance. Kansas and North Carolina aren’t going anywhere.
Basketball season is still months away, but to celebrate the arrival of the Athlon Sports 2016-17 College Basketball preview, we’re giving you a snapshot of the year ahead with our top 25.
Athlon’s college basketball preview is available on newsstands on Sept. 6 and now in our online store powered by Amazon.
Stay tuned for preview of each team in our top 25 and more.
|2016-17 College Basketball Top 25|
|1||Duke: Add the nation's top freshman class to a group that already includes Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, and Duke has size, shooting and experience. The clear national title favorite.|
Kentucky: Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis are the only impact players returning from last season, but freshmen De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk will thrive.
Villanova: The Wildcats have a leadership void without Ryan Arcidiacono. Still, huge pieces from the championship run — Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson — are back.
Oregon: The return of Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey makes the Ducks a Final Four threat and the Pac-12 favorite.
Kansas: The Jayhawks will be aiming for 13 Big 12 titles in a row. The ageless Perry Ellis is gone. The core of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham welcome the top freshman in the country in guard Josh Jackson.
|6||North Carolina: Some of the starpower is gone, but North Carolina is expecting Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson to step up for Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.|
|7||Virginia: Tony Bennett has built a consistent winner at Virginia. ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is gone, but Memphis transfer Austin Nichols joins the fray. Point guard London Perrantes has played a lot of basketball for the Cavs.|
Xavier: Trevon Bluiett returns. If Edmond Sumner can become a star, the Muskteers will make Villanova sweat in the Big East again.
Arizona: A super-talented freshman class arrives to replace a productive group of seniors. The Wildcats are counting on sophomore Allonzo Trier.
Wisconsin: Everyone returns to a team that found its stride under coach Greg Gard in the second half of last season. Ethan Happ is the Badgers' next frontcourt star.
Michigan State: Most teams couldn’t absorb the losses of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello. You know Michigan State isn’t most teams.
Indiana: Thomas Bryant’s return was a huge boon for the Hoosiers’ hopes to repeat as Big Ten champs. Veteran Yogi Ferrell is gone, but OG Anunoby is ready to become a star.
|13||Louisville: The Cardinals don’t return a player who averaged double figures, but Rick Pitino will find a way. Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell and newcomers Tony Hicks and V.J. King will lead a crowded backcourt.|
Purdue: The Boilers will have one of the nation’s best frontcourts with Vincent Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. The backcourt could determine their ceiling.
Gonzaga: Transfers Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams will keep the NCAA Tournament streak (18 in a row) going.
Connecticut: Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah declined to join Daniel Hamilton in the draft. The development of freshmen like Alterique Gilbert will play a huge role in UConn’s fortunes.
UCLA: Steve Alford is under pressure after a losing season last year. With freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, the Bruins have an opportunity to make a splash.
Creighton: The Bluejays are ready for a post-Doug McDermott rebound year. Maurice Watson is a star, and he’ll get help this year with a healthy lineup and the arrival of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster.
Iowa State: Second-year coach Steve Prohm loses mainstay Georges Niang, but he’ll have better depth — not to mention efficient point guard Monte Morris.
Cincinnati: You know what you’re going to get out of a Mick Cronin Cincinnati team. The Bearcats need better guard play around Troy Caupain to stay in the top 25.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels return almost everyone from a team that won 29 games last season. And they have something to prove after getting bounced in the WCC Tournament (and into the NIT) by Gonzaga.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were a spoiler down the stretch. Now, it’s time for Buzz Williams’ team to take the next step. Vets Zach LeDay, Seth Allen and Justin Bibbs are ready.
Dayton: The Flyers have topped 25 wins in three consecutive seasons. Archie Miller with four seniors from those teams is a winning formula.
Rhode Island: A healthy E.C. Matthews is the missing piece for a team that should challenge for the Atlantic 10 title. Dan Hurley is an up-and-coming coach.
|25||Florida State: There's too much talent for Florida State not to be at least in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid. Jonathan Isaac could be a one-and-done player,a nd Dwayne Bacon is destined for the NBA, too.|
|Others considered: Miami, Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M, San Diego State, VCU, Wichita State|