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An Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2016-17


For dozens of coaches and players in college basketball, the last few weeks have been nerve-wracking.

After the season, 117 underclassmen entered their names into the NBA Draft. A majority of these players needed more information on whether to hire and agent and test the pros or to return to school. In the end, 57 will return to college (though not necessarily the same one for which they played in 2015-16).

The coaches, too, have been left wondering what kind of roster they might have in 2016-17 and if they would need to continue to recruit or pursue transfers to fill a roster spot.

Now that all the decisions have been made, Athlon Sports taking a quick look ahead for 2016-17.

1. Duke (25-11, 11-7 ACC)

Top Returners: G Grayson Allen, G Luke Kennard, F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, F/C Chase Jeter

Newcomers: F Harry Giles, F Jayson Tatum, G Frank Jackson, C Marques Bolden (all freshmen)

Buzz: Duke had little drama around the NBA Draft early entry deadline as Player of the Year contender Grayson Allen didn’t put his name in at all. A star-studded freshman class makes Duke the clear No. 1 heading into 2016-17. An additional year of eligibility for Amile Jefferson is an added bonus.

2. Villanova (35-5, 16-2 Big East)

Top Returners: G Josh Hart, G Jalen Brunson, F Kris Jenkins, G Phil Booth, F Mikal Bridges

Newcomers: C Omari Spellman (freshman)

Buzz: Josh Hart’s decision to return to school means Villanova has a legitimate shot for back-to-back national titles. Losing Ryan Arcidiacono’s leadership and experience hurts, but second-year point guard Jalen Brunson was a five-star talent as a recruit.

3. Kentucky (27-9, 13-5 SEC)

Top Returners: G Isaiah Briscoe, F Derek Willis, G Dominique Hawkins, F Isaac Humphries

Newcomers: G De’Aaron Fox, F Bam Adebayo, G Malik Monk, F Wenyen Gabriel (freshmen)

Buzz: Isaiah Briscoe returned to school, giving Kentucky at least one key piece returning from last year’s squad. Forward Marcus Lee elected to transfer rather than return to another crowded situation in the frontcourt. As usual, Kentucky brings in a loaded recruiting class with five top 25 prospects.

4. Kansas (33-5, 15-3 Big 12)

Top Returners: G Devonte Graham, F Landen Lucas, G Frank Mason, G Svi Mykhailiuk, F Carlton Bragg

Newcomers: G Josh Jackson, C Udoka Azubuike (freshmen)

Buzz: Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden are gone, but this is a Bill Self team. There’s more than enough to contend for another Big 12 title behind a veteran backcourt. The Jayhawks also added the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2016 in shooting guard Josh Jackson.

5. Oregon (31-7, 14-4 Pac-12)

Top Returners: G/F Dillon Brooks, G Tyler Dorsey, F Jordan Bell, G Casey Benson

Newcomers: F Kavel Bigby-Williams (junior college), G Dylan Ennis (transfer from Villanova)

Buzz: Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey both put their name in the draft, and both returned. The high-scoring Ducks will be the favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champions and should be able to set their sights even higher.

6. North Carolina (33-7, 14-4 ACC)

Top Returners: G Joel Berry, F Isaiah Hicks, F Justin Jackson, F Kennedy Meeks, G Theo Pinson

Newcomers: C Tony Bradley, G Seventh Woods (freshmen)

Buzz: Losing double-double machine Brice Johnson and senior Marcus Paige drops the ceiling a bit. The Heels will look to Justin Jackson to be the team’s next star.

7. Virginia (29-8, 13-5 ACC)

Top Returners: G Devon Hall, G London Perrantes, F Isaiah Wilkins

Newcomers: F Austin Nichols (transfer from Memphis), G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome (freshmen)

Buzz: Losing Malcolm Brogdon hurts, but Tony Bennett teams remain steady despite changing personnel. Having London Perrantes leading the way and adding Austin Nichols in the frontcourt will keep the Cavs in ACC contention.

8. Xavier (28-6, 14-4 Big East)

Top Returners: G Trevon Bluiett, G Edmond Sumner, G Myles Davis, F J.P Macura

Newcomers: F RaShid Gaston (transfer from Norfolk State)

Buzz: The return of Trevon Bluiett means Villanova will have a worthy foil atop the Big East standings. The Musketeers return their top three scorers from last season and add an efficient scorer in RaShid Gaston.

9. Arizona (25-9, 12-6 Pac-12)

Top Returners: G Allonzo Trier, G Kadeem Allen, C Dusan Ristic

Newcomers: G Terrance Ferguson, G Rawle Alkins, F Lauri Markkanan, G Kobi Simmons (freshman)

Buzz: The return of shooting guard Allonzo Trier was huge. Adding guard Terrance Ferguson in April gives the Wildcats a recruiting class loaded with four five-star prospects.

10. Indiana (27-8, 15-3 Big Ten)

Top Returners: C Thomas Bryant, G James Blackmon, F Collin Hartman, G Robert Johnson, F OG Anunoby

Newcomers: G Curtis Jones, F De’Ron Davis (freshmen), G Josh Newkirk (transfer from Pittsburgh)

Buzz: James Blackmon returned to school, Troy Williams did not. The big question will be how the Hoosiers replace veteran point guard Yogi Ferrell. Getting Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby back means IU can contend for the Big Ten title.

11. Michigan State (29-6, 13-5 Big Ten)

Top Returners: G Eron Harris, G Lourawls Nairn, F Gavin Schilling

Newcomers: F Miles Bridges, G Josh Langford, G Cassius Winston, F Nick Ward (freshmen)

Buzz: Losing a top three of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello will hurt. Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn are poised to lead the backcourt, and Tom Izzo brings in a top-five recruiting class.

12. Wisconsin (22-13, 12-6 Big Ten)

Top Returners: F Nigel Hayes, F Vitto Brown, F Ethan Happ, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter

Buzz: The return of Nigel Hayes means Wisconsin brings back almost all of the team that went 13-4 after Jan. 12.

13. Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Top Returners: F Caleb Swanigan, C Isaac Haas, F Vince Edwards, G P.J. Thompson

Newcomers: G Carsen Edwards (freshman), G Spike Albrecht (transfer from Michigan)

Buzz: Caleb Swanigan elected to return to school, giving Purdue a pair of elite big men in Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Adding Spike Albrecht from Michigan gives some aid to a lackluster backcourt.

14. Louisville (23-8, 12-6 ACC)

Top Returners: G Donovan Mitchell, G Quentin Snider, F Mangok Mathiang, F Raymond Spalding, F Deng Adel

Newcomers: G Tony Hicks (transfer from Penn), G/F V.J. King (freshman)

Buzz: Forward Chinanu Onuaku left for the draft, meaning the Cardinals must replace their top three scorers (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis were Nos. 1-2). Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider will lead a backcourt-oriented team.

15. SMU (25-5, 13-5 American)

Top Returners: G Sterling Brown, G Shake Milton, G Ben Moore

Newcomers: F Semi Ojeleye (transfer from Duke)

Buzz: SMU was a solid top-25 team all year despite the postseason ban. The Mustangs must replace point guard Nic Moore, but return three players who averaged double figures.

16. Iowa State (23-12, 10-8 Big 12)

Top Returners: G Deonte Burton, G Monte Morris, G Matt Thomas

Buzz: With Fred Hoiberg gone one year and Georges Niang the next, Iowa State can’t help but fall back to the pack. Morris is still an elite distributor running the show.

17. Creighton (20-15, 9-9 Big East)

Top Returners: G Maurice Watson, F Cole Huff, G Isaiah Zierden, F Zach Hanson, G Khyri Thomas, F Toby Hegner

Newcomers: G Marcus Foster (transfer from Kansas State)

Buzz: Maurice Watson quietly averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists last season. The Bluejays should be a bounce-back team after returning a veteran-laden squad and adding point guard Marcus Foster from K-State.

18. Maryland (27-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Top Returners: G Melo Trimble, F Damonte Dodd, G/F Jared Nickens

Newcomers: G Anthony Cowan, G Kevin Huerter, F Justin Jackson

Buzz: Maryland never really clicked as a national championship contender last season, but with point guard Melo Trimble returning to school, the Terrapins are a solid top-25 squad. Losing seniors Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman, junior Robert Carter and one-and done big man Diamond Stone is notable, but the Terps have a top-10 recruiting class coming in.

19. UCLA (15-17, 6-12 Pac-12)

Top Returners: G Bryce Alford, G Isaac Hamilton, G Aaron Holiday, C Thomas Welsh

Newcomers: G Lonzo Ball, F T.J. Leaf (freshmen)

Buzz: Steve Alford is under pressure after a losing season in his third year with the Bruins. Four double-digit scorers are back from last year’s team, but more important: Point guard Lonzo Ball and forward T.J. Leaf are top-20 signees.

20. Saint Mary’s (29-6, 15-3 West Coast)

Top Returners: C Evan Fitzner, F Calvin Hermanson, C Jock Landale, G Emmett Naar, F Dane Pineau, G Joe Rahon

Buzz: Every key player returns to a team that beat Gonzaga twice during the regular season and claimed the West Coast Conference title.

21. Gonzaga (28-8, 15-3 West Coast)

Top Returners: G Josh Perkins

Newcomers: C Zach Collins (freshman), F Johnathan Williams (transfer from Missouri), G Nigel Williams-Goss (transfer from Washington)

Buzz: Josh Perkins is the only returning player who averaged more than 6.6 points per game last season. Nigel Williams-Goss was a highly recruiting point guard before he landed at Washington, and Williams averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds during his last season at Mizzou.

22. Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6 Big 12)

Top Returners: G Dante Buford, C Khadeem Lattin, G Jordan Woodard

Newcomers: F Kristian Doolittle, G Kameron McGusty, G Austin Grandstaff (transfer from Ohio State)

Buzz: The Sooners all too often went as Buddy Hield did. They’ll have to learn to win without him in 2016-17.

23. Dayton (25-8, 14-4 Atlantic 10)

Top Returners: G Charles Cooke, F Dyshawn Pierre, G Scoochie Smith, F Kendall Pollard, G Kyle Davis

Newcomers: F Josh Cunningham (transfer from Bradley)

Buzz: The Flyers return their top five scorers and add Cunningham (7.9 points, 7.5 points in the Missouri Valley). Dayton had a solid top-25 season last year before running into Final Four-bound Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

24. Virginia Tech (20-15, 10-8 ACC)

Top Returners: F Zach LeDay, G Seth Allen, G Justin Bibbs, G Chris Clarke, G Justin Robinson, F Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Buzz: The rebuild is nearly complete for Buzz Williams in Blacksburg. The Hokies upset Virginia in January closed the ACC regular season with five consecutive wins, including Pitt and Miami. The Hokies return seven of their top eight players.

25. UConn (25-11, 11-7 American)

Top Returners: G Rodney Purvis, C Amida Brimah, G Jalen Adams

Newcomers: G/F Terry Larrier (transfer from VCU), G Alterique Gilbert, F Juwan Durham (freshmen)

Buzz: The Huskies still have a solid inside-outside duo with Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah. Kevin Ollie adds two top-50 prospects for a run at the AAC title and another Tourney bid.

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