Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2017-18

NBA draft deadline decisions shape initial Final Four contenders

The deadline for college basketball underclassmen considering entry into the NBA draft passed last month. Barring a handful of transfers – like Pittsburgh guard Cameron Johnson – and straggling 2017 recruits, rosters for the 2017-18 season are set.

 

Thanks to the revised draft deadline, in its second year, college basketball is awash in returning talent. The bevy of veteran leadership returning to the NCAA hardwood promises for a competitive and wildly entertaining season to come.

 

Some honorable mentions that did not make the Top 25:

- Oregon

- Butler

- Baylor

- VCU

- Virginia Tech

- TCU

- Texas

- Texas A&M

- South Carolina

- Arkansas

 

As we journey into the summer, the following is your updated college basketball Top 25 for 2017-18:

 

1. Arizona Wildcats

Key Returners: Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder

Departures: Kadeem Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche

New Arrivals: DeAndre Ayton, Emannuel Akot, Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, Alex Barcello

Buzz: Rarely does a team lose four prominent players, including its defensive stopper (Kadeem Allen) and a rare offensive talent (Lauri Markkanen), yet seemingly improve the next season. Such is the case for Arizona.

 

Arizona scored big this spring, with both Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins opting to return for at least one more season. The Wildcats got further good, unexpected news in May when 5-star prospect Emmanuel Akot reclassified into the class of 2017. He joins DeAndre Ayton to headline a stellar crop of recruits joining a veteran roster. Among the returners with breakout potential are Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and reserve Keanu Pinder has high upside.

 

The Wildcats have not been to the Final Four since losing the 2001 national championship game. Four Pac-12 championships and three Elite Eight trips under head coach Sean Miller have fans and pundits alike antsy for Arizona to get back to the Final Four. The pressure is on, as UA will likely enter this comings season as the No. 1 team in the nation.

 

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Key Returners: Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick

Departures: Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas

New Arrivals: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Charlie Moore, Sam Cuncliffe, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson

Buzz: Despite losing some playmakers critical to Kansas' success last sesason — namely Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Frank Mason III and freshman phenom Josh Jackson — the Jayhawks have reloaded nicely. 

 

Transfers play a key role in Bill Self's new-look roster. Charlie Moore (Cal) joined Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson in April, while former Arizona State guard Sam Cuncliffe pledged his commitment to the Jayhawks in the winter. All four can make an instant impact alongside returning leaders Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Add talented freshmen Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett, and Kansas has all the makings of a Final Four team. 

 

3. Michigan State Spartans

Key Returners: Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Tum Tum Narin, Cassius Winston

Departures: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis

New Arrivals: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman

Buzz: Michigan State took its share of lumps in the 2016-17 season. However, the hard knocks Tom Izzo's squad endured as part of relying on a three-man freshman corps bolster the Spartans for a potential national title run.

 

Miles Bridges spurned the NBA draft, giving the Spartans a potential All-American around which to build. Bridges averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in his impressive debut campaign. Fellow first-year star Nick Ward and Cassius are also back, giving Michigan State its own Big Three. Freshman Jaren Jackson makes it a Big 4. 

 

Jackson's one of the most highly touted recruits ever to sign with Izzo's Spartans. Along with Ward and Bridges, he gives Michigan State arguably the best frontcourt in college basketball.

 

4. Duke Blue Devils

Key Returners: Grayson Allen, Marques Bolden

Departures: Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Frank Jackson

New Arrivals: Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O'Connell

Buzz: Despite the exodus out of Durham this offseason, Mike Krzyzewski positions Duke in familiar territory as a Final Four contender. The incoming recruiting class is on par with the 2014 bunch that won a national championship, and perhaps the most impressive all-around since Coach K landed Elton Brand, Shane Battier and William Avery two decades ago.

 

Trevon Duval signed late in the spring to cap a recruiting class already featuring 5-stars Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter. With veteran Grayson Allen opting to return for his senior season, Duke has an experienced presence to complement the youthful talent up and down the roster.

 

5. Kentucky Wildcats

Departures: Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Mychael Mulder, 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, and big man Bam Adebayo opting for the pros, Kentucky replenishes its ranks with a stellar signing class. 

 

Hamidou Diallo's flirtation with the NBA — he met the age requirement despite having not played in college — came to an end at the deadline. He'll wear Kentucky blue, and figures to be an immediate star for a Wildcat team with a much different, but ultimately still Final Four-quality look.

 

6. Wichita State Shockers

Key Returners: Darral Willis, Shaquille Morris, Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Zach Brown

Departures: None

Buzz: Any threat of taking a step back from last season's 31-win finish at Wichita State was diminished when both Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie opted to return for another campaign. The duo leads one of the most veteran squads in college basketball, and the immediate favorite to win the American Athletic Conference in the Shockers' first season as a member.

 

Gregg Marshall's team ranked No. 8 in the nation per KenPom.com metrics last season, and boasted a No. 13 ranking in both defensive and offensive efficiency. With so much veteran presence back, Wichita States will make a serious run for No. 1 — both analytically, and by more traditional metrics.

 

7. Louisville Cardinals

Key Returners: Deng Adel, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud

Departures: Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell

New Arrivals: Brian Bowen, Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas

Buzz: Even with Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson opting to say in the NBA draft, the Cardinals are in good shape entering this season after picking up two big pieces in the spring.

 

One is Deng Adel, the Australian forward who made big strides last season and chose to return to school. Should he continue his upward trajectory, he'll be a breakout star in the coming season. Louisville also appears virtually guaranteed to add 5-star prospect Brian Bowen, who enrolled for classes (though has not signed a letter of intent as of this writing).

 

Bowen would join a class featuring potential instant-impact player Malik Williams.

 

8. Florida Gators

Key Returners: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone, John Egbunu

Departures: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson

New Arrivals: DeAundrae Bullard, Chase Johnson, Isaiah Stokes, Mike Okauru

Buzz: Florida came a few minutes away from reaching the 2017 Final Four. With the corps Mike White returns, and an impressive crop of newcomers, the Gators may well finish the job in 2018. 

 

The Gators' foundation starts with veterans KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. Both impressed in the NCAA Tournament, with Allen in particular showing superstar potential. He'll land on some preseason All-America teams. John Egbunu returns from a knee injury to solidify the Gators' interior.

 

9. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returners: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson

Departures: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley

New Arrivals: Jalek Felton, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Andrew Platek, Brandon Huffman

Buzz: Early departures and graduations hit defending national champion North Carolina hard, though not as dramatically as they could have. While Justin Jackson opted to remain in the NBA draft pool, and Kennedy Meeks' would-be post successor Tony Bradley also exited UNC, the Tar Heels return guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson.

 

Berry and Pinson will lead an impressive kiddie corps. Guard Jalek Felton and Berry should complement each other nicely, with either able to produce points. Power forward Garrison Brooks signed in May. He'll fill the void Meeks left in the middle, which Bradley originally appeared positioned to step into.

 

Related: Ranking the North Carolina Tar Heels' Six National Championships

 

10. Xavier Musketeers

Key Returners: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Sean O'Mara, Kaiser Gates

Departures: Edmond Sumner, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard

New Arrivals: Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder, Brady Ernst, Kentrevious Jones

Buzz: Trevon Bluiett is back, solidifying an impressive starting lineup for possible Big East Conference Xavier. The Musketeers regrouped from a midseason stumble in 2017 to reach the Elite Eight, and have the core pieces back to build off that run.

 

The addition of 4-star recruits Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall further stocks what could be Chris Mack's most talented team in his time as Xavier head coach.

 

11. 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: Bob Huggins returns a veteran roster to employ his physical, defensive-minded approach. Jevon Carter's decision to return to Morgantown sets the stage for a teamt that was a 2017 Sweet 16 participant and the nation's No. 4 defense per KenPom.com adjusted efficiency metrics.

 

Carter and fellow returner Daxter Miles were West Virginia's only double-digit scorers last season. However, James Bolden could be a potential breakthrough performer. He connected on 45 percent of his 50 3-point attempts.

 

12. Cincinnati Bearcats

Key Returners: Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, Quadri Moore, Jarron Cumberland, Gary Clark, Tre Scott

Departures: Troy Caupain

New Arrivals: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme

Buzz: Jacob Evans' decision to put off the NBA fortifies Cincinnati as Wichita State's primary challenger in the suddenly top-heavy American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats also have the makings of a possible Final Four team.

 

Evans rejoins Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland from a 30-win lineup a season ago. An effective 3-point shooter (42 percent on 165 attempts), Evans provides an offensive spark to complement the Bearcats' tenacious D. UC ranked No. 5 nationally in opponent field-goal percentage a season ago, and the big man Washington rated as one of the nation's best defenders per KenPom.com.

 

13. 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: Andy Enfield may have benefited more from the extended NBA draft deadline than any other head coach in the nation. USC is loaded with key returners from a team that came just a few possessions shy of advancing to the Sweet 16. Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, Shaqquan Aaron and De'Anthony Melton all return to the fold, joining Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart to form one of the most veteran lineups in the nation.

 

The addition of highly touted freshman Charles O'Bannon solidifies the Trojans' depth, and reserve Nick Rakocevic showed breakout potential in an NCAA Tournament win over Providence.

 

Initial expectations for Enfield's crew are high — some outlets rank USC has high as No. 5 heading into the summer. That may be a bit optimistic, though it points to the very real sky-high ceiling of the 2017-18 Trojans.

 

14. UCLA Bruins

Key Returners: Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, G.G. Goloman

Departures: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, 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 and Aaron Holiday were key role players last season, poised to become leaders in the next campaign.

 

They 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 T.J. Leaf and Lonzo 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.

 

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.

 

Incoming freshman Lonnie Walker could be an instant force for the Hurricanes. The McDonald's All-American guard is an athletic slasher — just the kind of playmaker who thrives in Larranaga's system. He'll also adds versatility to an already-impressive defense, which ranked No. 25 nationally for adjusted efficiency in 2016-17.

 

16. Villanova Wildcats

Key Returners: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth

Departures: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins

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 stand ready to fill that void.

 

Both opted to return after testing the NBA draft process. Brunson evolved into arguably the most dangerous player on Villanova's roster a season ago, and Bridges has the tools to be a breakout star.

 

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 two seasons ago.

 

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 the 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 Fighting Irish add another to fill the void left by Matt Ryan, who is transferring.

 

19. Seton Hall Pirates

Key Returners: Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell 

Departures: Madison Jones

New Arrivals: Myles Cale, Jordan Walker, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Darnell Brodie

Buzz: Big man Angel Delgado returns for his senior season, giving Seton Hall a potential Big East Player of the Year candidate, and making the Pirates challengers for the conference title.

 

Delgado led the nation in rebounds a season ago, while also showing off an improved offensive repertoire. He'll be the centerpiece of the Pirates' attack, but don't sleep on Khadeen Carrington. The fellow senior is a reliable 3-point shooter. Should top-100 recruit Myles Cale add additional scoring pop, look out. He would give the Pirates a dangerous three-man rotation on the perimeter, along with senior forward Desi Rodriguez.

 

20. Purdue Boilermakers 

Key Returners: Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias 

Departures: Caleb Swanigan

New Arrivals: Nojel Eastern, Eden Ewing, Matt Haarms, Aaron Wheeler, Sasha Stefanovic

Buzz: Had All-American forward Caleb Swanigan opted to return, Purdue would have had a very strong case for No. 1. As it stands, though, head coach Matt Painter still has a team capable of making a run at top honors in the Big Ten.

 

Purdue gets back both Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas, who tested the NBA draft waters. Edwards has continuously improved in his Boilermaker career, and is on the precipice of being a star performer. Haas is a reliable post presence. Joined by promising newcomers Nojel Eastern and Eden Ewin, Haas could be the centerpiece of one of the better frontcourts in college basketball.

 

Carsen Edwards provided a huge boost in his freshman season. If veterans P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias make strides as key contributors, Purdue will be a dangerous team to watch this season.

 

21. 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.

 

The veteran core might make Saint Mary's the favorite in the West Coast Conference, and arguably the best mid-major conference team in all of college basketball next season.

 

22. SMU Mustangs

Key Returners: Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster

Departures: Semi Ojeleye, Sterling Brown, Ben Moore

New Arrivals: Akoy Agau William Douglas, Ethan Chargois

Buzz: SMU won 30 games and the American Athletic Conference championship in Tim Jankovich's first season. Replicating those feats makes for a difficult encore, but SMU could be in a more favorable position come 2018 NCAA Tournament time, nonetheless.

 

SMU was a victim of the selection committee's evaluation of the AAC. The arrival of Wichita State and Cincinnati reloading gives the league three Top 25-caliber teams entering 2017-18 — and SMU will indeed keep pace with those other two. The foundation was set in May with Shake Milton opting to return for another season, and Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau landing at SMU.

 

23. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson

Departures: Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews

Buzz: Departures hit 2017 national runner-up Gonzaga hard. Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski graduate, while All-American Nigel Williams-Goss and supremely talented Zach Collins opted for early entry into the NBA draft. As it stands, the Zags may not even be the preseason favorite to win the West Coast Conference.

 

Nevertheless, Johnathan Williams — who enjoyed a star turn in the NCAA Tournament — provides a talented cornerstone around which to rebuild. Underrated wings Josh Perkins and Silas Melson also are back in the fold.

 

24. Northwestern Wildcats

Key Returners: Bryant McIntosh, Dererk 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 this season.

 

Guard Bryant McIntosh headlines the veteran roster, which also returns promising post player Dererk Padron, and athletic swing man Scottie Lindsey.

 

25. Michigan Wolverines

Key Returners: Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson

Departures: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., 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 question looming for Michigan ahead of 2017-18: Was the Michigan team that nearly reached the Elite Eight the real Wolverines? Or was the squad that was on the outside looking in ahead of the Big Ten Tournament a more accurate representation? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

 

Moritz Wagner showed superstar potential late in the season, particularly in a Round of 32 upset of Louisville. He's back, joined by defensive stopper Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Event Date: 
Friday, June 2, 2017 - 11:59

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