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A Very Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2015-16

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A champion has been crowned in college basketball, and while the shining moment will continue in Durham, the rest of the sport is starting to look to 2015-16.

Some programs are under more pressure than others in the coming days and weeks. Underclassmen will start to consider the NBA Draft, recruits will commit,  and transfers will come and go.

We don’t have the most clear picture yet of what the start of 2015-16 will look like, but we’re nevertheless curious.

Here’s our first look at the top 25 for 2015-16, a list that’s certain to change based on the draft, recruiting or more time for thought on our part about the year ahead.

*indicates underclassmen who haven’t declared for the draft, but are still projected to be high first-round draft picks.

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1. North Carolina (26-12, 11-7 ACC)

Returnees: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry

Outlook: The Tar Heels’ roster returns virtually intact with each of the top 10 scorers returning to Chapel Hill. After years of roster turnover and un-North Carolina-like results in the ACC, the fortunes should be ready to turn. Paige will be a National Player of the Year candidate and the cast around him continues to improve.

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2. Kentucky (38-1, 18-0 SEC)

Losses: F Karl-Anthony Towns*, C Willie Cauley-Stein*, G Aaron Harrison*, G Andrew Harrison*, F Trey Lyles*, G Devin Booker*

Returnees: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, C Dakari Johnson, F Marcus Lee

New arrivals: C Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews

Outlook: Expectations may be tempered after the last two seasons, especially if everyone who could leave for the NBA Draft does. Ulis is a playmaker, and at 5-foot-9, he’s not going pro. As usual, Kentucky adds the No. 1 recruiting class, though this one includes “merely” two top-20 recruits in Labissiere and Briscoe so far. Kentucky is still in on as many as five top-10 recruits who are likely waiting to see who goes to the draft for the Wildcats or other teams.

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3. Virginia (30-4, 16-2 ACC)

Losses: F Darion Atkins

Returnees: G Malcolm Brogdon, G Justin Anderson, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes

Outlook: The Cavaliers will be loaded with seniors after back-to-back ACC regular season titles. The biggest question will be if Anderson takes a look at the NBA Draft. Virginia lost three of its last five (albeit to teams that made the Sweet 16 or better in Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan State), but the Cavs should continue to be contenders.

4. Duke (35-4, 15-3 ACC)

Losses: G Quinn Cook, C Jahlil Okafor*, F Justise Winslow*

Returnees: G Tyus Jones, F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen

New arrivals: F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, F Sean Obi

Outlook: The biggest decision will be that of point guard Tyus Jones, who may be a late first-rounder. If he returns, Duke will be among the national elite. As usual, Duke has talent waiting in the wings and arriving to the program. Obi is a Rice transfer who will be a key big man after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.

5. Maryland (28-7, 14-4 Big Ten)

Losses: G Dez Wells, G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz

Returnees: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Jared Nickens, G Dion Wiley

New arrivals: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter jr.

Outlook: Maryland was one of the biggest surprises in 2014-15, finishing second in the Big Ten. Next season will bring legitimate expectations. That’s because standout freshmen Melo Trimble and Jake Layman will be sophomores and because landing the top-10 prospect Stone was a major coup for Mark Turgeon. Forward Robert Carter Jr. also will be eligible after averaging 11.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14.

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6. Michigan State (27-12, 12-6 Big Ten)

Losses: G Travis Trice, F Branden Dawson

Returnees: G Denzel Valentine, G Bryn Forbes, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling, F Marvin Clark Jr., G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

New arrivals: G Eron Harris

Outlook: Michigan State will miss Trice’s scoring punch and Dawson’s rebounding. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game for West Virginia in 2013-14, will help the former. Tum Tum Nairn will hold down the point guard spot and take over leadership of the team as just a sophomore. 

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7. Kansas (27-9, 13-5 Big 12)

Losses: G Kelly Oubre

Returnees: F Perry Ellis, G Frank Mason, F Cliff Alexander, G Wayne Selden, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

New arrivals: F Carlton Bragg

Outlook: Kansas’ prospects depend quite a bit on potential NBA Draft departures, most notably the decision of Ellis. Even if the superstars are gone, are you going to be against Bill Self in the Big 12? Kansas is still on a couple of top 10 recruits for next year’s class.

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8. Iowa State (25-9, 12-6 Big 12)

Losses: G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue

Returnees: F Georges Niang, G Monte Morris, F Jameel McKay, F Abdel Nader

New arrivals: G Hallice Cooke, G Deonte Burton

Outlook: The Cyclones are in good hands with Niang and Morris still on board. As usual, transfers — Cooke from Oregon State, and Burton, a point guard from Marquette — will round things out.

9. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 West Coast)

Losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Byron Wesley, G Gary Bell Jr.

Returnees: F Kyle Wiltjer, C Przemek Karnowski, F Domantas Sabonis, G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan

Outlook: Replacing Pangos at point guard will be no small issue. Otherwise, this is a team built for another run. The replacements include a handful of players who saw few if any minutes last season — McClellan (who was dismissed from Vanderbilt before landing at Gonzaga), Josh Perkins (who missed all but five games with a broken jaw) or redshirt Bryan Alberts.

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10. Notre Dame (32-6, 14-4 ACC)

Losses: G Jerian Grant, G Pat Connaughton

Returnees: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson, G Steve Vasturia, F Bonzie Colson

Outlook: The departures of Grant and Connaughton probably mean Notre Dame won’t come within a hair of the Final Four again, but there are plenty of pieces for Notre Dame to make noise in the ACC. Colson is a future star.

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11. NC State (22-14, 10-8 ACC)

Losses: G Ralston Turner

Returnees: G Trevor Lacey, G Cat Barber, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F Caleb Martin, F Beejay Anya

Outlook: Perhaps another year of Lacey and Barber and the rest of them playing together will help NC State hit its ceiling more often. That will be the expectation.

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12. Wisconsin (36-4, 16-2 Big Ten)

Losses: F Frank Kaminsky, F Sam Dekker*, G Traevon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, F Duje Dukan

Returnees: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter

New arrivals: G Brevin Pritzl

Outlook: Hayes’ decision regarding the NBA Draft will be closely watched. His return means Wisconsin will remain in the Big Ten race. The Badgers lose a ton of experience from this year’s Final Four team, but rest assured Bo Ryan has something up his sleeve.

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13. Indiana (20-14, 9-9 Big Ten)

Returnees: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon Jr., F Troy Williams, G Robert Johnson, G Nick Zeisloft, F Hanner Mosquera-Perea

New arrivals: F Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan

Outlook: Tom Crean could be well-positioned to return to the good graces of Indiana fans next season. Nearly everyone is back, and the frontcourt will get some desperately needed help from the 6-10 Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American who committed to IU last week.

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14. Arizona (34-4, 16-2 Pac-12)

Losses: F Stanley Johnson*, G T.J. McConnell, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley

Returnees: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York

New arrivals: F Ryan Anderson, G Allonzo Trier, F Ray Smith, G Justin Simon, C Chance Comanche

Outlook: McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson are big losses as would be Johnson when he makes it official. Sean Miller continues to reload with 247Sports’ No. 2 recruiting class featuring four top-50 prospects and Anderson from Boston College (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg in 2013-14). 

15. Villanova (33-3, 16-2 Big East)

Losses: G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston, G Dylan Ennis

Returnees: G Josh Hart, G Ryan Arcidiacono, F Daniel Ochefu

New arrivals: G Jalen Brunson

Outlook: Hilliard was the closest thing Villanova had to a star player last season, but this was a balanced team with six guys averaging nine or more points per game. Losing Ennis, a graduate transfer, hurts. Nova adds the five-star point guard Brunson to a team that will already have a senior point guard in Arcidiacono.

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16. Oklahoma (24-11, 12-6 Big 12)

Losses: F TaShawn Thomas

Returnees: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodward

Outlook: The Sooners’ prospects hinge on whether or not Hield returns. If he’s back, Oklahoma is a senior-laden squad capable of challenging for a Big 12 title. If not, Oklahoma may be a fringe NCAA team.

17. Wichita State (30-5, 17-1 Missouri Valley)

Losses: F Darius Carter, G Tekele Cotton

Returnees: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, F Shaquille Morris, G Evan Wessel

Outlook: Wichita State already survived a tense moment when Alabama courted Gregg Marshall. Now, the Shockers will wait out Baker’s decision on the NBA Draft. If he returns, the Shockers can’t be dismissed as long as VanVleet and Baker are in the backcourt.

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