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A Very Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2016-17

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Even as Villanova is still basking in the glow of its first national championship since 1985 and fans are catching their breath after a wild NCAA Tournament, it’s still a good time to start looking ahead.

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This upcoming college basketball season is a little bit different for those of us in prediction land, as we have even less of a picture than we’ve had in recent years.

The NCAA returned to its old stance regarding the NBA Draft, allowing underclassmen to start the evaluation process and return to school, as long as they do not hire an agent.

Many freshmen, sophomores and juniors have already ended their eligibility by hiring agents, but many others are leaving us playing the waiting game as they work through the possibilities.

That said, the most important news for the top 25 came from a player staying in school. Grayson Allen didn’t even test his prospects in the NBA Draft, meaning a National Player of the Year favorite will return to school. He’ll join a star-studded recruiting class that makes Duke the easy call as preseason No. 1 at this point.

Here’s a snapshot of the landscape for 2016-17 — at least until the deadline for underclassmen to return to school on May 25.

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

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Key Returners: G Grayson Allen, G Luke Kennard

Departures: F Brandon Ingram, F Marshall Plumlee, G Derryck Thornton

Wild Card: F Amile Jefferson

New Arrivals: F Harry Giles, G Frank Jackson, F Jayson Tatum

Buzz: The return of National Player of the Year contender Allen solidifies Duke as the preseason No. 1. The arrival of the No. 2 recruiting class gives Duke six five-star prospects on its roster, not including Allen.

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

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Key Returners: G Isaiah Briscoe, F Marcus Lee

Departures: G Jamal Murray, F Skal Labissiere, F Alex Poythress, G Tyler Ulis

New Arrivals: F/C Bam Adebayo, G De’Aaron Fox, F Wenyan Gabriel, G Malik Monk

Buzz: Expect more the same at Kentucky. Ulis, Murray and Labissiere are headed to the draft. They’ll be replaced by the top recruiting class in the country. Fox and Monk are top-five talents in an elite 2016 class.

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

Key Returners: G Phil Booth, F Mikal Bridges, G Jalen Brunson, F Kris Jenkins

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Departures: G Ryan Arcidiacono, C Daniel Ochefu

Wild Card: G Josh Hart

New Arrivals: C Omari Spellman

Buzz: The Wildcats lose the inside-out duo of Arcidiacono and Ochefu. Brunson, a five-star guard in 2015, will see more time at the point, and Bridges flashed his potential in the run to the title. If Hart returns, Jay Wright's team will be in the mix again.

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

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Key Returners: G Devonte Graham, F Landen Lucas, G Frank Mason, G Svi Mykhailiuk

Departures: F Perry Ellis, G/F Brannen Greene, G Wayne Selden, F Jamari Traylor

Wild Cards: F Carlton Bragg, F Cheick Diallo

New Arrivals: C Ukoka Azubuike, F Josh Jackson, F Mitch Lightfoot

Buzz: Losing veterans like Ellis, Selden and Traylor is a concern, but Kansas is able to reload as well as any program in the country. The backcourt will lead the way, but KU will need its young frontcourt to contribute immediately. Adding five-star freshman Josh Jackson a week after the title game was a major get.

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

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Key Returners: F Jordan Bell, G Casey Benson

Departures: F Dwayne Benjamin, F Chris Boucher, F Elgin Cook

Wild Cards: G/F Dillon Brooks, G Tyler Dorsey

New Arrivals: F Kavel Bigby-Williams

Buzz: Brooks will be a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate after averaging 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season. Dorsey was an unsung hero as a freshman. If both pull out of the draft as expected, Oregon is the Pac-12 favorite and a Final Four contender.

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

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

Departures: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey

New Arrivals: G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome, F Austin Nichols

Buzz: Losing Brogdon is a major blow on both ends of the court. Gill’s departure shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Virginia under Tony Bennett has replaced major players before, so the system should be trusted. This is Perrantes’ team now, but Nichols, a former Memphis Tiger, could be the most important transfer in the country.

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

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

Departures: F Brice Johnson, G Marcus Paige

New Arrivals: C Tony Bradley, G Seventh Woods

The national runners-up have enough veterans returning to contend, but the Tar Heels will need to find a new guy who can take over a game late with Johnson and Paige gone. Jackson is the next man up.

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

Key Returners: G Myles Davis, F J.P. Macura, G Edmond Sumner

Departures: G Remy Abell, F James Farr

Wild Cards: G Trevon Bluiett, F Jalen Reynolds

New Arrivals: F RaShid Gaston

Buzz: Bluiett’s decision on whether or not to enter the draft will determine if Xavier is a Big East title contender again or merely a solid NCAA Tournament team.

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

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Key Returners: G James Blackmon, C Thomas Byrant, F Collin Hartman, G Robert Johnson,

Departures: F Max Bielfeldt, G Yogi Ferrell, G Nick Zeisloft

Wild Cards: F OG Anunoby, F Troy Williams

New Arrivals: G Curtis Jones, F De’Ron Davis, G Josh Newkirk

Bryant’s decision to stay for his sophomore year is huge. If Anunoby and Williams make the same call, Indiana could be the Big Ten favorite. Newkirk, a Pittsburgh transfer, takes over Ferrell’s point guard spot.

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

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Key Returners: G Eron Harris, G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, C Gavin Schilling

Departures: F Matt Costello, G Bryn Forbes, F Denzel Valentine

Wild Cards: F Deyonta Davis

New Arrivals: F Miles Bridges, G Josh Langford, G Cassius Winston, F Nick Ward

Buzz: Few teams lose more than Michigan State’s Valentine, Costello and Forbes. The Spartans’ backcourt of Nairn and Harris should emerge next season, and Tom Izzo brings in four top-50 freshmen.

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

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Key Returners: G Kadeem Allen, G Allonzo Trier, C Dusan Ristick

Departures: F Ryan Anderson, C Kaleb Tarczewski, F Mark Tollefsen, G Gabe York

Wild Card: G/F Terrance Ferguson

New Arrivals: G Rawle Alkins, F Lauri Marrkanen, G Kobi Simmons

Buzz: Trier’s return is key as Arizona replaces veterans Anderson, York and Tarczewski. Three top-50 recruits join a team that should contend in the Pac-12 again.

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

Key Returners: F Deng Adel, G Donovan Mitchell, G Quentin Snider

Departures: F Damion Lee, G Trey Lewis

Wild Card: F/C Chinanu Onuaku

New Arrivals: G Tony Hicks, G/F V.J. King

The draft decision of Onuaku will loom large. If he returns, he could average a double-double. Former Penn guard Hicks will fill the void left by Lewis alongside Snider and Mitchell.

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

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

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Departures: None

Buzz: The Badgers went 13-4 after Jan. 12, upsetting Xavier in the second round. Everyone returns from a team that will have all of 2016-17 under head coach Greg Gard.

14. Texas (20-13, 11-7 Big 12)

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Key Returners: G Eric Davis Jr., G/F Tevin Mack, G Kerwin Roach

Departures: G Javan Felix, C Prince Ibeh, F Connor Lammert, C Calvin Ridley

Wild Card: G Isaiah Taylor

New Arrivals: G Andrew Jones

Buzz: If Taylor returns to school, he’ll be the senior leader on a team with up-and-coming talent in sophomores Davis, Mack and Roach. Despite the loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, Texas finished the season in fine form, beating Oklahoma and West Virginia down the stretch.

15. Syracuse (23-14, 9-9 ACC)

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Key Returners: F Tyler Lydon, G Malachi Richardson, F Tyler Roberson

Departures: G Trevor Cooney, F Michael Gbinije

New Arrivals: G Tyus Battle

Buzz: Syracuse will try to ride the wave of its surprising Final Four run. Lydon and Richardson need to carry their star status through the entirety of the season.

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

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

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Departures: F Markus Kennedy, G Nic Moore, F Jordan Tolbert

New Arrivals: F Semi Ojeleye

Buzz: The postseason ban is over, and SMU should contend in the American again. Losing Moore leaves a major void at point guard. The arrival of Ojeleye, an import from Duke, keeps Larry Brown’s transfer pipeline moving.

17. USC (21-13, 9-9 Pac-12)

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Key Returners: F Bennie Boatwright, G Julian Jacobs, C Nikola Jovanovic, G Jordan McLaughlin, G Elijah Stewart

Departures: F Katin Reinhardt

Buzz: USC will return four players who averaged double figures from a team that improved from 3-15 in the Pac-12 to 9-9. The goal in Andy Enfield’s fourth season will be to keep a consistent level of play into February and March.

18. Seton Hall (25-9, 12-6 Big East)

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Key Returners: G Khadeen Carrington, C Angel Delgado, F Desi Rodriguez, F Ismael Sanogo

Departures: G Derrick Gordon

Wild Card: G Isaiah Whitehead

New Arrivals: G Myles Powell, G Jevon Thomas

If Whitehead returns, the Big East Tournament champs would bring back all five starters. Powell, a standout shooter, and Thomas, a former starter at Kansas State, will look to fill the void left by Gordon.

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

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

Departures: G Isaiah Cousins, G Buddy Hield, F Ryan Spangler

New Arrivals: F Kristian Doolittle, G Kameron McGusty, G Austin Grandstaff

Buzz: Hield’s supporting cast showed its limitations at times last season, so Woodard and Lattin will need to take a step forward. Grandstaff, a transfer from Ohio State, will try to fill the biggest perimeter shooting void in the country.

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

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Key Returners: F Vince Edwards, C Isaac Haas, G P.J. Thompson, G P.J. Thompson

Departures: G Rapheal Davis, C A.J. Hammons

Wild Card: F/C Caleb Swanigan

New Arrivals: G Carsen Edwards

Buzz: Keeping Swanigan is the key piece. His return would mean Purdue returns three of its top four scorers. The freshman Edwards could take over point guard duties.

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

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

Departures: F Jamel McKay, F Abdel Nader, F Georges Niang

New Arrivals: G Donovan Jackson, F Emmanuel Malou

Buzz: The return of Morris at point guard will give Iowa State a fighting chance in the Big 12. No more Niang lowers the bar. Transfers, this time JUCOs, will continue to play a role.

22. Notre Dame (24-12, 11-7 ACC)

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Key Returners: F VJ Beachem, F Bonzie Colson, F Matt Ryan, G Steve Vasturia

Departures: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson

New Arrivals: G Temple Gibbs

Beachem, Colson and Vasturia were all double-digit scorers last season, but losing a point guard and a double-double machine is significant.

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

Key Returners: G Josh Perkins

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Departures: G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan F Domantas Sabonis, F Kyle Wiltjer

Wild Cards: C Przemek Karnowski

New Arrivals: C Zach Collins, F Johnathan Williams, G Nigel Williams-Goss

Buzz: Gonzaga will be a new-look team from the Wiltjer-Sabonis-Pangos squads of the last two years. Transfers Williams (from Missouri) and Williams-Goss (from Washington) will be a standout inside-out duo.

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

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

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Departures: None

Buzz: The Gaels swept Gonzaga during the regular season but didn’t have enough on the non-conference schedule to earn an at-large bid after losing to the Bulldogs in the WCC tourney. With everyone back, Saint Mary’s should make another run.

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

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

Departures: F/C Tony Parker

New Arrivals: G Lonzo Ball, F T.J. Leaf

Buzz: UCLA’s first losing season since 2010 has Steve Alford feeling the heat. This season will be key to his long-term future in Westwood. With only one notable loss (Parker) and two top-20 recruits arriving, UCLA will have to turn things around immediately.