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A Very Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2017-18

Bill Self

Bill Self

Three-hundred and forty-six Div. I college basketball programs will aim to dethrone North Carolina from atop the national championship landscape in the 2017-18 season. The coming weeks will shape the contenders, as programs await NBA draft decisions for some of their top players, and transfer possibilities loom.

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Related: Ranking College Basketball's National Champions since 1985

Baring those caveats in mind, it's hardly too early to take a quick gauge of the next campaign. Some honorable mentions that did not make the Top 25:

- South Carolina

- Butler

- Baylor

- VCU

- SMU

- Virginia Tech

- Purdue

And regarding Purdue, considering the following null-and-void if both Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Hass spurn the NBA. Biggie Swanigan alone puts the Boilers back in the Top 25. With that, onto the rankings.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Key Returners: Devonte' Graham, Lagerald Vick

College Football Rankings: Kansas

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

Wild Card: Svi Mykhailiuk

New Arrivals: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett

Buzz: Kansas loses a budding superstar in Josh Jackson, who began hitting his stride late in the 2016-17 season. Lawrence also parts way with Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Frank Mason III. And yet, the outlook for the Jayhawks improved in the last week, thanks to an influx of transfers. Memphis imports and brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson join Sam Cuncliffe (Arizona State) and Malik Newman, already in the fold for the past several months.

With Devonte' Graham already declaring his intent to return, the the additions of Newman and Cuncliffe (in December) ensures Kansas won't just maintain in 2017-18: The Jayhawks become the team to beat.

2. Kentucky Wildcats

Departures: Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Mychael Mulder

Kentucky football schedule

Wild Card: 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, Kentucky replenishes its ranks with a stellar signing class. The possible addition of Pittsburgh transfer Cam Johnson could add veteran firepower. Should Bam Adebayo return after testing the NBA draft waters, he could be primed for a monster season.

3. Arizona Wildcats

Key Returners: Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder

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Departures: Kadeem Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons

Wild Cards: Rawle Alkins, Chance Comanche Allonzo Trier

New Arrivals: De'Andre Ayton, Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, Alex Barcello

Buzz: Arizona loses plenty of star power in Lauri Markkanen; veteran leadership from Kadeem Allen; and potential out of Kobi Simmons. Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier both have big decisions to make, and should both return that could elevate Arizona to No. 1. But even without the duo, Sean Miller returns solid veterans in Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Kenau Pinder, providing a foundation around a talent-rich recruiting class, the crown jewel of which is big man De'Andre Ayton. Ayton is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2017 signing class.

Should center Chance Comanche return – he's testing the waters – he could be a breakout star in 2017-18.

4. Wichita State Shockers

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

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Departures: None

Buzz: Despite boneheaded seeding from the NCAA Tournament selection committee, Wichita State proved to be one of the nation's best teams in 2017. Just ask Kentucky, which needed a last-second defensive stand to hold the Shockers off in the Round of 32. Head coach Gregg Marshall returns every key contributor from a 31-win team that spent much of last season ranked in the top 10 of the KenPom.com metrics.

The Shockers' rough defensive style and disciplined offense make them the clear favorites immediately upon moving into the American Athletic Conference.

5. Florida Gators

Key Returners: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

Departures: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry

Wild Cards: Devin Robinson, John Egbunu

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

Buzz: Florida looked like the best team in the nation at some point in January, before losing center John Egbunu to a knee injury. Even without him, the Gators dominated Virginia and outlasted Wisconsin en route to the Elite Eight. He could be a centerpiece for a Final Four-caliber squad in 2017-18 – but if not, head coach Mike White has plenty to work with to build on last season’s success.

KeVaughn Allen is a budding star, whose profile gained national attention during the NCAA Tournament. He'll be a breakout performer in the season to come.

6. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson

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Departures: Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews

Wild Cards: Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss

Buzz: Don't expect Gonzaga's first Final Four run to be its last. While the Zags flourished behind a trio of transfers, only Jordan Mathews was a guaranteed one-and-done. Johnathan Williams should be back next season, and last season’s breakthrough star, Nigel Williams-Goss, is not a projected first-rounder in the upcoming NBA draft. He could be a national player of the year contender and boost his stock with one more year in Spokane. Should ultra-talented big man Zach Collins returns, Gonzaga will earn some preseason No. 1 votes.

As it currently stands, Gonzaga has a solid foundation with underrated wings Josh Perkins and Silas Melson back in the fold.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returners: Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson

North Carolina Football Schedule 2019

Departures: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt

Wild Cards: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley, Theo Pinson

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

Buzz: Necessary preface – Should All-American and ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson return, the defending national champions immediately move up several spots, perhaps all the way to No. 1. Jackson emerged as a primary scoring option for North Carolina in the past season, but his lockdown, man-to-man defense proved vital to the Heels' national title run.

UNC’s preseason forecast also hinges on the decision facing 2017 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry II, as well as promising big man Tony Bradley. If he decides to return for his sophomore season, Bradley is poised to fill the rebounding void left by Kennedy Meeks.

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

8. Louisville Cardinals

Key Returners: Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud

College Football Top 25: Louisville

Departures: Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks

Wild Cards: Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell

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

Buzz: The coming weeks will dictate Louisville's 2017-18 forecast perhaps more than any other program around college basketball. Should the trio of Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson and Donovan Mitchell all return for another year, Rick Pitino has his best lineup since the 2012-13 team brought home a national championship. While their decisions linger, Louisville loads up with an impressive signing class. The headliner is 7-footer Malik Williams, a 5-star prospect who should have an immediate impact.

9. Xavier Musketeers

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