We offered a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2016-2017 college basketball season the morning after Villanova beat UNC at the buzzer. Now that the smoke has cleared from the NBA draft, here’s a newer, more accurate Top 25.
1. Duke: Blue Devils were #1 even before Grayson Allen decided to return. Losing PG Thornton to transfer stings, but not with the loaded class they have coming in. It’s way, way early, but Jayson Tatum & Harry Giles could go 1-2 in the 2017 NBA draft.
2. Villanova: Will have a shot to defend the title with Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart returning. Jalen Brunson isn’t the player to watch; Mikal Bridges is.
3. Oregon: Dillon Brooksand Tyler Dorsey are back, and the Ducks have two of the Pac-12’s best shot blockers in Jordan Bell (4th) and Chris Boucher (1st). Three Elite 8’s for the Ducks in the last 14 seasons; this will be their best shot at a Final 4.
4. Kentucky: Isaiah Briscoe is back, but the Marcus Lee loss hurts frontcourt depth. Another sick recruiting class led by De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Best team in the SEC; I’m not sure this year’s team will be as good as last year’s.
5. Wisconsin: Have as good of a Big 3 as anyone in the country with Bronson Koenig (13.1 ppg), Nigel Hayes (15.7 ppg and Ethan Happ (12.4 ppg). I’m overly bullish. Like, put a benjamin on them to win it all next time you’re in Vegas.
6. Xavier: Jalen Reynolds is off to the NBA, but the Musketeers will go as far as leading scorer Trevon Bluiett and point guard Edmond Summer take them. Should battle Villanova in the Big East three times, and the Final 4 is within reach.
7. North Carolina: Lose their two best players (Johnson and Paige), but the rest of the rotation is back, led by wing Justin Jackson (12.3 ppg). The big issue will be 3-point shooting, especially with Jackson (27 percent) and Theo Pinson (28 percent).
8. Virginia: Lose their two best players (Brogdon and Gill) but will be a bit more balanced next year if Devon Hall and Marial Shayok progress. Austin Nichols and London Perrantes will lead the squad.
9. Kansas: If Selden and Diallo had stayed, the team would have a shot at the Final 4. Mason and Graham will be a Top 5 backcourt in the country, but how far this team goes in March will depend on who steps up as a 3rd scorer (Bragg? Mykhailiuk?) and what they get on the interior from Lucas/Azubuike. [Ed. Sorry for forgetting to mention Josh Jackson, Kansas fans. Doesn’t change my ranking.]
10. Indiana: The good news – star center Thomas Bryant is back. The bad – Troy Williams went to the NBA. Depending on what Hoosiers fans you talk to, there’s no bad news there. Anyway, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon should be difference-makers, but this team really needs a point guard, but replacing Yogi Ferrell is going to be impossible.
11. Arizona: Quietly in better shape out West than many, mostly because Allonzo Trier stayed and Sean Miller landed two Top 20 recruits. Oregon’s the best in the Pac-12, but Arizona won’t be far behind.
12. UConn: If Daniel Hamilton had stayed in school, the Huskies would be flirting with the Top 5. There’s still a lot of talent (especially Jalen Adams) and the best news is that coach Kevin Ollie didn’t go to the NBA.
13. Purdue: Probably an overreaction on my part to Caleb Swanigan returning to school, but combined with juniors-to-be Vince Edwards (11.3 ppg) and Isaac Haas (9.8 ppg), the Boilermakers will be near the Top of the Big 10 again.
14. Syracuse: Malachi Richardson leaving for the NBA was a massive loss. It will open the door for Tyler Lydon to blossom into a star, and keep an eye on Tyler Roberson, who looks like an All-ACC player.
15. Michigan State: A Top 15 team because of Tom Izzo and what he gets out of players. For 99% of other teams, if you lose four key players among the top seven contributors, you may fall out of the Top 25. Not the Spartans.
16. Maryland: Melo Trimble made the decision to stay (surely he read this!), but the Terps lost four starters. Trimble’s good enough to keep this team in the Top 25.
17. Virginia Tech: As long as there are no injuries, I’ll probably be viewing the Hokies as a Final 4 sleeper coming March 2017. Zach LeDay and Seth Allen are back, as is everyone else in the rotation.
18. UCLA: Backcourt’s back, Steve Alford will be under pressure to win, and the first Ball brother arrives.
19. Louisville: They’ll crack this list because of Rick Pitino. Chinanu Onuaku decided to leave for the NBA, and he was their best returning player.
20. Oklahoma: Obviously Buddy Hield will be missed, but two other starters depart, leaving Jordan Woodward as the team’s star next season. Still feels like a team that could make a run to the Sweet 16 – if Christian James blows up like some expect him to.
21. Creighton: Only lose two seniors from a strong 8-man rotation, and their best scorer (Maurice Watson) is back, and so is their best 3-point shooter (Isaiah Zierden).
22. California: Ivan Rabb could have been a lottery pick, but stayed and may be a 1st team All-American. With Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, the talent is there for the Bears to have the Sweet 16 as a goal.
23. Wichita State: Gregg Marhall’s team won’t just fall off the face of the earth because Baker/Van Vleet are gone. The team will be young, but probably an upset candidate by next March.
24. Gonzaga: Lost their two best players in Sabnois and Wiltjer, but see team #23. Mark Few’s a good coach.
25. West Virginia: Devin Williams, their best player, made the mistake of leaving early for the NBA. He may not get drafted. The backcourt is again the team’s strength; what can Huggins get out of the frontcourt?