Perhaps more than any other offseason, the forecast for which college basketball team will be No. 1 in the preseason top 25 is ridiculously unclear.
Yet with NBA draft decisions finalized and top-tier recruits picking their schools, the picture looks much clearer than it did in April after North Carolina cut down the nets.
Which teams make it to San Antonio for the Final Four? Here's a look at the updated preseason top 25 for 2017-18 here in late May:
1. Arizona (32-5 in 2016-17)
Look for the Wildcats to have the perfect recipe of new and old next season. Projected lottery pick Lauri Markkanen is gone to the NBA, as is guard Kobi Simmons, but the return of leading scorer Allonzo Trier is huge in making Arizona a title contender next season, as is the late return of Rawle Alkins (10.9 points a game), who tested NBA waters at the combine. Plus fellow returnees Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche and Parker Jackson-Cartwright give coach Sean Miller an established core. However it's Miller's top-five recruiting class that catapults Arizona to No. 1. The incoming freshmen are headlined by 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, the best big man in the class of 2017.
2. Michigan State (20-15)
Tom Izzo took one of his youngest, most inexperienced teams to the NCAA tournament last March. They’ll be grown up in 2017-18. Leading scorer Miles Bridges' surprising decision to come back to campus makes the Spartans favorites to win the Big Ten and one of the most explosive teams in the country behind fellow freshmen-turning-sophomores Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston. And look for top-20 freshman Jaren Jackson to fit in nicely. If Bridges has the All-American season he's capable off, there's no reason this group can't steer the way to San Antonio.
3. Duke (28-9)
Jayson Tatum is a lottery pick, classmates Harry Giles, Frank Jackson and leading scorer Luke Kennard are also turning pro, while Amile Jefferson is graduating. But Duke will have ample talent — both returning and coming in — to contender in 2017-18. Much will depend on which Grayson Allen shows up, however. Allen's decision to return to Durham is big, but his controversy-plagued junior campaign did the Blue Devils no favors. Should he return to the All-American form he was at as a sophomore, then this Duke squad will be ridiculously good. His role will be uncertain on a revamped roster, as coach Mike Krzyzewski has hauled in another elite recruiting class, headlined by top-10 freshmen Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr., and late commit Trevon Duval, who will be a better fit at point guard to run and ignite the offense instead of Jackson, who stayed in the NBA draft after a solid combine.
4. Wichita State (31-5)
Yes, a former "mid-major" is in the top five. Get used to it. The American Athletic Conference, Wichita State's new home, isn't exactly a power conference yet. But the Shockers' 2017-18 roster is as powerful as it gets. Virtually everyone is back from a 31-win team that was top-10 in KenPom efficiency and had Kentucky on the ropes with a Sweet 16 trip on the line. In that game, freshman Landry Shamet showed flashes of what’s to come while going up against Kentucky’s NBA-bound freshmen. With a year under his belt running the point, Shamet should transform into an All-American-caliber player. Leading scorer Markis McDuffie, big men Darral Willis Jr. and Shaquille Morris, sharpshooter Conner Frankamp and utility man Zach Brown all return for an ambitious season.
5. Kansas (31-5)
Devonte’ Graham's decision to return will help coach Bill Self manage the losses of national player of the year Frank Mason III and high-flying lottery pick Josh Jackson. Look for Graham to have a monstrous 2017-18, and for key cogs LaGerald Vick (7.4 ppg) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (9.8 ppg) to see much bigger roles in KU's quest for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title. The new guy who could be a major difference-maker is Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. The 6-4 guard averaged 11.3 points a game for the Bulldogs and will undoubtedly be better after practicing with Kansas’s nation-leading backcourt while sitting out last season. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe will be eligible in midseason, too. Udoka Azubuike, a 7-0 sophomore who had a season-ending wrist injury, could be a force. Self’s recruiting class was so-so, with top-20 forward Billy Preston the top name.
6. Kentucky (32-6)
Kentucky's three elite freshmen — De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo — are all NBA-bound, as is sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, thus leaving John Calipari with another rebuilding project. Rest assured, more talent is on the way as per usual. The Wildcats welcome three elite big men in Nick Richards, P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt to make for a fearsome frontcourt, while Quade Green was the third-best point guard prospect. Perhaps the most versatile asset Calipari will have next season is late addition Kevin Knox, an explosive small forward who just a few short years ago was entertaining a football career. And the one player who did return to Lexington, Hamidou Diallo, will be just as intriguing as any of the star freshmen based on his impressive showing (ahem, 44.5-inch vertical jump) at the NBA combine. The smooth 6-6 guard enrolled at Kentucky last season in the second semester but hasn't played a minute in the NCAA. His return, with 20 minutes before the draft deadline no less, makes UK a serious force next season.
7. Florida (27-9)
Coach Mike White stepped out of Billy Donovan’s shadow by steering the Gators to the Elite Eight in his first NCAA tournament as a coach, and he’ll have a group poised to flourish again next season. Devin Robinson left for the NBA, while sixth man extraordinaire Canyon Barry and starting point guard Kasey Hill are gone to graduation. But Florida figures to have a cast of key returnees to mesh with a top-20 recruiting class. Guard KeVaughn Allen, who had 35 points against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, will be the main catalyst, while buzzer-beater star Chris Chiozza will take on a larger role. The reason Florida's so high is John Egbunu, who had a season-ending ACL injury in early February. With him fully healthy, this team can really shine.
8. Southern California (26-10)
USC’s surprise NCAA tournament run — beating Providence at Dayton and upsetting SMU in the first round — could be a sign of much more to come, especially with NBA-caliber talents Bennie Boatwright (team-leading 15.1 points a game) and Chimezie Metu (28 points in a tourney loss to Baylor) bypassing their professional aspirations to return to campus. The 6-10 and 6-11 forwards are matchup nightmares. Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart are also back, and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton will join a loaded roster that includes Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron. Then factor in a top-20 recruiting class by coach Andy Enfield and the future looks all the more promising for a team that was hanging on the NCAA tournament bubble back in February.
9. Louisville (25-9)
Ultra-athletic guard Donovan Mitchell, who broke out as a sophomore to become an all-ACC player, decided to end his college career and turn pro. Still, Louisville figures to bring back six of their top eight scorers and coach Rick Pitino recruited a top-10 class. In that light, expect five-star freshman Malik Williams to make an immediate impact. The 7-footer will replace Mangok Mathiang, who graduated, in the paint. Point guard Quentin Snider heads the list of surefire returnees, while wing Deng Adel figures to take a nice step in 2017-18. As always, look for this team to be top-notch on the defensive end.
10. Villanova (32-4)
National player of the year finalist Josh Hart is graduating, and so is 2016 title hero Kris Jenkins. But guard Jalen Brunson, who evolved nicely as a sophomore, will be back to help keep the Wildcats atop the Big East as a likely All-America guard. Other key returnees include Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Eric Paschall — all poised for larger roles. Also back in the fold is Phil Booth, who scored 20 points in Villanova’s 2016 national title game win over North Carolina, but missed most of 2016-17 with a knee injury. Big man Omari Spellman, a five-star prospect, was forced to redshirt his freshman season due to eligibility issues, but is set to make his NCAA debut. There’s enough pieces here to make Jay Wright’s group top-10.
11. North Carolina (33-7)
ACC player of the year Justin Jackson left for the NBA, joining Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks as key departures. So did Tony Bradley, which further makes repeating as national champs a tall task for next season. But another season with Joel Berry II, the team's sharpshooting point guard, makes the Tar heels a contender. Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye will take on larger roles alongside Roy Williams’ top-15 recruiting class. Jalek Felton, a 6-3 five-star 2-guard and the nephew of former Tar Heels star Raymond Felton, is the best of that bunch.
12. Xavier (24-14)
Trevon Bluiett (18.5 ppg) returns for another season, pushing the Musketeers into the national equation once again. Coach Chris Mack hauled in a top-15 recruiting class led by freshman point guard Paul Scruggs, who will see time right away with Edmond Sumner leaving for the NBA. Mainstay J.P. Macura (14.4 ppg) also is back. After an up-and-down season that concluded with a surprising Elite Eight finish, expect Xavier to be much more consistent next season.
13. West Virginia (28-9)
Though Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State figure to take a slide with their key departures, the Mountaineers will likely be Kansas’ top challenger in trying to end a historic Big 12 title streak. Coach Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” roster loses Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillip, but brings back its top two scorers in Jevon Carter (13.5 ppg) and Esa Ahmad (11.3 ppg). Daxter Miles Jr. also returns for the Mountaineers, while youngsters Lamont West and Sagaba Konate should see more time.
14. Notre Dame (26-10)
Charles Barkley clone Bonzie Colson is staying in South Bend for one more season and he’ll be a national player of the year candidate following an underappreciated junior campaign that saw him average 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. Also returning is point guard Matt Farrell (14.1 ppg, 5.4 apg), who coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant, said is better than Bobby Hurley. Those two will position the Irish for great things in 2017-18 with the inside-out game, with other glue guys filling in.
15. Northwestern (24-12)
Remember that team that had national runner-up Gonzaga on the ropes and had one brutal goal tending call destroy their momentum for a potential bracket-busting upset? Everyone’s back for Chris Collins’ near-miracle squad (the top five scorers, at least), which will play with the weight of the world off their shoulders after reaching the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Bryant McIntosh will be one of the best point guards in the country as a senior.
16. Miami (Fla.) (21-12)
Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown are back alongside six of the Hurricanes top eight scorers, and coach Jim Larrañaga brings in a top-10 recruiting class that’s headlined by marksman guard Lonnie Walker, the highest-rated commit in the school’s hoops history.
17. Minnesota (24-10)
Big Ten coach of the year Richard Pitino piloted his team to a surprisingly strong 24-10 record and fourth place Big Ten finish. Electrifying guard Nate Mason (15.2 ppg, 5.0 apg) has the chops to be the conference's player of the year and he’ll be joined by most of the returning nucleus, including upstart forward Amir Coffey. Big man Reggie Lynch (8.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.5 bpg) also is back and gives Minnesota a backbone in the paint.
18. UCLA (31-5)
How do you replace freshman of the year Lonzo Ball and leading scorer T.J. Leaf? With another top-notch recruiting class, that's how. Steve Alford also has to replace his hot-shooting son, Bryce, and another key graduate in Isaac Hamilton. Sixth man Aaron Holiday (12.3 ppg) and big man Thomas Welsh (10.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) are back to help welcome a star-studded freshman class fueled by dynamic point guard Jaylen Hands and small forward Kris Wilkes.
19. Saint Mary's (29-5)
The team's best weapon Jock Landale (16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg) is back for more, making the Gaels one of the best mid-majors in the country and a viable challenger to knock Gonzaga off its perch in the West Coast Conference. Five of Saint Mary’s top seven return from a 29-win club, including point guard Emmet Naar, who averaged 14 points and 6.4 assists a game as a sophomore but took a step down as a junior. A nice shot in the arm can come from Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal (9.4 ppg last season for the Rebels).
20. Seton Hall (21-12)
Angel Delgado (15.2 ppg, 13.1 rpg), the nation’s leading rebounder, joined elite guard Khadeen Carrington (17.1 ppg) in skipping the NBA, so expect the Pirates to be contenders in the Big East in a real dark horse come March. Desi Rodriguez (15.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is also back for coach Kevin Willard's loaded squad returning its top four scorers.
21. Cincinnati (30-6)
Coach Mick Cronin has most of the nucleus back from a 30-win squad, including the top three scorers Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark. Guard Jarron Cumberland figures to take another step as a sophomore. The key offensive addition is Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, who averaged 23.1 points a game in 2015-16 as the Northeast Conference Player of the Year.
22. Alabama (19-15)
Despite two seasons without an NCAA tournament berth, Avery Johnson has been as impressive as any coach recruiting, and he has a his top-five class for 2017. The Crimson Tide should hit their stride with five-star recruits Collin Sexton and John Petty joining a team headed by sophomores Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram. The talent's there on paper no doubt, but no it's up to Johnson — a former NBA coach of the year in 2006 — to make it happen on the court.
23. Butler (25-9)
The Bulldogs loose a crucial piece from their Sweet 16 team in Andrew Chrabascz, but have a majority of pieces coming back, starting with leading scorer Kelan Martin (16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Kamar Baldwin is poised to take a nice freshman to sophomore leap as well.
24. Missouri (8-24)
The more talent new coach Cuonzo Martin hauled in, the more difficult the Tigers became to ignore as a Top 25-caliber team this offseason. Like Kentucky and many freshmen-boosted rosters, the Missouri will drastically lack experience. And don't forget that Martin's similarly loaded Cal team in 2015-16 woefully underachieved. All that said, Mizzou belongs on this list based on a sensational recruiting class that's led by the nation's top player in the class of 2017, Michael Porter Jr., a Kevin Durant-esque player who surely helped to lure other top guns Jeremiah Tilmon and C.J. Roberts to play with Martin. Another nice asset here is Canisius grad transfer Kassius Robertson (16.1 ppg), an excellent long-range shooter. For a program that didn't win 10 games and finished dead last in the SEC last season, much has changed for the better.
25. Virginia (23-11)
After losing the bulk of the program's talent and then losing highly-touted transfer forward Austin Nichols after one game last season, the Cavaliers still managed a decent season in 2016-17 while leading the nation in defense (points allowed) once again. The lesson? Don't count out Tony Bennett's defensively-sound teams. Top scorer London Perrantes is gone, but three-point specialist Kyle Guy returns and a newer era at UVa begins.
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