College Basketball Teams No One Can Figure Out for the 2017-18 Season
By the time "One Shining Moment" finished playing, we had already moved on to thinking about the 2017-18 men's basketball season. Congratulations on your national championship, North Carolina, but where will you rank among next year's contenders?
It's an annual tradition for every CBB website. If not within 24 seconds of the title game ending, everyone publishes a way-too-early top 25 within 24 hours of the season ending.
How do they compare to each other, though?
We've compiled top-25 rankings from nine major sites—ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, USA Today, Yahoo, Sporting News and Bleacher Report—into one consensus way-too-early ranking for the 2018 season.
Beyond just figuring out who ranks where, it was interesting to discover which teams have the widest range of expectations.
Miami, for instance, should be the fifth-best team next season, according to NBC Sports' Rob Dauster. But Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis doesn't even think the Hurricanes belong in the top 25.
In addition to giving you that consensus top 25, we've pinpointed the nine teams upon which the various experts were most divided.
Consensus Top 25
Before we dive into all the disagreements, here is where the teams rank when we combine the nine ballots together. Plenty will change in the next six weeks based on draft decisions, transfers and where the remaining uncommitted 5-star studs land, but there is nothing close to a unanimous No. 1 team for the 2017-18 season.
The max possible score with nine ballots is 225 points, but no one even cracked 200. The top four teams are only separated by five votes. Curiously, Duke almost ended up at No. 1, despite not receiving a single first-place vote:
1. Kentucky (197 votes, three first-place votes)
2. Duke (195)
3. Louisville (193, one first-place vote)
4. Arizona (192, four first-place votes)
5. Kansas (184, one first-place vote)
6. North Carolina (178)
7. Wichita State (166)
8. Villanova (158)
9. Gonzaga (151)
10. Michigan State (149)
11. Florida (134)
12. West Virginia (106)
13. Minnesota (99)
14. UCLA (93)
15. USC (80)
16. Cincinnati (79)
17. Notre Dame (69)
18. Saint Mary's (64)
19. Miami (60)
20. Butler (43)
21. Xavier (39)
T22. Oregon (36)
T22. Alabama (36)
24. Baylor (35)
25. Northwestern (33)
Others receiving at least nine votes: Virginia (24), Seton Hall (17), Purdue (17), Texas A&M (16), TCU (15), Indiana (13), South Carolina (10)
Consensus Ranking: No. 8
Highest Ranking: No. 2 (Bleacher Report)
Lowest Ranking: No. 20 (USA Today)
Though we're the highest on Villanova, we're not alone in buying the Wildcats as one of the favorites to win the 2018 title. ESPN (No. 4), Sports Illustrated (No. 5) and Yahoo (No. 6) all have Jay Wright's club in the "might be a No. 1 seed" range in which they have lived for the past four years. In total, eight of the nine polls have Villanova in the top 11 and No. 1 among Big East teams.
The outlier is USA Today, which curiously has Xavier at No. 6 and Villanova at No. 20, despite Scott Gleeson writing, "But guard Jalen Brunson, who evolved nicely as a sophomore, will be back to help keep the Wildcats atop the Big East."
If we're in agreement that Brunson is coming back for another year, what rationale is there for not having Villanova projected for a fifth consecutive year on the top two seed lines in the NCAA tournament?
Omari Spellman is going to be an outstanding redshirt freshman, and the reliable presence in the paint this team was missing during life after Daniel Ochefu. Donte DiVincenzo's two games in the NCAA tournament were a sign of things to come from the will-be sophomore shooting guard. So as long as Phil Booth recovers from the leg injury that limited him to just three November games this season, Villanova should have one of the best seven-man rotations for a second consecutive year.
Unless Josh Hart was the glue that held everything together, that is. The three years before he arrived on campus, the Wildcats failed to get better than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Even though they have a strong, versatile roster, it's never easy to replace one of the top candidates for National Player of the Year.
Consensus Ranking: No. 9
Highest Ranking: No. 3 (Bleacher Report)
Lowest Ranking: No. 19 (USA Today)
The divide here is due to a disagreement in NBA draft decisions. Until we hear otherwise, we're expecting both Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss to return for another year. USA Today is already assuming Collins will be gone.
But so are Yahoo's Jeff Eisenberg and Henry Bushnell, and they still have the Zags at No. 4 in their top 25, noting that redshirt freshmen Jacob Larsen and Zach Norvell are wild cards that could put them back among the favorites to reach the Final Four.
Even if both of those redshirt freshmen turn out to be duds, though, Gonzaga's current projected starting lineup (without Collins) is still Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. The Bulldogs also have reasonable expectations of a solid year from Rui Hachimura and a top-100 recruit in Corey Kispert.
(Don't forget Jesse Wade, either. The former 4-star PG is scheduled to return from his Latter-day Saints mission to play this year.)
It isn't quite the stout-from-top-to-bottom eight-man rotation that won 37 games this season, but that's enough to win at least 32 games for a fourth time in six years, right?
If NWG and Collins both go pro, Gonzaga would be a borderline top-25 team. But as long as the National Player of the Year candidate returns for his senior year, the Zags will be in business.
Consensus Ranking: No. 11
Highest Ranking: No. 4 (USA Today)
Lowest Ranking: No. 21 (Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated)
For the life of me, I cannot figure out the obsession with Florida.
Here I thought we were being generous by putting the Gators at No. 21. They finished the year at No. 5 on KenPom.com, but they're graduating three of their top six scorers (Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry and Justin Leon). Their primary big man (John Egbunu) tore his ACL in February, and their primary small forward (Devin Robinson) might be headed to the NBA draft.
Even if Robinson returns and Egbunu is back to full health by early November, they aren't adding a single top-100 recruit. Florida's only noteworthy additions are redshirt freshman Dontay Bassett and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson—and Hudson posted a sub-100 O-rating in both of his seasons with the Hokies.
And yet, the Gators received two top-five votes, five for the top 10 and seven in the top 15. ESPN's Joe Lunardi even has them projected for a No. 1 seed.
Three weeks ago, Florida losing to East Tennessee State was one of the most popular upset picks in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That team is losing more than it is gaining this offseason, but it's now one of the top candidates to win the 2018 title?
Either a lot of experts independently came to the conclusion that KeVaughn Allen is a surefire preseason first-team All-American or something doesn't add up.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Consensus Ranking: No. 12
Highest Ranking: No. 8 (ESPN and NBC Sports)
Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked (Fox Sports)
Fool us once, shame on West Virginia. Fool us twice, shame on us. But it seems Aaron Torres at Fox Sports has been fooled for the fourth time.
Each of the past three seasons, we expected the Mountaineers to crumble. They went 17-16 in 2013-14 without a single senior on the roster, but we all wrote them off when Eron Harris and Terry Henderson transferred and Remi Dibo went pro internationally.
That's when they first became Press Virginia. They went 25-10 and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. But it was a gimmick, right? With lead guard Juwan Staten graduating and a year's worth of tape on how to beat their relentless press, teams would surely have an answer for WVU the following season.
Instead, the Mounaineers got even better, earning a No. 3 seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Not to be deterred, we wrote them off again. Sure, they replaced Staten, but how could they possibly replace Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton and Jaysean Paige in one year?
Lo and behold, Press Virginia was back and almost better than ever, winning at least 28 games for the first time since reaching the 2010 Final Four. Despite shooting 26.7 percent from the field, the Mountaineers nearly upset Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
Four of the nine polls (including B/R) put WVU in the top 10, but in addition to Fox Sports leaving the Mountaineers out of the top 25, CBS Sports (Gary Parrish) barely threw them a bone at No. 23.
At this point, what do you say we just give Bob Huggins the benefit of the doubt and at least put his team in the top 15? After all, the Mountaineers only lose one starter this summer (Nathan Adrian), and will-be sophomores Sagaba Konate, James Bolden and Lamont West are all ready for a bigger piece of the pie.
Consensus Ranking: No. 14
Highest Ranking: No. 7 (USA Today)
Lowest Ranking: No. 23 (ESPN)
The wide range of expectations for UCLA makes sense.
For starters, the 2016-17 Bruins were one of the most polarizing teams in the country. They had one of the best offenses in CBB history, but their defense left much to be desired. There were a lot of people who thought this team was among the favorites to win the national championship, as well as a lot of people who thought that defense would keep UCLA from even surviving the first weekend.
And now, that team is going through a Kentucky-like amount of roster turnover.
Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton both graduate while Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are off to the NBA. The Bruins still have Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday, but all four of their leading scorers are gone. However, they have the second-best recruiting class in the country, including two 5-star guys (Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands), another top-30 stud (Cody Riley) and the second of Lavar Ball's three offspring (LiAngelo Ball).
Factor in Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski returning from redshirt seasons and a presumed breakout year from Ike Anigbogu, and UCLA could be deeper and better than it just was.
That's only if they drastically improve on defense, though. There's no chance this team is as proficient on offense after losing Lonzo Ball and a combined 297 made three-pointers, but there's more than enough talent on this roster for the Bruins to become a title contender again.
Consensus Ranking: No. 15
Highest Ranking: No. 11 (USA Today)
Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked (Three of nine polls)
Most of the teams on the list got here because of one or two rogue voters. But for USC, there are two distinct camps. Six of the nine experts have the Trojans in the No. 11-14 range while the other three left them off the ballot altogether.
B/R was among the three non-believers, but we did note the following when listing some of the other teams we considered: "If USC can convince Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright to turn down the NBA draft, the Trojans could win the Pac-12."
This team is loaded with quality guards. Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart will be the senior leaders. De'Anthony Melton and Jonah Mathews both had strong freshman years and should be key pieces in 2017-18. The Trojans also have former Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron and incoming Duke transfer Derryck Thornton.
It wouldn't be surprising if one or two of those Trojans opts for the NBA draft or the transfer market, but as long as they keep four out of the six, they'll be in fantastic shape in the backcourt.
The big "what if?" is in the frontcourt.
Both Metu (No. 11) and Boatwright (No. 25) rank among the top 25 sophomores on DraftExpress. Though neither one is projected to be drafted, that didn't stop both Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs from leaving USC for the draft last summer. If either one of the team's leading scorers decides to go pro, the Trojans would be in some trouble—even though Nick Rakocevic played well as a freshman while Boatwright missed 17 games.
Consensus Ranking: No. 19
Highest Ranking: No. 5 (NBC Sports)
Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked (Sports Illustrated)
Every year, it seems like Miami is one of the toughest nuts to crack.
Two years ago, the 'Canes received preseason votes from 13 of the 65 AP voters before eventually climbing as high as No. 7 in late February. Last year, nine AP voters viewed Miami as a preseason Top 25 team, and it spent just one February week at No. 25.
Based on these nine way-too-early polls, the range of expectations for the Hurricanes is wider than for any other team.
Seven of the nine CBB experts view Miami as a team that belongs in the back half of the top 25. Losing both Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy will be a challenge, but it has a strong recruiting class headlined by 5-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker. Factor in the expected development of big man Dewan Huell in Year 2, and the Hurricanes already have solid options for replacing those two seniors.
Maybe that team doesn't play a huge factor in the national championship conversation, but it's at least one of the top candidates for the ACC crown. Given how strong the ACC was this past season (before the NCAA tournament) and how good it ought to be in 2017-18, a team that could win that league should at least be ranked in the top 20.
Consensus Ranking: No. 21
Highest Ranking: No. 6 (USA Today)
Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked (Four of nine polls)
Serious question: If Xavier had lost to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament, would anyone have put the Musketeers in their way-too-early top 25?
Before the tournament and after losing Edmond Sumner, the X-Men were one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They went more than a month without beating any team other than DePaul and nearly played their way out of the tournament field.
Moreover, we already found out in late March that Sumner is declaring for the NBA draft and hiring an agent. Factor in both Malcolm Bernard and RaShid Gaston graduating, and there's not a whole lot returning aside from Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
But one thing everyone other than USA Today appears to have neglected to consider is that Xavier has one of the better recruiting classes in the country. The Musketeers are adding top-40 recruits Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall as well as another 4-star guard, Elias Harden.
They already proved in the tournament that they can beat quality teams without Sumner, and Gaston only averaged six minutes per game during that run. With plenty of options for replacing Bernard, the Musketeers will be in great shape if guys like Sean O'Mara, Tyrique Jones and Kaiser Gates continue to play as well in 2017-18 as they did this past March.
This is all assuming Bluiett returns, though. He could be a Josh Hart-level star as a senior at Xavier, but he has already announced that he'll be testing the waters for the NBA draft. Considering that news broke at the end of March when everyone was working on their way-too-early top 25 lists, it may have scared a lot of voters away from the Musketeers.
Consensus Ranking: Not Ranked
Highest Ranking: No. 11 (Bleacher Report)
Lowest Ranking: Not Ranked (Seven of nine polls)
Caleb Swanigan is both literally and figuratively the biggest domino to fall in the next six weeks. If he returns for another season, he's a lock for preseason first-team All-American and would make Purdue the clear favorite to win the Big Ten. After all, the Boilermakers won the league by a two-game margin this year, and the only senior on the roster was eighth man Spike Albrecht.
Here's the thing, though: We're projecting Swanigan to leave and we still had Purdue at No. 11 in our top 25.
How is it possible that no one else views Purdue as a team in the top 25? Is everyone assuming that Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are all going to the NBA?
For all the time that we spent talking about Biggie this season, the Boilermakers were more than just their double-double machine.
They ranked seventh in the nation in three-point percentage, thanks to four players who both shot at least 40 percent and made at least 45 triples. They did an excellent job of defending without fouling and converted on better than 75 percent of their own free-throw attempts. They also had the second-best assist rate in the country with soon-to-be starting power forward Edwards leading the way in that category.
Carsen Edwards didn't have a great freshman season, but look for him to have a breakout year in 2017-18. Ryan Cline is a lights-out shooter who should get more playing time this year. And don't sleep on redshirt freshman Matt Haarms. The 7'2" center should pair nicely as a platoon with fellow 7'2" center Haas.
But that's OK. We don't mind being the only ones buying stock in a team. It worked out just fine when we had Baylor at No. 19 in our 2016-17 preseason top 25 while the Bears received precisely zero votes in the AP poll.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.