Preseason NCAA Basketball Rankings 2017-18: Updated Top 25
Michigan State and Kansas met in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament, but they currently occupy the top two spots in our still-early rankings for the 2017-18 college basketball season. With Duke and Kentucky also earning spots in the top five, this year's Champions Classic just might be the best yet.
Now that the NBA draft declaration deadline is in the rear-view mirror and every top-100 recruit on Scout has committed to a school, it finally feels safe to start looking ahead to next season.
Things won't actually be set in stone until November. Look no further than Thad Matta leaving Ohio State and Cameron Johnson trying to become a graduate-transfer to North Carolina for evidence of that just in the past few days.
There will be plenty of other minor ripples and possibly a few major ones over the course of the next five months. But at least the incessant two-month guessing game of "Will he leave?" and "Where will he sign?" is mercifully over.
It's time to get back to thinking about college basketball, where several teams have had drastic swings in top-25 expectations based on some of those decisions since the 2017 tourney ended.
Nos. 25-21: Texas—Florida
25. Texas Longhorns (Previous: Not Ranked)
There are plenty of viable options for this final spot. Northwestern, Xavier, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech are among the top teams that just missed the cut. But after signing 5-star big man Mohamed Bamba in mid-May—the fifth top-100 recruit in their class—we're throwing Texas and Shaka Smart a bone.
Though the Longhorns lost Jarrett Allen after just one season, keeping Andrew Jones around for at least one more year should make them a factor in the Big 12.
24. Alabama Crimson Tide (Previous: Not Ranked)
With Collin Sexton headlining an incoming class of three top-60 recruits joining all three of last year's leading scorers, Alabama has more talent on its roster than at any point in at least a decade. The Crimson Tide will be critical in the SEC's quest to send a conference record seven teams to the 2018 NCAA tournament.
23. Virginia Cavaliers (Previous: No. 23)
The Cavaliers had already lost Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson by the time we had them in our initial way-too-early rankings, so the only noteworthy change to this roster is the addition of Rutgers transfer Nigel Johnson. They still need Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to be more consistent than they were as freshmen, but at least there's a little bit of depth in the backcourt again.
22. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Previous: No. 3)
Despite speculation that Zach Collins might be a lottery pick, we had him and Nigel Williams-Goss both projected to return to the Bulldogs. Whoops. They do still have Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams III in the frontcourt, but their backcourt situation and overall depth took a major turn for the worse. Never mind getting back to the national championship game; Gonzaga might not even win the WCC.
21. Florida Gators (Previous: No. 21)
The Gators somewhat unexpectedly lost Devin Robinson to the NBA, but adding Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov (18.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG) should help soften that blow. If John Egbunu makes a full return to health from a torn ACL, a repeat trip to the Elite Eight is a real possibility.
Nos. 20-16: Seton Hall—Texas A&M
20. Seton Hall Pirates (Previous: Not Ranked)
Four Pirates averaged at least 10 points per game last season. All four are coming back for another year, including double-double machine Angel Delgado. They should be the top challenger to Villanova in the Big East.
19. UCLA Bruins (Previous: No. 16)
UCLA's rank took a slight hit with Ike Anigbogu's decision to remain in the NBA draft pool, but the Bruins have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation in Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and Cody Riley. If even two of those three live up to the hype, this team will be in great shape.
18. Saint Mary's Gaels (Previous: No. 18)
Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau are significant losses as seniors, but the Gaels still have big man Jock Landale and a supporting cast that grew even stronger with the addition of two-time graduate-transfer Cullen Neal. Saint Mary's could win 29 games for a third straight year.
17. Baylor Bears (Previous: No. 17)
It would've been nice if Johnathan Motley had come back for his senior year, but his departure was to be expected. The Bears still have some great weapons in Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil. The key will be whether King McClure, Wendell Mitchell and Jake Lindsey can thrive in bigger roles.
16. Texas A&M Aggies (Previous: No. 20)
Like Seton Hall, Texas A&M returns all four of its double-digit scorers from last season. The only thing that kept the Aggies from succeeding was a lack of a point guard. But between redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell and the addition of Marquette graduate-transfer Duane Wilson, point guard doesn't seem like much of an issue anymore. Look for Robert Williams to have a monster sophomore year.
Nos. 15-11: North Carolina—Purdue
15. North Carolina Tar Heels (Previous: No. 7)
It's almost a given that the defending national champions will be ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. In fact, 15 of the last 20 champs debuted at No. 8 or better the following year. But with Tony Bradley's decision to go pro, the Tar Heels have some serious question marks in the frontcourt.
Unless Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman or Sterling Manley can come in and immediately shine at center, a second consecutive title isn't happening.
14. Miami Hurricanes (Previous: No. 15)
Miami kept the status quo with Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell ignoring any temptation to go the one-and-done route. If incoming freshman Lonnie Walker is anywhere near as good as advertised, the 'Canes will be in great shape. Look for both Anthony Lawrence and Dejan Vasiljevic to take on bigger roles for this ACC title threat.
13. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Previous: No. 14)
Minnesota was a year ahead of schedule when it won 24 games with only one noteworthy senior on the roster. The Golden Gophers get back six of the seven guys in their primary rotation, including Amir Coffey, who averaged 12.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 3.1 APG as a freshman. If he and Eric Curry get any better as sophomores, this will easily be Minnesota's best season since reaching the 1997 Final Four.
12. Cincinnati Bearcats (Previous: No. 13)
No changes for Cincinnati in the past two months, which won 30 games last year while waiting for Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome (23.1 PPG in 2015-16) to become eligible. The point-guard situation could be a little dicey, but the Bearcats should have one heck of a starting five. Had Wichita State not made the move from the MVC to AAC, Cincinnati would've been the overwhelming favorite to win the conference.
11. Purdue Boilermakers (Previous: No. 11)
Had Caleb Swanigan stayed for another year, Purdue likely would have jumped into our top five. But we were already assuming he would go pro when we put the Boilermakers at No. 11 right after the 2016-17 season ended.
The other six players who averaged at least 4.0 points per game last year all return, and 7'2" redshirt freshman Matt Haarms should help plug the frontcourt hole that resulted from Swanigan's departure.
10. USC Trojans
Previous Rank: Not Ranked
Significant Changes from Expectations: Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and Shaqquan Aaron all return
Projected Starting 5: Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, De'Anthony Melton, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
There were only two teams in the country that had multiple players surprise us with their decisions to return for another year: Kansas catapulted to the top of the list with Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk both staying in school, and USC became a serious contender to win the Pac-12 by not losing a single noteworthy player from last season.
This is the antithesis of what happened to the Trojans last summer. Both Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic decided to go pro with virtually no chance of being drafted. Meanwhile, four other players transferred out of the program, turning a team that could have been a Final Four contender into one that just barely made it into the 2017 tournament.
This time around, USC is keeping everyone and adding in Duke transfer and former 5-star recruit Derryck Thornton. As a result, this team is ridiculously stacked in the backcourt. Even if the Trojans inexplicably go to a four-guard lineup to get Thornton out there as a starter, they'd still be bringing Shaqquan Aaron and Jonah Mathews in off the bench.
The biggest reason they jumped all the way from unranked to No. 10 is that both Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright stuck around. Those frontcourt studs averaged nearly 30 combined points per game last season and almost certainly would have both been drafted had they opted to move on to the next level.
Two months ago, we left USC just outside our top 25 while assuming at least one of those two guys would leave; possibly both. Now, it feels like they have a real shot to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1954.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
Previous Rank: No. 9
Significant Changes from Expectations: None
Projected Starting 5: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad, Elijah Macon
All has been quiet on the West Virginia front, with no news of players declaring for the draft, freshmen signing in this year's class nor transfers into or out of the program. Rather, the Mountaineers remain who we thought they were, which is still a terrifying proposition for just about every team standing in their path.
In Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Myers and Brandon Watkins, West Virginia loses four seniors who ranked in the top nine in scoring last season. But there's a major silver lining on that cloud, as it opens up the door for Lamont West, Sagaba Konate and James Bolden to make major contributions as sophomores.
The even better news is that the Mountaineers still have Jevon Carter to run the show on both ends of the floor. Criminally underappreciated at a national level last year, Carter averaged 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. The steals are the most noteworthy number at Press Virginia, but he's one heck of an offensive weapon, as well.
Kansas remains the favorite to win the Big 12, per usual, but the Mountaineers should eclipse 25 wins for a fourth consecutive season with room to spare.
8. Wichita State Shockers
Previous Rank: No. 6
Significant Changes from Expectations: Changed conferences
Projected Starting 5: Landry Shamet, Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris
Save for Daishon Smith and Eric Hamilton transferring out of the program—neither of which was playing much late in the season anyway—the only development worth reporting in Wichita State's offseason is its transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American Athletic Conference.
Based on how things went down with the NCAA selection committee last year, who can blame the Shockers? They went 30-4 prior to Selection Sunday and won most of their games by a double-digit margin, yet they were given a measly No. 10 seed because of the level of competition they faced for the final two months of the season.
Now, instead of beating up on the likes of Drake, Bradley and Evansville, Wichita State will get to prove its mettle by facing Cincinnati, Connecticut, SMU and others.
But that move did next to nothing to alter our lofty expectations for a team bringing back each of its eight leading scorers from last season—six of which will be seniors. After averaging 29.7 wins over the past seven years, maybe the Shockers only win 24-26 games during the regular season this year. That's still promising enough for a spot in the top 10, though.
7. Louisville Cardinals
Previous Rank: No. 6
Significant Changes from Expectations: Signed Brian Bowen; Lost Jaylen Johnson
Projected Starting 5: Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Brian Bowen, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud
Of Louisville's many draft decisions, the only surprising one was Jaylen Johnson opting to go pro after averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds as a junior.
Donovan Mitchell is a borderline lottery pick, so even though he waited more than a month to make a decision, remaining in the draft was always the likely outcome. Deng Adel waited until the next-to-last possible day before making his decision to return to school, but that also seemed like the logical choice from the beginning.
The most important and unpredictable development for the Cardinals in the past two months was the most recent one: Signing 5-star small forward Brian Bowen.
The final 5-star domino to fall in this year's crop, Bowen joins stud power forward Malik Williams and a trio of 4-star recruits in what now ranks as one of the best freshman classes in the country. Factor in the addition of UNC-Asheville transfer Dwayne Sutton (12.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG in 2015-16) and Louisville arguably adds more to its roster than any team not named Kentucky or Duke.
And the scary thing is this team could have been solid without adding anyone. A starting five of Quentin Snider, V.J. King, Adel, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud would have been plenty for Louisville to be a projected top-five finisher in the ACC. The talented depth just makes it more likely that the Cardinals win the league—and possibly the national championship.
6. Arizona Wildcats
Previous Rank: No. 10
Significant Changes from Expectations: Emmanuel Akot reclassified from 2018 to 2017; Chance Comanche committed to the NBA draft
Projected Starting 5: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, DeAndre Ayton, Dusan Ristic
I fully expect Arizona's ranking to be the biggest point of contention, as seemingly every other outlet has the Wildcats in the top three, if not No. 1. Early odds at most sportsbooks also have the Wildcats as one of the four favorites for the 2018 national championship, per OddsShark.com.
But are we certain they're gaining more than they lost? With Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Chance Comanche all declaring for the draft and Kadeem Allen running out of years of college eligibility, the Wildcats have to replace four of their seven leading scorers from last year.
Incoming freshmen DeAndre Ayton, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph are great options to fill those voids, as is UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith. But it bears mentioning that Sean Miller whiffed on all of his late recruiting targets, as Trevon Duval, Brian Bowen and Brandon McCoy all opted for different programs despite having Arizona listed among their top options two months ago.
As a result, not much has changed for the Wildcats in the past two months, aside from losing a reserve center and gaining a reserve small forward.
Had Duval or McCoy chosen Arizona, we'd be more willing to entertain the idea of the Wildcats as the favorites to win the 2018 title. After all, Allonzo Trier is one of the top candidates for preseason national player of the year, Rawle Alkins is expected to explode as a sophomore and Ayton could be an even better 7' stretch 4 than Markkanen was.
As is, we're leaving Arizona just outside of our top five while noting that there is nothing close to a clear favorite or even a group of clear favorites heading into next season. And as a sign of good faith in the analysis of other experts in the field, we bumped Arizona up four spots.
5. Kentucky Wildcats
Previous Rank: No. 1
Significant Changes from Expectations: Signed Kevin Knox; Lost Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries
Projected Starting 5: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards
We expect Kentucky to lose a ton of talented players every spring, but the roster turnover was particularly drastic this year. Of the nine Wildcats who scored more than 40 points last season, Wenyen Gabriel is the only one returning—and he ranked seventh on the team in scoring.
Yet how could we rank Kentucky any lower than this when it signed six of the top 25 players, seven of the top 40 players and eight of the top 90 players in this year's class?
Granted, not all recruiting classes are created equally, and Draft Express currently only has two Kentucky players (Hamidou Diallo and Nick Richards) projected to get drafted in 2018—neither of which are projected lottery picks. Still, with at least 27 wins in seven of eight seasons under John Calipari, we're all but required to simply trust that he'll make it work with freshmen every year.
After Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries both opted for the NBA draft, though, we're no longer willing to put the Wildcats at No. 1.
The best Kentucky teams have had a good blend of both incoming and returning talent—even if those returning players are just a couple of sophomores. But this year, it's Gabriel or bust as far as leftovers from last year go. Considering he shot 1-of-18 from the field and averaged 9.6 minutes over the final nine games, that seems like it could be a big problem.
It's not nearly a big enough issue to definitively state that Kentucky will not reach the Final Four this year, but it is big enough to result in the belief that there are (at least) four teams more likely to get there.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Previous Rank: No. 4
Significant Changes from Expectations: Kept Grayson Allen; Signed Trevon Duval; Lost Frank Jackson
Projected Starting 5: Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent, Marques Bolden, Wendell Carter
Despite somewhat unexpectedly losing Frank Jackson, Duke was one of the biggest winners of the past two months.
The first major positive incident was Grayson Allen deciding to return for a fourth and final season. Make all the tripping and Ted Cruz jokes you want, but this was huge for the Blue Devils who—unlike Kentucky—will at least have one key veteran on the roster.
Equally crucial was the signing of 5-star PG Trevon Duval. This did more than just help make up for Jackson's decision to go pro. Duval should be an upgrade over Jackson, if only because he's more of a true point guard, which Duke desperately lacked in 2016-17.
With Duval joining forces with Wendell Carter and Gary Trent, Mike Krzyzewski has three of the top 20 freshmen in the nation. Coach K also convinced Marques Bolden to return for another year, despite a temporary firestorm of rumors suggesting he intended to transfer.
As a result, Duke's projected starting five consists of five former 5-star McDonald's All-Americans.
Depth is a legitimate concern, considering the Blue Devils lost seven of last year's eight leading scorers. However, plenty of teams have won national championships with benches much less promising than Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Antonio Vrankovic, Alex O'Connell and Jordan Tucker. Duke just needs to hope it can do a better job of avoiding the injury bug in 2017-18.
3. Villanova Wildcats
Previous Rank: No. 2
Significant Changes from Expectations: None
Projected Starting 5: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman
Though three of the four NCAA tournaments didn't go according to plan, no team was more dominant over the past four years than Villanova. The Wildcats had an overall record of 129-17, winning four consecutive Big East regular-season titles by multiple-game margins.
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins were big parts of that success, but this roster is equipped to carry on without those departed seniors.
Even without factoring in top-75 recruits Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, the Wildcats have guys on the bench who can fill those voids. Phil Booth played just three games due to injury and 2016 5-star center Omari Spellman missed the entire season after being ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA clearinghouse. Getting that duo on to the court should be plenty to keep Villanova rolling as the Big East team to beat.
The Wildcats also still have Eric Paschall, who would likely be the favorite for national sixth man of the year, if such a title existed.
As with Duke, the big question here is depth. How much of an impact will the aforementioned freshmen make? And is Dylan Painter ready to become the seventh man after barely playing any meaningful minutes last season?
If either of those plants bears fruit off the bench, look out for Villanova. The Wildcats were unable to become the first back-to-back champs since Florida did it in 2006-07, but they could still be the first team in more than a decade to win two out of three titles.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Previous Rank: No. 8
Significant Changes from Expectations: Kept Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk; Carlton Bragg transferred
Projected Starting 5: Malik Newman, Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azubuike
In addition to picking up transfers Charlie Moore, Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson for the 2018-19 season, the Jayhawks hit the offseason jackpot with Graham and Mykhailiuk both coming back for a senior season.
Had that duo gone to the NBA, the backcourt situation in Lawrence would have been interesting, to say the least. They do have Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman joining the fold, but Lagerald Vick would've been the only returning guard who played at least 20 minutes last year. Heck, Vick would've been the only returning player who made any sort of significant impact in Kansas' run to the Elite Eight.
Instead, the Jayhawks will have four great options at guard to go along with new freshmen Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett, and the return of Udoka Azubuike, who appeared in just 11 games as a freshman due to a wrist injury.
Over the past several years, first-year power forwards have had a nightmare of a time trying to shine at Kansas. Mitch Lightfoot barely played last year. Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander both dealt with eligibility issues. Carlton Bragg never quite fit in before transferring. But if Preston can finally snap that string of bad luck for Bill Self, where is the weakness on this roster?
At long last, Graham is going to get the respect that he deserves. He should be a preseason first-team All-American, and when Kansas wins its 14th consecutive Big 12 title, he'll be one of the top candidates for the Wooden Award.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Previous Rank: No. 12
Significant Changes from Expectations: Kept Miles Bridges
Projected Starting 5: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
Of all the NBA draft decisions, not one was more surprising or national-landscape-altering than Miles Bridges choosing to return for a second year at Michigan State.
As a result, last year's entire four-man recruiting class—the one that had people believing in the preseason that the Spartans could be a top-10 team despite losing five of their six leading scorers from the previous year—is back to try to deliver on its national championship potential.
After averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks as a freshman, Bridges should be the star of the show and a possibly unanimous first-team All-American. But Nick Ward was a beast in limited playing time, accounting for 28.0 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes. Factor in Cassius Winston's sky-high assist rate and Joshua Langford's scoring potential and this might be the best batch of sophomores of the one-and-done era.
Yet that's barely one-third of Michigan State's outstanding roster. Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter were both granted another year of eligibility after missing the entire 2016-17 season due to injury. In Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Kyle Ahrens and Lourawls Nairn, the Spartans have four other upperclassmen capable of making a legitimate impact. And did we mention Tom Izzo signed the No. 5 overall recruit in this year's class, Jaren Jackson?
The Spartans are so loaded that they could put together platoons and still leave something in the lurch. After getting a solid first eight minutes out of the above starting five, Izzo could do a hockey substitution and bring Nairn, McQuaid, Goins, Carter and Schilling off the bench without falling to pieces. It's not quite 2014-15 Kentucky, but Michigan State's bench could certainly finish top 10 in the Big Ten.
Kansas, Villanova and Duke might have slightly better starting fives, but it's the depth that makes Michigan State our still-way-too-early No. 1 team for the 2017-18 season.