College Basketball Rankings: Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 6, 2017

College Basketball Rankings: Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25

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    Mike Krzyzewski
    Mike KrzyzewskiKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Duke wasn't anything close to the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the men's college basketball AP Top 25 or Coaches Poll, but the Blue Devils are No. 1 on every ballot submitted for Bleacher Report's Top 25.

    They have stiff competition, though. Every major conference (including the American Athletic) has at least one legitimate threat to win the national championship in what figures to be the most wide-open year in a while.

    Led by Duke, the ACC easily takes the cake as the top conference. In total, six ACC teams made it into our Top 25, including five in the Top 16. No other conference has more than two teams in the Top 16, and only the Big Ten (four) has more than three teams in the Top 25.


    Voters in this poll were Kerry Miller, David Gardner and Ben Chodos. Others receiving votes: Seton Hall, Alabama, TCU, Michigan, Missouri, Providence.

Nos. 25-21: Northwestern-Texas A&M

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    Bryant McIntosh
    Bryant McIntoshNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    25. Northwestern Wildcats

    Though it took nearly eight decades to finally reach the NCAA tournament, Northwestern was a bit ahead of schedule last year. All five of the leading scorers return, including star point guard Bryant McIntosh.

    If Isiah Brown can improve his efficiency as a sophomore (33.2 field-goal percentage, 3.0 turnovers per 40 minutes), these Wildcats just might mess around and survive deeper into the NCAA tournament than those at Arizona, Villanova and Kentucky.


    24. Xavier Musketeers

    The big question here is Quentin Goodin. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura make for one heck of a dynamic duo, but Goodin was one of the least efficient major-conference players as a freshman. Now that Edmond Sumner is gone and he needs to become the full-time point guard, how will things go for the Musketeers?

    Chris Mack's long run of success with this program was enough to sneak into the preseason Top 25, but we have a skeptical eye on the Musketeers.


    23. Louisville Cardinals

    Where oh where to place the Cardinals? They were No. 5 in our way-too-early Top 25 back in April, but you may have heard that some things have changed since then.

    There's still a good chunk of talent with a Big Three of Quentin Snider, Deng Adel and Anas Mahmoud, but what is new/interim head coach David Padgett going to get out of this group?


    22. Saint Mary's Gaels

    Saint Mary's has won 29 games in each of the past two seasons, and there's no good reason to believe a third isn't in the cards.

    Big man Jock Landale is back, as is three-year starting point guard Emmett Naar, who has quietly racked up 1,000 points and more than 500 assists in his career. The addition of Ole Miss transfer (and former New Mexico transfer) Cullen Neal should be huge.


    21. Texas A&M Aggies

    A&M brings back all five of last year's leading scorers while also adding redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell and Marquette transfer Duane Wilson to hopefully fix the point guard woes that kept this team from winning many games last year.

    If either Caldwell or Wilson thrives in the role, the Aggies could be the team that breaks up the duopoly Kentucky and Florida have held in the SEC for a while.

Nos. 20-16: Minnesota-Virginia

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    Tony Bennett
    Tony BennettMary Schwalm/Associated Press

    20. Minnesota Golden Gophers

    Despite losing Eric Curry for the year due to a preseason knee injury, Minnesota should be the top challenger to Michigan State in the Big Ten. Four of the five projected starters averaged at least 11 points per game last season, and the fifth (Reggie Lynch) is arguably the best shot-blocker of the past decade.

    Remember this name: Jordan Murphy. He put up 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season and might be this year's Caleb Swanigan.


    19. Baylor Bears

    Scott Drew lost Johnathan Motley, Ish Wainright and Al Freeman, but this roster is somehow still loaded. Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. will be the stars, but keep an eye on redshirt freshmen Tyson Jolly and Mark Vital. If they pan out, these guys can run eight or nine deep without a noticeable drop in production.

    Save for maybe West Virginiaonly because the Mountaineers keep turning everyone who can jump a passing lane into a serious weaponyou can't say that about any other team in the Big 12.


    18. UCLA Bruins

    Replacing guys like Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Bryce Alford won't be easy, but at least UCLA brought in Jaylen Hands, Cody Riley and Kris Wilkes to give it the old college try.

    Don't forget about Prince Ali returning from a redshirt year, either. A 2015 top-50 recruit who struggled as a freshman, Ali could be the X-factor who paces UCLA to another Sweet 16.


    17. Gonzaga Bulldogs

    The Zags lost arguably the four best players from last year's near-championship roster, but they're still in great shape. It's hard to argue with a frontcourt of Rui Hachimura, Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, and redshirt freshman Jacob Larsen might be the best reserve big man outside of Duke and Kentucky.

    If Jesse Wade can make an impact in the backcourt in his debut after a two-year LDS mission, another Final Four appearance is a real possibility.


    16. Virginia Cavaliers

    Not a single AP voter had Virginia higher than No. 17 on his or her preseason ballot, yet our consensus ranking is No. 16. But considering we had Baylor in our Top 20 last preseason while the AP didn't cast a single vote for the Bears, maybe you should just trust us on this one.

    Tony Bennett still has some dudes who can play, and we will continue to buy stock in this coach until someone figures out a repeatable method for beating his defense.

Nos. 15-11: Purdue-Cincinnati

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    Mick Cronin and Justin Jenifer
    Mick Cronin and Justin JeniferJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    15. Purdue Boilermakers

    The Boilermakers lost Caleb Swanigan, but they still have big man Isaac Haas and one deep supply of three-point weapons. Five guys (all returnees) attempted at least 100 triples last year for Purdue, and four of them shot better than 40 percent.

    The X-factor is 7'2" redshirt freshman Matt Haarms. If he's effective as a backup to Haas for 12 to 15 minutes per game, the sky is the limit for Purdue. 


    14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Purdue lost its rebounding phenom, but the Fighting Irish still have theirs. Bonzie Colson averaged a double-double last year and is a borderline candidate for national Player of the Year. Replacing V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia will be tough, but what else is new for Mike Brey?

    This team was supposed to drop off after losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton in 2015. Same goes for last season after Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste left. But the Irish just keep getting the job done. Expect a big year from Temple Gibbs as the next man up. 


    13. Miami Hurricanes

    Maybe you'd prefer Kansas or Arizona (when Rawle Alkins is healthy), but give me Miami as the best current backcourt in college basketball.

    Both Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker are candidates for the 2018 lottery, Ja'Quan Newton has been better than solid at point guard for the past two years, and Dejan Vasiljevic is one heck of a scoring weapon to bring off the bench.

    There are some concerns about both depth and experience in the frontcourt, but Dewan Huell just might be enough for the Hurricanes to contend for the ACC title.


    12. North Carolina Tar Heels

    Speaking of ACC contenders with frontcourt issues, North Carolina has plenty of concerns after losing Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. Had the defending national champions been able to sign stud recruit Kevin Knox, things would've looked much better.

    Instead, he went to Kentucky, and the Tar Heels are left with Luke Maye and a bunch of question marks. With a lot of perimeter weapons, though, this should be a dad-gum fine small-ball squad.


    11. Cincinnati Bearcats

    Cincinnati won 30 games last season and now adds a serious scoring weapon in the form of Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome. As long as that addition doesn't cause the Bearcats to take a sizable step backward on defense, this should be their best team since the days of Kenyon Martin.

10. Florida Gators

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    KeVaughn Allen
    KeVaughn AllenWade Payne/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu

    Noteworthy Reserves: Keith Stone, Jalen Hudson, Gorjok Gak, Chase Johnson, Dontay Bassett

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Devin Robinson had already declared for the draft without hiring an agent by the time the 2017 NCAA tournament ended, but we assumed he would come back for one more season. Instead, he left and the Gators replaced him with Rice transfer Egor Koulechov, who averaged 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds and shot 39.8 percent from three-point range over the past two seasons.

    John Egbunu also tested the draft waters, but he's recovering from a torn ACL and decided to come back for one more year. Per Gators beat writer Kevin Brockway, Egbunu isn't expected back until January, so it'll likely be either Keith Stone or Gorjok Gak in the starting lineup for the first two months.


    Will Win It All If...

    Both of the transfers become team leaders.

    Koulechov should be a solid small forward or a small-ball 4, but what about Jalen Hudson? The Virginia Tech transfer struggled with efficiency in both of his seasons with the Hokies, but it was tough for him to find any sort of rhythm with Buzz Williams constantly changing his role and his playing time.

    If he can get cemented as the primary reserve for KeVaughn Allen and/or Koulechov and just focus on his three-point stroke, he could be the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year.

    The Gators also need Hayes to become a legitimate weapon in the post, particularly while Egbunu is out. Hayes was solid as both a rim protector and offensive rebounder last year, but he wasn't much of a scorer and only played 18.3 minutes per game. He's a big-time breakout candidate.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Jevon Carter
    Jevon CarterMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Jevon Carter, James Bolden, Daxter Miles Jr., Lamont West, Sagaba Konate

    Noteworthy Reserves: Maciej Bender, Logan Routt, D'Angelo Hunter, Esa Ahmad (after 17-game suspension)

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Elijah Macon left to pursue a professional career, and Esa Ahmad was suspended* for the first half of the season. To replace those guys, West Virginia got, well, nothing. The Mountaineers didn't pick up a single Division I transfer, and all four of their incoming freshmen/JUCO transfers had already committed before the start of last season.

    Ahmad and Macon were the projected starting 4 and 5 for WVU at the beginning of the offseason. For any other program, losses like those would be catastrophic and followed immediately by a massive drop in expectations. At Press Virginia, however, it's just next man up.

    Maybe if Ahmad were out for the entire season, we'd lower the Mountaineers a bit, but they should at least be able to tread water until mid-January when he returns.


    Will Win It All If...

    They can avoid running into one of the best teams in the country in the regional semifinals.

    Three years ago, WVU got smashed by then-undefeated Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Last year, the 'Eers were narrowly defeated by then-35-1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Granted, they lost to a No. 14 seed in the year in between, but they have received some rough paths from the selection committee.

    With Jevon Carter back for one more season to lead this hellacious defense, West Virginia remains one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the country.

    That's somewhat said in jest, as it's obviously going to take more than a favorable draw for this team to win it all. For starters, they need to hope James Bolden (5.8 MPG), Sagaba Konate (10.9 MPG) and Lamont West (11.9 MPG) all remain efficient while adjusting to starter minutes. They also need to navigate a lack of backcourt depth with only four healthy guards on the roster.

    But Bob Huggins has done more with less than this.


    *Though the official announcement is that Ahmad "failed to meet NCAA eligibility requirements," the rumor for months prior to the announced suspension was that he failed a drug test during the 2017 NCAA tournament. And the length of the suspension matches up with how long Arizona's Allonzo Trier was out last season because of performance-enhancing drugs.

8. USC Trojans

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    Bennie Boatwright
    Bennie BoatwrightTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, De'Anthony Melton, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu

    Noteworthy Reserves: Derryck Thornton, Jonah Mathews, Charles O'Bannon Jr., Shaqquan Aaron, Nick Rakocevic

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Nothing has actually changed about USC's roster in the past seven months, but that in itself is a deviation from the norm and from what was expected. The Trojans lost four transfers and two (undrafted) early declarations to the NBA draft last summer—this after enduring a pair of outgoing transfers in each of the previous two offseasons.

    While we weren't necessarily expecting anyone to transfer this summer, it wouldn't have been surprising in the least, given the current logjam in the backcourt. What we were expecting, though, was either Chimezie Metu or Bennie Boatwright declaring for the draft, which would have left this team short-handed in the frontcourt.

    Instead, everyone who could return did so, and this team should be special.


    Will Win It All If...

    Boatwright becomes a more committed rebounder and defender.

    At 6'10", you'd think Boatwright would be an asset on the glass and at least somewhat of a threat to block a couple of shots per game. However, he only averaged 6.6 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per 40 minutes as a sophomore. His three-point and free-throw shooting were huge pluses on offense, but he was an overall negative on defense.

    What would be great is if Boatwright could defend the arc he loves so dearly on offense. In USC's 10 losses last season, opponents shot 43.4 percent from three-point range and averaged 9.6 made triples. Threes are going to happen when you play a lot of zone defense, but it's almost impossible to win a title when they happen that frequently and efficiently.

7. Wichita State Shockers

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    Conner Frankamp
    Conner FrankampPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Five: Landry Shamet, Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris

    Noteworthy Reserves: Rashard Kelly, Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger, Austin Reaves

    What Has Changed Since April?

    As far as actual roster changes go, Daishon Smith and Eric Hamilton transferred out of the program. However, neither one ranked top eight in scoring among potential returnees, and they barely saw the floor in Wichita State's five games in March. That was just a minor hit to the overall depth chart.

    Given the Shockers' offseason injuries, though, they could have used those guys early in the year. Both Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie suffered stress fractures in a foot. Shamet might be ready for the start of the season since his injury happened two months earlier in the offseason, but Wichita State may be without McDuffie for a while.


    Will Win It All If...

    The backcourt continues to thrive and the jump from the MVC to AAC better prepares them for the Big Dance.

    On the backcourt side of things, both Shamet and Conner Frankamp shot 44 percent from three-point range last season while combining for 6.0 assists per game. Frankamp completely disappeared in the NCAA tournament while Shamet became a star, but for most of the year, this was an incredible duo of combo guards. Both guys finished the year in the Top 20 in O-rating, per

    Regarding the uptick in competition, Wichita State went nearly three months without facing a single NCAA tournament team, yet the Shockers still darn near upset No. 2 seed Kentucky in the second round. Clearly, they were prepared for the moment, but could they have been more prepared by facing some challenges in the second half of the year?

    Games against the likes of Cincinnati, SMU, Connecticut and UCF should get this team in better shape for March than it ever has beenand that's a terrifying proposition for a team that came within one possession of knocking off Kentucky in two of the past four years.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

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    Sacha Killeya-Jones
    Sacha Killeya-JonesJames Crisp/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones

    Noteworthy Reserves: Nick Richards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt (injured)

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Quite a few changes here. In our way-too-early projection of Kentucky at No. 1, we were expecting both Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries to return for one more year. However, both guys declared for the draft, leaving Wenyen Gabriel (17.7 minutes per game as a freshman) as the most experienced player on the roster.

    Kevin Knox signing with the Wildcats in May somewhat made up for those losses. The wing-forward immediately becomes arguably the most NBA-ready player on the roster and a strong candidate to lead the team in scoring. Save for Duke getting Trevon Duval and Marvin Bagley III and Texas getting Mohamed Bamba, there was not a bigger splash* in the late signing period than Knox to Kentucky.


    Will Win It All If...

    Two players emerge as serious perimeter weapons.

    Kentucky can "out-athlete" just about every team in the country, but there are serious concerns about whether the team can outshoot anyone. Case in point: The Wildcats shot just 5-of-16 from three-point range in a 103-61 exhibition win over Thomas More. Knox and Hamidou Diallothe projected starting shooting guard and small forwardwere a combined 1-of-7 from distance.

    It's one meaningless game, yes, but it reinforces what scouts have been saying about those guys all along. This team is desperately lacking a Malik Monk, Jamal Murray or Devin Booker type of player who is an ever-present threat to catch fire from the perimeter and completely swing the game's trajectory in a matter of minutes.

    Maybe Diallo, Knox or someone else eventually becomes that guy, but Kentucky's ceiling is a bit below those of the title favorites until that happens.


    *Brian Bowen's late commitment to Louisville was a huge deal and would rival Knox's commitment to Kentucky, if, you know, Bowen is actually allowed to play for the Cardinals.

5. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Udoka Azubuike
    Udoka AzubuikeGregorio Borgia/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Malik Newman, Devonte' Graham, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk, Udoka Azubuike

    Noteworthy Reserves: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot, Sam Cunliffe (second semester)

    What Has Changed Since April?

    As is the case with USC, nothing changed on the Jayhawks roster, but they are in better shape than was originally anticipated. Both Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were tossups to either stay for one final year or bolt for the NBA. If anything, it felt more likely that they would both be gone than both be back. But Bill Self hit the jackpot by getting to hang on to these veteran guards.

    If they hadn't come back, this team would have been a bit of a mess. It would've been a solid starting five if both Marcus Garrett and Billy Preston pan out as freshmen, but the Jayhawks would've had the depth of a puddle. Instead, they have a potentially outstanding seven-man rotation with the pieces to switch back and forth between small ball and a conventional two-bigs lineup.


    Will Win It All If...

    Preston succeeds where Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg did not.

    Rated by the 247Sports composite rankings as the 20th-best freshman in the nation, Preston would be considered a can't-miss prospect at just about any other school, all but assured a starting job. (Just look at the way people talk about No. 21 Kris Wilkes, No. 22 Jaylen Hands and No. 23 Trae Young.)

    But 5-star power forwards at Kansas have been so disappointing lately that Prestonthrough no fault of his own—has to prove himself all over again before anyone will give him the benefit of the doubt.

    If he plays like a top-20 freshman and immediately contributes like a Caleb Swanigan, Thomas Bryant or Chris McCullough, Kansas is going to win its 14th straight Big 12 title with room to spare before entering the tournament as one of the top candidates for the national championship.

4. Villanova Wildcats

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    Jalen Brunson (1), Donte DiVincenzo (10) and Mikal Bridges (25)
    Jalen Brunson (1), Donte DiVincenzo (10) and Mikal Bridges (25)Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman

    Noteworthy Reserves: Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Jay Wright snagged a couple of quality 2018 recruits over the summer. With no noteworthy seniors on this year's roster and top-100 guys Cole Swider and Brandon Slater now scheduled to join the fold, there's a good chance Villanova will be No. 1 in the way-too-early Top 25 next April.

    As far as this year is concerned, though, the Wildcats are who we thought they were. No new freshmen have signed since January. No one transferred in. No one transferred out.

    The only somewhat noteworthy development is that Phil Booth was medically cleared to return to the team after missing all but three games of last season due to a knee injury, but the assumption in April was that he would be back to full health and fighting for a starting job. Thus, it isn't a change so much as it is a confirmation.


    Will Win It All If...

    Mikal Bridges is the breakout player of the year.

    There are a lot of similarities between Bridges and the first two years of Josh Hart's career at Villanova. And now Bridges will be tasked with replacing Hart as one of the go-to scoring weapons and one of the top defensive assets.

    As ridiculous as it may soundconsidering how valuable Hart was over the past two seasonsBridges has the potential to be even better than his predecessor. He isn't quite as assertive as Hart initially was, but his value added on defense is just about off the charts.

    If he does start shooting more, that should be great news for Villanova, since Bridges is a career 70.3 percent two-point shooter and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc. Factor in Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman, and Villanova could have the best Big Three in the nation.

3. Arizona Wildcats

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    Allonzo Trier
    Allonzo TrierRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic

    Noteworthy Reserves: Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, Keanu Pinder

    What Has Changed Since April?

    Aside from the FBI stuff that may or may not have an impact on this year's team, there were two major offseason developments for Arizona: one good and one bad.

    The good one was Emmanuel Akot reclassifying from 2018 to join the roster immediately. As if this team wasn't already dripping with talent and versatility, the young wing-forward gives Sean Miller one more 6'7" toy to play with.

    That's good because the bad was Rawle Alkins suffering a broken foot that could keep him out of the lineup until the start of conference play. Akot and freshman shooting guard Brandon Randolph should get a lot of minutes until Alkins returns.


    Will Win It All If...

    DeAndre Ayton lives up to his potential.

    The term "unicorn" has been thrown around so much in basketball lately that it doesn't mean anything anymore, but let's just say Ayton is the current college basketball player most similar to Kristaps Porzingis. As a result, he should have no problem fitting into the role carved out by Lauri Markkanen one year ago. This 7'0" freshman loves to shoot from the perimeter and might be the most unguardable player in the country.

    Beyond the positive outlook on offense, Ayton is an elite rebounderthe biggest issue most people had with Markkanen—who has the size and athleticism to be a great rim protector. Maybe he doesn't block as many shots as Chris Boucher did for Oregon, but Ayton should be an even better three-point shooter.

    It's tough enough to come up with a game plan for stopping Allonzo Trier and Alkins. Add in a hybrid between a shooting guard and a center, and these Wildcats might be even more of a nightmare to prepare to face than Press Virginia.

2. Michigan State Spartans

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    Miles Bridges
    Miles BridgesAl Goldis/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson Jr.

    Noteworthy Reserves: Matt McQuaid, Lourawls Nairn Jr., Gavin Schilling, Ben Carter, Kenny Goins

    What Has Changed Since April?

    There's not a sane person covering basketball at the collegiate or professional level who expected Miles Bridges to return to school for a second season. A mortal lock for a lottery pick, Bridges shocked the world with his decision. He will enter this year as one of the top candidates for the coveted Wooden Award.

    Aside from that, this roster is exactly what it was expected to be. But that one development was enough to propel Michigan State from No. 12 in the way-too-early Top 25 to No. 2 in the preseason Top 25.


    Will Win It All If...

    Cassius Winston becomes more efficient as a sophomore.

    Winston racked up assists at an incredible rate, averaging 10.1 per 40 minutes. Per KenPom, he ranked second nationally in assist rate, dropping a dime on 46.7 percent of buckets scored by teammates while he was on the floorthe highest such rate for a freshman since before the start of KenPom's data collection in 2004.

    However, he only averaged 2.4 assists per turnover, and he only made 45 percent of his two-point attempts. He was respectable from three-point range, but he was almost too much of a pass-first point guard, often trying to force things that weren't there.

    Two of the top traits of the best Michigan State teams have been dominating the glass—which this team should be able to do with Jaren Jackson Jr., Nick Ward and Bridges—and sharing the ball enough to record an assist on roughly two of every three buckets made.

    It's also important that they cut down on turnovers after committing 110 more than they forced last year.

1. Duke Blue Devils

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    Grayson Allen
    Grayson AllenChuck Burton/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Five: Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr.

    Noteworthy Reserves: Marques Bolden, Jordan Tucker, Alex O'Connell, Antonio Vrankovic

    What Has Changed Since April?

    No team has undergone more changes from original expectations than Duke, and almost all of them were good. The one exception to the rule was Frank Jackson leaving for the NBA draft; however, you could argue that was actually a positive. It forced the Blue Devils to go all-in on landing Trevon Duval rather than taking their chances on Jackson becoming more of a legitimate point guard as a sophomore.

    In addition to signing Duval, Duke has Grayson Allen unexpectedly returning for one more season and got an even more surprising addition with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying from 2018 to 2017 and committing to the Blue Devils in mid-August.

    As we've seen over the course of the past few offseasons, Mike Krzyzewski always seemed to have at least one ace up his sleeve. This year, though, he had an entire deck hidden up there. 


    Will Win It All If...

    Grayson Allen returns to 2015-16 form.

    Duke probably doesn't need Allen to average 21.6 points per game in order to compete for a title. If anything, there are so many weapons on this team that things have gone awry if he is scoring that much. But the Blue Devils do need him to be more of the efficient weapon than he was as a sophomore as opposed to the struggling player we saw last year.

    Allen's field-goal percentage plummeted from 46.6 to 39.5. Part of that is because he took 62 percent of his junior-year shots from three-point range as opposed to 42 percent the previous year, but he was significantly less efficient in points per field-goal attempt and turnovers per 40 minutes.

    Now that he's the lone veteran presence on the roster, Allen is more important than ever before. But we do already know what he's capable of when he's fully healthy and not distracted by a third tripping controversy. If he can become Duke's fearless leader once more, the Blue Devils should enter the NCAA tournament as the prohibitive favorites.