1. Kentucky Wildcats
Hamidou Diallo’s return shoots Kentucky to the top of the pile, at least until this unproven collection of highly-rated talent proves itself as something else. John Calipari welcomes five other five-star prospects to Lexington (not counting Diallo), in Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green, as well as two four-star recruits in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemari Baker. Add that crew to the holdovers of Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones and Coach Cal may have his best line-up since his legendary 2014-2015 team.
2. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona was aided by the return of some serious talents to campus, including Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic, while also bringing in a stellar recruiting class headlined by prospects DeAndre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot. Dylan Smith, a transfer from UNC-Asheville, will mix with other veterans such as Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Keanu Pinder to make the Wildcats one of the most talented and deepest teams in the country. It’s on Sean Miller now to get this team over the hump and into the Final Four.
3. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo was at the focal point of the most eye-opening NBA Draft decision, as the Spartans gladly welcomed the return of star player Miles Bridges to East Lansing. The rising sophomore, along with Duke’s Grayson Allen, is an early favorite for the National Player of the Year award and with a stellar cast around him, the favorites in the Big Ten have legitimate Final Four potential. Point guards Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston are both excitable play-making ball-handlers who will perfectly compliment the interior forces of potential All-Big Ten forward Nick Ward and five-star prospect Jaren Jackson. Key pieces like Joshua Langford, Matt McQuaid and Ben Carter will be the ones who help this team get to the next level.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
In pursuit of their 14th Big 12 title, Kansas has reloaded their roster via the transfer market and in turn, Bill Self and company may have pieced together a unit who will once again compete for a National Championship next season. The Jayhawks’ starting back-court of Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman (Mississippi State) will be as tough of a tandem as there is and the pieces around them at the wing spot in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Sam Cunliffe (Arizona State) will give this group the depth and versatility it truly needs. Up front, five-star prospect Billy Preston, seven-footer Udoka Azubuike and transfer Jack Whitman (William & Mary) will be the finishing touches needed to round out this impressive group.
5. Wichita State Shockers
Gregg Marshall is no stranger to success and coming off a 31-5 season in which they lost only twice to unranked foes (Oklahoma State, Illinois State), the Shockers are on the right trajectory for another elite campaign. Wichita State’s move to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) means the overall path will be a bit more treacherous for the program but there’s no group more prepared for that stage than the one in tow. Rising junior Markis McDuffie has already emerged into a star and point guard Landry Shamet is on the verge of greatness as well. The Shockers will remain.
6. Villanova Wildcats
The departure of the senior class who completely altered the national prospective of Villanova will be a significant blow to the Wildcats in a variety of ways, both on and off-the-court. However, like Wichita State, Villanova may have the group perfectly suited to cushion the blow and step up into much more featured roles. Jalen Brunson is a legitimate “Jay Wright-style” point guard, swingmen Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth can hold things down around him, and Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman are extremely talented up front. Paschall has All-Big East potential this season.
7. Duke Blue Devils
Just when you thought the losses of Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson, Frank Jackson, Matt Jones and Chase Jeter might be too much for even Coach K to handle, the legendary Hall of Famer worked his magic and assembled another remarkable Duke line-up who could emerge as legitimate contenders. A starting back-court of Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. will quickly put the rest of the country on notice, while Wendell Carter and Marques Bolden will run the show in the paint. Finding depth in Jordan Tucker, Alex O'Connell, Jack White and Jordan Goldwire will be this team’s deal-breaker.
8. USC Trojans
The Trojans have continued to surge all summer long, as the hype around this gifted unit just continues to grow by the week. For USC, it will simply be a case of how these pieces are all able to mesh and work together and how they deal with a potential level of unprecedented success for this program. Across the board, USC has depth, versatility and balance, where ball-handlers like Jordan McLaughlin and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton can control the flow of a game and then two premier all-league post talents in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu can deliver the final punch. At the off-ball spots, a wealth of excitable options include Elijah Stewart, De'Anthony Melton, Shaqquan Aaron, five-star prospect Charles O'Bannon Jr. and freshman Jordan Usher, while the rising sophomore duo of Jonah Mathews and big man Nick Rakocevic also can’t be forgotten.
9. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville could’ve definitely used Donovan Mitchell putting his NBA dreams on hold for one more season but with the sophomore talent gone, Rick Pitino now gets to work his magic on his remaining group. The good news for Pitino is that he still has Quentin Snider running the show and players like swingman Deng Adel and center Anas Mahmoud to grow and develop with this group over the course of a season. However, the Cardinals’ recruiting haul could develop into their biggest enigma. If freshmen Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora and Lance Thomas can merge into the core of the team and become a source of trust for Pitino, Louisville has a chance to make some noise in the ACC. If they don’t, the Cardinals could become oddly pedestrian.
10. Florida Gators
Departures from Canyon Barry, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson will give Michael White some re-structuring to do within this group but if there’s anything the youthful coach has shown through the early stages of his career, it’s that no task is too large for the budding star. Besides Kentucky’s haul of five-star recruits, Florida’s guard trio of Chris Chiozza , KeVaughn Allen and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson is as good as it gets in the SEC and that group of talents will help to lift a lot of the pressure off John Egbunu and Keith Stone in the front-court, who still need more growth and development. The Gators are an intirguing team to watch after last season’s run to the Elite Eight.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins would’ve liked to have Elijah Macon for one more go-round in West Virginia but the program won’t take a step back in his absence, especially not with their high-pressure style of play. If anything, Macon’s departure puts more of an emphasis on Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate to emerge as the stars they can be, while “the old reliables” in Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles keep on trucking in the back-court.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Essentially, the 2017-2018 Minnesota season will be the next step in the growth pattern of last year’s 24-win team, as most of the key figures besides Akeem Springs return to the mix. Add flashy New York city point guard Isaiah Washington to a core five of Nate Mason , Dupree McBrayer , Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch and this Golden Gophers squad could be a very dangerous outfit all season long.
13. Cincinnati Bearcats
Few coaches instill culture into their program in the way that Mick Cronin does and even with Troy Caupain saying his goodbye to Cincinnati, the Bearcats can still remain a contender. Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome is a high-scoring guard who will fill the point guard role from day one, while four of the other top five scorers from a season ago are still on campus.
14. UCLA Bruins
The national consensus on this UCLA team seems very undecided but on paper, there’s no reason why the Bruins can’t at least make a run at following up last season’s Sweet Sixteen campaign. Although they are mostly young, UCLA has a duo of five-star prospects in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, who will be seriously aided by the returns of Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh. There’s no reason to panic in Westwood just yet.
15. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Ole Miss graduate transfer Cullen Neal was an impressive late-Spring pick-up by Saint Mary’s, who looked like they would need one more proven talent to balance this team out. As always, Randy Bennett has assembled a strong core of unique talents ranging from Jock Landale and Calvin Hermanson to Emmett Naar and Evan Fitzner, who should keep this group together as one well-oiled machine.
16. TCU Horned Frogs
Jamie Dixon secured an NIT Championship in his first season at his alma mater and in year two, his goal will be to lead TCU to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. With a roster that returns their six leading scorers from a 24-win outfit, including a back-court of Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher, the Horned Frogs will be a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12 this season.
17. Seton Hall Pirates
Kevin Willard was able to hold together the group that he hoped he would have in South Orange, anchored by the team’s top four returning scorers in Khadeen Carrington , Desi Rodriguez , Angel Delgado and Myles Powell . The Pirates won’t have too much depth after Ismael Sanogo, Myles Cale, Jordan Walker and Michael Nzei, so this group will have to stay cohesive and healthy along the way.
18. Xavier Musketeers
Xavier split their NBA Draft decisions, losing Edmond Sumner to the league, while retaining leading scorer Trevon Bluiett for his final season with the program. As usual, Chris Mack doesn’t have a bevy of household names but coming off an Elite Eight type of year, the Musketeers are becoming one of the regular customers in the Big East. J.P. Macura will be the next stand-out piece for Xavier behind Bluiett.
19. North Carolina Tar Heels
The reigning National Champions had to wait until the last minute to learn the fate of forward Tony Bradley, before he chose to join the front-court trio of Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, as those who won’t return to Chapel Hill. Nate Britt is also gone, which means it’s Joel Berry and Theo Pinson’s show from here on out. The Tar Heels will still be good but they won’t compare to last year’s unit.
20. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The after-effect of unprecedented success hit the Zags hard, as Mark Few will have to recover from the losses of Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Jordan Mathews on the fly. Gonzaga will now be built around guards Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell, as well as forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. A batch of new talent will need to fill roles from the get-go for the Zags.
21. Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M may have limped to a 16-15 finish last season, including a disappointing 8-10 conference record, but the Aggies will be built for a return to national prominence this winter with literally everyone from last year returning to the mix. The biggest problem for the Aggies a season ago was a sheer lack of quality wins, a trait that must change for the 2017-2018 campaign.
22. Alabama Crimson Tide
After back-to-back first round exits in the NIT, Avery Johnson has put the Crimson Tide in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament, pending the hype around his highly-touted freshmen class comes to fruition. Five-star recruit Collin Sexton will have time prove himself as an impact talent for Alabama, as will fellow prospect John Petty and Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens. Consider Alabama the dark-horse team of the SEC.
23. Northwestern Wildcats
The monkey is finally off Northwestern’s back, as the team clinched their first ever trip to the big dance last season and at the moment, all signs point to a return trip next March once again for the Wildcats. Chris Collins will bring back six of his top seven scorers from last year’s unit, including one of the Big Ten’s best guards in Bryant McIntosh.
24. Oklahoma Sooners
Coming off an 11-win campaign, Lon Kruger is set for a big turnaround in Norman. Keeping McDonald’s All-American point guard Trae Young home was the insertion of a prime-time talent that this team needed, while players like Kameron McGusty, Kristian Doolittle and Khadeem Lattin will all have another year of development under their belts.
25. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
A quick rule of thumb in college basketball is to never count out Mike Brey, even when it seems like Notre Dame roster may have some glaring voids within it. Between game-changing forward Bonzie Colson in the front-court and steady guard Matt Farrell in the back-court, the Fighting Irish won’t lose too much ground for a squad that lost Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.
The Next Ten
26. Nevada: Without Cam Oliver, Eric Musselman’s transfer hauls may need to pull a bit more weight than they were originally expecting. Even still, Caleb and Cody Martin (North Carolina State), Kendall Stephens (Purdue) and Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) being a certain pedigree to this team that could be dangerous.
27. Miami (FL): Miami is another highly-touted team who will rely heavily on some new contributors, specifically Lonnie Walker, to surprise some opponents along the way. The Hurricanes need to find some consistency up front, where the duo of Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Dewan Huell are largely inexperienced.
28. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to figure out their road woes, especially in the unforgiving ACC. Josh Pastner brings his top-three scorers back to campus on a short-handed roster, meaning freshmen Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood II will need to have immediate impacts.
29. Missouri: Cuonzo Martin’s first year at the helm for Missouri will be preceded by some lofty expectations, from those who believe a last-minute recruiting scramble that landed the nation’s top prospect in Michael Porter Jr. will completely turnaround a struggling Tigers program. It’ll be a game of wait and see for Missouri.
30. Virginia Tech: The Hokies potential may be hindered by the conference they play in, as Virginia Tech should be much improved but you can’t just go stealing wins in the ACC. Buzz Williams team will be less top heavy without top two leading scorers Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, but more reliant on the “sum of the parts” all season long.
31. Western Kentucky: Rick Stansbury has become a marvel of recruiting since he’s taken over at Western Kentucky, landing five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson, four-star prospect Josh Anderson and Virginia graduate transfer Darius Thompson. The Hilltoppers should look and feel like a completely new group next season.
32. Oregon State: A loaded recruiting haul could end up being the difference from Wayne Tinkle, who already returns one of the best front-courts in the Pac-12. The Beavers may have one country’s biggest turnarounds on their hands next season.
33. Texas: A recruiting haul of seven-footer Mo Bamba and Oak Hill point guard Matt Coleman bring the most excitement to this Longhorns program since the hiring of Shaka Smart. It’s all about seeing the fruits of their labor pay off now for Texas.
34. Rhode Island: Danny Hurley will hope to keep the good vibes rolling in the Ocean State, especially with star player E.C. Matthews still around. Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson and Jarvis Garrett must all work to fill in the voids around Matthews.
35. Butler: The Bulldogs are another culture-run program who doesn’t seem to drift too far from the Top 25 at any point during the season. Swingman Kelan Martin will need to be fantastic (once again), as will George Washington transfer Paul Jorgensen.