A brief look at the top contenders for the 2017/18 college basketball season.
1. Duke – Grayson Allen is the only significant holdover on the roster, but the late addition of Marvin Bagley makes an already great recruiting class even stronger. Much will depend on how well freshman Trevon Duval settles in at the point.
2. Michigan St. – Miles Bridges was the rare NBA-level talent who returned to school. He’s accompanied by one of the deepest supporting casts in the country, with strong rebounding and 3-point shooting, and heady point guard play.
3. Arizona – Could this be the year Sean Miller’s Wildcats get over the hump and make it to the Final Four? Do-it-all guard Allonzo Trier leads a strong returning group of players, and freshman DeAndre Ayton is a likely NBA lottery pick.
4. Kentucky – Death, taxes, and John Calipari bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country – what else is new? Kentucky reloads with another group of long, skilled, and versatile freshman to compete for a national championship. Consistent point guard play might be their only question mark.
5. Kansas – Few teams have backcourts that can compete with that of the Jayhawks, who will again be the prohibitive Big 12 favorites. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham will be the leader, but much will also depend on the development of big men Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston (no, not that Billy Preston).
6. USC – Andy Enfield has built the Trojans into a contender with his up-tempo style. Five returning starters, led by forward Bennie Boatwright, will challenge Arizona for Pac-12 supremacy.
7. Wichita St. – The Shockers make a major step up as they move from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference. Otherwise, continuity reigns with Landry Shamet a star in the making at the point, and plenty of size and talent up front.
8. Xavier – Nearly all of the team that reached the Elite Eight last season returns, led by All-American candidate Trevon Blueitt. Top 60 recruits Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs will add depth to an experienced core.
9. Cincinnati – The Bearcats bring back their entire starting frontcourt, featuring the skilled and tough Jacob Evans. Transfer Cane Broome will man the point, and much will come down to how well he can replace experienced leader Troy Caupain.
10. Villanova – Jalen Brunson is the only starter remaining from the 2016 national championship winning team, but Jay Wright has continued to bring talented players to Philly, and will ensure that the Wildcats continue to play elite defense.
11. Minnesota – Four double-digit scorers, led by point guard Nate Mason, along with the physical presence of Reggie Lynch at center, return for the Golden Gophers. Expectations will be higher than usual in the Twin Cities this season.
12. Texas A&M – The talent, led by NBA prospect Robert Williams, in in place. Point guard was a problem last season, and the Aggies hope that solidifying that position will see them fulfill their potential.
13. Miami-FL – McDonald’s All-American Lonnie Walker joins an immensely gifted backcourt, and Dewan Huell is a breakout candidate up front. Improved 3-point shooting and replacing Kamari Murphy’s defense in the post will be the keys.
14. West Virginia – Jevon Carter leads an experienced group on the perimeter, but the Mountaineers will need young players in the frontcourt to develop and contribute. Expect the usual emphasis on defense – Bob Huggins wouldn’t have it any other way.
15. North Carolina – The defending national champs lose a lot of talent and experience, but Joel Berry II will be an All-American candidate if he returns from a broken hand at full strength. Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson will be counted on to provide scoring.
16. Purdue – Replacing a player like Caleb Swanigan will not be an easy task, but the Boilermakers nearly every other key contributor from last year’s Sweet 16 team, and should once again be strong defensively.
17. Florida – Transfers Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson will join KeVaughan Allen in what should be a high-scoring lineup. Center John Egbunu’s physical presence will be important, but will miss a significant portion of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL.
18. Louisville – The upheaval at Louisville makes them a tough team to judge. The Cardinals have the talent for a Final Four run, especially if prized recruit Brian Bowen is declared eligible to play. David Padgett will provide stability on the bench after Rick Pitino’s firing, but there are still likely to be some hiccups for the rookie head coach.
19. St. Mary’s – The Gaels return four starters, including Australian big man Jock Landale, and will hope that transfer Cullen Neal will add scoring punch. Emmett Naar, another Aussie, is the leader in the backcourt.
20. Providence – After being one of the last four at-large teams in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Friars bring back an experienced core led by forward Rodney Bullock and point guard Kyron Cartwright. A lack of size on the inside is their biggest weakness.
21. Gonzaga – After a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina in last season’s championship game, the Zags will try to reload with an experienced backcourt and breakout candidates Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura joining Johnathan Williams up front.
22. Seton Hall – Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Desi Rodriguez provide the Pirates with plenty of scoring and senior leadership. Rebounding should be a strength, while 3-point shooting will need to be improved.
23. UCLA – Assuming there is no major fallout from the recent arrest of three freshman (including Lonzo Ball’s brother LiAngelo) during the team’s trip to China, the Bruins should still be an NCAA Tournament team. Combo guard Aaron Holiday will be a key leader for a very young team.
24. TCU – It hasn’t taken Jamie Dixon long to turn his alma mater into a contender, but now the Horned Frogs need to turn last year’s progress into an NCAA appearance. Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams will lead five returning starters hoping to do just that.
25. Alabama – Freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty should form one of the nation’s most high-flying backcourts, and Braxton Key is an emerging star on the wing. Consistent frontcourt play and a non-conference schedule full of top-tier programs will be the biggest challenges for the Crimson Tide.