There will be a lot of talent in college basketball this year, with no clear favorite. As of now, only a couple significant freshmen and transfers are still on the market, so there shouldn’t be too much deviation as the summer approaches. These are my top 25 college basketball teams for next season.
Shaka Smart finally has a roster that is built to compete under his style of play. Mo Bamba is the longest basketball player in the country (including the NBA), with limitless potential. His rim protection will allow the Longhorn guards to press up on ball-handlers without fearing a blow-by. Sophomore Andrew Jones (11.4 ppg, 3.5 apg) would have been drafted, but he solidifies a jet quick backcourt with freshman Matt Coleman. Tulane transfer Dylan Osetkowski is the perfect big to anchor a rabid defense, with the toughness and energy to chase exhaust opposing bigs. The stage is set for a big turnaround at Texas.
24. Saint Mary’s
The Gaels have been a few steps behind Gonzaga the last couple years. I’m not sure if they will jump the Zags this year, but they will have their best team in some time. Australian bulldozer Jock Landale (16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg) proved to be one of the most dangerous post players in the nation. Trusty floor general Emmett Naar (5.6 apg) should be among the national leaders in assists, creating all kinds of problems operating with Landale. The Gaels will have Calvin Hermanson (13.1 ppg, 43% 3PT) and Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal to space the floor to allow their stars to work. If they can rebound better as a unit, their uber-efficient offense should be able to take them deeper in the tournament.
Making the most out of your roster must run in the Pitino family. All five starters return for a team that had a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament. Nate Mason (15.2 ppg, 5.0 apg) went through a cold stretch last year, but he’ll be counted on to make plays again. Sophomore Amir Coffey (12.2 ppg) is capable of doing whatever he is asked. The turning point came when Jordan Murphy (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) realized he could dominate games attacking the rim instead of settling. Assuming that continues, and Reggie Lynch (3.5 bpg) stays healthy, the Gophers will be in the upper part of a deep Big Ten.
When you can bring back all of your top players from a solid NCAA Tournament team, there is reason for optimism. Seniors Bryant McIntosh (14.8 ppg, 5.2 apg) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 ppg) hope to end their successful careers with one last run. Their frontcourt is also experienced, with a couple multi-year starters in Vic Law (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Derek Pardon (8.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) coming back. A solid influx of youth (Barret Benson, Isiah Brown, Jordan Ash, Rapolas Ivanauskas) bolds well for Chris Collins’ team.
Gonzaga lost a lot of the moving parts that carried them to the National Championship. Jonathan Williams (10.2 points, 6.4 rpg), Josh Perkins (8.1 ppg), and Silas Melson (7.2 ppg) will all step up their production. Sophomore Killian Tillie (4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg) should make a huge jump this offseason to become a double-double threat every night. You can expect redshirt freshman Zach Norvell and shooter Jesse Wade to create some offensive fireworks during their first seasons.
John Beilein had to anticipate that D.J. Wilson may leave early considering his age, increased stock, and injury history. The hope is that 6’10 forward Moe Wagner (12.1 ppg, 56% FG, 40% 3PT) can become an offensive focal point while putting on the strength that NBA scouts desire. Duncan Robinson (7.7 ppg, 42% 3PT) will feast on threes playing four. Former top recruit Charles Matthews is stronger and smarter after sitting out a year and should provide instant offense. The big get was Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons (15.9 ppg, 6.5 apg), who will run the point and feed an offense that should rank near the top of the Big Ten in three-point shooting. Some solid recruits will add to the depth of a team that won’t be a surprise Tournament team.
19. Notre Dame
It seems like every year Mike Brey loses irreplaceable pieces and finds a way to build a winner. All-American Bonzie Colson (17.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 53% FG) continues to find new ways to dominate the game as an undersized post. Match that with Matt Farrell (14.1 ppg, 5.4 apg, 42% 3PT), one of the nation’s best pick-and-roll players, and the Irish will again be tough to guard. Freshman D.J. Harvey is a future pro that is wired to score for a team without much wing scoring. Some combination of Rex Pflueger, T.J. Gibbs, and Nikola Djogo will need to consistently hit shots to force teams to second guess sending everyone at Colson. How deep they go will depend on Colson and Farrell’s supporting cast.
The toughness that is associated with the Bearcats will be reinforced this year. Defense will continue to be their calling card, though they will have an even more potent offense. Junior Jacob Evans (13.6 ppg, 2.7 apg, 42% 3PT) is ready to emerge as an All-AAC player. Gary Clark (10.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg) and Kyle Washington (12.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are an active frontcourt duo that can shut down opposing bigs. With Troy Caupain graduating, former NEC Player of the Year Cane Broome will start at point after averaging 23.1 points a game at Sacred Heart in 2016.
I’m not sure Caleb Swanigan could have improved upon his excellent season a year ago. Vince Edwards (12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 apg) continues to be underrated as a versatile wing with the size to guard three or four positions. He may lead the team in scoring while Carsen Edwards (10.3 ppg) and Dakota Mathias (9.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) thrive in a more perimeter oriented offense. The Boilermakers bring back Goliath center Isaac Haas (12.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), who is bound to put up monster numbers receiving upwards of 25 minutes a game. Purdue has a really solid starting lineup, despite lacking depth.
16. Texas A&M
Most freshmen jump at the chance to be a first rounder. Robert Williams (11.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg) could have gone in the lottery, but came back to become a more well-rounded star. Tyler Davis (14.2 ppg, 62% FG) should continue to be a man amongst boys in the paint. D.J. Hogg (13.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.4 apg) has loads of talent but really struggled with consistency. Look for him to find his comfort level this year. After being ruled ineligible, J.J. Caldwell is going to bring toughness as a true point guard with a pitbull mentality. His presence will allow Admon Gilder (13.7 ppg) to play off the ball. The Aggies are well equipped to surpass their Sweet Sixteen berth from 2016.
Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu are all gone. Insert freshmen Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, and Cody Riley, and it’s hard to see a complete collapse this year. The new trio isn’t as talented, but they are elite recruits in their own right. Mid-range expert Thomas Welsh (10.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 59% FG) should really become the go-to post scorer with how effective he is with his touches. Junior Aaron Holiday (12.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) will be a leader and primary playmaker after being relegated to a bench role the last few years. Last year’s freshmen had a win-first mentality, so it will be interesting to see how the new group meshes with proven winners like Welsh and Holiday.
14. West Virginia
Nathan Adrian became a staple of the swarming West Virginia defense. He graduated, along with a few other rotation players. No worries though, the defensive juggernaut and All-American candidate Jevon Carter (13.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.5 spg) is back despite seemingly being in college forever. They also have Esa Ahmad (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Daxter Miles (8.8 ppg) returning from their Sweet 16 core. There is still a lot of frontcourt uncertainty, as Elijah Macon unexpectedly went pro and top recruit Derek Culver has some eligibility questions. All that considered, there is a large supply of active, athletic forwards waiting to make an impact for Press Virginia.
Chris Chiozza (7.2 ppg, 3.8 apg) and KeVaughn Allen (14.0 ppg) turned out to be the driving force behind Florida’s Elite 8 run. They are relentless getting to the rim and opening up opportunities for their teammates. Devin Robinson leaving opened up a spot for VA Tech transfer Jalen Hudson to have a large role. There seemed to be a slight regression for John Egbunu, though that should resolve itself if he is fully healthy. A strong recruiting class and excellent transfer Egor Koulechov (18.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 47% 3PT) should ensure a top finish in the SEC.
The Hurricanes were ill-prepared for a tournament run last year. The backcourt of Ja’Quan Newton (13.5 ppg), Bruce Brown (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.2 apg), and freshman sensation Lonnie Walker should be among the best in the nation. Brown is old for a sophomore, but he has the athleticism, skills, and instincts to become a lottery pick. Walker will go into summer practices with Chris Lykes and Deng Gak, both of whom should be immediate impact players. They should have be a strong defensive team that leans on their guard play.
11. North Carolina
The loss of Tony Bradley is an enormous hit without any other experienced bigs on the roster. Tournament hero Luke Maye (5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg) may be asked to play at the five to allow the best five players to be on the court at once. Joel Berry (14.7 ppg, 3.6 apg) is one of the best point guards in the nation, and will have to carry a lion’s share of the offense. Versatile forward Theo Pinson returns as the only other player to get big minutes in the title game. Kenny Williams (6.2 ppg) was starting to find his groove before an injury sidelined him for the end of the year while Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, and freshman Jalek Felton must aid in a guard-oriented attack.
A strong Sweet Sixteen team brings back everyone and adds a little bit. The Trojans have an ideal inside-out post combo with Bennie Boatwright (15.1 ppg, 36% 3PT) and Chimezie Metu (14.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg). Jordan McLaughlin (12.9 ppg, 5.5 apg) is back for his fourth year at point, sharing ball-handling duties with talented Duke transfer Derryck Thornton. It will be interesting to see how Andy Enfield uses sophomore Swiss-army knife De’Anthony Melton, who plays much larger than his 6’4 frame suggests.
9. Wichita State
It’s very rare to find a veteran NCAA Tournament team bring back all of their players. Gregg Marshall was supposed to be tested after the Van Vleet and Baker era ended, but point guard Landry Shamet (11.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 44% 3PT) and bouncy forward Markis McDuffie (11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) have made the transition much smoother. Shaquille Morris, Darral Willis, Zach Brown, and sharpshooter Conner Frankamp will be back even stronger. The same team that shot 40% from three and exceled at gang rebounding returns after winning 31 games last year.
There isn’t a way to totally replace National Player of the Year Frank Mason and Josh Jackson. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and freshman Billy Preston will do their best to leave their own marks on the program. Devonte’ Graham (13.4 ppg, 4.1 apg) is still tough as nails. There was a chance that Svi Mykhailiuk (9.8 ppg, 40% 3PT) was headed to the league, but he could be in for a big season after showing a more diverse skillset last year. The frontcourt is still thin, but the guard play with Lagerald Vick, Sam Cunliffe, and freshman Marcus Garrett coming off the bench could be lethal.
The Muskies were a game away from the Final Four last year. A pair of future pros return in Trevon Blueitt (18.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and J.P. Macura (14.4 ppg), after they put the team on their back in March. Sean O’Mara (6.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 60% FG) was solid in a low usage role, so the addition of Kerem Kanter should only boost the post presence. The Big East is going to be a battle between Xavier and Villanova, with the play of Xavier’s point guards being a huge factor. Both freshman Paul Scruggs and Quentin Goodin are physically gifted guards that can make plays.
Coach Cal if known for churning out successful teams led by teenagers. This year’s team will be even younger than normal, with one of the deepest recruiting classes in history coming in. Hamadou Diallo and Kevin Knox will be prime scoring options on the wing while P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, and Jarred Vanderbilt vie for minutes in a crowded frontcourt. Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel (4.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is the lone returning contributor who will have to improve to fend off losing minutes to the freshmen. If Sacha Killeya-Jones progresses like I expect him to, the Wildcats will have the deepest frontcourt in the country to go along with some young weapons on the perimeter.
Despite an early Tournament exit, Jay Wright has solidified a dynasty. It has become the next man up mentality, with Jalen Brunson (14.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) capable of turning into an All-American caliber player. Classmate Mikal Bridges will become much more than a lockdown defender in his third season in the rotation. The lack of true size shouldn’t be a huge issue due to Bridges’ length which allows him to guard post players. Donte DiVincenzo (8.8 ppg) can score in a multitude of ways, which will be on display now that Josh Hart is gone. Another top seed in March is in the scope of plausibility for the Wildcats.
Louisville sure would be scary if Donovan Mitchell passed up the draft. You can still bet on the typical elite defense to create offense for the Cardinals. Anas Mahmoud is the modern agile rim protector that turns penetrators away. Expect Deng Adel (12.1 ppg) to take a jump to being the team’s leading scoring as a long, physical mismatch problem. Rick Pitino is bringing in a recruiting class that will give some security for the possible early departures from Adel and sophomore wing V.J. King (5.5 ppg). Rebounding, defense, and tempo will carry a team that is one of the longest, most athletic in the nation.
Last year’s team was “too good to fail”, yet everything that could go wrong did. A centerpiece of that frustration, Grayson Allen (14.5 ppg), is looking for redemption. He is one of the premier scorers in the nation when he plays his game. For the first time in three years, the Blue Devils have a true point guard in superstar freshman Trevon Duval. He will be the pace setter for a lineup that will likely include two more elite recruits in Wendell Carter and Gary Trent. Allen acted like an immature child as a junior, but he will need to be a leader for this young group. If he can, Coach K will add another ring to his collection.
Somehow the Wildcats only lost Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons to the NBA. That means Allonzo Trier (17.2 ppg) and Rawle Alkins (10.9 ppg) are back for a team with one of the premier recruiting classes in the nation. Emmanuel Akot also reclassified to add to a group that already includes big man sensation DeAndre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, and Alex Barcello. I can’t imagine how teams will score in the paint with 7-footers Ayton and Dusan Ristic (10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) at the rim. It’s hard to argue that another team in the country has the depth and raw talent that Sean Miller’s bunch will have.
1. Michigan State
You know it’s a down year when a Tom Izzo team only wins 20 games. They may have gained the gift of the offseason when Miles Bridges (16.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg) announced his return. He is going to be a favorite for the National Player of the Year and has all three of his classmates coming back with him. Nick Ward (13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 59% FG) was an uber-efficient post scorer a year ago, Cassius Winston (5.2 apg) is a natural playmaker, and Joshua Langford (6.9 ppg) was strong down the stretch. They add one of the nation’s top 10 recruits in Jaren Jackson, who is a future lottery pick in his own right. There may be a championship banner hung up in East Lansing before everything is said and done.