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Tip-off of the college basketball season is typically met with anticipation, but the 2017-18 season is a bit different as a black cloud continues to hang over the sport with the ongoing FBI investigation. Teams have already begun holding out key players in hopes that by self-imposing penalties, the universities can avoid significant punishment from the NCAA.
Preseason rankings are already difficult as the majority of rankings are based on a combination of recruiting and how a team performed the prior season. This year’s rankings are even more difficult as we are not entirely sure the rosters top teams will be fielding. CBS Sports Gary Parrish reported on the Eye on College Basketball podcast that fans can expect more teams to follow suit in holding out top players, but teams could opt not to announce who is being held out until after the first game.
With what we do know, the top of our pre-season rankings will look familiar to fans as we put a priority on a school’s ability to get the top players. Duke is essentially fielding a lineup that could look very similar to a 2018 NBA starting lineup, but it is worth watching how Mike Krzyzewski does with one of the youngest rosters he has had.
As you get ready for the season, two helpful metrics to check out are ESPN’s Basketball Power Index along with the KenPom Ratings. Both are analytical tools that are helpful to get a sense of how your favorite team is projected to do this season.
Alabama is a team to watch, as the Crimson Tide have ruled top recruit Collin Sexton ineligible for the time being. Sexton is not the only talented player on the roster, but if he is able to play at some point this season he instantly makes Bama an SEC title contender. Sexton is one of our top ranked NBA draft prospects, and you can get ready for the season by checking out our list of the top college basketball players.
With more dominoes to fall with the ongoing investigation, college basketball fans are in for an unpredictable season, but most can agree the sport is better off with the top players playing.
Here’s a look at our college basketball power rankings heading into the season.
College Basketball Power Rankings: Top 10 Teams
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
AP Poll: 1
2016-17 Season: 28-9 (Lost to South Carolina in 2nd Round)
Having NBA talent does not guarantee a team will have a successful season, but it is a good starting place. The Blue Devils have at least five NBA prospects, and four of these players are incoming freshman. Coach K was once slow to embrace the one-and-done philosophy, but this season it could be a key to Duke’s success.
Expectations do not necessarily lead to production as we saw last year with Duke. The Blue Devils did not have the kind of start we expected, and Grayson Allen struggled to keep his composure. Duke found its footing in the ACC tournament, before being upset in the second round by South Carolina.
With Marvin Bagley reclassifying to 2017, Duke’s already great recruiting class got even better. Bagley is joined by Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter to form a freshman foursome expected to contribute right away. Fans will get a good early look at Duke with their Chicago matchup against Michigan State.
No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks
AP Poll: 4
2016-17 Season: 31-5 (Lost to Oregon in Elite 8)
Frank Mason and Josh Jackson headed to the NBA, but the Jayhawks have plenty of talent returning. Devonte’ Graham enters his senior season, and will look to take a step forward to fill some of the void left by Mason. Last season, Graham averaged 13.4 points and 4.1 assists, and fans can expect those numbers to see an uptick with Mason out of the picture.
Like most teams on this list, Kansas also benefits from a couple top recruits. Most notably, five-star forward Billy Preston who joins the Jayhawks from the basketball factory Oak Hill Academy. Kansas has an intriguing mix of top incoming freshman, and returning starters that make them a strong candidate for a deep run in March after just missing the Final Four last season.
No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats
AP Poll: 5
2016-17 Season: 32-6 (Lost to North Carolina in Elite 8)
Kentucky does not have a complicated formula for success, but that doesn’t mean it has not been effective. John Calipari figured out a long time ago if you recruit the best players, regardless of their long-term commitment to the program, you can build a winning college basketball team every season. The Wildcats do not typically get out to the fastest start as it takes time for Calipari to convince players to leave their high school rankings behind, and put their NBA futures on hold until after the season.
By the time the SEC tournament is around the corner, Kentucky is hitting its stride, and no team wants to face the Wildcats. Kentucky has reloaded as De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo were all high NBA draft picks. The great mystery is Hamidou Diallo who joined the team in January, but never played in a game. The NBA had interest in Diallo based on his athleticism along with his sheer potential, but Diallo opted to return to Kentucky. We expect Diallo to be good, but we have no real proof based on last season’s tape.
According to Rivals.com, Kentucky has five of the top 25 recruits for this season. Jarred Vanderbilt, one of those top recruits, is expected to be sidelined until January as he recovers from a foot injury. Freshman Kevin Knox performed well in the all-star circuit, and is expected to be one of Kentucky’s top players this season. P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, and Quade Green are also top recruits that should be key contributors.
No. 4 Michigan State Spartans
AP Poll: 2
2016-17 Season: 20-15 (Lost to Kansas in 2nd Round)
It is an interesting time in college basketball when a returning sophomore is considered a veteran, but that’s what we have with Miles Bridges. Instead of heading to the NBA and becoming a likely lottery pick, Bridges opted to return to East Lansing to see if Michigan State can make a deep tournament run.
Bridges is joined by five-star forward Jaren Jackson in what could be a dynamic duo in the Big Ten depending on Jackson’s transition to the college game. We could have a good sense for just how good Michigan State is as their November schedule includes games against Duke and Notre Dame.
No. 5 Arizona Wildcats
AP Poll: 3rd
2016-17 Season: 32-5 (Lost to Xavier in Sweet 16)
Arizona is one of several top schools that have been linked to the FBI investigation. We have already seen teams like USC, Auburn and Alabama sit top players with the ongoing investigation. Arizona has not made a similar announcement, but there is concern the school could end up following suit.
The Wildcats have one of the most talented rosters in the country, and barring a major suspension are early title contenders. All things start with Allonzo Trier who averaged 17.2 points and 5.3 rebounds last season, but missed the first two and a half months of the season. Sean Miller got a big commitment from DeAndre Ayton, who is an early favorite to be the first big man selected in the 2018 NBA Draft.
No. 6 Wichita State Shockers
AP Poll: 7
2016-17 Season: 31-5 (Lost to Kentucky in 2nd Round)
After years of battling under-seeding in the NCAA tournament, Wichita State begins its first season in the AAC. Not only will the conference change help the Shockers come into March more tested, but it will boost their strength of schedule which should help them when the committee is seeding teams. Wichita State is the top ranked team in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), a statistical metric ESPN created to evaluate teams. The BPI gives Wichita State a 26 percent chance to make the Final Four, and an 11 percent chance to win the national title.
What’s to like about Wichita State? The Shockers bring experience with six seniors on the roster. Point guard Landry Shamet leads the Shockers, but Wichita State may ease him into the lineup as he continues to recover from a stress fracture in his foot. Forward Markis McDuffie will also be a big part of Wichita State’s success.
No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels
AP Poll: 9
2016-17 Season: 33-7 (Won National Championship Over Gonzaga)
It is less than ideal for your veteran leader and top player to break his hand playing video games in the off-season, but Joel Berry will miss the start of the season as he recovers from the hand injury. Berry’s hand will eventually heal as North Carolina looks to defend their title. Luke Maye and Theo Pinson were also key members of the championship team that are returning to Chapel Hill.
Based on the early polls, Roy Williams’ squad is being undervalued as North Carolina’s recruiting class is not comparable with some of the other top teams in the country. Guard Jalek Felton is North Carolina’s top freshman, but the Tar Heels will mostly be relying on returning players to have success this season.
No. 8 Villanova Wildcats
AP Poll: 6th
2016-17 Season: 32-4 (Lost to Wisconsin in 2nd Round)
Villanova has four of CBS Sports top 100 players coming into the season. With our rankings dominated by youth, Villanova is different as the team returns a number of their core players including point guard Jalen Brunson, who averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season.
Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo also return for the Wildcats. Villanova has two four-star recruits who could be key contributors in Jermaine Samuels and D. Cosby-Roundtree. After dominating the regular season, Villanova had a disappointing early exit in the Round of 32, and will look to bounce back with a deeper run this March.
No. 9 Florida Gators
AP Poll: 8th
2016-17 Season: 27-9 (Lost to South Carolina in Elite 8)
Florida rank 8 through 10 in the majority of preseason metrics. The Gators rank 8th in both the AP Poll and KenPom ratings. Florida is coming off a deep tournament run, where they narrowly lost to South Carolina in the Elite 8. Florida returns eight players from last year’s squad, and has a bevy of incoming talent with Mike White’s solid recruiting class.
The Gators were not able to get any of the elite recruits like Alabama and Kentucky did. However, the Gators did get three players ranked in Rivals top 150: PF Chase Johnson, SF DeAundre Ballard and PF Isaiah Stokes. Leading scorer Kevaughn Allen is back for his junior season, and John Egbunu returns after tearing his ACL late last season.
No. 10 Miami Hurricanes
AP Poll: 13
2016-17 Season: 21-12 (Lost to Michigan State in 1st Round)
Miami is a team that many are sleeping on, and a big reason we are bullish on the Hurricanes is incoming freshman Lonnie Walker. If Walker lives up to his potential, he is a likely lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bruce Brown is back for another season at Miami to form one of the most exciting duos in the ACC.
According to Rivals, Miami had a top-15 recruiting class with the D.C. point guard Chris Lykes and big man Deng Gak joining Walker in Coral Gables. Miami starts out with five very winnable games, but get its first test on November 29th with a road matchup against Minnesota.
College Basketball Power Rankings: Teams 11-25