2017-18 OOWF Preseason College Basketball Top 25

Caroline

25. Nevada

G Lindsey Drew (Jr.)

G Kendall Stephens (Sr.)

F Cody Martin (Jr.)

F Jordan Caroline (Jr.)

F Elijah Foster (Sr.)

Bench: F Caleb Martin (Jr.), G Josh Hall (So.), G Hallice Cooke (Sr.), F Darien Williams (Sr.)

Head Coach Eric Musselman has swiftly established Nevada as the new transfer epicenter of college basketball, especially since Fred Hoiberg bolted for the professional ranks. The acquisitions of Marcus Marshall (Missouri State) and Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois) last season were wildly successful. Caroline is still in Reno for another two years, and he is now flanked by five more high-major transfers. Naturally, transfers lowering their level of competition generally see an uptick in production. Kendall Stephens (Purdue) will have the greenest of lights on the wing. The Martin twins (NC State) combine with Caroline and Josh Hall to present Musselman with an embarrassment of riches in terms of versatility. Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) has escaped the doghouse in Ames to stabilize the second unit. The Wolf Pack fittingly bowed out in the first round at the hands of Iowa State in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the school they are replacing as Transfer U. A sneaky good offensive squad last season should again go dancing and threaten to reach the Sweet 16.

ECMatthews

24. Rhode Island

G Jarvis Garrett (Sr.)

G Jared Terrell (Sr.)

G E.C. Matthews (Sr.)

F Cyril Langevine (So.)

F Andre Berry (Sr.)

Bench: G Jeff Dowtin (So.), G Stanford Robinson (Sr.), F Nicola Akele (Jr.), G Fatts Russell (Fr.), F Ryan Preston (Jr.)

The Rams hit their stride at exactly the right time in 2016-17, fulfilling their preseason promise and nearly extending the Pac-12’s Final Four drought after leading Oregon in the Round of 32 for 35 minutes. Dan Hurley will seek to replace the production of the departed Kuran Iverson and rim protector extraordinaire Hassan Martin, but may have found his answers in that narrow miss against the Ducks. Stanford Robinson and Cyril Langevine combined to go 14-16 from the field, scoring all 30 of Rhody’s bench points. They will certainly see an increase in minutes. At the end of the day, the senior-laden Rams have a similar makeup as last year and are the favorites in the A-10 next to St. Bonaventure.

MoBamba

23. Texas

G Matt Coleman (Fr.)

G Kerwin Roach (Jr.)

G Andrew Jones (So.)

F Dylan Osetkowski (Jr.)

C Mo Bamba (So.)

Bench: G Eric Davis, Jr. (Jr.), G Jacob Young (So.), F Jericho Sims (Fr.), G Jase Febres (Fr.), F Royce Hamm (Fr.)

Texas historically has been a destination for high-profile center recruits. Mo Bamba is next in line, and he by far owns the best physical gifts of any Texas big man stretching all the way back to LaMarcus Aldridge. A shoe-in for a top 10 pick next summer, Bamba will anchor Shaka Smart’s defense while also displaying a budding offensive skillset. That said, Bamba may not actually be Smart’s most essential addition to his team. The Longhorns last season were able to make games ugly with ease, partially due to their glaring lack of a point guard. Freshman Matt Coleman sets foot in Austin to solve Shaka’s big bugaboo, returning Texas from its brief hiatus from relevance.

CarsenEdwards

22. Purdue

G P.J. Thompson (Sr.)

G Carsen Edwards (So.)

G Dakota Mathias (Sr.)

F Vince Edwards (Sr.)

C Isaac Haas (Sr.)

Bench: G Ryan Cline (Jr.), F Nojel Eastern (Fr.), F Jacquil Taylor (Jr.), C Matt Haarms (Fr.)

The production of Caleb Swanigan is impossible to replicate. The First Team All-American was likely the nation’s most effective offensive player last season. Purdue, however, can still survive with their current roster. Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards are as good of perimeter defenders as you’ll find in college basketball. Sophomore Carsen Edwards is a premier breakout candidate, and his unconsciousness will account for a good chunk of the scoring vacated by Swanigan. The success of the Boilermakers as a whole will hinge on minutes at the 5, particularly the ones Isaac Haas is (or isn’t) capable of providing. Throughout his career a high-usage player when on the floor, Haas has yet to resolve his foul trouble issues heading into year four. That can be assisted by better reading and passing out of double teams, which Swanigan was so deft at. That will help clean up the avoidable offensive fouls, and Haas really has no choice being surrounded by knockdown 3-point shooters.

26_5168994

21. Virginia

G Ty Jerome (So.)

G Kyle Guy (So.)

G Devon Hall (Sr.)

F Isaiah Wilkins (Sr.)

F Mamadi Diakite (So.)

Bench: G Nigel Johnson (Sr.), F De’Andre Hunter (Fr.), F Jay Huff (Fr.), C Jack Salt (Jr.)

The mundane Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett is probably elated with finally being unranked in the AP Poll to begin the season. The new faces this season are in his starting backcourt. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy in a couple years will be one of the best guard tandems in the nation. At the moment, they are entering their second season together. Last season each had his fair share of moments; Jerome against Villanova, Guy against North Carolina. Both are sharpshooters with polar opposite personalities, impeccably blended with the senior guidance of Devon Hall. Speaking of Hall, he and Malcolm Brogdon are prime examples of why few programs utilize the freshman redshirt year as well as Virginia. Redshirt freshmen De’Andre Hunter and Jay Huff were both consensus top 100 recruits in the 2016 class and spent last season incubating and adding weight. It might not exactly be business as usual for the Cavaliers, but still expect Tony Bennett’s team to land towards the top of the ACC again.

Davison

20. Wisconsin

G D’Mitrik Trice (So.)

G Brevin Pritzl (So.)

F Khalil Iverson (Jr.)

F Andy Van Vliet (Jr.)

F Ethan Happ (Jr.)

Bench: G Brad Davison (Fr.), G Kobe King (Fr.), F Aleem Ford (Fr.), F Charlie Thomas (Jr.), F Nate Reuvers (Fr.)

You all know me well enough, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a stark contrast from last season’s collection of grizzled vets that led the nation in minutes continuity (86.6%), which without question is why the Badgers find themselves on the outside looking in at the consensus preseason polls. Similar to the 2013-14 Final Four team, Wisconsin’s foreign tour could not have come in preparation for a better season. Four new starters will hit the Kohl Center floor Friday, but the Badgers’ best players not named Ethan Happ will actually be the first men off the bench. Freshman guards Brad Davison and Kobe King will allow Wisconsin to have one of the best second units in all of college basketball, and it shouldn’t come as a shock if one, or both, slithers into the starting lineup at some point this season. Look for Greg Gard’s club to shatter the school record for 3-point attempts this season, whatever that may be. With the amount of double teams Ethan Happ will see on the low block and the willing passer that he is, open looks from distance won’t be too difficult to come by. Happ has proven his ability to look opposite and find the open man, leading Wisconsin in assists last year with countless more hockey assists. The true target year for this Wisconsin roster is 2019, but you’d be foolish to leave the Badgers out of your Big Ten top four as a bountiful amount of writers have done leading up to the 2017-18 tip-off.

Big 12 Basketball Tournament - First Round

19. TCU

G Alex Robinson (Jr.)

G Jaylen Fisher (So.)

G Kenrich Williams (Sr.)

F J.D. Miller (Jr.)

F Vladimir Brodziansky (Sr.)

Bench: G Desmond Bane (So.), F Ahmed Hamdy (Sr.), F Kouat Noi (Fr.), C Kevin Samuel (Fr.), G Shawn Olden (Jr.)

Jamie Dixon’s tenure at Pittsburgh was underscored by the inescapable lack of a Final Four, which is almost intolerable considering some of the teams he put together in the Big East. There still is no denying that Dixon is one of the best offensive minds out there, and his alma mater reaped the benefits almost immediately upon his arrival. He quickly transformed an anemic team on the offensive end of the floor to the 37th best in 2016-17. Some tough luck losses held the Horned Frogs out of the NCAA Tournament, but their Big 12 Tournament Second Round upset of Kansas and NIT title were indications of what will arrive this season, as Dixon returns almost all of his production and looks to return TCU to the dance for the first time since 1998.

Bruce

18. Miami (FL)

G Bruce Brown (So.)

G Ja’Quan Newton (Sr.)

G Lonnie Walker (Fr.)

F Anthony Lawrence (Jr.)

F Dewan Huell (So.)

Bench: G Dejan Vasiljevic (So.), C Ebuka Izundu (Jr.), G Chris Lykes (Fr.), F Sam Waardenburg (Fr.)

Jim Larranaga has assembled the undisputed most athletic, dynamic trio of guards in the country. Many expect Bruce Brown’s second year in South Beach to be his last, as he will likely be a first round pick next June. He, Ja’Quan Newton, and Lonnie Walker will be must-see television. Expect Dewan Huell, a former top 20 recruit, to emerge as well. The Hurricanes’ depth is what provides its shooting. Anthony Lawrence and redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg both fit the stretch four mold and are ideal complements to the explosiveness in the Canes’ backcourt.

DengAdel

17. Louisville

G Quentin Snider (Sr.)

G V.J. King (So.)

F Deng Adel (Jr.)

F Ray Spalding (Jr.)

C Anas Mahmoud (Sr.)

Bench: C Malik Williams (Fr.), G Darius Perry (Fr.), F Dwayne Sutton (So.), F Jordan Nwora (Fr.)

Drowning the elephant in the room is obviously the biggest challenge for interim head coach David Padgett, and frankly the Cardinals would be higher if it weren’t for the distractions “unknowingly” provided by Rick Pitino over the past several years. It remains a vintage Pitino roster filled with length, but it is yet to be seen if the Cards can extend their streak of 7 consecutive seasons with a top 10 defense under Padgett. Shooting is also a serious question mark. Junior wing Deng Adel will be counted on from beyond the arc on a more consistent basis. Plenty of weight will be on his and V.J. King’s shoulders to bear the scoring brunt.

Trevon

16. Xavier

G Quentin Goodin (So.)

G J.P. Macura (Sr.)

F Trevon Bluiett (Sr.)

F Kaiser Gates (Jr.)

F Tyrique Jones (So.)

Bench: F Kerem Kanter (Sr.), F Sean O’Mara (Sr.), F Naji Marshall (Fr.), G Paul Scruggs (Fr.), G Elias Harden (Fr.)

Such an undervalued program Xavier is. The Musketeers have reached four Sweet 16’s since 2010 and have the makeup to accomplish that once again. Indubitably J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett provide on-court leadership, but Chris Mack has a horde of breakout candidates and could strike gold if he connects on all of them. Quentin Goodin has excellent size and athleticism for a lead guard, filling in admirable for an injured Edmond Sumner last season. Kaiser Gates should at last become the bona fide stretch four he was destined to be, allowing Tyrique Jones space on the interior to clean up the offensive glass. Mack, additionally, has filled out his bench with yet another rock solid recruiting class, who like Macura and Bluiett will all be four-year players. The beat goes on in Cincinnati.

BryantMcIntosh

15. Northwestern

G Bryant McIntosh (Sr.)

G Scottie Lindsey (Sr.)

F Vic Law (Jr.)

F Aaron Falzon (So.)

C Dererk Pardon (Jr.)

Bench: C Barret Benson (So.), F Gavin Skelly (Sr.), F Rapolas Ivanauskas (Fr.), G Isiah Brown (So.), G Anthony Gaines (Fr.)

Now that we got the feel-good story out of the way, it’s time to real talk Northwestern basketball. The majority of the media made the ’16-’17 Cats out to be a cute underdog narrative, which couldn’t be further from the truth. 2017-18 is the season that has been brewing ever since Vic Law joined a recruiting class already headlined by Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey. Going from an NCAA Tournament foreigner to Final Four contender in two years is unfathomable, but that’s exactly what Chris Collins has accomplished. Northwestern doesn’t want your applause or pats on the back. They want your respect. They learned how to win last year, and with that experience will become a force to be reckoned with.

LamontWest

14. West Virginia

G Jevon Carter (Sr.)

G Daxter Miles, Jr. (Sr.)

F Esa Ahmad (Jr.)

F Lamont West (So.)

F Sagaba Konate (So.)

Bench: G James Bolden (So.), F Wesley Harris (So.), F D’Angelo Hunter (Jr.), F Teddy Allen (Fr.), G Chase Harler (So.)

Bob Huggins’ squad ameliorated some of its traditional deficiencies last season. They fouled less, shot it better. It amounted to a Sweet 16 visit, but their season was derailed by perhaps one of the worst final possessions in the history of basketball. Half-court offense once again was the Mountaineers’ downfall, and that doesn’t appear to be changing with the personnel continuity in 2017-18. WVU, however, is built to be regular season menaces de novo and is playing something that more resembles an actual basketball schedule prior to Big 12 play. As far as the half-court offense troubles, more minutes from Lamont West should help. He’ll set up in the corner pocket and be utilized in pick-and-pop situations often to alleviate some of the pressure on Jevon Carter in late-clock quandaries.

Hamidou

13. Kentucky

G Quade Green (Fr.)

G Hamidou Diallo (Fr.)

F Kevin Knox (Fr.)

F P.J. Washington (Fr.)

C Nick Richards (Fr.)

Bench: F Wenyen Gabriel (So.), G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Fr.), F Jarred Vanderbilt (Fr.), F Sacha Killeya-Jones (So.), G Jemarl Baker (So.), F Tai Wynyard (So.)

As often as John Calipari turns over his roster in Lexington, he has, in fact, never entered an all-freshman starting five into the scorebook. Enter the 2017-18 Wildcats, where that will inevitably change. There should exist some legitimate concern over Kentucky’s lack of outside shooting, which is why I list the Wildcats lower than most. Jemarl Baker, likely the team’s top marksman, underwent knee surgery is out for the foreseeable future. Freshman phenom Jarred Vanderbilt will also begin the season on the shelf. Kentucky’s greatest strength will be its unquestionable defensive versatility. Keeping that in mind, these are freshmen that have to pick up defensive concepts on the move. All in all, Kentucky’s preseason top 5 love is rather unwarranted.

Rui

12. Gonzaga

G Josh Perkins (Jr.)

G Silas Melson (Sr.)

G Corey Kispert (Fr.)

F Rui Hachimura (So.)

F Johnathan Williams (Sr.)

Bench: G Zach Norvell (Fr.), F Killian Tillie (So.), C Jacob Larsen (Fr.), G Joel Ayayi (Fr.)

I was fully prepared to award Gonzaga my preseason #1 honor in January, but how quickly things change. Nigel Williams-Goss had no reason to stay after graduation, and Zach Collins developed into a lottery pick. Plenty of intrigue still surrounds the Bulldogs, however, and it comes in the form of Rui Hachimura. The sophomore, little-used as a freshman, erupted this summer at the FIBA U19 Championships, backpacking an undermanned Japan team. His athletic ability was known, but Hachimura showcased an array of first-round-pick-type skills, attacking the rim off the dribble, knocking down shots off the bounce with regularity, and displaying surprising court savvy. He is one of a handful of newbies to the rotation, but the Zags will be just fine. Zach Norvell and Jacob Larsen were former top 100 recruits, with Norvell, Corey Kispert, and Silas Melson easily filling Jordan Mathews’ shoes. While it appears St. Mary’s might finally supplant Gonzaga in the WCC, Mark Few begs to differ.

BINM

11. Minnesota

G Nate Mason (Sr.)

G Dupree McBrayer (Jr.)

F Amir Coffey (So.)

F Jordan Murphy (Jr.)

C Reggie Lynch (Sr.)

Bench: F Eric Curry (So.), G Isaiah Washington (Fr.), C Bakary Konate (Sr.), G Jamir Harris (Fr.), F Davonte Fitzgerald (Sr.)

At least one Pitino is still viewed in a somewhat positive light. Richard Jr. dug himself out of an 8-win hole in ’15-’16 and transfigured his hot seat into a cool throne. Just like his father’s teams, the defensive end of the floor is his club’s calling card. The Golden Gophers, who ended ’16-’17 with a six-man rotation, will additionally enjoy more depth this season, especially thanks to blue-chip freshman Isaiah Washington. Minnesota had little spot-up shooting last season, and it graduated. Amir Coffey should see a leap in his percentages, and Washington has the capabilities of being a dangerous shotmaker.

Berry

10. North Carolina

G Joel Berry (Sr.)

G Cameron Johnson (Jr.)

F Theo Pinson (Sr.)

F Garrison Brooks (Fr.)

F Luke Maye (Jr.)

Bench: G Kenny Williams (Jr.), G Seventh Woods (So.), G Jalek Felton (Fr.), G Andrew Platek (Fr.), F Sterling Manley (Fr.), C Brandon Huffman (Fr.)

The defending national champs cut down the nets in Phoenix via pace and the offensive glass, and while they have their work cut out for them in 2017-18, Roy Williams has similar roster constructs to years past. Mario Kart has sidelined Joel Berry to begin the season, but that may be a blessing in disguise, giving underclassmen Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton valuable experience running the show. Look forward to March hero Luke Maye and Pittsburgh grad transfer Cameron Johnson to have monster years. For whatever reason, Johnson wasn’t able to receive the minutes he deserved at Pitt before last season. The prototypical wing, Johnson will assuredly earn All-ACC honors. Maye (12.3% OReb Rate, 17.4% DReb Rate), on the other hand, doesn’t look the part, but he, along with a multitude of freshman bigs, is up to the task to duplicating the offensive rebounding dominance evacuated by Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

JacobEvans

9. Cincinnati

G Cane Broome (Jr.)

G Jarron Cumberland (So.)

G Jacob Evans (Jr.)

F Gary Clark (Sr.)

F Kyle Washington (Sr.)

Bench: G Justin Jenifer (Jr.), G Keith Williams (Fr.), F Mamadou Diarra (Fr.), F Eliel Nsoseme (Fr.), G Trevor Moore (Fr.)

Initially, the loss of true point guard Troy Caupain felt like a devastating blow to the Bearcats’ prospects for the 2017-18 season. Upon further review, although, Cincinnati and its 57.7 % assist rate last season was one of the most effective teams at sharing the sugar. New point guard Cane Broome is wired to score, but I’m sure Mick Cronin will make his desires clear to the Sacred Heart transfer. Broome has two outstanding wings to work with in Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans, the latter being a potential All-American at season’s end. Depth is Cincinnati’s lone roadblock to challenging Wichita State in the American Athletic Conference. Cronin will have to heavily rely on his incoming freshmen in that area, but he has never been one to dole out plenty of bench minutes anyway.

USC v SMU

8. USC

G Jordan McLaughlin (Jr.)

G De’Anthony Melton (So.)

G Elijah Stewart (Sr.)

F Bennie Boatwright (Jr.)

C Chimezie Metu (Jr.)

Bench: G Shaqquan Aaron (Jr.), G Charles O’Bannon, Jr. (Fr.), G Jonah Mathews (So.), F Nik Rakocevic (So.), F Jordan Usher (Fr.)

Andy Enfield’s squad will be eye candy for basketball fans everywhere. The former Florida Gulf Coast Dunk City architect has carried that brand with him to LA, but don’t let the showtime tag fool you. There is far more to this Trojan team than flash. Enfield is a bright dude, and his switch to a 2-3 zone in his team’s upset of SMU last March was a perfect example. USC has all the tools. In ’17-’18 it’s a matter of defending the 3-point line more consistently and completing the equation with defensive rebounds each possession. Their ceiling will be determined by attention to detail.

LandyShamet

7. Wichita State

G Landry Shamet (So.)

G Conner Frankamp (Sr.)

F Markis McDuffie (Jr.)

F Zach Brown (Sr.)

C Shaq Morris (Sr.)

Bench: F Darral Willis, Jr. (Sr.), G Samajae Haynes-Jones (Jr.), F Rashard Kelly (Sr.), C Rauno Nurger (Sr.), G Austin Reaves (So.)

Forever analytics favorites, Wichita State won’t have to leave their potential at-large candidacy up to their KenPom ranking. They now play in the AAC, travel to Baylor, match up with Oklahoma at home, are participating in the Maui Invitational, and have to battle a difficult College of Charleston team. The Shockers will lead the nation in minutes continuity this season. Landry Shamet must not only fend off a broken foot, but also serenades of preseason hype. Markis McDuffie is a possible NBA wing entering year three, and head coach Gregg Marshall has masterfully worked his rotation of bigs in the past, including Madison native Darral Willis.

Graham

6. Kansas

G Devonte Graham (Sr.)

G Malik Newman (So.)

G Lagerald Vick (Jr.)

G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Sr.)

C Udoka Azubuike (So.)

Bench: F Billy Preston (Fr.), G Sam Cunliffe (So.), G Marcus Garrett (Fr.), F Mitch Lightfoot (So.)

Monday I declared Jayhawk point guard Devonte Graham my preseason Player of the Year selection. Small ball worshipers will have a field day whenever Kansas takes the floor. The 4-around-1 look Kansas will mobilize is everything about modern-day basketball and then some. The Jayhawks will be hard to guard, but the defensive end of the floor for them individually offers some challenges. This Kansas lineup is unlike Villanova’s, which is still able to win rebounding battles the majority of the time in spite of their size. Kansas has no choice but to attempt 30 threes per contest to counter the offensive rebounds they will surrender. For these reasons, don’t be surprised if Bill Self places Billy Preston in the starting lineup for good at some point this season.

KeVaughn

5. Florida

G Chris Chiozza (Sr.)

G KeVaughn Allen (Jr.)

G Egor Koulechov (Sr.)

G Jalen Hudson (Jr.)

F Kevarrius Hayes (Jr.)

Bench: C John Egbunu (Sr.), G DeAundrae Ballard (Fr.), F Keith Stone (So.), G Mike Okauru (Fr.)

Gainesville has been home to a top 15 defense for five consecutive seasons, but their net rating will receive a massive shot in the arm this year. A middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting team last season, Florida adds a pair of transfers in Egor Koulechov (Rice) and Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech) to make them national title contenders. They have an alpha dog in KeVaughn Allen, whom I still lose sleep over, and a waterbug floor general in Chris Chiozza, whom I still lose sanity over. The Gators also regain John Egbunu from injury, giving them a pair of legitimate rim protectors to supplement stingy perimeter defense. A top 10 offense and defense is not out of the question for Mike White’s team. As a matter of fact, it might actually be expected. Kentucky, I guarantee it, will not sit atop the SEC in 2017-18.

AllonzoTrier

4. Arizona

G Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Sr.)

G Allonzo Trier (Jr.)

G Rawle Alkins (So.)

F Dusan Ristic (Sr.)

C DeAndre Ayton (Fr.)

Bench: G Brandon Randolph (Fr.), F Emmanuel Akot (Fr.), G Alex Barcello (Fr.), F Keanu Pinder (Sr.), F Ira Lee (Fr.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Sean Miller has oozing talent in Tuscon. Miller has toys at his disposal that rival those of his teams of three and four years ago. Sean Miller doesn’t make Final Fours, but odds are Wisconsin won’t be standing in his way this time. The Wildcats have scary size up front with Dusan Ristic and DeAndre Ayton, a veteran backcourt, and a youthful bench.

Donte

3. Villanova

G Jalen Brunson (Jr.)

G Phil Booth (Jr.)

G Donte DiVincenzo (So.)

F Mikal Bridges (Jr.)

F Omari Spellman (Fr.)

Bench: F Eric Paschall (Jr.), G Collin Gillespie (Fr.), G Jermaine Samuels (Fr.)

The commonalities between Josh Hart’s game and Donte DiVincenzo’s are striking. The redshirt sophomore is primed to announce himself as college basketball’s ultimate glue guy, following the same career trajectory as Hart, now with the Los Angeles Lakers. Jay Wright’s small ball lineups are deceiving. The Wildcats play much bigger than gameday pamphlets indicate, but have all the positive qualities of modern-day death lineups on the offensive end. The nation’s most consistent program over the past four seasons will again knife through the Big East and contend for a one-seed and national title.

TrevonDuval

2. Duke

G Trevon Duval (Fr.)

G Gary Trent, Jr. (Fr.)

G Grayson Allen (Sr.)

F Marvin Bagley III (Fr.)

F Wendell Carter (Fr.)

Bench: C Marques Bolden (So.), F Javin DeLaurier (So.), G Jordan Goldwire (Fr.), G Alex O’Connell (Fr.), F Jordan Tucker (Fr.)

This is more of an end-season projection. At the moment the likes of Villanova and Arizona would beat Duke, but the Blue Devils have the most talented roster in college basketball, and where they stand in March will likely reflect that. For the first time since Tyus Jones, Coach K has a natural point guard, and a damn good one. Trevon Duval will make everything go for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen should molt back into his healthy 2015-16 form. Marvin Bagley III, the nation’s top recruit, is already an elite defender and will only be asked to serve as the team’s third or fourth scoring option. It all begins and ends, though, with Duval, as he will be the primary reason Duke ascends the ladder in San Antonio if that were to happen.

NCAA Basketball: Oakland at Michigan State

  1. Michigan State

G Cassius Winston (So.)

G Josh Langford (So.)

F Miles Bridges (So.)

F Jaren Jackson (Fr.)

C Nick Ward (So.)

Bench: G Tum Tum Nairn (Sr.), G Matt McQuaid (Jr.), C Gavin Schilling (Sr.), F Kenny Goins (Jr.), F Xavier Tillman (Fr.), F Ben Carter (Sr.)

Year in and year out, grit and brotherhood define the Michigan State program. Miles Bridges isn’t the first Spartan to turn down guaranteed NBA money to remain in school for another year, but his gritty return to East Lansing has a greater impact than most before him. The entirety of Tom Izzo’s loaded 2016 recruiting class is back for more, and he adds McDonald’s All-American Jaren Jackson, as well. With its frontcourt depth and the ability to play Jackson at the 5, the Spartans can allow Nick Ward to play in the fashion he did last season: high-usage and living at the free throw line without worrying about fatigue. Cassius Winston will be more aggressive in year two, particularly finding others in transition. Readied to pace the nation in individual assist rate once again, Winston will reward bigs for running floor and make the correct play out of pick-and-rolls in the half-court. Miles Bridges attracts the attention, but the Spartans have the type of balance you see from championship-caliber teams. The Big Ten title drought very well could be coming to a close in 2018.

Also seriously considered: UCLA, Texas A&M, Seton Hall, St. Mary’s, Notre Dame, UT-Arlington, Oklahoma, Butler, Tennessee, Harvard, College of Charleston

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