The college basketball season kicks off this Friday, November 10th and we are just four months away from arguably the most exciting sporting event in the world, the NCAA Tournament. But, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s take a sneak peak of the season as we rank the Top-25 teams in college basketball:
No. 25 Virginia Cavaliers
Last season Virginia finished 23-11 and was knocked out in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Despite an unfortunate finish, Virginia was one of the top teams in the country with only one ACC All-Conference player. Tony Bennett is one of (if not) the best defensive coaches in all of college basketball and Virginia returns a solid group. Do not be surprised if Virginia makes their way into the AP Top 25 within the first week.
No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies
On paper, Texas A&M looks like the favorite to win the SEC (over Kentucky). A&M returns all five of last season’s leading scorers while also adding transfer point guard, Duane Wilson. A&M needs solid point guard play to make a run in the SEC and NCAA Tournament, but until proven, A&M just looks like another team with a lot of potential.
No. 23 Seton Hall
Last season Seton Hall finished with a record of 21-12 while defeating teams such as Butler, Creighton, and South Carolina. Seton Hall gave a lot of ranked teams a run for their money and should only get better this season as their trio of Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado all return.
No. 22 Saint Mary’s Gaels
Randy Bennett’s team has finished with 29 wins each of the last two seasons while also finishing top 2 in the West Coast Conference 12 of the last 14 seasons. Led by Jock Landale, the Gaels should make another run in the conference.
No. 21 UCLA Bruins
Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Bryce Alford will not be easy to replace, but Steve Alford still has a top 25 team in his hands. McDonald’s All-American Jaylen Hands will take over but do not forget about Aaron Holiday or Prince Ali (a 2015 top-50 recruit).
No. 20 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last season Gonzaga finished as the second best team in the country (according to AP) and runner-up in the National Championship game. The Zags lost second team All-American Nigel Williams-Goss, but still return a solid team. Lead by Johnathan Williams III, the Zags have experience as well as some solid newcomers to help them win yet another conference title. To top everything off, Gonzaga returns the reigning coach of the year, Mark Few.
No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers
Caleb Swanigan is a tough loss, but with Isaac Haas filling in the void, Purdue should feel confident. Purdue returns a deep supply of three-point shooters and added 7’2” freshman Matt Haarms. Purdue is a deep team that can make a deep run come March.
No. 18 Northwestern Wildcats
Last season Northwestern made their first NCAA Tournament in program history and now they are only better. Led by Bryant McIntosh, the Wildcats return their five leading scorers from last season and the return of Aaron Falzon should only help their perimeter scoring.
No. 17 Louisville Cardinals
Louisville was once a top-10 team but due to unfortunate circumstances, Rick Pitino is now gone and nobody knows what interim head coach David Padgett brings to the table. Luckily for Louisville, they return Den Adel and Quentin Snider and have a lot of guys with a lot of potential. If Louisville can manage the distractions, then this could be one of the best teams in the country.
No. 16 Xavier Musketeers
During Big East and NCAA Tournament play, Trevon Bluiett averaged 20.4 points. J.P. Macura joins Bluiett to make one of the most dynamic duos in college basketball. The Musketeers still have questions at the point guard position but Chris Mack coaches a team known for its surprising runs in the tournament.
No. 15 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Despite losing Eric Curry to injury, the Golden Gophers are one of the best teams in the Big Ten. They return four players who averaged 11+ points last season while also returning Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s top rim protectors. Jordan Murphy could be a breakout player this season and do not forget about freshman point guard Isaiah Washington.
No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Bonzie Colson could be a potential national Player of the Year candidate and he is joined by point guard Matt Farell. Temple Gibbs could also have a big year for the Irish. Replacing both V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia will not be easy, but replacing top players is something Notre Dame is accustom to.
No. 13 Miami Hurricanes
Miami could potentially have the best backcourt in the country (yes, better than both Kansas and Arizona). Lead by Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, the Hurricanes’ backcourt only got better with addition of 5-star freshman Lonnie Walker IV. Dejan Vasilijevic could be one of the best scorers off the bench too. Despite a lack of depth, this team could be very scary.
No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers
Better known as “Press Virginia”, this is a team that returns arguably the best defensive player in the country, Jevon Carter and one of the best defenses in the country. The Mountaineers are known for their ability to pressure the offense into turnovers while also getting second chance points. WVU will be without Esa Ahmad for the first half of the season due to suspension and they also lost Elijah Macon, but Bob Huggins knows how to handle these kind of situations, do not sleep of the Mountaineers.
No. 11 Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati is coming off a 30-win season and should only get better. Cane Broome, transfer from Sacred Heart, who averaged 23.1 points as a sophomore, should help the Bearcats offensively, but his defensive woes could be the death of this team. Expect the Bearcats to score a lot of points while trying to limit other teams from scoring on the perimeter.
No. 10 Florida Gators
Despite losing four of their best players from last season, the Gators should be able to bounce back without hesitation. Rice transfer Egor Koulechov has averaged 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds over the last two seasons, which should only help Florida. The Gators also return Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen while getting help from Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson.
No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels finished last season with a 33-7 record along with a National Championship. Things took a quick turn however, as eight players who all played significant minutes left. To make things worse for the Tar Heels: Joel Berry III is expected to be out a month with a broken hand. Fortunately for the Tar Heels they are lead by one of the greatest coaches of all time, Roy Williams, and a group full of perimeter scorers. Luke Maye could make a run for ACC All-Conference too.
No. 8 USC Trojans
The Trojans return all five of last season’s starters and will only get better with the additions of Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. and McDonald’s All-American Charles O’Bannon Jr. Bennie Boatwright could also be one of the nation’s top players (if he can stay healthy). The Trojans’ zone defense could be their winning formula or their Achilles’ heel.
No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky’s most experienced player is Wenyn Gabriel, who averaged 4.7 points last season, when he was a freshman. Kentucky is a very young team full of potential and athletic ability. Kentucky does not have the perimeter scoring they once did (Malik Monk, Devin Booker, etc.) but Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox could make a very dynamic duo. Despite all the question marks, Kentucky could seize another SEC title and Final Four appearance.
No. 6 Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats lost their star power, but they will be able to recover. Lead by head coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats return starting point guard Jalen Brunson and a potential star in Mikal Bridges. Donte DiVincenzo ended last season hot and Omari Spellman provides a big body down low. Do not be surprised if Villanova appears in the Final Four.
No. 5 Wichita State Shockers
Wichita State only lost two players from last season’s team, and they were both bench players who barely saw the floor come March. The Shockers nearly beat Kentucky in the tournament last year and now are better prepared for March, as they joined the AAC this offseason. Despite a stress fracture to both Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, the Shockers should be to prove they are not a “bubble” team.
No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks
Losing the reigning National Player of the Year is never easy, but Bill Self has been asked to do more with less. Lead by seniors Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the Jayhawks boast one of (if not) the best backcourts in the country. Svi Mykhailiuk tested the NBA Draft but ultimately decided to return for one more season. The Jayhawks added former top-10 recruit Malik Newman as well as 5-star freshman Billy Preston. The Jayhawks will also be full of depth as freshman Marcus Garrett and sophomore Mitch Lightfoot look to expand their roles. Bill Self tends to struggle in March, but that could change this season.
No. 3 Michigan State Spartans
Miles Bridges is my preseason National Player of the Year and Tom Izzo is one of the best basketball coaches of all time. This is a team who is very deep and very experienced. The Spartans return a majority of their team from last season, but they will have to limit the turnovers if they want to live up to their hype. As a freshman, Cassius Winston was arguably a better passer and floor general than Lonzo Ball and he should only improve this season. This is a team that could be even better than their 2015-16 squad.
No. 2 Arizona Wildcats
Deandre Ayton is arguably the best freshman entering this season and he is in a perfect situation. Teams now must prepare for a one-two punch lead by both Ayton and Allonzo Trier. Emmanuel Akot will also add some depth as he reclassified to 2017. As soon as Rawle Alkins returns from injury, this is a team that will compete for the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll.
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
Frank Jackson left, the nation’s biggest distraction, Grayson Allen, came back and they lack veteran leadership, nothing was looking good for Duke. Then, everything changed. Duke went all in and snagged the nation’s top point guard Trevon Duval while also already having commitments from both Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter. Duke was poised to be a top team, then things got even better when Marvin Bagley III reclassified to the 2017 season. Now, Duke boasts the best roster in the nation and best potential in the nation. Allen will not have to play like 2015-16 self, but it would not hurt if he returned to that form. It is always a positive sign when Marques Bolden is the first guy off the bench.
Follow us on Twitter:
KJHK – @kjhk
KJHK Sports – @KJHKsports
Logan Fricks – @ShortandSimple5
featured image courtesy of Chicago Tribune