Arizona, Duke top way-too-early college basketball rankings for 2017-18

Is it too early to rank the Top 25 college basketball teams for 2017-18? Probably, but here they are anyway.

That’s right, we’re giving you our first look at the 2017-18 college basketball rankings a full seven months before the season even starts.

Because, y’know, why not?

So much will change between now and the start of next season, of course, but here’s a look at how we at Sporting News — with the leading influence from college basketball guru Mike DeCourcy — think teams stack up right now, based on which players we think will make the jump to the NBA and which players will return to college. We’ll adjust our Top 25 rankings along the way, as decisions are made and transfers are announced.

For now, this Top 25 is a good starting point for next year’s college hoops conversation.

Top 25 college basketball rankings for 2017-18

25. Northwestern Wildcats

Why they’re here: Fresh off the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats return their top five scorers. Yep, that’s a good place to start. Bryant McIntosh (14.8 ppg) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 ppg) will be seniors next season, and Vic Law (12.3 ppg) and Dererk Pardon (8.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) will be juniors. Oh, and big man Aaron Falzon, who averaged 8.4 points as a freshman but played only 20 minutes as a sophomore before a knee injury ended his season, will be back, too. Expect to see Northwestern back in the Big Dance, and expect the Wildcats to improve on this year’s No. 8 seed.

24. Oregon Ducks

Why they’re here: Honestly, it’s hard to know what to do with the Ducks at this point. Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey are all eligible to come back, but all three have significantly boosted their draft stock with this Final Four run — Dorsey, particularly, with seven consecutive games of at least 20 points. If two of those three return, the Ducks are top-10 quality. If all three leave, the Ducks are probably out of the top 25, though another solid recruiting class is coming in the fall. For now, we’ll put Oregon here.

23. Virginia Tech Hokies

Why they’re here: Buzz Williams has had the Hokies on an upward plane since taking over a program that only won nine games the season before he arrived. Virginia Tech made its first NCAA Tournament since 2007 this year, and with an outstanding group of returning players — led by Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs (all four averaged between 9.2 and 11.4 points per game) — plus a solid recruiting class, expect the Hokies to take another step forward.

22. Creighton Bluejays

Why they’re here: Bluejays fans were given an early presentwhen star Marcus Foster, who averaged 18.2 points per game, announced he was coming back. Big man Justin Patton is projected as a top-20 pick in the NBA Draft, but he hasn’t announced his decision for sure; if he comes back for another year of seasoning (which he can use), that would be huge for Creighton.

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21. Alabama Crimson Tide

Why they’re here: No, it’s not just because Avery Johnson’s team beat Final Four squad South Carolina twice this season. That doesn’t hurt, but mostly it’s because Alabama’s strong group of returning players is joined by a recruiting class that’s ranked No. 5 by ESPN, led by five-star guards Collin Sexton and John Petty. Big things are happening in Tuscaloosa, folks.

20. Miami Hurricanes

Why they’re here: They’ll miss departing seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy, certainly. But Ja’Quon Newton (13.5 ppg) is back, and if Bruce Brown puts off pro ball another year, that’s an excellent start. Then add in an excellent recruiting class, led by five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker, and you have a team that will be in the ACC mix again next season.

19. Xavier Musketeers

Why they’re here: A lot depends on whether Trevon Bluiett returns; he’s testing the NBA Draft waters without an agent. Edmond Sumner is hiring an agent, which is a blow to the Musketeers. Still, though, the experience Quentin Goodingained in Sumner’s absence (knee injury) was huge, and J.P. Macura is a reliable 35-minute-a-night guy heading into his senior year. And then there’s next year’s recruiting class, which includes four four-star guys. Chris Mack is reloading again at Xavier.

18. Saint Mary’s Gaels

Why they’re here: Jock Landale had a huge junior season with the Gaels (16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 61.1 FG percentage), and his senior year promises to be even better. Oh, and only two of the top seven players in this year’s rotation were seniors. So, yes, expect another shiny record for Saint Mary’s.

17. West Virginia Mountaineers

Why they’re here: Are you going to bet against Bob Huggins’ team setting up residency in the Top 25 again next year? You shouldn’t. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are back, and Esa Ahmad should be, and there’s another crop of youngsters just waiting to step into the Huggins system and help keep West Virginia near the top of the Big 12.

MORE:Why the Final Four is not better without one-and-done players

16. Butler Bulldogs

Why they’re here: Head coach Chris Holtmann has a top-20 class of recruits coming in (three four-star prospects), and a bunch of talented guys are coming back, too. That list starts with forward Kelan Martin, who averaged 16.0 points a game this season. The Bulldogs could be the Big East’s best team.

15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Why they’re here:The Irish have two very important pieces for an NCAA Tournament squad —a reliable double-double guy in the paint (senior Bonzie Colson) and a reliable veteran handling the basketball (Matt Farrell). Sure, they’ll miss scorers Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem (they combined to average 27.6 per game), but the cupboard isn’t bare in South Bend.

14. Cincinnati Bearcats

Why they’re here: The Bearcats had five guys average at least 8.3 points per game this season, and four of them are expected back. That’s pretty darn good, considering those guys formed the core of a team that won 30 games this season. Plus, former Sacred Heart star guard Cane Broome — he averaged 23.1 points as a sophomore and was the Northeast Conference Player of the Year — will be eligible after sitting out this year as a transfer. Mick Cronin just wins at Cincinnati.

13. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Why they’re here: Minnesota snuck up on pretty much everybody in 2016-17, but that won’t happen again next year. Know how many seniors were on the team that won 24 games this season? Just one, and Akeem Springs was fifth on the team in scoring. The rest of those rising stars are expected back, and the Gophers will push for the Big Ten championship. Sounds strange, right? It’s true. Very true.

12. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Why they’re here: Gonzaga’s eventual preseason ranking depends very much on the NBA decisions of guard Nigel Williams-Goss and big man Zach Collins. The good thing for Gonzaga fans is those two have been able to push off those decisions because of the unforgettable run to the championship game. If both leave, the Zags won’t be this high, but they’ll still be very, very good.

11. UCLA Bruins

Why they’re here: Another stellar class is onthe way to Westwood, but next year’s squad will have a different look. Seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are gone, and both Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are departing as one-and-done talents. The Bruins might be hit-or-miss with their execution, but rest assured, there will be plenty of talent on next season’s roster.

10. Villanova Wildcats

Expected back: Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth.
Definitely gone: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
Decision time: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson
Why they’re here: As you can see, lots of talent is departing, but if Brunson returns to run the point and Bridges returns as a wing capable of scoring inthe post — did you know he was ninth in the country in 2-point FG percentage this season? — the Wildcats will be excellent again.


9. Wichita State Shockers

Expected back: All 10 players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game
Definitely gone/Decision time: No rotation players
Why they’re here: Think about this: The Shockers were outstanding this year, rolling up a 31-5 record and pushing No. 2 seed Kentucky to the brink in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and everybody’s back for Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Lock them into another 30-win season, whether they’re playing in the MVC or the AAC this fall.

8. Florida Gators

Expected back: KeVaughn Allen, John Egbunu, Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes
Definitely gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Berry, Justin Leon
Decision time: Devin Robinson
Why they’re here: The Gators bring back two experienced guards and two experienced bigs, and that’s before Robinson makes his NBA decision. And coach Mike White’s top-10 recruiting class includes four four-star prospects, two more bigs and two more guards. Expect the Gators to be right back in the conversation for a top-four seed again next season.


7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Expected back: Theo Pinson, Tony Bradley, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams
Definitely gone: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
Decision time: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry
Why they’re here: Justin Jackson’s almost certainly gone (he’s a likely lottery pick), but Berry is expected to come back. If that scenario plays out, it’s hard to understate how important it will be for this UNC squad to have Berry — who became a star this season — running the show. The versatile Pinson could make a similar jump to stardom next season, and five-star guard Jalek Felton (yep, the nephew of former Tar Heels star Raymond Felton) will be ready to jump into the mix right away. A third Final Four in a row would not be out of the question.


6. Louisville Cardinals

Expected back: Quentin Snider, V.J. King
Definitely gone: Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks
Decision time: Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud
Why they’re here: So many draft decisions. If everyone comes back, heck, this could be your preseason No. 1 team. If only Mitchell goes (a reasonable scenario; he’s at No. 21 in the most recent DraftExpress mock), you’re looking at team in the mix for a No. 1 seed next March. And, not that this is a surprise, but Louisville’s top-10 recruiting class includes four four-star players.


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5. Michigan State Spartans

Expected back: Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Lourawls Nairn Jr., Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins
Definitely gone: Eron Harris
Decision time: Miles Bridges
Why they’re here: Bridges hasn’t announced his decision yet, but Spartans fans aren’t holding their breath (he’s expected to be a lottery pick). Still, expect next season to be the reward for all the bumps and bruises Tom Izzo’s team experienced during this learning season. The Spartans will have size, they’ll have shooting and they’ll have ball-handling. And incoming big men Jaren Jackson (6-11) and Xavier Tillman (6-9) will be ready to make an immediate impact.


4. Kansas Jayhawks

Expected back: Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, Carlton Bragg
Definitely gone: Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas
Decision time: Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham
Why they’re here: Jackson’s almost certainly gone, but Graham’s decision is huge because having a veteran ball-handler will be so very important for this squad. KU’s biggest weakness this season was scoring in the post, but with the arrival of five-star big man Billy Preston, that should be shored up next season.


3. Kentucky Wildcats

Expected back: Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries
Definitely gone: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins
Decision time: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Bam Adebayo
Why they’re here: Monk and Fox are predicted as lottery locks, so they’re almost certainly gone. Adebayo is expected to leave, too, though his return would be great for the Wildcats. As always, there is a massive influx of talent on the way — UK’s class is ranked No. 1 in the country, with five five-star guys in the group. Rinse, repeat.


2. Duke Blue Devils

Expected back: Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden
Definitely gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones
Decision time: Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard
Why they’re here: So much depends on the decisions of Kennard (No. 25 in the DraftExpress mock) and Allen (No. 41). If they’re back, write the Blue Devils back into the top spot. If both leave, they probably drop out of the top 10. Well, maybe. The arrival of two five-star prospects — power forward Wendell Carter and shooting guard Gary TrentJr. — means that Duke will again be the team every other team is aiming to knock off.


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1. Arizona Wildcats

Expected back: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche
Definitely gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen
Decision time: Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons
Why they’re here: If the guys on the should-I-go-pro fence decide to return, Arizona is the clear Pac-12 favorite, and the Wildcats will stay atop this ranking when next fall rolls around. Will that happen, though? Hard to know. Either way, Sean Miller will have tons of talent on his roster; his top-five recruiting class includes the prospect some consider No. 1 in the country — big man DeAndre Ayton — and three more four-star players, power forward Ira Lee and guards Brandon Randolph and Alex Barcello.


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