The 2017 college basketball season is over and North Carolina is your national champion! But now that this season is complete, it's never too early to look ahead to the 2017-18 season.
Here is FOX's "Way Too Early" Top 25 for next season. Keep in mind that this is subject to major change, as players continue to declare for the NBA Draft, others transfer and a select few elite prospects make their college decisions.
But as of right now, April 4, here's who we like heading into next year.
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Melo Trimble has gone pro, but the Terps are still loaded. Anthony Cowan will move into Trimble’s role as point guard, with fellow sophomores Justin Jackson (10.5 points per game) and Kevin Huerter (9.3) assuming larger roles on offense.
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Leading scorer Davon Reed will graduate, but most of this year’s core will be back in Coral Gables in 2018. That includes guards Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, who will be joined by McDonald’s All-American Lonny Walker.
Oklahoma went 11-20 this season and lose their top scorer (Jordan Woodard) so what is there to like about this team? A lot, actually. They return virtually every other key piece, and welcome one of the top high school point guards in the country, Trae Young. Given Lon Kruger’s track record that’s probably enough for them to earn a spot in the Top 25 to start the season.
Believe it or not, one of the most intriguing NBA Draft decisions will actually come from Provo, courtesy of forward Eric Mika. The junior seems to want to stay in the draft, but considering he isn’t be projected to be picked in either round it seems as though he will come back. Assuming he does, the Cougars will get back a near double-double machine (he averaged 20 points and nine boards a game in 2017) will join TJ Haws on a team which should start the year somewhere in the Top 25.
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The Commodores’ season ended in the most heartbreaking fashion possible, but that shouldn’t change the fact that they were one of the most pleasant surprises in college hoops this season. And if they can improve as much in Year 2 of the Bryce Drew era as they did in Year 1, there’s no reason to think they can’t compete for an SEC title. Leading scorer Matthew Fisher-Davis is back, as are forwards Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance.
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Texas A&M Aggies
A disappointing 2017 season immediately turned into a bright outlook for 2018 after forward Robert Williams – a projected first round pick – elected to return for his sophomore year. Leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Davis also returns, as does point guard Admon Gilder and sharp-shooter DJ Hogg.
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Chris Collins’ club was an NCAA tournament darling, and almost pulled off the shocker of all shockers, nearly upsetting Gonzaga in the second round. And the best part is that this team was actually built for next year, not this one. With the team’s top five scorers all expected to return (headlined by All-Big Ten guards Bryant McIntosh and Scotty Lindsey) it isn’t a stretch to say that the Wildcats have enough talent to compete for a Big Ten title.
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The Bearcats won 30 games this year - and return their three leading scorers next season. Add in transfer Cane Broome - who averaged 23 points per game at Sacred Heart two years ago - and Cincinnati is a legitimate Final Four contender.
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Alabama Crimson Tide
Insert your own “wait, is this a football Top 25” joke here, but Crimson Tide hoops is going to be loaded coming into next year. After nearly making the NCAA tournament in 2017 they welcome back virtually their entire team, headlined by leading scorer Braxton Key and Donta Hall who – despite modest numbers this season – has the eye of NBA scouts. Add them in with a loaded freshman class – headlined by McDonald’s All-American Collin Sexton – and Alabama will be in great shape to make the first NCAA tournament appearance of the Avery Johnson era.
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Seton Hall Pirates
Both Angel Delgado (the nation’s leading rebounder) and Khadeen Carrington have declared for the draft, but considering neither is projected to be drafted, expect both to return. If they do, “The Hall” can compete for a Big East title.
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Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels were a consistent Top 25 team all season, gave Arizona a run for their money in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year and return basically their three leading scorers next season. Aussies Jock Landale (17 points and nine rebounds per game) and Emmett Naar (5.6 assists per game) will lead a deep and experienced team.
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Minnesota Golden Gophers
While Minnesota’s NCAA tournament exit was quick (they lost to Middle Tennessee State in the opening round) what they did in 2017 was incredible. The Golden Gophers went from sub. 500 a year ago, to 24-10, and return every key player in 2018. That includes leading scorer Nate Mason and leading rebounder Jordan Murphy, as well as sophomore-to-be Amir Coffey. Coffey could be a breakout star next year, after averaging nearly 12 points per game as a freshman.
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The Gators were a few short minutes away from the Final Four this season and return most of their key players in Mike White's third season in Gainesville. That includes leading scorer KeyVaughn Allen as well as Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu. Assuming Devin Robinson returns (he is testing the waters but won't sign with an agent) the Gators could be a threat to win the SEC.
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The Trojans had eight players average at least 10 minutes a game this season, and all eight are scheduled to return next season (Shaqqan Aaron will test the waters but should be back). If that happens, and with the additions of Duke transfer Derryck Thornton and top recruit Chuck O’Bannon, it isn’t a stretch to call the Trojans a legitimate Final Four contender. And possibly a national title contender as well.
The Wildcats’ “system” is greater than its individual players, meaning that even after Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds graduate they’ll be just fine. Star point guard Jalen Brunson will return next season, and will team up with NCAA tournament breakout star Donte DiVincenzo (15 points, six boards in a loss to Wisconsin) in the backcourt. Eric Paschall and Mikal Bridges will add scoring options, with Omari Spellman – who sat out this season because of academic issues – expected to bolster the frontcourt.
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Wichita State Shockers
What Gregg Marshall did at Wichita State was incredible this season, as he took a club which lost two NBA players (Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet), still won 31 games and nearly upset Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And there’s reason to think that – despite those 31 wins – the Shockers will be significantly better next season. Virtually every key piece is back, including leading scorer Markis McDuffie, sparkplug point guard Landry Shamet and center Shaquille Morris.
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We know Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are headed to the pros, and Ike Anigbogu could join him too. Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford have exhausted their eligibility. Thankfully though, with Steve Alford returning (after being rumored as Indiana’s next head coach) it means that a recruiting class featuring McDonald’s All-American's Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes will remain intact. They’ll be joined by returnees Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday, as well as potentially Anigbogu as well.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will graduate and Justin Jackson will almost certainly go pro. Freshman Tony Bradley also said following Monday's national championship game that he will test the draft waters. But if everyone who is expected to return does – headlined by point guard Joel Berry – this should once again be a Top 10 team to open the year. The Tar Heels could be Top 5 if they can land a commitment from small forward Kevin Knox, one of the Top 10 high school players in the class of 2017, who is choosing from among UNC, Duke, Florida State and Kentucky.
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Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Matthews are the only rotation players graduating this year, meaning that in theory, Gonzaga could be just as good next season at this one. It depends on the draft decisions of Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins. Collins is projected as a mid-first round pick, so it has to be assumed he’d leave, but Williams-Goss is much more precarious. He currently isn’t projected on NBA Draft boards and if he stays, he’ll team with Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Josh Perkins, on another loaded Zags squad.
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John Calipari always sports a young team, but next year’s club will be exceptionally young with departed seniors Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins joining the expected normal exodus of freshmen. Isaiah Briscoe could depart too. But as always, Calipari has reloaded. Forward Hamidou Diallo is already on campus and will be joined by four McDonald’s All-Americans (guard Quade Green and forwards Nick Richards, PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt) as well. The Wildcats might not be done recruiting either with Top 10 prospects Kevin Knox and Mohamed Bomba still on their board.
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Devonte Graham is expected to return, and will be joined in a loaded backcourt by Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and Arizona State transfer Sam Cuncliffe (eligible second semester). With Udoka Azibuke and freshman Billy Preston in the frontcourt, Kansas might not be quite as loaded as this year, but should still compete for a 14th straight Big 12 title.
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Michigan State Spartans
All of Spartan nation is waiting on Miles Bridges, a projected lottery pick who reportedly is interested in coming back for his sophomore season. If he does come back the Spartans might be the title favorite, and even if he doesn’t they still might be favorites in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo’s club welcomes back virtually their entire roster, including sophomores Nick Ward, Josh Langford and Cassius Winston. They’ll be buoyed by another loaded recruiting class headlined by forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
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Duke Blue Devils
Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles have both gone pro, so what will really define Duke’s preseason ranking is whether Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard (both fringe first round picks) decide to join them in the pros. Without them, the Blue Devils should still be very good, with returnees Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden joined by another star-studded class featuring Top 10 prospects Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter (pictured above). Top high school point guard Trevon Duval is still considering Duke, and if the Blue Devils get him and Allen and Kennard to return, they will once again be the preseason’s No. 1 team.
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The Cardinals are arguably the toughest team to peg in these rankings. Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson have all declared for the draft, with only Mitchell gaining real traction in draft circles. If Mitchell comes back – and the others as well – watch out, Louisville could potentially start the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
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Kadeem Allen will graduate and Lauri Markannen will leave for the pros. Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons could at least test the waters, but none are currently projected as first round picks. Assuming all three come back, they will team with DeAndre Ayton – considered by some to be the best prospect in high school basketball – for what should be the top team in the country coming into next season.
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