The college basketball season is still months away, but on Wednesday we got a whole bunch of clarity as to what the season ahead will look like. That’s because Wednesday at midnight was the deadline for college players who hadn’t signed with agents to remove themselves from the NBA Draft.
And while plenty of big names elected to stay in, plenty of others removed their names all together and will return to campus for another season. When you add in transfers and the commitments of virtually every big-time high school player, it means we really do know what the 2017-2018 season will look like.
We ran a “Way Too Early Top 25” right after the Final Four. Here is our updated version now that the draft deadline is over.
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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, including guards Ja’Quan Newton (13.5 points per game) and Bruce Brown (11.8). The veterans will be joined by a loaded recruiting class headlined by McDonald’s All-American Lonnie Walker.
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Texas A&M Aggies
From the second the off-season began the Aggies were one of the sport’s biggest winners, courtesy of Robert Williams' decision to return to school. Williams had been projected by most as a Top 15 pick and when coupled with the return of leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Davis and sharp-shooter D.J. Hogg the Aggies could be a dark horse SEC title contender. And since our initial “Way Too Early Top 25” in April things have only gotten better in College Station, as A&M has added Marquette transfer Duane Wilson. He will be eligible to play right away.
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Zach Collins’ loss was expected but Nigel Williams-Goss’ wasn’t, and with the junior guard gone it’s hard to imagine the Zags coming anywhere close to duplicating last year’s 37-2 mark overall. Even still, there is no shortage of talent in Spokane, headlined by forward Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams, with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson adding depth in the backcourt. Forward Rui Hachimura — a developing player from Japan — could serve as a breakout star.
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Things were already trending upwards for Razorbacks hoops (a third place finish in the SEC regular season, a trip to the conference tourney title game, a near upset of eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round of the tournament) and they were made even better when second- and third-leading scorers Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford both withdrew their names from the NBA Draft a few weeks ago. Add them in with a loaded recruiting class and the Razorbacks should get back to the second round of the NCAA Tournament — and possibly beyond.
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Chris Collins’ club was college basketball’s darling in 2017, and the scary part is that they were actually built for next year, not this one. Those plans haven’t changed as Northwestern’s roster underwent no major changes through the NBA Draft deadline, meaning that — barring something surprising between now and October — they will return their five leading scorers from 2017 heading into next year. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Wildcats can compete with the likes of Michigan State, Minnesota and others for a Big Ten title.
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Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels were a consistent Top 25 team throughout 2017, gave Arizona a run for their money in the NCAA Tournament and return virtually every key piece in 2018. That includes leading scorer Jock Landale (16.9 a game) and guard Emmett Naar, who tied for the team lead with 5.6 assists per game last season. Even better, the Gaels added depth with the addition of Cullen Neal, who averaged just under 10 points a game at Ole Miss last season.
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Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish do lose a couple key pieces (V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia) but do return double-double machine Bonzie Colson (who averaged 17 and 10 last season) as well as point guard Matt Farrell. They also add a solid recruiting class, led by Top 50 guard D.J. Harvey. Remember also that this is a program that has been highly successful at regenerating new stars when old ones depart, giving us reason to believe that the Irish will once again be a Top 25 team and on the fringes of the ACC title discussion.
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North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels received some devastating news at the draft deadline when freshman center Tony Bradley elected to remain in the draft. After serving as a role player in 2017 he was expected to take over a big chunk of Kennedy Meeks’ minutes in the middle in 2018 and without him, North Carolina’s frontcourt will be razor-thin. Thankfully there is still plenty of backcourt depth headlined by Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and freshman Jalek Felton (Raymond Felton’s nephew). Still, with Bradley gone, a second straight national title and third straight Final Four appearance seem highly unlikely.
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Seton Hall Pirates
The Pirates were one of the truly shocking “winners” of the draft deadline after Angel Delgado (who led the nation in rebounding last season) decided to return to school. That decision came after multiple reports surfaced in recent weeks that he’d stay in the draft. Delgado is just another experienced piece off back-to-back NCAA Tournament teams, and when coupled with fellow seniors Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, “The Hall” should have its best team in decades.
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Alabama Crimson Tide
We had Alabama higher than virtually any other outlet in our “Way Too Early Top 25” after the Final Four, and after watching five-star signee Collin Sexton dominate for a week at the Ball Is Life All-American Game (where he earned MVP honors) we might not have had them high enough. Sexton is truly a game-changing talent and future lottery pick, who combined with returnees like Braxton Key and Donta Hall, as well as fellow freshman John Petty, could push Alabama not only to the NCAA Tournament, but potentially into the second weekend.
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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) the Gophers' emergence from sub-.500 team in 2016 to the Big Dance a year later was one of the better stories in the sport. Things should only get better in 2018, as Minnesota returns virtually every key player including 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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Mick Cronin’s program continues to plug along, and after a 30-win season in 2017, could be even better next year. The Bearcats return their top three scorers and add transfer Cane Broome, who averaged 23 points per game at Sacred Heart two seasons ago. The rich got even richer late, when Cincinnati added a commitment from former Washington signee Mamoudou Diarra just a few weeks ago.
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West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers always play great defense (they forced an NCAA-best 20 turnovers a game last season) and next year they should have more than enough offense to go along with it, with the return of their top two scorers (Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad). The improved offense alongside the always terrifying defense should once again make the Mountaineers a thorn in the side of everyone in the Big 12.
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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 KeVaughn Allen, guard Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu, who will be back after suffering a torn ACL towards the end of the season. The Gators did lose production on the wing from Canyon Barry and Devin Robinson (who declared for, and stayed in the draft) but replaced them nicely with the addition of transfer Egor Koulechov. The Ukrainian-born forward averaged 18 points per game at Rice last season and is eligible to play right away.
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At first glance, losing five key players off last year’s Sweet 16 team (seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, plus freshmen Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu) seems like bad news, but in reality this was actually a “best-case scenario” kind of offseason in Westwood. All five players were expected to leave (even Anigbogu, who played limited minutes last season) and the staff loaded up with one of the top recruiting classes in the country. McDonald’s All-Americans Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes are names to watch out for. More importantly, UCLA got both Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh back after each flirted with the NBA Draft. Holiday — who was forced to the bench last season to make room for Ball — could evolve into an All-Pac-12 type performer.
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When we did our post-Final Four Top 25, the Cardinals came in comfortably in the Top 5 — but that was under the assumption that Donovan Mitchell would return for another year at Louisville. Instead, last year’s leading scorer (at 15.6 points per game) is off to the pros and in a surprise move, and second-leading rebounder Jaylen Johnson declared too. That leaves a team full of solid role players (Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud) but no true star, and a team that isn’t as talented as the top schools in the country, but with enough depth to compete with just about anyone.
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Xavier received the best news imaginable at the NBA Draft deadline when Trevon Blueitt decided to return to school for his senior season. Blueitt was a breakout star this season (18.5 points per game) and exploded in the NCAA Tournament, with three-straight 20-plus-point games helping the Musketeers to the Elite Eight. Blueitt’s right-hand man during that run (J.P. Macura) is also back and Chris Mack welcomes in a loaded recruiting class headlined by guard Paul Scruggs. As if that wasn’t enough, Xavier will also add transfer Kerem Kanter (Enes Kanter’s brother), a transfer who averaged 11 points at Green Bay last year and is eligible immediately.
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While star guard Jalen Brunson never seemed like a major candidate to declare for the NBA Draft, his return should solidify the Wildcats as a Top 10 club heading into the preseason. He’ll team with NCAA Tournament breakout star Donte DiVincenzo (15 points, six boards in a loss to Wisconsin) in the backcourt, with Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall adding scorer depth. Also don’t sleep on the arrival of big man Omari Spellman, a Top 20 recruit two seasons ago, who was forced to sit out last year because of academics.
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Wichita State Shockers
The biggest news of the offseason in Wichita actually came off the court, where the Shockers became the newest member of the AAC. And the good news for Gregg Marshall is that he should have a roster that’s ready to step in and immediately compete alongside Cincinnati, SMU and others for the top spot in the conference. The Shockers return virtually every key piece off last year’s 31-win team, headlined by leading scorer Markis McDuffie, sparkplug point guard Landry Shamet and center Shaquille Morris.
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The Jayhawks lose National Player of the Year Frank Mason and likely lottery pick Josh Jackson, but are still locked and loaded for next year. Guard Devonte Graham has decided to return for his senior year and could take over Mason’s lead-guard/facilitator role. He’ll be surrounded by plenty of scorers, headlined by Svi Mykhailiuk (9.8 ppg last season), Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe, who will be eligible the second semester. Add in Udoka Azibuike and McDonald’s All-American Billy Preston in the frontcourt and the Jayhawks have more than enough to win a 14th straight Big 12 title and compete for another national championship.
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No, this isn’t a typo — the USC Trojans should begin the season in everyone’s Top 10, and sit at No. 5 in our poll. Andy Enfield’s club is coming off a second straight NCAA Tournament run and returns its top eight scorers, headlined by Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, who both were good enough to be drafted by the NBA this season. The Trojans also add McDonald’s All-American Chuck O’Bannon and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, meaning that Enfield’s biggest issue might be finding playing time for all his talented players. It’s a problem he’ll gladly take, as the Trojans are legit national title contenders.
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Duke Blue Devils
Yes, the Blue Devils lost four players (Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson) early to the draft but will again be amongst the most talented clubs in the sport, thanks to another elite recruiting class. Trevon Duval is a future lottery pick, and will give the Blue Devils their first true point guard since Tyus Jones led the school to a title in 2015. Gary Trent Jr. might be the best wing scorer in this high school class and Wendell Carter is a highly-developed big man. Add in returnees Marques Bolden and Grayson Allen and while Duke might not be as deep as they were last year, they could just be better overall.
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John Calipari never disappoints on the recruiting trail, but even by the insane standard he has set in Lexington, it was not only a banner year, but a banner last few weeks specifically. First, came the surprise commitment of five-star forward Kevin Knox in early May (fittingly on the day of the Kentucky Derby), who unexpectedly chose the Wildcats over a host of schools, including Duke and North Carolina. More importantly, Kentucky got the best possible news at the NBA Draft deadline, when Hamidou Diallo — who enrolled for the second semester this season but did not play — decided to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to Lexington. Those two are part of a recruiting class which features six of the Top 25 high players in America, meaning that while Kentucky will be insanely young next year, they’ll be insanely talented as well.
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Michigan State Spartans
With the return of Josh Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston, as well as the arrival of McDonald’s All-American Jaren Jackson Jr., we already had Michigan State in our Top 5 entering the 2018 season — and that was before Miles Bridges decided to return for his sophomore season. The 17-point-a-game scorer stunned observers by turning down the opportunity to be drafted in the lottery to spend another season in East Lansing and when coupled with the names above, gives Michigan State more than enough to win a national title next season.
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For a team which lost Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons to the pros, it was a surprisingly bountiful offseason in Tucson. Leading scorer Allonzo Trier never bothered to enter the NBA Draft and Rawle Alkins removed his name, giving the Wildcats two bona-fide All-American candidates in the backcourt. In the frontcourt they will add one of the best high school players in the country in forward DeAndre Ayton, who will almost certainly be a Top 5 pick in next year’s draft. Add in fellow veterans Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, as well as the surprise decision by five-star 2018 recruit Emmanuel Akot to reclassify and come to Arizona a year early, and Sean Miller has a perfect mix of youth and experience as well as star-power and depth. They will enter the 2017-2018 season as the No. 1 team in the country, and a favorite to win the national championship.