College Basketball Sneak Peek 2017-2018
|Isaac Humphries, Kentucky|
Way-Too-Early Top Five
1. Louisville Cardinals
There doesn't appear to be a clear-cut, overly dominant team on paper right now when looking ahead to '17-'18. That could change depending on who decides to turn pro and who doesn't, and what all ends up happening recruiting wise, but there is surefire top team to place here. Perhaps Louisville can take advantage of that, hoping to recover from a quiet postseason, where they were eliminated early in the ACC Tournament and fell victim to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. Star guard Donovan Mitchell could be the X-Factor; with him returning the Cards are a loaded team but there is a very real chance he heads pro after a breakout sophomore season. Even if he does, Rick Pitino has more than enough talent to work with. Steady point guard Quentin Snider should be back to lead the offense, while big man Anas Mahmoud is also likely to be back, after having a terrific 2016-2017. Swingman V.J. King is a likely breakout candidate after showing signs last season, while Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson, two high quality contributors should be back after likely testing NBA waters. If all goes well and the vast majority of this team returns, they might not have a superstar-laden roster but it will be deep and experienced and with Pitino at the helm, that is more than enough to be a serious Final Four threat.
2. Kentucky Wildcats
The pattern in Lexington just keeps continuing: bring in a haul of McDonald's All-Americans, send them to the pros, and reload the next season. This year, the backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk will take the expected jump, while Bam Adebayo should also head to the NBA. Yet, there should be a good crop of returnees, which will be key. Isaiah Briscoe is a quality offensive weapon that isn't viewed very favorably by many NBA scouts, so there is a good chance he'll return. Add in Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries, two talents who haven't got the minutes they need to really flaunt their stuff, to also be back. Big men P.J. Washington and Nick Richards highlight another quality John Calipari recruiting class, and ensure this team will be as talented as ever. Because this team relies so heavily on the one-and-done, you never know what you are getting year in, year out. But, talent-wise this team should once more be near the top of the list.
3. Arizona Wildcats
Sean Miller has clearly built an impressive winner in Tucson, and despite the likely losses of stars Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats may be better in 2017-2018. There is a good chance Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins return, considering both still have flaws in their game, which could bring a dynamic wing scorer. Even if neither do return, the Wildcats will still have a good core of veterans that aren't flashy, but solid. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is underrated as a point guard, and center Chase Comanche should take some big leaps this year. Though, the key to their success may be through incoming center DeAndre Ayton (No. 2 in the ESPN 100), a Phoenix product who may be the most talented Arizona big man since Derrick Williams.
4. Florida Gators
Even though they were near the top of the SEC for much of the season, Florida's Elite Eight run was still pretty surprising, but it showed the upside of this program under head coach Mike White. White will bring a number of veterans back, including John Egbunu and Chris Chiozza. Egbunu is a defensive star who may be one of the best bigs in the conference next season, while Chiozza will join with KeVaughn Allen to form a terrific backcourt. The Gators will have to wait and see what Devin Robinson (a fringe first-rounder at the moment) decides to do, but even if he doesn't return, the pieces are there for this team to battle Kentucky for SEC supremacy.
5. Duke Blue Devils
No team has that much clarity heading into next season considering this past season ended last night, but Duke takes this mystery to a new level, as they could head in a bunch of different directions in '17-'18. The Blue Devils know they will have two talented sophomores back for sure, in guard Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. Jackson played great in the season's second half and while he didn't see much court time this past season, Bolden has the tools to be very good. The Blue Devils also know newcomers like Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter will be terrific, and likely become stars from the get-go. The big questions are about Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. Neither have overwhelmingly great NBA Draft stocks, but could still decide it is the right time. However, if one or both decide to stay Duke could turn into the team to beat, with a legit National Player of the Year candidate on their roster.
Others in the Mix
Kansas: Will lose plenty, but this program has won 13 consecutive Big 12 titles and will add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman.
Michigan State: Miles Bridges is likely gone, but young studs Cassius Winston and Nick Ward were just as impressive as freshmen last year.
Gonzaga: Nigel Williams-Goss likely will be back, along with a good crop of guards. If freshman Zach Collins opts to return, this team could be scary.
North Carolina: Good chance Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson use their National Title to up their NBA stock and head out but the cupboard is never bare in Chapel Hill.
Xavier: So much depends on what star Trevon Blueitt decides to do but even if he doesn't return, guards Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura can run the show, and Chris Mack brought in a stellar recruiting class.
Storylines to Watch
Archie Miller at Indiana: Archie Miller has been a hot name in the coaching ranks since Dayton's Elite Eight run a few years ago, while Tom Crean was losing popularity quick in Bloomington. The marriage seems like a good fit on paper and Miller will have plenty of talent at his disposal in Year One, especially if big man Thomas Bryant wants to stay another year.
Michael Porter Jr. heading to Mizzou: Missouri has been terrible in basketball since their move to the SEC, but that appears to be changing fast. New head coach Cuonzo Martin took advantage of the firing of Lorenzo Romar at Washington to flip their superstar recruit, Michael Porter Jr. Will this be another Ben Simmons-LSU situation or will Porter and the Tigers thrive right from the start?
Wichita State and the AAC: Rumors continue to swirl about the American Athletic Conference adding Wichita State and how it would work. The Shockers have become one of the best mid-majors in the country, and the AAC wants to expand. Would it be a just basketball membership, or would Wichita try to reform their football team, whose last season was in 1986?
Roy Williams Legacy: Williams claimed his third National Title last night, putting him on the short list of greatest head coaches not just currently, but all time. There are rumors he may soon be stepping down in Chapel Hill, but what more can he add to an impressive resume before that?
The SEC: Power Basketball Conference?: The SEC will probably always be known for their football, but they used a great NCAA Tournament to alert the nation what they can do on the hardwood as well. They sent three teams to the Elite Eight, with South Carolina moving on to the Final Four. With an abundance of big name head coaches entering the conference over the past few years (Rick Barnes, Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl, Avery Johnson) is this the new standard?