My top 25:
▪ 1. Duke: Who else? Picking up Marvin Bagley III puts the Blue Devils back on the fast track with what already was a powerhouse collection for head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Look for Grayson Allen to grow up a little and have a standout senior season in the mix of rookies Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell O’Connor. Come early April, look for Coach K to be climbing that ladder and cutting down those nets one more time.
▪ 2. Michigan State: You can’t keep Tom Izzo down for long, and after a rare off year, the Spartans should be strong in 2017-18. Best news was the return of Miles Bridges, who could end up taking home the national player of the year trophy.
▪ 3. Wichita State: Gregg Marshall has everyone back, including star guard Landry Shamet, from the team that pushed Kentucky to the wire in last year’s NCAA second round. A stronger start should help the Shockers with NCAA seeding, and the move to the American Athletic should toughen Marshall’s men for tournament time.
▪ 4. Arizona: That pesky FBI investigation, which caught Arizona assistant Book Richardson in its net, pumps the brakes on a season in which the Wildcats might have been No. 2 on this list behind Duke. Sean Miller has a wide array of new and returning talent, but will his team have the focus to play through the negative headlines?
▪ 5. Kansas: Bill Self will have some mixing and matching to do after losing Josh Jackson and Frank Mason II. Not that the Jayhawks lack talent, but Malik Newman will need to come through at guard, and that’s a risky proposition.
▪ 6. Florida: Following Billy Donovan, Mike White stepped into some big shoes, but so far the bright young star is more than holding his own. If center John Egbunu is healthy and KeVaughn Allen continues to develop, the Gators could even improve on last year’s Elite Eight finish.
▪ 7. Cincinnati: For a team that won 30 games last year, the Bearcats were overlooked. Mick Cronin returns his core group, plus he picked up Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, who could be a difference-maker.
▪ 8. Villanova: Best news out of Philadelphia involves Omari Spellman gaining eligibility after sitting out last season. Jalen Brunson gives Jay Wright some stability and the Wildcats are poised to rebound after some slippage in 2016-17.
▪ 9. Kentucky: By Selection Sunday, the Cats could be a formidable force, but there are a lot of questions on an impossibly young roster for John Calipari to answer. One positive: An improved SEC should help prepare Kentucky for postseason play.
▪ 10. Miami: Much like Arizona, the Hurricanes must deal with the FBI investigation that reportedly is looking into Jim Larranaga’s program. If Miami can keep focused, Bruce Brown could emerge as one of the nation’s most underrated players.
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▪ 11. Louisville: Rick Pitino might be be gone, but plenty of talent remains on the Cardinals’ roster. Sophomore V.J. King should be ready for his star turn. The question is, amidst the chaos surrounding the program, can interim coach David Padgett keep it all together?
▪ 12. West Virginia: Bob Huggins just keeps on trucking as his Mountaineers annoy the pants off all opponents with their full-court press and revolving-door depth. Jevon Carter should lead a team that will again contend for the Big 12 title.
▪ 13. Texas A&M: With the return of Robert Williams and the eligibility of point guard JJ Caldwell, Billy Kennedy’s Aggies are tremendously underrated. Should Florida and Kentucky falter, College Station could easily end up as home of the SEC champions.
▪ 14. Notre Dame: Bonzi Colson is back for what seems like his 10th year at South Bend, but he could end up the ACC player of the year and could help Mike Brey’s Irish make another postseason run.
▪ 15. Minnesota: Richard Pitino executed one of the sport’s best turnarounds last year, pulling the Gophers up off the mat after a disastrous 2015-16. Most everyone is back from last season, and look for father Rick to be in the stands as Minnesota could win the Big Ten.
▪ 16. Seton Hall: Another Rick Pitino protégé, Kevin Willard, might have his best team in New Jersey. Senior Angel Delgado is a first-team All-America candidate who could help the Pirates make a postseason splash.
▪ 17. Northwestern: Chris Collins might be positioning himself to be Mike Krzyzewski’s successor once Coach K hangs up his whistle at Duke. Coming off the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats bring plenty of momentum, plus star Bryant McIntosh, into this season.
▪ 18. Saint Mary’s: Senior center Jock Landale deserves more attention and could well get it if the Gaels can leapfrog Gonzaga and be the national power coming out of the West Coast Conference.
▪ 19. USC: Coach Andy Enfield boasts a loaded roster, but the Trojans are also one of the teams that must avoid the trap door presented by the FBI investigation. The return of Bennie Boatwright was huge, and if Enfield can get his team to play some defense, big things could happen.
▪ 20. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett’s decision to return to school makes Chris Mack’s team a top-20 contender with a chance to climb higher up the ladder by season’s end.
▪ 21. Texas: Shaka Smart suffered through a tough second season in Austin, but the Longhorns should be primed for a rebound. Picking up freshman center Mohamed Bamba was key.
▪ 22. UCLA: The Bruins lost way too much to make a national run, but the next in the long line of Balls, LiAngelo, will make things interesting in Westwood. LaVar will be around, but Steve Alford should be used to that by now.
▪ 23. North Carolina: Joel Berry’s broken hand should slow the development of the returning national champs, who lost plenty of key pieces. Roy Williams could make the Tar Heels dangerous by March, but UNC has probably reached its expiration date on successive Final Four trips.
▪ 24. Alabama: Instead of answering your investigation questions, Avery Johnson will let his young team do the talking on the floor. John Petty and Collin Sexton are so good that Tide fans might have something to cheer before the start of spring football practice.
▪ 25. Gonzaga: The Zags will be there because the Zags are always there. If Mark Few can get the most out of Josh Perkins, Gonzaga could advance further than expected, although another Final Four run seems a stretch.