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The Blue Devils bring in one of the best recruiting classes in school history, led by projected lottery picks Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. Grayson Allen is the odds-on leader for national player of the year. Veterans Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones will prove vital. Luke Kennard is set to have a breakout sophomore season. This team is going to beat you 28 different ways. Giles' health could be the key to Duke being the best team over the likes of the five or six teams you see listed directly below.
The Wildcats' five-man recruiting class ranks only a hair behind Duke's, and we think this group will come together in much smoother fashion than other big-time classes John Calipari has brought in to Lexington. De'Aaron Fox is an outstanding, smart point guard. Malik Monk is a scorer, slasher and a terrific athletic. Bam Adebayo is a force down low, a guy who could play his way into top-three draft status. Wenyen Gabriel is green but will be twice the player he is now by the time we get to March. Sacha Killeya-Jones, also a top-25 recruit, has the best name of any player Cal's ever recruited, and yet he's the overlooked one. The most important player? Isaiah Briscoe is back, and his defense will be setting the standard.
Josh Jackson is the star freshman wing, a player who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. Kansas has a reliable backcourt with Devonte' Graham and Frank Mason. Ukrainian Svi Mykhailiuk finally blasts through as a top-100 player this season. Down low, Kansas is expecting huge returns on sophomore Carlton Bragg. Freshman giant Udoka Azubuike is a player Self says could be one of his best big men ever. He'll need time. Perry Ellis is back for his eighth season. Kidding. (OR AM I??)
The Wildcats are capable of going back-to-back. The only pieces lost are Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Fordham stud transfer Eric Paschall enters the rotation, while Josh Hart is on the short list of preseason National Player of the Year favorites. Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Darryl Reynolds -- they're all back. Looks like another No. 1 seed to me.
The Musketeers were a No. 2 seed last season and should be even better this year, though the schedule will provide a lot of challenges. Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura (breakout player special), Myles Davis and transfer RaShid Gaston are all capable of being The Guy on any night. Chris Mack has terrible taste in music but is establishing himself as a top-25 coach in America.
The reigning national runner-up will be in the mix for another Final Four. Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks make up a terrific starting five, and Nate Britt's a terrific sixth man. UNC should get nice production in spots from five-star frosh Tony Bradley as well. (Check out our list of the top 20 freshmen right here.)
Dana Altman has a loaded roster. This team was a 1-seed last year that got upended by Oklahoma and the Buddy Band in the Elite Eight. Dillon Brooks is the team's MOP, but there's so much more. Chris Boucher, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis with a sixth year of eligibility. The Ducks have to be considered the favorites in the Pac-12.
It's the highest-rated freshman class Tom Izzo's ever had: Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward. If those four play up to their talent this season, then look out. MSU will have a scoring savant in Eron Harris, a 3-point specialist in Matt McQuaid, a reliable on-ball defender in Tum-Tum Nairn and a season-long stopgap in the post in Gavin Schilling. Ben Carter's health/return is the X-factor.
Virginia loses a lot but gets one really good transfer in Austin Nichols, who was one of the best players in the American when he played at Memphis. Nichols will be asked to do a lot, but London Perrantes is UVA's leader this season. It's not often you see a frosh class with big pub at Virginia, but Kyle Guy leads the way for a group of newbies who will see plenty of time on the floor.
The Hoosiers have a tremendous offense, led by Thomas Bryant down low and the return of James Blackmon on the wing. Yogi Ferrell graduated and Troy Williams left early for the draft, but expect Indiana to get pop from OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan and Collin Hartman, when the latter returns from injury. Will be a fun team on offense again.
This looks like the most loaded roster on a UCLA squad since Ben Howland was going to Final Fours. Isaac Hamilton is on my short list for super-breakout players. Lonzo Ball is a very good freshman point guard, and he'll be teamed up with Bryce Alford, who's been more valuable than people realize over the past two seasons. The Bruins have another fab frosh in T.J. Leaf, and that's not even accounting for a bump in volume from Thomas Welsh. A complete script-flip for Uckluh this year, as last season's 15-17 campaign is a distant memory.
Almost everyone is back from a Badgers team that won 22 games and has the Big Ten preseason player of the year in Nigel Hayes. Bronson Koenig will wind up being the team's most important player, I think, and Ethan Happ is going to establish himself as a top-20 guy in the Big Ten by the time we get to league play. We're going to be talking about Wisconsin this season as much as just about any team not named Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina or Villanova.
I am all-in on Arizona's talent. Sean Miller's team is young but boy will they be fun to watch grow. Let's cover the vets first. Kadeem Allen and Dusan Ristic are level-above glue guys. Allonzo Trier will be an All-American candidate, as he's likely to lead the team in scoring. Lauri Markkanen's going to be a top-five freshman of impact nationally. Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins are five-star frosh as well. If Ray Smith, who sat out last year with an ACL tear, is healthy enough to play 20 minutes per game, then what's not to like here? Gobs of potential.
It's probably shocking to see the Gaels ranked this high, but the team brings back a starting five that didn't change once last season. Emmett Naar is the star, but fellow Australian Dane Pineau is a name to know. The Gaels won 29 games with this group. The non-conference schedule is tougher than most years. NCAA tourney or bust, absolutely. Could be a banner year for Randy Bennett. Watch for Evan Fitzne to make big strides in the paint.
Controversy! Gonzaga actually, somehow, ranked behind SMC. Nigel Williams-Goss is eligible to play this season. He'll probably be very, very good. Another transfer, Missouri's Johnathan Williams, will also be in the fold. Prezemek Karnowski is back, though he had back issues that nearly threatened his career last season. They've got this five-star freshman named Zach Collins who will have some baby-deer legs but should be a nice piece. Plus, Josh Perkins ( if he can avoid off-court trouble), is a top-15 WCC player. On the whole, it looks like one of the three or four most talented rosters Mark Few's ever had.
The Cardinals are raw but talented, led by Donovan Mitchell, who will probably be appointment television. Ray Spalding and Deng Adel round out a trio of talents that will be good enough to keep Louisville's defense active and a true pain the you-know-what for opponents. The school is still under investigation by the NCAA, but chances are last year's self-imposed postseason ban will suffice, meaning this is a tourney team come March.
We're aggressively picking Texas higher than most. Wait until you see how good Jarrett Allen is right out of the gate. He'll be critical to Texas' chances at contending for second in the Big 12. Kerwin Roach, Jr. should take a big hop in his sophomore year, and Tevin Mack is almost certainly going to have a huge sophomore season. This is a projection on how we think the sport shakes out, so while Texas won't be a top-20 team in November, by the time Shaka molds these guys in February, we think UT will be contending for a No. 4/5 seed.
It has to be URI's year. We've said that so many times over the past 15 seasons, but this is finally it. Right? Lord help Dan Hurley if it's not. E.C. Matthews was lost last season to an injury, and Hassan Martin went down in league play. They're back, the roster is athletic, strong, fast, has shooters, shot-blockers, depth. It's all there. This looks like the best team in the A-10. Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett are bulldogs. IU transfer Stan Robinson is going to be the special ingredient.
Like the Huskies this season because there's undeniable talent at every position in the starting five, and even the backups are capable of stepping in and playing against pretty good competition. The favorite in the AAC, I think. Jalen Adams is the breakout candidate, while Rodney Purvis, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey are the vets in position to get UConn back to the NCAAs.
Caleb Swanigan is back, Vince Edwards is better than most realize, and Isaac Haas should step up and produce the way 7-foot-2 college men do. Spike Albrecht, formerly at Michigan, is a grad transfer here. Guard play should be better on the whole as well. Purdue will have an inside-outside-inside attack thanks to Swanigan almost certainly become all-league caliber.
Jim Boeheim believes it's one of his best rosters ever. Andrew White was a late add-on after White left Nebraska. Cuse will have an elite sophomore and likely 2017 NBA pick in Tyler Lydon, a good senior PF in Tyler Roberson, a Providence transfer addition in Paschal Chukwu. Freshmen Matthew Moyer, Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson align a bright future for SU. And this is a team that somehow broke through to the Final Four last season. It has a better chance at getting back this year.
An ambitious ranking to be certain. But Ivan Rabb is going to compete with anyone and everyone for Pac-12 player of the year. Cuonzo Martin should have a breakout player in Kam Rooks. Throw in Kingsley Okoroh and its a top-three front line in the conference. Jabari Bird, this has to be your season. Cal being a top-30 team falls on Bird's shoulders. We think he's up for it.
Two studs in Mo Watson, Jr. and Marcus Foster, guys who will compete with each other to be First Team All-Big East. Greg McDermott is going to have a terrific 1-2 attack in the backcourt, and then consider Cole Huff's presence and Khyri Thomas as a breakout-player special. Bluejays are back.
Monte Morris is the pick for Big 12 Player of the Year. He's so good that we have to include ISU in the top 25. The rest around him is to be determined, though Deonte Burton's probably going to have a very productive season. Important to note that Naz Mitrou-Long is back as well. The Cyclones continue to be nationally relevant.
I love Jevon Carter's game and expect him to be nearly as important to WVU this year as Morris will be for Iowa State. WVU probably won't be as good on the boards this year, making their reputation as a grind-it-out team all the more interesting, as they'll rely more on mercurial but improving Daxter Miles Jr.
Markis McDuffie's health is key, but remember, Landry Shamet steps in to replace Fred VanVleet at point guard. While VanVleet is a Shockers legend, there are things Shamet can do athletically that VanVleet could not. Ultimately, WSU should be OK in the backcourt, as I expect Connor Frankamp to bust out big this season. Shaq Morris down low will be the security blanket Gregg Marshall needs this season.
The Hurricanes have a freshman duo of Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell that will keep this team in the ACC mix. Supplanting the freshmen: Ja'Quan Newton, Kamari Murphy and Davon Reed. The Hurricanes are better than you think, even while losing three really important players.
The SEC is weak again, as it took me until 28 to get to a second team -- and I think I'm being a little generous with Texas A&M here. Tyler Davis is basically immovable down low, and D.J. Hogg will probably average 14 points, but overall, the Aggies need to overcome losing four starters and still keep pace with a top-10 defense. A tough ask.
Archie Miller's team would've been top 25 had four-star recruit Kostas Antetokounmpo been ruled eligible this season. Since he's not, we'll sneak the Flyers into the top 30. Charles Cooke is set up to thrive this season. Scoochie Smith is one of the best names in the sport. The defense will be the best in the A-10. Josh Cunningham is the X-factor.
The Bearcats have been consistent and tough as hell under Mick Cronin. This is anNCAA Tournament team again. I'd rank Troy Caupain among the 10 most overlooked players in America right now. Gary Clark is also a guy battling to make our list of the top 100 (and one) players in the sport.
Dennis Smith Jr. is my pick for top point guard in the country by season's end. Morris will do more at Iowa State, but Smith is the better point guard overall. He's surrounded with a lot of interesting players this season. I think NC State is way undervalued right now. Abdul-Malik Abu is a top-100 player, Omer Yurtseven should get eligible, and when he does,he'll be one of the 10 best freshmen in the ACC. Buy on the Wolfpack.
The Hoyas should be able to turn around and forget a 15-18 season. Isaac Copeland could be a First Team guy in the Big East, and Jessie Govan's ready to break out. L.J Peak and Marcus Derrickson are also players oozing with potential.
The favorites in the Mountain West yet again. The Aztecs will have the league's best defense, its deepest roster, its second or third-best player (Trey Kell), the breakout-player special (Zylan Cheatham), the best home-court advantage and a culture of making six of the past seven Big Dances. Last year's team won 28 games -- and did not reach the tournament.
Buddy Hield is gone, but Oklahoma is not an NIT team. Khadeem Lattin is set for a huge year, and Jordan Woodard is still around to keep consistency in the backcourt. Lon Kruger's team won't be nearly as good as last season, but don't sleep on the Sooners.
Kevin Stallings takes over for Jamie Dixon. The roster is better than you think it is, but we're going to have an interesting blend of Stallings' style with Dixon's players. I'm very torn on if this will be an NCAA Tournament team this season. It should be, but you could say that about a handful of Stallings' Vandy teams that didn't play up to par.
Mike White's team is probably locked in as the No. 3 group in the SEC. Canyon Barry comes in as a transfer, one of the five best in the country, by way of Charleston. Kasey Hill is still running show at the point, and Devin Robinson is going to have a breakout season.
People tend to underrate Colorado every year. Maybe that's because it's not a national program and it doesn't land top-five seeding in the NCAAs. This should be a top-five Pac-12 team this season, though. Tad Boyle continues to do a great job; I wonder how long it is before he lands an even bigger gig. George King, Josh Fortune and Dominique Collier will shoot the Buffs into the Big Dance.
The Buckeyes just need to realize how good they can be. Marc Loving, Keita Bates-Diop, Ja'Quan Lyle, Kam Williams. A solid core four there. Thad Matta cleaned house with some transfers. Expect OSU back in the NCAA Tournament after missing last season.
The Bears have an all-Big 12 talent in Johnathan Motley. Ish Wainwright can be a blur. The defense is going to be good. The offense is going to falter somewhat. BU will miss Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers.
The Bulldogs will have their struggles and successes this year. Chris Holtmann's best player is Kelan Martin, someone all college hoops fans should know by January. He's that important to this team. Tyler Wideman is the sturdy piece in the paint.
It's all on Melo Trimble now, isn't it? The frontline from last season is basically gone, and Trimble's going to need all the help he can get from Jared Nickens. Let's see what freshman Kevin Huerter can do, too. Terps are a toss-up team right now.
The Wolverines bring back necessary pieces -- Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman -- but this team was lost without Caris LeVert relatively often last season. It's going to be methodical and reliable, but is it an NCAA tourney group? Walton should take a jump, and Duncan Robinson might wind up as one of the biggest offensive threats in the Big Ten.
UW gets this high because Markelle Fultz is that good. It's not just him, though. Matisse Thybulle is a lean sophomore whose game should blend beautifully with Fultz's. Lorenzo Romar's team might be on the bubble all season long, but that would be a step up from last year's 19-15 group.
Will Wade has a really good lead guard in JeQuan Lewis, an all-league beast in Mo Alie-Cox, and plenty of other help returning from last season (Jordan Burgess, Justin Tillman). The Rams are probably a bubble team this season, but at the same time, I would put them in the mix to win the A-10 regular season given the way their league schedule breaks down.
I'm going to be tentative with Seton Hall because I was that big a fan of Isaiah Whitehead. But I'm almost as big a fan of Angel Delgado. The junior workhorse will become the face of the program this season. I think he'll average 12 points and 11 boards this season.
I'm a little lower on Va. Tech than most, but a bump should absolutely be coming in Buzz Williams' third season. Zach LeDay is the team's best overall player, and Seth Allen will be reliable at the point. Chris Clarke will have a breakout season. I doubt this team loses more than two games at home.
The Golden Eagles need to replace one of the best players in the country, Henry Ellenson, but this is not a roster void of talent. Marquette's a good on-ball defensive team, and Duane Wilson, JaJuan Johnson, Traci Carter are all back. Luke Fischer is set up to be the team's best overall player.
Chris Beard returns home to what, truly, is his dream job. But Tubby Smith did wonders last season. Tech was one of the most overachieving teams -- maybe the biggest one. Beard took Little Rock to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He'll get Tech going in time, but let's not presume he'll be taking Tech to the dance again.
I think some could accuse me of pegging Valpo to high because Bryce Drew left for Vanderbilt. In reality, Matt Lottich steps in as a fine replacement. And Alec Peters is back. The Crusaders will almost definitely be the best team in the Horizon. Confident this is in the neighborhood of a top-50 team in college hoops this season.
Mike Brey is the only man with the potion to kill Coach K-led teams. But Notre Dame, which was a second-weekend team last season, will have a big drop this year. At least Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson are around. The Irish will pull off a few big wins, but I think they're an NIT group this year.
Larry Krystkowiak gonna make me look silly, I bet. He's got another player who I think should find his way to draft night in Kyle Kuzma. He'll be helped by the combo-guard stylings of Lorenzo Bonam. I don't put Utah higher, because I wonder about the depth here, the quality of the Pac-12 and a defense that's probably not going to be keeping most top-100 opponents under 72 points per game.
The Tigers are fully stocked with a returning group of starters. Henry Caruso is the best player on the team, and if you think I'm overrating Princeton, then be sure to check out just how efficient this group was against the conference last season. No Ivy program has the reliable depth and relative strength 1-7 like Princeton.
Bruce Weber has to have a better offensive team this season. So much bulk from the roster returns that I think K-State gets above .500 again this season. The Wildcats were 17-16 at the end of the year.
The Ponies could be better, but let's just settle here at 56. Larry Brown left the program amid contract disputes over the summer. Tim Jankovich takes over. Shake Milton will compete with UConn's Jalen Adams as one of the best sophomores in the American. Ben Moore is probably the team's best player.
The Redbirds have duded. Paris Lee, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins are three of the six or seven best players in the Missouri Valley. You have to rank Wichita State as the conference's best team right now, but it's very possible Illinois State gets to Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed. The team is destined to be better on both ends of the floor.
Big J.J. Frazier fan here. And Mark Fox is top two in SEC wins in the past three years. The Bulldogs will be good at home this year, though the SEC is weak, so the league won't allow them to boost their resume to the level of at-large contender.
Triple-double machine Kyle Collinsworth is gone, but I'm buying on BYU because Eric Mika is back, Nick Emery is going to fill it up, and Kyle Davis is a prime "X-factor" type of player. This should be a top-40 offense in America. Will be a bubble team into late February if it can pick off Gonzaga and SMC at least once apiece.
Not a novelty team. Monmouth should be the best of the MAAC this season, and it's appropriately motivated after being snubbed an at-large berth last March. Justin Robinson is one of those "pound-for-pound best players" kind of guys you hear announcers say. He's legit. So is this team. Bring on the Hawks, and we're ready for the bench mob.
Jaron Blossomgame might be a first-round pick in June, but Donte Grantham will have to step up in production in a big way to have Clemson break into the top half of the ACC. Looks a little too tough. Blossomgame is still a top-five player in the ACC, most likely.
The Wolf Pack have a lot to work with here, and the gap between them and San Diego State might wind up being closer than what I've got with my rankings here. Marcus Marshall, a transfer from Missouri State, is primed to have a big year. Cameron Oliver is an NBA prospect. And Eric Musselman is the sharpest tactician in the league.
I'll buy your Penn State stock. A really good recruiting class comes in, plus Terence Samuel is eligible via transfer from UConn, and Shep Garner/Payton Banks will be a steady backcourt. Nittany Lions will make noise in the Big Ten.
Potential abounds here. Gotta stay healthy. Gotta have guys not get suspended. Malcolm Hill is a star. Jalen Coleman-Lands and Tracy Abrams are ready to help right now. This is your upset-the-apple-cart team in the Big Ten.
Got into the NCAAs as an 8 seed last year, then lost Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic -- their two best players -- to pro dreams. So the Trojans have to take a drop. The good news is Chimezie Metu will step in for Jovanovic and should be a producer. Jordan McLaughlin takes over as lead guard. Questions abound but talent is still here.
Some think Harvard's better than Princeton, but I'm not convinced. However, Siyani Chambers is now a senior and back after missing last season to a torn ACL. Zena Edosomwan is a beast down low. Corey Johnson could be a breakout player in the Ivy League. Dangerous team, and if Chambers goes god-mode in conference play, then it gets really interesting.
The Lobos have the best player in the Mountain West, Elijah Brown. Tim Williams could be a first-teamer as well. Dangerous team if everything clicks. The intriguing dynamic here is, Cullen Neal -- the head coach's son -- transferred to Ole Miss. Fans were relentless with him. Many believe UNM will be better without him. Now we find out.
Friars will have a scorer in Rodney Bullock and a fine replacement at point guard in Kyron Cartwright, but losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil seems too much for Ed Cooley to overcome by means of a tourney berth this season.
The penultimate undefeated team in college hoops last season (SMU lasted longest) did not make the NCAAs. Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier will carry a big load for a 'Cocks team that must learn how to distribute to the post and score in the mid-range.
Bob McKillop should have a rotation that's nine deep. Will Magarity from BC should be a transfer with impact. Jack Gibbs is the star and probable A-10 POY. Peyton Aldridge is a clear No. 2. There's this guard, Jon Axel Gudmundsson, who could be the surprise player in the league.
A 22-win team last season that played the 333rd-toughest non-con schedule. Kelvin Sampson will up the challenges this year. Damyeon Dotson, formerly at Oregon, will be a big player for the Cougars this season. Rob Gray Jr. will threaten to put up 14-16 per game.
The Beach should be the Big West's best this season. Dan Monson hasn't had a squad this good in five years. Justin Bibbins is set up to have a fantastic, all-league season. Evan Payne, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, should pay dividends right away.
Moses Kingsley is one heck of a name for one heck of a player. He's not alone. Mike Anderson has underwhelmed at his alma mater, but this season the Hogs will be dangerous on given nights because Kingsley has senior shooting guards Dusty Hannahs and Manuele Watkins spacing the floor. Should be a team that wins 20 games.
Giddy Potts is a name to know. The Blue Raiders were the darlings of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and Potts was the best 3-pointer shooter in the nation last season. Reggie Upshaw is also back for this team. I'm high on Middle. It's just such a well-rounded team.
I was probably the biggest Gary Payton II fan that was not related to GP2 or connected to the Beavers. He's gone now, and I don't know if Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson are ready to take on a really good top half of the Pac-12. Wayne Tinkle, go ahead and prove me wrong. At least this program is moving forward and has optimism like it hasn't seen in a decade-plus.
The Zips appear to be the best of the MAC this season. A 26-win team from a season ago that brings back a lot, including dynamo Antino Jackson. Isaiah Johnson could grow into the best big man in the conference.
The Crimson Tide outperformed all expectations from outside the program in Avery Johnson's first season, going 18-15. Johnson son, Avery Johnson Jr., is added to the roster this season. Memphis transfer Nick King is also here. Dazon Ingram returns after an injury took him out most of last season. Good pieces, just wondering how Johnson gets them to fit into an NCAA Tournament-level team.
I'm stumping for Rick Byrd again. Belmont should have the best team in the Ohio Valley. Evan Bradds will be a leading candidate for league player of the year -- considering he won the award last season. The Bruins have size, efficiency on offense and consistency on the roster.
Bobby Hurley will need two more years to turn ASU into a top-50 program. The Sun Devils are unproven up front. Tra Holder is the go-guy. The Curtain of Distraction is one of the best sights in college hoops.
Tubby Smith takes over here after being lured away from Lubbock, Texas, after Josh Pastner took the Georgia Tech gig. Memphis lost games it shouldn't have under Pastner. Memphis will win games it shouldn't under Smith. Dedric Lawson could become the best player in the American. The Tigers will also play much slower under Smith than Pastner.
Bryant McIntosh's moment has seemingly arrived, as Northwestern is on a PR push to get the starting point guard's name and face out there. Hey, he's definitely a top-15 PG heading into this season. It will be a year heavy on good point guards, too.
I'm probably lower on UAB than most, but I think Jerrod Haase (one spots above) moving to a new job puts this team back a little bit. Rob Ehsan is now the coach. The Blazers could actually help C-USA be a two-bid league if they can do damage with their schedule. Chris Cokley and William Lee should help fortify the league's best frontcourt.
Malik Newman bailed after a year here, opting to play at Kansas. Your name to know is Quinndary Weatherspoon, who is the most underrated player in the SEC. More recruits on the way here. I'm going to "hold" on my Howland stock here until I see dividends pay off, though. Some think this is a top-50 team in the country. I can't be that aggressive yet.
The Bonnies were robbed of an NCAA Tournament showing last season. They finished 14-4 in the league. They'll be a threat to make noise in the A-10 tourney in March. Jaylen Adams should have a great year. I'm forced to drip BONA a little here because Marcus Posley's graduation will leave a mark the team can't fully fill this season.
By far the best team in the America East, the Catamounts bring back almost everyone from a team that went 23-14 and had the league's best offense and most reliable shooters. John Becker is trying to make his second NCAA Tournament appearance with UVM.
Matt McCall has got a tremendous roster here. Four starters are back, including Casey Jones, maybe the team's best all-around player. Jones missed most of last season to an ankle injury. The Mocs won 29 games last season anyway. Justin Tuoyo and Tre' McLean are also back, and the aforementioned three players might ranked in the top five in the SoCon. Dangerous team.
Should be the Sun Belt's best team. Kevin Hervey, who should be the league's best player, is expected to be at full strength in time for the start of the season. Hervey is getting looks from NBA scouts. Erick Neal is also one of the five best players in the conference. This was a 24-11 team a season ago.
Bruce Pearl is going to have the Tigers roaring in a year, but this team is going to stall a bit thanks to losing Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris. Mustapha Heron will be a top-25 freshmen this year in terms of stats produced and value to his team.
The best team in the CAA this season. What a turnaround for this program, which ranked at the bottom of the league just two years ago. That's Kevin Keatts' coaching, recruiting and ability to bring in impact transfers. Chris Flemmings will star and be all-league.
Will be one of the surprise teams this season, the kind of club I think has a good chance to pick off one or two major-conference teams in November/December. Brett Bisping is legit and the starting five returns. The MAAC is poised to be very good at the top again.
The diminutive Keon Johnson and the powerful Xavier Cooks could both be All-Big South players for the best team in the league. Pat Kelsey should finally break through and make his first NCAA Tournament.
It's unlike any other team due to Mike Lonergan's firing. That happened in September, which you almost never see in college basketball. Now a young interim takes control. Maurice Joseph, all of 31, will try to keep the locker room together. GW has a top-60 player in college hoops, Tyler Cavanaugh.
Is this now Antonio Blakeney's team, and is that a good thing? LSU was a mystery no one could turn away form last season, and now the Tigers hand the reins to Blakeney, a sophomore with a lot of potential but a habit of taking bad shots. Ben Simmons, Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby are gone. Craig Victor should be pivotal. It is not lost on me how ironic it would be if LSU was better this year, but I'm gonna say it won't be. Simmons was amazing and the team did win 19 games last year.
Will Danny Manning figure it out this season? Bryant Crawford is getting real looks from NBA scouts, but the ACC is so loaded that Wake has almost no chance of breaking through the top eight teams in the league. This was an 11-20 group last season that still has to grow into its clothing, if you will.
I can't put the Gaels lower than this, in part because I trust Tim Cluess' gorgeous offense too much. A.J. English, an NBA prospect, is gone, but Iona reloads annually. Biblically named Schadrac Casimir is going to be the comeback player in the league.
Rick Barnes loses an unexpected star in Kevin Punter and Armani Moore's graduation means I can't vault UT higher than this. Those guys were really good for a 15-19 team. A very good young corps here, though. Should be a top-75 team a year from now.
Linc Darner's got a scheme going that is a lot of fun. He coaches the fastest offense in the league without totally sacrificing defense. The Phoenix lose a couple of important pieces but so many others return. Won't be the Horizon favorite but will again be a threat to poach the auto bid, which is what happened last season.
The Bulldogs finally made an NCAA Tournament last season, doing so for the first time since the early 1960s. But Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod and Jack Montague are gone. Makai Mason is a top-100 player in the game, though. Yale's capable of taking the Ivy auto bid now that the league has (foolishly) gone to a four-team conference playoff format.
Russell Turner has a solid defensive squad returning, even if Mamadou N'Diaye (all 7 feet and 6 inches of him) is no longer on the squad. Expect a huge year from lead guard Luke Nelson, and a moment to shine for 7-foot-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos.
Andy Kennedy's team loses Stefan Moody and in the process loses one of the most entertaining players in the sport. There's hope and revival in Oxford, as new facilities have the program feeling a charge. I don't see this team having the defense to stop top-five SEC competition, however.
Johnny Dawkins was fired at Stanford, but he takes over here for the fired Donnie Jones. This is the team with the 7-foot-6 guy with the funny name (Tacko Fall). A.J. Davis also up front makes this team one of the tougher scouts in the AAC.
T.J. Cline is the goods. Richmond had the worst defense in the Chris Mooney era last season, but if the Spiders can shore that up, and Cline plays at an all-league level, they could sneak into the NCAAs.
Wes Flanigan takes over the program. Josh Hagins -- who was an awesome college player -- is gone. Roger Woods, a big-time asset, is also gone. But this team should start five seniors. Plenty of experience left.
Better call Saul. Saul Goodman is one of the funniest coaches in the game (definitely funnier than Tim Miles), but it doesn't overshadow his ability to coach and coach with perspective. The Bobcats have Antonio Campbell to lead the way.
Jeff Jones coaches one of the slowest offenses in the country. The Monarchs will be in the mix near the top of the conference, but they'll have to overcome losing Trey Freeman, who was the most valuable all-around player for this team last season in C-USA.
Herb Sendek takes over for Kerry Keating -- and this is a roster Keating built to truly threaten Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU. Jared Brownridge needs to keep getting a green light. He might average 24 a game this season and threaten to win WCC POY. He'll probably get four boards and almost three dimes per game, too. If the defense improves, then this is your WCC sleeper.
I'll go aggressive on Minnesota here. This was an 8-23 team last season, but Amir Coffey will have pop right away and the team is not going to have the same offensive issues from last year. It's not an NIT team still, but it's going to be markedly better. Nate Mason, junior guard, is going to have a breakout year.
I look around the A-10 and I see a league that vexes me. I wouldn't/couldn't fault you if you wanted to slot Phil Martelli's team closer to 180, considering DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles have left, but the young guys got enough reps last year to keep the Hawks around .500 in league play this season. It could come down to Shavar Newkirk's shooting consistency.
Steve Forbes is about to unleash a lot of talent on the SoCon. I'm bullish on this team because Forbes brings in Tevin Glass from Wichita State, Hanner Mosquera-Perea from Indiana, and T.J. Cromer's already a stud at the mid-major level.
A lot of people are selling Leon Rice's team this season, but I'm not expecting the Broncos to be considerably worse than last year's 20-12 team. Nick Duncan is very good. BSU oozes offense. It won't be an at-large candidate, but it will be a sleeper team to steal the Mountain West auto bid.
Shamorie Ponds, a four-star freshman right out of New York City, will fill it up for a Johnnies team that has plenty of room to grow from last season's poor start in Chris Mullin's first year. Expect another shot-block fest for St. John's, as Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima will be a joy to watch.
It's not often that teams like Fresno State land top-125 players, but that's what the Bulldogs have on the roster this season in William McDowell. This team made the NCAAs last season. It did so for two simple reasons: No team turned the ball over less in the MWC than Fresno State, and no team stole the ball more frequently than Fresno State. Losing Marvelle Harris presents a big void, but this is still a top-five team in the MW.
I would be shocked if Georgia State didn't win 20 this season. It went 16-14 a year ago, has Indiana transfer Jeremy Hollowell ready to step in and perform, and five of the six biggest volume production guys are back on the roster. College hoops can always use more Ron Hunter. Yes, the Sun Belt is good enough at the top to have three teams in the top 125 in college hoops.
Milton Doyle is an all-league talent. I'm taking a leap here and putting Porter Moser's team this high, making him the coach of the year in the Valley and getting the program closer to what it was two years ago when it finished 24-13. Doyle should be tremendous this season if he avoids further injury.
Randy Rahe should have the Big Sky's best overall team this season -- even after losing Joel Bolomboy to the NBA. Jeremy Senglin is now set to star in Ogden. The Wildcats are another team I have listed as a prime Cinderella candidate.
Absolutely will be a threat to take the Southland title from Stephen F. Austin. Aurimas Majauskas and Dakarai Henderson will pace Jason Hooten's squad. Between points and assists, they'll combine for 35-40 percent of the Bearkats' scoring.
The Blue Demons need to keep playing with the responsible nature they grew into near the end of last season. I expect baby steps this season. Billy Garrett Jr. is a top-10 Big East player, without question. Would love to see him have a few dominating games in what will be a challenging year to even reach the NIT for DePaul.
This team went 23-14 last season and appears to be the threat to Belmont in the OVC for the campaign ahead. To beat the likes of Belmont you'll need four-year players and 3-point shooting. Morehead State has both -- and it's really good at crashing the glass.
Shoutout to fellow Chicago Bears fan, John Giannini. His Explorers are expected to pop this season. Jordan Price is one of the best players in the A-10, and then you've got Pookie Powell (via Memphis), Demetrius Henry (via South Carolina) and B.J. Johnson (via Syracuse). I'm playing it conservative by putting La Salle here, which is a 133-spot jump from where it landed at the end of the season in KenPom.
The loss of Alex Hamilton is something La. Tech won't be able to replace with just one player this season. Miami transfer Omar Sherman will have to step in and produce to keep the Bulldogs in the thick of Conference USA's race.
An influx of transfers should bump LMU up considerably, especially when you take into account this is Mike Dunlap's third season, and he's gone from eight to 14 wins. They'll flirt with 20 Ws in 2016-17. Brandon Brown is a top-10 WCC player.
Ernie Kent's Cougars got off to a solid start in conference play last year, going 1-1! Then WSU lost 17 straight to end the season at 9-22. But this is unquestionably going to be a better team this season. A trunkload of seniors return. Fifteen wins is doable.
I'm going to pump the brakes just a bit on WKU here. This is a team that will probably be in the top 60 next year, but Rick Stansbury takes over the program and there's work to be done. It will be a factor in C-USA, but I doubt it threatens to steal a bid. Justin Johnson is the name to know.
Fear the Ears. The Jackrabbits lost longtime coach Scott Nagy to Wright State (Nagy was overdue for a promotion), and now T.J. Otzelberger steps in with a team that features the best player in the conference -- and he's just a sophomore. Mike Daum has come out of nowhere to become one of the best 120-or-so players in the country.
Caleb White, B.J. Tyson, Kentrell Barkley. That's the three-headed apparatus that needs to get East Carolina out of the dregs and competing in the American. This program is in need of a jolt in the worst way. I think it improves from last year's 12-20 mark, absolutely.
Make foul shots and guard the 3-point line. Mo State was the worst Valley team in both aspects last season. If Paul Lusk can flip a switch and get his team to defend the perimeter and hit 72 percent (up from 68) of its foul shots, then this can be the dark horse in the conference. Probably a top-three MVC team a year from now.
Jalen Moore is aces. He'll lead the Aggies, who have the second-best home-court advantage in the Mountain West to SDSU. USU was 7-11 in league play last season -- I think the record will be flipped in 2016-17.
The Owls are going to make moves this season because A) Mike Rhoades is a very good coach and B) Marcus Evans will be a top-15 point guard in the country by the time we get to February. I think Rice finishes in the top half of C-USA.
Would think we'll be in for a lot of 81-77 games with Bill+Mary this season. Omar Prewitt is the name to know for the Tribe, a group that will be fun to watch and threaten to win the auto bid in the CAA.
The Huskies were a 21-win team last season, and yeah, fairly anonymous. They should be in the mix and a threat to steal a bid in the MAC tournament. Name to know: Marin Maric, who sounds like the alternative identity of a Marvel underground superhero.
Tahjere McCall is the best defensive player in the Ohio Valley. TSU won 20 games last season and will be a top-three team in the conference in 2016-17. Wayne Martin is another name to know. Young Dana Ford is setting himself up to thrive in Nashville.
The Big West had four teams in KenPom's top 105 by the end of last season, so putting No. 4 in the league as low as 148 could be a missed throw on my part. The Gauchos should be top-two in the conference on D and respectable from deep. Gabe Vincent will be an all-league player.
I expect Ball State to tussle with Northern Illinois in the West division of the MAC. Losing Bo Calhoun could be the piece that prevents the Cardinals from repeating as division champs. I do like the way this team plays with method but doesn't totally grind out in boring fashion.
The shocking at-large selection from last year's NCAA Tournament. Frank Haith has to start all over with this roster, so it's going to be a rebuilding year. Most believe this team is bottom-four in the AAC for 2016-17.
The biggest jump of any team on the list. This was a 5-25 team last season. How do I justify putting it in the top half of the rankings? Dikembe Dixson and Tai Odiase are both tremendous, the flames will have excellent freshmen coming in, and the offense is going to be an absolute jolt. You gotta have fun with these rankings and not be so predictable with everything. UIC is a team with plenty of potential, so let's throw a dart here.
The Stags have a solid coach in Sydney Johnson, and now the program is on the upswing again. They can and will push the pace. Tyler Nelson is an overlooked gem by everyone but the coaches who scout FU.
Rokas Gustys is a hoss. Juan'ya Green is gone, though. The Pride have a good coach in Joe Mihalich, but the offense is sure to take a tick down this season. Brian Bernardi will need to be a breakout player.
Jeff Neubauer took a program that averaged less than nine wins per year in five years under Tom Pecora and produced a 17-14 team in his first year with the Rams. They'll be better this year, too. Joseph Chartouny is one of the really good second-year players in the A-10.
Former Texas A&M assistant Kyle Keller takes over due to Brad Underwood signing on at Oklahoma State. Underwood tied Brad Stevens for the best start to a head-coaching career in D-I history. Keller has a nice roster, but this team is not going to be what it was the past three seasons. The most important player, Thomas Walkup, has graduated.
Brett Reed hasn't made the NCAAs since C.J. McCollum was on his roster, back in 2012, but this team should be the best in the Patriot League this season. It went 13-5 last year, and it brings back Tim Kempton (17 PPG) and three other key starters. Should be a 20-win team.
The Flames will have a shot at being No. 2 in the Big South thanks in large part to John Dawson. Plenty of talent returns, and this is the toughest scout in the conference. Very good defense for a mid-major club.
I'm pegging the Minutemen as the surprise team in the Atlantic 10. I've talked to folks who think this is a bottom-three team, but I don't see it. A strong freshmen class bolstered by good defense and a terrific junior, Donte Clark. UMass went 14-18 last season. I think this is an above-.500 group in 2016-17.
Still dark days at Mizzou. Kim Anderson is trying as best he can, but this team is still so young. One could argue a 162nd ranking is optimistic. I do think the team will be relatively tough at home this season. Five league wins is attainable.
Once again, the Grizzlies are respected and a threat to take down a Big Sky title. Be on the lookout for Ahmaad Rorie, a transfer from Oregon who could pop. Travis DeCuire has the most dynamic platoon of guards in the conference.
The firing of Billy Donlon still doesn't sit well with me. He deserved better. But here we are, a Wright State team with 22-win talent a year ago. Scott Nagy is now the coach, and I trust he'll keep this program consistently in the top four of the Horizon.
The top of the Atlantic Sun is a coin flip between Dunk City and North Florida. I lean with Joe Dooley's team. There's a lot of talent back, the team has swagger, and it's bringing in some quality talent by way of the transfer wire. I've got FGCU finishing the season with 23 wins.
The Wildcats won 20 games last season, and can do that again, but it's hard to suddenly find a lot of offense when you've got everyone coming back from a team that struggled to score in the mid-range. Will be a top-three team in the America East, though.
Gian Clavell is one of the oldest players in college basketball. He's a sixth-year guy who will be the leader of CSU's offense. And if you're going to root for any player in college basketball, root for Emmanuel Omogbo.
UNF has a stud in Dallas Moore, who could be the league's POY. He's getting real NBA looks, which is something you can say about A-Sun players only so often. VERY fun player. But the Ospreys lose just enough from last year's team that I'm slotting them ever so slightly below the reigning league champs, Florida Gulf Coast.
This group, led by the charming coach, Greg Herenda, made a stunning push to the NCAAs last season. And it was a young team. Everybody's back. Mike Holloway, you're good. They should maintain their course and be a top-two team in the NEC.
Marvin Menzies fell into this job after Chris Beard accepted, then left, for Texas Tech. I might be ranking the Runnin' Rebels too high. The roster is void of anything resembling what UNLV should have. Menzies will be rubbing sticks together to make fire this season, but he should be able to recruit top-50 classes to Sin City within two years.
Nick Mayo is the most talented player in the Ohio Valley. He's only a sophomore. EKU needs another year before it can make a run at the top of the standings, but I'd rank this team now as something between a threat and a sleeper.
The Peacocks! The program has been faithful to John Dunne, who enters his 11th season here. It should be the third time Dunne's coached a team above. 500. Antwon Portley is a stud, and Quadir Welton can bang with anyone in the league.
The Bison won the Patriot League last season, then got upended in OT by No. 8 Holy Cross in the conference tournament, which stunned its way to the NCAAs. Nathan Davis is now in his second year as coach, and he'll find winning this conference to be tough as Lehigh and Boston should be ready to take their jabs. This team's got a guy named Nana Foulland who is pretty good.
Shooting guard Fletcher Magee will be the standout for a Wofford team you can count on to be better defensively and finish above .500. Magee was the No. 2 free throw shooter in D-I last year (94.3 percent) and top-10 from 3-point range.
Probably the best squad in the Northeast Conference. Bashir Mason is one of the best young coaches in mid-major basketball, and if the Seahawks make the NCAAs this year, he's got to get a bigger job. Name to know: junior shooting specialist, Corey Henson.
Reggie Theus in year No. 4 at Northridge. The Matadors get it done down low. No program has taken fewer 3-pointers over the past three seasons than C-SUN. That will continue this season, as Theus' team has a solid front line and five key guys returning, the most important maybe being sophomore shooting guard Michael Warren.
The Mavericks have the best thief in college basketball. Tra-Deon Hollins led the nation in steals last season (4.0 per game). Unfortunately the rest of the team isn't nearly as his level as a defender, though I expect Derrin Hansen's team to be improved on that end of the floor this season.
Greg Lansing made the NCAAs in his first season at ISU, in 2010-11, but the Sycs have been chasing the top half of the conference most seasons since. It's likely that Larry Bird's alma mater finishes in the bottom half of the Valley again. Brenton Scott is the best MVC player you don't know about.
The Lions had the personnel last season to steal the Ivy title, but it never truly came together. Jim Engles has built more from less. I'm putting the over/under on Engles finishing top two in the Ivy in the next five seasons at 1.5 -- and taking the over. Right now, it's a question of who steps up to be a go-to guy for Columbia.
Ranked No. 158 in KenPom last season. CMU will probably take a dip because it was the best team in the country at not turning the ball over last season, but loses guard Rayshawn Simmons, who was a big part of the offense and distribution therein.
Few teams look to be as clear-cut a top team in their respective league as Texas Southern in the SWAC. Derrick Griffin is the stud here, and Mike Davis' team should be the class of the conference on D.
Terry Porter, a beloved local basketball figure due to his career with the Trail Blazers, takes over the Pilots' program after a nice, decade-long run by Eric Reveno. Reveno never got Portland into the tourney, but all told, he did a solid job. Now the Pilots will rely on senior do-it-all point guard Alec Wintering.
Nick McDevitt's a good young coach. He took this program to the 2016 NCAAs. But Asheville continues to lose talented guys via transfer to bigger programs. Dylan Smith left for Arizona and Dwayne Sutton bolted for Louisville. Had those guys returned, Asheville would have been a borderline top-100 team.
Jim Christian failed to coach his team to a single win in the ACC last season. This is a faith pick. The Eagles have hopefully grown into a more well-rounded team that's capable of moving the ball and finding some semblance of an offense. It has to be better this year.
Kendrick Ray is the sleeper pick for A-Sun player of the year. He's going to threaten to score more than 20 points per game. The Owls should be able to continue as the league's best team at shooting and defending the 3, on the whole.
Love Jim Ferry's offense. The Dukes were 17-17 last season, went 6-12 in the league and ranked 156 in KenPom. I have to drop the Dukes here because Micah Mason, one of the best shooters in program history, is gone, and so is heady PG Derrick Colter.
Jamaya Burr will be the go-to guy for a Cowboys club that's a sleeper in the Southland. The defense HAS to get better, but I will note this club played the third-hardest non-conference schedule in America last season. It was better than its 9-20 mark suggested.
The Purple Aces are destined to take a drop with the departures of D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius. Both of those guys are 10-year overseas pros. Jaylon Brown now has to step in and be the guy.
The Panthers will take a step back, as they lose the best player in the league, John Brown. And when Brown wasn't able to play for High Point throughout his career, Scott Cherry's team was markedly different. It could not beat top-150 competition without him. Plus, three other starters are gone, too. Miles Bowman Jr. might be the new heavy usage player.
Remember DeVon Walker at Florida? He's now with Troy. He'll be one of the best players in the conference if things fall together just right. This team finished 282nd in KenPom last season, so a substantial jump here for a group with so much coming back and an offense I project to be in the top half of the league.
A 17-14 team last season that loses Canyon Barry to Florida -- so that hurts -- and also is tough to pinpoint based on the injury issues it went through. I think Earl Grant wins a league title or two at Charleston in the next five years, but this season seems like it will hover around the .500 mark.
The Bulls are a program in some flux right now, as the program is under investigation for academic fraud. The coach's brother, an assistant, resigned. Talent-wise, Jahmal McMurray will probably lead the team in scoring and put up more than 230 3-point attempts this season.
The program made its first NCAA Tournament last season, but that prompted Steve Pikiell to take the Rutgers job. And Jameel Warney, the best player in program history, has graduated. New coach Jeff Boals, a longtime assistant with Ohio State, inherits a top-four roster in the America East.
Jim Les' Aggies were just horrendous on offense last season, one of the worst teams with the ball in the nation. All defense for this team, and it's probably going to follow a similar theme this season. I expect the D to be a little better on the whole.
Bill Courtney could never get as much momentum as I thought he would at Cornell, but he did recruit a stud in Matt Morgan, and the sophomore will make Brian Earl's first season a lot easier than it otherwise would be. Morgan's a ridiculously good player. He'll average north of 20 points this season if Earl runs the offense through him.
It's entirely possible I'm listing Tech too high. Josh Pastner does not have a roster he can work a lot with right now. He'll need at least two years to recruit and rebuild, and he's hired a very solid staff. But it's going to be a long year for the Bees.
Will be the fourth- or fifth-best team in the Big Sky. But whatever. I'm still bothered by the fact that UND settled on "Fighting Hawks" as its nickname after bailing on "Fighting Sioux." You had NoDaks, Roughriders, Sundogs and North Stars there for the taking ... and went with the worst moniker of the bunch.
Did not lose a game at home in league play last season. Four starters are back, but Stephen Croone -- best player in the SoCon throughout the year -- is gone. Devin Sibley is the team's best player. Kris Acox played with Iceland's national team over the summer -- he could blossom in his final year.
One of those programs that should be better year by year than it is given its location. You ever been to Corpus Christi? It's a step removed from recruiting at a Florida Gulf Coast or Pepperdine. (OK, nothing is Pepperdine.) The Islanders made the Southland tourney final last year -- they can get back in 2017.
Shawn Long -- one of the best players in conference history -- leaves, and so ULL is going to take a drop. It's inevitable. But Bryce Washington should be able to produce at a solid clip. The offense overall shouldn't be quite as efficient.
Still transitioning as a member of the Horizon. NKU went 9-21 last season, but it should flirt with 15 Ws in 2016-17. Alabama transfer Jeff Garrett will step in, and the team has enough depth to compete against most of the league.
Jim Engles brought this program from nothing and got it out of independent, into a conference ... and now he's coaching at Columbia. So Brian Kennedy, Engles assistant, takes over. Damon Lynn and Tim Coleman will be heavy producers for a Highlanders team that I suspect scoots back without Engles.
Larry Shyatt got out of town -- retired -- and left little in the cupboard for new coach Allen Edwards. Wyoming's a really cool place, and the Pokes pop as a top-100 team every few years. It's going to be a few years before we see that again.
Should be the best of the MEAC. The Bison are going to have a huge turnaround this season (12-20 last year). James Daniel III led the nation in scoring, all five starters are back. This should be their year, but I do think the MEAC's going to be a three-team jam at the top.
The Jags will have one of the better bounce-back seasons in all of college basketball. This is a program that won just 13 games a season ago. Ron Patterson, who is a transfer from Syracuse, is eligible. Usually top-200 prospects who bail out from top-50 programs wind up showing their worth at the mid-major level.
The Mountaineers went 14-19 a season ago, and they'll probably be in that neighborhood again, if not a little better. This team can get freshmen production this season the way Dickinson did in the NEC last year.
The best team from 2-point range in the Sun Belt last year, the Warhawks will have a chance at bumping up in the standings if they can remain exceptional from the mid-range while getting to the line and making a lot more foul shots.
Ethan Telfair, the younger brother of NBA player Sebastian Telfair, is the focal point for the Bengals. This is one of the most nondescript programs in college hoops. Hasn't made the NCAAs since the '80s, and randomly broke through to the Elite Eight in '77. I'm fascinated by Idaho State.
Kyle Smith moves from Columbia to the West Coast. The Dons are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, but Smith is the right personality for this group and program. He cut his teeth for a decade as an assistant at nearby St. Mary's.
Dave Paulsen's defense had no pressure to it at all last season, rating as the least effective turnover producer in the country. Two senior starters are gone, while Otis Livingston II will bloom as a sophomore lead guard.
Baptist is going to be a tough out in the Southland this season. Colter Lasher is a stretch hybrid forward. There's no one in the league quite like him. Experience will give Baptist a good chance at getting to .500 in the conference.
Raven Lee and James Thompson should be big production guys, a tandem capable of putting up 30 points per game. But the defense won't be above average, and 3-point shooting will be OK at best, meaning EMU is unlikely to compete for a MAC bid.
Scott Padgett's program actually had more success earlier in the season against non-conference competition than it did in the SoCon. And injuries weren't a major factor. The backcourt duo of Christen Cunningham and Darius Jones-Gibson will be one of the best in the conference.
Cameron Dollar keeps pushing forward. To me, of all the mid-major programs that would be in that 250-351 tier, Seattle is the sleeping "giant," if you will. Good area, can start to win more consistently now that it's in stride and in its fifth year as a member of the WAC.
Can the Penguins just be good already? We need a team named the Penguins to be more prominent. Here's what's in store: Cameron Morse is a top-five player in the Horizon, and YSU loves to run for 40 minutes. Fastest team in the league.
A 5-27 team last season. Brian Wardle will need three full years to get the Braves into the middle of the pack in the Valley. The good news is he kept the roster together, and so I'd expect Bradley to double its win total.
Anthony Evans is trying here, but the transfer market is still lending him some projects. Donte McGill should be given the green light from deep this season. No team was more unlikely last season than FIU when it came to expected outcomes vs. actual outcomes.
It's been a long way back for the Bearcats, who just need to somehow create offense this season. Not one player averaged more than one point per shot last season, which is incredibly hard for a team to fall into. Tommy Dempsey has the respect of coaches in the America East.
Tyrell Nelson is 6-foot-7 but plays with the impact of a 7-footer in the Big South. He'll be vital to G-W's chances at stealing the auto bid in the Big South. This team could opt to run a four-guard lineup with Nelson on the floor. That would be really interesting to see.
By KenPom ratings, the Phoenix had their best Matt Matheny team last season, but it was just a 16-16 club that was never a threat in a solid CAA. This team loves to move the ball, push the pace and lure defenses out. But it doesn't have the beef down low or consistency all around to be a top-half CAA team.
Coaches I spoke with in the SoCon think this group, which went 10-8 in the league, is going to fall back this season. Three significant players leave, and now sophomore Elijah Pughsley will take on a big load.
Has the potential to be the streakiest team in the Big West. At least from beyond 15 feet. They do get to the line more frequently than any other team in the league. Tre' Coggins, in from Air Force, is the X-factor of the league.
The Green Wave have brought in Mike Dunleavy, former NBA coach, to get this thing going. It's an interesting experiment. Dunleavy has X-and-O acumen but not college experience. This looks like the worst roster in the American this season.
Only in its fourth year of transition to D-I, this is yet another team with the way-too-common Wildcat moniker. On the whole, ACU is doing a very nice job of fitting in in the Southland. Jaylen Franklin will face many a double team.
I wonder if this is the show-it-or-see-you-later year for John Gallagher. The Hartford coach is yet to threaten in the America East, and this is his seventh season. Had Pancake Thomas not transferred, the Hawks would be a top-200 team.
Eron Ganot got a contract extension after Hawaii made the NCAAs -- and beat Cal en route to a second-round appearance. But this team is actually ineligible for the postseason this year, and losing Stefan Jankovic because of that fact means Hawaii will be considerably worse than last season.
This is the 10th season for Tom Moore at QU. The Bobcats have yet to break through to the NCAAs in his tenure, but the team usually has a top-five player in the league and has been respectable in its transition from the NEC to the MAAC. Peter Kiss is one of the best young players in the conference.
Roman Banks is one of the best coaches in the SWAC, and his team is the reigning rep in the Big Dance from this league. The Jaguars lose some key pieces, but they've still got enough size and 3-point ability to be a top-four team in the league.
They'll have a chance because Josh Robinson is an all-league-level player in the OVC. Remember, this team stormed through the OVC tournament last year and took the auto bid. In the offseason, longtime coach Dave Loos had a malignant tumor removed. He's on the road to rehab. We wish only the best for a true gentleman of the sport.
Likely the worst team in the Ivy. A key defensive force, Cedric Kuakumensah, graduated. They do have some experience. On the whole, should be better than last season, but the league overall will be better, too.
So many UCs in the Big West. The Highlanders were 5-11 in conference play last season but had the league's best foul shooters. Senior Secean Johnson is the do-it-all utility star for Dennis Cutts' team.
Nothing to say here except this team would be 60-80 spots higher if Jalan West -- the best player in the Southland -- was healthy. But he has another torn ACL and the Demons are lost without him. Really good kid, too. College hoops is poorer for not having him in the mix.
It really was a heavy offseason of turnover. Jim Crews was fired -- he took over for Rick Majerus following his death -- and Travis Ford gets his chance to try and turn this program into something it can be, a top-75 program. It has the location and facilities to compete.
You'd be surprised by how many solid teams the Ohio Valley had last season and this team could take a step back this season. Steve Payne loses two key seniors, and I want to see if the defense can be top-200. It was nowhere close to that last season.
Damon Stoudamire is in his first season as coach. The team isn't going to be very good, but I think Stoudamire makes for an interesting coach. I picture Pacific reaching an NCAA Tournament with him on the bench.
Few teams are losing more heading into this season than the RedHawks. Probably the MAC's worst team, but can it win 13 games for the fourth season in a row? No team in D-I can match that pattern. Hey, that's a thing, right?
Unfortunately this team is moving further away from the level of play that put it in the 2015 NEC title game. The Terriers are one of five "original" D-I teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament.
Will play above their talent, almost certainly. And Pat Duquette will wind up coaching at a bigger school one day. It's hard putting a list like this together; inevitably you wind up having some teams higher or lower than you'd really like. If you told me Lowell finished the season in KenPom around 230, I would not be surprised.
Going to be really good come 2018. For now, Mark Pope is building the program up and doing a good job on the recruiting trail. This team loves to play fast. It's so much different from all others in the WAC in that regard.
Crazy but true how Eastern has produced to NBA-level players in Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois the past four years. Now the Eagles will be challenged to get to .500 this season. But they'll push the pace, as always.
The Dragons will try to break through with Zach Spiker, who was the second best coach in Army's history (to some guy named Knight). The Dragons look to be the thinnest roster in the CAA, but Spiker's done more with less before.
The postseason ban has been lifted, the effects of Donnie Tyndall's tenure. But the roster will need another two years to develop into something close to an average college team. Doc Sadler will do his best to coach beyond the talent he's got.
The Keydets no longer play a wild style and try to put up 90 per game. It's a program that's still going to be at the bottom of the SoCon this year, but will be in a lot more close games. QJ Peterson will be the standout.
Army had its moments last season, but it was a letdown ultimately, and you couldn't blame Zach Spiker for taking another job. He did a great job overall at Army, which looks like an 11-win team, probably. The new coach is Wes Flanigan.
The Mustangs lose a lot, and the defense has to get better. Will be fighting to break out of the Big West cellar. Best feature: They're one of the best teams at not turning the ball over in the nation.
I'd have Sacred Heart in the top 220 if Cane Broom had not left for Cincinnati. Broom was the NEC's best player last season and will probably go on to be an all-league player at the AAC level. Quincy McKnight, a sophomore, now steps in as the most important player for the Pioneers.
Steven Henson helped Lon Kruger turn Oklahoma into a top-five team. Now Henson will try to dig out of C-USA's cellar. He'll have a three-man backcourt to work around, which benefits Henson's style, as Oklahoma did well with a similar scheme.
The Retrievers! That's a top-15 moniker. New coach (Ryan Odom), new philosophy. Let's see how it works in the America East. Expect this team to be much sharper with the ball. It could be the surprise group in the league.
The Bulldogs are coached by Duggar Baucom and have the distinction of the fastest team in college basketball. Eighty possessions per game. That's was The Citadel's average last year. It opened the season with a 144-71 loss to Butler. Fun, but the defense is not even on the table. The worst in D-I.
Rick Ray is probably going to make me regret putting Southeast Missouri State so low, but in talking with league coaches, this is the team expected to be last in the OVC again. What wouldn't shock me: SEMO turning into a top-four OVC team by 2018.
The Hornets had the best 3-point offense in the SWAC last season. Unfortunately, their best player is gone. This was a 9-9 team in the league last season, but it's probably going to land around five or six wins in conference this season.
Tough to see the Bears making too much improvement this year, as the group was the worst-shooting team in the MEAC last season. It can still be one of the best on-ball defensive teams in the league, though.
The Red Flash are probably going to be one of the 10 worst teams on defense in America. This team lost its final six games in NEC play a season ago, and is rebuilding. Rob Krimmel will face challenges similar to his first season in 2012-13, when SF-PA won five games.
The program is out of place in the Mountain West. Now in its fourth year in the league after leaving the WAC, the Spartans will again finish at the bottom of the standings. Sophomore Brandon Clarke is a bright spot for the future, at the very least.
Few players as small as Martez Harrison (he's 5-foot-11) are asked to do as much for their team. The Kangaroos have one of the toughest assignments and placements in college hoops, given the league they're in (WAC), the travel and their budget.
The B.J. Hill Era ended in disaster. This team isn't even eligible for the postseason this season because of self-imposed sanctions ahead of an NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing. Jeff Linder takes over as coach.
Not last! Grambling State has averaged 3.4 wins over the past five years, going through three coaches in that span. It's been the worst program in America. But I've got the Tigers bumping up ever so slightly this season in the third year of Shawn Walker's tenure.
Donyell Marshall -- yep, him! -- will now be coaching the other Blue Devils after Howie Dickenman retired. He was one of the longest-tenured coaches in the game. This program needs a few years to find its footing.
The worst offense in the SWAC probably won't be much better. I think this team will be at the bottom of the conference, and as these things go, that usually means at the bottom of the overall rankings.
Someone's gotta be last. I'd love to be wrong here, but I have to put some team as the caboose. The school in general is having budget issues. It would be a great story if this team could outperform expectations, but it's unlikely it will win more than six games.
Yeah, I know. UK blogger opts for UK over Duke, in spite of the widely prevailing groupthink otherwise. What a bombshell!
Yet, homerism be damned. I'll openly concede that Duke possesses the premier conglomeration of individual basketball talent in the country. But college basketball teams are not simply the sums of their respective parts. UK basketball fans know that all too well (weepy cough,the 38-1 ‘14-'15 team, sad retch).
2016's Kentucky group possesses the best balance of: 1) talent across all positions; 2) depth (I see an 8-9 man rotation);3) contributing experience (yes, two sophomores [Isaiah Briscoe & Isaac Humphries] and two seniors [Derek Willis & Dominique Hawkins] equal "experience" in contemporary top 25 college basketball); and 4) coaching in the nation. Oh, and several genuinely adroit true PG options.
Vital Returnee: Grayson Allen (SG) / Impact Frosh: Harry Giles (PF)
As I said, Duke is the most talented team overall, but I anticipate that a complete lack of a true PG will cause just as much trouble in November as it will in March. I'm guessing that Coach K is going to regret whatever events led to former 5* true PG Derryck Thornton's transfer to USC.
Allen, senior Matt Jones, and 5* freshman Frank Jackson are SGs, not PGs. It's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, to be sure, but UK fans know what it's like to have a SG running the offense (Archie Goodwin in ‘12-'13).
The slight subtractions from last year's team (F James Farr graduated, and F Jalen Reynolds unsuccessfully departed for the NBA Draft as a junior) are adequately outweighed by the redshirt sophomore version of Sumner (whom you know I love dearly), a burgeoning superstar, the junior version of SG Trevon Bluiett (15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last year), in addition to the returns of contributors J.P. Macura and Kaiser Gates, and a top 30 recruiting class, headlined by Taylor County High Schools' Goodin. Davis does remain suspended, though.
As an aside, look out for coach Chris Mack as a premier recruiter moving forward. He's putting together a top 10 class for 2017 with four 4*s (2 of which are top 100) so far.
#4 NORTH CAROLINA
Vital Returnee: Joel Berry (G) / Impact Frosh: Tony Bradley (C)
UNC won 33 games last season and much of the roster responsible for that tally returns. Coach Roy Williams' main concerns will be whether Berry can excel as the primary focus in the backcourt after Marcus Paige's departure (answer: yes) and if F Kennedy Meeks is able to boldly patrol the paint and glass on both ends of the floor now that Brice Johnson is gone (answer: unlikely).
80% of the Ducks' starting lineup returns and last year's team won the Pac 12 regular season and Tournament. With a healthy Brooks, I'd slot the Ducks in at 3; however, he's suffering from the tricky foot injury.
Even so, with starters Tyler Dorsey (G) and Chris Boucher (PF) back, as well as impact G Dylan Ennis, Oregon owns the west in college basketball.
Vital Returnee: Devonte' Graham (G) / Impact Frosh: Josh Jackson (SG)
KU boasts the deepest (and arguably best) backcourt in the country (Graham, Jackson, Frank Mason, Svi Mikhailiuk, and LaGerald Vick) but are relatively thin in the frontcourt (Landen Lucas is the only real difference maker there; former 5* Carlton Bragg and former UK target Udoka Azubuike are also options).
Still, a likely preseason All-American (Jackson, whom I consider the best player in the country) surrounded by this supporting cast makes KU the clear favorite in the Big 12.
Jay Wright finds his reigning champion Wildcats in the top 10 primarily due to the collective presence of ‘16 NCAATstandouts Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson.
Without incoming super-frosh Omari Spellman, who is redshirting for academic reasons, to make up for Daniel Ochefu's now-departed production in the middle, ‘Nova severely lacks skilled size. Get ready for extreme small ball in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Vital Returnee: London Perrantes (PG) / Impact Frosh: Kyle Guy (SG)
Though the Cavaliers lost stars Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, as well as spot big Mike Tobey, to graduation, juniors Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins are prepared to take over.
Perrantes will also find himself on PG award watch lists and no transfer in the country should have more of an impact on his team than former Memphis Tiger Austin Nichols, a big forward who will almost certainly lead UVA in scoring and blocks.
That said, as long as Trier is in uniform and guiding along a talent-rich group of freshmen (5*s Markkanen and former UK targets Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons) and returning contributors Kadeem Allen and Dusan Ristic, the Wildcats are firmly entrenched as the Pac 12's second best squad.
Vital Returnee: Nigel Hayes (PF) / Impact Frosh: None
Wisconsin is loaded with experience this season. Coach Greg Gard will rely on just two underclassmen, and they are both sophomores: PF Ethan Happ and SF Khalil Iverson. The rest of his rotation consists of polished seniors and juniors, including Hayes (an All-American candidate), Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, and Jordan Hill.
#11 MICHIGAN STATE
Vital Returnee: Eron Harris (G) / Impact Frosh: Miles Bridges (SF)
I may be underrating this team, but the Spartans lost so much, most notably AP/NABC NPOY Denzel Valentine.
Still, the group of freshmen is arguably coach Tom Izzo's most impressive assemblage ever; it's ranked #3 nationally. Two former starters, SG Harris and PG Tum Tum Nairn also return. And, perhaps most importantly, this is a Tom Izzo team.
Young but brilliant, if any squad is capable of breaking KU's Big 12 streak, it's Shaka Smart's Longhorns. If All-Big 12 PG Isaiah Taylor had returned for his senior season, I'd have this group in the top 5.
That class includes a trio of immediate contributors: C Jarrett Allen (the #17 player in the class and the best big man prospect in the ‘17 NBA Draft, in my opinion), G Andrew Jones (#31), and C James Banks (#63; see my earlier writeup of him here).
I fully expect Smart to develop this group into a dangerous 2-3 seed by NCAAT time.
IU is among the most talented groups in the Big Ten, especially in the frontcourt (future top 20 NBA Draft picks Anunoby and Thomas Bryant, as well as Davis and Juwan Morgan), but the crucial question is who will replace graduated PG Yogi Ferrell?
The candidates are all unproven: former Pitt Panther Josh Newkirk, 4*/top 50 freshman combo guard (not PG!) Curtis Jones, and freshman Devonte Green. Coach Tom Crean has been talking about a committee approach to the position, which is never ideal.
Also, SG and former UK target James Blackmon, now a junior, is healthy and poised for yet another 15+ point per game season average on the offensive end.
Coach Kevin Ollie quietly put together a top 10 recruiting class early last summer and standout starters Rodney Purvis (SG; 12.8 points per game) and C Amidah Brimah (4.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per) return.
The sophomore Adams, however, will be on a number of preseason watch lists and is expected to emerge as the Huskies' primary star in ‘16-'17. Even if you don't remember him from last season, surely you remember this.
Potential NCAA sanctions notwithstanding, U of L should be quite competitive in a loaded ACC. The Cardinals' top three scorers from last season (Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, and Chinanu Onuaku) are gone, but a talented roster remains.
PG Quentin Snider, who started 30+ games last season is back, and projected SG Donovan Mitchell is a monster athlete and overall upgrade over Lee (and the best player on this team). King is coach Rick Pitino's most likely freshman contributor, especially if Mitchell misses time with a concussion.
The frontcourt, lead by a now-healthy senior Mangok Mathiang, is also deep and will feature sophomore Deng Adel, in addition to 7 footers Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman.
Combine Lydon's unique size and skill set with impact transfer/elite scorer Andrew White (a very tall SG who accounted for 16.6 points on 41% 3FG for Nebraska last season), senior F Tyler Roberson (8.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game), and high 4* freshman SG Tyus Battle, and the Orange won't be overlooked pre-NCAAT like they were last year.
Vital Returnee*: Nigel Williams-Goss (PG; sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules) / Impact Frosh: Zach Collins (C)
In 17 seasons at Gonzaga, coach Mark Few has made 17 NCAATs. He's won the WCC regular season 15 times and the WCCT 13 times. He just wins.
Oh, and skilled 7'1'' senior C Przemek Karnowski, who was a preseason Abdul-Jabbar Award favorite last year but was injured early in the season, is now healthy. Few is also working with a trio of All-WCC level transfers: Williams-Goss (from Washington), PG Jordan Matthews (Cal), and PF Johnathan Williams (Missouri).
Vital Returnee: Isaac Hamilton (G) / Impact Frosh: Lonzo Ball (PG)
UCLA was awful last year (15-17) but has some impressive returning parts to add into the mix with coach Steve Alford'sbest recruiting class (10th nationally) since arriving in Los Angeles.
Hamilton, Bryce Alford, and Aaron Holiday, who combined to account for about 43 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists per game, headline the returnees and 5* 6'9'' PF T.J. Leaf joins Ball and 4* Ike Anigbogu in the heralded incoming class.
Purdue sports yet another incredible Big 10 frontcourt. Most analysts focus on the towering 7'2'' C Isaac Haas or former 5* Caleb Swanigan, but I prefer the solid and steady V. Edwards, a junior who contributed from everywhere last season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game in just 27.5 minutes per game (his impressive per 40s make me slobber).
The backcourt, though, is somewhat of a question mark, especially with respect to depth. There are a number of viable possibilities as contributors there, but no standouts. Junior PG P.J. Thompson is expected to retain his starting role from last year, but the Boilermakers are thin beyond him. Spike Albrecht, a transfer from Michigan, junior Dakota Mathias, as well as C. Edwards, are other options.
Vital Returnee: Maurice Watson (PG) / Impact Frosh: Kobe Paras (SF)
KSU transfer Marcus Foster brings his dynamic scoring to Omaha to form one of the Big East's finest starting backcourts, along with Watson, a senior who stuffed stat sheets for the Bluejays last year (14.1 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game).
Creighton should easily secure a NCAAT berth for the first time since 2014 as a legitimate contender in its conference.
I may be a year early on Virginia Tech, but coach Buzz Williams went from 11 wins in Blacksburg to 20 in his secondseason, and is in a position to exceed that this year.
Last year's top 25 recruiting class (4*s Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear, and Justin Robinson) are prepared to make an impact and LeDay, now a senior, looks likely to improve on a 15.5 point/7.9 rebound per game campaign from last year.
Sure, Buddy Hield graduated, along with G Isaiah Cousins and F Ryan Spangler.
But with All-Big 12 candidates Lattin (Big 12 All-Defensive Team last season) and G Jordan Woodard (All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last season) as his core, coach Lon Kruger's Sooners will once again be competitive in the Big 12.
Vital Returnee: Ivan Rabb (PF) / Impact Frosh: Charlie Moore (PG)
Vital Returnee: Dwayne Bacon (SF) / Impact Frosh: Jonathan Isaac (F)
Coach Leonard Hamilton has a pair of future NBA Fs at his disposal in Bacon and Isaac.
Fringe pro G Xavier Rathan-Mayes (last year's team leader in assists), a junior, also returns to a squad with two potential interior contributors who exceed 7' in height — former 4* sophomore Christ Koumadje (7'4'') and Michael Ojo (7'1''; now a graduate student after a medical redshirt last season).
Matthews, who is now healthy after tearing his ACL in URI's first game last season, is a viable NBA prospect, do-it-all F Hassan Martin returns, and coach Dan Hurley has turned the seven win team he inherited in 2012 into a serious contender for a NCAAT bid out of the Atlantic 10.
Others in Consideration: Iowa State, Maryland, NC State, Texas A&M, Miami, Clemson, Dayton, Seton Hall, VCU, SMU, Wichita State