Men’s College Basketball Preview

Only four months till the Tournament.

I know, it’s only November. I know, the Tournament is four months, one week, one hour, and seven minutes away. But who’s counting? For those like me who sit around staring at their failed bracket, filled with the hopeless depression that life won’t be good again for six months, it’s finally November. This is for those who have given up on fantasy football, those who are tired of CNN, and those who are just tired of hearing about the Patriots, Alabama, and Kevin Durant. Let’s turn to college basketball.

The Top 25

1. Duke Blue Devils

This team is far and away the best in the nation. Right up there with Kentucky from two years ago. They are that good. They have five of the top 50 recruits in the nation, headed by No. 1 Harry Giles. They lost Brandon Ingram but four starters return. The only thing holding them back is turnover junkie, Grayson Allen. My opinion — he’s overhyped. The less time he has on the floor this year, the better.

Ranking: Accurate

Photo courtesy of ABC.
Photo courtesy of ABC.

2. Kentucky Wildcats

Same old story here: five stars leave and another five come in. Yes, they are good and yes they have another legitimate shot to take the SEC title, but the last two seasons have been very underwhelming and until Calipari proves himself, the No. 2 rank isn’t appropriate.

Ranking: Too High

3. Kansas Jayhawks

Perry Ellis has finally moved on after his decade-long career in Lawrence. And with him the thrilling star: Wayne Selden Jr. Good news is they return Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, a player I expect to emerge as an elite guard. With that senior experience they bring in three top recruits and the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation, Josh Jackson. They are major contenders and the Big 12 title should be theirs once again.

Ranking: Should be No. 2

4. Villanova Wildcats

Coming off an improbable March run, ‘Nova looks poised to take back the Big East. Trouble is, they lost their two best players — Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Arch averaged about five assists per game and Ochefu put up eight rebounds per game. Their core three: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson have a lot to make up for if they want to compete for another Final Four, but they certainly have the talent.

Ranking: Accurate

5. Oregon Ducks

They lost their star scorer in Elgin Cook and who’d they select as a replacement? A small, 6-foot point guard, Payton Prichard. Good news for them, the rest of the Pac-12 doesn’t look that strong this year and the committee always gives the Ducks the benefit of the doubt. But still, they are far from what they were.

Ranking: Too High

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

I don’t know what’s more heartbreaking — losing the national title or losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. The duo was thrilling to watch. That being said, they are still completely stacked. Pick your poison: Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson. Oh, and three amazing freshmen coming in. It’s a tough climb back to the national title, but the UNC-Duke games will be the best in a while.

Ranking: Too Low

7. Xavier Musketeers

Last year they were second in the Big East and despite losing a thriller to Wisconsin, they had a hell of a season. They return their two top scorers — Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner — and add a couple of decent freshmen.

Ranking: Never quite know where to place Xavier, but seven is too high

8. Virginia Cavaliers

The ACC is LOADED this year. Thought Virginia was going away? Think again. They went 29-8, boasted a No. 1 seed last Tournament, and destroyed an experienced Iowa State team. If it weren’t for Boeheim, they might have made the title game. Sure, they lost Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, but they have London Perrantes and Isaiah Wilkins along with four great recruits.

Ranking: Too Low

9. Wisconsin Badgers

Who has Wisconsin lost? No one. Who has Wisconsin gained? No one. I don’t care if they’ve added a years worth of experience, this is the same team. So expect similar results. Nigel Hayes needs to be a star, but will inevitably underperform. Bronson Koenig needs to be a setup man, but will overperform.

Ranking: A bit too high

Photo courtesy of YouTube.
Photo courtesy of YouTube.

10. Arizona Wildcats

Top-10 seems a bit ambitious for the Wildcats. They just lost three of their top four scorers in Ryan Anderson, Gabe York, and Kaleb Tarczewski and haven’t done enough to replace them. They’ll probably be contenders in 2017, but not this year.

Ranking: Too high

11. Indiana Hoosiers

Yogi Ferrell finally graduated and Indiana won’t have any senior leadership on the squad. Going to be hard to replicate their first-place finish in the Big Ten, but I expect them to hang around with James Blackmon leading the charge.

Ranking: About right

12. Michigan State Spartans

After the upset no one saw coming, Sparty has done a lot of rebuilding. This year’s class is dubbed as one of Izzo’s best ever and only time will tell if the hype is warranted. They lost a lot of talent and Eron Harris has some big shoes to fill in East Lansing.

Ranking: Too Low

13. Louisville Cardinals

They bring in one freshman star, V.J. King, a 6’7” small forward who’s ranked No. 23 in his class by ESPN. What a time he must have had being recruited by Louisville. Regardless of how much toll their image has taken, the real loss is their two top scorers, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis.

Ranking: Too high

14. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Tough to say goodbye to Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, but the Zags always find a way to surprise you. This season rests entirely on their 7-foot behemoth, Przemek Karnowski. It’ll be a two-horse race out in the WCC, as usual.

Ranking: Too high

15. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue just has a way of picking up the talented scraps from other teams. First, Caleb Swanigan from Michigan State and now Spike Albrecht from Michigan. Expect them to be legit contenders for the Big Ten title.

Ranking: Too low

16. UCLA Bruins

The Pac-12 is theirs to lose. They not only return four of five starters — including star Bryce Alford — but also have one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

Ranking: Too low

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports.
Photo courtesy of Fox Sports.

17. Saint Mary’s Gaels

The Zags stole the WCC and you can bet the Gaels want their revenge. They’re going with the Wisconsin strategy here — keep all five starters, don’t recruit, and see how it pans out. They should make a return to the Tournament after getting snubbed, but that’s what we all thought last year.

Ranking: Too low

18. Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies’ sixth place finish in the AAC last year was an anomaly. How’d they make up for it? Having, in my opinion, the sixth best incoming class in the NCAA. Kevin Ollie has a lot to work with.

Ranking: Too low

19. Syracuse Orange

It doesn’t matter that they lost their top three scorers Michael Gbinje, Malachi Richardson, and Trevor Cooney. They still have Jim Boeheim. Last year he showed us exactly what happens when you try to snub the elite coaches. He’s got a decent crop coming in, so expect them to compete in the always tough ACC.

Ranking: Accurate

20. West Virginia Mountaineers

I don’t think there’s a legitimate argument to put the Mountaineers in the Top 25. They lost their main playmaker in Jaysean Paige and their do-everything power forward, Devin Williams. They didn’t recruit and, despite having a solid defense, they don’t have a scorer.

Ranking: Much too high

21. Texas Longhorns

Two stars leave, three more come in. In spite of all the powerhouses in the Big 12 last year, Shaka managed to finish fourth. The road is a lot clearer now. Expect them to challenge Kansas for the title.

Ranking: Too low

22. Creighton Jays

Nothing’s new here. Creighton is headed by three returning, slightly above average, senior players. They’ll bounce in and out of the Top 25 several times before being put on the fringes of the tournament as usual.

Ranking: Too high

23. Rhode Island Rams

Analysts unanimously agree on ranking the Rams, but I have yet to hear a good reason why. Sure, they return four of five starters and have E.C. Matthews back from injury. But this is the same team that finished seventh, I repeat, SEVENTH in the Atlantic 10 last season. I expect them to drop. Soon.

Ranking: Absurd

24. Iowa State Cyclones

Monte Morris has a heavy, heavy load to carry this season. They didn’t just lose Niang, Nader, and Mckay, but didn’t even bother replacing them. While it will be fun to watch Morris go against Frank Mason, it won’t be fun to watch the rest of Kansas blow out the Cyclones.

Ranking: Too high

25. Maryland Terrapins

The snapping turtles probably had the most fun offseason of any team. Was Melo Trimble going to leave and ruin their chances, or was he going to fail to produce on an NBA level? He decided to return. He and Damonte Dodd should have a lot of success this year, and it’s a blessing in disguise for them to lose Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon.

Ranking: Accurate

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.

Poised for Noise

Florida State Seminoles

They had two star freshmen last year in Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. Luckily one of them stayed and they’re adding two more into the mix. The ACC is rough, but don’t sleep on the developing Seminoles.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This team made a second straight Elite Eight last year and yet they are getting snubbed from the Top 25 again. I know they lost phenomenal talents in Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, but they return seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, and will certainly make a splash.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Poorly coached, but you can’t ignore talent. They notched four of the top 100 ESPN-rated recruits. Question, will they underperform? Better question, why in the hell did they choose Mississippi State?

Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies being left out of the Top 25 is a huge surprise. Has everyone forgotten that they won the SEC title last year and then made the Elite Eight? They lost their two best players in Danuel House Jr. and Jalen Jones, but take in three more stars. This is a young team but won’t perform like it.

Miami Hurricanes

The AP Polls never account for Jim Larranaga. The Hurricanes made another Sweet 16, went 27-8, and finished third in the ACC under his coaching last season. They also replaced the talent they lost. The ‘Canes will be back.

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