On Wednesday, the college basketball scene for 2017-18 began to take shape as players who’d entered the NBA draft without hiring agents had to withdraw if they intended to retain their collegiate eligibility.
Those decisions rocked some programs and enhanced others.
But the guessing games of the past two months have ended, and now we can finally address next season in this early edition of our top 25 poll.
There’s still time for decisions, moves and transfers that might alter this list. And in a year without a unanimous No. 1, we expect controversy.
Right now, though, we think the 25 schools below deserve to be in this poll. And we’re sure that, unless you’re an Arizona fan, you’ll disagree. Enjoy.
1. Arizona Wildcats
Key losses: Chance Comanche, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen
Key additions: DeAndre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 11
In a 24-hour span this week, Arizona rose up the preseason rankings when Rawle Alkins withdrew from the NBA draft and Emmanuel Akot (No. 21 in the ESPN 60 for the 2018 class) reclassified into the 2017 class. The class was ranked fourth overall before Akot’s move and was already anchored by DeAndre Ayton, the No. 2 incoming prospect in the ESPN 100. Allonzo Trier (17.2 PPG) should earn a spot on most preseason All-American first teams. Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright give coach Sean Miller a pair of talented vets who will round out a starting rotation unrivaled on the West Coast. Plus, the staff is excited about Brandon Randolph’s potential to evolve into a playmaker in his first season. Yes, Miller is still chasing his first trip to the Final Four, but his roster for next season presents a challenge for any opponent in the country, which means his season might end with a spot in San Antonio in 2018.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Key losses: Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas
Key additions: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 9
Svi Mykhailiuk‘s return allows Kansas to make the case it now owns the nation’s best backcourt. Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, a former top-10 recruit, will merge into a strong unit that can lead Kansas to another Big 12 championship. And Billy Preston is a 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward who has the skills to compete in the paint the day he arrives. With a healthy Udoka Azubuike, Kansas will have the frontcourt strength to battle any opponent. It’s never easy to move forward after losing a Wooden Award winner like Frank Mason or a potential top-three pick like Josh Jackson. But Kansas has an intriguing roster with weapons at every spot on the floor.
3. Michigan State Spartans
Key losses: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III
Key additions: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman, Ben Carter
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 12
Miles Bridges (16.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line) compiled numbers that would send most sensational freshmen to the NBA draft. But Bridges refused the one-and-done experience to return to a dynamic Michigan State squad that could dominate the Big Ten after a rare finish outside the top four in the conference standings last season. His presence next to five-star recruit Jaren Jackson gives the Spartans a combination of talent that few programs in the country will be able to defend. And it doesn’t end there. Nick Ward (13.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) leads a group that will return four of its top-five scorers from last season. Ben Carter (8.6 PPG in 2015-16 at UNLV) finally gets a chance to contribute after missing last season because of a knee injury. Gavin Schilling and freshman Xavier Tillman will enhance coach Tom Izzo’s frontcourt. His squad isn’t higher in this poll, because it’s not clear if the Spartans addressed their challenges with turnovers (20.5 percent of their possessions, 304th) and free throws (67 percent, 285th).
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Key losses: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Bam Adebayo, Derek Willis
Key additions: Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
First Way-To-Early ranking: 1
Wenyen Gabriel (4.6 PPG) averaged nearly 18 minutes last season, but he’s the significant veteran on Kentucky’s young roster. John Calipari’s best teams featured elite veterans. He had Willie Cauley-Stein on the 38-1 squad in 2014-15. He had Darius Miller on the 2012 national championship squad. Based on experience, Calipari’s next group looks like the team that failed to make the NCAA tournament the year after that title run. But this is not a season with an abundance of sure things in college basketball. Question marks decorate this entire top 25 list. Yes, Kentucky lacks experience, but five of its incoming players are five-star prospects, part of the top-ranked recruiting class on ESPN.com. If any coach can turn this young bunch into an army of world-beaters come March, it’s Calipari. And the return of Hamidou Diallo, a freakish athlete who practiced with last year’s squad after graduating early and joining the Wildcats second semester, adds another player who could develop under Calipari and blossom into an all-SEC level talent. The Wildcats could use a shooter or two, but Kevin Knox & Co. possess the athleticism, size and speed to haunt opponents on defense and attack on offense. With expanded minutes, Gabriel could become a consistent defensive threat and reliable cog on the other side of the court if he develops a midrange game this summer.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Key losses: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson, Amile Jefferson
Key additions: Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Jordan Tucker
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 7
The Blue Devils signed the No. 2 incoming recruiting class, per ESPN.com, after losing five key players from last season’s team. Few of those were surprises. They’ll miss Amile Jefferson’s leadership, Jayson Tatum’s talent and Luke Kennard’s offensive brilliance, but Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Jordan Tucker and Wendell Carter make up a freshman nucleus capable of competing with the best in the ACC. Last season left Duke fans with one lingering question: What if Grayson Allen hadn’t disrupted his season with another tripping incident and subsequent suspension? We might find out in 2017-18, with Allen returning for his senior campaign. He made nearly 37 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and 81 percent of his free throws. With a clear head next season, Allen could put together the year many expected after he began the season as the favorite to win the Wooden Award. And Marques Bolden, a former five-star recruit, can prove he was worth the Duke-Kentucky jousting match for his services last summer.
6. Wichita State Shockers
Key losses: None
Key additions: None
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 6
In March, Gregg Marshall berated an NCAA selection committee that gave his team a 10-seed after a 30-4 regular season and Missouri Valley Conference championship. Then, his squad beat Dayton, a 7-seed, and nearly knocked off Kentucky, a 2-seed, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. With a move to the American Athletic Conference next season, Marshall should not require a similar plea on Selection Sunday. His team can win that league’s title in its first year, too. Why? Because every key player from last season’s squad will return in 2017-18. Shaquille Morris announced his return this week after exploring the NBA draft without hiring an agent. Markis McDuffie, who led last season’s team with 11.5 PPG, also tested the waters but will join Morris & Co. back on campus next year. A backcourt of Conner Frankamp (8.6 PPG, 44 percent from the 3-point line) and Landry Shamet, who scored 20 points against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, should lead Wichita State to another successful season under Marshall.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Key losses: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley
Key Additions: Jalek Felton, Andrew Platek
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 2
With a hard-fought victory over Gonzaga in the national title game, North Carolina left University of Phoenix Stadium last month with Roy Williams’ third national title. If the current roster avoids injury or other mishaps, the Tar Heels will again create drama in the ACC. The return of Tony Bradley would have quieted all concerns about a frontcourt troubled by the losses of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. On Wednesday, though, Bradley, a projected first-round pick, announced he would remain in the draft. That’s a troubling development for the defending champs. Still, their frontcourt includes Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. Joel Berry II, last year’s Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, could enter next season as the favorite to win the Wooden Award. Add five-star recruit Jalek Felton and a collection of talented reserve guards who will log more minutes in 2017-18, and the Tar Heels will again aspire to contend for the ACC title and more. But a team that dominated the offensive glass last season just lost the four players who helped them finish first in offensive-rebounding rate on KenPom.com.
8. Florida Gators
Key losses: Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson, Kasey Hill
Key additions: Egor Koulechov, Isaiah Stokes, DeAundre Ballard
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 5
Michael White followed Billy Donovan, generally regarded as one of America’s top collegiate coaches before he turned pro to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder. In just his second season, he led Florida to the Elite Eight, assuring all Gators fans he’s the right man for the job. It gets better. Florida could secure SEC preseason favorite honors with Kentucky. Postseason standouts Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen will return together as one of the nation’s top backcourt combos. Plus, top 100 big man Isaiah Stokes and elite shooting guard DeAundre Ballard should help White’s squad endure the losses of Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson and Kasey Hill. Their defensive chops, which they showed when they held Virginia to 39 points in the second round, should persist, too. Rice grad transfer Egor Koulechov (18.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 47 percent from the 3-point line) could emerge as a star for a Florida team chasing its first national title since the back-to-back run in 2006 and 2007. John Egbunu returns after missing a chunk of last season due to an ACL tear
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
Key losses: Teyvon Myers, Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon
Key additions: None
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 8
Last season, West Virginia forced turnovers on 27.6 percent of its opponents’ possessions. On average, the Mountaineers neutralized more than one-quarter of an opposing team’s trips down the floor. That harassment won’t stop in 2017-18. Jevon Carter (13.5 PPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line), a candidate for Big 12 player of the year, tested the NBA waters but quickly announced his return to Morgantown. Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles Jr. and a fleet of durable reserves will help West Virginia maintain its identity as a swarming unit that gobbles offensive boards like french fries and makes its opponents feel as if they’re trapped in a hurricane.
10. Louisville Cardinals
Key losses: Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell
Key additions: Malik Williams
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 3
Rick Pitino loses elite talent most years, but he often retains the personnel necessary to play with the offensive-defensive balance he demands. The 2017-18 season should follow the same pattern after the Cardinals lost Jaylen Johnson and top scorer Donovan Mitchell. Pitino told the Courier-Journal that Deng Adel, who announced his withdrawal from the NBA draft Tuesday, will fill Mitchell’s role. Adel is a reliable jumper (35.2 percent on his jump shots inside the arc, per hoop-math.com) from making a boatload of cash next summer. He’ll join Quentin Snider (12.4 PPG, 4.1 APG) and breakout candidate V.J. King on a roster with ACC title and Final Four aspirations. Five-star center Malik Williams will play with Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding in a threatening frontcourt that will snatch a bunch of rebounds, alter shots and block dreams on the defensive end. Guess what? The Cardinals will finish the season as a top-10 defensive team, and if they evolve into a more versatile offensive crew, they could dance their way to San Antonio.
11. Villanova Wildcats
Key losses: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
Key additions: Omari Spellman, Jermaine Samuels
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 4
With Josh Hart on the floor last season, Villanova made 37.9 percent of its 3-point attempts (compared with 32.9 percent with him on the bench) and averaged 1.20 points per possession (compared with 1.06 PPP), per hooplens.com. Now he’s gone. The Wildcats also lose Kris Jenkins (13.1 PPG) and tough vet Darryl Reynolds. They should remain atop the Big East standings, though, and fight for another top seed. Jalen Brunson (14.7 PPG, 4.1 APG) will sing lead now. He’s ready for this. Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo return to solidify the nucleus of another potent squad for Jay Wright. We haven’t even mentioned four-star small forward Jermaine Samuels (49th in the 2017 class, per ESPN.com), a possible starter, and big man Omari Spellman, ranked 16th in the 2016 class and now eligible after missing last season because of academic issues. Nova lost one of the best players in the country, but the Wildcats aren’t going anywhere.
12. Miami Hurricanes
Key losses: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
Key additions: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 21
Listen, Miami is coming to compete for the ACC crown. Led by young star Bruce Brown (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.2 APG), the Hurricanes return a group with the personnel to challenge any team in the country. Ja’Quan Newton (13.5 PPG), the top returning scorer on the roster, will anchor one of most promising squads of Jim Larranaga’s tenure at Miami. Five-star guard Lonnie Walker is an acrobatic free spirit on fast breaks and has range. He might not stay in Miami long enough to enjoy the magic of South Beach. Larranaga told the Palm Beach Post this spring he expects Brown and Walker to turn pro next summer after he molds Brown into an “NBA-ready” point guard. Freshman power forward Deng Gak (91st in the 2017 class, per ESPN.com) and sophomore Dewan Huell make up a frontcourt that should help Miami maintain its top-50ish offensive-rebounding rate. Larranaga has the pieces to make noise in the ACC and beyond.
13. USC Trojans
Key losses: Charles Buggs
Key additions: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jr.
First Way-Too-Early ranking: Not ranked
Right now, USC is the only team on the West Coast that will return with a nearly identical roster from last season. Arizona, Gonzaga, Cal, Oregon and UCLA all lost significant contributors from last season’s squads. But the Trojans return every key piece of a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Bennie Boatwright explored the NBA draft without hiring an agent, but he withdrew late last month. With Chimezie Metu, Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin also returning, USC will enter 2016-17 as a Pac-12 title contender and more. Shaqquan Aaron‘s return ensures the Trojans will bring back their top-eight scorers from last season. Five-star forward Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton round out one of the nation’s most impressive, deepest rotations. The Trojans, however, barely cracked the top-100 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. That must change if USC intends to consistently compete with the best teams in the country.
14. UCLA Bruins
Key losses: Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, TJ Leaf
Key additions: Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, LiAngelo Ball
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 23
Lonzo Ball is a once-every-decade brand of point guard. His arrival turned a sub-.500 UCLA squad that missed the NCAA tournament into a Pac-12 and national title contender. With Ball running the show, the Bruins developed one of the most powerful offenses in the country. Any projection about UCLA must address whom the Bruins were before Ball, a future lottery pick, because he’s gone now. But save the banners, UCLA fans. Aaron Holiday (12.3 PPG, 41 percent), Steve Alford’s next catalyst, and pick-and-pop all-star Thomas Welsh (59 percent from the field) both announced Tuesday they’d withdrawn from the NBA draft. Enter Jaylen Hands, a five-star point guard and the gem of a recruiting class ranked third by ESPN.com. This incoming group also features talented small forward Kris Wilkes and top-50 bigs Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. The Bruins can win big again in 2017-18.
15. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Key losses: Akeem Springs
Key additions: Isaiah Washington, Davonte Fitzgerald, Jamir Harris
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 17
Last summer, Minnesota prepared for what seemed like a make-or-break year for Richard Pitino, who accepted the challenge and ended last year as the Big Ten coach of the year after leading the Gophers to the NCAA tournament. Nate Mason (15.2 PPG) earned all-Big Ten first-team honors. Jordan Murphy (11.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG) cracked the third team. Amir Coffey (12.2 PPG) made the league’s all-freshman team. Reggie Lynch, who finished second nationally in block percentage on KenPom.com, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. They’re all back for Pitino. In all, six of Pitino’s top seven scorers from 2016-17 return. Plus, Isaiah Washington, top-100 point guard, will enhance Minnesota’s versatile backcourt. Call Michigan State the favorite in the Big Ten — that makes sense — but don’t overlook Minnesota’s chance to compete with the Spartans and win the Big Ten crown.
16. Cincinnati Bearcats
Key losses: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
Key additions: Trevor Moore, Keith Williams, Cane Broome
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 24
Since 2011, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats have finished within the top 25 of KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings for seven consecutive seasons. In that stretch, he has lost an abundance of talent, including Octavius Ellis, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Cincy’s identity as one of America’s top defensive teams has not changed, but in 2017-18, Cronin might field his most balanced team. Kyle Washington (12.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG), who connected on 53 percent of his shots inside the arc and 36 percent of his 3-point attempts, returns to lead Cincinnati into a battle with Wichita State for the American championship. With Jacob Evans and Gary Clark in the mix, Cronin will have his top three scorers and critical elements of his defense from last season. Jarron Cumberland made 65 percent of his shots inside the arc last season. Now he moves into a more significant role with Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson gone. This group also adds Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, a guard who sat last season after averaging 23.1 points in 2015-16. Another strong year for Cincy? Yes, another strong year for Cincy.
17. Xavier Musketeers
Key losses: Edmond Sumner, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard
Key additions: Paul Scruggs, Kerem Kanter, Naji Marshall, Jared Ridder, Elias Harden
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 16
Is this too low? The Musketeers reached the Elite Eight last season without Edmond Sumner, who missed every game in February and March because of a season-ending knee injury. And Trevon Bluiett (18.5 PPG, 37 percent from the 3-point line), who averaged 21.2 points in the NCAA tournament, will return after withdrawing from the NBA draft this week. J.P. Macura (14.4 PPG) is also back for an Xavier squad that will feature six of its top nine scorers from 2016-17. Oh, and Chris Mack’s squad brings in a recruiting class ranked 13th in the country by ESPN.com, anchored by top-100 prospects Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall. Kerem Kanter (11.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG at UW-Green Bay last season), the brother of NBA standout Enes Kanter, withdrew from the NBA draft and will also join Xavier next season. You could make a case that Xavier belongs even higher on this list, considering the talent the Musketeers will add and retain.
18. Seton Hall Pirates
Key losses: Madison Jones
Key additions: Myles Cale
First Way-Too-Early ranking: Not ranked
“I am coming back to school for my senior year.” With that recent declaration via Twitter, Angel Delgado (15.2 PPG, 13.1 RPG) elevated Seton Hall on the national landscape. His decision to withdraw from the NBA draft strengthened a roster that will return its top four scorers from 2016-17. A Dominican Republic native, Delgado finished sixth nationally in offensive-rebounding rate, per KenPom.com. Khadeen Carrington made 38 percent of his 3-pointers. Desi Rodriguez averaged 15.7 points last season. And Myles Powell connected on 52 percent of his shots inside the arc. They’re all back for Kevin Willard’s squad. Myles Cale, a top-100 wing, can make an early impact, too. Last season, Seton Hall lost to Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But the Pirates are built for a run in 2017-18.
19. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key losses: Przemek Karnowski, Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins, Jordan Mathews
Key additions: Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Jesse Wade, Zach Norvell
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 10
Mark Few lost another first-round pick when Zach Collins turned pro after his freshman season. He also lost his best player when Nigel Williams-Goss declared for the draft and hired an agent. He lost his best center when Przemek Karnowski graduated. He lost one of his key veterans when Jordan Mathews departed. And Gonzaga will still compete for the West Coast Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth. This is a program that has succeeded for nearly 20 years under Few. Now is not the time to wonder if that will cease. Josh Perkins and Silas Melson will form a tough backcourt for Gonzaga. Add Zach Norvell, a top-100 guard who redshirted last season, and Jesse Wade, a sharpshooter and former four-star guard returning from a two-year religious mission to join the program. Killian Tillie could evolve into the next Gonzaga big man with NBA aspirations. And Johnathan Williams (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG) is the BMOC on campus after withdrawing from the NBA draft. Gonzaga will still conflict most opponents with a diversified attack. Gonzaga’s interior defense, without Karnowski and Collins, is probably its most significant concern.
20. Northwestern Wildcats
Key losses: Nathan Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin
Key additions: Anthony Gaines
First Way-Too-Early ranking: Not ranked
Chris Collins arrived with dreams of leading Northwestern to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history. After achieving that feat last season, the Wildcats will now try to become perennially relevant contenders in the Big Ten and beyond. They beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament and gave Gonzaga hell in the second round during a controversial loss. Northwestern will spend next season at Allstate Arena while Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes a yearlong renovation. What won’t be renovated is the roster that made history last year. Yes, the Wildcats lose key veteran Sanjay Lumpkin and steely reserve Nathan Taphorn, but Bryant McIntosh (14.8 PPG), Scottie Lindsey (14.1 PPG) and Vic Law (12.3 PPG) are all back for a Northwestern squad that held its opponents to a 44 percent clip inside the arc, 16th in the nation. Northwestern will dance again.
21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Key losses: Matt Ryan, Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem
Key additions: D.J. Harvey Jr.
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 18
Bonzie Colson‘s decision to withdraw from the NBA draft didn’t just save a Notre Dame squad that had lost double-digit scorers Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, it will help the Fighting Irish maintain a slot in the fight for the ACC crown. Colson (17.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 43.3 percent from the 3-point line) will start 2017-18 on every reputable list of national player of the year contenders. He’s 6-foot-5 but plays like he’s 7-3 as he dominates the ACC. And he won’t act alone. Matt Farrell (14.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 42 percent from the 3-point line) is back to complete one of the ACC’s most dangerous pairings. D.J. Harvey Jr., a 6-6 four-star small forward, comes to South Bend prepared to contribute, too. Yeah, we think Mike “MacGyver” Brey can work with this group.
22. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Key losses: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
Key additions: Cullen Neal
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 15
Can we make Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s a seven-game series this season? Just an idea. As Gonzaga regroups without its best players from last season, Randy Bennett’s crew brings back its top three scorers from last season to its quaint Moraga, California campus. Jock Landale (16.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG), the favorite to win West Coast Conference player of the year honors, Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar will guide a talented Saint Mary’s squad that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. The Gaels also add Cullen Neal (9.4 PPG for Ole Miss last season), who will finish his career after two previous Division I stops. That’s a daunting collection of talent.
23. Butler Bulldogs
Key losses: Andrew Chrabascz, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis
Key additions: Paul Jorgensen, Kyle Young, Christian David, Aaron Thompson, Jerald Butler, Cooper Neese
First Way-Too-Early ranking: 19
Chris Holtmann led Butler to the Sweet 16 last season with a group of veterans who battled in the Big East and helped the Bulldogs win a pair of games in the NCAA tournament. Four members of that vital rotation are gone, leaving Butler with questions entering 2017-18. But Holtmann is comfortable with questions, which is why the school rewarded him with another extension after the Sweet 16 run. Kelan Martin (16.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG), a 6-foot-7 forward who is Butler’s top returning scorer, could win Big East player of the year, especially if he spends his summer working on mixing up his offensive attack. Kamar Baldwin scored 14 points in a lopsided loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16. George Washington transfer Paul Jorgensen could play point guard for the Bulldogs. Aaron Thompson, a late signee to Holtmann’s top-30 class, will compete for minutes at that position, too. Holtmann needs his young players to grow up fast, but he has the pieces to compete in the Big East next season.
24. Texas Longhorns
Key losses: Tevin Mack, Jarrett Allen, Kendal Yancy, Shaquille Cleare
Key additions: Mohamed Bamba
First Way-Too-Early ranking: Not ranked
We’ll start here with honesty: We’re not sure about this. We’ve placed a dozen teams — seriously — in this spot, but finally settled on the Longhorns. Why? Well, we’ve credited other young squads for shifting their positions with impactful recruiting classes. Hard to leave Texas out of the mix after Shaka Smart secured the services of Mohamed Bamba, the No. 3 recruit in the 2017 class, per ESPN.com, and locked up the fifth-ranked class overall on ESPN.com just days before Andrew Jones withdrew from the NBA draft. This group resembles Smart’s best VCU squads, but these guys are bigger, faster and more athletic. Bamba’s defensive tools and ability to run the floor change this team. Jones is ready to prove he’s a certified pro. Matt Coleman leads a talented young group of newcomers. Plus, Tulane transfer Dylan Osetkowski (11.3 PPG in 2015-16) regains his eligibility in 2017-18. Texas won 11 games last season, but the Longhorns are trending in the other direction right now.
25. Missouri Tigers
Key losses: Russell Woods
Key additions: Michael Porter Jr., Blake Harris, Jeremiah Tilmon, Kassius Robertson, C.J. Roberts
First Way-Too-Early ranking: Not ranked
Just four years ago, Missouri mattered. In 2013, the Tigers completed their fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. And then things fell apart amid scandal in Frank Haith’s final season in 2013-2014 and turbulence during the Kim Anderson era that followed. Anderson never had a chance. He immediately lost good players when he arrived and could not reassemble Missouri’s image as a pertinent force on the national scene. Two months ago, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk did what any campus leader must consider when he wants to clean up a mess. He opened his wallet. The seven-year, $21 million deal for Cuonzo Martin, who left Cal to move two hours from his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois, led to the formation of a recruiting class now ranked sixth in the country by ESPN.com. Martin has Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 class and the son of assistant Michael Porter Sr. He also has top-100 standouts Blake Harris and Jeremiah Tilmon. C.J. Roberts is a four-star point guard. Canisius grad transfer Kassius Robertson (16.1 PPG) made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts last season. The top three scorers from last year return, too. Oh, and Jontay Porter (ranked 25th in the 2018 class by ESPN.com), may reclassify to player with his brother and father in 2017-18. Missouri matters again.