A rare first-round exit ended what many thought would be a championship year for Michigan State in 2016. This season, Tom Izzo & Co. will be right back in the mix, having put together one of the school’s best recruiting classes in a minute—including five-star players Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford.
Terrance Ferguson’s decision to head overseas hurts Arizona and coach Sean Miller is losing a ton of experience, but between returning guard Allonzo Trier and incoming freshman guards Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, these ’Cats will have plenty of firepower.
Quiet as kept, Dana Altman has built one of the West Coast’s top programs. Coming off a 31-7 season and an Elite Eight appearance, the Ducks are returning loaded in ’16-17. Dillon Brooks’ off-season foot surgery is concerning, but with Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher at full strength, Altman has a squad primed to make a run at the school’s first Final Four appearance since 1939.
Overshadowed by Villanova in the Big East last year, Xavier had themselves a helluva season, going 28-6. The Musketeers have a stacked backcourt with Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, top-100 recruit Quentin Goodin and 2015-16 Big East Sixth Man of the Year JP Macura. The big question for head coach Chris Mack is if he’ll have enough talent in the frontcourt to challenge Nova in the Big East.
Coach Tony Bennett has transformed Virginia from an ACC punching bag into a perennial top-10 team. Since 2013, Bennett has gone 89-19, but is still chasing an elusive Final Four berth. Could this be the year he gets the Wahoos over the hump? With a top-10 recruiting class coming in, and a few holdovers from last season’s Elite Eight squad, the Cavaliers will be right back in the mix for a Final Four berth.
5. North Carolina
The 2016 runner-up is coming back strong, with much of last year’s roster intact and a big-time recruiting class. The Heels are set in the frontcourt with Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson and five-star recruit Tony Bradley, but there’s a big question mark at the point guard position now that Marcus Paige is gone. Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will see their roles increase, and incoming freshman Seventh Woods has a chance to make an immediate impact, likely off the bench.
Hotshot freshmen have been hit-or-miss in Lawrence, KS, during coach Bill Self’s tenure. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Ben McLemore all went on to be top picks, while JR Giddens, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry never really lived up to the hype. In Josh Jackson, Self has another superstar freshman on his hands, and we think he’ll be more like the former than the latter. Now if only Self can convince Jackson to stick around as a sophomore to run with ’17-eligible transfer Malik Newman...
Coach Cal doesn't rebuild, he just reloads—and this season is no different. A top-ranked recruiting class is the norm in Lexington, and between big men Bam Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel and guards Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, Cal has plenty of future pros to work with. The 'Cats will miss 2016 SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Ulis, but UK does return promising guard Isaiah Briscoe, who will anchor one of the best backcourts in the nation.
Coach K has always been a dominant force on the recruiting trail, and he once again outdid himself with the haul of Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. Tatum and Giles have a shot at going 1-2 in the ’17 Draft, while Bolden and Jackson will see their stock rise as the season goes along. And let’s not forget the Blue Devils are bringing back Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter.
Jay Wright is 95-13 over the past three seasons and the Wildcats finally shed their choke-artist label in a big way last season. The defending champions will miss the veteran presence of steady point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and big man Daniel Ochefu, but with March Madness hero Kris Jenkins, plus Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and transfer Eric Paschall all on campus, the toast of the Big East is deep, talented and experienced.
SLAM’s 2016-17 NCAA Men’s Top 10
Traditional powerhouses Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and UNC are once again loaded, but the defending NCAA champions reside in Philly.
But it’s time for some new memories to be made. Jenkins returns to Nova alongside a bunch of his teammates from last year’s title run, and the defending champions want another one, but they’ll have some stiff comp.
The same characters are still around—Coach K and Duke, Coach Cal and Kentucky, Bill Self and Kansas, Roy Williams and UNC—but this season is far from scripted. Teams like Xavier, Oregon and Arizona promise to make some major noise, too. Don’t be surprised if we’re here next year talking about another all-time classic Tournament final.
The 2016-17 college basketball tips off on Friday, so to preview the season, we’ve compiled our Pre-Season Top 10. Scroll through the list above to see who’s No. 1, then hit us in the comments section below with your thoughts, questions, personal lists or anything else college bball related. Let’s go!