As we get set to embark on the magical journey of college basketball, a dark cloud hangs over the landscape. This season will be different from previous ones. And it’s because the FBI has launched a far-reaching investigation into a world littered with corruption. This isn’t to say that the investigation is unneeded, because it is. However, because of the nature of this process, there will be no leaks. There will be no time to prepare oneself if their school is implicated. In major college athletics, virtually no one is safe. A cloud will hang over this season until the FBI has completed its job, and it means that schools and their fans will constantly be on edge, not knowing the extent, if any, of their guilt.
Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, let’s get back to the good news: college basketball is less than a week away! This Friday is one of the best days of the year, as dozens of teams kick off their season with dynamic battles. Just like last year, our talented writers have assembled to vote on their top 25 units in the country. What follows is the preseason version of the College Pride Press Top 25!
- Duke (AP 1, Coaches 1) vs. Elon, vs. Utah Valley. Of the twelve voters, eight tabbed Duke as the preseason favorite. And with good reason, when looking at their vaunted freshman class. Grayson Allen is also still around, and like him or not, he’s a creative scorer and a force to be reckoned with. There’s little reason to doubt Duke will be in the thick of the title conversation for the entire year.
- Michigan State (2, 2) vs. North Florida. Miles Bridges is the one that stayed. Despite likely being a lottery pick in the 2017 draft, Bridges is back in East Lansing. He’s the prohibitive favorite for player of the year, and has an impressive supporting cast headlined by Tum Tum Nairn, Nick Ward, and five-star freshman Jaren Jackson, Jr., who projects as a top ten pick in next year’s draft, just like Bridges.
- Arizona (3, 5) vs. Northern Arizona, vs. UMBC. Is this the year Sean Miller finally gets to a Final Four? It may be the most talented roster he’s had yet in Tucson. Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier passed on the draft, while a star-studded cast of newcomers headlined by freshman Deandre Ayton. Despite being implicated in the investigation, the Wildcats are determined to win a national title. And they just might.
- Kansas (4, 3) vs. Tennessee State, vs. Vermont. Rock chalk! The Jayhawks continue to roll despite losing Frank Mason. That’s primarily because Devonte’ Graham and Slavko Mykhailiuk are there to provide senior leadership. Lagerald Vick will see his role expanded, while newcomers Malik Newman and Billy Preston add two more high-level players. Center Udoka Azubuike might be the key to KU reaching the Final Four.
- Wichita State (7, 8) vs. UMKC. How will the Shockers respond to playing in a stronger league? Moving from the MVC to the AAC means better competition and more chances to falter. However, this may be Coach Marshall’s most talented team since the 2013-14 group. Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie lead a group of players that are the co-favorites in their new conference.
- Villanova (6, 6) vs. Columbia. Jay Wright has morphed the Wildcats into the unquestioned king of the Big East. This year, with Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, and Mikal Bridges representing the veteran leadership, ‘Nova is expected to keep on chugging. Having Omari Spellman eligible gives them a post presence they lacked at times last season. With the 2016 title still fresh in everyone’s mind, this group has the chance to emulate that result.
- Kentucky (5, 4) vs. Utah Valley. Perhaps more so than never before, John Calipari will be relying on freshmen. Wenyen Gabriel is the only returning player who figures to be a prominent member of the rotation. And he’s a sophomore. Luckily, this group of Wildcat freshmen is as talented as ever. But just like with other UK teams, there are likely to be some growing pains before this unit becomes a juggernaut by March.
- Florida (8, 7) The Gators are the only team in our top 25 that won’t be playing during opening weekend. All that means is that we’ve got to wait an extra day before seeing KeVaughn Allen and the rest of this deep unit. Grad transfer Egor Koulechov figures to be a prominent part of the offense, while John Egbunu will be back from injury to anchor the middle. Despite a deeper SEC, Florida is still the main challengers to UK’s dominance.
- USC (10, 11) vs. Cal State Fullerton. Coach Andy Enfield has it all. Senior lead guard? Jordan McLaughlin. Shot blocking big man? Chimezie Metu. Impact transfer? Derryck Thornton. Blue chip freshman? Charles O’Bannon, Jr. And there’s so much more. De’Anthony Melton is primed for a big year after a breakout freshman season. Don’t sleep on Shaqquan Aaron. After Lonzo led UCLA to success last year, it may be the Trojans’ turn to run LA in 17-18.
- Cincinnati (12, 13) vs. Savannah State. We’re pretty bullish on Cincy’s chances this year. And with good reason. They return almost everyone of note, including forward Kyle Washington and wing Jacob Evans. Defensive mastermind Gary Clark is somehow still in school, too. The AAC is up this year, in addition to adding Wichita State. But don’t be surprised to find the Bearcats at the top of the standings in March.
- West Virginia (11, 10) v. Texas A&M. As always, Press Virginia lives on to stifle their opponents into submission. The backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr. is one of the best in the country, and the most underrated. Bob Huggins doesn’t need charisma or star power to win games. He’s always got the toughest players, and always gets the most out of them. This year will be no different.
- Miami (FL) (13, 12) vs. Gardner-Webb, vs. Navy. Player for player, the Canes might have the best backcourt in the country. Ja’Quan Newton has been a stalwart in each of his first three years on campus. Bruce Brown’s freshman season was so good he flirted with the NBA draft. And then there’s five-star freshman Lonnie Walker scores in bunches and has the wingspan to be a dominant defender.
- North Carolina (9, 9) vs. Northern Iowa. Compared to other polls, we’re a bit down on UNC’s potential. Their biggest strength a season ago, frontcourt play, may be a weakness this year. Luckily, Joel Berry is the type of lead guard that can put a team on his back whenever it’s needed. Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson is a deadly scorer on the wing, and will team well with the athletic Theo Pinson.
- Notre Dame (14, 14) @ DePaul. Since joining the ACC, the Irish have been nothing but consistent winners. With first team All-American Bonzie Colson back, in addition to Matt Farrell, there’s a boatload of talent on this roster. Returners Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, along with freshman D.J. Harvey, give the Irish a strong backcourt to play around Colson and a bevy of other frontcourt bench pieces.
- Louisville (16, 16) vs. George Mason. About six weeks ago, expectations for Louisville were sky-high. There’s still hope for the team to perform well this season, but it will be with a murky future. No school was more affected by the FBI investigation, as it cost UL its coach, Rick Pitino, and effectively star freshman Brian Bowen. Still, the cupboard’s far from bare for David Padgett, who will rely heavily on sophomore V.J. King.
- Seton Hall (23, 23) vs. Farleigh Dickinson, vs. Monmouth. Another team we’re pretty high on. And with good reason. Angel Delgado is the best rebounder in college basketball. Fellow seniors Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are also important players who will challenge anyone. Under the radar is sharpshooting freshman Myles Cale. He leads an underrated group of newcomers that make the Hall even more dangerous.
- Minnesota (15, 15) vs. SC-Upstate. As one Pitino fades, another rises. Richard Pitino has Minnesota right in the thick of the conversation in the Big Ten. With a player like Nate Mason leading the way, the Golden Gophers will have a chance in every game they play. Amir Coffey will play in the NBA one day soon. A challenging schedule that includes Providence, Alabama, and Miami will have Minnesota primed for a late-season run.
- Gonzaga (18, 19) vs. Texas Southern. So close. But no cigar. Last year’s runner-ups lost a lot, including phenom Zach Collins and guard Nigel Williams-Goss. However, Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins are still in attendance, ensuring there’s some continuity from last year to this year. International sophomores Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie are both tabbed for breakout seasons. Sleep on the Zags at your own risk.
- Xavier (17, 17) vs. Morehead State. Despite losing some key pieces, Xavier will be one of the top teams in the Big East. Trevon Bluiett is still a monstrous scorer, while J.P. Macura hasn’t needed a fake ID for 18 months. Tyrique Jones is a junkyard dog ready to go to war. And Paul Scruggs is one of the top freshman guards in the country. Expectations are high for Chris Mack and the Musketeers.
- Virginia Tech (NR, NR) vs. Detroit Mercy, vs. The Citadel. The Hokies are receiving votes in both polls, but manage to crack ours. After a strong year a season ago, there’s a lot for Buzz Williams to build on. The top two scorers may be gone, but there are still three other guys that averaged double figures in 16-17, including Swiss-army knife Chris Clarke. Expect Nickeil Alexander-Walker to be an integral piece from day one.
- UCLA (21, 18) v. Georgia Tech. Well, last year was interesting. The Lonzo era ends, but the LiAngelo era begins. Just kidding. LiAngelo Ball is not Lonzo, and won’t see the same hype. However, fellow freshmen Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, and Cody Riley will. They’ll form the core of the team along with returners Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh. Predicting UCLA is a volatile exercise; they could struggle, or be as good as last year. Time will tell.
- Texas A&M (25, NR) v. West Virginia. A&M has got a shot in the SEC, though they will miss All-American candidate Robert Williams for the first two games, due to suspension. When he returns, though, he’ll team with Tyler Davis and DJ Hogg to form a dangerous starting frontcourt. Freshmen Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg will both fit the rotation like a glove. Don’t disparage A&M if WVU blows them out; they’ll be a different team by 2018.
- Purdue (20, 21) vs. SIU-Edwardsville, vs. Chicago State. The Boilermakers have established themselves as one of the top programs in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards was dynamic last year as a freshman. He’ll get support from seniors Isaac Haas and Dakota Mathias, who have been through everything during the last three years. Fellow senior Vince Edwards a 12.6 points a game last year, and will be crucial to Purdue’s success.
- St. Mary’s (22, 22) vs. St. Francis (PA). Last year, we warned you about Emmett Naar. He certainly had a good year, but it was Calvin Hermanson and Jock Landale who were the true powers behind the Gaels. Both, and Naar, are back this season. Landale in particular will flirt with double-doubles nightly and be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Once again, the Gaels will be the main challengers to Gonzaga in the WCC.
- Alabama (NR, 25) v. Memphis. Avery Johnson’s certainly got folks in Tuscaloosa excited for something besides football. The main reason for that is top ten freshman Collin Sexton, who will be the man from day one on his way to being a 2018 lottery pick. Four of the five starters from last year are back, too, and Bama also added another five-star in John Petty. It will be interesting to see how they stack up against Kentucky and Florida.
Just Missed the Cut: Northwestern, Missouri, Oklahoma, TCU, Providence
For more in-depth coverage, many of these teams have separate preview articles that are already published on our website. In addition, be sure to check back every Monday, as we put out our own Top 25 poll alongside the Associated Press and Coaches’ polls.
Hope springs eternal. Right now, every team has a chance to win the national championship, particularly those listed above. The beauty of a new season is that there’s a chance to erase all the hardships of the previous year in an attempt to pen a new story. It’s a long journey to March, but as Yogi Berra once said, “it gets late early around here.” The time will fly by as we get wrapped into the excitement of the season. Be sure to take a step back and enjoy each moment. And come back to College Pride Press every day for high-quality content from a unique perspective!