Our way-too-early preseason top 25 is going to be a little bit different than other top 25s: we’re making predictions based on what we think will happen. For example: we’re assuming that Jabari Parker is going to leave Duke and Chris Walker is going to return to Florida. We have Nick Johnson leaving Arizona for the professional level but we’re listing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as returning to school. We have Myles Turner headed to Texas. Call it a hunch, call it an educated guess, whatever, but we are ranking these teams based on what we think is going to happen with their personnel:
1. Arizona: In all likelihood, the Wildcats are going to lose Aaron Gordon, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Nick Johnson leave as well. But as long as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski return, and assuming Brandon Ashley doesn’t go pro, Sean Miller will have another loaded roster at his disposal. They bring in Stanley Johnson, who will be an immediate difference-maker, while Craig Victor and Kadeem Allen will contribute as well.
2. Duke: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are, in all likelihood, going to be playing for pay next season. But with Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen joining a team that will return Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson, Duke will once again be elite.
3. Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker said that they would be returning to school on Saturday night, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t believe them at this point. Assuming they do, the Badgers are going to be loaded once again, as the only starter the lose is Ben Brust. That’s survivable, particularly when they have Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes waiting for more playing time.
4. Kansas: It must be nice to be Bill Self. He loses two guys that could be the top two picks in the draft and he’ll return a team that looks like a title contender. Again. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis return and will be joined by Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson will be a nice addition while Brannen Greene, Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp had promising moments during their freshmen seasons. The key? Naadir Tharpe, as usual.
5. Kentucky: Working under the assumption that Julius Randle, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrisons head to the NBA, we’re looking at a situation where Kentucky has a front line that includes Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Derek Willis. That’s loaded. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker only need to be facilitators, jump-shooters and post-feeders.
6. North Carolina: James Michael McAdoo is gone, but Marcus Paige is returning to school, which is good news. The Tar Heels essentially return the rest of their roster, including a talented and underrated front line, while adding three top 20 recruits in Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry.
7. Virginia: Coming off of a season where the Cavs won dual-ACC titles, they’ll lose Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. But with the rest of their roster returning, including Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, Virginia should compete for the top spot in the ACC once again.
8. Texas: Texas returns everyone. Literally. Every single player from this year’s team is expected to return next season, and considering how young some of their key players — Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix are sophomores, Isaiah Taylor is a freshman — there should be some improvement as well. Most seem to think that Texas is the leader for Myles Turner as well, although he is very much in the air at this point.
9. San Diego State: Losing Xavier Thames is going to hurt a lot, but the Aztecs will once again be a terrific defensive team next season. Scoring will be an issue, but with the improvements Dwayne Polee made late in the season combined with the promising, but still young, talent Steve Fisher has brought in the last two seasons — Dakarai Allen, Trey Kell, Zylan Cheatam — they should be able to compete.
10. SMU: The Mustangs were the first team left out of the NCAA tournament due to the fact that they didn’t play anyone in the non-conference. But they return a majority of their roster, including Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, while adding the nation’s No. 2 recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to the mix.
12. Wichita State
23. Michigan State