2017-2018 NBC Sports College Basketball Preseason All-American Teams

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Today, we are rolling out the NBC Sports Preseason All-American teams.

Here is how the teams were picked: Each of the four writers for College Basketball Talk submitted their all-american teams.

The votes were then tallied, players were slotted into their spot and the teams were made.

One thing that is worth noting here: We did not build these teams based on the positions that the players play.

It worked out that we did not end up with any teams that had five point guards or four centers and a power forward – we wanted them to at least look like something you could talk yourself being into a starting five – but there was no effort to make sure we had a point guard, a shooting guard, a center, etc.

Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of you that are going to disagree with who was named or where they were placed.

So without further ado, here is the NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team.


Grayson Allen and Devonte’ Graham (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

DEVONTÉ GRAHAM, Kansas, Sr.: Graham spent the first three years of his Kansas career playing off the ball as Frank Mason III went from forgotten recruit in a class that included Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to the NBC Sports. National Player of the Year as a senior last season. Those are the shoes that Graham is going to be asked to fill this year, and it’s not going to be easy.

But the 6-foot-1 senior has been a playmaker during college, even if he wasn’t the primary ball-handler for Kansas. He was recruited as a point guard and ranked as a four-star prospect as a point guard. I’ve always believed that being a point guard was as much a mindset as it was a skill-set, and I don’t think that mind-set goes away playing a different position for a few years. If anything, Graham’s ability to thrive in what was almost a 3-and-D role alongside Mason should make you more impressed with him as a player, not concerned about what he’ll be as a point guard.

GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke, Sr.: Go ahead. Scoff away. I know you want to. But these are the facts: As a sophomore, Allen was a second-team NBC Sports all-american, and we were far from the only ones to view him that way. As a junior, Allen was the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year – again, we were far from the only ones that picked him – before he spent the season battling ankle issues and dealing with the fallout from his inability to stop tripping people. He had offseason surgery on the ankle, and he’s now healthy, according to Mike Krzyzewski.

If Allen didn’t have all the baggage – a big if, I know – there would be nothing controversial about this take. As it stands, I’m sure we will hear more about putting Allen on the first team than we do about all of the other players on this list, combined.

RELATED: A Different Shade Of Grayson
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri Athletics

ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona, Jr.: Despite missing the first 19 games of the 2016-17 season, Trier ended up last season as Arizona’s most dangerous scorer and go-to guy down the stretch of the year. He’ll almost assuredly end up being the focal point of the Arizona attack this year if, for no other reason than the simple fact that he may end up being the best scorer in college hoops next season. When you have a guy that could end up averaging 20 points for a team that is arguably the best team in the country, he gets named first-team all-american.

MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State, So.: Bridges is the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He’s a sensational talent, one of college basketball’s most thrilling athletes and a guy that surprised many with his decision to forego the NBA Draft and return for his sophomore season. His presence is one of the biggest reasons that the Spartans are my pick to win the national title.

RELATED: The Enigma of ‘Weirdo’ Miles Bridges

MICHAEL PORTER JR., Missouri, Fr.: Porter is probably the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft at this point. A 6-foot-10 wing that can play on the perimeter offensively and can guard fours, he is, quite literally, the personification of the evolution of basketball. Playing on a Missouri team that does not have a great supporting cast for him, there are a couple of factors that could end up impacting just how good his season is. The obvious question is going to be what position he plays. Porter is probably built to be a small-ball four or five at the college level, but he will likely end up playing the three this season.

The other question is going to be whether or not the Tigers are relevant nationally. I could see them being good enough to get a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, but I don’t think it would be crazy to predict them to be a bottom-half of the SEC team, one that misses the NCAA tournament the same way that Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz missed the NCAA tournament. If Missouri is an NIT team, Porter likely won’t end up being a first-team all-american in March.

RELATED: All In The Family – The Porter Package Deal

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova, Jr.: This is Brunson’s year to become the star of a Villanova team that may never stop winning Big East titles. For stretches of last season, he was the best player for the Wildcats despite sharing the floor with first-team all-american Josh Hart. Brunson is everything a coach looks for in a point guard, and his impact on a game goes far beyond what shows up in the box score … and he averaged 15 points and four assists last season.

TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier, Sr.: For the first two weekends of the 2017 NCAA tournament, Bluiett was arguably the best player in the country. Hell, when he wasn’t dealing with an ankle injury, he might have been the best player in the Big East last year. A 6-foot-7 scoring machine, this will be Bluiett’s team, and with a roster that has quite a bit of young, unproven talent, Bluiett will be the one tasked carrying them for long stretches of the year. If Xavier pushes Villanova for a Big East title, he will be why.

BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame, Sr.: Bonzie Colson is a walking bucket. Standing 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Colson could not be a more perfect fit for Mike Brey’s small-ball offense. He’s borderline impossible to stop one-on-one, he’s unselfish and his length allows him to play as a five despite standing just 6-foot-5. After averaging 18 points and 10 boards as a junior, Colson should no longer be a secret.

ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin, Jr.: Happ has developed into one of the nation’s best big men, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively, his ability to score in the paint and pass the ball out of the post allows Wisconsin to run their offense through him. The big question with Happ is going to be his jump shot. He’s been more or less a non-shooter throughout his college career, but he’s spent the summer doing what he can to extend the range on his jumper. If he is making threes – and, frankly, free throws – this season, he may end up being the best all-around big man in college basketball.

ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall, Sr.: This may be the first name that college basketball fans don’t recognize, but you should. Delgado is the anchor for a Seton Hall team that should start the season ranked in the top 20 and could end up pushing Villanova and Xavier for the Big East title. A 6-foot-9 native of the Domincan Republic, Delgado was one of the toughest and most productive big men in the country last season, averaging 16 points and 14 boards in Big East play as a junior.


Joel Berry II (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina, Sr.: The reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Berry is the star leftover after Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley headed off to the NBA. We judge point guards on wins, and Berry’s led the Tar Heels to a 66-14 record the last two seasons which included a national title, a final-second loss in the national title game, two outright ACC regular season titles and an ACC tournament title. He’ll be asked to carry much more of the load this season.

RELATED: The origin of Joel Berry’s ‘Believe’ tattoo led to UNC’s redemptive title

BRUCE BROWN, Miami, So.: Brown is one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. He’s a powerfully-athletic, 6-foot-3 combo-guard that has added consistency to his jump shot throughout his time in Coral Gables. He should be one of the best two-way guards in college basketball for a Miami team that will give Duke and Louisville a fight for the ACC regular season title this year. Remember the name. It’s a pretty safe bet to come up again during June’s NBA Draft.

ROBERT WILLIAMS, Texas A&M, So.: The man known as Big Bob Williams – at least around these parts – shocked many when he opted to return to college for his sophomore season. Williams was something of an unknown, at least compared to the stars of the 2016 recruiting class, coming out of high school, but he quickly caught the attention of NBA folks that saw the 6-foot-10 athletic freak play. He told NBC Sports this summer that the hope of adding perimeter skill to his offensive repertoire drove his decision to return.

RELATED: Small-town star Robert Williams on his decision to skip the NBA Draft

DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona, Fr.: Ayton is going to be a fascinating player to watch this season. On the one hand, he has all the physical tools to make him the perfect prospect for the new era of basketball. He’s 7-foot with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, he has perimeter skills and a low post game, he makes threes, he protects the rim and he’s athletic and mobile enough to handle his own defending on the perimeter. He’s a perfect small-ball five. He also has major question marks about his motor. He looked somewhere between bored and lazy for large parts of his high school tenure, but when he turned it on, he was near-unstoppable. Which one shows up for Arizona this year may determine who the No. 1 pick is in the 2018 NBA Draft, and it also could end up being who is the 2018 college basketball national champion.

MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke, Fr.: Bagley, like Ayton, is going to be another fascinating test-case. As a 6-foot-11 left-hander, Bagley is a sensational prospect with the tools to be a new-age big man. He’s very much in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. But he also played in the high school and AAU ranks this past winter and summer, only deciding in April to make a run at getting eligible for the 2017-18 season. (He did.) He also put together a very disappointing 5-16 run through the EYBL season, which is not exactly awe-inspiring for a guy that was a year older than his competition. His fit within this Duke roster is, on paper, excellent, but this is a very young Duke team with a lot of guys accustomed to being superstars.


Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

FOURTH TEAM ALL-AMERICA

COLLIN SEXTON, Alabama, Fr.: Sexton is going to be one of the more intriguing players to watch this season. At 6-foot-1, he was one of the best scorers in the high school ranks last year. His addition to an Alabama team that is elite defensively and struggles to score is a match made in heaven … assuming that Sexton’s ability to score translates.

RELATED: Making a five-star – Collin Sexton’s sudden rise to Team USA MVP

JEVON CARTER, West Virginia, Sr.: You may only remember him for the hero-ball he played at the end of a loss to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, but Carter might very well end up being the Big 12 Player of the Year this season. Not only is he the best perimeter defender on this Press Virginia team, but he’s also the leading scorer for a group that can, at times struggle to get things together offensively.

CHIMEZIE METU, USC, Jr.: Metu is probably the best NBA prospect on a USC roster that is one of the most talented in the country. He doubled his production as a sophomore, but the next step this season will be to add a consistent perimeter shot to his arsenal.

JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s, Sr.: How about this for a sentence: Jock Landale does not only project as the favorite to win the WCC Player of the Year award, it looks like he might end up doing that for the WCC champs. He doesn’t play for Gonzaga. Randy Bennett has done an incredible job with big, skilled land warriors, with Landale following in the footsteps of Omar Samhan and Brad Waldow.

MO BAMBA, Texas, Fr.: Bamba is going to be one of those guys whose impact goes well beyond what you see in the box score. One of the best front court defensive prospects we’ve seen come through college hoops in years, Bamba will provide a level of rim protection that will allow Shaka Smart’s team to gamble on the perimeter more than they have in the past.

RELATED: Mo Bamba’s mind is as bright as his hoops future

Jevon Carter (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

HONORABLE MENTION ALL-AMERICA

KEVAUGHN ALLEN, Florida, Jr.: Allen is something of a boom-or-bust talent. Take the NCAA tournament last season, for example: he had 11 points on 3-for-21 shooting in the first weekend combined, then popped off for 35 points against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State, Jr.: The leading returning scorer in college basketball, Daum is the rare future NBA Draft pick residing in the Summit League. How many 6-foot-9 guys do you know that average 25 points and shoot 42 percent from three?

TYLER DAVIS, Texas A&M, Jr.: There are defensive question marks with Davis, but I’m not sure there is a stronger player in college basketball. He and Big Bob Williams make up arguably the best front court in college basketball.

KEVIN KNOX, Kentucky, Fr.: Kentucky has a roster loaded with talented role players, but I’m not sure there is a star anywhere on this roster. Knox might be the closest we see to one this season.

YANTE MATEN, Georgia, Sr.: Maten is one of college basketball’s hidden gems. He might be one of the five best post players in the country, yet his presence on the Georgia roster keeps him out of view from the masses.

JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN, USC, Sr.: USC has a half-dozen players on their roster that will likely find a way to make an NBA roster at some point. I’m not sure McLaughlin is one of them, but he is arguably the most important player on the Trojan roster, one of the biggest reason they’re a preseason top ten team.

LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State, So.: Shamet would have been a third- or fourth-team all-american this year if there was more clarity about the foot injury he’s currently dealing with.

REID TRAVIS, Stanford, Jr.: When he’s been healthy, Travis has been one of the most productive big men in college basketball the last three years. He’s also missed 35 games in a three-year career that already includes one medical redshirt.

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

Baylor vs. Gonzaga
USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a rematch of the 2021 national championship game, Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

Two seasons ago, Baylor beat the then-undefeated Zags 86-70 to win its first title. This time, the Bears didn’t take the lead for good until Jalen Bridges made two free throws with 16 seconds left.

“Adam is a great leader, but no one knew he wasn’t feeling well today,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “To be honest, some players wouldn’t have played. He played through the pain and left it all out on the court. As a coach, I appreciate that.”

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two foul shots to put Baylor ahead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

“We took two balls down hill and tried to make plays at the rim. At that point in the game, those are tough,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “It’s very disappointing. They made plays, man.”

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

“I trust my work. I was able to knock them down,” George said. “My teammates believe in me each and every day. They give me that confidence in a big game to make big shots like that.”

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

Watson’s basket put Gonzaga ahead 41-40. From there, the teams swapped leads over the next 13 minutes as the second half featured two ties and 14 lead changes.

A thunderous dunk from Smith gave Gonzaga its seven-point lead with under two minutes to go.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Gonzaga: After opening the season ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, the Zags have now lost two of three.

STAR WATCH

Timme began the night leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 20 points per game. He was hampered by foul trouble against Baylor and got his first field goal with six minutes remaining. He fouled out with 16 seconds to play.

REMATCH PLAYERS

Four players on the floor Friday night had significant minutes in the championship game two years ago including Flagler, Timme and Watson, along with Baylor’s Flo Thamba.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears return home to host Tarleton on Tuesday before playing Washington State on Sunday in Dallas for the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to Spokane for three straight beginning Monday when they face Kent State for the first time in school history.

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.