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2016-17 college basketball top 25: An extremely early look at next season's top teams

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There are a ridiculous amount of things that need to happen before we can realistically start looking at the 2016-17 college basketball season, but let's not let that fact be the thing that stands in our way.

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The bulk of the "who's going pro/who's coming back" drama has yet to play out, and that drama will be even more extreme this year than in year's past thanks to the new rule that makes it much easier for underclassmen to test the NBA Draft waters. Basically, we still have a significant amount to learn before we have any real idea of what the landscape of the college hoops world is going to look like heading into the 2016-17 season.

Not that any of that is going to keep this way too early top 25 from happening.

1. Duke Blue Devils

2015-16 Record: 25-11

2015-16 Finish: Sweet Sixteen

After a season partially plagued by injuries, inconsistency and a short bench, Duke will be back in 2016-17 with a team much more reminiscent of its most recent national championship squad. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, two of the top three players in the class of 2016 according to any network which ranks that sort of thing, should be able to do more than enough to fill the hole left by Brandon Ingram's departure.

If third team All-American Grayson Allen chooses to return for his junior year, the bar in Durham will be first Monday in April or bust. Amile Jefferson, who received a medical redshirt after missing nearly all of the 2015-16 season, will be a much-needed force inside as well as the veteran presence that Mike Krzyzewski loves.

2. Kentucky Wildcats

2015-16 Record: 27-9

2015-16 Finish: Second Round

For the first time in the John Calipari era, a Kentucky team that made the NCAA Tournament fell short of making it to at least a regional final. With another top-rated recruiting class on its way to Lexington, that's unlikely to happen again in 2016-17, regardless of how many current Wildcats wind up joining Jamal Murray in this June's draft.

3. Villanova Wildcats

2015-16 Record: 35-5

2015-16 Finish: National Champion

Replacing the two winningest players in school history, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, won't be easy, but the freshly crowned national champions still figure to return three starters. Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart should both be stars, and Jay Wright is adding some much-needed talent in the middle with five-star center Omari Spellman.

Also, let's just watch this again because why not?

4. North Carolina Tar Heels

2015-16 Record: 33-7

2015-16 Finish: National Runner-Up

Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James are moving on, but the reigning national runners-up will still be returning experience at virtually every position. They're also bringing in a freshman class that includes top 50 prospects Tony Bradley, Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson.

5. Louisville Cardinals

2015-16 Record: 23-8

2015-16 Finish: Self-Imposed Postseason Ban

Louisville loses its two leading scorers in graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, but should return everyone else unless big man Chinanu Onuaku makes the decision to bolt. U of L is already bringing in McDonald's All-American V.J. King as well as graduate transfer Tony Hicks from Pennsylvania, and is still looking to add one more player for 2016-17. Unless the NCAA hits the program with some harsh penalties (assuming its investigation comes to a close before the start of next season), the Cardinals figure to be right back in the national championship mix a year after self-imposing a postseason ban.

6. Xavier Musketeers

2015-16 Record: 28-6

2015-16 Finish: Second Round

Their 2015-16 season came to a disappointing end with a late collapse against Wisconsin in the second round, but that doesn't change the fact that Xavier is losing just one starter from a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. Assuming he returns, Trevon Bluiett will be one of the favorites (if not the favorite) to win Big East Player of the Year.

7. Kansas Jayhawks

2015-16 Record: 33-5

2015-16 Finish: Elite Eight

Double-figure scorers Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham will be back, as will veteran forward Landen Lucas. Bill Self already has one five-star prospect signed in 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, and he hopes to get another in arguably the best player in the class, Josh Jackson. If Jackson does end up playing for the Jayhawks, then they'll likely be chasing another No. 1 seed in 2016-17.

8. Oregon Ducks

2015-16 Record: 31-7

2015-16 Finish: Elite Eight

Forget the tournament struggles of the Pac-12 and the Ducks' one-sided loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon is likely going to return just about every key piece from a No. 1 seed. They're also finally going to get a healthy Dylan Ennis, the Villanova transfer who played just two games in 2015-16 before a foot injury ended his season. Assuming Dillon Brooks comes back, Dana Altman's team will have a great shot at running the Pac-12 once again.


Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

9. Virginia Cavaliers

2015-16 Record: 29-8

2015-16 Finish: Elite Eight

Finding offense will be the biggest issue for a team losing Anthony Gill and ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, but there's enough coming back to give the Cavaliers a solid chance to exorcise the demons they created with their second half collapse against Syracuse. Veteran point guard London Perrantes will likely step into a larger scoring role, and the addition of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols will be huge for Tony Bennett's front-court.

10. Michigan State Spartans

2015-16 Record: 29-6

2015-16 Finish: First Round

Associated Press Player of the Year Denzel Valentine is gone, as is sharp-shooter Bryn Forbes and "glue guy" Matt Costello. Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid and Tum Tum Nairn will all be back, though, and they'll join forces with one of the most talented recruiting classes Tom Izzo has ever brought to East Lansing.

11. Maryland Terrapins

2015-16 Record: 27-9

2015-16 Finish: Sweet Sixteen

Assuming Melo Trimble and Robert Carter both return, the Terps might have a better shot at living up to their preseason expectations than they did a season ago. There won't be any (or at least many) national championship predictions this offseason, and maybe that's a good thing.

12. Wisconsin Badgers

2015-16 Record: 22-13

2015-16 Finish: Sweet Sixteen

The Badgers lose nobody from the team that completely turned its season around in mid-January and was a composed final 30 seconds away from playing for a third straight trip to the Final Four. Wisconsin also gets a full offseason with Greg Gard running the show, which -- if his first run in the big chair is any indication -- is going to be a good thing for everybody involved.

13. Arizona Wildcats

2015-16 Record: 25-9

2015-16 Finish: First Round

An extremely accomplished group of seniors saw their careers end with Arizona's first-round loss to Wichita State, but there still figures to be more than enough talent in Tucson for Sean Miller to limit his team's (relative) time out of the national spotlight to just one season. Allonzo Trier announced Monday that he's returning for his senior season, and he'll unite with three incoming five-star freshmen to give Miller a great chance at capturing that elusive first trip to the Final Four.

14. Indiana Hoosiers

2015-16 Record: 27-8

2015-16 Finish: Sweet Sixteen

Defections by James Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams and OG Anunoby (or just a couple of them) could knock Indiana down a few rungs when these rankings are updated in May, but for now, the pieces are there for the Hoosiers to build on their 2015-16 accomplishments. If everyone comes back, the reigning Big Ten regular season champs could very easily start next season somewhere in the top 10.

15. Syracuse Orange

2015-16 Record: 23-14

2015-16 Finish: Final Four

Forget the talk about whether or not they even deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse was always on the path of taking a step up in 2016-17. There's no guarantee that they'll make it back to the season's final weekend, but if Jim Boeheim gets both Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon back, he'll have a team that is unlikely to be sweating it out on Selection Sunday again.

16. Texas Longhorns

2015-16 Record: 20-13

2015-16 Finish: First Round

Shaka Smart was a year ahead of schedule with a 2015-16 team that started its season in nobody's top 25 and ended it by earning a No. 6 seed in the Big Dance. He also has a motivational point to use throughout the offseason thanks to a first-round loss to Northern Iowa by way of a half-court buzzer-beater. Isaiah Taylor figures to be one of the best guards in the country as a senior, and Kerwin Roach Jr. has the potential to be a breakout star in the Big 12.

17. Seton Hall Pirates

2015-16 Record: 25-9

2015-16 Finish: First Round

Five sophomore starters led Seton Hall to its first Big East Tournament title since 1993 and made the Pirates one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament. If the leader of that pack, Isaiah Whitehead, opts to delay his professional career by one more year, then the expectations will be higher in South Orange than they've been in quite some time.

18. Connecticut Huskies

2015-16 Record: 25-11

2015-16 Finish: Second Round

Connecticut was something of an underachiever in 2015-16, but they'll have an opportunity to rectify that so long as Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Amida Brimah all come back. Jalen Adams will also step into a much larger role as a sophomore, and then there's also that top-five recruiting class that Kevin Ollie is bringing in.

19. USC Trojans

2015-16 Record: 21-13

2015-16 Finish: First Round

Assuming no one makes an unwise decision, Andy Enfield will bring back pretty much everyone from a USC team that finally began to reflect the "Dunk City" model than Enfield made famous at Florida Gulf Coast. Former five-star recruit Shaqquan Aaron will join the team after transferring in from Louisville, as will top-100 freshman Jonah Mathews.

20. Purdue Boilermakers

2015-16 Record: 26-9

2015-16 Finish: First Round

Big man A.J. Hammons is gone, which means this ranking is pretty much entirely contingent on the assumption that Caleb Swanigan will be back for his sophomore season. If he goes, then the Boilermakers go with him.

21. West Virginia Mountaineers

2015-16 Record: 26-9

2015-16 Finish: First Round

The surprising loss to Stephen F. Austin makes it easy to forget what a stellar season West Virginia had in 2015-16. Bob Huggins will return a lot of scoring from that group, but the contributions of departed senior Jaysean Paige and (likely NBA-bound) star forward Devin Williams will be very difficult to replace ... unless Williams has a change of heart.

22. UCLA Bruins

2015-16 Record: 15-17

2015-16 Finish: No Postseason

UCLA is this year's California, in that they haven't done anything to earn the trust we're giving them here, but when you see everything they have coming in, it almost feels wrong to not have them even higher. If the team meshes and Lonzo Ball is as good as advertised, they could be as good as just about anybody in the country. If one or both of those things doesn't happen, Steve Alford could have another disaster on his hands.

23. Gonzaga Bulldogs

2015-16 Record: 28-8

2015-16 Finish: Sweet 16

The Zags are definitely losing seniors Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis. They're likely losing Domantas Sabonis to the NBA and could lose fellow big man Przemek Karnowski as well. Still, Josh Perkins returns after a solid freshman season, and he'll pair up with two stellar transfers in Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams III (Missouri). Never doubt Mark Few. This past March taught us that lesson for about the 75th time.

24. Florida State Seminoles

2015-16 Record: 20-14

2015-16 Finish: NIT Second Round

This is another dangerous pick because on paper it looks so good, but the exact same thing could have been said about the Seminole team that just ended its season with a loss to Valpo in the NIT. Malik Beasley is gone, but Dwayne Bacon (who surprised many by announcing he would return for his sophomore season) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes might make up the most talented backcourt in the ACC. Throw five-star freshman Jonathan Isaac into the mix, and there's no reason why this team shouldn't be one of the 25 best in the country in 2016-17.

25. Oklahoma Sooners

2015-16 Record: 29-8

2015-16 Finish: Final Four

The Sooners are in a position eerily similar to the one we saw Wisconsin in exactly 12 months ago. They're losing a National Player of the Year, as well as a strong supporting guard and the team's best front-court producer. It'll be on Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin to keep the ball rolling in Norman.

Next Five:

26. Miami Hurricanes

27. Saint Mary's Gaels

28. Texas A&M Aggies

29. Dayton Flyers

30. Cincinnati Bearcats