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An extremely early top 25 for college basketball’s 2017-18 season

There are a ridiculous amount of things that need to happen before we can realistically start looking at the 2017-18 college basketball season, but let's not let that fact be the thing that stands in our way.

The overwhelming majority of "who's going to the draft/who's coming back" drama has yet to play out, and the annual transfer market will only start really heating up now. 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 2017-18 season.

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

Let’s hit it.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

2016-17 Record: 33-7

2016-17 Finish: National Champions

Why not? That’s the worst possible way to begin a justification, but with so little clarity about anything at the moment, it seems as safe a jumping off point as any other. UNC will lose a trio of productive seniors as well as (in all likelihood) first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. Still, the cupboard is far from bare for Roy Williams. If Final Four MOP Joel Berry and potential megastar Tony Bradley both return for one more year, the nucleus will be in place for the Heels to make yet another run to the first Monday in April.

2. Duke Blue Devils

2016-17 Record: 28-9

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Maybe Duke just needs a clean start this go-round. Maybe they need fewer distractions. Or maybe they just need to avoid having a hundred different little things go against them over the course of a five-month span of time.

The Blue Devils won’t have the same level of star power in 2017-18 that they did this past season, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll play their way out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Frank Jackson showed the potential to blossom into a star near the end of his freshman season, and Coach K is bringing yet another star-studded recruiting class to Durham. If either Luke Kennard or Grayson Allen chooses to return to college for one more go, then this could be your preseason No. 1 for a second straight year.

3. Arizona Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 32-5

2016-17 Finish: Sweet 16

Kadeem Allen was the only senior on this year’s roster, but it’s more likely than not that Sean Miller will lose at least two of his four star underclassmen to the NBA draft. If he can get just one or two of those guys back, then they should be able to join forces with all-everything freshman DeAndre Ayton to have the Wildcats right back in the hunt for Miller’s ever-elusive first Final Four appearance.

4. Louisville Cardinals

2016-17 Record: 25-9

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Donovan Mitchell is the decision to watch here. If the first-team All-ACC guard chooses to put the NBA on hold for one more year, then Louisville will return seven of its top eight scorers from a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Rick Pitino also adds a top 10 recruiting class headlined by versatile 6’10 forward Malik Williams.

5. Kansas Jayhawks

2016-17 Record: 31-5

2016-17 Finish: Elite Eight

History shows that picking them any lower than this is pretty foolish. Bill Self is losing the National Player of the Year in Frank Mason as well as freshman star Josh Jackson, but there are also a lot of smaller pieces from the 2016-17 Big 12 champions that are coming back. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, a former five-star recruit, should help cushion the blow of Mason’s departure.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 32-6

2016-17 Finish: Elite Eight

The annual mass exodus at Kentucky will be even more extreme than usual this year, as the Wildcats will have to replace a pair of senior contributors and (potentially) a sophomore starter in addition to their star freshmen. John Calipari will reload with three elite freshman big men to go along with new point guard Quade Green. UK is also in on a couple of the top unsigned players from the 2017 class, including top 10 players Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox.

7. Florida Gators

2016-17 Record: 27-9

2016-17 Finish: Elite Eight

This year’s regional final run could be just the beginning for the Mike White era in Gainesville. The Gators lose starting point guard Kasey Hill and grad transfer Canyon Barry, but should return the other most important pieces from their surprisingly successful 2016-17 campaign. Having a healthy John Egbunu back will only make them more formidable.

8. Wichita State Shockers

2016-17 Record: 31-5

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Don’t be surprised at all if in 2017-18 Wichita State winds up stepping into the role that Gonzaga has inhabited for the past four months. The Shockers should return every key player from a team that won 31 games and got them into the top 10 of the national rankings. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s potential consideration of metrics outside of just the RPI would also help Wichita avoid being massively under-seeded for a fourth straight year.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

2016-17 Record: 28-9

2016-17 Finish: Sweet 16

Two senior starters are gone, but Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter should return to form one of the best backcourts in the country. Plus, that “Press Virginia” style that has made the Mountaineers a matchup nightmare isn’t going anywhere either.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs

2016-17 Record: 37-2

2016-17 Finish: National Runners-Up

A lot of this hinges on the decisions of second-team All-American Nigel Williams-Goss and potential lottery pick Zach Collins. Even if both those players bolt, however, Mark Few has plenty of talent on his roster that the nation didn’t get to see much of this year, because he didn’t need to show much of it this year. Don’t be surprised if the country writes off Gonzaga once again and they’re right back in the thick of the national title race next March.

11. Villanova Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 32-4

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Replacing first-team All-American Josh Hart and March Madness icon Kris Jenkins is no easy task, but Jay Wright should be able to do the job relatively smoothly. After all, the man does everything relatively smoothly. Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mikal Bridges should all return to form a core that is once again the best in the Big East.

12. Michigan State Spartans

2016-17 Record: 20-15

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Tom Izzo’s not going to let his program go through another season like the one it just endured, even if was injury-riddled and somewhat saved near the end. With Miles Bridges about to be a lottery pick, the biggest issue for Michigan State is going to be finding at least one bona-fide star out of a large group of players who have been solid, but not spectacular so far in their careers.

13. Miami Hurricanes

2016-17 Record: 21-12

2016-17 Finish: First Round

The team that Michigan State trounced in the first round of the 2017 Big Dance should also be ready to take a large step up in class. Miami loses Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy, but returns stars Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, and adds the best recruiting class ever put together by Jim Larranaga.

14. USC Trojans

2016-17 Record: 26-10

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Andy Enfield quietly did one of the best coaching jobs in all of college basketball last season. After an overachieving 2015-16, his team appeared to be all set to have “the year” before a wave of unexpected departures left the program in a state of disarray. While the Trojans weren’t on the same level as UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona in the Pac-12, they were competitive enough to earn a second straight trip to the Big Dance and win two games after getting there. With the nucleus of that team returning and a top 20 recruiting class joining the fold, “the year” might finally be here for Enfield’s program.

15. Cincinnati Bearcats

2016-17 Record: 30-6

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Troy Caupain leaves big shoes to fill, but fellow stars Jacob Evans and Gary Clark are back from Mick Cronin’s strongest UC team to date. Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome should add even more offensive firepower to a roster that would appear to be the class of the AAC.

16. Minnesota Golden Gophers

2016-17 Record: 24-10

2016-17 Finish: First Round

The Golden Gophers were one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2016-17 season, but expectations will be higher for Richard Pitino and company now. Thankfully, Pitino returns every player outside of senior Akeem Springs from the team that did enough damage in the Big Ten to earn a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

17. Butler Bulldogs

2016-17 Record: 25-9

2016-17 Finish: Sweet 16

Butler put a nice cap on a somewhat enigmatic season by playing true to their seed and advancing to the Sweet 16 where they fell to eventual national champion North Carolina. Leading scorer Kelan Martin is back and should be one of the top contenders for Big East Player of the Year, and Chris Holtmann is also bringing in a wave of new talent with three four-star freshmen.

18. Xavier Musketeers

2016-17 Record: 24-14

2016-17 Finish: Elite Eight

Trevon Bluiett nearly bolted to the NBA a year ago before deciding at the last second to return to school. If he does the same thing this spring, then Xavier could be poised for yet another deep run in the NCAA tournament. If he doesn’t, Chris Mack should still have enough pieces to compete with the top of the Big East.

19. Saint Mary’s Gaels

2016-17 Record: 29-5

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

It wasn’t just Gonzaga which held it down for the West Coast Conference in the NCAA tournament. Saint Mary’s handled VCU in round one of the Big Dance before pushing second-seeded Arizona to the brink two days later. Jock Landale will more than likely return for his senior season and earn the title of the most-efficient big man in college basketball.

20. Alabama Crimson Tide

2016-17 Record: 19-15

2016-17 Finish: NIT First Round

Avery Johnson’s program is about to be a problem in the SEC. He returns sophomore standouts Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram from a team that took down eventual national semifinalist South Carolina twice. But the biggest reason for this jump is the addition of a top five recruiting class headlined by one of the class of 2017’s top pure scorers, Collin Sexton.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies

2016-17 Record: 22-11

2016-17 Finish: First Round

It certainly feels like Buzz Williams is just getting started. The 2017-18 team already owns the odd status of returning all five starters, but losing its top two scorers in Seth Allen and Zach LeDay. Nobody said Buzz was conventional.

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2016-17 Record: 26-10

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Mike Brey simply does not let the Irish fall too far. Point guard Matt Farrell and All-ACC performer Bonzie Colson are back to lead yet another Notre Dame team that will be right there in the top third of the ACC.

23. Northwestern Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 24-12

2016-17 Finish: Second Round

Chris Collins returns nearly every key contributor from the Northwestern team that made history by finally getting the program into the NCAA tournament and eventually winning a game there.

24. Seton Hall Pirates

2016-17 Record: 21-12

2016-17 Finish: First Round

If nobody bounces to the league unexpectedly, then Kevin Willard should have a team with four players who have been starters on back-to-back NCAA tournament teams.

25. UCLA Bruins

2016-17 Record: 31-5

2016-17 Finish: Sweet 16

We’re going to assume that all three of Oregon’s top players are heading to the league, and hand the final spot in these rankings to another Pac-12 that will be searching for a way to reload. Steve Alford brings in another loaded recruiting class, but it doesn’t include a player anywhere near as transformative as Lonzo Ball was. Still, if Aaron Holiday chooses to stick around, the Bruins should be back in the tournament with a respectable seed.

The Next 10:

26. Oregon

27. Michigan

28. Virginia

29. TCU

30. Nevada

31. Creighton

32. South Carolina

33. Baylor

34. Wisconsin

35. SMU