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An extremely early top 25 for college basketball’s 2018-19 season

We’ve got seven months to go until next season starts and there will be a billion roster changes between now and then, but let’s do this anyway.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two months we’re going to see literally hundreds of roster shakeups thanks to NBA Draft declarations, transfers, and other early offseason madness. After that, the summer months will bring even more unforeseen changes to a number of teams on this list.

What I’m saying is that this top 25 has been scientifically proven to be 100 percent accurate and there’s no point in you even watching college basketball next season because this is the established pecking order.

Let’s get to it.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

2017-18 Record: 31-8

2017-18 Finish: Final Four

The Jayhawks lose the Big 12 Player of the Year in Devonte’ Graham and might also lose the Midwest Region MOP in Malik Newman, but even if the latter happens, there’s still a lot to like here. Lagerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, and Silvio De Sousa are all back, and an elite transfer trio of Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson (Memphis), and Charlie Moore (Cal) becomes eligible. Toss in a pair of five-star freshmen — Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson — and Bill Self should be good to go.

2. Duke Blue Devils

2017-18 Record: 29-8

2017-18 Finish: Elite Eight

Assuming current rankings hold, Duke will be the first team in the history of college basketball to feature the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 players from the most recent recruiting class. The Blue Devils also had the most talented freshmen (and team) in the country in 2016-17, and it wasn’t enough for them to get to the Final Four. Returning the likes of Gary Trent Jr., Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden, and Javin DeLaurier will help ease the transition of the fabulous freshman trio.

3. Villanova Wildcats

2017-18 Record: 36-4

2017-18 Finish: National Champions

No program in the history of college basketball has won more games over a four-year span than the 165 wins Villanova has over the last four. That being the case, it would feel foolish not to have the Wildcats somewhere in the top five, even with the likely departures of Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. Jay Wright will return a solid core and add three top-50 freshmen for 2017-18, once again making ‘Nova the class of the Big East and a team right in the thick of the national title race.

4. Virginia Cavaliers

2017-18 Record: 31-3

2017-18 Finish: First Round

If Virginia had made a run to the Final Four or even the Elite Eight, this might feel a spot or two too low. Instead, because of ... umm ... what happened, this almost feels overly optimistic. The reality is that a team which won 20 of its 21 ACC games and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament is returning two of its top three scorers in Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. They’ll also bring back a potential lottery pick in sophomore DeAndre Hunter, who was sidelined for the team’s stunning first-round loss to UMBC. Even with the historic loss that’s going to hang over this program like a black cloud all offseason, Virginia belongs here.

5. Kentucky Wildcats

2017-18 Record: 26-11

2017-18 Finish: Sweet 16

As is the case every year around this time, no one knows exactly what Kentucky’s roster is going to look like for next season. After a (by their standards) mildly disappointing season while fielding the youngest team in the country, logic says the Wildcats are going to have fewer defections than usual this spring. If that winds up being the case, John Calipari figures to have a team that’s much better equipped to make a run at a national title in 2019.

6. Gonzaga Bulldogs

2017-18 Record: 32-5

2017-18 Finish: Sweet 16

This past season was supposed to be “the year between the year” for Gonzaga. Instead, the Bulldogs won 32 games, earned a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, and played their way back to the Sweet 16. Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson are both gone, but assuming Rui Hachimura sticks around, Mark Few will be returning every other key part for 2018-19.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

2017-18 Record: 26-11

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

The losses of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry, two tenured vets who played prominent roles in Carolina going to back-to-back title games, will be a blow, but there’s cause to believe Roy Williams’ team might be even better next season. For starters, Luke Maye and his 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game will likely be back. Top-four scorers Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams should be too. Williams also brings in the program’s best recruiting class in some time, headlined by five-star forward Nassir Little.

8. Tennessee Volunteers

2017-18 Record: 26-9

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

Grad transfer James Daniel should be the only departure from a Tennessee squad that could have easily seen its season end in the Final Four if a last-second shot by Loyola’s Clayton Custer had been about three centimeters shorter.

9. Auburn Tigers

2017-18 Record: 26-8

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

The team that Tennessee shared the SEC regular-season title ought to be pretty formidable again as well. Auburn is losing Davion Mitchell to transfer, and that could be the team’s only departure. The Tigers could also be getting back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, the two projected starters who were ruled ineligible for the 2017-18 season by the NCAA. Both players have been cleared to play in 2018-19, and could star for Bruce Pearl if they opt not to turn pro. Also of note is the fact that Pearl himself appears poised to be back at Auburn next season despite the NCAA/FBI issues surrounding the program.

10. Michigan Wolverines

2017-18 Record: 33-8

2017-18 Finish: National Runners-Up

There’s no point in doubting John Beilein anymore. Sure, they may be out of the poll entirely throughout December, but they’re likely to be right there in March once again. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Jaaron Simmons are all gone, and Moe Wagner seems like a safe bet to join them. But as long as Charles Matthews comes back, the Wolverines should be in the mix for a third straight Big Ten tournament title and another memorable NCAA tournament run.

11. Michigan State Spartans

2017-18 Record: 30-5

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

With Miles Bridges, Tum Tum Nairn, and (almost certainly) Jaren Jackson Jr. all out of East Lansing, look for Cassius Winston and Nick Ward to form one of the most lethal outside/inside combinations in college basketball. For the first time in a few years, Tom Izzo will be something of an underdog without a number of talented pieces he needs to keep happy. These are the situations where he tends to thrive.

12. Nevada Wolf Pack

2017-18 Record: 29-8

2017-18 Finish: Sweet 16

The most impressive thing about Nevada’s run to the Sweet 16 was that it came without the services of starting point guard Lindsey Drew, who tore his right Achilles on Feb. 14. Assuming Drew is back to 100 percent and Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, and Jordan Caroline all return as expected, this is a team that could rip through the Mountain West and be a legitimate national championship contender.

13. Virginia Tech Hokies

2017-18 Record: 21-12

2017-18 Finish: First Round

Buzz Williams has done a good job of making Virginia Tech nationally relevant again, but he still hasn’t led the Hokies to a win in the NCAA tournament. Expect that to change next season, as VT returns the bulk of its production from last season and also gets outside assassin Ty Outlaw back. Outlaw missed all of 2017-18 after suffering a torn ACL during a pickup game over the summer.

14. UCLA Bruins

2017-18 Record: 21-12

2017-18 Finish: First Four

Back-to-back top-five recruiting classes should have Steve Alford and the Bruins right back near the top of the Pac-12. Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, the “other guys” who were arrested with LiAngelo Ball, will be back after a one-year suspension and should play a larger role on the team than Ball ever would have. After a so-so freshman season, Jaylen Hands is an obvious candidate for a breakout sophomore season.

15. Kansas State Wildcats

2017-18 Record: 25-12

2017-18 Finish: Elite Eight

On one hand, Bruce Weber should return everyone from a team that was one win away from crashing the Final Four. On the other, Weber is should return everyone from a team that was pretty average for most of 2017-18 but got hot at the right time and benefited more than any other team from a historic first round upset. No. 15 feels right.

16. Oregon Ducks

2017-18 Record: 23-13

2017-18 Finish: NIT Second Round

Six of the top seven scorers from a 23-win team should be back in Eugene next season. But it’s arguably the best recruiting class in Oregon history, one currently ranked second in the country, that really has Ducks fans excited.

17. LSU Tigers

2017-18 Record: 18-15

2017-18 Finish: NIT Second Round

We’ve seen a mixture of returning talent and a top-five recruiting class go poorly at LSU before. This ranking is based on the fact that Will Wade seems to know what he’s doing.

18. West Virginia Mountaineers

2017-18 Record: 26-11

2017-18 Finish: Sweet 16

Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles will be extremely difficult to replace, but Bob Huggins has built a program in Morgantown that now has to get the benefit of the doubt. The culture instilled at West Virginia won’t let the Mountaineers fall too far, even without two of the guys who helped lock that culture in.

19. Florida State Seminoles

2017-18 Record: 23-12

2017-18 Finish: Elite Eight

This ranking is based heavily on the assumption that Phil Cofer will get a medical redshirt which will allow him to suit up for the Seminoles in 2018-19. If that doesn’t happen, then an even heavier dose of the scoring load will be heaped on the shoulders of last year’s leading scorer, Terance Mann.

20. Florida Gators

2017-18 Record: 21-13

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

There are holes to fill for Mike White, but leading scorer Jalen Hudson will be back. So will KeVaughn Allen, who should be hungry to bounce back from a disappointing junior season.

21. Cincinnati Bearcats

2017-18 Record: 31-5

2017-18 Finish: Second Round

Two of the three leading scorers — Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland — from a team that won 31 games and dual AAC championships could be back to steer the ship for Mick Cronin. Evans declared himself eligible for the draft earlier this week, but he hasn’t yet signed with an agent. If he chooses to stay in, then the Bearcats likely won’t be in the top 25 when we re-visit these rankings next month.

22. Clemson Tigers

2017-18 Record: 25-10

2017-18 Finish: Sweet 16

Brad Brownell’s team was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017-18. A trio of seniors, led by leading scorer Marcquise Reed, should be back to help the momentum carry over into 2018-19. Both Reed and classmate Shelton Mitchell have said they will test the NBA Draft waters, but the safe bet is on both returning to wrap up their college careers.

23. Marquette Golden Eagles

2017-18 Record: 21-14

2017-18 Finish: NIT Quarterfinals

Expect Marquette to be slightly improved without the explosive Andrew Rowsey. Juniors Markus Howard and Sam Hauser have more than enough star power to get the Golden Eagles into the NCAA tournament in what feels like an important season for Steve Wojciechowski.

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders

2017-18 Record: 27-10

2017-18 Finish: Elite Eight

Leading scorer Keenan Evans is one of five seniors who won’t be back for the Red Raiders, but there’s still reason to believe the program won’t slip too far. The team’s second and third leading scorers, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, were both freshmen last season, and Chris Beard is in the process of building a reputation for himself as one of the best up and coming coaches in the country. That reputation grows in 2018-19.

25. Mississippi State Bulldogs

2017-18 Record: 25-12

2017-18 Finish: NIT Final Four

Ben Howland returns pretty much every piece from a talented team that just hit its stride a little too late to make the NCAA tournament. Assuming that progress carries over into the offseason, Mississippi State should be a player in the rejuvenated SEC.

The Next 10:

26. Maryland

27. Purdue

28. Loyola-Chicago

29. Notre Dame

30. Louisville

31. TCU

32. NC State

33. Xavier

34. Wisconsin

35. Vanderbilt