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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keegan

Tom Keegan: A look at next preseason’s top 10 basketball teams

By the time the college basketball season rolls around, these four coaches — clockwise from top left, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Xavier’s Chris Mack and Kansas’ Bill Self — well could have the top four teams in the country.

By the time the college basketball season rolls around, these four coaches — clockwise from top left, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Xavier’s Chris Mack and Kansas’ Bill Self — well could have the top four teams in the country.

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No rational thinker could deny that Bill Self’s 13th Kansas University basketball team was the third-best in the nation, ranking behind only national champion Villanova and runner-up North Carolina. And third is as good a guess as any as to where the Jayhawks will open next season.

Now that the deadline for determining NBA Draft status has passed and all but one major recruit — forward Jarrett Allen (mulling Houston, Kansas and Texas) of Austin, Texas — have made a college choice, it no longer is too early to take a stab at a 2016-17 preseason top 10:

1 Duke: The Blue Devils return four double-figures scorers, including Grayson Allen (21.6 points per game), and welcome four of the nation’s top 12 recruits, as ranked by Rivals.

Draftexpress.com projects two of the recruits to go in the top three picks of the 2017 draft, with 6-foot-11 Harry Giles going first and 6-8 Jayson Tatum third.

The Blue Devils have it all, with athletic big men, rich NCAA Tournament experience in the backcourt and frontcourt and great shooting.

Look for Duke to get every first-place vote in the initial poll of the 2016-17 college basketball season.

Duke beat out Kentucky and TCU for Marques Bolden, a springy, 6-10, 250-pound center with a 7-6 wingspan from DeSoto, Texas, to round out an already-dynamite recruiting class.

A healthy season from smart, veteran post player Amile Jefferson and a strong rookie season from point guard Frank Jackson, the nation’s No. 12 recruit, are two major keys for Duke, which has so much firepower around those complementary pieces.

2 Villanova: Competitive three-point marksman Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu are gone, but the national champions return the rest of their important pieces, including starters Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Relentless, athletic glue guy Mikal Bridges came on strong at the end of his freshman season. Spurred by confidence gained from a national-title game in which he made six of seven field goals and all six free throws, Phil Booth figures to shake from a sophomore slump to fulfill the promise he showed as a freshman. Villanova still has the pieces to bring out the worst in opponents and shut down big-time scorers.

3 Kansas: Nobody should be even mildly surprised if junior Devonté Graham emerges as the team’s best player, at least until freshman Josh Jackson becomes completely comfortable with the transition to college basketball. Graham outplayed Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield at both ends in Norman, Okla., offering a glimpse of his all-around talent. Graham and Frank Mason III form one of the nation’s most experienced, talented backcourts, and Carlton Bragg Jr. projects as a candidate for most-improved honors. Landen Lucas showed remarkable improvement during the course of the season and has the strength to bruise any big man he’ll face.

Jackson’s eagerness to stand out defensively and compete hard on the boards should make for a smooth transition to the college game.

4 Xavier: Jalen Reynolds’ decision to stay in the NBA Draft left the Muskateers with a hole in the middle. Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston (15.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg) will be counted on to fill it with physical defense and strong work on the boards.

Small forward Trevon Bluiett’s decision to remove his name from the NBA Draft eased the pain of Reynolds’ exit. Bluiett and Edmond Sumner flank penetrating point guard Myles Davis to give Xavier outrageous quickness on the perimeter, and J.P. Macura brings outrageous shooting range off the bench.

Muskateers coach Chris Mack has upgraded the program’s recruiting and welcomes another strong class to campus.

5 Oregon: Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey declared for the NBA Draft, didn’t receive invitations to the NBA combine and returned to school. That means three of four double-figures scores from last season’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament are back. The Ducks are the team to beat in a competitive Pac-12.

6 North Carolina: Terrific college basketball players Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are gone, and the incoming recruiting class isn’t as packed with as many loud talents as many of Roy Williams’ classes, but the off-to-the-races Tar Heels still have plenty of ways to score and a coach who gives them the freedom to shoot, necessary to build confidence.

Joel Berry will get more shots, which based on his performance in the NCAA title game (20 points, four of four three-pointers) is a good thing, and Kennedy Meeks and explosive Isaiah Hicks, the ACC’s sixth man of the year, lend muscle. This will be the year Justin Jackson either greatly improves his three-point accuracy or more consistently brings his game closer to the basket. If freshman point guard Seventh Woods — named in honor of one of Roy’s wayward tee shots on No. 7 at Alvamar private, or just a coincidence? — and classmate power forward Tony Bradley can make major contributions early, the Tar Heels will exceed expectations of those who don’t consider them worthy of a top-10 ranking.

7 Kentucky: Next to Duke, the Wildcats have the most talented recruiting class, but the departure of guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray and forward Alex Poythress leaves the team shy of experience.

Guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and forward Bam Adebayo, ranked Nos. 6, 7 and 9 by Rivals in the Class of 2016, might not play like freshmen, but it’s tough to rank Kentucky any higher than this given the lack of experience.

8 Michigan State: Four recruits ranked in the top 41 in the nation, led by No. 10 Miles Bridges, will be counted on to compensate for the loss of projected lottery picks Denzel Valentine and Deyonta Davis and sharp-shooter Bryn Forbes. Enough complementary, experienced players will help them through it to believe that the Spartans have what it takes to contend for the Big Ten title.

9 Louisville: Center Chinanu Onuaka’s somewhat surprising early exit to the NBA Draft dictates that the Cardinals don’t have enough talent to merit a top-10 ranking. And then you look at that brilliant, intense, nattily attired man at the end of the bench and you figure he’ll find a way to play a style that maximizes the players’ abilities because Rick Pitino always does.

Point guard Quentin Snider, fourth on the team with a 9.4 scoring average, is the leading returning scorer, but look for Snider to make sure that freshman V.J. King, Penn graduate transfer Tony Hicks or somebody else leads the team in scoring.

10 Dayton: Four of five starters, including leading scorer Charles Cooke, and all the key reserves return for the Flyers, defending Atlantic 10 champions. Experience can make up for a lack of blue-chip prospects, and the Flyers have a surplus of it. They also are coached by a rising star, Archie Miller.

Comments

Dirk Medema 3 years, 12 months ago

I'm not buying that Frank Jackson will be a PG capable of leading the #1 team. He's obviously a great player, and would be a fabulous compliment to a PG as he was when winning the (co?)MVP award @ ?McD's?. He's just not enough pure 1, and there's not enough support around him to get the rest of that talent in the right position to win the elite games. All that firepower will be enough for them to overcome most opponents, but I believe the lack of point guard leadership will also be their downfall.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 12 months ago

Losing Thornton might be a bigger issue than the Dookies want to admit. Duke has Grayson Allen returning but he isn't a point guard. Duke is going to depend heavily on its freshman class and I agree that having a team leader could be a problem. I like our mix much better.

Steve Macy 3 years, 12 months ago

Seems reasonable, but there are still some names out there, as far as recruiting. I don't like the fact that it looks like it might be a down year for the Big 12. Would rather have the Big 12 push, press KU to make them better.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 12 months ago

That Champions Classic matchup in NYC between Kansas and Duke will be as exciting/hyped an early season game can be. A game to kick off the NCAA BBall year. Kansas, 1-4 in the Classic, needs a big win.

Robert Brock 3 years, 12 months ago

KU is really going to miss Perry Ellis' ability to score. Can Bragg pick up some of the slack or do the Hawks have to rely on outside shooting to score?

Jay Scott 3 years, 12 months ago

Bragg has a much higher higher upside as both a scorer and a player than Ellis. He's bigger and has a much purer jumper.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 12 months ago

I think that Bragg must have realized that he wasn't going to get a lot of minutes his freshman year with Ellis in front of him but I agree that Bragg will eventually be a much better player than Ellis.

Hopefully, he can reach that level next year but I don't see Perry's departure being an issue. Bragg is more athletic and as you say Jay, he has a much higher ceiling on both ends of the court. By conference play, Bragg will be a major contributor.

Chad Pruitt 3 years, 12 months ago

Bragg is more skilled and athletic than Ellis, IMO ... just hope he's putting in the work this offseason and will be ready to bring it this year.

Chad Pruitt 3 years, 12 months ago

Duke and Kentucky will depend on freshmen PG, besides that, they both have enough guys that I don't think inexperience will be much of an issue. Duke really lost out when Thornton left, IMO. With Jackson, who I see as a CG, they'll be able to really run some teams out of the gym, but won't have a true PG when comes to facing a tough defensive system like Virginia that will slow them down.

UK and Michigan St both look low to me on here, I'd have them both top 5 with Duke, Nova and Kansas.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 12 months ago

I totally agree with both Mr. Brock and Jay. We certainly will miss Perry's scoring and leadership. However, I do think that, as for raw talent, Carlton has more. He has a great attitude, so my bet is that he will be the most improved player on next year's team. Both he and Svi should be primed for big breakouts.

Len Shaffer 3 years, 12 months ago

One thing's for sure about Carlton: he's definitely going to lead the league in smiles. Should be fun to watch.

Laura Hobbs 3 years, 12 months ago

Er, it's MuskEteers, as in musket? You know, the gun?

Joseph Bullock 3 years, 12 months ago

I wonder why this article didn't mention Duke losing Derryck Thornton, and Kentucky losing Marcus Lee?

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 12 months ago

Lee was at best a role player and his leaving doesn't hurt UK nearly as much as Thornton's leaving might.

Jeffrey Riley 3 years, 12 months ago

Louisville doesn't have the talent for a Top 10 ranking? That's a stupid comment. It just is. Check recruiting rankings. Most of Louisville's players are 4 or 5 star guys. Just a stupid comment, Keegan. Stupid.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 12 months ago

Is Louisville in good standing w/the NCAA? It seems the NCAA was satisfied with the self-imposed sanctions from UNC and Louisville without any further action from the NCAA.

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