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Here’s Our Way-Too-Early Top 25 For The 2016-17 College Basketball Season

Last night, Villanova and North Carolina staged an instant classic in Houston to cap off the 2015-16 men’s college basketball season. The Wildcats celebrated after Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater splashed through the net as the program won its first national title in 31 years.

We're now six months away from team's starting practice for the 2016-17 season. This year was chaotic, with multiple teams taking turns being ranked No. 1. Who has a legitimate shot to contend next season?

Here’s our very, very early top 25 for the 2016-17 campaign. Keep in mind our ranking is based on what we think teams will look like. There's a lot of variables still in play, such as players leaving early for the draft, transfers and the yet-to-be determined impacts of true freshmen. 

A lot will change in the coming weeks and our rankings will probably look pretty different a couple months from now because of that. But as of right now, here are the top 25 college basketball teams in the country for next season. 

25. Rhode Island

The Rams could have been a darkhorse top 25 team this season, but injuries took their toll. Star guard E.C. Matthews played just 10 minutes in the season opener before tearing an ACL, and his replacement Jarvis Garrett and forward Kuran Iverson also missed time. 

Next year is the year for head coach Danny Hurley and company to break through. Eight of the team's top 10 players are set to return, and Rhody signed a quartet of solid recruits. Hurley has resisted overtures from bigger schools to remain at URI. Now it's time to see if his patience will be rewarded with a tournament berth.

24. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish are coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances but it looks like they will have to replace point guard Demetrius Jackson and will definitely lose forward Zach Auguste.

Making up for those departures won't be easy, but there are reasons for optimism. Young guards Rex Pflueger and Matt Farrell showed some promise late and wing V.J. Beachem was a breakout star in the postseason. Guard Steve Vasturia is a steadying force and big man Bonzie Colson is more than capable. Mike Brey always seems to get the most out of his teams, and he welcomes a three-man recruiting haul led by four-star point guard T.J. Gibbs. 

23. USC

The Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament this season and head coach Andy Enfield earned a contract extension. With seven key players returning (including the team's four top scorers), USC could possibly challenge for Pac-12 supremacy.

Guards Jordan McLaughlin (13.4 ppg) and Julian Jacobs (11.6 ppg) are supplemented by forward Bennie Boatwright (11.5 ppg) and center Nikola Jovanovic (12.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg). Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron and four-star top 100 shooting guard Jonah Matthews are the team's top additions. 

22. Cincinnati

The Bearcats reached the Big Dance for the sixth straight season in 2015-16 and there are plenty of reasons to think they will make it seven straight next year. First and foremost, Mick Cronin did not jump to take the UNLV job and will remain with the Bearcats for the start of his second decade at the school. 

Cronin will welcome back leading scorer Troy Caupain (13.0 ppg) and rugged forward Gary Clark (10.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Freshman forward Jacob Evans (8.4 ppg, 45 three-point field goals) exploded for 26 points in the team's NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Joseph's. Four-star shooting guard Jarron Cumberland should add scoring punch as a frosh.

21. Miami

The Hurricanes lose three key seniors from this year's Sweet 16 outfit: guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan and big man Tonye Jekiri. It will be up to guards Ja'Quan Newton and Davon Reed to shoulder a bigger load. 

Wing Kamari Murphy will be a senior leader and forward Anthony Lawrence could be a candidate for a sophomore breakout. Head coach Jim Larranaga is one of the finest coaches in the country, and he inked a tremendous recruiting class, led by five-star power forward Dewan Huell and four-star guard Bruce Brown. 

20. Maryland

The Terps are one of the teams on this list whose ranking is most dependent on NBA early entrants. Freshman center Diamond Stone is a goner, but point guard Melo Trimble and forward Robert Carter could be on their way back. If they are, Maryland could justifiably be ranked a little higher than this. If they both bolt, the Terps may not be Top-25 worthy. 

Besides Trimble and Carter, Maryland returns swingman Jared Nickens and wide-bodied Damonte Dodd. Seven-footer Michal Cekovsky also needs to step his game up, and more will be expected from forward Ivan Bender. Incoming four-star guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter are highly-regarded. 

Next: No. 19 - No. 12 >>>

19. Florida State

Leonard Hamilton can certainly recruit and he signed another top 10 class, headlined by five-star forward Jonathan Isaac. Four-star guards Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker aren't too bad either.

The 'Noles lose freshman guard Malik Beasley to the draft but should benefit greatly from Dwayne Bacon coming back. If Xavier Rathan-Mayes bounces back as a junior and the team gels, FSU could challenge for a spot at the top of a loaded ACC. At the very least, this team should get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. 

18. UConn

Head coach Kevin Ollie got the Huskies back dancing in 2016 and the team won a first-round game against Colorado. Next year, the goal should be to push to the tournament's second weekend at least. 

Guards Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis (12.8 ppg) will make this squad go especially now that Daniel Hamilton (12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 4.7 apg) has turned pro. Adams looks like a future star.

Center Amida Brimah is back to man the middle, and UConn signed a top-five recruiting class featuring a quartet of Top-150 players, led by power forward Juwan Durham and point guard Alterique Gilbert.

17. Texas

Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era could be a big one and it largely hinges on if guard Isaiah Taylor (15.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) stays in school. If Taylor bolts, the Longhorns could struggle to duplicate this season's 20-13 record. But if he returns, a challenge to Kansas' Big 12 supremacy isn't out of the question.

Besides Taylor, rising sophomore guards Kerwin Roach Jr. (7.5 ppg) and Eric Davis Jr. (7.4 ppg) are key returnees. Another sophomore, Tevin Mack, will be counted on for more in his second season. We all know Smart can recruit and he's got a trio of four-stars on the way to Austin to fortify the roster. 

16. Gonzaga

The Zags reached the Sweet 16 as No. 11 seed this season and even though they will lose forward Kyle Wiltjer to graduation and likely lose big man Domantas Sabonis to the draft, the team should have a chance to duplicate that showing in 2017.

The team's backcourt should be its strength next season after the frontcourt led the way this year. Promising point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a transfer from Washington, will be eligible. Sophomore Josh Perkins averaged 10.1 points per game as a freshman while converting 38 percent of his three-point attempts. Silas Melson (6.6 ppg) should also contribute. 

Missouri transfer Jonathan Williams III will be a big boost to the frontcourt. The wild card? If big man Przemek Karnowski returns after missing nearly off this season due to injury. 

15. Xavier

The Musketeers earned a No. 2 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament but fell in buzzer-beating fashion to Wisconsin in the Round of 32. There's reason to believe Xavier should be right back in the thick of the Big East race in 2016-17 and competing for a high seed in March.

Top scorer Trevon Bluiett (15. 1 ppg) might be NBA-bound, but if he and forward Jalen Reynolds return it'll be a tremendous boost. Senior guard Myles Davis provides a little bit of everything, as does rising sophomore Edmond Sumner. Role player J.P. Macura also returns to provide perimeter help. 

14. UCLA

Is this spot too high for a Bruins squad that finished 15-17 this season? Maybe, but we love the potential on this roster. Steve Alford better love it too, if he wants to find his way off the hot seat. 

Alford's son Bryce (16.1 ppg) and backcourt mate Isaac Hamilton (16.8 ppg) return, and should team up with freshman phenom Lonzo Ball to form a dangerous trio. Point guard Aaron Holiday (10.3 ppg, 4.0 apg) is also back.

Seven-footer Thomas Welsh (11.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and five-star recruit T.J. Leaf will lead the way up front. Alford has the talent here to save his job and then some, but the team has to come together.

13. Wisconsin

Greg Gard did a tremendous job after taking over for Bo Ryan early in the season, leading the new-look Badgers to a Sweet 16. The team will welcome back all five starters next season, unless versatile forward Nigel Hayes (15.7 ppg) enters the NBA Draft.

March Madness hero Bronson Koenig (13.1 ppg, 39 percent from three-point range) will run the show and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ is an exciting player. Vitto Brown and Zach Showalter round out the starting unit. We like uber-athletic Khalil Iverson to make a big leap as a sophomore. 

12. Syracuse

The Final Four "Cinderella" in 2016, Syracuse shouldn't surprise anyone next year. If guard Malachi Richardson returns to school, we might have ranked the Orange too low. If he goes pro, the team should still be formidable.

Rising sophomore power forward Tyler Lydon is a future star. Human pogo stick Tyler Roberson will be a senior, and DaJuan Coleman and 7-foot-2 transfer Paschal Chukwu provide ample size. The backcourt is thin even if Richardson comes back, but incoming five-star Tyus Battle is a top-30 prospect. Four-star Matt Moyer, a top-60 recruit, is 6-foot-8 and tailor-made for the patented Jim Boeheim zone. 

Next: No. 11 - No. 6 >>>

11. Indiana

Yogi Ferrell is gone and the senior floor general's departure can't be understated. Still, we like the remaining talent in Bloomington enough to keep the Hoosiers high in our early rankings.

James Blackmon Jr.'s return from injury will be crucial to IU's chances, as will the play of Troy Williams (13.3 ppg). Swingman Robert Johnson displayed a strong perimeter stroke, as did forward Collin Hartman. Keep an eye on high-riser OG Anunoby's development. Tom Crean will also welcome a top 20 recruiting class. 

10. Kansas

Perry Ellis is gone. No, seriously, his eligibility is actually up. Leaving with him are uber-athletic guard Wayne Selden, mercurial wing Brannen Greene, blue-collar big man Jamari Traylor and disappointing one-and-done Cheick Diallo. 

Still, the Jayhawks bring back guards Frank Mason (12.9) and Devonte Graham (11.3) and veteran forward Landen Lucas. Not a bad place to start. Can Svi Mykhailiuk finally begin to fulfill his enormous potential? Does Carlton Bragg take a big step forward in year two?

Bill Self solidified his frontcourt with a pair of four-star signees, power forward Mitch Lightfoot and center Udoka Azubuike, and Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby. By the way, the Jayhawks are the favorites to land the nation's No. 1 recruit, guard Josh Jackson, who is still on the board.

Criticize Self's tournament failures all you want. We wouldn't bet against him having KU in the top 10 next season. 

9. Virginia

Tony Bennett's club will have to live with the sting of that Elite Eight collapse against Syracuse all off-season. When they return in the fall, replacing ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and forward Anthony Gill will be the top priorities. 

Point guard London Perrantes (11.0 ppg, 4.4 apg) will be the team's engine, and more will be needed from guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson. Memphis transfer Austin Nichols will provide assistance in the frontcourt, and Bennett has signed a top-10 class. Don't count on the Cavs falling very far in 2016-17.

8. North Carolina

The Tar Heels' loss last night hurts even more when you realize that this was the year they were best set up to make a run for the national title. Without Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, it'll be tough to make it back to the FInal Four next season.

Still, Joel Berry looks like a budding star and we think Justin Jackson (12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is due for a breakout. Theo Pinson needs to become more of a complete player, and Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks also must take on bigger roles as seniors. We're excited to see smooth big man Tony Bradley and playmaking guard Seventh Woods arrive on campus. 

7. Arizona

The Wildcats stumbled a bit in 2015-16 but should have one of the top backcourts in the country next season. Allonzo Trier (14.8 ppg) is back for his sophomore season and will be joined by the improving Parker Jackson-Cartwright and five-star prospects Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.

If guard Josh Jackson also picks Arizona, watch out. 

The continued development of big man Dusan Ristic and 6-foot-8 forward Ray Smith's return from an ACL injury will be crucial to how much this team can achieve as well. 

6. Villanova

The second of three Wildcat-named teams in our top 10, Villanova capped off an incredible tournament run with last night's insane last-second title win. Tournament MOP Ryan Arcidiacono, the team's heart and soul, and Daniel Ochefu, its muscle, are gone, but the rest of Nova's championship rotation returns.

Josh Hart (15.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Monday night's hero Kris Jenkins are the biggest names, and we think Jalen Brunson blossoms into an NBA-caliber guard as a sophomore. Jay Wright will have a tough act to follow, but the horses are there to do it, and five-star center recruit Omari Spellman is just one more to add to the stable. 

Next: No. 5 - No. 1 >>>

5. Oregon

The Ducks won't sneak up on anyone next year, particularly if Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell all return. We're projecting them to do so, which is why we have Oregon in our top five. 

Point guard Casey Benson was a revelation and 6-foot-10-inch Chris Boucher receiving an extra year of eligibility makes a world of difference. If point guard Dylan Ennis is granted a sixth-year, the Ducks' depth will be enviable.

Four-stars Payton Pritchard, M.J. Cage and Keith Smith are all great additions to the roster 

4. Michigan State

The shocking first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State broke the hearts of Spartan Nation, but we don't anticipate much of a hangover next season. Player of the Year Denzel Valentine, sharp-shooter Bryn Forbes and big man Matt Costello are leaving, and freshman forward Deyonta Davis likely is as well.

Still, if anyone knows how to deal with those losses, it's Tom Izzo. Izzo signed his best class ever, reeling in five-star small forward Miles Bridges and five-star guard Josh Langford along with four-star point guard Cassius Winston and four-star power forward Nick Ward. Add that to a roster that still includes Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Lourawls Nairn Jr., Alvin Ellis and Gavin Schilling and Sparty should be just fine in 2016-17. 

3. Louisville

What a difference a year makes for Louisville. The Cardinals missed out on the Big Dance due to a self-imposed NCAA Tournament ban in 2016, but could contend for a national title next season.

Chinanu Onuaku (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg) and Mangok Mathiang (7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) lead the way up front, and Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman still pack potential. Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell brings insane athleticism and Quentin Snider will run the show.

Elite recruit V.J. King will be counted on from day one, as will Penn transfer Tony Hicks.

2. Duke

The Blue Devils have fully embraced the world of one-and-done's and will replace lottery pick Brandon Ingram with five-star small forward Jayson Tatum, the National Gatorade Player of the Year, and five-star power forward Harry Giles. Those two could conceivably the first two players off the board in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Incoming five-star point guard Frank Jackson won the MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game and the dunk contest at the event. We think Grayson Allen will turn pro, but if he returns, it's hard not to imagine Duke as the overwhelming favorite to win it all next season. Even without Allen, Luke Kennard (11.8 ppg) looks like a tremendous player, and seniors Matt Jones (10.4 ppg, 42 percent from beyond the arc) and Amile Jefferson should provide ample leadership. Sophomore point guard Derryck Thornton and second-year power forward Chase Jeter should also factor into the rotation.

The Blue Devils are also still battling Kentucky to land five-star center Marques Bolden. Yea, this roster is going to be loaded. 

1. Kentucky

The Wildcats simply reload, and they will bring in at least five more five-star players in this class. They could still add a sixth if Bolden picks Lexington over Durham. 

Incoming guard Malik Monk won the three-point competition at the McDonald's All-American Game, and fellow signees De'Aaron Fox, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Bam Adebayo joined him for the game itself. Power forward Wenyen Gabriel didn't make the McDonald's roster, but that's okay. He's still a top-15 recruit.

Guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are NBA-bound, as is freshman big man Skal Labissiere. Still, Isaiah Briscoe, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis are all returning, as is Dominique Hawkins and Isaac Humphries. John Calipari will have no shortage of weapons to throw at opposing teams next season, which is why we have UK on top of this list for now. 

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