The first AP Top 25 of the 2017-18 season is here. There’s plenty to discuss, but first, a look at the full poll:
|RANK||SCHOOL||2016-17 FINAL RECORD||POINTS||2016-17 FINAL RANK|
|2||Michigan State (13)||20-15||1520||NR|
|22||Saint Mary's (Cal)||29-5||333||22|
Duke checks in at No. 1, which is no surprise. The Blue Devils have Grayson Allen to go with perhaps the best crop of freshmen in the country: Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent and Trevon Duval. Combine that talent with Mike Krzyzewski’s sideline expertise, and it’s easy to justify Duke’s lofty expectations.
But remember, Duke was ranked first going into last season, and we saw how that turned out. The Blue Devils also had more returning veterans last season than they do now, with guys like Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard having moved on. Duke likely has the most talent in America, but experience doesn’t bode in its favor. Nobody should have an issue with the ranking, but this could change quickly once the season starts.
Moving down the rankings, Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky are in a similar tier. Kentucky is similar to Duke, only without an Allen-like proven veteran. Michigan State has a Naismith candidate (Miles Bridges) to pair with a star-studded cast of freshmen and sophomores. Arizona looks strong, while Kansas has more Big 12 titles than it knows what to do with. The Jayhawks look like the clear frontrunner in their conference once again.Then you get to Villanova and Wichita State, two programs that succeed with experience, player development and sound infrastructure. It wouldn’t be surprising if either team outperformed its ranking. The Wildcats have Jalen Brunson, Jay Wright and several solid contributors returning. They’re turning into Kansas East. Wichita State, meanwhile, returns every important player from a 31-win team. It’s in the AAC now, sure. But the Shockers aren’t joining the ACC. They should be the best team in the league and have the battle scars to draw upon when times get tough. Gregg Marshall is dealing with a legitimate title contender.
Perhaps the most surprising ranking is No. 9 North Carolina, but the Tar Heels have earned respect after ripping through the last two NCAA tournaments. However, UNC loses a lot. Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley are all gone. The Tar Heels are typically loaded in the frontcourt; that may be a weakness for them this year. Joel Berry is going to have to do so much for this group, and he’s injured for the time being. Maybe that will give UNC’s reserves room to grow, but Berry is absolutely crucial to this team’s success.
Roy Williams and company could finish the year in the top 10. But if you had to choose a team to fall out of this group, the Tar Heels may be the most vulnerable.
A few other teams that jump out: No. 19 Northwestern, which was thrilled to make the tournament for the first time last year. This time around, the Wildcats’ bar is much higher. Northwestern hasn’t proven it can sustain success – but strip away the history, and this deserves to be a top-20 team. Just about everyone returns from an 8-seed. Factor in everyone else’s losses, and the Wildcats could be aiming for a 5-seed, or higher. Chris Collins has the arrow pointing upward.
Voters didn’t afford the same respect to Gonzaga that they did to North Carolina, as the Bulldogs check in at No. 18. Like UNC, the Zags lost plenty. But a few key contributors return, and Mark Few always has good teams – even if last year was an outlier. Expect Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie to burst onto the scene here soon.
Texas A&M sneaks into the No. 25 spot, which is a good placement for the Aggies. Of course, they had a rough go of it last year, but the talent is obvious. A team that has Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg should win far more than 16 games. KenPom loves the Aggies this season; they’re ranked 15th by his metrics. Take last year into account, and splitting the difference seems fair. This looks like a good year for the SEC.
Tip-off is just more than a week away. That means March Madness is only a few months away.
We can’t wait to get the action started. Of course, this poll will look much different in say, January. But right or wrong, the first rankings shape narratives.
We’ll see who’s for real, who was overhyped, and who wasn’t hyped enough very soon.