1. Michigan State
The Spartans went 27-9 last season and things are looking up for this group after their most important assets return for another go at the title. Most importantly Sophomore Gary Harris decided to come back and even though he injured himself in the summer, he should be ready to go by the start of the season. This starting unit also has a lot of experience with underrated seniors F Adreian Payne and G Keith Appling. Payne will be a guy to watch out for this season as this kid is a freak athlete down low, but he can also stroke it from 3 point range.
The Cardinals won it all a season ago and despite losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Deng to the NBA, this team is ready to make a repeat run at the title under head coach Rick Pitino. Louisville gets downgraded to the AAC this season and they will almost certainly finish the regular season with the league title as they beat out teams like UConn, Memphis, and Cincinnati. Louisville returns spark plug G Russ Smith who will need to take on a larger role this season to make up for the loss of Siva. Also national title game savior Luke Hancock returns and he earned some good experience playing for team USA this past summer. Louisville is well positioned bringing back 6 of their top 9 performers from a season ago, but the loss of Chane Behanan to suspension hurts.
The Wolverines made a surprise run to the national title game a season ago, but even though the Wolverines lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, this team still has a lot of talent to make up the difference. Even though the Wolverines lost 2 great players to the NBA it could have been much worse as Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III were also potential lottery picks that decided to stay in school for another year. Mitch McGary is a workhorse and he gives a 100% every night he is on the court and he is a shoe in for 1st team all Big Ten honors. Nik Stauskas will also have more offensive responsibilities put on his shoulders and that is an exciting notion for this kid who can knock down the 3 better than anyone Michigan has had since Glen Rice. The question marks on the starting lineup will be with 2 highly recruited freshman Zak Irving and Derrrick Walton Jr., but John Beilein will put these guys in a position to excel right away.
The Blue Devils went 30-6 a season ago, but they fell short of their goals in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils were one of the lucky teams to hit the jackpot in recruiting by picking up freshman sensation Jabari Parker. This kid will almost certainly be one and done, but he should be able to leave his mark on this program. Duke will also add Mississippi stud transfer Rodney Hood to the lineup with returning starters Rasheed Sulimon and Quinn Cook. Duke also has tremendous depth with guys like Marshall Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, Matt Jones, and Semi Ojeleye coming off the bench. Duke is projected to win the ACC again this season with their toughest competition coming from Virginia, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.
The Wildcats reloaded again in recruiting and they bring in 2 soon to be pros at the guard sports with Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison. The stream of NBA talent doesn't end there for the Wildcats as they also have future pros with guys like James Young, Julius Randle, and big men Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, and Dakari Johnson. Based on pure talent alone the Wildcats have the best team in the country, but this doesn't mean they are the frontrunner to win the championship this season. Look at what Kentucky did a season ago with a lineup loaded with young talent. They lost in the first round of the NIT, and even though this team is arguably better talent wise, they still need to learn to play together on the big stage.
The end of the Lute Olson era in Arizona was painful for this program, but Sean Miller has finally turned this program around and they are gearing up for another run at the PAC 12 title this season. Much like Kentucky, Arizona has a lot of young talented pieces on their team this season with freshman recruits like Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and other former top recruits Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson, and Brandon Ashley from a great stable of talent on this squad. It will also be interesting to see how transfer point guard TJ McConnell fairs as he moved up from Duquesne where he was one of the most efficient players in the country.
The Jayhawks brought in the top recruit in the nation with Andrew Wiggin and a lot of people are pegging this kid as the preseason national players of the year. The Jayhawks have one of the most athletic group of players Bill Self has ever coached and fellow freshman Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid will be other important young contributors on this squad. Kansas isn't set at the point guard position right now and it will be up to either Frank Mason or Naadir Tharpe to lead this talented stock that Bill Self has assembled. Kansas will compete for the Big 12 title with stout competition from Oklahoma State and Baylor.
The Gators made another Elite Eight run last season and they this seems to becoming a common theme for this program. The Gators lost their top 3 scorers from a season ago with Kenny Boyton, Mike Rosario, and Erik Murphy all gone, but Billy Donovan has done a great job of reloading this team with recruits and transfers. Stud returning player Patrick Young will be solid up front with transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris.The backcourt is also set with guys like Kasey Hill, transfer Eli Carter, and Scottie Wilbekin. I wouldn't be surprised if Florida made their 4th straight run to the Elite Eight this season.
9. Wichita State
The Shockers don't have to deal with Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference this season and that pretty much guarantees that this Final Four team from a season ago will have an easy path back to the field of 68 in March. The amazing thing about Wichita State's run last season was this group wasn't even operating at full strength. The leader and preseason conference POY is Cleanthony Early and this senior is a beast on defense and in the post. Expect major growth from Early as takes on a leadership role for this team. Starting shooting guard before he was injured last season Ron Baker is back and he will be joined in the backcourt by Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton. Louisiana Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby will also be a contributor right away down low.
10. Oklahoma State
All of the important piece are back for the Cowboys this season and it was shocking to see Marcus Smart not declare for the draft this past offseason where he was going to be a lottery pick. Other important returners include Le'Bryan Nash, Phil Forte, and Markel Brown. Even though Oklahoma State doesn't have quite the same level of talent as the Jayhawks they have more experience which could be a big factor as these teams compete for the Big 12 title. The main reason I have Oklahoma State ranked behind Kansas is because the Jayhawks were able to pick up recruit Andrew Wiggins which could very well be the difference maker this season for Kansas.