WILDCATS Head Coach JAY WRIGHT is 95-13 over the past three seasons and the Wildcats finally shed their choke-artist label in a big way last season. The defending champions will miss the veteran presence of steady point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and big man Daniel Ochefu, but with March Madness hero Kris Jenkins, plus Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and transfer Eric Paschall all on campus, the toast of the Big East is deep, talented and experienceD.
2. DUKE BLUE DEVILS Coach K has always been a dominant force on the recruiting trail, and he once again outdid himself with the haul of Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. Tatum and Giles have a shot at going 1-2 in the ’17 Draft, while Bolden and Jackson will see their stock rise as the season goes along.
3. KENTUCKY WILDCATS Coach Cal doesn't rebuild, he just reloads—and this season is no different. A top-ranked recruiting class is the norm in Lexington, and between big men Bam Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel and guards Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, Cal has plenty of future pros to work with. The 'Cats will miss 2016 SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Ulis, but UK does return promising guard Isaiah Briscoe.
4. KANSAS JAYHAWKS Hotshot freshmen have been hit-or-miss in Lawrence, KS, during coach Bill Self’s tenure. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Ben McLemore all went on to be top picks, while JR Giddens, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry never really lived up to the hype. In Josh Jackson, Self has another superstar freshman on his hands, and we think he’ll be more like the former than the latter.
5. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS The 2016 runner-up is coming back strong, with much of last year’s roster intact and a big-time recruiting class. The Heels are set in the frontcourt with Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson and five-star recruit Tony Bradley, but there’s a big question mark at the point guard position now that Marcus Paige is gone.
6. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS Coach Tony Bennett has transformed Virginia from an ACC punching bag into a perennial top-10 team. Since 2013, Bennett has gone 89-19, but is still chasing an elusive Final Four berth. Could this be the year he gets the Wahoos over the hump?
7. XAVIER (OH) MUSKATEERS Overshadowed by Villanova in the Big East last year, Xavier had themselves a helluva season, going 28-6. The Musketeers have a stacked backcourt with Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, top-100 recruit Quentin Goodin and 2015-16 Big East Sixth Man of the Year JP Macura.