With another college basketball season finished and North Carolina raising yet another national championship trophy, it's time to start looking forward to next year. Making early projections is always difficult because of roster uncertainty: Players who declare for the NBA Draft without hiring an agent can participate in the pre-draft process and pull their names out until May 24. Throw in transfer possibilities and lingering recruiting decisions, and rosters are very much in flux through the spring.
However, we can still make educated guesses about who might leave and what teams are the early favorites for next season. So, as the offseason begins, here's an early look at a possible top 25 for 2017-18.
1. Kentucky. It's Kentucky. It's going to have a new lineup, and it will probably be a national contender. The Wildcats have started the season in the AP top three each of the past six seasons, finishing the regular season in the top 10 four of those times and unranked twice (once it lost in the NIT first round and the other time it played in the national title game). With freshmen Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox NBA-bound and Bam Adebayo likely joining them (although he didn't hire an agent, according to ESPN), plus seniors Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder all gone, too, there's a lot to replace. There's even more to replace now that Isaiah Briscoe has announced that he'll go pro. Isaac Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel will be back, to be joined by another loaded recruiting class that currently includes three of the top 14 players: Hamidou Diallo, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards, plus fellow five-stars Quade Green and Jarred Vanderbilt. It's a lot to lose, creating tremendous uncertainty, but nobody reloads with young talent like the Wildcats.
2. Kansas. The Jayhawks lose national player of the year senior Frank Mason and one-and-done freshman Josh Jackson, making Devonte' Graham the senior leader of the team next season. There's still plenty of experience here, including Lagerald Vick, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Udoka Azubuike (a 7-footer back from a season-ending injury), and five-star recruit Billy Preston is slated to join the frontcourt with Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman ready to step into the backcourt. The easiest prediction to make is that Kansas will win the big 12 title.
3. Villanova. After a brutal end to their title defense as the No. 1 overall seed, the Wildcats say goodbye to their best player over the past couple years, Josh Hart, along with Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Despite the veteran attrition, this team is well positioned to compete for a No. 1 seed again. Guard Jalen Brunson should become the focal point, and he'll be joined by key returnees Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall, plus two other key players who were supposed to be contributors this past season: guard Phil Booth, who sat with an injury, and forward Omari Spellman, a five-star recruit who was ruled ineligible.
4. Arizona. Freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen made himself into a likely lottery pick, so Arizona can't count on his return. Senior Kadeem Allen is also gone, but there's not guarantee that the Wildcats will lose any of their key players, as Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Dusan Ristic, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche and Parker Jackson-Cartwright could all return. It's unlikely that all will actually return -- one or both of Trier and Simmons could go pro -- but the Wildcats will be bolstered by signing 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 player in the 247Sports composite rankings for the recruiting class of 2017, putting them in position to be a Final Four favorite.
5. North Carolina. The national champions know that they'll lose big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, and there's a chance backup freshman Tony Bradley could join them by leaving early. ACC player of the year Justin Jackson is likely gone. The frontcourt is guaranteed to look different, but Joel Berry and Theo Pinson will return to the backcourt, as will Kenny Williams, who was absent from March Madness because of an injury. Luke Maye and Seventh Woods can grow into bigger roles, and freshman guard Jalek Felton should make an immediate impact.
6. Wichita State. All signs are pointing toward Wichita State's move from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference being imminent. The AAC is undoubtedly a step up and will give the Shockers an opportunity to build a better resume than they can in the Missouri Valley, with games against teams like UConn, SMU, Cincinnati and Memphis. Either way, we know the Shockers are going to be good. They were underseeded in the NCAA Tournament and nearly beat Kentucky, and now everybody is expected to return to a team that went 31-5, led by Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet and coach Gregg Marshall.
7. Louisville. The Cardinals' fate may be tied to the NBA Draft decision of sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell, who was clearly the biggest impact scorer on a defense-driven team. Even if he doesn't return, though, Louisville has established itself as a reliable program under Rick Pitino, one that has a strong recruiting class led by 7-footer Malik Williams, ready to join players like Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Jaylen Johnson and V.J. King.
8. Florida. The Gators made it to the Elite Eight and finished fifth in the KenPom ratings in Mike White's second season, setting the stage for increased expectations despite the losses of Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Kasey Hill and possibly Devin Robinson, who has an NBA decision to make. KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza will still be back to lead the backcourt, and the frontcourt has a solid tandem in John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes. Virginia Tech transfer guard Jalen Hudson can also provide a boost.
9. Duke. The overwhelming consensus preseason No. 1 team last year, Duke will have to deal with the loss of one-and-dones Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, in addition to seniors Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson. Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden are likely to be back, and the big questions thus revolve around Grayson Allen, who saw his stock dip as a junior, and Luke Kennard, who had a breakout sophomore season. Ultimately, this is Duke, and Duke will have plenty of talent. Top-10 freshmen Wendell Carter and Gary Trent are both heading to Durham.
10. West Virginia. The Mountaineers will have to deal with key losses in seniors Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers, but Bob Huggins uses a deep rotation with players fully invested in the Press Virginia system. Top scorers Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad will be back, and the Mountaineers look like the best challenger to Kansas in the Big 12.
11. Michigan State. After a down season, the Spartans' 2018 fate may be tied to the decision of freshman Miles Bridges, who could go pro after one year or return to be a favorite for national player of the year. Even if Bridges leaves, this will be a better, more experienced and hopefully healthier team, one that will be bolstered by the addition of 6-foot-10 five-star recruit Jaren Jackson.
12. Gonzaga. NBA decisions loom large for both freshman 7-footer Zach Collins and junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss. The Zags lose Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews already. The likely loss of Collins will be tough, but Killian Tillie is ready for a bigger role. If Williams-Goss returns as expected, there's still a lot to like here, as he'd join Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.
13. Cincinnati. The Bearcats have made seven straight NCAA Tournaments under Mick Cronin, and there's no reason to believe that's going to stop. They have an identity as a physical, strong defensive team, and they'll be in good shape despite losing senior guards Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson. They're productive on the offensive glass and defend the paint well, and they'll continue to do so with Kyle Washington, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans and others back.
14. USC. Andy Enfield has guided the Trojans to back-to-back tournaments, and now the roster could get back every key player, including double-digit scorers Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. That same core should be far better than a First Four team this time.
15. Notre Dame. Even with seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia gone, there's a great foundation here for another successful season under Mike Brey. Guard Matt Ferrell will return after a breakout season, and the Fighting Irish have one of college basketball's most versatile weapons in 6-foot-5 do-everything big man Bonzie Colson.
16. UCLA. The most entertaining offense in college basketball will look a lot different with freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf joining seniors Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford in leaving Westwood. They do, however, have impact players returning in Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, and Steve Alford is bringing in an excellent recruiting class led by five-star prospects Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes.
17. Xavier. Will Trevon Bluiett return? The answer to that question will hang over the Musketeers the next few weeks. We saw just how far Bluiett could carry them after their improbable Elite Eight run without Edmond Sumner. Sumner is a certain NBA departure, while Bluiett will test the waters but not hire an agent. If Bluiett joins J.P. Macura and others in returning, Xavier could get back to the Elite Eight.
18. Miami. The Hurricanes have won at least 20 games in five of Jim Larranaga's six seasons, with three NCAA Tournament bids. Miami is in good shape to make a return to the Big Dance for a third straight time. Five-star guard Lonnie Walker is committed to the recruiting class, and he'll make an instant impact on a lineup that will also included Ja'Quan Newton and Bruce Brown.
19. Oregon. The Ducks are a mystery team in the early stages of the offseason, awaiting NBA decisions from Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell. Given the uncertainty involving all three stars, any April ranking for next season is going to have to hedge. If every underclassman -- or even two of those three -- returns, this can be a Final Four team again.
20. Saint Mary's. Gonzaga owned the Gaels this season, but they still went 29-5. Expectations could be just as high with 6-foot-11 Jock Landale back, as he's one of the nation's best players at any position. Saint Mary's should actually have its top three scorers back in Landale, Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar.
21. Alabama. After back-to-back NIT appearances, the Crimson Tide are ready to take the next step in Avery Johnson's third season as head coach. It's thanks in large part to a fantastic recruiting class that includes five-star guard Collin Sexton and four-star guard John Petty, who will join a returning lineup that brings back its top three scorers, led by Braxton Key.
22. Baylor. One of the most pivotal uncertain pro decisions is All-American Johnathan Motley, a star on both ends of the floor who could return for his senior season. If he does, Baylor will have a pair of senior behemoths in Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil, and the only key player it would lose from a team that won 27 games would be Ish Wainright.
23. Minnesota. The Golden Gophers went from 8-23 to 24-10, and the only player they lose is Akeem Springs. Star guard Nate Mason returns, as does Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch. After such a huge turnaround, perhaps there could be some regression, but when nearly everybody returns to a 24-win team, it's going to be a lock for the preseason top 25.
24. Northwestern. The best season in Northwestern basketball history can be topped. The Wildcats made their first NCAA Tournament ever and won their first tourney game, and next year's team will return Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey in the backcourt, plus Dererk Pardon and Vic Law in the frontcourt.
25. TCU. TCU hasn't opened a season in the AP top since 1998-99, after it made the NCAA Tournament. That also happens to be its most recent NCAA tourney bid. The Horned Frogs are in their third different conference since last going dancing, and now their hopes are the highest they've been in years. They were on the bubble and won the NIT in Jamie Dixon's first season, and next season the team's top six scorers are slated to return.