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SportsPulse: This college basketball season may have just ended, but it’s never too early to look ahead to next season. USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson takes a look at the teams that could make some noise in 2018-19.
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SAN ANTONIO — The 2017-18 college basketball season is officially in the books following the playing of One Shining Moment after this year’s NCAA tournament and the not-so-shining-moments in relation to the ongoing FBI probe into illegal recruiting that’s rocked the sport.

But now that Villanova has officially cut down the nets and March Madness is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn the focus to the season ahead.

Events of the offseason — players testing NBA waters, the cycling of transfers, the late decisions of incoming freshmen — are sure to shake things up.

Even more developments could begin to unfold come April 25, when a commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will present recommendations to the NCAA on how to address problems with the sport magnified by the FBI investigation. NCAA president Mark Emmert has said he has hopes that the NBA will be recommended to allow elite high school athletes the decision to bypass college and begin their professional careers — essentially rooting out the one-and-done era. Should that happen, young-talent kingpins like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas could suffer the most. We’ve already seen Syracuse lose an elite recruit — Darius Bazley — to the NBA G-League.

1. Kansas (31-8)

The Jayhawks lose Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham and sharpshooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk but could get NCAA tournament breakout star Malik Newman and elite big man Udoka Azubuike back, along with a heavily-improved Silvio De Sousa. They also bring in a five-star guards in Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. However, coach Bill Self’s reinforcements come via the transfer route. Cal transfer point guard Charlie Moore (12.2 ppg in 2016-17) and Memphis transfer forwards Dedric Lawson (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) and K.J. Lawson (12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will give Self the depth (and size) he lacked on this year’s Final Four team.

THE BEST: Villanova makes its case as a historically great championship team

MARCH SADNESS: Emotional Michigan locker room after title loss

2. Duke (29-8)

Don’t feel bad for Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who loses All-Americans Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley, as well as projected lottery picks Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter, and maybe Gary Trent Jr. Coach K’s roster revamp includes another influx of top-tier talent, as Duke welcomes the three best recruits of the class of 2018, including 6-7 small forward R.J. Barrett (a gifted scorer), 6-6 power forward Zion Williamson (maybe the most athletic player in the country next year), and 6-7 power forward Cam Reddish (a catalyst with waves of potential). The key freshman, however, could be five-star guard Tre Jones, a 6-2 floor general and brother of former Duke PG Tyus Jones. So, there will be no shortage of talent in Durham, but this young team could take some time for Krzyzewski to mold.

3. Virginia (31-3)

Although the Cavaliers’ 2017-18 roster will forever be remembered for its historic upset loss to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County, it’s important to remember how incredible Virginia was in the regular season when assessing its outlook for next year. National coach of the year Tony Bennett always gets the best out of his group in his patient offenses and nation-leading defenses. Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Nigel Johnson are gone, but everybody else — including leading scorer Kyle Guy — figure to be back from 31-win team that fell on wrong side of history in NCAA tournament, despite winning ACC regular season and tournament titles. Expect the March Madness loss to UMBC to be a motivating factor for this group in 2018-19.

4. Villanova (35-4)

Projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges and national player of the year Jalen Brunson are expected to leave for the NBA, and freshman big man Omari Spellman has shown flashes of being a top draft pick as well. But the key returnees — Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth — are all poised to step into larger roles, ones they might be better suited for, to keep Villanova in the contending mix. Paschall, the 6-9 forward who erupted for a 24-point game in the Final Four against Kansas (on 10-for-11 shooting) will come back as the team’s best defender, while DiVincenzo, the breakout star in the title game with 31 points, could take a huge leap as a rising junior. And coach Jay Wright also welcomes a five-star point guard in Jahvon Quinerly, who decommitted from Arizona amid the FBI probe and now gives the Wildcats a perfect floor general replacement should Brunson depart as expected.

MORE: What does Donte DiVincenzo’s epic game mean for NBA draft stock?

5. Gonzaga (32-5)

The ‘Zags lose some key pieces in Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson. They could also see upstart talent Rui Hachimura depart early for the NBA. Regardless, coach Mark Few should have a talent-stacked roster poised to go even further than the Sweet 16 —where the Bulldogs bowed out two weeks ago — next March. Zach Norvell Jr. (12.7 ppg), Josh Perkins (12.3 ppg), and K.J. Tillie (12.9 ppg) are all back. Norvell, who had 28 points in Gonzaga’s first-round win over Ohio State, figures to make a huge freshman-to-sophomore leap. Brandon Clarke, a 6-8 transfer from San Jose State who averaged 17.3 points a game as a sophomore, is a player who can make a Nigel Williams-Goss-esque impact on the program.

6. Auburn (26-8)

The Tigers should be an SEC contender again, likely returning the top eight scorers from a roster that had an unexpectedly impressive season — with Bruce Pearl’s group nabbing a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. What’s more: Several elite players who weren’t available this past season are expected to be eligible. Austin Wiley, a 6-11 sophomore who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman but was suspended all of 2017-18 in connection with the FBI probe, could be back (if he doesn’t turn pro) and add a big boost. Then factor in Danjel Purifoy (FBI investigation) and Samir Doughty (a VCU transfer who sat out per NCAA rules) to a group of returners headlined by Mustapha Heron (16.4 ppg) and Bryce Brown (15.9 ppg). Pearl’s biggest issue will be managing all that talent.

7. Kentucky (26-11)

While it’s usually a lock that coach John Calipari’s NBA-caliber freshmen will all declare and leave Lexington, there’s a decent chance some decide to stay to boost their stock. Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt and P.J. Washington all will have to make those decisions. Depending on who might return, Calipari could see a nice blend of returning and incoming talent on his roster. Five-star recruits Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickly highlight UK’s incoming freshman class, while four-star Tyler Herro is a lights-out shooter.

8. Michigan State (30-5)

Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. are likely headed to NBA, but Big Ten assists leader Cassius Winston, Nick Ward (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Joshua Langford (11.7 ppg) and Matt McQuaid (6.0 ppg) all are anticipated to return. Plus coach Tom Izzo’s reloaded with a pair of four-star recruits (Marcus Bingham, a 6-9 power forward, and Gabe Brown, a 6-8 forward, both of whom will see time right away).

9. North Carolina (26-11)

The losses of vets Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson will be felt, but the Tar Heels will showcase a solid blend of standout returnees and a top-five recruiting class. Luke Maye (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg) will be a preseason All-American, while Cam Johnson (12.7 ppg) and Kenny Williams (40% from beyond the arc) will provide veteran leadership and steady production. Roy Williams’ top incoming freshman is Nassir Little, a 6-6 wing, is a multidimensional player who will fit in well right away.

10. Tennessee (26-9)

The Volunteers exceeded expectations in 2017-18 by finishing as co-champ of the SEC’s regular season and notching a No. 3 seed in the NCAAs. They’ll look to carry that momentum over into 2018-19, and that shouldn’t be difficult as coach Rick Barnes figures to bring back his core guys barring any unexpected NBA departures. The key returnee is SEC player of the year Grant Williams, and Admiral Schofield’s pitbull style of play will again give this squad a backbone.

11. Oregon (23-13)

Leading scorer Payton Pritchard is part of a core group of returnees from a 23-win team, and coach Dana Altman hauled in an elite freshman class led by 7-3 five-star recruit Bol Bol, the son of 7-7 former NBA big man Manute Bol. Look for the Ducks to be the best team in the Pac-12 next season.

12. Kansas State (25-12)

The Wildcats’ surprising Elite Eight run signaled a bright future for Bruce Weber’s team. That whole group that got hot in March and upset Kentucky in the Sweet 16 is all back for more, and should be even more lethal with a healthy Dean Wade (KSU’s leading scorer who was injured for the NCAA run) back in the lineup. Barry Brown (15.9 ppg), who put the team on his back in the NCAAs, should take another nice step as a rising senior. Look for the Wildcats to challenge Kansas in the Big 12.

13. Nevada (29-8)

Coach Eric Musselman is the king of transfer recruiting, and after luring the Martin twins to Nevada, his arsenal for 2018-19 makes the Wolf Pack the clear-cut Mountain West favorite and a team that could be extremely dangerous again in March. Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), Jazz Johnson (Portland), Tre’Shawn Thurman (Omaha), Corey Henson (Wagner) all transferred from smaller mid-major schools after putting up big numbers there. If Caleb and Cody Martin don’t turn pro (they’re projected second-round picks), then this team will be loaded on offense. Look for Jordan Caroline (17.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg), a breakout star who Musselman also acquired via the transfer route (from Southern Illinois) to drive this team to an even better finish than this year — when the Wolf Pack bowed out of the NCAAs in the Sweet 16 on a last-second loss to Loyola.

14. Louisville (22-14)

New coach Chris Mack inherits a talented roster with the Cardinals. Mack always maximized his talent at Xavier, which included an Elite Eight run in 2007 and a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. Can Mack make the Cardinals an ACC contender in his first year? That’d be tough, but getting this team to the NCAAs shouldn’t be a problem with Deng Adel (15.0 ppg) expected to return.

15. Loyola-Chicago (32-6)

The Ramblers’ Final Four team will be tough to top, but there will be ample talent on coach Porter Moser’s roster to fuel another Missouri Valley championship and deep March Madness run. MVC player of the year Clayton Custer returns as a senior, as does explosive guard Marques Townes. But the element that makes this a top-15 team is 6-9 big man Cameron Krutwig coming back as a sophomore. He was Loyola’s best player against Michigan and showed his old-school post moves worked just fine against power teams in the NCAAs. Also look for Lucas Williamson and Bruno Skokna, two reserves, to step into larger roles in trying to replace invaluable seniors Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson.

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SportsPulse: Loyola-Chicago captivated the country with its Cinderella run to the Final Four. Despite the run coming to an end, our Scott Gleeson believes the Ramblers should change the way we look at mid-majors.
USA TODAY Sports

16. Virginia Tech (21-12)

Buzz Williams should have seven of his top eight scorers back, including All-ACC point guard Justin Robinson (14.0 ppg, 5.6 apg) and brings in a stellar recruiting class, led by four-star forward Landers Nolley. These pieces give the Hokies the elements to contend in the ACC and improve their NCAA tournament seeding (Tech was a No. 8 seed this March).

17. LSU (18-15)

Coach Will Wade brings in a sensational recruiting haul that can elevate the Tigers out of the SEC’s lower divisioin and to the top of the league race. The top-five class is headlined by Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams, who will team up with returning playmaker Tremont Waters (15.9 ppg, 6.0 apg) for one of the SEC’s most dangerous teams. Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams could give this team another dimension as well.

18. Michigan (33-8)

Moe Wagner is likely headed to the NBA, and Charles Matthews could leave Ann Arbor as well, but coach John Beilein is a master of developing players so look for rising sophomores Jordan Poole, who became the star of the NCAA tournament when he nailed a game-winning buzzer-beater against Houston. Should Wagner and Matthews leave for the NBA, there will be holes to fill with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson graduating. But Beilein brings enough back and welcomes enough in (led by four-star standout Brandon Johns) to keep the Wolverines in the contending mix. It just might take some growing pains throughout the Big Ten season to have his team peaking — once again — come March.

19. West Virginia (26-11)

The loss of Jevon Carter will be felt, but coach Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” defense usually keeps this team among the Big 12’s best and nation’s elite. Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate highlight the list of returners that will keep WVU in the national conversation. Huggins will have to find a high-volume scorer (or two) to make up for the loss of Carter’s production.

20. Florida State (23-12)

Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team overachieved by getting to the Elite Eight by using its defense to wear opponents down, and now plenty of talented pieces will be back — more seasoned — to build off that success by challenging the ACC’s elite. Terance Mann (12.6 ppg) returns, and the NCAA could give Phil Cofer an extra year of eligibility since he missed most of 2015-16 with an injury.

21. Mississippi State (25-12)

Quinndary Weatherspoon (14.4 ppg) and Nick Weatherspoon (10.8 ppg) are back from a 25-win team that went far in the NIT, making up key returnees for coach Ben Howland’s best team he’s had since arriving in Starkville. A first trip to the NCAA tournament under Howland should be expected.

22. Maryland (19-13)

Look for Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins to vault back into the national equation in 2018-19 thanks to the return of his top three scorers, starting with Anthony Cowman (15.8 ppg and 5.1 apg). If Michigan State and Michigan don’t meet expectations, Maryland’s surely a team capable of stealing the Big Ten title. Turgeon has more than enough here to get the Terps back to the NCAAs, at the very least.

23. Cincinnati (31-5)

Coach Mick Cronin has piloted the Bearcats to back-to-back 30-win seasons in spite of losing talent, so Cincinnati’s departures of key players shouldn’t be looked at as that big of a blow. Jarron Cumblerand (11.5 ppg) can Cane Broome (7.9 ppg) are back from this last year’s No. 2 seed and American Athletic champ.

24. Purdue (30-7)

Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson are all out. That’s four starters gone, but it’s the one who is left — All-American Carsen Edwards — can keep Matt Painter’s team in the Big Ten title race. Darmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux, a 6-7 wing who averaged 17 points in two seasons, will provide a much-needed boost after decommitting from Xavier to join the Boilermakers after Chris Mack lefts and gives Purdue

25. Wisconsin (15-18)

The Badgers should return Ethan Happ (17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg), who plans to examine his NBA chances but hasn’t signed with an agent. The versatile big man would have been an All-American had Wisconsin been any good. Expect Greg Gard to have this team near the top of the Big Ten with most of the nucleus expected to be back and a young group grown up now. Guard Brad Davison (12.1 ppg) had a strong freshman campaign and should make a nice jump as a sophomore.

Also considered: Arizona State, Vanderbilt, Florida, TCU, Clemson, Syracuse, Penn State, Arizona, UCLA, Wichita State.

Note: While all NCAA players can declare for the draft and participate in the NBA combine and one team tryout, most of the references for players declaring or leaving rests on the assumption that they’ll hire an agent and be unable to return to their respective campuses.

All recruiting rankings are based off of a composite ranking from other several top sites including ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports.

Records from 2017-18.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE NATIONAL TITLE GAME

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