Madness can consume us all.
It can take over our lives and control our every thought. It is innocent early on, even going unnoticed at times. But over time, it grows. It becomes an obsession, a passion, an all-consuming kidnapping of our mind and body. Every spring each and every one of us shares in the same madness. It is college basketball’s March Madness. The ending to a long season culminates in a three-week binge of basketball and emotion. But all madness has a beginning. A point where it all started, and that time is now.
The 2016-2017 college basketball season begins this week and it brings plenty of storylines. How will so many future NBA stars fare this season before making the leap to the pros? How many freshmen will deliver an important impact for teams wanting to be title contenders? Will this year’s tournament come close to the drama that was provided last year?
Before those questions and more get answered, we have to start with a broader look at who is the best of the best. Here is our pre-season Top 25 team rankings:
1. Oregon (31-7 last year)
The Ducks are poised for a monster season and will finally be noticed for more than just their unique court design. Led by National Player of the Year candidate Dillon Brooks, they have a veteran-heavy team. Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis will give their backcourt a versatile combination that’s hard for any team to defend. Heavy favorites to win the Pac-12, look for the Ducks to lock up the overall #1 seed in March.
2. Kansas (33-5)
Bill Self has won 12 straight Big 12 division titles. While Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham shouldn’t have much problem filling the shoes of Perry Ellis, outstanding freshman Josh Jackson looks to hit the ground running in Lawrence. The experience of this team added to the influx of talent will have the Jayhawks well on their way to their 13th Big 12 title and maybe more.
3. Villanova (35-5)
Kris Jenkins lived the dream last season hitting that buzzer beating championship winning shot. The most dramatic tournament we’ve ever had ended perfectly for the Wildcats. We haven’t had a repeat champion since ’91-‘92 Duke, but ‘Nova looks to change that. Josh Hart is a Player of the Year candidate that coach Jay Wright actually expects more out of this season. Small ball will be the name of the game as they have no starter taller than 6’8”.
4. Duke (25-11)
This team is loaded with talent. Now the trick is getting it to work. Coach K has had some trouble getting his teams to fully commit to the team recently. It could be that some have had their heads on the NBA already. This year’s team has no shortage of that caliber player. Four starters return, including Player of the Year candidate Greyson Allen, adding to a class that boasts four of the top 13 freshmen in the country. Can Coach K turn an 11-loss team last year into a contender?
5. North Carolina (33-7)
Last year’s season-long favorite to win the title came within a buzzer beater of acheiving that task. Can this year’s team be an addition by subtraction? Losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige hurts the team’s leadership but also allows more players to shine. Isiah Hicks and Joel Berry took big steps last season and look to improve even more this year. Coach Roy Williams needs a few players to step up for a chance to redeem the Tar Heels title that got away last year.
6. Kentucky (27-9)
One-and-done U has done it again. Losing 5 of their top 7 starters to the NBA may not be a factor as the Wildcats bring in 4 McDonald’s All-American players. Can Isaiah Briscoe take that next step in his sophomore season and gel with the new recruits? UK wont have a lot of competition in the SEC this year and should be primed for some big games in March.
7. Michigan State (29-6)
The Spartans are in for a fight this year in the Big Ten and that’s exactly how Coach Tom Izzo likes it. After last year’s embarassing 1st round exit, this team should have quite the chip on its shoulder. Losing Denzel Valentine will hurt, but adding top freshman Jarren Jackson will keep this team’s front court strong.
8. Virginia (29-8)
Coach Tony Bennett has graduated from rising star to established top-tier coach in this league. His steady-as-he-goes pace of play keeps the Wahoos in every game. They’ll need key contributions from junior transfer Austin Nichols this season to hang high in the ACC.
9. Indiana (27-8)
Thomas Bryant decided to forego the NBA even though he was projected as an early first-round pick. His return, along with improved play by OG Anunoby, will have the Hoosiers back in play for the Big Ten title this season.
10. Wisconsin (22-13)
Four senior starters project the Badgers as heavy favorite to win the Big Ten. But can second-year coach Greg Gard get them there? Last year’s transition from Bo Ryan wasn’t exactly smooth. If it gets better this season, along with better shooting from Nigel Hayes, then more than a Big Ten title could be coming to Madison.
11. Xavier (28-6)
Always following in Villanova’s footsteps and this season is no different. This veteran team looks to change things as coach Chris Mack has much more than the Big East title in his sights. All-Big East point guard Edmond Sumner has focused all summer to get the Muskateers over that hump.
12. Arizona (25-9)
Sophomore Allonzo Trier leads a very young Wildcats team. Coach Sean Miller continues to produce during the regular season only to fall short in the end. Can he finally change that trend in 2017?
13. Gonzaga (28-8)
Przemek Karnowski is as big as his name suggests. The 7’1” big man should be in the NBA, but deciding to come back puts the Bulldogs in contention for far more than a West-Coast Conference crown.
14. Louisville (23-8)
Coach Rick Pitino enters his 16th season with the Cardinals after an ugly season of scandal and scrutiny last year. Looking to put that behind them, last year’s leading scorer Quentin Snider wants to challenge for a title in the ACC.
15. Purdue (26-9)
When starting power forwards can be looked down on, you know you have a tall team. 7’2” Isaac Hayes leads a powerful front court for the Boilermakers trying to contend in a loaded Big Ten.
16. St. Mary’s (29-6)
The Gaels have a real shot at un-seating Gonzaga for the West Coast title. Defense and a slow pace of play rule the day for this Randy Bennett coached team.
17. UCLA (15-17)
A serious bounce back is on tap for the Bruins this year. Coach Steve Alford finally has a full four years of his recruits and needs to shine now.
18. UConn (25-11)
A talented freshman class, led by Alterique Gilbert, looks to bounce back after a subpar season last year. A guard-heavy attack should help the Huskies lead the way in the American conference.
19. Syracuse (23-14)
41 seasons for Coach Jim Boeheim, along with 23-year-old senior Andrew White, and you could call the Orange experienced.
20. West Virginia (26-9)
WVU will have its work cut out for them to de-throne the Big 12 king, Kansas. Coach Bob Huggins’ veteran-laden squad has as good a chance as any though.
21. Texas (20-13)
Jarret Allen and James Banks bring a lot of size along with this freshman class. Can Coach Shaka Smart get them to learn fast enough to contend in March?
22. Rhode Island (17-15)
E.C. Matthews averaged 16.9 points a game two years ago, but last season was ended early due to an injury. He’s back this year, healthy and with a chip on his shoulder to lead the Rams to an A-10 title.
23. Creighton (20-15)
Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson Jr. form one of the best back courts in the country. They’re going to need to be good to contend with the powers in the Big East.
24. Maryland (27-9)
The Terps’ had one of their most dissapointing seasons last year, with their #1 pre-season ranking in some polls falling out completely by mid-season. A loaded Big Ten and losing four out of their top five scorers from last year won’t help things this season. Coach Turgeon has his work cut out.
25. Miami (27-8)
Legal troubles off the court and a loaded ACC will make things tough for the Hurricanes. Coach Jim Larranaga has enough talent to make our Top 25 though.
The ACC (6) and Big Ten (5) lead the way this season with the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12 right behind. This year doesn’t have a clear-cut dominate team just yet, but the madness is just beginning.