Last week, I shared my observations on trends within the various college basketball top 25 rankings that surfaced following the NBA draft deadline. This week, it was my turn to take a crack at reshuffling projections.
I’ll spotlight a few noteworthy changes and explain the thought process.
Count Gonzaga among one of the harder hit during the NBA draft process. While getting back supremely talented Zach Collins for his sophomore season was probably always a pipe dream, All-American guard Nigel Williams-Goss opting to remain in the professional pool surprised me. I have yet to see a draft projection with him near the first round, and he’s the kind of talent who could have elevated himself with another year a la Buddy Hield.
With Williams-Goss back running the show, I had Gonzaga pegged for a preseason Top 10 ranking. With NWG and Collins leaving alongside Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews, both of whom exhausted their eligibility, the Zags are among the last in the Top 25. Equally notable, I tabbed West Coast Conference counterpart Saint Mary’s a few spots ahead of Gonzaga.
That puts SMC, with returning breakout star Jock Landale, as my de facto WCC favorite.
SMU, Seton Hall Climb
I had neither SMU nor Seton Hall ranked immediately following the Final Four, preparing for the worst for each with NBA departures. While SMU took a hit with Semi Ojeleye opting for the NBA, Shake Milton decided to return for another year.
That alone wasn’t enough to put the Mustangs over-the-top and into the Top 25, particularly with Ben Moore and Sterling Brown graduating. However, the addition of Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau provides necessary veteran reinforcement alongside a solid recruiting class.
Seton Hall’s Top 25 ranking is built on the strength of experienced talent. Angel Delgado’s return gives college basketball a bonafide star in 2017-’18, and he’s far from the only proven commodity on the Seton Hall roster.
With Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington both back in the mix, Seton Hall has the core necessary to contend for the Big East championship. The addition of high 4-star recruit Myles Cale could be the key difference-maker, giving Seton Hall an additional scoring option on the wing to draw defensive attention away from Delgado.
Big 12 Separation
Kansas was my initial No. 1, and only dropped to No. 2 with the tidal wave of talent Sean Miller has Tucson-bound over the past few weeks. It’s hardly a shock that the winner of 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles would set the pace for the league. However, for the first time in a few years, the gap between the Jayhawks and the rest of the Big 12 may be much more pronounced.
West Virginia ranks just outside the Top 10, but the Mountaineers are the only other Big 12 team I have tabbed for the Top 25 heading into summer.
The conference is rife with potential-laden teams: NIT champion TCU is right on the cusp, and should make the NCAA Tournament without sweating on Selection Sunday. Baylor’s undergoing considerable roster turnover, but Scott Drew has maintained a high standard for long enough to assume the Bears will again be solid. Top 25 solid, however?
Meanwhile, both Oklahoma and Texas should rebound from dismal 2016-’17 seasons. Neither has enough on paper to justify ranking them in the Top 25 before they prove it on the court.
The Big 12 program most gutted this offseason, however, has to be Oklahoma State. The departure of Brad Underwood to Illinois derailed progress that had the Cowboys on the trajectory for serious March contention. The ensuing mess that was Oklahoma State’s coaching search did little to inspire confidence.