Biggest storyline for each Top 25 basketball team

Dustin Gunter, Sportsnaut | Source, MSN

We’re now just one day from opening night of the 2017-18 college basketball season. It’s been an eventful offseason — to say the least. Elite teams have reloaded with young talent, and many stars from last season have returned to college to further their legacy. Meanwhile, the FBI bribery and corruption scandal has rocked the world of college basketball.

Whatever a team’s situation may be, most are scheduled to take the court on Friday, Nov. 10. Here’s each Top 25 team’s biggest storyline heading into the season.

Duke: Elite recruiting class makes the Blue Devils nation’s frontrunner

Duke looked like the best team in the country at times last season, however, it fell early in postseason contention. Signing four five-star prospects in the offseason, Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr., should give them a heavy advantage in the ACC.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team’s always performs at its highest level when one-and-done talent is being utilized. Can one of these guys step up in the way Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor once did for their team? Of course. Coach K knows how to mold young talent. Don’t expect that to change this season.

Michigan State: The return of Miles Bridges

Miles Bridges could be getting paid to play basketball right now. Instead, he’s got his focus on chasing a championship with his brothers in East Lansing. Bridges put up impressive numbers as a freshman last season, averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. Bridges should be a catalyst in the paint this season. With five-star recruit Jaren Jackson Jr. joining Bridges, the Spartans’ frontcourt should be tough to contain. This is Bridges’ team, and they’ll go as far as he takes them.

Kansas: Devonte’ Graham’s team

It’s rare in college basketball that hype surrounds a senior. Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham is worthy of every bit of the hype he’s getting. Graham, who has scored 1,000 career points with the Jayhawks, ranked 13th in scoring in the Big 12 his junior season. That’s a tough junior campaign to follow up. However, many believe the point guard will be much improved in his senior season.

He’s backed up that prediction so far. Graham averaged 19.3 points in the Jayhawks’ three exhibition games. He even scored 25 points against Missouri. Graham has been named to the Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list. Frank Mason III became the first-ever Jayhawk to claim the award last season. Will Kansas claim back-to-back Robertson trophies?

Kentucky: Hamidou Diallo

It never fails. John Calipari ushers in elite talent year in year out. Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo is no exception. Diallo, an early enrollee, didn’t see the court last season. Instead, he practiced with the team and waited his turn. He was eligible for the NBA Draft in May, and even tested the waters of his draft stock.

The 6-foot-5 guard registered the second-highest vertical leap in combine history at 44.5 inches. Fans have heard about Diallo’s athleticism and potential all year long. Now they’re ready to see them put to good use.

Arizona: High expectations despite involvement in FBI probe 

Assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday, Nov. 7, on several charges tied to the FBI investigation into college basketball, per azcentral’s Anne Ryman. However, the Arizona program remains unaffected. Teams like Auburn and Alabama have already had to sit players, because of eligibility concerns brought on by the scandal.

Could Arizona be the next team to lose players? The Wildcats are the favorite to win the Pac 12 this season. Junior guard Allonzo Trier is listed as an ESPN preseason All-American. A lot of things could go right for Coach Sean Miller’s team, but it’ll have to survive all of the distractions brought on by the investigation.

Villanova: Jalen Brunson’s team 

With the loss of leading scorer Josh Hart, Villanova will be looking to Jalen Brunson for more production. After coming off the bench for Ryan Arcidiacano two years ago, Brunson played well as a starter in his sophomore season. The 6-foot-3 point guard was the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer with 14.7 points per game. He’s the only player returning to average in double-digits. Look for Brunson to make plenty of plays with the ball in his own hands and as a distributor.

Florida: High expectations after Final Four appearance

Although they entered the NCAA Tournament as a four-seed last season, not many predicted the Gators to make it to the Final Four. The 2017-18 season could be another big one for Coach Mike White’s team, as it returns quite a bit of talent. The biggest loss for Florida is sharpshooter Canyon Barry. Now playing overseas, the graduate transfer averaged 11.4 points in a Florida uniform. He also shot 88 percent from the free throw line, while using an unorthodox ‘granny shot’ technique. Florida also bid a due to Devin Robinson and Kasey Hill.

They’ll need young talent to step up and fill the gaps. Leading scorer KeVaughn Allen returns, along with John Egbunu and Chris Chiozza. Allen is one of the 32 players named to the initial Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list. The Gators don’t jump out as a Final Four team, but neither did they last year. It will be interesting to see how far this team can go.

Wichita State: Shockers prepared for a title run

Wichita State will boast one of the most experienced teams in all of college basketball this year. Coming off of a 31-5 season, the Shockers return all five starters. The emergence of freshman star Landry Shamet was one of the top headlines of the 2017 postseason. After getting his feet wet last season, Shamet should return ready to lead his team into battle.

The Shockers are making the move to a major basketball conference, the American Athletic Conference, this year. No longer being a mid-major team will bode well for their resumé, and many have already dubbed them as a legitimate title contender.

North Carolina: Joel Berry II’s video game tantrum

The common question raised of most defending champions is “Can they repeat?” For Coach Roy Williams’ team, things are more complicated. The Tar Heels lost a lot of talent with the departures of Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. However, North Carolina does return its second-leading scorer and starting point guard from last season. Too bad he’s expected to miss up to four weeks with a broken hand.

According to USA Today’s Scott Gleeson, Joel Berry II made a mistake when he punched a door after losing a video game, and it could cost his team. The Tar Heels are still a talented team without Berry, but they’ll need him to compete in big games. Luckily for UNC fans, their team doesn’t face a Top 25 opponent until January.

West Virginia: ‘Press Virginia’ may be used a lot less

Known for their aggressive style of defense, the Mountaineers may display a different persona this season. Head Coach Bob Huggins said the press will be utilized, but just not as often.

“We might be better served to do something else,” Huggins said. “We’re going to keep doing it and see.”

This is largly in part to an inexperienced roster. It’s doubtful that West Virginia will be able to contend with Kansas for the Big 12 title if its defense isn’t in full-effect. Huggins will need to tie up his team’s loose ends before conference play approaches.

USC: Can the Trojans live up to the hype?

Much like Arizona, the Trojans find themselves involved in the FBI investigation. According to Los Angeles Times reporter Nathan Fenno, USC assistant coach Tony Bland was indicted on charges Tuesday, Nov. 7. No players have been ruled ineligible as of now. If the roster remains untarnished, it will be interesting to find out if they are worthy of being the 11th ranked team.

After all, the Trojans were an 11 seed in the tournament last season before falling to Baylor in the Round of 32. There’s no doubt this USC roster boasts tremendous talent with the returning of Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and Jordan McLaughlin. The question is, can it win conference games? Those games matter the most. USC went 10-8 in conference play last season.

Miami: Is this a top-tier program?

After finishing with a 21-12 record, 10-8 in the ACC, the Hurricanes have positioned themselves for success in the 2017-18 season. They return two players who averaged double-digits in the scoring column, Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown Jr. Brown is the player to watch for Miami. He managed 11.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in his freshman campaign. With the talent returning, plus signing five-star recruit Lonnie Walker, the Hurricanes could finish the season as one of the three best teams in the ACC.

Cincinnati: The arrival of Cane Broome

The Bearcats may have added a prolific scorer to their roster to help lead the team to its eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Cane Broome had to sit out last season after transferring in from Sacred Heart. The 6-foot guard averaged 23.1 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Pioneers. He also played 37.5 minutes per game. It will be interesting to see what Broome can do with weapons like Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark on his side.

Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson for ACC Player of the Year?

Bonzie Colson has blossomed over his college career. Could the Fighting Irish’s big man now be an ACC Player of the Year candidate in his senior season? Some would argue that he should’ve been awarded it last season. If Notre Dame would have won more games, Colson arguably would’ve been named the ACC Player of the Year. Instead, it was Justin Jackson, whose team went 33-7 on the year and went on to win the national championship.

Jackson put up great numbers, averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 rebounds on the season. Colson averaged a double-double with 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds, but Notre Dame finished fourth in the ACC. Does Colson have a chance at the award without his team dominating, or do the Fighting Irish have to win the conference for him to get recognized?

Minnesota: Everybody’s back

The Golden Gophers find themselves in a good position heading into the season. While no one is picking them to win the Big Ten, they’re nearly a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid. Minnesota was upset in the first round of the tournament by 12-seed Middle Tennessee State last season. Luckily for Coach Richard Pitino’s team, the roster is pretty much the same.

The Gophers return their top-four leading scorers from last season, who all managed to average in double-digits. Nate Mason and Amir Coffey will be leading the way for maroon and gold. Both were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Mason averaged 15.2 points last season, while Coffey followed right behind him with 12.2.

Louisville: Rick Pitino out, David Padgett in

The Cardinals have found themselves in the thick of controversy since last season’s postseason ban was announced. Now the basketball program is looking for a fresh start. After 16 seasons, Rick Pitino is out after it was discovered he helped orchestrate a payment of $500,000 to the family of five-star prospect Brian Bowen through Adidas. Bowen has been suspended, and it doesn’t look like any other players will be punished.

We know Louisville has the talent to play with the best of the best. The question is, will interim coach David Padgett be able to take advantage of that talent? Padgett has been a member of the Louisville staff for the past three years.

Xavier: Trevon Bluiett named a preseason third team All-American

It’s no wonder Trevon Bluiett is receiving so much preseason attention after some of the great performances he put on last year. Bluiett averaged 18.5 points and 5.7 rebounds on his way to leading the Musketeers to the Sweet Sixteen. He is on pace to finish his career at Xavier with over 2,000 career points. Don’t be surprised if he surpasses the expectations ESPN has laid out for him, as many other media outlets have him projected as a second team All-American.

UCLA: LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA freshmen arrested for shoplifting in China

Freshman shooting guard LiAngelo Ball is under a lot of pressure. Bruins fans want him to live up to the Ball name. However, there’s a possibility he might not see the court. Ball, along with two other freshmen, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, was arrested Tuesday in Hangzhou, China, for suspicion of shoplifting. The three players have been released on bail after being accused of stealing from a Louis Vuitton store. Details on the situation are scarce. The three players could be facing three to 10 years in prison if the accusation is proven true.

Gonzaga: Replacing Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, and Zach Collins

The Bulldogs are coming off their best season in school history, finishing with a final record of 37-2. However, the national runner-up lost a lot of talent. With the emergence of Saint Mary’s, will Mark Few’s team be able to win its 17th West Coast Conference Championship?

There’s promise in two returning starters, Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins. Williams started every game last season, and led the team in rebounding with 6.4 per game. He also pitched in 10.2 points per game for the Zags. Perkins averaged 8.1 points and 3.1 assists on the season. The Bulldogs will need some new faces to step up and contribute if they want to make another deep run in March.

Northwestern: Back-to-back tournament appearances in the Wildcats’ sights

Northwestern went dancing for the first time in program history last season. This season, nearly everyone returns. The top-four leading scorers for the Wildcats are back, including preseason All-Big Ten selections Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey. With this much experience and depth on the roster, the Wildcats chances of making its second consecutive, and second-ever, NCAA Tournament appearance is highly likely.

Purdue: Dealing with the loss of Caleb Swanigan

With the attention on Michigan State, the defending Big Ten champs are being completely written off. Many believe the loss of big man Caleb Swanigan is too much for the Boilermakers to bear; that they won’t be able to compete for the conference title. However, Purdue has one of the few frontcourts in the Big Ten that is capable of hanging with Miles Bridges and the Spartans. Vincent Edwards, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds, will be an impact player for the Boilermakers. Isaac Haas, a 7-foot-2 center, put up the same numbers as Edwards in nine fewer minutes. This team should not lack underneath the basket.

Saint Mary’s: West Coast Conference favorite

Saint Mary’s is coming off an impressive season in which the Gaels finished with a 29-5 record. The Gaels finished second in the West Coast Conference with their three conference losses all coming from national runner-up Gonzaga. They may not be ranked higher than the Bulldogs in the preseason rankings, but Saint Mary’s should be viewed as the favorite to win the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs lost a lot of talent that was vital to last season’s postseason run. The Gaels, on the other hand, return its heart and soul, Jock Landale. Landale, a 6-foot-11 center, nearly averaged a double-double with 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season.

Seton Hall: Loaded roster ready to bounce back from underwhelming postseason

Angel Delgado is arguably the best center in all of college basketball right now. The big man averaged 15.2 points, and led the nation in rebounding with 13.1 per game. Pair him with one of the most dynamic scorers in Khadeem Carrington, and you’re bound to find success. The Pirates’ season ended sooner than they wanted it to when they fell in the first round to Arkansas. This year, the experience should do them well. The Pirates return four players that averaged double-digits in the points column last season.

Baylor: Basketball season gives fans something to look forward to 

Baylor used to be known for its performance on the gridiron. Now it’s all about what the Bears are doing on the hardwood.

The Baylor football sexual assault scandal led to many players transferring out, and prospects decommitting. It’s left the team with a depleted roster that’s only won a single game this season. However, fans have a lot to look forward to this basketball season, with fifth year senior Manu Lecomte running the point for the Bears. Lecomte averaged 12.2 points per game last season, while shooting 43 percent from the field. The Bears will be dealing with the departure of big man Johnathan Motley, but they should be able to manage. Baylor is hoping to go dancing for its fifth year straight.

Alabama: Collin Sexton ruled ineligible, Braxton Key injury

Alabama is a team that has lived on the bubble the past two seasons. Head Coach Avery Johnson has the Crimson Tide moving in the right direction, however, he just hasn’t had the talent. With the additions of 5-star recruits John Petty and Collin Sexton, the Tide now looks built for the postseason. At least that was the case until news broke Monday that Sexton had been ruled ineligible.

The ruling came just hours ahead of his team’s exhibition game. Alabama officials determined Sexton was the unidentified player in a the FBI complaint against Auburn’s Chuck Person and former NBA referee Rashan Michel. The Tide will also be missing their leading scorer from last season, Braxton Key. Key will be undergoing surgery on his meniscus, and a timetable will be set for his return after the procedure has been performed.

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