Top College Basketball Title Contenders For 2016-17

    Top college football title contenders for 2016-17. An early look at which teams could compete for the national championship.

    April 5, 2016

    An early look at the top college basketball title contenders for the 2016-17 season. 

    Winning a national title is never easy, and parity in college basketball gives anyone a chance to win it all.

    We like to say things like that, but really, that is only to make us feel warm and fuzzy. The bottom line is the title game featured a No. 1 seed and a team that spent time at the top of the rankings during the season, and only a handful of teams had a realistic shot at cutting down the nets in Houston when the tournament started.

    So which teams realistically have a chance to win the title in University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona April 3, 2017? Here’s our handful.

    The Favorites

    Duke Blue Devils

    Even if Grayson Allen leaves—Brandon Ingram is gone for good, and Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee both graduated, so Allen is the only question mark—the Blue Devils still will be in good shape. Matt Jones can be a leader, Luke Kennard is ready to take the next step (and maybe become the next hated Dukie), and freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum should step into the starting lineup. Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t have many seasons where he fails to reach expectations, and he will have a strong lineup next year.

    Villanova Wildcats

    There is no experience quite like playing in the Final Four, and Villanova just gained that. Even though graduation will strip guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu from the lineup, three other starters return, and they will give the Wildcats one of the most experienced rosters in the country. Add freshman Omari Spellman inside, and you have a team that will be deep and talented inside and out. This year wasn’t a fluke Villanova is here to stay.

    Kentucky Wildcats

    Kentucky was largely disappointing this season, and even though nobody thought this year’s Wildcats would go undefeated, there still was plenty of talent that just never found itself on the same page. Ah, but if John Calipari has taught us anything, it’s that he doesn’t stay out of the Final Four for long. There are a lot of questions about who will be back next season, but UK will welcome five top-30 freshmen to the roster, and this is a team that is going to be able to beat opponents inside and out. Working out leadership and chemistry questions will come first, but UK has all season to figure that out, and Cal usually has his guys playing their best basketball in March.

    The Contenders

    Kansas Jayhawks

    Kansas isn’t counting on a stellar recruiting class to restock the shelves in Lawrence, but that doesn’t mean KU is going to take a step back. Guards Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason will give the Jayhawks one of the best backcourts in the country. If forward Cheick Diallo returns (a possibility) and starts to live up to his potential (a probability), KU will have a nice piece inside. Big Udoka Azubuike could be a man in the paint, too, even if Diallo doesn’t come back. Bill Self always has his team playing at a high level, and this will be a hungry team.

    Indiana Hoosiers

    On paper, the Hoosiers are going to be one of the most balanced teams around. It might not shoot quite as well as it did this past season, and losing a point guard like Yogi Ferrell isn’t going to make for an easy adjustment, but Tom Crean has an intriguing roster in Bloomington. Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams have NBA decisions to make, but if they return, Bryant will be among the best big men in the Big Ten, and Williams is the slashing scorer who can take over games. James Blackmon Jr. is another quality scorer who will take the next step if he bothers himself to defend, and this is a roster adding talented depth on the recruiting trail. IU could be special.

    Michigan State Spartans

    Do you really want to be the guy picking against Tom Izzo a year after falling in the first round to a No. 15 seed? The newly minted Hall of Famer loses Denzel Valentine, but guards Eron Harris and Lourawls Nairn will be back and ready to take on bigger roles, and four quality recruits will make an instant impact. Forward Miles Bridges and guard Josh Langford are difference-makers, and point guard Cassius Winston and forward Nick Ward will provide quality depth. There will be a lot of questions to work out early in the season, but don’t sleep on Sparty.

    The Dark Horses

    Oregon Ducks

    Four starters back from a team that feels it could have done better this season is a dangerous combination. Forward Chris Boucher was given an extra year of eligibility, and he will be playing with a sense of urgency from the start of the season. If Dillon Brooks returns to school, this will be a talented, experienced team that also will be starving-dog hungry. Guard Tyler Dorsey looks like he’s ready to enjoy a breakout season to boot, and guard Payton Pritchard and center M.J. Cage will give Dana Altman two freshmen who can make their presence felt.

    North Carolina Tar Heels

    Yes, losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige hurts the Tar Heels. It robs them of the kind of talent that took over games this season. But it’s not as if the cupboard is bare in Chapel Hill. Guards Joel Berry II and Nate Britt had their moments and will take on bigger roles. The same goes for forwards Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson, and if swingman Justin Jackson and forward Kennedy Meeks return as expected, this will be an experienced team that will feature plenty of depth. Oh, and UNC welcomes a pair of top-50 freshmen in forward Tony Bradley and guard Seventh Woods who will make their mark.

    Virginia Cavaliers

    You don’t have to believe us. Yes, losing Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill is a blow for Tony Bennett’s team. But it’s not as if Bennett has been building a program that would be good for a couple of years and would come back to the pack. Guard London Perrantes has been the good soldier for the past couple of years, providing leadership while sacrificing his own game for the good of his team. It’s his turn now, and he will be a star. Isaiah Wilkins, Darius Thomason and Devon Hall all played big roles this season and will step up, and UVA welcomes freshman guard Kyle Guy, who will give the Cavaliers a sharpshooter who also can go to the rim.

    UCLA Bruins

    The Bruins could be the story of college basketball next season. They went just 15-17 this year, and their chemistry was an absolute mess. So why would we be high on UCLA with everyone but Tony Parker coming back? The answer lies in talent and Steve Alford’s ability to spend the offseason getting everyone on the same page. Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are all too talented to struggle with inconsistency for a second straight year, and the arrival of freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf will bring even more talent to the floor. If this team gets its head on straight and learns to turn up the defense, the Bruins will be a sleeper.

    MORE: Early Preseason Top 25 College Basketball Rankings


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