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Top NCAA men’s basketball teams

Calvin Stiteley, Sports Team Leader

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“Gives it to Jenkins, for the championship! Villanova! The National Champions!” screamed CBS commentator Jim Nantz, as Villanova forward Kris Jenkins sank a long 3-pointer to win the 2016 National Championship over North Carolina. That was the last time we saw college hoops action, and it was perhaps one of the greatest moments in sports history. What is in store this year?

1. Duke

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in arguably the best recruiting class in the nation this offseason. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum were the top two recruits in the country, and they also added point guard Frank Jackson. The biggest key to this team’s success is the return of Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson. Allen averaged 21.6 points per game last season and is an early favorite this year to win the Naismith Player of the Year award. There is plenty of bench depth. If Jackson is able to play as more of a passer and Giles can stay healthy, it’s very possible to see this team on top of the basketball world once again.

2. Kansas

This team will be propelled significantly by the addition of freshman Josh Jackson. A potential future number one overall pick, Jackson has the ability to completely change a basketball game. Despite the fact that they lost a lot of players such as Perry Ellis (16.9 PPG last year,) the backcourt should be phenomenal with the return of Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham, who both averaged double figures last year. Their big guys may struggle to score a bit, but this will still be a team that can show up deep into the tourney.

3. Kentucky

Surprise surprise, the Wildcats have yet another ridiculous freshman class.  Center Bam Adebayo, who is 6’10, is a monster on the boards, who has the ability to generate a double double every game. Point guard De’Aaron Fox has great speed who should be able to facilitate at a high level. Factor in Malik Monk, who will likely lead this team is scoring, and you have a starting roster that can make some noise in March

4. Virginia

The name of the game for head coach Tony Bennett is defense. They had the second-best defense in the country last year behind only Wichita State, giving up only 60.05 PPG. The loss of ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon hurts, but the addition of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols will boost this team’s’ defense even more. He averaged 13.2 PPG, 6.1 boards and 3.2 blocks when he last played in the 2014-2015 season.

5. Villanova

The Wildcats will be winning the Big East this year, there is little doubt. The 2016 National Champs will be without Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, who both averaged double figures. The good news for head coach Jay Wright is that Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson are returning starters. Hart averaged 15.5 PPG while Jenkins averaged 13.6. Hart is shaping up to be a Player of the Year candidate. Assuming Wright gets everything out of his starters, this could be a Final Four team.

6. Oregon

After making it to the Sweet 16 a year ago, the Ducks are primed for another run. However, the success of this team depends on the health of Dillon Brooks, who is recovering from an offseason foot surgery. Brooks is arguably one of the best players in the country, who averaged 16.7 PPG last year and 5.4 RPG. Starting point guard Casey Benson had a stellar 5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year,  (via ESPN) and Chris Boucher provides some stellar defense as a shot blocker.

7. Wisconsin

The Badgers have the potential to be the best team in the Big Ten and even make a run at the Final Four. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are a couple of the better players in the country, and both averaged double figure scoring last year. Ethan Happ is also a great option, who averaged 12.4 PPG and 7.9 RPG last year. Head coach Greg Gard did exceptional last year, leading the Badgers to the Elite Eight, and they have the ability to improve on last year’s finish.

8. North Carolina

The Tar Heels lost Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson (averaged a double-double last year,) this offseason. That will hurt them, but head coach Roy Williams has three returning starters in Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, and Kennedy Meeks. Jackson and Berry averaged 12 points last year. The key to their success this year will be whether or not they continue to rebound. Lead by Johnson last year, the Heels were a force on the boards, averaging over 40 per game.

9. Louisville

The Cardinals do not have any players who are among the best in the country. However, they do have a good amount of solid players that together can lead this team to success in the ACC. Lead by point guard Quentin Snider, the Cardinals will see time on the wing from guys such as Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel. They have plenty of big guys up front such as Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding who could grab a lot of rebounds.

10. Michigan State

Losing Denzel Valentine, the 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year, hurts Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Incoming freshman Miles Bridges, one of the top-10 recruits in the country will help this team immensely. Cassius Winston, another top recruit, will be leading this team at the point. He will be assisted in the backcourt by Eron Harris, who could average over 10 PPG this year. They have some work to do if they want to take down Wisconsin in the Big Ten this year.

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Top NCAA men’s basketball teams