The Arizona Wildcats’ 2016-2017 season ended in heartbreak in a Sweet 16 loss to Xavier.
Could all of the pain go away next season?
USA TODAY Sports released its early men’s college basketball rankings for the 2017-18 season and it looks like the Wildcats are going to be entering the season with high expectations.
It has Arizona as the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
Scott Gleeson writes of the Wildcats: “Projected lottery pick Lauri Markkanen is gone to the NBA, and Kobi Simmons might leave, too. But much of Arizona’s prospects depends on the NBA decision of leading scorer Allonzo Trier, a projected second-round pick who likely will consider his pro options without an agent. Rawle Alkins (10.9 points per game) had a strong freshman season and is poised for a big sophomore year if he bypasses the NBA. The return of Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche alongside point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright should give coach Sean Miller an established core. Miller hauled in a top-three recruiting class — headlined by 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, the country’s No. 1 prospect, according to 247 Sports — that will keep the Wildcats contending. Recruiting class: A+”
Duke is No. 2 in USA TODAY Sports’ rankings, while Kentucky, Florida and Kansas round out the Top 5.
Arizona’s Pac-12 rival, UCLA, is No. 7, while a couple of other Pac-12 schools also made the list.
USC is ranked No. 11. Oregon, which lost in a national semifinal to eventual champion North Carolina, is No. 12.
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 9. Gonzaga, which lost in the national title game, is ranked No. 19.
You can see USA TODAY Sports’ complete early Top 25 for next season here.
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Arizona No. 1 in other early rankings:
The Wildcats are also No. 1 in The Sporting News’ early Top 25 for next season.
Ryan Fagan writes: “If the guys on the should-I-go-pro fence decide to return, Arizona is the clear Pac-12 favorite, and the Wildcats will stay atop this ranking when next fall rolls around. Will that happen, though? Hard to know. Either way, Sean Miller will have tons of talent on his roster; his top-five recruiting class includes the prospect some consider No. 1 in the country — big man DeAndre Ayton — and three more four-star players, power forward Ira Lee and guards Brandon Randolph and Alex Barcello. “
SI.com has Arizona No. 1 as well.
Seth Davis writes: “Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier and 6’5” freshman Rawle Alkins should return and join the nation’s top freshman, 6’11” center DeAndre Ayton.”
Aaron Torres writes: “Kadeem Allen will graduate and Lauri Markannen will leave for the pros. Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons could at least test the waters, but none are currently projected as first round picks. Assuming all three come back, they will team with DeAndre Ayton – considered by some to be the best prospect in high school basketball – for what should be the top team in the country coming into next season.”
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Not every site has Arizona ranked No. 1:
ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan has the Wildcats ranked No. 11 in his early Top 25 for next season.
He writes: “Coach Sean Miller has churned out consistent winners since he arrived in Tucson, and 2017-18 should be no different. Arizona had only one senior (Kadeem Allen) on this season’s young roster. It will lose brilliant freshman center Lauri Markkanen, and odds are that at least one or two of its talented wing trio (Allonzo Trier, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, with Alkins seeming the most likely to come back). Still, Miller’s recruiting efforts have another star big on the way: No. 1 center (and No. 2 overall, per the ESPN 100) prospect DeAndre Ayton. The Wildcats have a lot of personnel questions to figure out in the coming weeks, but “Miller plus talent” is always a handy equation.”:
SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford has Arizona at No. 3 for next season.
He writes: “Kadeem Allen was the only senior on this year’s roster, but it’s more likely than not that Sean Miller will lose at least two of his four star underclassmen to the NBA draft. If he can get just one or two of those guys back, then they should be able to join forces with all-everything freshman DeAndre Ayton to have the Wildcats right back in the hunt for Miller’s ever-elusive first Final Four appearance.”
Yahoo Sports puts Arizona at No. 2.
Jeff Eisenberg and Henry Bushnell write: “A few big NBA draft decisions have yet to be made, so it’s difficult to project Arizona, but even if all three of Simmons, Trier and Alkins leave, this has the looks of a top-10 team. Jackson-Cartwright and Ristic are very solid college players, Comanche has a big developmental offseason ahead of him, and the incoming freshman class is one of the nation’s best (it also could still grow). Ayton should start, and likely star, from day one. If Alkins returns, as it seems he should, the Wildcats will be clear favorites in the Pac-12. If Trier does as well, the Wildcats are probably the preseason No. 1.”
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