These are the players to watch, ranked, as always, according to what I expect them to accomplish in the college game this coming season and not based on pro potential:
12. Jevon Carter, West Virginia Mountaineers After taking a long look at entering the draft, Carter elected to return for his senior season in Morgantown. That means the Mountaineers will have the services of the reigning NABC National Defensive Player of the Year, not to mention a seasoned combo guard who drained 39 percent of his 3s last season. With Carter, Esa Ahmad and Daxter Miles Jr. all back from last season's team, West Virginia has a shot at earning a fourth consecutive top-five seed in the NCAA tournament.
This is a big week in college basketball. The deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft has passed, and so we finally know for sure who's returning to the college game and who's not.
19. Joel Berry II, North Carolina Tar Heels Throughout the course of three seasons, Berry has steadily accounted for more and more of the workload within the UNC offense, and all the while his efficiency has remained steady at a high level. His defense is excellent, and, if 13 3-point tries (he made four) in the national championship game are any indication, he is not shy about embracing the moment. Somewhat strangely, it's becoming standard practice to say every prominent senior who chooses to return will of course have a final campaign like Buddy Hield's in 2015-16 or like Frank Mason III's last season. That's a high bar, but Berry will certainly be heard from as a senior.
16. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Musketeers Bluiett performed heroic feats for the Musketeers after Edmond Sumner was lost for the year in January with a torn ACL. Few would have thought the same team that lost six straight games in February and March could rally to make the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed. In three tournament wins against Maryland, Florida State and Arizona (no easy path for Xavier), Bluiett scored 75 points on 24-of-46 shooting from the field.
7. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona Wildcats Arizona will make a healthy number of preseason lists for final four and national-title consideration, and Ayton is most definitely a contributing factor behind this phenomenon. The 7-footer has been praised by Sean Miller as the best player he's ever signed (high praise from an elite recruiter), and Ayton arrives in Tucson billed as a dominant post presence who's also skilled with the ball. The freshman is currently being projected as a top 3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Based on this information, I've revised my previous rankings of the top 25 players of 2017-18. Farewell, Dillon Brooks, Nigel Williams-Goss and Co. We hardly knew ye.
2. Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri Tigers Porter is the No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 100 for 2017, and there seems but little doubt regarding the 6-foot-10 freshman's long-term potential. A more intriguing question, however, may be what we can expect to see in 2017-18. The precedents set by past elite freshmen like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz -- who recorded excellent individual seasons on behalf of teams that did not make the NCAA tournament -- suggest that even a Porter-level talent may not be enough by itself to earn Missouri a bid. That being said, "Porter-level talent" is, by all accounts, remarkable indeed.
4. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin Badgers Not only does Happ shoot nothing but 2s, for the most part his shot attempts occur really close to the basket. So he's a throwback, right? A classic center? Sort of, except for the strikingly high assist and steal rates. I've called Happ a point-center, but whatever terminology you prefer the junior-to-be just makes Wisconsin better. The question for 2017-18 will be whether he can sustain his level of effectiveness on offense playing for the first time without Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, all of whom departed after their senior seasons.
1. Grayson Allen, Duke Blue Devils One year ago I named Allen my No. 1 player in college basketball heading into 2016-17. No, that forecast didn't turn out so well. If you had told me in advance that Allen would trip opposing players repeatedly and indeed with recidivist zeal I would have been markedly less bullish on his prospects. What has changed now? There will still be Grayson moments, I trust, but I'll go out on a limb and predict a suspension-free year, one characterized additionally by a heaping helping of featured-scorer minutes and a very high number of makes from beyond the arc. If Trevon Duval is the point guard everyone says he is, that can only help Allen's candidacy for national player of the year.
5. Jalen Brunson, Villanova Wildcats Last season Josh Hart earned first-team All-American honors by assuming a leading role within yet another extraordinarily efficient Villanova offense. I can envision a similar scenario playing out in 2017-18 with regard to Brunson. For two seasons now he's been a supporting player alongside the likes of Hart, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono. Now he'll take on a larger workload for a team that should, yet again, compete for a national title. The 6-foot-2 point guard is a deft distributor who, like his team as a whole, converts on his 2-point tries at a preternaturally high rate.
11. Devonte' Graham, Kansas Jayhawks Graham's most important contributions as a senior may not come only on offense as a replacement for Mason but also as a mentor or at least example for Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. Kansas fans have long been able to rest easy knowing that Mason and Graham would give them not only scoring but also excellent backcourt defense. If both halves of that statement are also true of Graham and Newman, the Jayhawks may win yet another Big 12 title.
15. Landry Shamet, Wichita State Shockers Few observers would have believed in advance that a redshirt freshman would allow the Shockers to more or less not skip a beat after Fred VanVleet's final season. Well, that's pretty much what Shamet accomplished last season. The freshman piloted a WSU offense that ripped through Missouri Valley Conference play at a rate of 1.21 points per trip, a number helped along by Shamet's ability to take care of the ball while hitting 44 percent of his 3s.
24. Robert Williams, Texas A&M Aggies On paper, a frontcourt that has both Williams and Tyler Davis is fit to look Kentucky or any other SEC team in the eye, and with luck we may get a fair test of that theory in 2017-18. Last season the Aggies posted far and away the highest turnover rate in the league, but if J.J. Caldwell and/or Marquette transfer Duane Wilson can step in and remedy that weakness (and, granted, Davis was part of that problem, too) it's possible the 6-foot-9 Williams could have even more to show us.
13. Kelan Martin, Butler Bulldogs It's tempting to say Martin will take on a larger role for the Bulldogs now that Chris Holtmann said goodbye to four key rotation players (Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis and Kethan Savage), but in truth Butler's offense was already going through the 6-foot-7 Louisville native last season. While Martin's minutes may tick upward, Butler fans should be happy if his usage and efficiency both stay right where they are (very high).
17. Nick Ward, Michigan State Spartans You might have to go back to the freshman year DeMarcus Cousins recorded at Kentucky in 2009-10 to find a combination of "per-possession dominance" and "not many possessions" like what we saw from Ward last season. Tom Izzo's sophomore will enter 2017-18 as possibly the best offensive rebounder in the nation, and Ward's per-minute ability to draw fouls fairly boggles the statistical mind. If the 6-foot-8 center can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble for extended minutes, he'll quite rightly top every list of breakout sophomores.
18. Mohamed Bamba, Texas Longhorns Bamba chose Texas over Kentucky and Duke, and Shaka Smart now has a 7-footer who could end 2017-18 as the nation's premier rim defender. Freshmen who block shots aren't always able to log a high number of minutes, but if Bamba can be the exception to that rule, opponents could in theory confront something of a nightmare. When the opposing team's playing a "Havoc"-brand of pressing defense and it has an elite shot-blocker in the paint, well, lots of luck.
10. Wendell Carter, Duke Blue Devils The academically elite Carter may have disappointed his mother by choosing Duke over Harvard, but the school in Durham has a pretty good reputation in its own right. Besides, Mike Krzyzewski has minutes available for the 6-foot-10 freshman. Even with Allen returning and even by one-and-done-era standards, the Blue Devils will be unusually young. Still, with Carter driving baseline, generating highlight-reel dunks and cleaning the glass, Coach K could lead this inexperienced group deep into the postseason.
3. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish The last first-team All-ACC selection who chose to return to school was Allen heading into last season, so Colson's decision to come back to South Bend definitely qualifies as the exception to the rule. The senior-to-be is coming off an outstanding season, one in which he assumed the role of featured scorer for the Fighting Irish for the first time and did so with uncommon ease. A 6-foot-5 power forward (who also plays center) in the ACC isn't supposed to make it look this easy. Yes, Colson is helped along by his amazing wingspan, but 78 percent shooting at the line and a near-total lack of turnovers testify additionally to his completeness as a player.
8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State Spartans You can make a case that in many ways Bridges improved as he logged more games as a freshman (most notably, he drained 42 percent of his 3s in Big Ten play), and his decision to return for a sophomore year gives Michigan State an enormous boost for 2017-18. At 6-foot-7, Bridges is a classic dual-threat wing (who often plays at power forward or even, on occasion, center), but he's also one who can clean the glass and even protect the rim.
20. Rawle Alkins, Arizona Wildcats Alkins was able to step into the starting lineup of a national-title-contending team as a freshman and hit his shots from both sides of the arc. At 6-foot-5 he has already displayed good passing skills and when needed he helps out on the defensive glass. Alkins gave a sense of what his sophomore season might be like when he scored 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field and recorded five assists in the Wildcats' easy first-round win over North Dakota in the NCAA tournament.
14. Trevon Duval, Duke Blue Devils Not long after Frank Jackson declared his intention to stay in the NBA draft, Duval announced that he would play for Duke next season. Krzyzewski's latest freshman floor general is being billed as a "true" point guard, one who distributes the ball with alacrity and offsets a sometimes questionable jump shot with his ability to get to the rim. Duval will number Allen and Wendell Carter, among others, as potential targets for his passes, so chances are good we'll see an impressive assist rate from the freshman.
9. Allonzo Trier, Arizona Wildcats Trier missed half of 2016-17 due to a failed PED test. Once he did get on the floor he was outstanding, to the tune of 51 percent shooting on his 2s and a 39 percent conversion rate on his 3s. Most impressively, he displayed a newfound ability to make the right pass -- this will stand him in good stead on a team that will hardly lack for weapons on offense in 2017-18. Trier will be a junior on paper, but the truth is we're still waiting to see what he can do when logging high-volume minutes during the course of an entire season. It could be quite a sight.
25. Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State Cowboys Assuming Carroll's able to duplicate what he did last season and do so without the benefit of the incomparable Jawun Evans (now pursuing professional opportunities) as his point guard, it will be time to officially recognize the senior as the proverbial Great College Player. Maybe the next level won't get overly excited about a 6-foot-6 guy who'll be almost 24 by the time of the 2018 draft, but Carroll has made believers out of several opposing college defenses.
22. Moe Wagner, Michigan Wolverines Before last season, Wagner had made a grand total of two 3-pointers in his college career. I'll spare you the "life comes at you fast" reference, but one year later this same player very nearly entered the draft before deciding to return to Ann Arbor for his junior season. The 6-foot-11 Wagner added perimeter range to his game last season while (oh, by the way) converting 66 percent of his tries inside the arc. With teammate D.J. Wilson deciding to take a shot at a pro career sooner rather than later, John Beilein will be relying on Wagner to post healthy increases in both minutes and defensive boards.
6. Jock Landale, Saint Mary's Gaels Randy Bennett's star is, for lack of a better term, a left coast Caleb Swanigan. As the Gaels' featured scorer and one of the best all-around rebounders in Division I, Landale had a very persuasive case to make for West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors last season. Now, with former Gonzaga standout Nigel Williams-Goss safely ensconced in the professional ranks, the SMC junior will have a clearer path toward that award.
23. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall Pirates Why do point guards get a monopoly on the word "true"? I say Delgado is a true rebounder, possibly the best true rebounder in college basketball. Add to that the fact that he is now a valuable scorer within the Pirate offense -- one who shot 54 percent inside the arc last season -- and you're looking at one of the Big East's top performers. This Seton Hall team should rival the Isaiah Whitehead-led group from 2015-16 as the best Kevin Willard's ever had.
21. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Wildcats After enrolling at Kentucky in January, Diallo has a head start on Kevin Knox and the rest of yet another incredibly talented freshman class in Lexington. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard waited to the last minute to withdraw his name from the draft, and now the Wildcats will benefit from his 7-foot wingspan and attacking style. A freshman season featuring a sufficient number of made 3s would likely be enough to put Diallo into lottery territory for 2018.