Two dates impacted the preseason Power Rankings more than anything else in the offseason: Aug. 14 and Sept. 26.
Let's start with the second one. On Sept. 26 the FBI announced charges of fraud and corruption against 10 people in the college basketball world, including assistant coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC. It led to Louisville removing Rick Pitino as coach and suspending McDonald's All American Brian Bowen. Miami and Alabama also came under investigation in the days following the initial news.
Given that there's federal prison time at stake here, it might not be the first thing on people's minds, but of the top 12 teams in the preseason power rankings, four were impacted or mentioned in the investigation. It's unclear what the ramifications will ultimately be for any of these programs -- or any other program eventually involved -- but it will certainly be a cloud that hovers until it's resolved.
Louisville is the team most impacted by the FBI investigation in the near-term, as Pitino was one of the best coaches in college basketball, winning two national championships and making seven Final Four appearances. Bowen would have also added perimeter scoring punch, with the ability to get points at all three levels. Acting coach David Padgett still has plenty of talent on hand, but the distractions might be too much for a Final Four appearance.
Aug. 14 was Marvin Bagley III's decision to reclassify to 2017 and attend Duke over USC and UCLA. Bagley had been the No. 1 prospect in the 2018 class, and his decision immediately vaulted the Blue Devils to the top of the rankings. He's that good, perhaps the best prospect to come out of high school since Anthony Davis in 2011.
Bagley takes Duke to another level compared to everyone else in the nation. Their ceiling is simply higher, with four of the 10 best incoming freshmen and last season's preseason player of the year making up the starting five. They're not without issues, though, as we essentially said the same things last season -- when the Blue Devils had a drama-filled, roller-coaster season that ended with a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
Arizona and Michigan State can make great cases to be preseason No. 1. Sean Miller and the Wildcats possess nearly as much talent as Duke and have more experience at key positions, while their defense will likely be more consistent. Michigan State has the Tom Izzo factor, an elite player in Miles Bridges and options at every position.
But preseason rankings should come down to talent and ceiling -- and Duke has the highest one in college basketball.
1. Duke Blue Devils
If everything comes together, Duke has the most talent in the country. There are a couple of things to watch in the early part of the season: How Grayson Allen develops into his role as a leader on a team with mostly freshmen, and whether Trevon Duval is able to keep all the scoring options happy on the offensive end.
2. Arizona Wildcats
Rawle Alkins' injury (broken bone in his foot) will hurt the Wildcats in the nonconference portion of the season, but Miller has more than enough weapons to fill the void. The biggest knock on Miller has been his lack of a Final Four, but with the depth and talent on his roster this season, 2017-18 should be when he gets over the hump.
3. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans are deep and experienced, they have Izzo, and they bring back perhaps the nation's best returning player in sophomore forward Bridges. Turnovers were a major issue for Michigan State last season, though, and Cassius Winston and Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn are back at point guard.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
It's not easy to lose the Wooden Award winner and remain in the top five, but Bill Self brings back enough talent to do that without Frank Mason. Devonte' Graham leads a versatile perimeter group, and former top-10 recruit Malik Newman is eligible after transferring from Mississippi State. The development of Udoka Azubuike will be key.
5. Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers might struggle in the early going without Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, who each suffered injuries in the summer and could miss the start of the season. Gregg Marshall brings everyone back from a 31-win team, and there will be no bubble talk this season with the move to the American Athletic Conference.
6. USC Trojans
This might seem high for USC basketball, but Andy Enfield has as much talent as anyone in the country. All five starters return from last season, plus the Trojans welcome Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. and McDonald's All American Charles O'Bannon Jr. They need Bennie Boatwright, who missed 17 games last season, to stay on the floor.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari is used to having young teams, but this season is extreme, even for him. Of the top 10 guys on the roster, eight have never played a college game. The leading returning scorer, Wenyen Gabriel, averaged just 4.6 points last season. There will be growing pains, but Kentucky is again the SEC favorite.
8. Villanova Wildcats
It's a new day for Jay Wright and the Wildcats, with veterans Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds all moving on. The show never stops, with the next batch of stars ready to take their place. Jalen Brunson is still running point, while Donte DiVincenzo came on strong last season. Big man Omari Spellman gives the Wildcats a different look.
9. Cincinnati Bearcats
Scoring won't be a problem for the notoriously defensive-minded Bearcats, as three double-digit scorers return in the frontcourt and Jarron Cumberland slots in the backcourt. The key will be Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome, who averaged 23.1 points as a sophomore but will need to be the point guard for Cincinnati.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Richard Pitino went from the hot seat to a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament last season, and all five starters are back from that group. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy lead the way among the veterans, but the arrival of ESPN 100 point guard Isaiah Washington has people excited. The New York native will bring swagger to the Gophers.
11. Miami Hurricanes
Perhaps Duke's biggest competition in the ACC, the Hurricanes will have one of the nation's best backcourts in Ja'Quan Newton, Bruce Brown Jr. and incoming five-star Lonnie Walker IV. Walker had knee surgery in July, but should be ready for the season. Miami was just 4-11 against top-50 teams last season; that needs to change.
12. Florida Gators
One of the elite defensive outfits last season, the Gators lose four key members of that Elite Eight team, and it might take Mike White some time to get everyone to buy in at that end of the floor again. Fortunately, Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen return, and transfers Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech) and Egor Koulechov (Rice) will help.
13. West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins will look to "Press Virginia" opponents into oblivion again this season after finishing in the top-two nationally in defensive turnover rate each of the past three seasons. Where will the half-court offense come from? Jevon Carter will lead the way, but the loss of Esa Ahmad for the first half of the season hurts.
14. Xavier Musketeers
The Musketeers are hoping the momentum of March's Elite Eight run will carry over to this season, especially potential All-American Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 20.4 points in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Xavier also has an impressive incoming crop of players, led by freshman Paul Scruggs and Green Bay transfer Kerem Kanter.
15. Seton Hall Pirates
When the Pirates' trio of Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado announced they were returning to school instead of going to the NBA draft, Kevin Willard knew he had a top-25 team on his hands. Those three combined to score 48.2 points -- and Delgado, one of the nation's best big men, added 13.1 rebounds.
16. North Carolina Tar Heels
Three starters and five rotation members are gone from last season's national champions, but Roy Williams will look to prevent a huge drop-off. Joel Berry II is still running the point (eventually, since he is now out four weeks with a broken hand), and Elite Eight hero Luke Maye will have a bigger role. Beating out Kentucky and Arizona for Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson was key.
17. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals would have been several spots higher, but the FBI investigation that led to the placement of Pitino on unpaid administrative leave and potential ineligibility of Bowen throws everything into question. On the court, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel are back, and there's a long list of potential performers.
18. Northwestern Wildcats
The streak is finally over. Making its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history last season, the Wildcats are now looking for more. Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey form one of the Big Ten's best backcourts, and the return of Aaron Falzon from injury should help with perimeter shooting -- one of Northwestern's weaknesses.
19. Saint Mary's Gaels
Randy Bennett has led the Gaels to a top-two West Coast Conference finish in 12 of the past 14 seasons -- with only one outright regular-season title to show for it. A second could be coming this season. Big man Jock Landale is a dominant option inside, and Emmett Naar leads a plethora of high-level perimeter shooters.
20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
You can be fairly certain Mike Brey will have a superefficient offense that can spread the floor and make shots -- and everyone in the program will improve year over year. All-American forward Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell are entering their senior seasons and will look to go out on a high note.
21. UCLA Bruins
The Lonzo Ball era is in the history books now, and besides Ball, three other starters and shot-blocker Ike Anigbogu are also gone. Where does Steve Alford turn now? McDonald's All American Jaylen Hands and Aaron Holiday will have the ball in their hands, but he'll need Thomas Welsh to become a more consistent option.
22. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Zags had the lead with 2:25 left in the national title game but came up short, and now Mark Few has a reloading job on his hands. Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins, Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski are all gone, but starters Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams are back. Keep an eye on international forwards Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie.
23. Providence Friars
Despite losing Kris Dunn after the 2015-16 season, Ed Cooley managed to lead the Friars to a fourth straight NCAA appearance last season. All five starters are back from that group, led by matchup problem Rodney Bullock. Providence also brings in top-40 recruit Makai Ashton-Langford, one of the best point guards in the 2017 class.
24. TCU Horned Frogs
The last time we saw the Horned Frogs, they beat Georgia Tech by 32 to win the NIT championship. With all five starters returning from that team, Jamie Dixon has high hopes for this season. There should also be improved depth, with the addition of talented freshmen R.J. Nembhard and Kevin Samuel.
25. Texas A&M Aggies
Talentwise, the Aggies deserve to be much higher in the preseason rankings. Robert Williams is a lottery pick, Tyler Davis is one of the best bigs in the country, and Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg are also back. A&M went just 16-15 last season with most of the same pieces. Improved point guard play is needed for this team to reach its potential.