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NCAA Top 25 rankings for 2017-18: A world without NBA draft early entrants

Karl-Anthony Towns #12 and Devin Booker #1 of

Karl-Anthony Towns #12 and Devin Booker #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats battle for position on a free throw with Frank Kaminsky of the Wisconsin Badgers  during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

In recent weeks, dozens of Top 25 rankings for college basketball’s 2017-18 season have been released and even more underclassmen have declared for the 2017 NBA draft.

Some teams have been hit hard by early defections over the last few years. Others have not.

For the purposes of this particular Top 25 ranking, let us pretend we live in an alternate universe where players cannot leave college until after their senior year. What would rosters look like? Under this concept, the senior class for the upcoming 2017-18 season would have been freshmen in 2014-15.

Any player who transferred away from a program or was dismissed was ineligible for this project.

Here is how the top 25 in this imaginary world would look:

1. Kentucky Wildcats

Starting lineup: PG De’Aaron Fox, SG Jamal Murray, SF Devin Booker, PF Trey Lyles, C Karl-Anthony Towns.

Bench: Tyler Ulis, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Skal Labissiere, Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green.

This team absolutely would dominate. Towns and Booker already are on the All-NBA doorstep, and Murray and Ulis were two of the league’s top rookies this year. This group is so loaded that former five-star recruits Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel do not grab one of the 13 spots.

2. Duke Blue Devils

Starting lineup: PG Tyus Jones, SG Luke Kennard, SF Brandon Ingram, PF Wendell Carter, C Jahlil Okafor.

Bench: Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen, Justise Winslow, Gary Trent, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden.

This Duke group does not boast Kentucky’s depth but has enough talent to give the Wildcats a good run. Toughest calls in the lineup: Kennard over Allen and Ingram over Tatum. Kennard was Duke’s best player this past season, though, and Ingram gets the edge over Tatum for his extra year of experience.

3. Arizona Wildcats

Starting lineup: PG Kobi Simmons, SG Allonzo Trier, SF Stanley Johnson, PF Lauri Markkanen, C DeAndre Ayton.

Bench: Rawle Alkins, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Brandon Randolph, Chance Comanche, Keanu Pinder.

Simmons is the weak link in this starting five, but 2 to 5, this Arizona lineup is scary good. Johnson, who has not adapted well to the NBA, was elite as a freshman. The frontcourt of Markkanen and Ayton, a consensus top-three recruit, is nearly impossible to stop. In this imaginary world, Ray Smith’s ACLs are pristine.

4. Kansas Jayhawks

Starting lineup: PG Devonte’ Graham, SG Malik Newman, SF Josh Jackson, PF Billy Preston, C Cheick Diallo.

Bench: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, Sam Cunliffe, Marcus Garrett, Udoka Azubuike.

No more Frank Mason III, but Kansas adds impact transfers Newman and Cunliffe and freshman Preston, an All-American, to the mix. Plus, Jackson, Diallo and Oubre return from the NBA. The hope is Alexander resembles the 5-star recruit he once was. This Kansas team does not have a weak spot and is deep at every position.

5. Florida State Seminoles

Starting lineup: PG Xavier Rathan-Mayes, SG Malik Beasley, SF Dwayne Bacon, PF Jonathan Isaac, C Ikey Obiagu.

Bench: Terance Mann, Trent Forrest, C.J. Walker, Christ Koumadje, Wyatt Wilkes, Patrick Savoy, Phil Cofer.

We already got a good feel for this Florida State team in 2016-17, as the Seminoles proved capable of beating just about anyone and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Beasley, the lone Seminole who spent last season in the NBA, never played with Isaac. Those two together could take Florida State to the next level.

6. Oregon Ducks

Starting lineup: PG Troy Brown, SG Tyler Dorsey, SF Dillon Brooks, PF Jordan Bell, C Kavell Bigby-Williams.

Bench: Payton Pritchard, Victor Bailey, Keith Smith, Roman Sorkin, Abu Kigab.

This team is not deep but it is potent. Though Brown is a freshman, he is a 5-star recruit and a potential upgrade over Dylan Ennis, who after six years is no longer eligible. The Ducks are especially thin up front, but 1 to 4, they are among the country’s best.

7. UCLA Bruins

Starting lineup: PG Lonzo Ball, SG Jaylen Hands, SF Kris Wilkes, PF T.J. Leaf, C Kevon Looney.

Bench: Aaron Holiday, LiAngelo Ball, Jonah Bolden, Ike Anigbogu, Thomas Welsh, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley.

Maybe the Bruins will not be as formidable offensively as they were in 2016-17, but with Ball running the show, they certainly will not be bad. This team has decent depth across the board. Hands and Wilkes are the stud freshmen, and Looney leaves the Golden State Warriors to be the senior leader.

8. Michigan State Spartans

Starting lineup: PG Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, SG Josh Langford, SF Miles Bridges, PF Deyonta Davis, C Nick Ward.

Bench: Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson Jr., Matt McQuaid, Gavin Schilling, Kenny Goins, Xavier Tillman, Kyle Ahrens, Ben Carter

This is basically Michigan State’s real-life roster, with the exception of Davis (Raptors) and, maybe, Carter (eligibility). Bridges will be one of the country’s best players, and the frontcourt of Davis, Ward and Jackson Jr., a McDonald’s All-American, is imposing.

9. North Carolina Tar Heels

Starting lineup: PG Joel Berry, SG Theo Pinson, SF Justin Jackson, PF Luke Maye, C Tony Bradley.

Bench: Jalek Felton, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods, Andrew Platek, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley.

The Tar Heels return two of their top three scorers from their national championship team in Jackson and Berry. Felton, a 5-star recruit, makes guard play a bona fide strength.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Starting lineup: PG Nigel Williams-Goss, SG Silas Melson, SF Zach Norvell, PF Domantas Sabonis, C Zach Collins.

Bench: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade, Jacob Larsen.

The frontcourt of Sabonis, Collins and Williams is as good as just about anyone’s, and it will lead the Bulldogs in 2017-18.

11. Louisville Cardinals

Starting lineup: PG Quentin Snider, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Deng Adel, PF Jaylen Johnson, C Chinanu Onuaku.

Bench: Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud, V.J. King, Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas.

As far as elite NBA talent goes, the Cardinals do not have much. Mitchell probably has the highest upside. But this group is deep and plays hard. With Onuaku back from the NBA, the Cardinals are extremely deep up front.

12. Syracuse Orange

Starting lineup: PG Frank Howard, SG Malachi Richardson, SF Tyus Battle, PF Chris McCullough, C Tyler Lydon.

Bench: Taurean Thompson, Matthew Moyer, Oshae Brissett, Bourama Sidibe, Howard Washington.

Syracuse does not have much established depth, but that starting lineup belongs in the second tier behind the top cluster of teams in these rankings.

13. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Starting lineup: PG Rashad Vaughn, SG Pat McCaw, SF Derrick Jones Jr., PF Dwayne Morgan, C Stephen Zimmerman.

Bench: Jovan Mooring, Kris Clyburn, Cheickna Dembele.

UNLV has not had much success in several years. If only the Runnin’ Rebels could have gotten all their NBA talent on the same roster. Oh, wait, they can in this imaginary land.

14. Washington Huskies

Starting lineup: PG Markelle Fultz, SG Dejounte Murray, SF Matisse Thybulle, PF Marquese Chriss, C Sam Timmins.

Bench: David Crisp, Jaylen Nowell, Carlos Johnson, Dominic Green.

With Fultz, Murray and Chriss all on the roster, we get to see the Washington team we expected to see in 2016-17. Maybe these Huskies still would underachieve, but no one can deny this team would be extremely talented.

15. Wichita State Shockers

Starting lineup: PG Landry Shamet, SG Conner Frankamp, SF Zach Brown, PF Rashard Kelly, C Shaquille Morris.

Bench: Markis McDuffie, Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger, Daishon Smith, Austin Reaves.

We know how good this Wichita State team is because it is the same Wichita State team that took the floor in 2016-17. No pros to bring back to college, but the Shockers still stack up well.

16. USC Trojans

Starting lineup: PG Jordan McLaughlin, SG Derryck Thornton Jr., SF Elijah Stewart, PF Bennie Boatwright, C Chimezie Metu.

Bench: De’Anthony Melton, Shaqquan Aaron, Jonah Matthews, Nick Rakocevic, Charles O’Bannon Jr.

The Trojans have plenty of talent. The looming question is can they take the next step after earning a No. 11 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Boatwright not being able to declare for the NBA Draft in this imaginary universe certainly helps.

17. Florida Gators

Starting lineup: PG Chris Chiozza, SG Kevaughn Allen, SF Jalen Hudson, PF Devin Robinson, C John Egbunu.

Bench: Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundrae Ballard, Isaiah Stokes, Chase Johnson, Mike Okaru, Dontay Bassett.

The Gators don’t bring back any pros, but Chiozza taking over for Kasey Hill as the full-time point guard and Hudson entering the mix both could be key.

18. Villanova Wildcats

Starting lineup: PG Jalen Brunson, SG Phil Booth, SF Mikal Bridges, PF Eric Paschall, C Omari Spellman.

Bench: Donte DiVincenzo, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Dylan Painter

On paper, this roster doesn’t pop like Jay Wright’s last few. But the Wildcats would be tough with Brunson leading the way and Spellman gaining eligibility.

19. Baylor Bears

Starting lineup: PG Manu Lecomte, SG Jake Lindsey, SF Mark Vital, PF Johnathan Motley, C Jo Lual-Acuil.

Bench: King McClure, Terry Maston, Nuni Omot, Wendell Mitchell, Tristan Clark, Tyson Jolly.

Al Freeman’s transfer cuts into the Bears’ depth a bit, but this team was a top 10 team for most of the 2016-17 season. Unlike several of the teams ahead of them they don’t benefit from the return of any NBA players.

20. Indiana Hoosiers

Starting lineup: PG Josh Newkirk, SG James Blackmon Jr., SF OG Anunoby, PF Juwan Morgan, C Thomas Bryant.

Bench: Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, De’Ron Davis, Curtis Jones, Devonte Green, Justin Smith.

The Hoosiers hardly had all their talent on the floor at the same time last year. But with Anunoby and Hartman healthy for a full season, the Hoosiers belong as a top 20 team.

21. Texas Longhorns

Starting lineup: PG Matt Coleman, SG Andrew Jones, SF Kerwin Roach Jr., PF Myles Turner, C Jarrett Allen.

Bench: Eric Davis Jr., Royce Hamm, Dylan Osetkowski, Jacob Young, James Banks, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres.

Maybe the Longhorns can play their way up the rankings, now that they have a point guard in Coleman who can feed Turner and Allen inside. This is definitely a team to keep an eye on.

22. Maryland Terrapins

Starting lineup: PG Anthony Cowan, SG Melo Trimble, SF Kevin Huerter, PF Justin Jackson, C Diamond Stone.

Bench: Michal Cekovsky, Jaylen Brantley, Ivan Bender, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Darryl Morsell.

The return of Stone and retention of Trimble are key, giving the Terrapins an inside presence they lacked last year and a go-to guy.

23. Purdue Boilermakers

Starting lineup: PG P.J. Thompson, SG Carsen Edwards, SF Dakota Mathias, PF Vince Edwards, C Caleb Swanigan.

Bench: Ryan Cline, Isaac Haas, Nojel Eastern.

Say what you want about Swanigan as an NBA prospect, but you cannot deny he is coming off one of the best recent seasons of any big man. With him in the mix, Purdue will remain competitive.

24. Seton Hall Pirates

Starting lineup: PG Isaiah Whitehead, SG Khadeen Carrington, SF Desi Rodriguez, PF Ismael Sanogo, C Angel Delgado.

Bench: Myles Powell, Michael Nzei, Eron Gordon, Myles Cale.

The Pirates essentially add Whitehead to a team that earned a No. 9 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. With Whitehead running the show as the deep 2014 class enters its senior year, the Pirates could be dangerous.

25. Xavier Musketeers

Starting lineup: PG Edmond Sumner, SG Trevon Bluiett, SF JP Macura, PF Kaiser Gates, C Sean O’Mara.

Bench: Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Kentrevious Jones.

This team does not jump out as all too exciting, but with Sumner and Bluiett in the mix, the Musketeers could turn some heads.

New York Sports