The first USA Today Coaches Poll rankings of the 2017-18 season was released recently. As expected, most of of the blue bloods are represented in the Top 25 college basketball rankings.
However, there were some unfamiliar programs that made their way into the spotlight. Teams like Northwestern and Alabama are new to the preseason hype, but that’s not a mistake. Being one of the Top 25 college basketball teams requires having multiple playmakers on both sides of the ball, and they have them. That said, there’s always that one guy that coaches put their utmost trust in. Every ranked team has one.
Here’s a look at the most dangerous scoring threat for each Top 25 college basketball team heading into the season.
1. Duke: Grayson Allen, senior guard
The 2016-17 season was one filled with ups and downs for Allen. After averaging 21.6 points per game in his sophomore year, he put up just 14.5 last season. That’s exceptional for the typical player, but fans know what he is truly capable of. All eyes were on him after his seemingly compulsive tripping turned into negative headlines last season. That could’ve played a big role in his struggles. Allen is the Blue Devils’ most explosive scorer, but he’ll have to handle the attention better this year. Duke put together an elite recruiting class by signing four top-20 recruits this offseason. This team has the talent to make a championship run. Allen is one of few players to wear the Duke uniform for four consecutive years, and his experience could come in handy when March arrives.
2. Michigan State: Miles Bridges, sophomore forward
No doubt, Bridges could have been a lottery pick after last season. Instead, he returned to Michigan State because he wants to chase a championship with his teammates. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds last season. He has already been named the preseason Big Ten player of the year. The Big Ten championship is the Spartans’ to lose this year. Look for Bridges to average a double-double and lead his team deep into March.
3. Kansas: Devonte’ Graham, senior guard
After averaging 13.4 points last season, Graham is ready to lead the Jayhawks during his senior season. He was a staple for Kansas’ offense shooting the ball last year. As a junior, he made 94 three-pointers on the season and shot 43 percent from the floor. Bill Self showed plenty of faith in his point guard in an interview with USA Today.
“Now what’s best for our team is for him to be our primary handler and have the ball in his hands. People will see how much better he is now.”
Graham has already started to back up his coach’s statement. He had 25 points and 10 rebounds in Kansas’ scrimmage against Missouri.
4. Kentucky: Hamidou Diallo, freshman guard
The hype is real for this freshman. Diallo, an early enrollee for the Wildcats, has big shoes to fill. He will be standing in for the now Charlotte Hornet, Malik Monk, who led Kentucky in scoring last year with 19.8 points per game. Diallo should be ready, as he’s already had a year of practice with his team. Never having stepped on the court at Kentucky, Diallo declared for the NBA Draft after last season and showcased his skills at the NBA combine. He posted the second-highest vertical leap in combine history, at 44.5 inches. After testing the waters, he chose to come back to Lexington for one year. The guard also averaged 10.9 points per game for the USA U19 team over the summer.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, “Diallo has more explosiveness but less offensive polish than recent Kentucky two-guards.”
Diallo went to the right coach to help clean up his game. He should shine in Coach John Calipari’s system.
5. Arizona: Allonzo Trier, junior guard
Trier probably doesn’t get the attention he deserves because he plays on the west coast. He led the Wildcats in scoring with 17.2 points last season and shot an impressive 46 percent from the field. He was voted a Second Team All-Pac-12 selection, and Most Outstanding Player of the Pac-12 Tournament after averaging 20.7 points and 5 rebounds. ESPN has already named Trier as a preseason first team All-American.
6. Villanova: Jalen Brunson, junior guard
Brunson shot a jaw-dropping 54 percent from the field last season on his way to averaging 14.7 points per game. He finished second in scoring for Villanova just behind Josh Hart, who averaged 18.7 points. Brunson’s ability to score creates plenty of oppotunities for his teammates. All eyes should be on the All-Big East team member. The question is, can anybody stop him?
7. Florida: KeVaughn Allen, junior guard
No other Gator is more worthy to be called a dynamic scorer than KeVaughn Allen. In his sophomore season, he averaged 14 points per game, but that doesn’t compare to what he did in individual games. Allen could explode for 20-plus points any given night. Allen came alive for the Sweet Sixteen last season. That’s when the All-SEC team member burst for 35 points. Without Allen, the Gators don’t win that game.
8. Wichita State: Landry Shamet, sophomore guard
Shamet burst onto the scene in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. As a freshman, he led his team in scoring against one of college basketball’s biggest powerhouses, Kentucky. The Shockers fell in a 62-65 contest and were eliminated from contention, while Shamet accounted for 20 points. This year, Wichita State has moved from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American Athletic Conference. They’re taking on a bigger stage with more exposure. Expect to see a lot more of Shamet this season and what he has to offer. Many are picking his team as a legitimate title contender. The Shockers return all five starters after going 31-5 last season.
9. North Carolina: Joel Berry II, senior guard
Berry averaged 14.7 points and shot 43 percent from the field to help lead his team to a national championship in his junior season. The Tarheels are trusting in their point guard to be all that he was last year. Berry is one of few starters that return for North Carolina. He’ll have to perform well for the Heels to hang with their stacked rival, Duke, this season. Who better to have bringing the ball down the court for Roy Williams’ team than this guy? Tar Heel fans might have to suffer early in the season. Berry is projected to miss four weeks with a broken hand. The injury occurred when he punched a door after losing a video game.
10. West Virginia: Jevon Carter, senior guard
Carter is not only an amazing scorer, he gets things done on both sides of the ball. West Virginia is a team that loves to play physical defense, so Carter is vital to its system. Carter managed to get 92 steals last season, and he also led the Mountaineers in scoring with 13.5 points per game. Turning defense into offense is second nature to him, and West Virginia will find success because of that.
11. USC: Bennie Boatwright, junior forward
Bennie Boatwright is a physical specimen. Standing at 6-foot-10, this player shouldn’t have the finesse he regularly showcases. Boatwright averaged 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. His size makes him an inside threat, but defenders shouldn’t be fooled. He can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor. Boatwright also shot 91 percent from the free throw line last season. The USC Trojans have a roster packed with stars, but Boatwright should be at the top of opposing teams’ scouting reports.
12. Miami: Bruce Brown Jr., sophomore guard
Brown averaged 11.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in his freshman season. He also had three triple-doubles on the year. With a year of experience under his belt, Brown should be ready to lead the Canes. He’s already shown that he can shoot the ball well by making 46 percent of his shots last season. When Brown is at the top of his game he’s dangerous. He dropped 30 points against UNC, 25 againts Duke and 17 against Florida State last season. The Canes have a chance to be elite this year, and so does Brown.
13. Cincinnati: Cane Broome, junior guard
The Bearcats’ best scorer wasn’t eligible last year. Broome, a transfer from Sacred Heart, was the 2015-16 Northeast Conference Player of the Year. He also ranked eighth in the nation with 23.1 points per game. Broome had already accumulated 1,157 career points after his sophomore season. Broome seems like a natural scorer and a piece that the Bearcats have been missing for quite some time.
14. Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson, senior forward
No player in the ACC means more to his team than Colson does to the Fighting Irish. After all, he did average a double-double last year with 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He’s a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and Notre Dame coach Mike Brey realizes this.
“Bonzie needs to do a little bit of everything for us this year. The biggest thing is to have him enjoy the journey this year and not feel pressure. Everyone is going to come after him. He loves to win and is focused on that and that is a great trait to have. It is up to me to find where to play him on the court throughout the game where he will be the toughest matchup.”
It will be interesting to see how opposing teams go about defending Colson, as he hasn’t been slowed down yet.
15. Minnesota: Nate Mason, senior guard
Mason was the leading scorer for the Golden Gophers last season with an average of 15.2 points per game. Only three points separated him from fellow guard Amir Coffey, which is respectable considering both were selected to the preseason All-Big Ten team. An arsenal of talent is returning for Minnesota, and team chemistry should not be lacking. Strong communication should lead to plenty of buckets for Mason this season.
16. Louisville: Deng Adel, junior forward
Adel showed a lot of promise last season. The 6-foot-7 forward finished third in scoring for the Cardinals, averaging 12.1 points per game. His size makes him a threat in the paint, but he can also beat teams from the perimeter. Adel shot 35 percent from behind the arc last season. Adel’s wingspan, measured at 7 feet, is a physical anomaly. With all of the negativity surrounding the Louisville program, Cardinals fans won’t want to tune out. Adel is too much of an entertaining talent to miss out on.
17. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett, senior guard
Bluiett was recently named to the preseason All-American third team by ESPN. This is no surprise, as he led the Musketeers in scoring last season with 18.5 points per game. A 2,000-point college career is well in reach for Bluiett, as he already has 1,585 points. The senior is 15th all-time on Xaviers scoring list, and could continue to climb this season. With performances like last season’s against Cincinnati when he accounted for 40 of the Musketeers 76 points, it’s no wonder Bluiett made this list.
18. UCLA: Aaron Holiday, junior guard
Holiday was overshadowed by the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf most of last season. He averaged 12.3 points while shooting 49 percent from the field during his sophomore season. He proved he can shoot from anywhere on the court by making 41 percent of his shots from behind the arc. He could have something to prove this season, with everybody talking about Ball’s younger brother, LiAngelo, joining the team this season. Holiday and the younger Ball share the same position at shooting guard. Holiday also has a brother in the NBA. Jrue plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. Holiday might be able to accompany his brother in the league with an impressive junior campaign.
19. Gonzaga: Johnathan Williams, junior forward
Williams lets his success on the glass do the scoring for him. He led the Bulldogs in rebounding last year with 6.4 per game. Being fourth in scoring isn’t all that bad when you find yourself behind Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews. Williams still managed to average in double-digits with 10.2 points per game. With the departures of Karnowski and Zach Collins, Williams will be Gonzaga’s go-to big. The 6-foot-9 junior should feast in the paint.
20. Northwestern: Bryant McIntosh, senior guard
Northwestern reached its first-ever NCAA Tournament last year, and it was largely in part of this guy. McIntosh is one of the best floor generals in the Big Ten Conference. He led the Wildcats in scoring last season with 14.8 points per game. However, stats don’t do him justice. McIntosh was the heart and soul of this team. The duo of McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey was dangerous down the stretch last season. With both returning, Northwestern is a shoe-in to make back-to-back tournament appearances. Watch for these seniors to go out with a bang.
21. Purdue: Vincent Edwards, senior forward
It’s rare to find a big man that can shoot the ball the way Edwards does. The 6-foot-8 forward shot 49 percent from the field last season, and 42 percent from three-point range. Edwards got even better during the postseason. He averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in the NCAA tournament. Edwards also eclipsed 1,000 points on his career last season. With the loss of Caleb Swanigan, Edwards should a catalyst for the Boilermakers.
22. Saint Mary’s: Jock Landale, junior center
Don’t sleep on the Gaels, and definitely don’t sleep on Landale. He was Saint Mary’s stronghold last season, averaging just under a double-double with 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. Landale was more than reliable. He posted the 16th highest field goal percentage on the 2016-17 season, at 61 percent. Offseason preparation should help Landale average a double-double on the upcoming season, and own the paint for the Gaels.
23. Seton Hall: Khadeen Carrington, senior guard
Last year, Carrington led a talented Seton Hall team in scoring, averaging 17.1 points. The Brooklyn native is in position to make a lot of noise in his senior season. He has already been selected to the preseason All-Big East team, and to the 2018 Jerry West Award watch list. Carrington will need to perform at a high level if the Pirates want to make it deeper into March this season. Expect Carrington and the rest of his teammates to be playing with a chip on their shoulder after being eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
24. Baylor: Manu Lecomte, senior guard
Baylor was a team that thrived in the paint last season. With the departure of star forward Johnathan Motley, the Bears might have to find production elsewhere. Lecomte, who finished second in scoring for the Bears, averaged 12.2 points per game, while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three-point land. Lecomte, a transfer, shot 43 percent from three-point range in two seasons (2013-15) as a Miami Hurricane. That’s the second-highest three-point percentage in school history. Look for this talented point guard to have the ball in his hands when it comes crunch time.
25. Alabama: John Petty, freshman guard
Petty was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama for the past two years, and was a consensus five-star recruit. Can he be the MVP for the Alabama Crimson Tide this year? It appears that could be the case, as Petty showcased his skills in Avery Johnson’s system over the summer. The 6-foot-5 guard led the Tide in scoring with an average of 16.3 points over three games. Petty showed that he could supply Alabama with something it has been missing over the past couple of seasons — perimeter shooting. Petty made 6-of-8 three-pointers in a summer game against the McGill Redmen. His size and athleticism make him a threat anywhere on the court.