This shapes up as a potential big season for plenty of teams that weren’t big factors in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The preseason Top 25 that was released Monday includes five teams that failed to reach the 2016 NCAA Tournament. They’re all included in this list of six potential 2017 NCAA Tournament contenders that weren’t included in the 2016 field.
2015-16 record: 20-15 (NIT quarterfinals)
No. 22 Creighton returns three players who had double-figure scoring averages last season in seniors Maurice Watson Jr. (14.1), Cole Huff (11.3) and Isaiah Zierden (10.2). Watson led the Big East with 229 assists last season, and he has the most career assists (639) of any active Division I player. Creighton adds Marcus Foster, who transferred from Kansas State after leading the Wildcats in scoring each of his two years there. Khyri Thomas is back after starting 28 games for Creighton as a freshman last season.
2015-16 record: 20-14 (NIT second round)
Florida State is the only unranked team on this list, but the Seminoles still have plenty of reason for optimism. They return two of their top three scorers from last season in guards Dwayne Bacon (15.8) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (11.8). Last season, Bacon became the first freshman in school history to lead the Seminoles in both scoring and rebounding in the same season. The Seminoles add freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, rated as the nation’s No. 8 prospect in his class according to composite rankings of recruiting websites compiled by 247Sports.
2015-16 record: 23-8 (ineligible for postseason)
No 13 Louisville is different from the rest of the teams on this list, as the Cardinals would have been in last year’s tournament if they hadn’t self-imposed a postseason ban in response to an NCAA investigation. If the off-court issues don’t prevent Louisville from making the field again, the Cardinals certainly should be good enough to earn an invitation. Although Louisville must replace its top three scorers from last season, the Cardinals still have plenty of talent with 6-10 forward/center Mangkok Mathiang returning from a broken foot and Quentin Snider leading the backcourt. The Cardinals are the highest-ranked team in the preseason Top 25 that failed to make last year’s tournament.
2015-16 record: 17-15
No. 23 Rhode Island is ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1998-99. The Rams return four starters from last season and also get back guard E.C. Matthews, who hasn’t played since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the 2015-16 season opener. Matthews averaged 15.3 points in 2013-14 and 16.9 points in 2014-15. Rhode Island’s list of returners includes Hassan Martin, who has led the Atlantic 10 in blocked shots each of the last three seasons.
2015-16 record: 29-6 (NIT quarterfinals)
The 17th-ranked Gaels return all five starters from a team that won 29 games and tied for first place in the West Coast Conference last season. Seniors Dane Pineau and Joe Rahon and juniors Emmett Naar and Calvin Hermanson all averaged over 10 points per game last season. Naar also averaged 6.4 assists and had 223 assists to tie Matthew Dellavedova’s season school record. Naar, Pineau and Rahon are all preseason all-WCC selections.
2015-16 record: 15-17
UCLA is ranked 16th despite finishing below .500 last season. The Bruins return four starters from last season. That list of returning starters includes senior guards Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford, who each averaged over 16 points last season. Hamilton had the top 2015-16 scoring average (16.8) of any Pac-12 player who is back this season. UCLA adds freshman guard Lonzo Ball, rated as the No. 3 overall prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. Other freshmen for UCLA include forward T.J. Leaf (18th in the 247Sports Composite) and forward/center Ike Anigbogu (46th).