Candid Coaches: Who will be the best team in college basketball in 2017-18?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest schools in Division I. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches give unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.

The internet has been populated with writers' rankings for 2017-18 since, literally, the morning after North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game. You're reading up on college basketball content the desert of the offseason that is mid-August, so we know you care about the sport and are aware of the teams that are considered strongest as we head toward the 2017-18 season.

But what of the coaches? Well, many of them use the rankings as a guide as well, turns out and many have their own reasons for why they place who they place atop their personal poll. So let's get to it. Here are the top five vote-getters -- the teams expected by college coaches to do best this season. The annual preseason Coaches Poll won't be released for more than two months, but this is likely to be an early indicator of what that ranking will reveal.   

candidcoachesbestteam.jpg
  Mike Meredith / CBS Sports

Who will be the best team in 2017-18?

Team

Votes

1. Arizona Wildcats

40%

2.  Michigan State Spartans

28%

T3.  Duke Blue Devils

9%

T3.  Kansas Jayhawks

9%

5.  Louisville Cardinals

6% 

Others receiving multiple votes: Wichita State Shockers , Villanova Wildcats , Kentucky Wildcats

Quotes that stood out

On Arizona ...

  • "One, I think Sean Miller is a hell of a coach. They return their backcourt, which I think sometimes gets overlooked in terms of the importance of a good backcourt. They obviously sign (DeAndre) Ayton. Ristic is coming back, the big kid that started for them. I think they added the right pieces. I think they were really tough last year. If they consistently shoot the ball from the perimeter I think they're the best team in the country."
  • "They have experience and talent. I love DeAndre Ayton. He went from the No. 1 player to an afterthought because of (Duke's Marvin) Bagley and ( Missouri Tigers Michael) Porter. But I think he could be better than both. This should be Sean's best team."
  • "With the amount of returners and incoming talent, they are primed to be at the top of college basketball all year. Especially with how depleted the rest of the pack is. Should be Sean Miller's first Final Four."

On Michigan State ...

  • "Has (Spartans coach Tom) Izzo ever had this much talent? Miles Bridges is a motherf-----. The Jackson kid (freshman Jaren Jackson) is better than you think. I don't know their schedule. But I bet they don't lose more than two Big Ten games."
  • "They're going to be a tough team to beat. They got so much experience last season. Those four freshman last year were top 40 players in that class and they're all back as sophomores. You just don't get that in college basketball."
  • "Michigan State, just because any time he has mature teams they are hard to handle. He does an incredible job period, but when he has mature teams in his system that do what he wants, watch out. Arizona's that team that always has the talent but always falls a little bit short, a game or two short."

On Duke ... 

  • "When Bagley committed, I said, 'Shit, they're going to be tough to beat.' But if he's not eligible, then I go Michigan State. If he is eligible, I'm going Duke. He will make the difference."
  • "If Duke gets Bagley, I don't know ... I mean they'd certainly be right there. But Duke just lost so much. Yeah Grayson's coming back, but there's a lot of young pieces. Arizona has more experience."
  • "That's what I'm basing it off of. The most hated player in college basketball coming back, and their young guys."

On Kansas ...

  • "They do have experience with Svi (Mykhailiuk) and (Devonté) Graham, and then you do have Malik (Newman) who did great in Italy, and you have the big fella ( Udoka Azubuike ) that sat out. Malik concerns me most. I think he's going to be feast or famine. I think some games he's going to go off or 30, and other games he's in the dog house all day."
  • "Kansas has figured out how to get old and stay old like Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- but with better players. Bill (Self)'s roster reminds me of North Carolina's roster last season. Seniors and juniors with a one-and-done in (Billy) Preston. Put my money on them."

On Louisville ...

  • "Imagine how good they'd be if Donovan Mitchell returned. They have tremendous length. Defensively, they're going to be impossible to score on. They have really good experience, so they 'll have different ways that will really mess with you. They'll have some talent on the wing that can score. If they would've had Donovan, I think they could've … I know they can't go undefeated, but I think it would've a unanimous preseason No. 1. Their strength will be in the pack. I think that it's very difficult for teams at Kentucky and Louisville to have alphas because the head coaches are so much of that."

Takeaways

Arizona was the expected winner here, and even though Duke got some votes pre- and post-Bagley's declaration, the feel among a lot of coaches is that Miller's never had a team this talented, experienced, and well-rounded. Particularly in terms of a starting five. 

The Wildcats are no longer our No. 1 team, as Bagley going to Duke prompted the Blue Devils to push to No. 1 (and Duke is also now the odds-on favorite to win the national title, per Vegas oddsmakers). But in speaking with a handful of coaches after Bagley's commitment, there's still a firm belief for plenty of them that Arizona, or Michigan State, should be better. The biggest reason is both of those teams having a likely All-American (Bridges for MSU, Trier for Arizona), plus big-time frontcourt presence. The coaching also goes a long way, too, as Izzo and Miller are regarded as top-10 coaches in the sport.

For Duke, Bagley does change a lot. The Blue Devils would not have finished in the top five of this poll without landing Bagley who, it must be noted, is still not technically eligible to play this season (yet). Interestingly enough, if and when Bagley is cleared, it could alleviate some of the pressure on Arizona and Michigan State, as Duke will be the primary preseason storyline in the sport. 

Kansas, which earned plaudits, is in an interesting spot. Self has won 13 straight regular-season conference titles. The Jayhawks will have a new look this season: a four-guard attack. Coaches noted that Self's terrific as a coaching tactician because his teams are never similar, in terms of the types of players Kansas has, year after year after year. 

With Louisville, the Cardinals got love because Rick Pitino's defensive potential for this team is high. Multiple coaches expressed this opinion: Even if Louisville doesn't wind up as the best team come late March, its roster sets up to be probably the most relentless defensive squad in the country. 

There were no off-the-board picks, nothing too wild. Southern California Trojans and Florida Gators -- two teams we have in our top 10 -- each received a vote, but no one below our top 12 got a nod. Coaches are expecting it to be an Arizona/Michigan State/Duke/Kansas marathon, and that falls in line with much of the media's expectation as well. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories