Only four schools have been in the top 12 of recruiting class rankings in each of the past three seasons. There’s Duke and Kentucky, which have finished 1-2 in some order in the rankings in each of the past four classes. There’s Arizona, which has finished in the top seven for seven years running.

The fourth? Not Kansas. Not UCLA. Not North Carolina.

It’s Florida State.

Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsM.J. Walker could be the Seminoles' top scorer next season.

And five-star senior M.J. Walker’s announcement on Wednesday that he was picking the Seminoles over UCLA, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Ohio State moved Florida State’s class to No. 8 in the country and ensured the Seminoles would once again have one of the nation’s top incoming freshman classes.

Coach Leonard Hamilton has long had a reputation as an elite recruiter, consistently getting Florida State -- and before that, Miami -- involved with five-star prospects. Florida State has had 10 players selected in the NBA draft since 2004, including four first-round picks. The Seminoles had a top-10 recruiting class in 2008, a top-20 group in 2010 and 2011 and a top-40 class in 2014 -- before the recent three-year run. They just missed on Andrew Wiggins in 2013, not backing off even when Kentucky and Kansas made him a priority.

Walker’s commitment marks the third consecutive class in which Hamilton has reeled in a five-star prospect. Walker follows in the footsteps of Dwayne Bacon in 2015 and Jonathan Isaac in 2016.

The Seminoles have done it by heavily working Florida and Georgia. Bacon and Isaac were both in-state prospects that the Noles got involved with early in the process, while Malik Beasley -- and now Walker -- are Georgia natives. Assistant coach Charlton Young has deep ties to the Atlanta area, while fellow assistant Dennis Gates was the lead on Isaac and helped on Bacon.

Given the early-entry decisions of both Bacon and Isaac, Hamilton badly needed to land Walker. Florida State made him one of its top targets early in the 2017 recruiting cycle, but Walker took his recruitment slowly. He took one official visit in the fall, and it was to Tallahassee. The early signing period came and went without a commitment, though. The longer his recruitment lasted, the further it was since his visit, and other schools began making their moves for Walker. UCLA, Virginia Tech and Ohio State all got him on campus in the past few weeks, while hometown Georgia Tech hosted him several times.

Florida State suffered a difficult recruiting blow earlier this month, when five-star Kevin Knox shocked the recruiting world and chose Kentucky over the Seminoles, Duke, North Carolina and Missouri.

The Seminoles couldn’t let it happen again.

Florida State is coming off a 26-win season that ended in disappointing fashion, going 8-7 in the final two months of the season and losing by 25 to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Bacon, Isaac and double-figure scorer Xavier Rathan-Mayes all left early and signed with agents, while starting center Michael Ojo and sixth man Jarquez Smith ran out of eligibility.

When Knox went elsewhere, it looked as if the Seminoles would lack the scoring punch of the past couple of seasons. Walker solves some of those issues. He’s a big-time offensive player who will immediately become one of the perimeter shooters on the team. Walker will have to shoulder most of the scoring load right off the bat, as there is only one player -- Terance Mann (8.4 PPG) -- returning who averaged more than 5.5 points per game.

There’s now reason for optimism at Florida State, though. Former ESPN 100 prospects CJ Walker and Trent Forrest will likely move into starting roles in the backcourt, while Mann will also take on a bigger role. Hamilton focused on the frontcourt in his 2017 class, with ESPN 100 shot-blocker extraordinaire Ikey Obiagu and four-star forwards Raiquan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes entering the fold. Center Christ Koumadje, at 7-feet-4, also took strides as the season progressed and will at least anchor the defense alongside Obiagu.

A step back was inevitable for Florida State without its top three scorers from last season, but Walker’s commitment gives the Seminoles a chance -- and also reaffirms Hamilton’s status as one of the top recruiters in college basketball.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsDuke was in trouble at the point guard spot -- until Trevon Duval's commitment bailed it out.
Mike Krzyzewski didn’t have any other options. Trevon Duval or bust. When Frank Jackson announced last week that he was signing with an agent and keeping his name in the NBA draft, Duke was left without a point guard for next season.
ESPN 100 point guard Trevon Duval announced his commitment to Duke on Monday morning via the Players' Tribune. Here's a look at what the top-ranked lead guard in the 2017 class will bring to Durham.

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Jon Lopez/NikeMarvin Bagley III has offers from West Coast powers UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, as well as the nation's elite programs like Duke and Kentucky.
It's still very early in the 2018 recruiting cycle and every team discussed below is still recruiting prospects in the 2017 class or transfers for next season. So the true target boards for the powerhouses of college basketball won't be firm until after the July evaluation period, when coaches hit the road for three weeks in the summer to watch prospects. But after tracking coaches during the April live period and seeing offers that went out shortly after last weekend, here's a very early look at the main 2018 targets for six of the biggest recruiting powers:

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Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsKevin Knox is poised to be a matchup problem at the college level.
Kentucky became the first school to have six five-star prospects in one recruiting class last weekend, when top-10 prospect Kevin Knox committed to the Wildcats. It caught many industry people off-guard, because Kentucky already has a couple of similar forwards committed and because Duke, Florida State and even North Carolina were receiving more buzz than the Wildcats. But that’s John Calipari for you.

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari landed his sixth 5-star recruit from the 2017 class on Saturday when ESPN 100 SF Kevin Knox committed to the Wildcats. Here's what the Tampa, Florida native will bring to Lexington.

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Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY SportsWhichever school lands 2018 prospect Marvin Bagley III will set itself up nicely for the future.
The Class of 2018 officially took center stage the past two weekends, as college coaches across the country flocked to Virginia, Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, New York and elsewhere to map out their recruiting boards. The April live periods are generally the time where focus turns from the outgoing seniors to the rising seniors, so we’re going to take a break from tracking the remaining unsigned 2017 prospects to give a brief intro to the elite 2018 prospects -- and which schools have the early inside track.

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When Ben Howland was fired in 2013 and the UCLA coaching job opened up, Arizona's Sean Miller had a vested interest in seeing who got the position. And as coach of one of the Bruins’ biggest rivals, Miller feared the possibility of one particular guy getting the job, sources told ESPN: Lorenzo Romar. Miller told people close to him that a move by the then-Washington coach to Westwood would make it tough to recruit the state of California. This spring, Miller didn’t wait to see if anyone snatched up Romar when he was fired in March after 15 seasons in Washington. Rumors began circulating at the Final Four in Phoenix, and it became official on April 15: Arizona was bringing on Romar as an assistant coach. He replaced Joe Pasternack, who took the head-coaching position at UC Santa Barbara.
Lorenzo RomarEthan Miller/Getty ImagesLorenzo Romar's West Coast recruiting connections will only help Arizona's recruiting efforts.
The public reaction wasn’t overwhelming. It was a high-major program hiring a former head coach who hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011. In basketball circles, though, this was a massive move. “It’s tough,” one Pac-12 coach said. “Arizona already owned the West Coast, and now they’re getting Romar.” “Arizona is about to smash the West Coast in 2018 and 2019,” one AAU coach from the West added. The knock on Romar was his lack of wins and the fact that he made only six NCAA tournament appearances in 15 seasons -- and zero in the last seven -- despite getting so much talent. But that’s irrelevant now. It’s the talent Romar has consistently recruited that will make him a major asset in Tucson. Before leaving Washington in March, Romar had recruited a top-five 2017 class to Seattle. In fact, since 2007 (when ESPN’s recruiting database started), Romar had a top-40 class in seven of the last 10 classes. He recruited 12 ESPN 100 players, including five-stars Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten Jr., Nigel Williams-Goss and Markelle Fultz. He had another four ESPN 100 prospects in the 2017 class, including No. 1 overall prospect Michael Porter Jr., before it fell apart after his departure. Twelve Washington players were selected in the NBA draft during Romar’s tenure, including nine first-rounders. In Fultz, the Huskies will likely have the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft. Fultz will be the third lottery pick since 2012 that Romar recruited to Washington. Romar, a native of Compton, California, has been one of the top recruiters in the country since his days as an assistant under Jim Harrick at UCLA. He recruited the likes of Toby Bailey, Tyus Edney, J.R. Henderson and others to the Bruins. “Everybody knows him in Compton, everybody knows him in L.A.,” one longtime West Coast AAU coach said. “Parents and grandparents of players played ball with him, played pickup with him. They all know him.” Romar built a reputation on winning over families and the adults around a prospect, and that won’t change at Arizona. In fact, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported when Romar was hired that he helped convince Allonzo Trier to return to Tucson -- because of the relationship Trier and his mother had with Romar. “He really gets in with parents on non-basketball things,” the longtime AAU coach said. “He has a very strong religious reputation that people gravitate toward. He always had a reputation as a players’ coach, a guy people can relate to. He had NBA pedigree. He was perceived by a lot of parents as more than a coach, as a father figure, a mentor.” “Folks will trust Romar. He is a trustworthy man,” another AAU coach added. “He is honest and upfront, no bulls---. You could feel comfortable knowing your son was at Washington.” The scary thing is that Arizona was already one of the premier recruiting programs in the country, with seven consecutive top-seven recruiting classes under Miller. Pasternack, whose spot Romar is filling, played a major part in that -- especially in California, with the Oakland Soldiers and other AAU programs -- which makes Romar’s hire so important.
Allonzo Trier Jed Jacobsohn/NCAA Photos/Getty ImagesOne of Romar's first recruiting wins was keeping Allonzo Trier in Tucson.
“He’s going to be well-respected and accepted because of who he is,” a Pac-12 assistant coach said. “Miller needed Romar for that reason alone, to make the relationships work. He gives Arizona a fresh face. He has a way with relationships.” No one is saying this is going to be a long-term move, and Romar might get a head-coaching job again next spring or in 2019. But when you combine Romar’s relationships with Miller’s ability to close recruits and the East Coast recruiting acumen of fellow assistant coach Book Richardson, it makes beating out Arizona for top recruits over the next couple of years a daunting task. The Wildcats are also well on their way to another top-tier class, with five-star prospects Shareef O'Neal, son of Shaquille O'Neal, and Emmanuel Akot already committed in 2018. “Arizona wasn’t struggling to recruit,” one Pac-12 coach said. “If you’re a top kid on the West Coast, you’re looking at Arizona anyway. Is he now going to give him a chance to get kids from Seattle? Absolutely. He’s going to help. But at the end of the day, Sean Miller was getting five-star recruits without Lorenzo Romar.” With Romar in the fold, though, that shows no sign of slowing down.

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Since defeating top-seeded Villanova in the 2015 round of 32 (thereby making a certain Wildcat piccolo player weep), NC State has compiled a 31-35 record. That, not surprisingly, was judged insufficient by the powers that be in Raleigh, and coach Mark Gottfried was let go after six seasons.

Now former UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts is in charge. Keatts apprenticed as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville, and the 44-year-old then led the Seahawks to a 54-14 record over the last two seasons. UNCW played a relatively fast tempo and forced opponents to commit a high number of turnovers.

Can the Wolfpack play that same kind of style? Certainly, but first Keatts needs players -- or at least he needs to know which players he'll have.

Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKevin Keatts went 72-28 in three seasons at UNC Wilmington.

For example, NC State's waiting to see whether it will have the services of Ted Kapita and/or Omer Yurtseven. Both players were freshmen last season, and both have put their names in for the NBA draft without hiring agents.

Kapita averaged just 13 minutes a game coming off the bench in 2016-17, but his 14-point, 10-rebound effort (in just 19 minutes) in NC State's memorable win at Duke left many observers thinking there could be more here than meets the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Yurtseven was widely expected to be a one-and-done prospect a year ago. He could remain in the draft, of course, but if he plays as a sophomore the 7-footer will at least give the Wolfpack good size in the post as well as an occasional blocked shot.

Speaking of wait-and-see, the program has applied for a sixth year of eligibility for Terry Henderson. The 6-foot-5 guard missed virtually the entirety of 2015-16 with an ankle injury after transferring to Raleigh from West Virginia. If he returns, he'll give his new head coach a seasoned veteran who can score from either side of the line.

So much for the unknown. Here are the knowns, relatively speaking: Abdul-Malik Abu and Torin Dorn will, apparently, be back. Abu is a three-year starter who at 6-8 showed a good deal of promise on the offensive glass in his first two seasons. Dorn is a 6-5 guard who started strong last season after transferring from Charlotte but then made just seven 3s in 18 regular-season ACC games. Lennard Freeman also returns after redshirting last season due to injury.

In addition to Abu, Dorn and Freeman, Markell Johnson will be back for the Wolfpack. Johnson could inherit the role of point guard from the now-departed Dennis Smith, or perhaps the sophomore will share that assignment with incoming freshman Lavar Batts. The 6-2 in-state prospect committed to NC State just days after Keatts took the helm.

Lastly, Baylor transfer Al Freeman will be eligible next season as a graduate transfer. In his junior season Freeman lost his starting role in February, but a career 37-percent 3-point shooter who draws fouls and converts 83 percent of his free throws could be just what a rookie head coach needs in the tough ACC.

Not that scoring alone will solve every NC State problem. In each of the past two seasons, the team has suffered from a chronic lack of defense. In 2016-17, ACC opponents scored a whopping 1.18 points per possession against this defense, easily the highest such number in the league. Opposing offenses made no less than 43 percent of their 3s against NC State in ACC play, so don't be surprised to see the Wolfpack defense make a big improvement in that department thanks mostly to a regression toward normalcy.

Keatts arrives in Raleigh with a reputation for defense, and he'll have every opportunity to show it's justified. Moreover, the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- if nothing else there's more experience here than what Josh Pastner had in his first season at Georgia Tech -- and a big improvement on last season's 4-14 ACC finish looks like an entirely feasible objective. The Keatts era has begun.

Stan Szeto/USA TODAY SportsArizona coach Sean Miller is glad to see Allonzo Trier returning to Tucson, but does that mean he won't secure a commitment from five-star wing Brian Bowen?
The NBA released its official early-entry list on Tuesday -- and it’s as ridiculous as expected. The final count was 182 underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft, with 137 of those from the college ranks. Remember, only 60 players can get drafted in late June, and that will include college seniors and international prospects. So most of the college players will return to school, but those who didn’t sign with an agent have until May 24 to make their final decision. Meanwhile, there are still eight top-50 prospects in the ESPN 100 who have not made a college decision yet. How are these two groups related? Several of the remaining recruits are waiting to see what happens with players declaring for the NBA draft. We’re not going to run through every team that lost players to the league. For example, Gonzaga did lose Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss, but likely won’t land remaining high schoolers; coach Mark Few will continue to recruit transfers and international prospects as needed.

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Dabo Swinney, hot off a national championship, is a hero.

Brad Brownell kept his job.

Such is the disparate state of affairs at Clemson, where relevance comes with a complicated definition. Not that the Tigers are unique. Plenty of basketball programs across the country are fighting for air space and attention on their own campuses, dwarfed by the mighty shadow of the pigskin.

But this season the contrast is especially stark at Clemson. While Swinney basked in the after glory of that title, Brownell endured the scorch of the hot seat, keeping his gig only after athletic director Dan Radakovich put out a statement that included this sentiment: “We expect Brad to make changes in the program to better position us for success.’’

David Allio/Icon SportswireBrad Brownell will be looking to lead Clemson to its first NCAA tournament appearance in seven seasons.

That meant buh-bye to Brownell’s longtime right-hand man, Mike Winiecki, who had served Brownell for some 14 years, and a still-to-be-determined change in philosophy for Clemson. Brownell said he intends to employ the use of a sports psychologist and work to better the Tigers defensively.

The real goal is to simply win more games. Clemson finished 17-16 overall and 6-12 in the ACC last season, and while five of those losses came by three points or fewer, they still go down on the wrong side of the ledger. And that was with Jaron Blossomgame on the court. Failing to ride Blossomgame’s talent to an NCAA berth ranked as one of the reasons Brownell found himself the subject of dismissal rumors.

Now he tries to forge ahead and claim that elusive NCAA bid for the first time since 2011 without Blossomgame and sharpshooting Avry Holmes. There are places to turn, as Brownell has made heavy use of the transfer market.

Vanderbilt transfer Shelton Mitchell proved a deft floor leader last season, averaging 10.8 points and 3.8 assists. Though Mitchell recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, he should be more than ready come game time.

Robert Morris transfer Marcquise Reed was a good backcourt mate for Mitchell, scoring 10 points a game, and this season the Tigers can at least get a full year’s worth out of Elijah Thomas. The Texas A&M transfer became eligible in December, posting 7.5 points and 4.2 boards per game.

David Skara, yet another transplant, is eligible this season after coming in from Valparaiso. A 6-foot-8 small forward, Skara is a decent 3-point shooter who should help alleviate the loss of Holmes.

And Brownell is very high on an incoming freshman class that includes power forwards Malik William and Aamir Simms and shooting guards A.J. Oliver and Clyde Trapp Jr.

But is all of that enough? Moving up the ACC ranks, even in a year in which there could be some wiggle room thanks to roster turnover, is no easy task. Doing it without an obvious go-to star, such as Blossomgame, is even more difficult.

Certainly the university has put its money where its mouth is, proving it is not a football-only place by pouring $63.5 million into a much-needed face-lift of Littlejohn Coliseum.

No one expects Clemson basketball to become Clemson football and hang a banner in those cleaned-up Littlejohn rafters.

Closing the canyon-wide gap and getting back to the NCAA tournament, though, would be a good start.

A year ago, Memphis entered the offseason so desperate to end the Josh Pastner Era that the school paid its former coach $1.25 million to leave -- and avoid the $9.3 million the program would have owed him had he been fired.

He landed at Georgia Tech, a program without an NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, on a contract that will pay him $11 million over six seasons.

“I loved my time [at Memphis],” Pastner said at his introductory news conference. “I had a great experience there, and [I'm] really looking forward now to taking what I learned from there moving into here at Georgia Tech."

David J. Griffin/Icon SportswireJosh Pastner led Georgia Tech to 21 wins, including 17 at home, and a berth in the NIT championship game last season.

They seemed good for each other: Pastner, a promising young coach who never quite reached the post-John Calipari expectations of the Memphis fan base, and Georgia Tech, a program in a city packed with talent that had landed everywhere but the Atlanta-based campus in recent years.

Now they seem perfect together. After one season, Pastner has turned Georgia Tech into a program on the rise, while his former program wrestles with a postseason implosion under Tubby Smith.

Pastner won ACC Coach of the Year honors over Roy Williams, Leonard Hamilton, Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski and a fleet of veteran coaches after a 21-win season that included a second-place finish in the NIT and wins over VCU, North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame and Indiana. For a stretch, Georgia Tech even entered the at-large conversation with a roster of unheralded athletes who racked up significant wins and made Georgia Tech a threat to end the school’s NCAA tournament drought.

Ben Lammers, a senior next season, earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after averaging 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game for the Yellow Jackets. He finished second to Wake Forest’s John Collins in the most improved player race. Lammers also anchored a defensive stronghold that finished sixth in adjusted efficiency, per

Tadric Jackson (12.1 PPG), also a senior next season, finished second to Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen on the league’s ballot for sixth man of the year.

The greatest surprise of Pastner’s first season? The performance of Josh Okogie in his first season of college ball. He didn’t crack ESPN’s list of the top 100 recruits in his class, but he outplayed the bulk of his freshman peers by averaging 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He also made 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers. He could evolve into an All-ACC performer as early as next season.

Lammers, Jackson and Okogie will make a strong nucleus for a Georgia Tech squad that should improve.

Pastner will add forward Curtis Haywood II and point guard Jose Alvarado, a pair of four-star prospects. He also hopes 6-foot-8 enigma Moses Wright, who failed to catch the eye of most high-major programs, will blossom into a contributor.

Plus, Georgia Tech is a finalist for Marietta, Georgia, native Jordan Tucker (40th in the 2017 class, per, the kind of young star who could ignite an offense that ranked 259th in adjusted efficiency last season.

Pastner took command of a program that had lost its top four scorers entering last season. In 2017-18, he’ll return his top three scorers. But he needs a few more bodies.

The team ended the season with four available scholarships and added another when freshman Christian Matthews decided to transfer. Pastner has to turn those full rides into productive talent that will help his team take the next step in a year.

Georgia Tech won 17 home games last season. Now, the program must duplicate its intensity at home for when it leaves campus.

Still, McCamish Pavilion rocked in Pastner’s first season. And it will again if Georgia Tech continues to improve.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Pastner came to Atlanta as someone who had fallen short. Now he’s rebuilding a Georgia Tech program that’s in far better shape than the mess he left behind in Memphis.

It seems like everyone involved with the Georgia Tech deal made the right decision.

It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

John Collins / Danny ManningBrian Spurlock/USA Today SportsDanny Manning will have to make due without forward John Collins, who is heading to the NBA.

In college hoops, success is always measured against its context.

In the long-run history of Wake Forest men's basketball, a 19-14 season that ends with a First Four loss to a deeply flawed fellow bubble team would rarely be considered a banner campaign. Relative to recent Demon Deacons teams -- relative to the demoralizing nadir of Jeff Bzdelik's tenure in Winston-Salem -- 2016-17 was an undeniable story of success.

Since 2010, when Skip Prosser's successor, Dino Guadio, was fired after back-to-back tournament appearances (the last of which came after Wake, once the No. 1 team in the country, collapsed into a No. 9 seed down the stretch), Wake Forest hadn't been back to the NCAA tournament at all. Bzdelik was (and remains) well-respected within coaching circles but had been only modestly successful as a head coach at Colorado when then-athletic director Ron Wellman chose him to replace Gaudio. The next four seasons, from 2011 to 2014, were an unmitigated, fan base-alienating disaster. Bzdelik's teams finished with an average adjusted efficiency rank of 181st nationally; they never won more than six ACC games.

In 2014, former Kansas assistant Danny Manning boldly stepped into this mildly depressing breach. At first, progress was opaque. Wake won just seven ACC contests combined in 2014-15 and 2015-16 -- though, to be fair, those teams' adjusted efficiency ranks (120 and 118, respectively) represented the high-water mark of Bzdelik's tenure. Still, by last fall, Manning was inching toward that "OK, now let's see some progress" stage of any rebuilding job. He and his players delivered. The 2016-17 Demon Deacons finished with a top-40 efficiency ranking, a return to the NCAA tournament and a breakout star worthy of first-round NBA draft projections.

In some ways, 19-14 does Wake's 2016-17 work a disservice: Manning's team, habitually a bucket or two away from big wins throughout the season, was even more competitive than its record indicates. Plus, when you go through a half-decade like Wake Forest fans just went through, simply competing night in and night out is disproportionately fulfilling. It's all relative.

So, what now?

Another warp-speed year-over-year leap like the one Wake enjoyed in the 2016 offseason looks pretty much impossible.

That would be true even if the aforementioned breakout star, center John Collins, hadn't announced his intention to hire an agent and remain in the 2017 NBA draft. Collins was a monster as a sophomore. He averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, accounted for 29.4 percent of Wake's offensive possessions (and took 29 percent of its shots), shot 62.4 percent from the field and posted 25.7 percent (defensive) and 16.4 percent (offensive) rebounding rates, the latter of which was eighth-highest in the nation.

Wake Forest finished with the ACC's third-best offense on a per-possession basis. Collins was (literally and figuratively) the biggest reason why. In the end, he was so good that it would have been foolish for him not to take his sudden NBA mock draft preeminence seriously. His stock soared.

Of course, Collins wasn't the only reason Wake's offense excelled. Guards Keshawn Woods, Mitchell Wilbekin and (especially) Bryant Crawford were very good on the perimeter, while Dinos Mitoglou added rebounding and bulky interior play alongside his gifted frontcourt partner. Freshman guard Brandon Childress showed real flashes of breakout potential as his minutes increased late in the year. Manning continues to recruit well, and top-100 class of 2017 shooting guard Chaundree Brown could break into this crowded backcourt (and could be a handy piece in a rotation that might feature more small ball-ish configurations moving forward).

Still, there is no ready replacement for Collins, because that's just not how these things work. But there is an interesting offensive group here -- and one that has plenty of space to improve on the defensive end.

Indeed, that might be the biggest hope for a surprising improvement in Manning's fourth year. Wake Forest finished with the nation's 176th-ranked defense, per adjusted efficiency, and allowed 1.12 points per trip to ACC opponents. Collins' work protecting the rim was often undone by a perimeter that allowed penetration much too easily, that didn't guard the point of attack well and that broke down in uptempo, high-scoring games. Its final outing of the season -- in which Wake scored 88 points in 72 possessions, and nonetheless lost by seven -- was fitting.

If Manning can shore things up on that end of the floor and a few more close games go the Demon Deacons' way, Wake Forest may wind up one of 2017-18's unforseen surprises, the team that weathered its star's departure and came out ahead all the same. If not, it will struggle to maintain 2016-17's success -- relatively speaking, anyway.

Syracuse is at an inflection point as a program.

The Orange landed in the ACC with a splash four seasons ago, posting a 14-4 record and securing a No. 3 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Add to that the team's highly impressive run to the 2016 Final Four as a No. 10 seed and you're looking at what might be termed traditional Big East-era Syracuse might.

Then again, Jim Boeheim's team has now missed the tournament in two of the past three seasons and is a so-so 28-26 in ACC play in that span. Moreover, for a third consecutive season, the incoming freshman class at Syracuse this fall will, apparently, lack a national top-25 player. (Actually, for the first time, said class could lack a top-50 or possibly even a top-100 recruit.)

Lastly, Tyler Lydon elected to take a shot at the NBA draft after his sophomore season, leaving the Orange with only five returning scholarship players.

At least the coaching situation is sorted out: Boeheim has, at age 72, signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school beyond this coming season. (Former assistant Mike Hopkins, who was nominally the Orange head coach in waiting, had previously moved on to take the job at Washington.)

Besides, this 2017-18 roster is not yet set in stone. Syracuse is active on both the late signee and graduate transfer markets, and would-be freshmen and/or seniors might well like the idea of playing in the ACC for a legendary coach and alongside returning starters Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson.

Tyus Battle, Jim BoeheimFred Kfoury III/Icon SportswireTyus Battle returns and Jim Boeheim's situation is settled, but Syracuse has a lot of ground to make up in the ACC.

Battle, in particular, had a strong finish last season. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 17 points in Syracuse's last seven games while taking excellent care of the ball. With Andrew White having come to the end of his eligibility, Battle will be a leading candidate to take over a featured-scorer role in 2017-18.

Thompson might be even more intriguing than his fellow sophomore-to-be. On offense, the 6-foot-10 New York City product was the most assertive freshman big man Syracuse has seen in years, if not decades. Per, Thompson personally accounted for 28 percent of the Orange's shot attempts during his minutes. That level of assertiveness not only ranked No. 1 on the team, it was also entirely appropriate coming from a player who connected on 57 percent of his two-point shots.

Getting the ball to Battle and Thompson figures to be Frank Howard's responsibility, a role that will feel both familiar and new. Howard started Syracuse's first 14 games as a sophomore last season, but if it's possible to be benched with an exclamation point, that's pretty much what happened. From Jan. 1 through the end of the ACC tournament, he averaged less than 10 minutes per game as Boeheim elected to go instead with John Gillon at point guard. With Gillon now gone, however, Howard could get another shot.

Rounding out the rotation will be Matthew Moyer and Paschal Chukwu. Coming out of high school, the 6-8 Moyer was ranked as more or less equal to Thompson, and he used his redshirt freshman season in 2016-17 to bulk up. The 7-2 Chukwu missed almost all of his sophomore season because of a torn retina.

All of the above could prove sufficient for a mid-tier ACC finish, but in the bigger picture, Syracuse needs a personnel plan going forward. In its ACC era, the program has had a succession of excellent, though not quite top-10, recruits -- Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson and now Lydon -- perform well enough as freshmen and/or sophomores to leave early. Meanwhile, Syracuse's leading player for minutes in each of the past two seasons has been a major-conference transfer in his senior season: Michael Gbinije in 2015-16 and White last season.

Is this the new template? Will the Orange have to replace early departures by Battle and/or Thompson? Will high school recruits see Boeheim's program in a different light (relative to 12 months ago) now that his situation has been clarified? These are among the questions awaiting answers at Syracuse in 2017-18.

It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: the Miami Hurricanes.

Look no further than the backcourt as a microcosm for what Miami will be like next season. The Hurricanes -- picked by most prognosticators as a preseason top-25 team -- are heavy in talent. Coach Jim Larranaga has already said he expects guards Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown each to declare for the 2018 NBA draft after next season.

What’s missing from the backcourt, and the Canes’ roster as a whole, is the experience.

Bruce BrownAl Bello/Getty ImagesWith the explosive Bruce Brown in the mix, Miami is expected to have one of the nation's top backcourts next season.

Guard Ja’Quan Newton, who started 28 games last season, is their only senior on the roster. Larranaga is openly searching for a graduate transfer who can play immediately, but, even if that happens, the player would be like a rookie learning his system.

So let’s get back to the talent for a second. Nothing could punctuate the upgrade in Miami more than Walker and Brown. They are two players that, historically, were not the kind to end up playing in Coral Gables, Florida. Walker -- the highest-ranked recruit to sign with "The U" since the ESPN 100 began in 2007 -- highlights an incoming class that ranks sixth nationally by Recruiting Nation.

Many thought Walker, the 6-foot-4 guard from Reading, Pennsylvania, would end up being a Wildcat -- either the Arizona or Villanova variety. But he’ll give the Canes a talented scorer who should help ease the departure of Davon Reed.

Brown left so many texts and phone calls unreturned during his recruitment that Larranaga assumed he wasn’t interested in Miami. And now here is Brown returning for a sophomore season. The 6-5 Boston native bucked the trend of other highly touted freshmen clamoring to be one-and-done by not entering his name in the NBA draft to test the proverbial waters.

Larranaga is hoping his backcourt trio, along with reserve sophomore Dejan Vasiljevic, can make the Canes a more prolific 3-point-shooting team. Of the returnees, only Vasiljevic averaged more than one 3-pointer per game last season. Brown shot 34.7 percent from deep but had only 95 attempts. Newton had even fewer, making just 11 3s last season in just 40 attempts.

Larranaga is asking Newton to make a similar transition as he did Durand Scott as a senior in 2012-13. Scott made just 19 3-pointers as a junior because he passed on open shots in order to drive to the basket. Larranaga persuaded Scott to shoot instead and he nearly doubled his output from behind the arc.

Newton doesn’t have to become Steph Curry overnight, but if he makes around 40 3-pointers next season, chances are the Canes’ offense will be operating the way Larranaga envisions.

The frontcourt offers Miami a different kind of challenge. Sophomore forward Dewan Huell averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman, but Larranaga says he could be a double-double machine next season.

The 6-foot-11 Huell has been playing basketball for only five years, mainly getting by on his natural athletic gifts and work ethic. He’s just now starting to focus on developing his skill set, which Larranaga says could be substantial. Between Huell and junior Ebuka Izundu, the Canes need a low-post option. That was sorely missing when Michigan State eliminated Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Experience is also noticeably absent in the frontcourt. Larranaga is actively searching for a graduate transfer who specializes in rebounding to add to the roster. With Kamari Murphy now gone, Brown is their leading returning rebounder, and he averaged just 5.6 per game last season.

Here is again where the Canes hope offensive firepower will help mask their lack of experience. They’ll have a couple of stretch-4s who can loosen up opposing defenses. Junior forward Anthony Lawrence is better-suited as a small forward but played a lot at the 4 in the Canes’ lineup last season. Larranaga is even tweaking his offense so that the 3 and 4 have a more similar role.

Sam Waardenburg, a 6-9 forward from New Zealand, enrolled early and has practiced with the team since December. Waardenburg has already beefed up 20 pounds to 210, and while he physically will have to develop more, he brings a shooting touch from the perimeter that’s ACC-ready.

With their lack of experience, the Canes are optimistic that their overall talent is ready, too.