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Poll: Forty-percent of college hoops coaches pick Arizona as best team

Arizona coach Sean Miller holds up the trophy after Arizona defeated Oregon 83-80 in an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Pac-12 men's tournament Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s expected the Arizona Wildcats could be among the top teams in 2017-18, but a few unforeseen events made it a debate.

Expected one-and-done forward Miles Bridges returned to a loaded Michigan State team rather than heading off for the NBA Draft, and Duke received a late commitment from forward Marvin Bagley, who reclassified from the 2018 class and could become the top pick in the 2018 draft.

Nonetheless, college coaches seem to believe this is head coach Sean Miller’s year as he tries to get the Final Four-less monkey off his back. Forty-percent of more than 100 coaches polled by CBS Sports in their “Candid Coaches” series picked Arizona as the best team this upcoming season.

Here are what two of those coaches said about the Wildcats:

— “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’s Michael) Porter. But I think he could be better than both. This should be Sean’s best team.”

The 7-foot Ayton was ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, according to Scout.com, and he joins the No. 3-rated group of incoming freshmen, joining shooting guard Brandon Randolph, power forward Ira Lee, swingman Emmanuel Akot and point guard Alex Barcello.

All were 4- or 5-star prospects, and they join a team that returned more that Miller potentially expected at the end of last season.

Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and perimeter NBA prospects Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier return to the starting lineup, as will center Dusan Ristic. Assuming Ayton starts alongside Ristic, the rest of the freshmen will fight for bench minutes with redshirt senior Talbott Denny and redshirt sophomore Dylan Smith, who are both transfers.

Perhaps the coaches’ confidence in the Wildcats also comes in that expectations are tempered elsewhere.

Even adding Bagley to a talented freshmen class at Duke makes it hard to judge Mike Krzyzewski’s team, which lost most of its contributors save for guard Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils only earned 9-percent of the vote from college coaches in the poll, tying for third-most with Kansas.

Michigan State is the only team challenging Arizona at this point of preseason prediction-giving.

Tom Izzo’s Spartans return a crop of sophomores led by Bridges who, with improvement, give them a bit of experience themselves. Said one anonymous coach to CBS Sports:

“Michigan State, just because any time (Izzo) 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.”

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