When Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 and the entire sports world shut down because of it (RIP, 2020 NCAA Tournament), no one could have imagined the long-term ramifications it would have on sports. And that’s especially true with the NBA Draft. The draft itself got pushed back to October, with the deadline to withdraw pushed back until August. It created chaos in college basketball, as coaches spent all offseason trying to adjust and reconfigure their rosters.
That chaos however, is finally over. Close to 150 days after the college basketball season actually ended, today, Monday, August 3rd is the NBA Draft deadline. Players had to withdraw by midnight this evening. However, since all the big names have officially withdrawn… it’s time to get to my post-NBA Draft Deadline college hoops Top 25!
Before we get started, one important note: I am ranking teams based on how the rosters look today. While most rosters are completely set, there are still a few teams that are waiting on transfer waivers. Even if I think Olivier Sarr will get a waiver at Kentucky, I can’t rank the Wildcats with him, until he is actually eligible. Same with Mac McClung at Texas Tech, Landers Nolley II at Memphis and others. So please keep that in mind before you send hate mail my way.
Two, projecting teams this season is in a lot of ways harder than ever, because we just don’t know what the season will look like. I don’t know if we’re going to a conference only schedule. If fans aren’t in the stands, that is probably an advantage for some teams and a disadvantage for others. So again, I’m trying to do this, assuming that we have a season, but knowing there could be some crazy, logistical twists that are unprecedented.
So keep that in mind as you read this list, and let’s get to that post NBA Draft deadline Top 25!
1) Villanova Wildcats
Key Returnees: Collin Gillespie, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Bryan Antoine, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
Key Departures: Saddiq Bey
Key Additions: Caleb Daniels (transfer)
Villanova began the off-season as No. 1 in my “Way Too Early Top 25” in March and they begin it here, for three simple reasons: They were really good last year. They were expected to return largely intact. And did return largely intact, with no big surprise transfers or NBA Draft decisions this off-season.
In total, Villanova had zero seniors on their roster last year. And while they did lose their best player Saddiq Bey to the draft (as expected) they return every other key player off of last year’s squad that won 24 games and split the Big East title with Seton Hall and Creighton. That includes four different players who averaged double-figures (Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl) and several other guys who have been through the wars in the Big East (Cole Swider, Brandon Slater). Bryan Antoine is also a former McDonald’s All-American who could emerge into a star this season.
Also, remember this: Because of this wild, unprecedented off-season, continuity will be key heading into 2020-2021. And no one has had more continuity since March than Villanova.
2) Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Returnees: Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, Anton Watson
Key Departures: Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Flip Petrusev
Key Additions: Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, Oumar Ballo (redshirt), Aaron Cook (grad transfer)
Following another season where they had a chance to win the national championship (had a tournament been played, I truly feel like the Zags would have been the favorites), Gonzaga had three players declare for the NBA Draft. They received fantastic news when two of the three (wing Corey Kispert and guard Joel Ayayi) elected to return to campus. And while the third (Filip Petrusev) ended up going pro, it comes at a spot in the frontcourt where the Zags are loaded with depth.
So I bring all that up to say: Look out, Gonzaga is again loaded. And yes, good enough to win a national championship.
Gonzaga will once again be loaded offensively with maybe the most dynamic backcourt in college basketball. Ayayi is a combo-guard who averaged 10 a game in his first real action last season, while Kispert averaged 14 a game while shooting a staggering 44 percent from three. Each has a chance to be a first round pick next season. And now they’ll be joined by in the backcourt by McDonald’s All-American Jalen Suggs, a dynamic playmaker and the highest-rated recruit in program history. Drew Timme will help fill the void the void left by Petrusev in teh front court and the early buzz is that redshirt Oumar Ballo is the next great, foreign big guy to play in Spokane.
I say all this to say that the Zags are absolutely loaded. And absolutely good enough to win the school’s first national title.
3) Baylor Bears
Key Returnees: Jared Butler, Macio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer
Key Departures: Devonte Bandoo, Freddie Gillespie
Key Additions: Dain Dainja, LJ Cryer, Zach Loveday, Adam Flager (transfer), Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (transfer)
Not sure if you remember, but Baylor was pretty freakin’ good last season. The Bears went 26-4 overall, won 22 straight at one point and held the No. 1 spot in the polls for a good chunk of January and February.
Oh, and now they return seven of their top nine scorers off that team. Good luck, Big 12.
Man this was HARD ! Jude 1:24 pic.twitter.com/eQVfuD50eR
— Jared Butler (@J_Hooper11) August 3, 2020
The big news came early Monday morning when the team’s heart and soul, Jared Butler, an All-Big 12 first team guard last year, elected to return. With him back, a crazy dynamic backcourt returns essentially intact, with last year’s second and third leading scorers (MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell) back as well. The frontcourt won’t be quite as dynamic without the shot blocking of departed senior Freddie Gillespie, but still has plenty of size, length and toughness, especially if Tristan Clark (the team’s best player two years ago) is finally healthy.
The 2020 campaign was the best season in school history for the Bears. And 2021 has a chance to be even better.
4) Virginia Cavaliers
Key Returnees: Kiehi Clark, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae, Casey Morsell, Kody Stattmann,
Key Departures: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
Key Additions: Sam Hauser (transfer), Jabari Abdur-Rahim, Reece Beekman
I’ve been critical of Virginia at times through the years, but you could argue that Tony Bennett did his best coaching job in 2020 (yes, even better than the 2019 run that ended in a national championship). Despite a slow start (which happens when you lose your three best players off a title team) Virginia was the best team in the ACC late, winning its final eight games, and 10 of its final 11. That included victories over the other three best teams in the league during that stretch, Florida State, Duke and Louisville.
Now, the Cavaliers return largely in tact, and will add a little pop offensively with the addition of Sam Hauser, who averaged 15 points per game at Marquette in 2018-2019.
In my mind, this is the team to beat in the ACC.
5) Illinois Fighting Illini
Key Returnees: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Da’Monte Williams, Trent Frazier
Key Losses: Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin
Key Additions: Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, Coleman Hawkins, Brandon Lieb, Austin Hutcherson (transfer)
Illinois has made the single biggest jump since I did my “Way Too Early Top 25” following the season, going from unranked to No. 5 in the nation. And it comes for one simple reason: The decision of point guard Ayo Dosunmu to return to college basketball was the single most unexpected of this off-season.
To be blunt, there was no one – NO ONE – who thought Dosunmu would be back this season. That included the Illinois coaching staff, which recruited two of the nation’s best point guards (Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo) to replace him this coming season. Instead, Dosunmu, who averaged 16 points per game last year and was named All-Big Ten second team, elected to return, shocking just about everyone in college basketball in the process.
And with Dosunmu back, as well as big man Kofi Cockburn, that loaded freshman class and some other key pieces, the Illini have their most talented roster since their 2005 Final Four run. While shooting still remains an issue (they hit just 31 percent as a team last season), this roster is absolutely good enough to not only win the Big Ten. But potentially a national championship as well.
6) Iowa Hawkeyes
Key Returnees: Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, CJ Frederick, Joe Toussaint, Connor McCaffery, Cordell Pemsl, Patrick McCaffery*
Key Departures: Ryan Kriener
Key Additions: Ahron Ulis, Jordan Bohanon (redshirt)
While Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and a bunch of other schools all got big news at the draft deadline, there was no bigger “I’m baaaaaack” decision than Iowa’s Luka Garza. A consensus first team All-American last season, Garza averaged 24 and 10 for the Hawkeyes.
Had he departed, Iowa was likely outside the Top 25. Instead, he will return. And now, the buzz is real in Iowa City my friends.
That’s because in addition to returning a consensus All-American down low, six of the Hawkeyes top seven scorers are back from last year’s team. They also return point guard Jordan Bohanon, who averaged double-figures two seasons ago, before missing virtually all of last season with injury.
The Hawkeyes will have to avoid their traditional late season swoons (they went just 4-5 down the stretch last year) and be better defensively to be a true national title threat.
But it isn’t an exaggeration to say that this is the best Iowa team of this millennium.
7) Duke Blue Devils
Key Returnees: Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire
Key Departures: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey, Cassius Stanley, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Alex O’Connell (transfer)
Key Additions: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, Mark Williams, Jaeym Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape (grad transfer)
Every off-season I pick apart and overanalyze Duke’s roster and every year it comes back to burn me. One season I wondered how Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett would play together (it turns out the answer was “really well”) and last year I had doubts about Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley, who turned into two of the best freshmen in the ACC. So yeah, maybe I should stop questioning Coach K. Whatever anyone thinks of him (and everyone has their opinions) there is a reason he is an all-time great.
Therefore this year I am skipping the doubt, simply based on the fact that the Blue Devils have a loaded roster. Wendell Moore got a bit lost in the shuffle last year with injuries but has the chance to be a star in 2021, and Matthew Hurt still averaged close to double-figures, despite struggling through much of the year. Jalen Johnson is a future lottery pick freshman and Mark Williams and DJ Steward are both highly-underrated as well.
My only real concern on Duke is at point guard, where freshman Jeremy Roach will have to replace Tre Jones – and do it with a shortened off-season. Still, this team is again talented and should hang around the Top 10 all season long.
8) Wisconsin Badgers
Key Returnees: Nate Reuvers, D’MTrick Trice, Micah Potter, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Trevor Anderson
Key Departures: Brevin Pritzl
Key Additions: Ben Carlson
What a weird 2019-2020 for the Badgers last year. They started just 5-5 overall, lost their leading scorer to a mid-season transfer – then ripped off eight straight wins to close the season. The Badgers 2020 campaign ended with a split of the Big Ten regular season title.
Not bad. Even better? They return their entire starting five off that team. Yes, Brad Davison is back for another year. So too is Micah Potter, who emerged as a star after getting eligible at mid-season.
So yeah, you could make an argument for Wisconsin in the top five going into next season. And the only reason I don’t have them higher is because – as mentioned above – they have been super streaky since Greg Gard took the program over. There was that 5-5 start last season and a 3-3 start in Big Ten play two years ago.
In a season where we might play conference only games, a slow start might not be something you can overcome. And the Badgers need to come out locked in from the beginning.
9) Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Keion Brooks
Key Departures: Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang
Key Additions: BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Dontaie Allen (redshirt), Davion Mintz (grad transfer)
Waiting on a Transfer Waiver: Oliver Sarr (transfer)
There really aren’t that many teams who could make a major move between now and the start of the season, but Kentucky is one of them. Had Olivier Sarr been ruled eligible prior to this article being written, I probably would have had the Wildcats somewhere around No. 3 nationally.
Right now they will have to settle for “really good” with a chance to be “great” if Sarr can get eligible.
That’s because even without Sarr this team is absolutely loaded. Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston are by far the most dynamic freshmen tandem in the country, and Isaiah Jackson is a tenacious shot blocker and defender. I also truly believe Devin Askew can steady the ship at point guard, and Davion Mintz will bring versatility to the backcourt as well. The fact that there likely won’t be any fans in the stands for most of this season could help Kentucky as well, as they won’t face nearly as much hostility on the road as they traditionally do.
So yeah, I like this team, and that’s… without Sarr.
If the Wildcats are able to add the 7’0, All-ACC transfer from Wake Forest, then again, they will be one of the best teams in college basketball in 2020-2021. What’s the wait, NCAA?!
10) UCLA Bruins
Key Returnees: Chris Smith, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jacquez, David Singleton, Jules Bernard, Jake Kyman
Key Departures: Prince Ali, Alex Alex Olesinski
Key Additions: Jaylen Clark, Johnny Juzang (transfer)
While it’s easy to forget now, few teams were playing better than UCLA when the season ended last year. To his credit, Mick Cronin completely flipped that team on its head late in the year, as the Bruins won 11 of their final 14 games and were a play away from winning the Pac-12.
Oh, and did I mention, eight of the top nine scorers off that team are back?
The big news came on Monday when leading scorer Chris Smith elected to return, and with him, the Bruins now will have essentially the exact same team on the floor in 2021 that they finished with in 2020. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill will provide bulk down low, Tyger Campbell will run things at point guard, and Jake Kyman and Johnny Juzang will provide shooting.
The one concern I have with UCLA is that the Bruins, maybe more than any school on this list, have been hampered by Covid-19 restrictions. While some schools have been practicing for a few weeks, UCLA hasn’t even been able to bring their players back to campus yet. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that is by far the best team in the Pac-12.
11) Michigan State Spartans
Key Returnees: Rocket Watts, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
Key Departures: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Kyle Ahrens
Key Additions: Mady Sissoko, AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser (transfer)
The Spartans were always going to have trouble replacing Cassius Winston at point guard, but there was a chance that basically everyone else would return and Michigan State would be largely the same team that split the Big Ten regular season title last year. Instead, it wasn’t meant to be, as on Sunday, big man Xavier Tillman decided to stay in the draft. While it wasn’t totally surprising (Tillman is married with two small children) it does leave a huge void in the Spartans’ frontcourt heading into this coming season.
Still even without Tillman, Michigan State will have one of the most explosive backcourts in college basketball.
Rocket Watts will probably have to take over some of the play-making duties from Winston after a solid freshman season, with Marquette transfer Joey Hauser and Aaron Henry joining him on the wing. The Spartans are also expected to return Joshua Langford, who was the team’s leading scorer in 2019 but missed all of last season with injury.
Michigan State isn’t quite as dynamic as they could have been. But still have the talent to compete with just about anybody in the country.
12) Creighton Blue Jays
Key Returnees: Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney, Mitch Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Jacob Epperson, Shareef Mitchell
Key Departures: Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz (transfer)
Key Additions: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Rati Andronikashvili, Modestas Kancleris, Antwann Jones (transfer)
Creighton won 24 games last year and split the Big East title – and when the season ended, there was a chance that they could basically return their entire team. Had they done that, they probably would have been Top 3 nationally heading into 2020-2021. Unfortunately, leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander entered the NBA Draft and decided to stay, ending that dream.
The good news however? Just about everyone else of substance returns.
That includes the team’s most important player, point guard Marcus Zegarowski, who averaged 16 points and five assists per game last season on his way to All-Big East honors. Mitch Ballock will add shooting from the outside and wings Damien Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney both tested the draft waters before deciding to return. The Jays should have more size down low if big man Jacob Epperson can get healthy after missing all of last year, and early buzz is that Memphis transfer Antwann Jones was one of the team’s best players in practice last year. While he can’t replicate Alexander’s scoring, he makes Creighton a more versatile and balanced team.
Overall, this squad might not be quite as good as they were in 2020. But they still appear to easily be the second best team in an always solid Big East.
13) Kansas Jayhawks
Key Returnees: Ochai Abaji, David McCormack, Marcus Garrett, Christian Braun, Silvio De Sousa, Tristan Enaruna
Key Departures: Udoka Azibuke, Devon Dodson, Isaiah Moss,
Key Additions: Bryce Thompson, Gethro Muscadin, Tyon Grant-Foster, Jalen Wilson (redshirt), Mitch Lightfoot (redshirt)
If you’ve followed my work at all through the last few years, you know that I’ve probably been more critical than anyone of Bill Self and his role in the whole FBI investigation into Kansas. What I can’t deny however is that the dude is a rock star on the sidelines. The guy is just an awesome, awesome coach.
I say all that to say: I actually don’t really like this roster. I just trust Self that much to figure out how to use all these pieces.
Remember, the Jayhawks were a consensus No. 1 team heading into March last year, based almost exclusively on two guys: Point guard Devon Dodson and center Udoka Azibuke. Well, both are now gone, and there is absolutely no replacement for what Dodson did on this team. Instead what this roster has is a bunch of guys who are all pretty much the same – athletic wings (Ochai Abaji, Tristan Enaruna, Bryce Thompson, Jalen Wilson) or bulky bigs (David McCormack, Silvio De Sousa), but no point guard. Marcus Garrett will be asked to take on that role this season, but only after three years of primarily playing off the ball alongside Dodson and Devonte Graham as a freshman.
Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of me saying that I’m not really crazy about this roster, but do believe in Bill Self. If just about anyone other than Self were coaching this roster, I’d probably drop them down a few spots. But I’ll split the difference and plug them in here.
14) Tennessee Volunteers
Key Returnees: Santiago Vescovi, Jon Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic, Davonte Gaines
Key Departures: Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner, Jalen Johnson (transfer)
Key Additions: Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Corey Walker, EJ Anisoke (grad transfer), Victor Bailey (transfer)
I’ve said it since weeks before the regular season ended and have stood by it now for five months: The Tennessee Vols have a chance to be really good next year. Yes, they only finished 17-14 overall. But this was also a team that played well down the stretch (winning at Rupp Arena) and had they closed out a couple of close games (at Auburn, at South Carolina) with wins, would have been in the thick of the bubble picture last season. Did I mention they did it with their player going down with a season-ending injury in December (Lamonte Turner) and that they replaced him with a point guard who arrived in this country in December (Santiago Vescovi)?
So yeah, it wasn’t exactly an easy go of it last season… but that will only make the Vols that much more battle-tested headed into 2020-2021. Yves Pons and Jon Fulkerson are back in the frontcourt, Vescovi in the backcourt and the school welcomes in the top ranked recruiting class in school history. Jaden Springer and Corey Walker have a chance to have an immediate impact and don’t sleep on Oregon transfer Victor Bailey.
Heck, if you don’t believe me that the Vols will be good, just ask Rick Barnes, who joined my podcast earlier this spring to discuss his team (shameless plug).
This team is absolutely good enough to win an SEC title.
15) Texas Tech Red Raiders
Key Returnees: Kyler Edwards, TJ Shannon, Kevin McCullar, Clarence Nadolny, Avery Benson, Tyreek Smith
Key Departures: Chris Clarke, TJ Holyfield, Jah’mius Ramsey. Davide Moretti, Joel Ntambwe, Andrei Sarasov (transfer), Russel Tchewa (transfer)
Key Additions: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Chibuzo Agbo Jr., Marcus Santos-Silva (grad transfer)
Waiting on a Transfer Waiver: Mac McClung (transfer)
When it comes to Texas Tech basketball, two things can be inherently true: One, they were rocked with a couple truly shocking off-season departures that few saw coming. Two, I still like them more than most people in college hoops.
In terms of the “truly shocking departures” well, we all knew a few guys would be leaving, including highly-touted freshman Jah’mius Ramsey. There had been talk that veteran point guard Davide Moretti would seek pro options, but it was still crippling when he made that official decision in May and decided to play overseas next year. Yet as bad as that was, what was even worse is this: It appears as though highly-touted transfer Joel Ntambwe will pursue pro options as well. It isn’t official yet, but he was the only player who didn’t return to campus with his teammates in June.
Still, with all that said… I really like this roster.
The Red Raiders have a bunch of guys (Kevin McCullar, TJ Shannon, Micah Peavy) who are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-5 to 6-8, who can defend and play multiple positions. Freshman Nimari Burnett could have instant impact at the point guard spot and Marcus Santos-Silva is the prototypical tough Chris Beard grad transfer.
Texas Tech is still waiting for word on Mac McClung’s transfer waiver, but even without him I think they will be fine. This team isn’t quite up there with Baylor atop the Big 12. But they’re not as far behind as some people think.
16) West Virginia Mountaineers
Key Returnees: Derek Culver, Oscar Tschiebwe, Miles McBride, Emmitt Williams, Sean McNeil, Taz Sherman, Gabe Osabuohien
Key Departures: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper (transfer)
Key Additions: Isaiah Cottrell, Jalen Bridges (redshirt)
West Virginia had one of the most stress free off-seasons (if such a thing exists under Bob Huggins) of anyone in college basketball. Their two best players (Derek Culver and Oscar Tschiebwe) never seriously considered testing the NBA Draft waters, meaning that they have basically known since the season ended that they will return in tact. That’s good news for a group that spent a good chunk of last season in the Top 25 and even parts in the Top 10.
What isn’t good news however was just how bad their offense was at times last season. As a team they shot just 42 percent from the field overall and an abysmal 28.6 percent from three. It led to some abysmal stretches where the team simply couldn’t score and resulted in six losses in their final nine games.
In the end, this team will still be a tough, physical matchup that dominates the boards against every team they play. But to become elite, they need to get better offensively. And in a hurry.
17) Oregon Ducks
Key Returnees: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante
Key Departures: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, C.J. Walker (transfer), Francis Okoro (transfer)
Key Additions: Jalen Terry, Eric Williams (transfer), Eugene Omoruyi (transfer), Amauri Hardy (grad transfer)
Waiting on a transfer waiver: LJ Figueroa
Truth be told, I have a love/hate relationship with Oregon fans. And by “love/hate” what I really mean is “they hate me.” The bottom-line is that Oregon is always talented, but I am a firm believer that if anything, they over-recruit, bring in too many talented players and it causes chemistry issues.
Some years, like last season (when they won the Pac-12) it wasn’t an issue. In 2018 however, the Ducks missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. And in 2019, they needed to win the Pac-12 Tournament to get into the Big Dance (where, in their defense, they then made the Sweet 16).
So I say all this to say, the Ducks might have the biggest boom/bust potential in all of college basketball this season.
On the one hand, they have one of the most talented rosters in the country, a team that is stacked with former elite recruits (Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante) and high-level transfers (Amauri Hardy, Eugene Omoruyi, Eric Williams). They might be even better if St. John’s transfer LJ Figueroa gets a waiver.
On the other hand, they also have – by my count – at least nine guys who will expect to play big minutes, 10 if Figueroa gets eligible. Figuring out role allocation will be huge for this group. And unlike last year, they don’t have a veteran in Payton Prtichard to keep the team together.
Point being, I could see Oregon winning the Pac-12 and spending most of the season in the Top 15. Or I could see them missing the NCAA Tournament altogether. It will be fascinating to watch either way.
18) LSU Tigers
Key Returnees: Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, Darius Days, Charles Manning, Aundre Hyatt
Key Departures: Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Emmitt Williams, James Bishop (transfer)
Key Additions: Cameron Thomas, Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilknson. Shareef O’Neal (transfer), Josh LeBlanc (transfer)
LSU went into Monday with three guys still testing the NBA Draft waters – and for a time were completely out of my Top 25. But with the return of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days, to go along with a loaded recruiting class and two big-time transfers, this is a squad that is once again good enough to win the SEC.
Look, at this point we all know about Smart and Watford, a quietly valuable chess piece that can play inside and out and averaged double-figures as a freshman. What I think gets lost is just how good the rest of this roster looks around them. Cameron Thomas is a high-scoring freshman who should compliment Smart in the backcourt nicely immediately and both Shareef O’Neal (UCLA) and Josh LeBlanc (Georgetown) are bigs who played at the highest level and can contribute immediately.
And then there’s Will Wade. Say what you want about the guy (and I know you will), but his teams are always well-coached, well-prepared and they have largely overachieved in his three seasons in Baton Rouge. This will be his deepest and best team yet.
19) Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Key Returnees: Ron Harper Jr., Jacob Young, Geo Baker, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Paul Mulcahy
Key Departures: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
Key Additions: Cliff Omoyuri, Mawot Mag
There really isn’t a ton to “analyze” here. All you need to know is: Rutgers went 20-11 last season and fifth in the Big Ten and were headed for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991. Oh, and they return six of their top seven scorers off that team and add the most high-profile recruit to commit to the program in over a decade. That would be center Cliff Omoyuri, who chose the Scarlet Knights over a ton of high-profile, big time programs.
So yeah, they will be really good next season.
My only two concerns with the Scarlet Knights are this: Last year, they were able to sneak up on everyone. How do they handle going from the hunter, to the hunted? Secondly, few teams have a homecourt advantage quite as distinct as Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went 9-1 in Big Ten games played at home, but just 2-8 in conference games played away from home. If there are no fans in the stands, is this team quite as dangerous as they would be otherwise?
Still, I can’t deny the talent is there. And Rutgers deserves this ranking for now.
20) Arkansas Razorbacks
Key Returnees: Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, Ethan Henderson
Key Departures: Mason Jones, Adrio Bailey, Jimmy Whitt, Jeantal Cylla, Reggie Chaney (transfer), Jalen Harris (transfer)
Key Additions: Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Jaylin Williams, Davonte Davis, Vance Jackson (grad transfer), Jalen Tate (grad transfer), Justin Smith (grad transfer) Conor Vanover (transfer), JD Notae (transfer)
In a little over one year’s time, Eric Musselman has almost completely flipped Arkansas’s roster. And a team that didn’t start a single player over 6’6 a season ago will enter 2019-2020 as one of the deepest, tallest and most versatile clubs in college basketball.
Therefore, while Mason Jones is gone, this Arkansas roster remains absolutely stacked. The key was the return of Isaiah Joe, who announced over the weekend he would be back for his junior season. Joe averaged nearly 17 points a game last year, and had he not gotten injured, the Hogs were an almost certain NCAA Tournament team. He will be back, alongside a slew of big-time transfers (Vance Jackson, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, Conor Vanover) and a big-time recruiting class that has at least two guys (Moses Moody, KK Robinson) who should be immediate contributors. Desi Sills is another experienced returnee.
Again, this team will have the size, depth and athleticism to compete with anyone in college hoops next season.
The dream continues??? pic.twitter.com/yY0mUsw8Lh
— Isaiah Joe (@Isaiah_joe10) August 1, 2020
21) Arizona State Sun Devils
Key Returnees: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Jaelen House, Khalid Thomas, Jalen Graham
Key Departures: Rob Edwards, Romello White (transfer)
Key Additions: Josh Christopher, Marcus Bagley, Holland Woods (grad transfer)
It took right down to the wire, but Arizona State got back its most important piece for next season: Point guard Remy Martin. After testing the NBA Draft waters, the senior to be is back after averaging 19 points and four assists last season. And with his return, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we are about to enter… the most anticipated season in Arizona State basketball history. Can you feel the excitement?
In all seriousness the Sun Devils play a fun, fast-paced brand of basketball that had them on the verge of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance last spring. Now with Martin back, most of the key pieces (including fellow guard Alonzo Verge) have returned and are buoyed by maybe the most anticipated freshman class in the program’s history. It includes five-star guard Josh Christopher, as well as Marcus Bagley, the uber-athletic younger brother of Marcus Bagley.
The Sun Devils will be one of the most fun teams to watch in college hoops next year. And one of the favorites in the Pac-12.
22) Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Returnees: John Petty , Herb Jones, Jaden Shackleford, Alex Reese
Key Departures: Kira Lewis, Beetle Bolden, Jaylen Forbes (transfer), Javian Davis (transfer)
Key Additions: Josh Primo, Alex Tchikou, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Darius Miles, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary (redshirt), James Rojas (redshirt), Jahvon Quinerly (transfer), Jordan Bruner (grad transfer)
I feel like I’ve talked about Alabama basketball a lot lately (including with Nate Oats on my podcast) so I’m really not going to go too deep here. But the bottom line is that no one has done work to improve their roster since the end of the 2020 season than Alabama has.
Since its final game, the Tide have signed two Top 60 prospects in the high school class (Josh Primo and Alex Tchikou), a junior college All-American (Keon Ellis) and added one of the top transfers in the sport in Yale big man Jordan Bruner. That was AFTER they already signed former McDonald’s All-American Jahvon Quinerly at point guard (who sat out last season). And doesn’t include John Petty (who averaged 15 points per game last season) and Herb Jones both returning after testing the draft waters. Jaden Shackleford averaged 15 a game last year and is back as well.
Yes, this team’s defense will need to improve greatly from last season. But like a bunch of other SEC teams (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas) they will be deep, talented and explosive.
23) Richmond Spiders
Key Returnees: Blake Francis, Grant Golden, Nick Sherrod, Jacob Gilyard, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Tyler Burton, Souleymane Koureissi, Matt Grace
Key Losses: Jake Wojcik
Key Additions: N/A
Since the day last season ended, Richmond has become the buzzy “don’t sleep on them” mid-major team that everyone in college basketball has their eye on. And with good reason: They’re really freaking good.
Overall the Spiders return their top eight scorers off a team that won 24 games last year, a season that included wins over several Power 5 teams (most notably eventual Big Ten champ Wisconsin). The returnees include the dynamic backcourt of Blake Francis, Nick Sherrod and Jacob Gilyard, who all averaged double figures (along with big man Grant Golden) last season.
In the end there’s no telling what this season could look like, and if there are no out of conference games that could hurt the profile of Richmond. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a damn good team.
24) Memphis Tigers
Key Returnees: Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Damion Baugh, Malcolm Dandridge, DJ Jeffries, Isaiah Stokes, Lance Thomas
Key Departures: Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Maurice
Key Additions: Moussa Cisse
Waiting on transfer waivers: Landers Nolley (transfer), DeAndre Williams (transfer)
Listen, I know it’s easy to crush Penny Hardaway after last season. And much of it is deserved. When you say in the preseason “I expect my team to win the national championship” then end it on the NCAA Tournament bubble, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Still, what can’t be denied is this: Memphis would have been a completely different team if James Wiseman hadn’t left after his suspension and DJ Jeffries didn’t suffer a season-ending injury. And to Hardaway’s credit, even with a depleted roster, his guys played hard down the stretch.
Anyway I bring all this up to say that outside of Precious Achiuwa every key piece returns, with more experience. Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones were star high school players who showed flashes in season one, and could be legit stars in season two. Alex Lomax was steady at point guard last season and Jeffries returns from injury. Oh, and the Tigers added another big piece this off-season when five-star center Moussa Cisse reclassified and decide to join the Tigers. Memphis could also add depth if either Landers Nolley or DeAndre Williams receives a transfer waiver to play immediately.
Ultimately though, the Tigers don’t need either player. They have the talent to be the best team in the AAC and a Top 20 squad all season long.
25) North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Returnees: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Andrew Platek
Key Departures: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, Jeremiah Francis (transfer)
Key Additions: Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, Puff Johnson, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton
In case you’ve forgotten, it was a bad season at North Carolina last year. Like, “historically bad.” Like, “finish in last place in the ACC” kind of bad. Heck, the Tar Heels can’t even use the “we could have turned the corner in the conference tournament” excuse, since they were eliminated from the ACC Tournament before it was cancelled.
Still, when you look at last season’s disaster there are some silver linings. The Tar Heels return some of the key pieces off last year’s team. They were much more competitive than their record would indicate, and lost a ton of close games (something that happens to a lot of young teams). And they bring in a top three recruiting class nationally. At point guard Caleb Love will be an adequate replacement for Cole Anthony and RJ Davis is a volume scorer on the wing. The Tar Heels already had plenty of talent in the front court with Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, and then added two top 20 players nationally in Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler.
I’m still not sold this is a top of the ACC, elite team. But they weren’t as bad as the record would indicate last year. And should be much improved in 2020-2021.
Five others who just missed the cut
San Diego State: The Aztecs ended up at No. 26 on this list, and had it not been for a flurry of players returning at places like LSU, Alabama and Illinois in the final days, would have made my Top 25. The bottom-line is that for all the talk about Malachi Flynn last year, this team had a ton of other valuable pieces. And even without Flynn, they can still largely play the same way. The Aztecs won’t be quite as explosive as last season, but will still have scorers all over the court with Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel and grad transfer Terrell Gomez, with Tre Pullium running the point.
This team won’t be quite as good as last year’s 30-2 squad. But will be the heavy favorite in the Mountain West.
UConn: I think you could legitimately argue that no coach has a higher-approval rating with his fan-base right now than Dan Hurley. The Huskies won eight of their final 10 games last year, recruiting is through the roof and (although this has nothing to do with Hurley) UConn is re-entering the Big East this year. James Bouknight is also a legitimate star who could be a first round pick next season.
Ultimately the Huskies just missed the cut for me, for a few simple reasons: The loss of senior guard Christian Vital will hurt. And the program could come out of the gate slow, as two starters from last year (Tyler Polley, Akok Akok) recover from injuries.
Yet with all that said, this is already the third best team in the Big East. And a program set up to compete with Villanova at the top of the league for years to come.
Texas: On paper, there is no doubt that Texas has one of the 25 best rosters in college basketball next year. Heck, on paper, they have one of the 10 most talented rosters in college basketball next year, with their top 12 scorers back, plus the addition of high school All-American Greg Brown.
Still, I’ve done the “Is this finally the year Shaka Smart turns the corner” song and dance before, and at some point, the guy has got to show me something. I can’t put Texas in that Top 25, until their actual talent results in more wins.
Indiana: For all the noise out of Bloomington last year (some of it, via Joe Lunardi), Indiana was in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament and did in fact, beat many of the best teams in college basketball along the way (Florida State, Michigan State, Iowa etc.). Well, seven of the team’s top nine scorers are back from that team and the Hoosiers will be bolstered by a loaded recruiting class that includes star point guard Khristian Lander. The Hoosiers have a chance to be really good this year.
Houston: In an unfortunate piece of news, Houston lost its best big man, Fabian White Jr., to a knee injury this off-season. And because of it, it’s hard to justify putting the Cougars in my Top 25. With that said, they are right behind Memphis as the second best team in the AAC.