While it seems like only yesterday that the 2020-2021 college hoops season ended, it’s actually been nearly two full months since Baylor thumped Gonzaga to claim the national championship.
And boy oh boy has a lot changed since that game. Coaches have come and gone, a few high-profile high school players have made college choices and the transfer portal has completely shaken up not only rosters, but the sport of college hoops as a whole.
Which is why- with transfer portal season essentially over, rosters mostly in place and players set to return to campus in the next few weeks – now feels like a great time to update my “Way Too Early Top 25.”
I did a “Way Too Early Top 25” the day the season ended (which you can read here) and loosely threw together a Top 10 a few weeks ago.
But this is the first official update of the off-season, with one more likely coming once NBA Draft decisions are finalized.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting, that there are probably 25-30 guys on this list that I’m – at best – making informed speculation on their draft prospects. Obviously these rankings will be altered if say, a Hunter Dickinson, Johnny Juzang, Isaiah Jackson or even Davion Mintz pulls his name out of the draft. Again, all I can do is take educated guesses on a lot of these guys.
Anyway, here is our updated, post-transfer portal “Way Too Early Top 25”:
1. UCLA Bruins
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 2
Key Returnees: Johnny Juzang, Chris Smith, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaime Jacquez, Jules Bernard, David Singleton, Jake Kyman, Jaylen Clark, Mac Etienne
Key Additions: Peyton Watson, Will McClendon, Myles Johnson (transfer)
Key Departures: Jalen Hill
I have a million thoughts on UCLA, but let me start with this: I ranked them No. 2 coming out of the NCAA Tournament, under the presumption that they might return their whole team intact from the Final Four. Even so, I assumed that they would eventually lose Johnny Juzang to the NBA Draft, at which point I would drop them down. I also assumed Chris Smith, their second-leading scorer who tore his ACL mid-season and wasn’t even available during the Final Four run, would be leaving as well. And that let’s be honest, a few bench players would transfer looking for bigger roles. You know, since everyone transfers these days.
Only fast-forward two months and here is reality: There is a legitimate chance that Juzang might be back and the same with Smith, who was seen rehabbing on campus this week. In an incredible testament to the culture Mick Cronin’s built they didn’t have a single player enter the transfer portal, even knowing their roles wouldn’t change, oh, and they also have a legitimate Top 10, one and done prospect coming to campus (Peyton Watson) and a transfer who started on an NCAA Tournament team last year (Myles Johnson) arriving as well.
If anything, UCLA might have too much talent, with – as of right now – 13 players that are legitimately good enough to play at a high-major school. But ultimately that’s a good problem to have. And if Juzang, Smith or anyone else leaves, we’ll adjust accordingly.
But right now, this is the No. 1 team in America at this point, and it’s actually kind of a no-brainer to me.
(And before anyone says “You wouldn’t have had them No. 1 if they hadn’t made a Final Four” – just remember, this was the preseason Pac-12 favorite this year, and were 12-2 when Smith got hurt. This was hardly a “Cinderella” tourney team)
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 1
Key Returnees: Andrew Nembhard, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, Ben Gregg
Key Additions: Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman, Kaden Perry, Rasir Bolton (transfer)
Key Departures: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Aaron Cook (transfer), Oumar Ballo (transfer)
Can’t lie: It felt a little weird putting Gonzaga at No. 1 in my initial “Way Too Early Top 25” just hours after they had gotten their brains beaten in by Baylor in the title game. But they were worthy of a top ranking then, and in some ways, might even better on paper today than they were when I released that initial ranking.
The biggest news since my last ranking is of course the addition of the No. 1 prospect in America, Chet Holmgren, who (while needing to put on weight) should provide plenty of scoring and rim protection for the Zags. He’ll form a nice inside-out big man tandem with Drew Timme and the backcourt is loaded. Andrew Nembhard will be back to run things, and two five-star guards, Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman arrive as well. Oh, and guard Dominick Harris and forward Julian Strawther were both Top 100 recruits coming out of high school who should play bigger roles this year, and the Zags did add Rasir Bolton (who was Iowa State’s leading scorer) via the portal.
So yeah, Gonzaga is really good. I guess my only question is this: How will a program that has largely been a place that is veteran based and where players wait their turn for playing time, deal with five-star recruits who expect to get minutes right away? Of course like UCLA above, that’s a good problem to have. And I suspect Mark Few will figure it out.
3. Villanova Wildcats
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 13
Key Returnees: Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater, Eric Dixon, Bryan Antoine
Key Additions: Trey Patterson, Jordan Longino, Nnanna Njoku, Angelo Brizzi
Key Departures: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
When I did my initial “Too Early Top 25” one thing I tried to do was avoid speculating which seniors would take an extra year of eligibility and which would go pro. Obviously it was going to be a unique decision for everyone, and it was impossible to speculate which 22, 23 and 24-year-old guys would want to play another year of college hoops and which wouldn’t.
I bring this up to say, there was no bigger winner in the “seniors deciding to take an extra year category” than Villanova, which had two starters – Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels – elect to return to school. And with it, the Wildcats now return eight of nine players who played significant minutes last year, to a squad that was in the top five for most of the season before Gillespie got hurt and struggled down the stretch.
Replacing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl down low (who elected to go pro) won’t be easy. But this team is simply too deep and balanced to fall much further than this spot here.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 8
Key Returnees: Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot
Key Additions: Zach Clemence, Bobby Pettiford, KJ Adams, Remy Martin (transfer), Cam Martin (transfer), Joseph Yesufu (transfer)
Key Departures: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson (transfer)
If we’ve learned one thing through the years, it’s to never count out Bill Self to pull off a recruiting win when he needs one the most. And just when you kind of looked at the Jayhawks roster and said “Meh, how good are they?” – boom, they got arguably the best player in the transfer portal Remy Martin to commit to the school. Martin is a two-time All-Pac 12 point guard who averaged 19 points per game each of the last two years and adds immediate scoring pop to the Jayhawks’ backcourt.
And when you add Martin in with a roster that basically returns everyone from last year’s team, it’s hard not to like this Jayhawks team. For all the angst about last year not being a “vintage” Kansas team, they still finished second in a loaded Big 12, and ended up with a No. 3 seed come tournament time.
Kansas is still waiting on NBA Draft decisions from Ochai Agbagi, Jalen Wilson and Martin himself, and we will adjust this ranking if any decide to stay in. But assuming all three come back (and right now that’s the expectation) this will be the team to beat in the Big 12 next season.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
Key Returnees: Duane Washington, EJ Liddell, Zeb Key, Justice Sueing, Justin Ahrens, Zed Key, Meechie Johnson Jr., Eugene Brown III
Key Additions: Malachi Branham, Joey Brunk (transfer), Jamari Wheeler (transfer)
Key Departures: CJ Washington, Kyle Young, Seth Towns, Mussa Jallow (transfer)
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 3
The Buckeyes are one of the few teams on this list that hasn’t seen all that much roster change since our initial ranking in the off-season.
By technicality, forward EJ Liddell is “testing the NBA Draft waters” but considering that the NBA isn’t really in the market for 6’8, back-to-the-basket centers, my hunch is, he’ll be back.
Assuming he is, he, Duane Washington, Justin Ahrens, Key and Justice Sueing are a loaded returning core, off a team that spent most of last season in the Top 10. Oh, and Branham is a stud out of high school as well.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 4
Key Returnees: Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic, Zach Edey, Eric Hunter Jr., Brandon Newman
Key Additions: Trey Kaufmann, Caleb Furst
Key Departures: Aaron Wheeler (transfer)
This is another team that returns essentially everyone off of a squad that quietly finished fourth in the Big Ten and earned a No. 4 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Trevion Williams is a double-double machine down low, Jaden Ivey was spectacular as a freshman and the Boilermakers also add two Top 50 recruits.
Admittedly, I know it’s not sexy to talk about teams that return intact and don’t sign big-time recruits or high-school players. But there’s also something to be said for a team that has played together, knows each other, and where the coaching staff won’t have to spend all summer figuring out what their players can and cannot do. The Boilermakers’ season-long ceiling might not be as high as others on this. But they’ll be good from Day 1.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 9
Key Returnees: Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackleford, Joshua Primo, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, James Rojas, Darius Miles, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Alex Tchikou
Key Additions: JD Davison, Jusuan Holt, Charles Bediako, Nimari Burnett (transfer), Noah Gurley (transfer)
Key Departures: John Petty, Herbert Jones, Alex Reese
SEC Player of the Year Herb Jones is gone, and it’s hard to know exactly how any program will respond when the heart and soul of their team graduates. Same with John Petty, who has also decided to go pro after seemingly spending the last decade in Tuscaloosa.
Still, it’s also worth noting that the team’s two leading scorers last year were actually Jaden Shackleford and Jahvon Quinerly and both are expected to return, as is Josh Primo, who was a key sparkplug last year. Shackleford and Primo are testing the waters, but again, both are expected back and will be part of arguably the deepest backcourt in college hoops next year. Joining them will be McDonald’s All-American JD Davison and Nimari Burnett, a transfer from Texas Tech, who also was a McDonald’s All-American while in high school two years ago. Noah Gurley joins Burnett as an impact transfer, as basically a stretch four who can shoot threes and Charles Bediako is a five-star who committed this spring.
If you watched Alabama last season, you know exactly how they play, and next year they will only be deeper, with arguably more talent. There was nothing fluky about the Tide’s SEC championship run last season.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 18
Key Returnees: Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware, Keion Brooks
Key Additions: TyTy Washington, Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins, Oscar Tshiebwe (transfer), Kellan Grady (transfer), CJ Fredrick (transfer), Sahvir Wheeler (transfer)
Key Departures: Olivier Sarr, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Isaiah Jackson, Davion Mintz
By any tangible measurement, last year was one of the worst seasons in Kentucky program history. John Calipari deserves all the blame he got for that. He also deserves credit for this: He completely revamped the roster this off-season, seemingly addressing every single deficiency this program had last year.
The team had no point guard who could create for others. So they went and got All-SEC guard Sahvir Wheeler out of the transfer portal, who led the SEC in assists at nearly 7.5 per game last year. TyTy Washingotn is a plug and play combo who can handle the ball in Wheeler’s absence and play off the ball as well. Kentucky’s three-point shooting was abysmal as well. So Calipari went out and nabbed a four-time All-A10 guard Kellan Grady, who has shot at least 37 percent in three of his four college seasons and CJ Fredrick, maybe the best shooter in the Big Ten last year (47 percent at Iowa). Oh, and they needed bulk down low, which was addressed in January with the arrival of Oscar Tshiebwe.
Add in a couple other impact freshmen and a few key returnees, and this Kentucky roster will look different than in years past. But one thing remains the same as most of the Calipari era though: It’s talented enough to compete for an SEC title, and another Final Four berth.
(**And since I know some will ask, I am as in the dark about the decisions of Isaiah Jackson, Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks just like everyone. My guess is that – after signing three guards in the last three weeks – Mintz will keep his name in the draft, and at best, either Jackson or Brooks will return, but not both. Obviously if all three were to return it would alter the ranking)
9. Duke Blue Devils
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 5
Key Returnees: Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, Joey Baker
Key Additions: Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels, Theo John (transfer)
Key Departures: Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Jordan Goldwire (transfer), Jaemyn Brakefield (transfer), Henry Coleman (transfer)
It’s funny because most off-seasons I’m accused of being a “Duke hater” yet this year, I believe they’re actually being underrated in a lot of the other “Too Early” Top 25’s.
As far as I’m concerned, Paolo Banchero is the most college-ready freshman entering the sport this year, and AJ Griffin isn’t far behind. Trevor Keels is a third marquee freshman and I like the veterans coming back too. Jeremy Roach found his groove late and Wendell Moore is wayyyyy too talented to not eventually find his groove at the college level.
By the way, did I mention the Blue Devils open the season against Kentucky? Can. Not. Wait.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 19
Key Returnees: Davonte Davis, Jaylin Williams, JD Notae, Conor Vanover, KK Robinson
Key Additions: Chance Moore, Kimani Johnson (transfer), Au’Diese Toney (transfer), Chris Lykes (transfer), Stanley Umude (transfer), Jaxson Robinson (transfer)
Key Departures: Moses Moody, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, Vance Jackson, Desi Sills (transfer), Ethan Henderson (transfer)
It’s an annual right of passage that Eric Musselman will bring in talented newcomers wherever he’s coaching, but in a new twist, the Razorbacks will return a bunch of talent as well. Davonte Davis hit one of the most iconic shots in school history to send the Hogs to the Elite Eight, Jaylin Williams evolved into a do-everything big man by the end of the year and JD Notae is a scorer off the bench who was actually leading Arkansas in scoring in their Elite Eight loss to Baylor before following out. Oh and KK Robinson is a former Top 50 recruit who missed most of last season with injury.
But more than just the talent returning, there are the transfers, and Arkansas has again restocked. Chris Lykes and Au’Diese Toney both averaged 15+ points per game last season in the ACC (at Miami and Pitt respectively) and Stanley Umude is a switchable wing who averaged 20 points per game at South Dakota. Jaxson Robinson is a developmental wing who is a formerly highly-rated recruit.
Point being, there’s a lot to like about this team. Don’t be surprised to see the Hogs compete for another SEC title nor a deep NCAA Tournament run.
11. Michigan Wolverines
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 15
Key Returnees: Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns Jr., Terrence Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
Key Additions: Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabite, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins, Isaiah Barnes, Devante’ Jones (transfer)
Key Departures: Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Mike Smith, Austin Davis, Franz Wagner
Star freshman Hunter Dickinson just put his name into the NBA Draft for feedback on Wednesday (hours before this article went live) and most of their ranking assumes that Dickinson will in fact come back. While there is talent behind him in the freshman class, it’d be impossible to expect anyone to fully replace the 14 points and seven boards a night he had last season.
Still, assuming he is coming back, he won’t be the only key cog off last year’s Big Ten regular season champ returning to Ann Arbor. Guard Eli Brooks (9.5 points, 39.6 percent three-point shooting) and wing Brandon Johns are both returning and will be joined by the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Wing Caleb Houstan is the name to know as a McDonald’s All-American and legitimate one-and-done talent. And the Wolverines also added point guard Devante’ Jones via the transfer portal.
With that, I have two minor concerns for Michigan: One, their ability to space the floor with three-point shooting last year was what made Dickinson so effective down low, and with Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith all gone (after all shot 40+ percent from three) it could make life a bit tougher for Dickinson. Two, it will be an adjustment to go from a bunch of veteran, experienced upperclassmen to a bunch of inexperienced freshmen.
Still, in Juwan Howard I trust. And the Wolverines should be good once again.
12. Texas Longhorns
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: N/A
Key Returnees: Andrew Jones, Brock Cunningham, Courtney Ramey
Key Additions: Timmy Allen (transfer), Christian Bishop (transfer), Dylan Disu (transfer), Devin Askew (transfer), Jaylon Tyson
Key Departures: Matt Coleman, Kai Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims
Since the initial list was released following the season, there are just a handful of teams who entered the Top 25 that weren’t in it two months ago, and one is Texas. Which shouldn’t be shocking considering, you know, the Longhorns added not only one of the best coaches in the sport, but also one of the most dynamic recruiters. More importantly, they also added a coach in Chris Beard who is unafraid to dive into the deep end of the transfer portal to bring in talent.
Well, arguably no program outside of Kentucky has added more talent than Texas via the portal this off-season. All-Pac 12 guard Timmy Allen has joined the Longhorns, as has Dylan Disu (who averaged 15 and nine at Vanderbilt last season) and Christian Bishop a starter on Creighton’s Sweet 16 team. Devin Askew is the fourth transfer, and joined by returnees Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Brock Cunningham the Longhorns should be an immediate Big 12 title contender.
The only concern is that Texas doesn’t have a “true” point guard on the roster, but with so much talent around them, Jones and Askew should be enough to keep this team in the Top 15 all season long.
13. Baylor Bears
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 12
Key Returnees: Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, Flo Thamba, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, LJ Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jordan Turner
Key Additions: Kendall Brown, Langston Love, Jeremy Sochin, James Akinjo (transfer)
Key Departures: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital
The reigning national champions are a tough team to peg, but even with the loss of four starters (including two potential first round picks in Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler) it’s hard to drop them too low.
Scoring guard Adam Flagler will be back and while he’s testing the NBA Draft waters, expect sharpshooter Matt Meyer to return as well. They’ll be joined by two key bigs down low (Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua) off of last year’s title team. Maybe most importantly, while Scott Drew didn’t wade deep into the portal waters, he got one of the best players available: Arizona point guard James Akinjo, who was first team All-Pac 12 last season. It’s worth noting that because this is his second transfer, Akinjo will need a waiver to play this season.
Add a few marquee freshmen (notably wing Kendall Brown) and a couple other other players stepping into bigger roles (most notably guard LJ Cryer) and the Bears shouldn’t drop too far, even with all the talent that left Waco this off-season.
14. Maryland Terrapins
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 9
Key Returnees: Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart
Key Additions: Fatts Russell (transfer), Qudus Wahab (transfer)
Key Departures: Daryl Morsell, Jarius Hamilton (transfer)
Assuming that Ayala and Wiggins remove their names from the NBA Draft, the Terrapins should return most of the key pieces off last year’s second round NCAA Tournament team. Beyond that they added one of the most dynamic guards in the transfer portal (former Rhode Island star Fatts Russell) and center Qudus Wahab, a key cog on Georgetown’s title team.
The biggest loss will come on the defensive end, where Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell is both testing his draft options and looking into a potential transfer. He has left open the door to possibly return however, and if he does, Maryland would definitely move up a few spots.
15. Houston Cougars
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 14
Key Returnees: Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, Reggie Chaney, Fabian White
Key Additions: Ja’Vier Francis, Ramon Walker, Robbie Armbrester, Josh Carlton (transfer), Kyler Edwards (transfer)
Key Departures: DeJon Jerreau, Justin Gorham, Brison Gresham, Quentin Grimes. Cameron Tyson (transfer)
In a normal off-season, I look at Houston’s roster and think to myself “I don’t care how good Kelvin Sampson is. I just don’t see all that much with this team.” Then a few weeks into the season Sampson and Houston are beating people’s brains in and I sit there and think to myself “Why didn’t I believe in these guys?”
Well, I’m not making the same mistake this year. One, because I’m done doubting Sampson. And two, because I like the talent on this roster.
Second-leading scorer Marcus Sasser is back, and Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards should add immediate scoring pop down low. A healthy Fabian White, Reggie Chaney and UConn transfer Josh Carlton will give the Cougars their typical toughness and physicality down low.
16. Virginia Cavaliers
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 6
Key Returnees: Kiehi Clark, Trey Murphy, Reece Beekman, Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Farabello
Key Additions: Taine Murray, Igor Milicic, Armaan Franklin (transfer), Jayden Gardner (transfer)
Key Departures: Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae, Jabri Abdur-Rahim (transfer), Casey Morsell (transfer)
Admittedly, I may have had Virginia a bit too high in the first edition of the “Way Too Early Top 25.” But here are the facts: In the last eight years, the Hoos have finished either first or second in the ACC seven times. So I mean, how low can I really drop them?
Veteran Kiehi Clark will be back for a final season and Trey Murphy emerged after transferring this year. He’s currently testing the draft waters, but assuming he is back, has “ACC Player of the Year” type talent. Meanwhile, while Virginia did lose a few former highly-rated recruits to the transfer portal this summer (Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Casey Morsell) they also replaced them with two guys who should be ready to play right away. Armaan Franklin was one of the few bright spots for Indiana basketball last year (when he got hurt the team absolutely collapsed) and Jayden Gardner was a double-double machine at East Carolina.
It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes each to adjust to Virginia’s culture. But they’ll eventually figure it out, and as long as Murphy is back, this should be a program ready to compete for yet another ACC title.
17. Tennessee Volunteers
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 23
Key Returnees: John Fulkerson, Josiah Jordan-James, Santiago Vescovi, VJ Bailey, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic
Key Additions: Kennedy Chandler, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Jonas Aidoo, Jahmai Mashack, Justin Powell (transfer)
Key Departures: Yves Pons, EJ Aniosike (transfer), , Corey Walker (transfer), Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson
Clearly things didn’t go as planned last year in Knoxville last season, where the Vols started as the preseason SEC favorites and ended with a first round NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon State. Yet after a few subtle changes and additions these last few months, you could argue the 2021-2022 Vols should be more balanced than last year’s bunch.
Last year’s team lacked a true play-maker at guard and this year’s team might have two, with freshman Kennedy Chandler joined by Auburn transfer Justin Powell. Josiah Jordan-James emerged as a leader late in the season and should be helped by the return of John Fulkerson for (yet) another season of college hoops.
Santiago Vescovi adds shooting in the backcourt with VJ Bailey, and freshmen Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo provide depth in the frontcourt.
18. UConn Huskies
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 16
Key Returnees: RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Adama Sanogo, Jalen Gaffney, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley
Key Additions: Rashool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins, Samson Johnson
Key Departures: James Bouknight, Josh Carlton (transfer), Brendan Adams (transfer)
Dan Hurley has been about building a family-like atmosphere around his program since long before he got to UConn, and that family-like culture came in handy this off-season, as UConn’s roster went essentially unchanged since the season ended. As expected, star James Bouknight went pro, and little used reserves Brendan Adams and Josh Carlton decided to use their extra eligibility elsewhere. Otherwise, everyone else of importance returns.
Actually to take it step further, you could argue more returned than expected. Outside of Villanova it’s hard to find a team who benefitted more from seniors getting an extra year of eligibility as both Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley both decided to use their extra season of eligibility. They will be joined by a core that helped launch the Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016 last spring, including RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Adama Sanogo.
Akok Akok could also be an x-factor as he continues to recover from major injury two seasons ago.
19. North Carolina Tar Heels
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 17
Key Returnees: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson
Key Additions: Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn, Brady Manek (transfer), Justin McKoy (transfer)
Key Departures: DayRon Sharpe, Walker Kessler (transfer). Garrison Brooks (transfer)
When I did the first edition of the “Way Too Early Top 25” shortly after the season ended, Hubert Davis had just been named the new head coach at UNC, and no one was quite sure what to expect. Fast forward a few months, and while Davis has yet to coach a game, things have started about as well as they possibly could’ve for the new head coach.
Mainly he was able to retain most of the guys he should’ve off last year’s team, with leading scorer and rebounder Armando Bacot set to return (by technicality he is still testing the waters, but Davis said he is expected to be back) alongside point guard Caleb Love and shooters RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton. To his credit, Davis has put his own stamp on the program as well, getting away from the two low-post big man system Roy Williams ran by bringing in Oklahoma forward Brady Manek, who should be able to stretch the floor.
I’ll admit, I was hesitant on the Davis hire, but I like what he’s done this off-season. Also, you can’t watch the video below and deny that Davis is fired up to be the Tar Heels’ head coach. I’m rooting for the guy.
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) May 20, 2021
20. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 20
Key Returnees: Avery Anderson, Kalib Boone, Isaac Likekele, Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe, Keylan Boone, Rondel Walker, Bryce Williams, Bernard Kouma
Key Additions: Woody Newton (transfer), Bryce Thompson (transfer)
Key Departures: Cade Cunningham, Ferron Flavors Jr. (transfer)
To be blunt, I am stunned more people aren’t as excited about Oklahoma State heading into next year as I am.
Yes, they lose the presumptive No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, but literally return everyone else off a team that was probably one of the 10 best in the country by the end of the season. And it’s not like they’re replacing Cunningham with an unknown, but instead the opposite as Isaac Likelele will take over the reigns of the offense. He was one of the best guards in the Big 12 two years ago before taking a back seat to Cunningham last year. The Pokes also plugged holes in the portal, adding three-point shooting via former McDonald’s All-American Bryce Thompson and up front with Syracuse forward Woody Newton.
I like this squad.
21. Oregon Ducks
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: N/A
Key Returnees: Will Richardson, Eric Williams, N’Faly Dante, Franck Kepnang
Key Additions: Nathan Bittle, De’Vion Harmon (transfer), Quincy Guerrier (transfer), Rivaldo Soares (transfer)
Key Departures: Chris Duarte, Amauri Hardy, LJ Figueroa, Eugene Omoruyi, Chandler Lawson (transfer), Jalen Terry (transfer), Aaron Estrada (transfer)
While guys like Eric Musselman, Chris Beard and John Calipari are lauded for their ability to put together rosters on the fly in the summer and have success come the winter, Dana Altman deserves the same credit. Every off-season there is major turnover in Eugene. And every year Altman figures it out and keeps the Ducks rolling.
This year the big additions were guard De’Vion Harmon, who averaged 13 points per game last year at Oklahoma and Syracuse forward Quincy Guerrier, who averaged 14 and eight helping the Orange to the Sweet 16. They’ll be joined by returnees Will Richardson, Eric Williams and Franck Kepnang, alongside McDonald’s All-American Nathan Bittle.
22. Florida State Seminoles
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 11
Key Returnees: Anthony Polite, Malik Osbourne, Wyatt Wilkes
Key Additions: Matthew Cleveland, Jalen Warley, John Butler, Naheem McCloud, Caleb Mills (transfer), Cam’Ron Fletcher (transfer)
Key Departures: MJ Walker, RayQuan Evans, Scottie Barnes, RaiQuan Gray, Balsa Koprivica, Sadaar Calhoun (transfer)
This is another ranking that is based basically entirely on my belief in the head coach, and why wouldn’t we believe in Leonard Hamilton at this point? Over the last four seasons he’s made three Sweet 16’s and an Elite Eight. The only season he didn’t make the Sweet 16 was the lost 2020 year where no NCAA Tournament was played – and Florida State won the regular season ACC title that season. Few programs have been as successful as the Seminoles the last half-decade.
So yeah, even though there aren’t a ton of marquee returnees on this roster, in Hamilton we trust. The Seminoles will welcome in a loaded freshman class, as well as transfer Caleb Mills, who led Hosuton in scoring two seasons ago. We’ll also see whether Kentucky transfer Cam Fletcher can find a role here, after a tumultuous season in Lexington.
23. Saint Bonaventure Bonnies
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 21
Key Returnees: Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway, Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi, Anthony Roberts, Alejandro Vasquez
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: N/A
This one is pretty easy: Saint Bonaventure won the A-10 regular season title and the A-10 tournament title, earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and started five juniors who will all be back next season.
Sometimes, you really don’t need to overthink things.
24. Auburn Tigers
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: N/A
Key Returnees: Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams, Devan Cambridge, Dylan Cardwell, Chris Moore, Tyrell Jones
Key Additions: Jabari Smith, Walker Kessler (transfer), KD Johnson (transfer), Desi Sills (transfer), Wendell Green (transfer), Zep Jasper (transfer)
Key Departures: Sharife Cooper, Javon Franklin, Jamal Johnson, Justin Powell (transfer)
Along with Texas and Oregon, Auburn is the other new team since we did our most recent Top 25. And with good reason: Few schools have completely revamped their rosters quite like the Tigers this summer. And it’s because few teams embraced the transfer portal quite like Bruce Pearl’s squad.
The Tigers signed five different players in the portal, headlined by former McDonald’s All-American and Top 15 recruit Walker Kessler. He’ll joined a loaded frontcourt with McDonald’s All-American Jabari Smith and the Tigers’ second-leading returning scorer Jaylin Williams. The backcourt is loaded with transfer talent as well, with KD Johnson (who averaged 14 per game at Georgia last year) picking up some of the offensive scoring slack, alongside Wendell Green, who was one of the best freshmen in mid-major basketball last year, averaging 14 and five assists at Eastern Kentucky.
Desi Sills provided energy off the bench at Arkansas and should do the same on the Plains.
25. Colorado State Rams
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 24
Key Returnees: David Rody, Isaiah Stevens, Kendle Moore, Adam Thislewood, John Tonje, James Moore, Dischon Thomas
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: N/A
Another one that really doesn’t need all that much over-thinking. Colorado State was in position to make the NCAA Tournament last year, and when Oregon State and Georgetown won their conference tournaments, Louisville and the Rams were the first two teams left out. Had their not been stunners in the Big East and Pac-12 Tournaments, the Rams would’ve gotten an at-large bid.
Well that team literally returns everyone of consequence next season, and should battle it out with Nevada at the top of the Mountain West.
28. Michigan State
New to the Top 25 since the last update: Texas, Auburn, Oregon
Dropping out of the Top 25 since the last update: Arizona, Nevada, Michigan State