College Basketball Way Too Early Top 25by Charlie Parent May 6, 2021 1 comment
With the college basketball season being over for a while now, the transfer portal starting to take shape, and recruiting classes being filled, it’s time to get ready for another season. If this upcoming season is anything like the last, we are in for a real treat. Baylor took home the title in one of the best tournaments of late. Now, however, we look towards the future and our early top 25 for the 2021-2022 season.
After an incredibly disappointing end to their almost perfect season, the Zags aren’t going anywhere. They will be losing some of their top scorers in Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert but they retain a lot of production and will bring in some top talent out of high school. Gonzaga is expected to bring back big man Drew Timme and will now be able to pair him with the consensus number one overall recruit Chet Holmgren. The two will make one of the best front-courts in the nation and hopefully lead the Zags back to the title game.
Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines exceeded everyone’s expectations in the 2020-2021 season. They won the Big Ten title outright and made an elite eight appearance even with their best player, Isaiah Livers, hurt. This year, the team will look a lot different, but they’ll still bring back some key guys. The Wolverines will lose starting forwards Franz Wagner and Livers. They also lost starting point guard Mike Smith and sixth man Chaundee Brown. If that sounds like a lot of production lost, it is. However, the Wolverines bring in a top-five recruiting class as well as Sun Belt player of the year DeVante Jones. Jones will immediately start in place of Smith and be a higher volume scorer than Smith was. Michigan also brings back Big Ten freshman of the year Hunter Dickinson. The big man made a name for himself in his freshman campaign and will look to repeat in his sophomore year. Last but not least, Michigan brings back senior leader Eli Brooks, who is the glue to their offense. Overall, Michigan loses a lot of talent but what they are retaining and bringing in is too good to overlook.
The Crimson Tide fell victim to the Cinderella run of UCLA last season and was eliminated by the Bruins in the Sweet 16. Now, Alabama returns a ton of production and brings in a great recruiting class as well. Star guard Jahvon Quinerly returns and he will now be joined in the back-court by five-star Jerddarian Davison. Alabama is one of three Division I teams that has not lost a player to the transfer portal and they’re looking really good because of this. The Tide will look to follow up their SEC championship with an even deeper postseason run this year.
Villanova is sitting in a great spot. The biggest headline from their offseason was the return of star point guard Collin Gillespie. Gillespie tore his ACL late in the 2020-2021 season. This injury was a big reason why the Wildcats didn’t advance farther in the tournament. Gillespie is the glue of this team and it will be great to bring him back. On top of Gillespie, Villanova brings back star forward Jermaine Samuels. Samuels averages 12 points per game last season and will look to add on to this total next year. There are some questions about the center spot but with an incredibly deep team and a top-ten recruiting class, Villanova is ready to reclaim their spot on the throne this year.
It was an unexpected 2020-2021 season for the Duke Blue Devils. The team finished 13-11 and missed out on the tournament. They never seemed to have chemistry or gel well and with no fans, it seemed the powerhouse team looked lost. Now, Duke is ready to get back to business. They return some key contributors in Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, and Mark Williams. It wouldn’t be a true Duke team, however, without a loaded recruiting class. The Blue Devils will bring in the number three overall player in the nation in Paolo Banchero as well as five stars AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels. Duke is also in the running for another five-star in Patrick Baldwin. If they get Baldwin, Duke will be, once again, swimming in talent and will look to get themselves right back into the tournament after a year hiatus.
The Jayhawks sit in a very interesting spot right now. It’s hard to tell if some of their key guys will withdraw from the NBA Draft, but if they do, Kansas will be in great shape. We could be looking at one of the strongest starting lineups in the country if players like Jalen Wilson and Ochai Agbaji return. If they do in fact return, Kansas will have five double-digit scorers in the starting lineup, including former star Drake guard Joseph Yesufu. Add along with a classic strong recruiting class by Bill Self and Kansas could be right back on top once again.
UCLA is another school that we don’t have the best read on yet. They’re still waiting on guys like Johnny Juzang to make his NBA Draft decision. If Juzang does return, the cinderella story of last season’s tournament could be a team that is recognized on the national stage now. UCLA even went on their run without top scorer Caleb Smith and he is expected to return along with Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. The Bruins are ranked at this spot and not higher because of their big-man situation. They evidently struggled in this area in the tournament and will have to be able to get better at playing bigger as a team. Otherwise, watch out for UCLA next year.
8) Ohio State
Another team still waiting on some decisions is Ohio State. If star players Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell return, this is easily a top ten team in the country. If they don’t, the Buckeyes will probably be unranked. Liddell and Washington were the key factors in every Ohio State win. If they didn’t score, the team didn’t win. They often accounted for an absurd percentage of the Buckeyes’ points and life in Columbus could be miserable without this dynamic duo. If only one returns, Ohio State should still be looking at a top 25 team but will not be nearly as good as they could have been.
Purdue was a team that was really on the rise at the latter half of last season. It all came crumbling down when they were upset by North Texas in the first round of the tournament, Purdue brings back a pretty loaded team. Leading scorer Trevion Williams is expected to return, but even if he doesn’t, rising sophomore Zach Edey will look to replace Williams as the productive big man. Forward Jaden Ivey really showed his potential as a scorer against North Texas and looks to break out in a big way next year. Besides Michigan, Purdue will probably be the most experienced team in the Big Ten and will look to challenge the defending champs to win the title next season.
After a solid 2020-2021 season, Maryland looks to get back to a top 15 talent in the college basketball world. The Terrapins have really made a push to do so. They’ve hit the transfer market hard getting star guard Fatts Russell and reeling in big-man Qudus Wahab. Maryland also returns some key players in Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. The Terrapins are now set up with a starting lineup of all double-digit scorers and Mark Turgeon’s squad will look to compete in the Big Ten once again.
The defending national champions being at 11 would seem criminal in a normal year, but not under Baylor’s circumstances. The Bears lose their two-star guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler. They also lose another key guy in MaCio Teague. The starting lineup will look a lot different but this team last year was incredibly deep and Scott Drew has built one of the best cultures in basketball. It may be hard for Baylor to replace a lot of their scoring but there’s no doubt this team will play their hearts out on defense and look to win the Big 12 once again.
Kentucky is coming off one of their worst seasons in decades. They never really clicked last year and John Calipari’s famed one-and-done concept failed miserably. This year, the Wildcats look to reload. They bring in a stacked recruiting class and some big-time transfers as well. While they will graduate a lot of their five-star freshmen from last year, Calipari has hit the transfer market for the second year in a row bringing in some veteran leaders like Kellan Grady and Oscar Tshiebwe. With fans coming back, Kentucky should be able to defend their home court better than they were able to last year. Kentucky might not be fully back, but they will certainly be in the top 15 contentions by the end of the season.
13) Florida State
It seems every year that Florida State is a consistent top 15 team and it should be no different next season. The Seminoles bring in a top-five recruiting class and hopefully bring back their leading scorer M.J. Walker. If Walker doesn’t return, it may stagger Florida State’s scoring a bit but shouldn’t be too bad in the long run. Hopefully, this is the year that Leonard Hamilton’s squad can finally get over the hump into elite status and they certainly have the talent to do so.
Syracuse was another cinderella story in this year’s tournament, making the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. Jim Boeheim’s Orange are looking to be back and better than ever next year. They’ll return star sharp-shooter Buddy Boeheim as well as three other starters. Consensus five-star recruit Benny Williams will add to the forward help for this team. Point guard Joseph Girard III should take a major step up in his scoring production and we know he has the talent to do so. With guys naturally progressing throughout the offseason, Syracuse will be a very dangerous team next year. If teams don’t guard them on the perimeter, they will light it up and go on easy runs. Syracuse will be one of the most fun teams to watch next year and fans should keep their eyes out for them.
Houston made a phenomenal final four run last season. Now, the Cougars have a bit of an interesting path back. It’s expected that star player Quentin Grimes departs for the NBA but they’ll bring back a solid amount of production as well. Marcus Sasser will look to step up his game even farther than he already has for Houston. Sasser will be the star player next year but durability may be an issue. Sasser had some serious injuries that he played through during the tournament, and with how hard he plays, could slow his offensive production. No matter who’s on the floor for Houston, you can always count on this team to play great defense. They ranked in the bottom half of Division I in both two-point shot attempts and three-point shot attempts but still made the final four. Because of this, we can always count on Houston to be a top 20 team, especially with the players they return next season.
After getting upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the defending ACC champions are looking to make a strong run in this year’s postseason. They return a really nice core with starting point guard Kihei Clark and upcoming sophomore Reece Beekman. There are questions at the center spot, but Virginia has also hit the transfer market pretty hard and will look to defend their ACC title with a very Tony Bennet squad. The Cavaliers will bring depth and defense to their game but this year could provide a bit more offense than in past years. It will be interesting to see how Virginia performs with a lot of fans looking to avenge their upset loss against Ohio.
The Chris Beard era has now begun in Texas and the team looks a bit different than it did last year. The Longhorns are losing about six different contributors to the transfer portal and NBA but also bring in four big-time transfers in Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop, Dylan Disu, and Devin Askew. If Beard can get all of these new guys to mesh together, Texas could be looking to go deep in the postseason this year.
18) St. Bonaventure
Making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2021, St Bonaventure captured the Atlantic Ten Championship. One of the best defensive teams in the nation, the team held their opponents to just 61.1 points per game. Looking to get back one of the best one-two punches in the conference in guard Kyle Lofton and forward Osun Osunniyi, the Bonnies have also secured commitments from six players this offseason. Highlighted by Florida native Linton Brown, the team also secured a commitment from guard Joryam Saizonou. Projected to fill out an all-five senior lineup to begin the season, Mark Schmidt‘s team will have lofty expectations as they aim to hunt for their second consecutive conference championship and tournament bid in 2021.
19) North Carolina
Looking to bounce back after a down year a season ago, North Carolina struggled early on, leading to a 6-4 record in their first ten games. Miserable during conference play, the Tar Heels lost their first two ACC games before being defeated by unranked Clemson later on in the year. Under Hubert Davis‘s guidance after legendary head coach Roy Williams retired early on in the offseason, the team secured commitments from four-star recruits Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn. North Carolina will also welcome Oklahoma senior transfer Brady Manek and former Virginia forward Justin McKoy. Looking to return the backcourt of Caleb Love and RJ Davis, look for Hubert to search for help in the front-court as they look to return to the elite of college basketball once again.
20) Virginia Tech
Recently adding talented big man Jalen Hayes to their 2021 recruiting class, Virginia Tech heads into next season looking to build off their third-place finish in the ACC a year ago. Earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, the Hokies will welcome seven-foot center Michael Durr from South Florida next year to join their large chunk of returning players. Ranked 59th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio, the team also held their opponents to just 66 points per game. As well-coached as any program in the nation, Mike Young remains set to return at the helm in 2021.
21) Colorado State
Who doesn’t love a good Mountain West Conference school? Colorado State could be really imposing this year. They return pretty much their entire roster and would’ve made the tournament last year if the bubble didn’t get blown up as badly as it did. The team finished 20-8 last season, good enough for third in the conference. With no one departing to graduation or the transfer portal and bringing in some nice transfers, the Rams are looking really good going into next year.
22) Michigan State
Michigan State is in a strange spot going into next year. They had a very underwhelming season last year after being eliminated in the first four. They had top-ten expectations but really failed them. Now, the Spartans look to get back to the top. They bring in a nice recruiting class, specifically five-star Max Christie. They hope to return leading scorer Aaron Henry but it seems his NBA stock is improving as of late. Michigan State also landed a top transfer in Tyson Walker and he will hopefully be the lead guard. The problems come at the center position. MSU had no real big-man presence last year and really got exposed against bigger teams. Tom Izzo will need to figure out how to match up with players such as Hunter Dickinson and other bigs in the Big Ten.
Earning the number eight seed in the NCAA tournament a season ago, LSU knocked off St Bonaventure in the round of 64 before ultimately losing to Michigan. Likely to be without point guard Javonte Smart and forwards Trendon Watford and Darius Days after they declared for the NBA Draft, the Tigers remain in the hunt for the number three recruit in the nation Efton Reid. Furthermore, with transfers Adam Miller and Tari Eason set to join Will Wade’s squad next season, the team will also welcome junior guard Xavier Pinson from Missouri and Seneca Knight from San Jose State. Likely to be in the thick of the race in the SEC with four transfers set to join five returning players for LSU, look for them to be a tournament team once again.
Tennessee will be graduating a ton of production this offseason but what they’re bringing in could be even better. The Vols are getting transfer Justin Powell as well as two five-star recruits to bolster their roster. The most exciting player is five-star Kennedy Chandler, who seems to have been on NBA radars for years now. Chandler could look to be the go-to guy for Tennessee but they’ve taken the pressure off of him quite a bit with their supporting cast of John Fulkerson and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Tennessee has the talent to go far in the postseason but putting together a predominantly young team may have its hiccups along the road.
Because of Kofi Cockburn‘s recent commitment to the NBA Draft, Belmont just edges out Illinois for the 25th spot in our rankings. The Bruins return pretty much every player on their stacked roster. Belmont didn’t make the tournament last year but that was only because of an upset loss to Morehead State in their conference final. Now, Belmont is back and looking to take back the Ohio Valley title. They should be able to go through the regular season unscathed, and barring a big upset, this team has the potential to be a 12 or even an 11 seed come tournament time.
Follow Charlie Parent on Twitter @Charlie_Parent