Gonzaga deserves to be considered the top dog until further notice. The Bulldogs have a returning star in swingman Corey Kispert, stable complimentary pieces in Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme and remarkable newcomers, which include five-star guard Jalen Suggs, Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook and big man Oumar Ballo. Remember the name Anton Watson on this roster as well.
Jay Wright has a prototypical Villanova roster on campus, led by three guards in Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore and Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels, who are all more capable scorers than given credit for. The front-court will miss Saddiq Bey, yet there’s more than enough in the tank between Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Cole Swider. This is a dangerous Wildcats group.
Betting against Tony Bennett at this point is more than a fool’s errand and the idea that Virginia may be asked to play their plodding style inside mostly empty arenas makes you feel that the Cavaliers might be even better at lulling their opponents to sleep. Point guard Kihei Clark will lead a team that adds one of the ACC’s most exciting newcomers in Sam Hauser from Marquette.
4. Baylor Bears
Besides Oregon State, we usually stay neutral in terms of cheering for random teams nationally but the idea of Baylor being a first weekend in April team is a true feel-good story finding it’s peak. We all know where the program was when Scott Drew took it over in 2003 and they now boast a legitimate chance at dethroning Kansas in the Big 12. Play big Jared Butler and MaCio Teague.
Straying away from the traditional blueblood programs, Iowa is going to be tested time and time again to see if this team is truly one of the land’s elite squads. Obviously, center Luka Garza is an All-American, so the guys around him like Joe Wieskamp, CJ Fredrick, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Patrick McCaffery and Joe Toussaint just need to provide that crucial level of balance.
John Calipari rarely loses in the off-season and when the transfer market went wild, Kentucky stepped up as usual. Wake Forest center Olivier Sarr was the guy everyone wanted and he landed in Lexington, as did Creighton’s Davion Mintz and Rhode Island’s Jacob Toppin. Recruiting-wise, Cal did Cal, bringing in two five-star (BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke ) and four four-star prospects.
I don’t know if the college basketball world still understands how unbelievably special of a player Marcus Garrett is for Kansas and how underrated a guy like Ochai Agbaji is nationally. Kansas is Kansas. They’ve shown over the years that the names change and the Big 12 titles remain, mostly because of inserts like Bryce Thompson. David McCormack needs to take a colossal leap.
To the surprise of nobody, Coach K will welcome four five-star pieces, the two most pivotal of them being seven-footer Mark Williams and point guard Jeremy Roach. The Blue Devils lost a lot, there’s no denying that, yet they also added just what they crucially needed to help out returners Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore. The more I ponder this Duke side, the more I’m liking them.
Wisconsin will be one of the country’s most veteran sides, as Greg Gard is projected to start five seniors, with three guys in D’Mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford and Micah Potter entering their fifth year overall. Forward Nate Reuvers is still one of the country’s most underrated players, who will vie for a All-Big Ten nod. The youth influx on the bench could also become a unique part of this group.
If Alan Griffin stayed in Champaign, Illinois might’ve been viewed as a legitimate Top 5 team nationally. However, Griffin is at Syracuse now and Brad Underwood’s NBA Draft dream of luring both guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn to school came true. The Illini are right on that line of challenging for a Big Ten title, if veteran Trent Frazier can keep this group cohesive.
The blue-collar culture of Rick Barnes and Tennessee shines through in guys like John Fulkerson and Yves Pons on the inside and could also be aided by Sacred Heart transfer EJ Anosike, an intriguing wing talent. Two five-star recruits in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson mesh with Santiago Vescovi for a stacked Volunteers roster. It’s all how they handle the litmus tests now.
Greg McDermott has had some strong teams as the head coach of Creighton, but the 2020-2021 edition of the Bluejays is projected to be among his best ever. Guard Ty-Shon Alexander leaving Omaha for the next level didn’t help, so the next man up mentality steps in. Get ready for the break-out parties of Marcus Zegarowski and Denzel Mahoney. Two of the Big East’s top talents.
Very few programs could handle losing players like Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman in the same off-season and bounce right back into the Big Ten picture, yet few programs are built like Michigan State is. Rocket Watts shifts into the point spot. Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown take on larger roles and Marquette addition Joey Hauser adds instant scoring. Sparty stays alive.
The ageless Leonard Hamilton and his Florida State program have averaged 26 wins per season over the last four years, including claiming an ACC title this past March, but only guard MJ Walker returns from their top four scorers in 2019-2020. A crucial five-star recruit in Scottie Barnes brings one-and-done type talent to a Seminoles squad that’s as always...athletic and physically imposing.
15. Texas Longhorns
Guards are usually never on short supply in the Big 12 and in the case of Shaka Smart and Texas, the perimeter play won’t be an issue at any point in the season. Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramey are the stars of the show. Andrew Jones and Jase Febres are welcome complimentary talents and five-star center Greg Brown could be a one-and-done center in the front-court.
Bobby Hurley’s ability to lose some really integral pieces like Rob Edwards and Romello White and still be considered Pac-12 title contenders means these Sun Devils are no fluke. Remy Martin’s return. Alonzo Verge’s growth. Josh Christopher’s commitment. Marcus Bagley’s pro potential. The Kimani Lawrence factor. This team is a laundry list of headlines waiting to be written. Forks up.
Outside of guard Jermaine Haley, Bob Huggins has the whole crew on campus in Morgantown and they’re ready to get rough and tumble in the Big 12. Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver are way “tougher than a weekend at your in-laws”, guard Miles McBride is ready to lead the crew and Emmitt Matthews will be a season better. Battle with the Mountaineers at your own risk.
18. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins were one of the NBA Draft deadline winners in the Pac-12, when versatile play-maker Chris Smith decided to stay in Westwood. Having lost veterans Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski already, the growth of Tyger Campbell at the point spot and Jaime Jaquez at the wing could open things up inside for Jalen Hill. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang should help in that equation too.
19. Oregon Ducks
It’s so hard to count out Oregon in the Pac-12 race, as Dana Altman has found ways to continue to keep the train-a-rollin’ each season. No Payton Pritchard will given Eugene a really odd feeling, but scorers Chris Duarte and Will Richardson are ready to take over this group. Former Rutgers big Eugene Omoruyi and center N’Faly Dante create a solid interior combo for the Ducks.
20. Memphis Tigers
Year three of the Penny Hardaway era tips off in the 901, where the NCAA Tournament has been somehow strangely elusive of the NBA legend’s rebuilding project. Newcomers in five-star freshman phenom Moussa Cisse, who may be as big of an impact piece as Precious Achiuwa, and Virginia Tech defector Landers Nolley can highlight the returning talents on this Tigers roster.
If Travis Ford’s one goal this summer was to make sure his whole roster landed back in the Gateway to the West, he achieved the task with the highest of marks. The Billikens return their top eight talents, headlined by Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins and Hasahn French, all of whom could contend for an all-conference spot. The quality depth of Saint Louis will be fun to watch.
22. LSU Tigers
LSU head coach Will Wade may stay a regular off-court distraction so the Tigers will need to take care of business on the floor. The Tigers bring back three double-digit scorers, headlined by athletic big Trendon Watford, exciting guard Ja’Vonte Smart and 6’ 6” bruiser Darius Days. Five-star guard Cam Thomas and a strong recruiting haul might just put this team over the edge.
23. Richmond Spiders
Not to make egregious comparisons, but Richmond will have a depth chart reminiscent of Brad Stevens’ famous Butler squads, where across the board, intelligent and decisive players are available. The Spiders’ back-court of Blake Francis and Jacob Gilyard is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the country and big man Grant Golden is a guy you need to get on your radar now.
The Huskies may not have a long list of household names, but the talent that’s capable to come out of Storrs this season is superb. Howard transfer RJ Cole played for Dan Hurley’s father Bob Hurley in high school and will combine with New York City guard James Bouknight to give UCONN an elite backcourt. Freshmen Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo might also start from the get-go.
25. Houston Cougars
Houston’s off-season losses weren’t ones that the average fan would scoff at, but they may be the defining factor in how far the Cougars can go in the American. Kelvin Sampson needed a do-it-all guy like Nate Hinton and Fabian White’s injury won’t help the cause. Houston has an eager fleet of guards between Caleb Mills, Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau and Idaho insert Cameron Tyson.
15 More Teams To Watch
26. Florida Gators - Forward Keyontae Johnson might be good enough to challenge for the league’s Player of the Year award and there’s guards aplenty to fill the void left by Andrew Nembhard. The Gators will have to navigate a tough SEC, but Florida has such a likeable roster.
27. Texas Tech Red Raiders - The Red Raiders have a whole new crew controlling the game with Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti having left campus. Guard Kyler Edwards will be asked to do tons more. Georgetown insert Mac McClung is a complete catalyst. Chris Beard rolls on.
28. North Carolina Tar Heels - Chapel Hill simply can’t wait for this season to start. Roy Williams is coming off his worst season ever with the Tar Heels and he needs a fresh go-round with a new roster. He hit it strong on the recruiting trail and has a depth chart worthy of turning it around.
29. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - Rick Stansbury’s group will have center Charles Bassey, the 2019 C-USA Freshman & Defensive Player of the Year, back in tow and should have a C-USA crown in their sights. Rookie Dayvion McKnight, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, could be crucial too.
30. Northern Iowa Panthers - The Missouri Valley Favorites are legitimate sleepers to end up in the Sweet Sixteen. Returning conference Player of the Year AJ Green, guard Trae Berhow and Austin Phyfe are all likely all-conference talents. The well is deep and full in Cedar Falls.
31. Ohio State Buckeyes - Chris Holtmann needs to plug holes across his depth chart where CJ Walker and Duane Washington take over on the perimeter and two much-needed transfers anchor a new look front-court, namely Justice Sueing from California and Seth Towns from Harvard.
32. Louisville Cardinals - So much with the Cardinals will be hard to predict, yet Chris Mack hasn’t won less than 20 games in a year since the 2012-2013 campaign when he was at Xavier. The team will run through Radford transfer Carlik Jones, David Johnson and Malik Williams.
33. Rutgers Scarlet Knights - The Rutgers basketball revival continues. Five of the top six scorers from last season’s twenty-win squad return, including Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker. It’s about time that the Scarlet Knights were considered legitimate foes in the Big Ten’s second tier.
34. South Carolina Gamecocks - Frank Martin’s program has been spinning it’s wheels a bit since 2017’s Final Four run, so building up towards this group has clearly been a focus. Three of the Gamecocks top four bucket-getters are back in Columbia, including star wing AJ Lawson.
35. Stanford Cardinal - The excitement around Stanford only grew when five-star recruit Ziaire Williams pledged to suit up for the Cardinal, even with one-year wonder Tyrell Terry off to the NBA. Big man Oscar da Silva leads a nucleus of veterans that make this squad a Pac-12 darkhorse.
36. San Diego State Aztecs - This may not be the Aztecs best roster ever, but they were massively aided by the addition of CSUN’s Terrell Gomez to fill the shoes of Malachi Flynn. The 6’ 6” duo of Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel both shot over 45% from the field in 2019-2020.
37. Arkansas Razorbacks - Eric Musselman is the king of transfers, having now brought in four players who will likely start this year in Justin Smith (Indiana), Vance Jackson (New Mexico), Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky) and Connor Vanover (California). Arkansas is getting very trendy.
38. Indiana Hoosiers - Doesn’t the return of the NCAA Tournament just need Indiana? The Hoosiers have an All-American level piece in forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and a group of really, really solid guys to surround him with. Five-star guard Khristian Lander is a star in waiting.
39. Boise State Broncos - Leon Rice can’t stop raving about this group, which is chock-full of transfers. Two former Arizona guys in Emmanuel Akot and Devonaire Doutrive should play key roles, as might Portland’s Marcus Shaver, Oregon’s Abu Kigab and ETSU’s Mladen Armus.
40. Syracuse Orange - The unique construction of this Orange group make them a bit of an intriguing customer. Syracuse should really be able to shoot the ball well from the perimeter between Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Illinois transfer Alan Griffin. Their bigs are their enigma.
Next Ten: Miami-FL, Providence, Seton Hall, Ole Miss, Michigan, Arizona, BYU, Austin Peay, Colorado, UNC-Greensboro