Skip to main content

2021-2022 NCAA Basketball Preseason Top 25

I have been writing for Hubpages for nine years. My degree is in literature and education and I've always enjoyed college basketball.

Once the dust finally settled on what was essentially college basketball’s first year of free agency, the results of the new open transfer rules quickly became apparent: the best players consistently flocked to teams that were already good or have a winning tradition, which means it has become even more likely that the same teams will win every year. That trend even remained true among mid-major and small conference teams, and, in addition to new NIL rules allowing players to receive endorsements which will ultimately benefit the most popular programs as well, should eventually result in a shrinking Division I (low revenue programs cannot continue to pay Division I fees with no real chance to compete). The new rules will clearly be beneficial for a handful of football and basketball players, but college basketball itself is going to be very different, and potentially less competitive. It will be particularly interesting to see how those changes affect the Boston Colleges of the world. That being said, there should still be plenty of competitive teams remaining for the NCAA Tournament to continue to be the most entertaining sporting event in the country, and most of the teams on this list only stand to benefit from the changing landscape.

Timmy Allen's passing ability will now contribute to an elite offense.

Timmy Allen's passing ability will now contribute to an elite offense.

1. Texas Longhorns

  • 2020-2021: 19-8, 11-6 in the Big 12; lost to Abilene Christian in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Matt Coleman (13.2 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 4.0 apg., 37.7% 3pt.), Jericho Sims (9.2 ppg., 7.2 rpg.), Greg Brown (9.3 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 33.0% 3pt.) and Kai Jones (8.8 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 38.2% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Jase Febres
  • Additions: 6-9 UMass transfer Tre Mitchell (18.8 ppg., 7.2 rpg., 1.5 bpg., 37.5% 3pt.), 6-9 Vanderbilt transfer Dylan Disu (15.0 ppg., 9.2 rpg., 36.9% 3pt.), 6-6 Utah transfer Timmy Allen (17.2 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 3.9 apg.), 6-2 Minnesota transfer Marcus Carr (19.4 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 4.9 apg.), 6-3 Kentucky transfer Devin Askew (6.5 ppg.), 6-7 Creighton transfer Christian Bishop (11.0 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), and 6-6 top 30 recruit Jaylon Tyson
  • Preseason Projection: National Champions

It doesn’t seem like there would be a huge difference in recruiting for the basketball programs at Texas and Texas Tech, but Chris Beard was able to sign almost anyone he wanted to out of the transfer portal as soon as he took over for Shaka Smart. The frontcourt of Tre Mitchell, Dylan Disu, and Timmy Allen may be the best in college basketball; they will dominate the boards (Disu's 9.2 rpg. in the SEC is particularly impressive), protect the rim, and spread the floor, and Allen can effectively act as a point forward at times. Beard has always produced teams that were substantially more efficient offensively than Smart’s despite having less talent, and this team will have as much talent as anyone to contribute to that effort with Marcus Carr, senior Courtney Ramey (12.2 ppg., 3.9 apg., 41.4% 3pt.), Allen, and former five star point guard Devin Askew (who should be a different player as a sophomore with a full offseason) to keep the ball moving. Finally, four bench players, Askew, Jaylon Tyson, Christian Bishop, and possibly returning senior Andrew Jones (14.6 ppg., 4.5. rpg., 33.8% 3pt), would be obvious starters at most major programs. The Longhorns are loaded with players that have already proven that they can be great at the upper level of Division I basketball and should emerge as national title contenders as soon as Beard is able to get all of his new pieces to fit together.

2. UCLA Bruins

  • 2020-2021: 22-10, 13-6 in the Pac-12; lost to Gonzaga in the Final Four
  • Departures: Chris Smith (12.6 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 50.0% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Jalen Hill (6.1 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) stopped playing basketball last season
  • Additions: 6-8 top 10 recruit Peyton Watson, 6-11 Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson (8.0 ppg., 8.5 rpg., 2.4 bpg.), and 6-3 top 90 recruit Will McClendon
  • Preseason Projection: National Title Game

UCLA is a Final Four team that returns every major contributor from last year’s Tournament run (neither Chris Smith or Jalen Hill was available for the team by February), and they have managed to add significant talent to that group. The return of the complete rotation is particularly surprising because it includes Johnny Juzang, the star of that run that seemed destined to be a lottery pick after his performance (he scored an efficient 22.8 ppg. in the Tournament). Top 10 recruit Peyton Watson won’t need to be a star right away, but he could be, and he should at least be able to make some positive contributions at both ends of the floor as a freshman. Myles Johnson will be a welcome addition as well; his presence means the Bruins will be able to keep a competitive rebounder and post defender on the floor at all times, and one of the biggest vulnerabilities for last year’s team was what happened when Cody Riley had to leave the floor. Because of their lack of depth in the post, Riley (10.0 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) was forced to play 42 minutes in the team’s overtime loss to Gonzaga, and that is less than ideal for a center. Mick Cronin's teams were a consistent presence at the NCAA Tournament with significantly less talent at Cincinnati; now, after taking UCLA to the Final Four in just his second year, he will get to make a run with one of the more talented teams in the country.

Chet Holmgren will be a fascinating player to watch.

Chet Holmgren will be a fascinating player to watch.

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs

  • 2020-2021: 31-1, 15-0 in the WCC; lost to Baylor in the National Championship Game
  • Departures: Jalen Suggs (14.4 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 4.5 apg., 1.9 spg., 33.7% 3pt.), Corey Kispert (18.6 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 44.0% 3pt.), and Joel Ayayi (12.0 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 38.9% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Aaron Cook (4.2 ppg., 35.0% 3pt.) transferred to Georgia and Oumar Ballo transferred to Arizona
  • Additions: 7-0 top overall recruit Chet Holmgren, 6-4 top 15 recruit Hunter Sallis, 6-2 top 30 recruit Nolan Hickman, 6-3 Iowa St. transfer Rasir Bolton (15.5 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 3.9 apg.), and 6-9 top 70 recruit Kaden Perry
  • Preseason Projection: Final Four

Recruiting continues to improve for Mark Few, and this will be his first year with a Duke/Kentucky type of roster build that will be dependent on potential one and dones to have a significant impact and where the majority of minutes could come from players new to the program. Still, despite all the roster turnover, the Bulldogs do return three members of last season’s seven man rotation in Drew Timme (19.0 ppg., 7.0 rpg.), Andrew Nembhard (9.2 ppg., 4.4 apg.), and Anton Watson. There are also several highly regarded returning players that weren’t able to earn rotation spots a year ago who could still make major impacts (10 players on the roster were at least top 60 recruits nationally), with 6-10 sophomore Ben Gregg, a top 30 recruit before reclassifying as an early entrant, perhaps the most prominent. The team will again feature a backcourt filled with point guards with likely NBA futures, so offensive efficiency will again be a strength, while defensively Chet Holmgren will provide rim protection the Bulldogs just didn’t have last year. Holmgren is going to be fascinating to watch as a bouncy seven footer with guard skills playing at under 200 pounds; teams will obviously get into his body, and it will be interesting to see how well he adjusts to consistently being surrounded by players with more physical strength. Overall, the Bulldogs are again brimming with talent that any major conference team would love to have, and it would be shocking if they don’t make another long run in March.

4. Tennessee Volunteers

  • 2020-2021: 18-9, 10-7 in the SEC; lost to Oregon St. in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Jaden Springer (12.5 ppg., 43.5% 3pt.), Yves Ponds (8.7 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.8 bpg.), and Keon Johnson (11.3 ppg.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Graduate taking an extra year: John Fulkerson
  • Additions: 6-1 top 10 recruit Kennedy Chandler, 6-9 top 20 recruit Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, 6-6 Auburn transfer Justin Powell (11.7 ppg., 6.1 rpg., 4.7 apg., 44.2% 3pt.), 6-11 top 40 recruit Jonas Aidoo, and 6-5 top 60 recruit Jahmai Mashack
  • Preseason Projection: Final Four

This is the second elite recruiting class in a row for Rick Barnes at Tennessee, but he should have more to show for it with a full preseason. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo will be particularly welcome additions considering 6-9, 215 pound John Fulkerson (9.5 ppg., 5.5 rpg.) has served as the only real size for the Volunteers over the past two seasons. Huntley-Hatfield can do everything and Aidoo has range to the three point line, so their arrival won’t mean a change in offensive approach. The biggest impact should be to offensive efficiency; Kennedy Chandler is a traditional, pass first point guard with excellent court awareness and speed (similar to TJ Ford, who led Barnes' 2003 Texas team to the Final Four), transfer Justin Powell was a triple double threat as the point guard at Auburn before getting injured, and the Volunteers return an effective playmaker in Santiago Vescovi (8.7 ppg., 3.1 apg., 37.3% 3pt.). The ball should move extremely well offensively, while defense is always a strength under Barnes (UT was 21st in fg% defense with almost no size in the paint last season) and rebounding should improve with the additional size. This could prove to be the most talented group Barnes has ever assembled, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to reach his second Final Four or fourth Elite Eight.

A healthy and talented Earl Timberlake is suddenly wondering how much playing time is actually available at his new school.

A healthy and talented Earl Timberlake is suddenly wondering how much playing time is actually available at his new school.

5. Memphis Tigers

  • 2020-2021: 20-8, 11-4 in the AAC; NIT Champions
  • Departures: D.J. Jeffries (9.9 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 35.2% 3pt.) transferred to Mississippi St., Boogie Ellis (10.2 ppg., 38.6% 3pt.) transferred to USC, and Damian Baugh transferred to TCU; Moussa Cisse (6.6 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 1.6 bpg.) entered the transfer portal
  • Additions: 6-10 top 2022 recruit Jalen Duren (reclassified to 2021), 6-8 number 2 2022 recruit Emoni Bates (reclassified to 2021), 6-6 Miami transfer Earl Timberlake (9.3 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 1.7 spg.), 6-8 top 50 recruit Josh Minott, 6-6 top 100 recruit Johnathan Lawson, 6-8 Oregon transfer Chandler Lawson, 6-11 4 star recruit Sam Ayomide, and 5-9 Iowa St. transfer Tyler Harris (7.5 ppg.)
  • Preseason Projection: Elite Eight

Penny Hardaway has competed with Kentucky for various recruits over the last three years and won on more than a few occasions, but he is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a coach. His first Memphis team actually overachieved with the remnants of Tubby Smith’s last squad, but that was with former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell on the coaching staff. While an NIT Championship isn’t nothing and has been a building block for teams in the past, the Tigers have clearly underachieved relative to their talent level in the two years since. Jalen Duren was a huge get at the team's only position of need and should dominate in and around the paint immediately despite being an early entrant. His arrival rightfully pushed expectations for the Tigers well past any previous ceiling. Emoni Bates will obviously raise expectations as well, but his arrival also creates a Kentucky-esque problem: Memphis already had a total of eight (now nine!) wing players on the roster that had every reason to believe they would receive playing time when they signed with the team, and that doesn’t even take into account the token minutes that are almost certain to be given to Jayden Hardaway. All of those players are undergraduates, so even under the new transfer rules it was too late for any of them to enter (or in most cases re-enter) the transfer portal and still be eligible elsewhere by the time Bates was added. There is going to be well deserved frustration within the program, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see in-season departures from players that have realized Hardaway has wasted a year of their time. This team will have 14 players (14! Tyler Harris is a walk-on!) that would have significant roles for most major conference teams, a total of eight current or former top 100 recruits, and two players that are now considered top 5 recruits in this year’s class. Hardaway has also added eighty year old Hall of Famer Larry Brown to his coaching staff. While Penny Hardaway has proven popular among recruits, it would be a huge disappointment for the Tigers not to at least win their conference, make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since their 2014 trip under Josh Pastner, and make their first Elite Eight since their 2008 Championship Game appearance under John Calipari.

Mark Williams suffered from the lack of preseason preparation early, but emerged as one of the most promising post players in the ACC by the end of the year.

Mark Williams suffered from the lack of preseason preparation early, but emerged as one of the most promising post players in the ACC by the end of the year.

6. Duke Blue Devils

  • 2020-2021: 13-11, 9-9 in the ACC (10th)
  • Expected Departures: Matthew Hurt (18.3 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 44.4% 3pt.) and DJ Steward (13.0 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Jordan Goldwire (5.8 ppg., 4.0 apg., 2.3 spg.) transferred to Oklahoma, Jaemyn Brakefield transferred to Ole Miss, Henry Coleman transferred to Texas A&M, and Patrick Tape transferred to San Francisco
  • Major Additions: 6-9 top 5 recruit Paulo Banchero, 6-7 top 15 recruit AJ Griffin, 6-5 top 20 recruit Trevor Keels, 6-9 Marquette transfer Theo John (8.0 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 1.5 bpg.), and 6-2 top 100 recruit Jaylen Blakes
  • Preseason Projection: Elite Eight

For more information on the Blue Devils, check out my ACC Basketball Preview.

7. Kentucky Wildcats

  • 2020-2021: 9-16, 8-9 in the SEC
  • Departures: Olivier Sarr (10.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 44.4% 3pt.), Isaiah Jackson (8.4 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 2.6 bpg.), and Brandon Boston (11.5 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Devin Askew (6.5 ppg.) transferred to Texas
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Davion Mintz
  • Additions: 6-3 top 15 recruit TyTy Washington, 6-9 top 15 recruit Daimion Collins, 6-5 Davidson transfer Kellan Grady (17.1 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 38.2% 3pt.), 6-9 West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe (8.5 ppg., 7.8 rpg.), 5-10 Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler (14.0 ppg., 7.4 apg., 1.7 spg.), 6-7 top 40 recruit Bryce Hopkins, and 6-3 Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick (7.5 ppg., 47.4% 3pt.)
  • Preseason Projection: Elite Eight

Kentucky has become the king of the one and done under John Calipari, and last season was the worst possible time to be in that position; without preseason practices, scrimmages, and games, there was simply no way for him to get his young team prepared, and the Wildcats were never able to become a cohesive unit. That definitely should not be the case this season. While it seemed unlikely that teams would be able to accumulate more talent than they could actually use under the new transfer rules, Kentucky, like Memphis (along with Louisville and Kansas and to a certain extent Gonzaga and North Carolina), managed to do just that. The team is overflowing with top tier talent, only in this case that includes significantly more experience than Calipari has been accustomed to thanks to the transfer additions of Kellan Grady, Oscar Tshiebwe, and CJ Frederick, as well as the return of Keion Brooks (10.3 ppg., 6.8 rpg.) and Davion Mintz (11.5 ppg., 3.1 apg., 37.8% 3pt.). Mintz is the most interesting case; he is essentially going from considering whether or not to play professionally to using a fifth year of eligibility to potentially be the third option at both guard spots for a college team. It made no sense for him to return. Calipari has dealt with having too much depth before, but never to this degree; the Wildcats have twelve players with very real expectations for playing time, and most of them would like to reach the NBA sooner rather than later. It’s hard to believe that only playing eight or nine of those players will result in shiny happy people holding hands, so it will be particularly important that the Wildcats get off to a fast start. Still, even if there is some sort of minor mutiny in response to over recruiting, Kentucky should be more than a little bit intimidating by March.

With big men shooting 3's, rebounding from small forwards like Leaky Black will suddenly become much more important for the Tar Heels.

With big men shooting 3's, rebounding from small forwards like Leaky Black will suddenly become much more important for the Tar Heels.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels

  • 2020-2021: 18-11, 10-6 in the ACC (6th); lost to Wisconsin in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
  • Departures: Day’Ron Sharpe (9.5 ppg., 7.6 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Sterling Manley graduated and will not return; Walker Kessler (4.4 ppg., 3.2 rpg.) transferred to Auburn, Garrison Brooks (10.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg.) transferred to Mississippi St., Walker Miller transferred to Monmouth, and Andrew Platek transferred to Siena
  • Major Additions: 6-11 Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia (13.0 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 35.6% 3pt.), 6-8 Virginia transfer Justin McCoy, 6-7 top 70 recruit Dontrez Styles, 6-9 Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek (10.2 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 38.3% 3pt.), and 6-4 top 70 recruit D’Marco Dunn
  • Preseason Projection: Elite Eight

For more information on the Tar Heels, check out my ACC Basketball Preview.

9. Villanova Wildcats

  • 2020-2021: 18-7, 11-4 in the Big East; lost to Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Departures: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.7 ppg., 8.5 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Cole Swider (5.7 ppg., 40.2% 3pt.) transferred to Syracuse
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels
  • Additions: 6-5 top 60 recruit Jordan Longino, 6-9 top 100 recruit Nnanna Njoku, 6-3 4 star recruit Angelo Brizzi
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Last year’s Sweet Sixteen appearance without point guard Collin Gillespie was no small feat for the Wildcats, but their goals will undoubtedly be higher with both Gillespie (14.0 ppg., 4.6 apg., 37.6% 3pt.) and Jermaine Samuels (12.9 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 3.0 apg., 37.1% 3pt.) taking advantage of a fifth year of eligibility. Things will get more complicated in the paint without Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but Nnanna Njoku's strength and high motor could allow him to contribute right away and former top 90 recruit Eric Dixon still has the potential to do more. There is also still realistic hope for former top 15 recruit Bryan Antoine to start fulfilling his potential after suffering multiple setbacks with a shoulder injury. This will now be a mostly veteran group for Jay Wright, and will undoubtedly produce one of the most efficient offenses in the country. With two National Championships in the last five NCAA Tournaments, that makes Villanova a clear title contender.

Yes, that is a mullet.

Yes, that is a mullet.

10. Baylor Bears

  • 2020-2021: 28-2, 13-1 in the Big 12; National Champions
  • Departures: Jared Butler (16.7 ppg., 4.8 apg., 2.0 spg., 41.6% 3pt.), Davion Mitchell (14.0 ppg., 5.5 apg., 1.9 spg., 44.7% 3pt.), MaCio Teague (15.9 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 39.5% 3pt.), and Mark Vital (5.6 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Additions: 6-8 top 15 recruit Dale Brown, 6-1 Arizona transfer James Akinjo (15.6 ppg., 5.4 apg., 1.4 spg., 40.8% 3pt.), 6-8 4 star recruit Jeremy Sochan, 6-3 Division II transfer Dale Bonner
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Baylor is clearly losing a tremendous amount of perimeter talent, and can’t be expected to be quite the same team at either end of the floor. However, James Akinjo became a significantly more efficient offensive player at Arizona in addition to providing some pressure on the basketball defensively, and he will be an ideal replacement for Butler or Mitchell. Matthew Mayer should become a star as a senior; at 6-9, his athleticism and shooting range make him a potentially prolific scorer. He was outstanding at both ends of the floor in limited minutes as a junior (8.1 ppg., 3.7 rpg., 1.2 spg. in 15.7 mpg., 39.5% 3pt.), and his playing time should roughly double. With junior Adam Flagler (9.1 ppg., 43.4% 3pt.) also ready for a larger role and top 15 recruit Dale Brown noted as a good decision maker, offensive efficiency should still be a strength. In the post, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6..4 ppg. and 5.0 rpg. in 19.3 mpg.) seems ready to take another large step forward as a junior. The Bears did lose top 40 recruit Langston Love to a preseason injury, but there is more than enough quality depth to still have competition for minutes. While Scott Drew won’t have a National Title favorite, he has assembled a group that will be able to do many of the same things as his Championship team, and the Bears should again be able to stick around for a while in March.

11. Michigan Wolverines

  • 2020-2021: 23-5, 14-3 in the Big Ten; lost to UCLA in the Elite Eight
  • Departures: Isaiah Livers (13.1 ppg., 6.0 rpg., 43.1% 3pt.), Franz Wagner (12.5 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 34.3% 3pt.), Mike Smith (9.0 ppg., 5.3 apg., 41.8% 3pt.), Chaundee Brown (8.0 ppg., 41.9% 3pt.), and Austin Davis (5.4 ppg.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Eli Brooks
  • Additions: 6-8 top 10 recruit Caleb Houstan, 6-10 top 20 recruit Moussa Diabate, 6-1 Coastal Carolina transfer Devante Jones (19.3 ppg., 7.2 rpg., 2.8 spg., 36.8% 3pt.), 6-4 top 40 recruit Kobe Bufkin, 6-1 top 50 recruit Frankie Collins, and 6-6 4 star prospect Isaiah Barnes
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Michigan has been winning consistently through gradual player development for more than a decade, but Juwan Howard’s quick success and NBA appeal have pushed the Wolverines into one and done territory with two top fifteen recruits. Caleb Houstan should be a star right away as a stretch four that will put points on the board from the perimeter; he is an ideal replacement for Isaiah Livers. Moussa Diabate probably won’t be a one and done; he’s a work in progress offensively and won’t be able to play with star sophomore center Hunter Dickinson (14.1 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 1.4 bpg.) unless Dickinson has developed a three point shot, but he will be a difference maker defensively and on the boards when he’s on the floor. Howard received a nice gift with Eli Brooks’ decision to return for an extra year after Brooks (9.5 ppg., 3.1 apg., 39.6% 3pt.) posted a nearly three to one assist to turnover ratio last season; he should form an outstanding backcourt with reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Devante Jones, who plays with aggression at both ends of the floor and will have something to prove in the Big Ten. The Wolverines will be playing with less experience than they have had in some time, but Juwan Howard has reloaded quickly and should have his team ready for another run by Tournament time.

Jarrod West will be relied on to fill the shoes of an All-ACC transfer at point guard.

Jarrod West will be relied on to fill the shoes of an All-ACC transfer at point guard.

12. Louisville Cardinals

  • 2020-2021: 13-7, 8-5 in the ACC (7th)
  • Expected Departures: Carlik Jones (16.8 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 4.5 apg.) and David Johnson (12.6 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 3.2 apg., 38.6% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Quinn Slazinski (6.2 ppg., 3.6 rpg.) transferred to Iona, Josh Nickelberry transferred to LaSalle, and Aidan Igiehon transferred to Grand Canyon; Charles Minlend graduated and will not return
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Malik Williams
  • Major Additions: 5-11 Marshall transfer Jarrod West (12.5 ppg., 6.0 apg., 2.5 spg., 40.8% 3pt.), 6-3 Florida transfer Noah Locke (10.6 ppg., 40.4% 3pt.), 6-3 top rated junior college transfer Elbert Ellis, 6-7 Miami transfer Matt Cross (6.9 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 40.0% 3pt.), 6-8 top 10 junior college transfer Sydney Curry, and 6-10 top 70 recruit Roosevelt Wheeler
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

For more information on the Cardinals, check out my ACC Basketball Preview.

13. Kansas Jayhawks

  • 2020-2021: 21-9, 12-6 in the Big 12; lost to USC in the NCAA Round of 32
  • Departures: Marcus Garrett (11.0 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 3.7 apg., 1.6 spg., 34.8% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Bryce Thompson transferred to Oklahoma St.
  • Graduate taking an extra year: Mitch Lightfoot
  • Additions: 6-0 Arizona St. transfer Remy Martin (19.1 ppg., 3.7 apg., 34.6% 3pt.), 6-9 Division II transfer Cam Martin, 6-9 top 40 recruit Zach Clemence, 6-7 top 50 recruit KJ Adams, 6-4 Iowa St. transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands (14.3 ppg., 39.5% 3pt.), 6-0 Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu (12.8 ppg., 38.4% 3pt.), 6-1 top 100 recruit Bobby Pettiford
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Kansas is another team that accumulated more depth than they can use, although their overall talent level doesn't quite match what Memphis, Kentucky, and North Carolina were able to put together. Bill Self’s two most important pieces are still likely to be returning players Jalen Wilson and David McCormack. Wilson (11.8 ppg., 7.9 rpg., 33.3% 3pt.) should emerge as a star; he was remarkably productive last season despite being a freshman with no real preseason to get acclimated, and should be a clear first round pick by the end of the year. Although McCormack continued to be inconsistent to start the season, he finally began to assert himself through a thirteen game stretch that saw him put up 16.3 points and 6.9 boards per game before being hobbled by a broken foot in the team’s second round loss to USC. He should be consistently effective in the post as a senior, and he’ll have more help with Cam Martin and Zach Clemence. While Remy Martin was a big name in the transfer market, the Jayhawks will need him to play more efficiently if they’re going to be great, and that should come more easily with more talent around him. The Big 12 has become too strong for Kansas to continue to be the favorite to win the conference every year, but Self addressed last year's scoring problem by adding plenty of shooting and perhaps more natural options at point guard, so the Jayhawks should be better.

It would be almost impossible for Tyson Walker not to be an upgrade at point guard for Michigan State.

It would be almost impossible for Tyson Walker not to be an upgrade at point guard for Michigan State.

14. Michigan State Spartans

  • 2020-2021: 15-13, 9-11 in the Big Ten; lost to UCLA in the NCAA Opening Round
  • Departures: Aaron Henry (15.4 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 3.6 apg., 1.3 spg., 1.3 bpg.,) entered the NBA Draft, Joshua Langford (9.7 ppg., 34.3% 3pt.) stopped playing basketball, Rocket Watts (7.7 ppg.) transferred to Mississippi St., Foster Loyer transferred to Davidson, and Thomas Kithier transferred to Valparaiso
  • Additions: 6-6 top 20 recruit Max Christie, 6-0 Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker (18.8 ppg., 4.8 apg., 2.4 spg., 35.4% 3pt.), 6-3 top 50 recruit Jaden Aikens, 6-6 top 60 recruit Pierre Brooks
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Last season was Tom Izzo’s worst since his very first year as a head coach after taking over for Jud Heathcote for the 1995-1996 season. While the team remained competitive in every other area, Michigan St. simply could not shoot the basketball (the Spartans fell to 245th in fg% and 252nd in 3pt.%, and both are normally strengths), and a major reason for that was the precipitous decline in point guard play following the graduation of Cassius Winston. The departure of Rocket Watts (33.6% fg., 25.3% 3pt., 0.1 spg. in 22.6 mpg.) may be addition by subtraction; at times he did more harm than good at both ends of the floor, but due to limited alternatives he still played major minutes. Izzo brought in two options that should represent a significant improvement over Watts and Foster Loyer. Tyson Walker will be the likely starter after being named first team All-CAA and CAA Defensive Player of the Year; he put up 27 points against North Carolina in Chapel Hill in February, so he isn’t going to fade away against Big Ten competition. Freshman Jaden Aikens will probably benefit from a year of development, but he’s quick and explosive and can break down a defense. Max Christie and Pierre Brooks are both strong perimeter shooters, Joey Hauser (42.5% 3pt. at Marquette before transferring) has proven he can shoot better than he did last season, and Gabe Brown (7.2 ppg., 42% 3pt.) earned the opportunity for more attempts, so there is every reason to believe those shooting numbers will return to normal for the Spartans, and Michigan St. will again be Michigan St.

15. Oregon Ducks

  • 2020-2021: 21-7, 14-4 in the Pac-12; lost to USC in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Departures: Eugene Omoruyi (17.1 ppg., 5.4 rpg., 1.5 spg., 37.6% 3pt.), Chris Duarte (17.1 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 1.9 spg., 42.4% 3pt.), LJ Figueroa (12.3 ppg., 6.1 rpg., 1.6 spg., 37.7% 3pt.), and Amauri Hardy entered the NBA Draft; Chandler Lawson transferred to Memphis and Jalen Terry transferred to DePaul
  • Additions: 7-0 top 10 recruit Nathan Bittle, 6-7 Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier (13.7 ppg., 8.4 rpg.), 6-2 Rutgers transfer Jacob Young (14.1 ppg., 3.4 apg., 1.7 spg., 36.9% 3pt.), 6-2 Oklahoma transfer De’Vion Harmon (12.9 ppg., 33.0% 3pt.), and 6-10 former top 70 recruit Isaac Johnson
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

After playing relatively small last season, Oregon will now feature one of the largest and potentially most imposing frontcourts in college basketball. That group is highlighted by three current and former 6-11 plus five star recruits, none of whom has actually played much college basketball to this point. Sophomore Franck Kepnang was a work in progress that needed a full preseason if he was going to be ready to contribute as a freshman, while redshirt sophomor N’Faly Dante showed flashed of the dominant post presence he was supposed to provide in a five game stretch (he averaged 9 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.2 bpg., and 1.8 spg. in 19.2 mpg. during that stretch) before suffering his second knee injury in as many years. Lean freshman Nathan Bittle is an excellent perimeter shooter and will provide some opportunity for two of the three to play together. The best established frontcourt player will be transfer Quincy Guerrier, who is an outstanding rebounder and defensive player that only needs to shoot a higher percentage from the perimeter to be a first round pick. Senior Will Richardson (11.3, 3.9 apg.,40.3% 3pt.) and graduate transfer Jacob Young will provide a veteran backcourt that should be successful sharing ball handling duties. Dana Altman will need to make significant alterations to his game plan for the Ducks to be successful, but that is essentially what he does every year with a program that has become regularly dependent on transfers to build its roster.

Zach Edey moves as well as an average 6-10 player, which is remarkable for someone 7-4, 285 pounds.

Zach Edey moves as well as an average 6-10 player, which is remarkable for someone 7-4, 285 pounds.

16. Purdue Boilermakers

  • 2020-2021: 18-10, 13-6 in the Big Ten; lost to North Texas in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Aaron Wheeler (4.4 rpg.) transferred to St. Johns
  • Additions: 6-8 top 50 recruit Trey Kaufman, 6-9 top 70 recruit Caleb Furst
  • Preseason Projection: Sweet Sixteen

Purdue was a good but not great basketball team last season, and they essentially return everyone with the exception of a possible upgrade at power forward, where Trey Kaufman will present the possibility of a stretch four. The team’s star will again be 6-10, 265 pound All Big Ten senior center Trevion Williams (15.5 ppg., 9.1 rpg.), who should lead the team in scoring for the third year in a row. It will be interesting to see if Matt Painter finds a way to get Williams and shockingly agile and sturdy 7-4, 285 pound sophomore giant Zach Edey (8.7 ppg., 4.4 rpg., 1.1 bpg. in 14.7 mpg.) on the floor at the same time for a few minutes a game; both players are effective on the offensive glass, and Williams has worked on improving his mobility over the years. In the backcourt, Jaden Ivey (11.1 ppg.) is considered a rising star and is projected as a first round pick in some mock drafts, but he will need to shoot more consistenly for that to happen. Player development has always been excellent under Painter, and with another year together the team’s offensive and defensive efficiency should return to being among the best in the country after taking a hit due to major roster turnover following the 2018-2019 season.

Auburn fans will see much more of Walker Kessler than North Carolina fans ever did.

Auburn fans will see much more of Walker Kessler than North Carolina fans ever did.

17. Auburn Tigers

  • 2020-2021: 13-14, 7-11 in the SEC
  • Departures: Sharife Cooper (20.2 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 8.1 apg.) and JT Thor (9.4 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 1.4 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Justin Powell (11.7 ppg., 6.1 rpg., 4.7 apg., 44.2% 3pt.) transferred to Tennessee and Jamal Johnson (9.4 ppg., 36.1% 3pt.) transferred to UAB
  • Additions: 6-10 top 5 recruit Jabari Smith, 7-1 North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler, 5-11 Eastern Kentucky transfer Wendell Green Jr. (15.8 ppg., 5.0 apg., 1.6 spg., 36.4% 3pt.), 6-1 Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson (13.5 ppg., 38.7% 3pt.), and 6-1 Charleston transfer Zep Jasper (15.6 ppg., 34.5% 3pt.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

The strength of this team will clearly be its two big men. Walker Kessler didn’t receive many minutes as a freshman in a crowded North Carolina frontcourt, but he has great hands, a developing face up game, and bizarre mobility and agility for someone that’s 7-1, 250 pounds, and all arms and legs. His per 30 minute numbers (the college equivalent of the NBA’s per 36 minute numbers – per 40 minute numbers don’t make sense) were 15 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks, and he was clearly getting better at the end of the year. Jabari Smith should develop into a prototypical modern NBA power forward; he already shoots well from the perimeter, and he will be a likely top ten pick in next year’s draft. Wendell Green Jr. will take over at point guard after proving himself to be an underrated prospect and earning first team All-OVC honors as a freshman without the benefit of a preseason. Both Kessler and Smith are capable passers that should play off each other well, and that should make his job easier. Bruce Pearl does have returning veterans to build around as well, most notably including projected first round pick Allen Flanigan (14.3 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 33.8% 3pt.) and fellow junior Jaylin Williams (10.9 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 34.0% 3pt.). Defense should be better for the Tigers this season with more imposing post play and more defensive effort at point guard; the big question will be how efficient the offense can become by March.

Stanley Umude's rebounding will be particularly important for the Razorbacks.

Stanley Umude's rebounding will be particularly important for the Razorbacks.

18. Arkansas Razorbacks

  • 2020-2021: 25-7, 13-4 in the SEC; lost to Baylor in the Elite Eight
  • Departures: Moses Moody (16.8 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 35.8% 3pt.), Justin Smith (13.6 ppg., 7.3 rpg.), and Jalen Tate (11.0 ppg., 3.8 apg., 34.2% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Desi Sills (7.5 ppg.) transferred to Arkansas State and Vance Jackson transferred to East Carolina
  • Additions: 5-7 Miami transfer Chris Lykes (15.4 ppg., 38.1% 3pt. in 2019-2020), 6-6 Pittsburgh transfer Au’diese Toney (14.4 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 34.0% 3pt.), 6-6 South Dakota transfer Stanley Umude (21.6 ppg., 7.0 rpg., 35.5% 3pt.), 6-5 top 100 recruit Chance Moore, 6-6 Wichita St. transfer Trey Wade (6.7 ppg., 5.6 rpg.), and 6-7 Arkansas-Little Rock transfer Kamani Johnson (11.0 ppg., 6.7 rpg. in 2019-2020)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Arkansas is another team that should be very similar to what they were a year ago despite what seems like a lot of turnover. Justin Smith’s minutes are likely to primarily be filled by a 6-6 wing in Stanley Umode, but that doesn’t really make much of a size difference and it could allow the offense to flow even more. Chris Lykes should help in that area as well, so offensive efficiency could actually improve. The Razorbacks will feature four perimeter players around two interesting stretch fives in 7-2 junior Connor Vanover (6.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg., and 1.8 bpg. in just 16.7 mpg.) and 6-10 Jaylin Williams (4.7 rpg. and 0.7 bpg. in 15.3 mpg.), both of whom put up excellent per minute rebounding and shot blocking numbers last season in addition to being able to hit occasional threes. Rebounding could fall off slightly, but both Umode and Au’diese Toney will attack the boards, so it shouldn’t become a problem. Eric Musselman showed an ability to reload quickly on the fly, and his Razorbacks should again compete at the top of what is now a very tough SEC.

Shakeel Moore's development will be crucial for Mississippi St. to reach their ceiling.

Shakeel Moore's development will be crucial for Mississippi St. to reach their ceiling.

19. Mississippi St. Bulldogs

  • 2020-2021: 18-15, 8-10 in the SEC; lost to Memphis in the NIT Championship Game
  • Departures: D.J. Stewart (16.0 ppg., 3.1 apg., 1.4 spg., 34.4% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Abdul Ado (5.9 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 2.0 bpg.) transferred to Cincinnati, Deivon Smith transferred to Georgia Tech, and Jalen Johnson entered the transfer portal
  • Additions: 6-10 North Carolina transfer Garrison Brooks (10.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg.), 6-7 Memphis transfer D.J. Jeffries (9.9 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 35.2% 3pt.), 6-1 NC State transfer Shakeel Moore (6.8 ppg., 1.4 spg., 34.4% 3pt.), 6-10 top 90 recruit KeShawn Murphy, 6-3 4 star recruit Camryn Carter, 6-6 4 star recruit Alden Applewhite, and 6-2 Michigan St. transfer Rocket Watts (7.7 ppg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

While Texas will probably be the best team seemingly created from scratch through the transfer portal, Mississippi St. might be the most interesting. Garrison Brooks, a former second team All-ACC player, will join rapidly improving 6-10 junior Tolu Smith (12.6 ppg., 8.5 rpg.) and former 5 star Memphis recruit D.J. Jeffries to form one of the better frontcourts in a vastly improved SEC. In addition to Smith, Ben Howland also returns a go to perimeter scorer in junior Iverson Molinar (16.7 ppg., 43.6% 3pt.). Howland’s last addition from the transfer portal didn’t really make sense; Rocket Watts was incredibly inconsistent offensively in his two years at Michigan St. (33.6% fg., 25.3% 3pt. last year), and he was one of the least productive defensive players in the country last season (0.1 spg. and no blocks in 22.6 mpg.). He could end up stealing minutes from the more consistent, productive, and promising Shakeel Moore, a physically explosive guard that already shoots better than Watts and is one of the best on ball perimeter defenders in college basketball. Moore (43.8% fg., 34.4% 3pt.; 1.4 spg. in 18.5 mpg.) is just a sophomore and will be going through his first real offseason, and it’s really his development, not Watts’, that could allow the Bulldogs to be great.

The NBA should start to notice Anthony Polite as a senior.

The NBA should start to notice Anthony Polite as a senior.

20. Florida State Seminoles

  • 2020-2021: 18-7, 11-4 in the ACC (2nd); lost to Michigan in the NCAA Sweet 16
  • Departures: Scottie Barnes (10.3 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 4.1 apg., 1.5 spg.), RaiQuan Gray (11.9 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), Balsa Koprivica (9.1 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.4 bpg.), and M.J. Walker (12.2 ppg., 42.3% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Sardaar Calhoun transferred to Texas Tech and Nate Jack transferred to Cleveland St.
  • Graduates taking an extra year: RayQuan Evans and Tanor Ngom
  • Major Additions: 6-6 top 25 recruit Matthew Cleveland, 6-4 top 30 recruit Jalen Warley, 6-3 Houston transfer Caleb Mills (13.2 ppg., 36.5% 3pt. in 2019-2020), 6-6 Kentucky transfer Cam'Ron Fletcher, and 7-1 top 70 recruit John Butler
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

For more information on the Seminoles, check out my ACC Basketball Preview.

21. Alabama Crimson Tide

  • 2020-2021: 26-7, 16-2 in the SEC; lost to UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen
  • Departures: John Petty Jr. (12.6 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 37.0% 3pt.), Herbert Jones (11.2 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 3.3 apg., 35.1% 3pt.), Joshua Primo (8.1 ppg., 38.1% 3pt.), Jordan Bruner (5.6 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), and Alex Reese (5.4 ppg.) entered the NBA Draft
  • Additions: 6-3 top 10 recruit J.D. Davison, 6-11 top 40 recruit Charles Bediako, 6-8 Furman transfer Noah Gurley (15.4 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 33.9% 3pt.), and 6-6 top 100 recruit Jusaun Holt
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Nate Oats completely turned around the Alabama basketball program in just his second year at the school, but there was a consequence for his success in the form of multiple NBA departures. Oats still has plenty of talent on the roster, however, and should have another competitive team by Tournament time. Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 ppg., 3.2 apg., 43.3% 3pt.) will be the team’s best returning player after beginning to fulfill his five star promise as a sophomore transfer. A season ending injury to Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett, combined with the departure of three productive perimeter players, will likely result in the team playing larger than they did a year ago; Furman transfer Noah Gurley and sophomore Alex Tchikou, a long armed, athletic, 6-11 former top 70 recruit who could provide a difficult to defend perimeter threat, will offer larger options as stretch fours. Burnett's injury also means that the Tide will be even more dependent on J.D. Davidson to start living up to his top 10 potential right away. With significant roster turnover and an overwhelming amount of talent entering the conference it’s unlikely that the Crimson Tide will be able to win a second consecutive SEC Championship, but Nate Oats’ third team should be closer to his second than his first.

Drake will hope for better health for ShanQuan Hemphill down the stretch.

Drake will hope for better health for ShanQuan Hemphill down the stretch.

22. Drake Bulldogs

  • 2020-2021: 26-5, 15-3 in the MVC; lost to USC in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Joseph Yesufu (12.8 ppg., 38.4% 3pt.) transferred to Kansas
  • Graduates taking an extra year: ShanQuan Hemphill and Tremell Murphy
  • Additions: 6-0 Omaha transfer Ayo Akinwole (13.0 ppg., 45.6% 3pt.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Just as a reminder, the Bulldogs were a one loss team in a legitimate mid major conference that had moved into the Top 25 before being hit with significant injuries. They were really only playing seven players to begin with, and the two that were lost were their point guard Roman Penn (11.2 ppg., 5.5 apg., 33.3% 3pt.) and their leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill (14.1 ppg. and 6.3 rpg. prior to injury). The team still managed an NCAA Tournament win without Penn and with a hobbled Hemphill. Drake did lose Joseph Yesufu, but they replaced him with a remarkably similar player in Omaha transfer Ayo Akinwole. Otherwise, with Hemphill and fellow starting forward Tremell Murphy (10.1 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 37.1% 3pt.) taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility, this is a veteran team that should pick up where they left off in early February.

23. Ohio State Buckeyes

  • 2020-2021: 21-10, 12-8 in the Big Ten; lost to Oral Roberts in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Duane Washington Jr. (16.4 ppg., 37.4% 3pt.) and C.J. Walker (9.5 ppg., 4.4 apg.) entered the NBA Draft; Musa Jallow transferred to Charlotte
  • Additions: 6-1 Penn St. transfer Jamari Wheeler (6.8 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 3.5 apg., 1.8 spg., 35.7% 3pt.), 6-5 top 40 recruit Malaki Branham, 6-2 Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell (17.2 ppg., 40.0% 3pt.), and 6-11 Indiana transfer Joey Brunk (6.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg. in 2019-2020)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

As well as the starting backcourt of Duane Washington and CJ Walker played for Ohio State last year, there is every reason to believe that this season’s Buckeyes will be very similar to last season’s. Cedric Russell and Malaki Branham should adequately replace Washington’s scoring, while Jamari Wheeler should be a similarly efficient point guard to Walker and a slight upgrade defensively. First team All-Big Ten post player E.J. Liddell (16.2 ppg., 6.7 rpg., 33.8% 3pt.) is definitely still improving after taking a giant step forward as a sophomore, while the arrival of Joey Brunk will provide depth and size that was missing last season. There is also hope that Seth Towns will continue to recover from his earlier knee injuries and become more like the Ivy League Player of the Year he once was. If anything, Chris Holtmann will have more options available than he did a year ago, and Ohio State should have another opportunity to advance in March.

Osun Osinniyi gives the Bonnies one of the best returning big men in the country.

Osun Osinniyi gives the Bonnies one of the best returning big men in the country.

24. St. Bonaventure Bonnies

  • 2020-2021: 16-5, 11-4 in the A 10; lost to LSU in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: Alejandro Vasquez transferred to Hofstra
  • Additions: 6-8 Pittsburg transfer Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (5.2 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 0.9 bpg.) and 6-4 Wake Forrest transfer Quadry Adams
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies return every major contributor from last season’s 9th seeded NCAA Tournament team, including five rising seniors that all averaged over 33 minutes per game. Schmidt was also able to add something he didn’t have last year: a bench, courtesy of the transfer portal and the ACC. Abdoul Karim Coulibaly was a spot starter for Pitt last season, and he will be a particularly welcome addition considering Osun Osunniyi (10.7 ppg., 9.4 rpg., 2.9 bpg.), a 6-10 second team All-A 10 center and the A 10 Defensive Player of the Year, was the only player over 6-5 to play as many as six minutes per game. Quadry Adams, who received very few opportunities at Wake Forrest as a freshman with no preseason, should be an upgrade to Alejandro Vasquez as a combo guard off the bench.

Andre Curbelo will be depended on much more as a playmaker this season.

Andre Curbelo will be depended on much more as a playmaker this season.

25. Illinois Fighting Illini

  • 2020-2021: 24-7, 16-4 in the Big Ten; lost to Loyola Chicago in the NCAA Round of 32
  • Departures: Ayo Dosunmu (20.1 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 5.3 apg., 39.0% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Adam Miller (8.3 ppg., 34.0% 3pt.) transferred to LSU; Giorgi Bezhanishvili will play international basketball
  • Graduates taking an extra year: Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams
  • Additions: 6-1 Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer (13.6 ppg., 38.3% 3pt.), 6-7 top 60 recruit Ramses Melendez, 6-7 top 80 recruit Luke Goode, 6-5 top 100 recruit Brandin Podziemski, and 6-10 Florida transfer Omar Payne (1.2 bpg.)
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

Ayo Dosunmu is going to be missed, and Alfonso Plummer and the incoming freshmen won’t be able to make up for everything that he and Adam Miller provided. However, Trent Frazier (10.2 ppg., 36.2% 3pt.) should have a resurgent year with Dosumnu gone, Andre Curbelo (9.1 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 4.2 apg.) is going to get better, and Brad Underwood paired college basketball’s most dominant post player, 7-0 second team All-American Kofi Cockburn (17.7 ppg., 9.5 bpg., 1.3 bpg.), with length that can shoot in the three freshmen. Cockburn’s total of five assists for an entire season was undoubtedly a topic of conversation in the feedback he received from the NBA, so he should at least attempt to find open shooters when defenses collapse on him this season. While Illinois can’t be considered a favorite in the Big Ten, they should still be a safe bet to receive another opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.

And one to grow on (everybody else gets one)...

26. Connecticut Huskies

  • 2020-2021: 15-8, 11-6 in the Big East; lost to Maryland in the NCAA Round of 64
  • Departures: James Bouknight (18.7 ppg., 5.7 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Josh Carlton transferred to Houston and Brendan Adams transferred to George Washington
  • Graduates taking an additional year: Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley
  • Additions: 6-10 top 40 recruit Samson Johnson, 6-5 top 50 recruit Jordan Hawkins, 6-1 top 60 recruit Rahsool Diggins, and 6-4 top 100 recruit Corey Floyd Jr.
  • Preseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

UConn has gotten better in each of Dan Hurley’s first three years, and a NCAA Tournament victory would be the next logical step. He’ll have a solid group of veterans to build around starting with senior point guard R.J. Cole (12.2 ppg., 4.3 apg. vs. 1.7 tpg., 38.6% 3pt.), who was extremely efficient running the offense in his first year in the Big East. That group also includes reigning Big East Co-Defensive player of the year Isaiah Whaley (8.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 2.6 bpg.) and reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Polley (7.5 ppg., 35.5% 3pt.), both of whom are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility. Like Cole, senior Tyrese Martin (10.3 ppg., 7.5 rpg.) was able to somewhat replicate his previous productivity after transferring from a less competitive conference, while 6-9 sophomore Adama Sanogo (7.3 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 0.9 bpg. in 17.0 mpg.) is an emerging difference maker both defensively and as a post scorer. The four freshmen are promising and will have opportunities to contribute, but they won’t have to be great right away for the Huskies to continue to improve.