The college basketball season has officially come to an end, and now it’s time for one of my favorite, day after the season traditions: Putting together my “Way Too Early Top 25” for next season.
I will readily admit though, that this year it was harder than ever before. And that this WILL change a ton between now and the start of next season.
First off, we have an unprecedented off-season, one where all seniors have an extra year of eligibility. Some will take it and some won’t. Some will also use their extra year transfer to other schools. Speaking of which, the transfer market is unprecedented as well, with 1,200+ names in the portal as we speak. Guys like (potentially) Marcus Carr, Walker Kessler and others will have a huge impact on what 2021-2022 rosters will look like. There are a few elite high school players (Chet Holmgren) out there as well.
So yeah, call this a very early look at next season. And before we get started, a few caveats:
- I did not include any seniors with extra eligibility on this list who have yet to announce their decisions. Some could come back, and some could have major impacts on their roster (Tennessee’s John Fulkerson and Kentucky’s Davion Mintz are two who come to mind). But for now, it doesn’t make sense to speculate which 23-year-old seniors want to spend another year on college campuses and which will not.
- I am not speculating where elite freshmen will play next year. Chet Holmgren is projected to go to Gonzaga. I’m not adding him to the roster though until we see it. Same with Patrick Baldwin, Ty-Ty Washington or any other elite high school player that is currently uncommitted.
- I am also not speculating on what transfers will go where. When they announce their choices I will add them, and it will change quite a few rosters when it does happen. I expect Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan and others to be active all off-season, which could greatly improve their rosters between now and the start of next season. But until those changes are made I won’t be doing rankings based on speculation.
- Speaking of speculation, in terms of NBA Draft declarations, it’s all obviously guessing at this point, but I tried to use common sense on who will stay and go. Basically if a kid is currently projected in any mock drafts, I’m assuming he’s leaving. Again, if some decide to come back, I’ll just the rankings accordingly throughout the off-season.
So with that said, here is my way too early Top 25 for the 2021-2022 season:
Key Returnees: Joel Ayayi, Andrew Nembhard, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, Oumar Ballo, Ben Gregg
Key Additions: Hunter Sallis, Kaden Perry
Key Departures: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Aaron Cook
Yes, I know Gonzaga’s season ended in disaster on Monday night, and because of it, it feels weird to put them back at No. 1. But look at everyone else’s roster next year and tell me who should be ahead of a team that just finished an undefeated regular season, made the title game and should bring back a big chunk of its core in 2021-2022?
In terms of the core, we know Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs are gone, but historically, Gonzaga has done a good job of retaining fringe NBA Draft picks, as opposed to losing them early if they aren’t first round guarantees. Does that mean we could possibly see another season of Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme?
After this year’s tournament run there is a possibility that both at least consider the NBA, but for now we’ll keep them here. Even if they go, the Zags remain in the hunt for both the No. 1 high school player in America (Chet Holmgren) and arguably the No. 1 transfer on the market in Walker Kessler. Not to mention that most of the guys who couldn’t get off the bench this year – including wing Julian Strawther and guard Dominick Harris – are former Top 100 recruits, who you know will develop into the next wave of Gonzaga stars.
2. UCLA Bruins
Key Returnees: Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaime Jacquez, Jules Bernard, David Singleton, Jake Kyman, Jaylen Clark, Mac Etienne
Key Additions: Peyton Watson, Will McClendon
Key Departures: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill
After the NCAA Tournament run he had, my hunch is that we saw the college game of Johnny Juzang’s career, and if he does leave, the Bruins would probably drop a bit. But for now, we’ll leave him here, and if he does come back, it will mean that this year’s Bruin Final Four team could completely return in tact. The only scholarship senior on the roster was Chris Smith, who was lost in the middle of the season to injury. Meaning that no one on the court on Saturday at the Final Four is currently projected to leave the program.
Oh, and even UCLA loses Juzang to the pros, they have Top 10 high school prospect Peyton Watson joining the roster next year, who could and should immediately fill his shoes. Assuming there are no bizarre departures otherwise, this team should start next season in position to once again make a deep tournament run.
3. 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
Key Departures: CJ Washington, Kyle Young, Seth Towns, Mussa Jallow (transfer)
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, Washington, Ahrens, Key and 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.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
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
I’ll keep this brief: For all the focus on Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State whoever this season, Purdue quietly finished fourth in the Big Ten last season, and had won five of six before getting upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Oh, and they return literally every key piece off that roster, and add two Top 50 recruits.
Not a bad way to enter 2021-2022.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Key Returnees: Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, Joey Baker, Henry Coleman
Key Additions: Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels
Key Departures: Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Jordan Goldwire, Jaemyn Brakefield
Yes, Duke had a historically awful season in 2020-2021, and you know what? I don’t care. Mainly because I truly believe that Paolo Banchero is one of the most college-ready freshmen to enter the sport in a long-time. Team him with another elite high school player (AJ Griffin), possibly a third (we’ll see where Pat Baldwin Jr. ends up) and the right role players and Duke could get right back into No. 1 seed consideration next year.
Having a freshman point guard (Trevor Keels) worries me a little, but not enough to move the Blue Devils down that far.
6. Virginia Cavaliers
Key Returnees: Kiehi Clark, Trey Murphy, Reece Beekman, Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Caffaro
Key Additions: Taine Murray
Key Departures: Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae, Jabri Abdur-Rahim (transfer), Casey Morsell (transfer)
In the last eight years, Virginia has finished in either first or second place in the ACC standings in seven of those seasons. So this is mostly just a bet on Tony Bennett.
Veteran Kiehi Clark will be back for a final season and Trey Murphy emerged after transferring this year. Reece Beekman is a once highly-rated recruit who could take a leap next season.
7. Arizona Wildcats
Key Returnees: James Akinjo, Azuelas Tubelis, Ben Mathurin, Jordan Brown, Kerr Krissa, Christian Koloko, Dalen Terry
Key Additions: Shane Nowell, KJ Simpson, Shane Dezonie
Key Departures: Jemarl Baker Jr., Ira Lee, Terrell Brown
It’s been a weird off-season at Arizona, where the Arizona administration has made no real attempt to let Sean Miller know about his future in Tucson, as he has just one year left on his contract. But assuming Miller is back, he should have a loaded team.
If you take out Jemarl Baker (who was injured early in the season), the Wildcats should bring back their entire rotation off a team that finished 17-9 in what we now know was a loaded Pac-12. Point guard James Akinjo is currently testing the draft waters, but with little NBA interest he should be back alongside Lithuanian forward Azuelas Tubelis (12.2 points, 7.1 rebounds), forward Ben Mathurin and others.
Mathurin is a breakout season away from being a potential lottery pick.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
Key Returnees: Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot, Bryce Thompson
Key Additions: Zach Clemence, Bobby Pettiford, KJ Adams, Cam Martin (transfer)
Key Departures: Marcus Garrett
Shout out to Bill Self who last week, became the first coach I can ever remember to sign a “lifetime contract” in the middle of an NCAA investigation. As I said when the news happened: My relationship advice to anyone out there on the singles market is to find someone who will fight for you like Kansas fights for Bill Self. Do that and you’ll live happily ever after.
That said, Self should bring back most of this year’s roster in 2021-2022. There are no real NBA prospects to speak of (maybe Ochai Agbaji, but that’s it) so there’s a chance that in Year 1 of “Life with Bill” (which sounds like a bad CBS comedy that is set to debut post Final Four) the Jayhawks will win another Big 12 title. Even again, as they remain under NCAA investigation and might not even be eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
9. Maryland Terrapins
Key Returnees: Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Jarius Hamilton
Key Additions: Fatts Russell (transfer), Qudus Wahab (transfer)
Key Departures: Daryl Morsell
Ayala and Wiggins are staples of the program and Scott was awesome as a stretch forward this season. Maryland has also weirdly been a big winner of the early transfer portal so far (who could’ve guessed?) adding Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell and Georgetown center Qudus Wahab.
Never forget, it was just last season (the one lost to the pandemic) where Maryland won the Big Ten regular season title. And should compete for another in 2021-2022 as well.
10. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Returnees: Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackleford, Joshua Primo, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, James Rojas, Darius Miles
Key Departures: John Petty, Herbert Jones, Alex Reese
Key Additions: JD Davison, Jusuan Holt, Langston Wilson
While Alabama loses its two key players from this year’s SEC regular season and tournament title runs (Herbert Jones and John Petty) they bring back most of their core, which includes its two leading scorers (Jaden Shackleford and Jahvon Quinerly).
They also welcome in Top 10 recruit JD Davison and should add a few key pieces in the transfer market. Don’t expect the Tide to slow down any time soon.
11. Florida State Seminoles
Key Returnees: Anthony Polite, Malik Osbourne, Balsa Koprivica, Sadaar Calhoun, Wyatt Wilkes
Key Additions: Matthew Cleveland, Jalen Warley, John Butler, Naheem McCloud, Caleb Mills (transfer)
Key Departures: MJ Walker, RayQuan Evans, Scottie Barnes, RaiQuan Gray
We’re just at the point that Florida State has an automatic spot in our preseason Top 25. Considering the last four seasons they’ve made a Sweet 16, Elite Eight, won the ACC regular season title (before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled) and a Sweet 16 this year, it shows you that Leonard Hamilton has quietly built one of the best and most consistent programs in the sport.
Several key returnees will be back for the Seminoles next year, along with one of the top recruiting classes in college hoops. Oh, and they add Caleb Mills, who was arguably Houston’s best player coming into the season before deciding to transfer.
12. Baylor Bears
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
Key Departures: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital
Yes, Baylor will lose several key players off their national title team, most likely including Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. But Scott Drew has done such a good job developing players within the program, I’m just not sure we should expect them to take a dip at this point.
Expect Adam Flagler to go from “key reserve” to “the guy” in the backcourt, while the frontcourt will have the solid 1-2 punch of Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Matt Mayer and his mullet will be back to provide plenty of three-point shooting. Oh, and the Bears bring in a loaded recruiting class including five-star wing Kendall Brown.
13. Villanova Wildcats
Key Returnees: Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater, Eric Dixon, Bryan Antoine
Key Additions: Trey Patterson, Jordan Longino, Nnanna Njoku, Angelo Brizzi
Key Departures: Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider (transfer)
There will be a major talent drain at Villanova this off-season (assuming Gillespie doesn’t use his extra year of eligibility) but this is just a bet that the Wildcats ultimately figure things out. Moore, Slater and Daniels are great pieces to start with and Dixon should take on a bigger role in the frontcourt.
14. Houston Cougars
Key Returnees: Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, Cameron Tyson, Reggie Chaney
Key Additions: Ja’Vier Francis, Ramon Walker, Robbie Armbrester, Josh Carlton (transfer)
Key Departures: DeJon Jerreau, Justin Gorham, Brison Gresham, Quentin Grimes
Every year I convince myself that – as good as Kelvin Sampson is – there just isn’t enough returning talent to justify putting them in the Top 25. And every off-season I look stupid.
Well, this off-season, if I look stupid (which we all know is inevitable) it won’t be because of Houston.
Marcus Sasser – the lone player who showed up for Houston in the Final Four – should be back and Tramon Mark emerged late. But really this is just a bet on Sampson, who has to be one of the five best coaches in the sport.
15. Michigan Wolverines
Key Returnees: Brandon Johns Jr., Terrence Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
Key Additions: Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabite, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins, Isaiah Barnes
Key Departures: Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, Mike Smith, Austin Davis, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson
It’s uncomfortable how big my man crush got on Juwan Howard this season, and despite how much Howard will lose from this year’s team, I still expect him to figure it out.
In theory, just about everyone could leave Michigan. They have a bunch of seniors (some of whom could opt out, and others back in) and wing Franz Wagner is a projected lottery pick. I’m also working under the assumption that Hunter Dickinson will go pro. Even still, there are a handful of returnees, and Michigan welcomes in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (Caleb Houstan is a one-and-done star). Howard also proved to be adept at using the transfer portal last off-season, adding Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith late.
Expect Howard – who is quickly becoming one of the best recruiters in the sport – to hit the portal hard, and have another really good team heading into 2021-2022.
16. UConn Huskies:
Key Returnees: RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Adama Sanogo, Jalen Gaffney, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok
Key Additions: Rashool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins, Samson Johnson
Key Departures: James Bouknight, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton (transfer), Brendan Adams (transfer)
Star guard James Bouknight declared for the draft last week, but most of the roster which finished third in the Big East this season should be back. More importantly, that same roster got experience playing without Bouknight for most of the season when he went down with an elbow injury.
Tyrese Martin proved he can be the focal point of a solid team and RJ Cole came on late. I’m also excited to see how Adama Sanogo looks in year two in the program and how Akok Akok looks with another off-season to get healthy.
17. North Carolina Tar Heels
Key Returnees: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson
Key Additions: Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn
Key Departures: Garrison Brooks, DayRon Sharpe, Walker Kessler (transfer)
Hubert Davis is your new head coach at North Carolina, and we should learn quickly if he’s the right fit. Mainly because he’ll return the bulk of a roster that earned an eight-seed in the NCAA Tournament and is built for immediate success.
Point guard Caleb Love returned after a shaky first year but is a former McDonald’s All-American with plenty of talent, and Armando Bacot will now be the focus down low. RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton should provide plenty of shooting as well.
18. Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware
Key Additions: Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins, Nolan Hickman, Oscar Tshiebwe (transfer), Kellan Grady (transfer)
Key Departures: Olivier Sarr, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Isaiah Jackson, Devin Askew (transfer)
I might be the last guy left on “Calipari island” but I truly believe that this past season was more of an outlier than a sign that the program is in major decline. It was just one year ago where the Wildcats were SEC regular season champions after all, with a legit chance to win the 2020 NCAA Tournament that was never played.
More importantly, Calipari seems to finally be addressing all the shortcomings of last year’s roster, with the addition of Kellan Grady in the transfer portal. The Wildcats still need a playmaking guard between now and the start of the season, but I like how Grady fits in with some of the returnees, including West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe and freshman Daimion Collins.
Ultimately I can’t put the Wildcats any higher until the point guard spot gets figured out, but I suspect it will, and I suspect – with a full off-season – Calipari will have this team ready to roll come tip-off next season.
19. Arkansas Razorbacks
Key Returnees: Davonte Davis, Jaylin Williams, JD Notae, Conor Vanover, Ethan Henderson, KK Robinson
Key Additions: Chance Moore, Akol Mawein, Kimani Johnson (transfer), Au’Diese Toney (transfer)
Key Departures: Moses Moody, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, Vance Jackson, Desi Sills (transfer)
We know there will always be roster turnover at Arkansas under Eric Musselman, but two key pieces off this year’s Elite Eight run – guard Devo Davis and forward Jaylin Williams – will almost certainly be back. I also think KK Robinson – who missed this year with injury – could be a breakout star as a fully healthy redshirt freshman next season.
In terms of what’s next, Arkansas already had its first big strike on the transfer market (former Pitt wing Au’Diese Toney, who averaged 14.4 points per game in ACC play last year). The only question is, who is next? Arkansas is one of the most aggressive programs in the transfer market, and I expect this roster to look a lot different by the start of next season.
This is another team that should move up the rankings as the roster gets filled out.
20. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Key Returnees: Avery Anderson, Kalib Boone, Isaac Likekele, Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe, Keylan Boone, Rondel Walker, Bryce Williams, Bernard Kouma
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: Cade Cunningham, Ferron Flavors Jr.
This one is pretty simple. Cade Cunningham is gone, but every other player on the Pokes’ Big 12 Tournament runner-up team will be back.
In addition, expect Isaac “Ice” Likekele to go back to playing at the All-Big 12 level he did a few years ago. I love the program Mike Boynton is building in Stillwater.
21. Saint Bonaventure Bonnies
Key Returnees: Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway, Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi, Anthony Roberts, Alejandro Vasquez
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: N/A
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.
22. Nevada Wolf Pack
Key Returnees: Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge Jr., Warren Washington,
Key Additions: Addison Patterson, Will Baker
Key Departures: Zane Meeks, Kane Milling
Credit where it’s due: I crushed Nevada’s hire of Steve Alford when Eric Musselman left, but Alford has been awesome so far. He returns the Mountain West’s most dynamic player Grant Sherfield, and another key backcourt piece Desmond Cambridge (16.3 points per game last season) all while adding two big-time transfers.
Will Baker and Addison Patterson are both former Top 50 prospects who began their careers at Texas and Oregon respectively, and will add offensive pop to an already talented team.
23. Tennessee Volunteers
Key Returnees: Josiah Jordan-James, Santiago Vescovi, VJ Bailey, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic, Corey Walker
Key Additions: Kennedy Chandler, Jahmai Mashack, Justin Powell (transfer)
Key Departures: John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, EJ Aniosike, Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson
While things weren’t nearly as cataclysmic in Knoxville as they were some other places this season, it’s hard to argue that it was a disappointing season for Tennessee. A preseason Top 10 team fizzled in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, I still like the makeup of the 2021-2022 Vols. Freshman Kennedy Chandler should take the reigns of the offense, and I like the pieces around him, including Josiah Jordan-James, Santiago Vescovi and VJ Bailey. Adding the scoring pop of Justin Powell this weekend (assuming he’s eligible) should only help.
It also seems like there is a strong possibility that John Fulkerson comes back for a sixth season of eligibility as well.
24. Colorado State Rams
Key Returnees: David Rody, Isaiah Stevens, Kendle Moore, Adam Thislewood, John Tonje, James Moore, Dischon Thomas
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: N/A
Louisville was the first team out of the NCAA Tournament and Colorado State was No. 2 – meaning that if Oregon State and Georgetown hadn’t won their conference tournament titles, those two teams would’ve been in the NCAA Tournament this past season.
Well, Colorado State literally returns everyone off that roster – reason enough for me to have them in the Top 25.
25. Michigan State Spartans
Key Returnees: Joey Hauser, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, AJ Hoggard
Key Additions: Max Christie, Jaden Akins, Pierre Brooks, Tyson Walker (transfer)
Key Departures: Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts (transfer)
Like Kentucky, Duke and others, this is a bet that with a normal off-season, Tom Izzo will get Michigan State back to where they normally are, as a contender come March. Hauser should be the focal point of the offense, and I love what freshman Max Christie will bring to the Spartans next season.