It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season. While there are still plenty of recruits and transfers deciding where to attend and star players deciding whether or not they will turn pro or stay in school before rosters are finalized, you can still get a pretty good idea of what teams will look like next year. Below is my way too early top 25 rankings for the 2020-21 college basketball season.
This is a bold pick, but I love the additions to the Cavaliers’ roster. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser gives Virginia something it hasn’t really had under Tony Bennett- a true stretch four. Athletic wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim headlines a very strong recruiting class, and should be a productive two-way player that will make a big impact in year one. Looking at the returners, center Jay Huff made significant strides on offense while proving to be one of the nation’s premier rim protectors, and Tomas Woldetensae got so much better as the year went on and proved to be a strong “3 and D” player. With the smart and efficient Kihei Clark running the point, the weapons are there for the Cavaliers to be a much better offensive team, and you know they’ll play tough defense.
One of the surprise teams of 2020, Baylor is built to make a run once again in 2021, and as long Jared Butler returns, they’re a final four contender and the favorite in the Big 12. With the entire starting backcourt and the heart and soul of the team, forward Mark Vital, returning, the Bears will be elite defensively once again. The one weakness Baylor had last season was suffering long scoring droughts, but if guys like junior wing Matthew Mayer or freshman L.J. Cryer can come in off the bench and knock down shots consistently, this team will be virtually unstoppable.
No one has adapted to the one and done era better than Coach K, and the Blue Devils have re-loaded with a great freshman class once again. Despite likely losing both Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley to the NBA, the Duke backcourt will be fine with five star guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward stepping on campus. The front court will be star studded as well, as five star forwards Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield, four star center Mark Williams, and Columbia grad transfer Patrick Tape give the Blue Devils tremendous talent and depth down low that will help fill the void that Vernon Carey leaves. I also think there’s a strong chance both Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore return, giving Duke more options and depth that they lacked this season.
I’m projecting Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, and Nick Richards to all turn pro, but if any decide to come back to Lexington next season then I’ll bump up the Wildcats into the top three. However, this is the norm at Kentucky and John Calipari brings in another great freshman class, headlined by top ten wings B.J. Boston and Terrence Clarke. Five star point guard Devin Askew joins them as well, and will replace Hagans to take over the keys to the offense. Top 50 recruits Lance Ware and Isaiah Jackson join junior center E.J. Montgomery to form a deep front-court. There’s no doubt the talent will be there in Lexington, but as is the question in most years, is if/when will the team gel and form the chemistry it takes to make a deep run in March.
The NBA draft declaration deadline will affect Gonzaga as much as any other program, as the Bulldogs anxiously await the decisions of Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi. I think Petrusev goes pro and Ayayi is a coin flip, but I project him to stay one more year. What Mark Few knows for sure is that he’s bringing in his highest ranked recruit ever to run the point, five star Jalen Suggs. He’ll also have veteran wing Corey Kispert back, and center Drew Timme was great in limited minutes this season and looks to be the next star in a long line of great Gonzaga big men. There’s some other big time recruits joining Suggs, as well as talented players who didn’t get a lot of time this season that are ready to step up in bigger roles, meaning the Zags will run the WCC once again and have a high seed come March.
The Wisconsin Badgers enter the 2021 season riding the momentum of an improbable Big Ten regular season championship, and return every contributor from that club besides Brevin Pritzl. Greg Gard is one of the best coaches in America at getting the most out of his players, and this will be his most talented team to date. The importance of Micah Potter’s emergence down low this season can not be overstated, as it not only gave the Badgers a tough defensive presence in the paint, but also took some pressure off Nate Reuvers on the offensive end, and the two bigs thrived on the court together. Seniors D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison provide a ton of skill and veteran leadership in the backcourt. Senior forward Aleem Ford rounds out an impressive starting five, and Gard brings in a five man freshman class highlighted by top 100 recruits Ben Carlson and Lorne Bowman to provide depth. The Badgers will be a problem in 2021 and are my pick to win the Big Ten once again.
Juwan Howard had many doubters when he was hired by Michigan prior to this season, but he’s proven them all wrong so far both on and off the court. The Wolverines would have been a dangerous five or six seed in this year’s tournament, and should be even better next season thanks to Howard bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Five star power forward Isaiah Todd is a great athlete who will provide instant offense, and 7’1 freshman Hunter Dickinson is ready to step in and fill the void at center left by Jon Teske. Isaiah Livers’ return is still up in the air, but if he comes back to school Michigan will be loaded on the wing between Livers and Franz Wagner. The Wolverines will undoubetdly miss Zavier Simpson, but between senior Eli Brooks, Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith and four star freshman Zeb Jackson, don’t expect much of a drop-off in production at point guard. Look for Michigan to compete for the Big Ten title and be a threat for a deep run in March.
I don’t think either Saddiq Bey or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will be back in a Wildcats uniform next season, so I’m a bit lower on Villanova than most. Still, its usually foolish to doubt a Jay Wright team, and even if the roster isn’t as flashy as usual it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats in the top ten all season. The backcourt will be strong with senior point guard Collin Gillespie and sophomore shooting guard Justin Moore returning. They’re joined by a couple of guys who will provide depth in Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels and sophomore Bryan Antoine, a former five star recruit who struggled with injuries as a freshman. Even without Bey and Robinson-Earl, the Wildcats will have a solid frontcourt led by Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. They may not have the clear star power we’re used to seeing at Villanova in recent years, but they don’t really have any weaknesses in the roster as it stands, and could still add a big time recruit or transfer before the fall semester starts.
9. West Virginia
Coach Bob Huggins said he expects both Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe to return to school next season, and if that’s the case this Mountaineers team will be absolutely loaded. When both guys are on their games and staying out of foul trouble, they’re the best frontcourt duo in all of college hoops. The issues that plagued West Virginia down the stretch this season was poor shooting and a lack of consistent guard play. Huggins had a lot of options to choose from in the backcourt and just about all of them return, but putting together the right rotation proved to be a difficult task, and no one really stepped up their game outside of Miles McBride. That depth will help the defense, which will be elite next season, but in order for the Mountaineers to take that next step, some of the guards have to step up and help out McBride. The best bets to do so are Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman, who are both capable shooters and showed promise late in the year.
10. Texas Tech
After a somewhat disappointing 2020 season, expect Chris Beard’s team to look a lot better in 2021 and be among the Big 12’s best. While Jahmius Ramsey is likely going pro, there will still be a lot of talent in Lubbock next season. In fact, the backcourt could be even better as both Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards return, and coming in to replace Ramsey is five star wing Nimari Burnett. The frontcourt is in solid shape too, as Terrence Shannon Jr. is joined by UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe and top 50 freshman Micah Peavy. We’ve seen how far Chris Beard can take a really talented team, and there’s no reason to think the Red Raiders can’t go on another final four run next season.
With a loaded backcourt and 1st team All-American Luka Garza set to return, the Hawkeyes have a squad built to make a run at a Big Ten title and final four next season. Everyone knows how unstoppable Garza was in the post this season, and with a pair of deadly outside shooters (C.J. Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp) and a trio of steady ball handlers in Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffrey, and Joe Toussaint surrounding him, the Iowa offense will be lethal once again. The biggest loss is power forward Ryan Kriener, who was a strong two-way player and provided much needed toughness. With his backup Cordell Pemsl transferring, Iowa will have to rely on an inexperienced replacement in either junior Jack Nunge or three star freshman Josh Ogundele. There’s no doubt Iowa will give opposing defenses fits next season, but question marks about their defense and ability to hang against teams with superior athleticism keep me from putting them in the top ten.
Ty-Shon Alexander just announced that he’ll be entering the draft and it looks he’s going to stay in the draft, but Creighton will still have a very strong backcourt without him. Marcus Zegarowski had a monster sophomore season, averaging 16 points a game while also emerging as one one of the best play-makers in the sport. Pairing him with the elite shooting of Mitch Ballock, and the Blue Jays will be tough to cover on the perimeter. Creighton dealt with a lot of injuries this season and were especially thin in the front-court, but the undersized Damien Jefferson and Christian Bishop held their own, and the Jays are set to get back center Jacob Epperson from injury and also bring in four star freshman Ryan Kalkbrenner to provide much needed depth. Losing Alexander is a big hit, but the roster is still loaded, so expect another big season in Omaha next year.
After a down year for the Volunteers, Rick Barnes has re-loaded and should have his club back in the national picture in 2021. Barnes will have a wealth of options in the backcourt, as sophomores Santiago Vescovi and Josiah Jordan-James can both play the point or play off-ball, and a pair of five star freshman, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, are ready to step in and fill it up on the wing. Oregon transfer Vic Bailey is eligible as well after sitting out last year and provides even more depth on the perimeter. Yves Pons and John Fulkerson return down low to provide a strong compliment to the loaded backcourt. This is arguably the most talented and know doubt the deepest team Rick Barnes will field in his tenure with the Vols, and expectations will be sky high in Knoxville.
Mick Cronin has brought reason for optimism back to the UCLA program, and there will be a lot of excitement surrounding the Bruins next season. The Bruins return their top five scorers and also bring in five star shooting guard Daishen Nix, who will provide much needed perimeter scoring and give point guard Tyger Campbell another quality option to dish the rock to alongside Chris Smith. Forward Jaime Jaquez is the ultimate hard-working glue guy who fits perfectly into Mick Cronin’s system. Jalen Hill and Cody Riley are both talented forwards who should put up bigger numbers next season. With a relatively weak Pac-12, look for Cronin and the Bruins to win a lot of games and put themselves in a good position for a run next March.
The Gators just received some great news that Scottie Lewis is returning to Gainesville for his sophomore season. The super athletic wing is a great defender who got a lot better on offense as the season progressed. Junior Keyontae Johnson is a versatile wing who can play a small ball four and create huge match-up problems for slower defenders. Noah Locke is a sharpshooter, and with savvy star point guard Andrew Nembhard also back, the Gators offense will be loaded. They’ll also have plenty of depth in the backcourt, with young role players Tre Mann and Ques Glover returning, and they bring in Cleveland State transfer Tyree Appleby, who put up huge numbers with the Vikings in 2019. The big X-factor for Florida is sophomore center Omar Payne, who played sparingly as Kerry Blackshear’s backup last season, but the Gators need him to establish himself as a reliable post presence and rim protector next season.
Payton Pritchard meant so much to the Oregon program and is maybe the hardest player to replace in the country. Even still, expect the Ducks to be competitive next season if Will Richardson comes back, as he and Chris Duarte are both highly skilled and make a great tandem on the wing. Duarte can handle the ball as well and will be able to take some pressure off Pritchard’s replacement, four star freshman Jalen Terry. Oregon’s frontcourt should be much better thanks to the additions of a pair of talented transfers in Eric Williams (Duquesne) and Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers), who both put up big numbers at their previous school. Dana Altman has done a great job of replacing lost talent and keeping the Ducks competitive, and next year will be no different.
It’s unusual to see Kansas this far down in any ranking, but as the roster currently stands, I think this is where they belong. Assuming Devon Dotson goes pro, the Jayhawks lack a proven go-to scorer, and that role will likely be filled by five star freshman wing Bryce Thompson. If the Jayhawks do take a couple steps back offensivley, they’ll still be able to rely on their defense to keep them in games, as Marcus Garrett is one of the quickest players and top perimeter defenders in the sport, and I think Ochai Agbaji, an elite athlete and wing defender, will return as well. Sophomore Christian Braun is a knockdown shooter who got more playing time in conference play and will likely be a full-time starter next season, and they’ll need him to play well to take some pressure off Garrett and Thompson. The Jayhawks will sorely miss Udoka Azubuike, and while David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot are both solid players, they won’t be able to make up for his incredible production on both ends of the floor. The Jayhawks will likely add another big time freshman or grad transfer before they finalize the roster, and could move up a few spots as a result.
18. Ohio State
The Buckeyes had an up and down 2020, as they looked like the best team in the country before a four game losing streak in January. They were still looking at a five or six seed if the tournament were played this year, and I think they’ll have a similar team and be somewhere in that range next season. Offense was the main issue when Ohio State was losing, and they hope that bringing in Cal transfer Justice Sueing (14 ppg in 2019) and Harvard transfer Seth Towns (16 ppg in 2018) will help fix that problem. Star center Kaleb Wesson is a coin flip for declaring for the NBA draft, and I have him going pro, which will obviously be a big blow to the offense. However, they should be fine on defense with Kyle Young and E.J. Liddel returning, and Young has shown flashes offensively and could be much better on that end of the floor next season. The guard play was solid but not great last year, and the Buckeyes will need C.J. Walker and Duane Washington to elevate their games to have any shot of competing for a Big Ten title.
19. Florida State
Losing Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams to the draft is a big blow for the defending ACC champs, but Leonard Hamilton has built a program that relies on depth, and he has some quality replacements ready to step up in bigger roles next season. Top five recruit Scottie Barnes comes in as Hamilton’s top rated recruit ever, and he’ll be a star right away for the Seminoles. Trent Forest is another big loss, but M.J. Walker will take over the point and Anthony Polite is an athletic shooting guard that should be a good compliment to Walker and Barnes. Raiquan Gray is a unique talent who can handle the ball and knock down jumpers, while also being able to bang in the post and guard opposing centers. The top-end talent may not be quite as strong this season, but there’s still a ton of quality players and a lot of depth on the team, a recipe for another strong season in Tallahassee.
20. North Carolina
A losing season in Chapel Hill was shocking to see, but expect the Tar Heels to turn things around quickly. Roy Williams brings a trio of five star recruits to campus, point guard Caleb Love and centers Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, who will all have big roles right away. The Tar Heels frontcourt has a chance to be the deepest and most talented in the country if both Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot come back, but even if one leaves they’ll still be in great shape. Both Leaky Black and four star freshman Donovan Johnson are X-factors and could start on the wing, and if they have big seasons the ceiling will be high for the Tar Heels.
The Cougars were a fringe top 25 team all season, and bring just about every contributor back next year, making them the clear favorite in the AAC. Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, and Quentin Grimes are all talented guards who can score in a variety of ways. Nate Hinton and DeJon Jurreau are two of the most unique talents in the country, as Hinton is a true guard but plays bigger than he is (averaged 9 rebounds per game this year), and Jurreau has the body of a forward but the skill and passing instincts of a point guard, leading the team in assists this season. Expectations in Houston will be as high as they’ve been since the Phi Slama Jama days.
Year one of the Nate Oats era didn’t quite go as planned, but the Tide have a ton of talent on campus and should be better in year two of Oats’ system. Kira Lewis will move on, but both John Petty and Herb Jones should return, giving the Tide great athleticism, defense, and veteran leadership on the perimeter. The Tide also have a big time shooter in Jaden Shackleford returning, and bring in Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly to take over the ball-handling duties left behind by Lewis. Oats has also gotten some big commits recently in four star JUCO transfer Keon Ellis and four star freshman Darius Miles, giving the Tide a crazy amount of backcourt depth. Alabama will be able to play with incredible pace and if they can develop chemistry and figure out a solid rotation, they’ll give the top dogs in the SEC a run for their money.
The fifth SEC team in my top 25, the Tigers are likely going to lose Trendon Watford to the draft, but still have plenty of talent coming back to Baton Rogue. They’re particularly strong down low with Emmitt Williams and Darius Days back, who were both extremely productive despite splitting time with Watford. Point guard Javonte Smart is back to dish them the rock, and will be joined in the backcourt by five star freshman Cam Thomas. The Tigers also bring in Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc, a talented forward who will likely be eligible after the 1st semester and will give LSU solid depth up front.
The Spiders were on the bubble this season, but they should be good enough to not have to deal with the anxiety of sitting through Selection Sunday hoping for a bid next year. Richmond is loaded with talent and brings everyone back. Jacob Gilyard is a lightning quick point guard who gets it done on both ends of the court, evidenced by his averages of 13 points, six assists and three steals this season. Leading scorer Blake Francis and fellow senior Nick Sherod can both fill it up on the wing, as they averaged a combined 31 points this year. Center Grant Golden is incredibly skilled and can score inside and out with ease. The Spiders will start five seniors who have never been to the NCAA tournament, and will be playing like men on a mission all season long.
Rutgers was one of the most pleasant surprises of the college basketball season, getting ranked in the AP poll for the first time in 41 years. It sucks that this group didn’t get to play in the NCAA tournament, but the good news is that most of the team returns, and they should make the 2021 tournament with relative ease. The backcourt, led by Geo Baker and Ron Harper jr., is loaded with talent and is very deep as well. Myles Johnson is poised for a big year down low, and he’ll get some help with the Knights recent addition of four star freshman forward Cliff Omoruyi.
Just Missed the Cut:
Michigan State, Purdue, Saint Louis, SMU, Georgia Tech