The NBA draft deadline has come and gone, so we now have a much clearer picture on what team rosters will look like this coming season. Some teams are still waiting to hear on whether or not key transfers will receive waivers for the upcoming season, but other than that, rosters are essentially finalized. Below is my 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. 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 with star guard Jared Butler returning, 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 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. Sophomores Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore both return, giving Duke more options and depth that they lacked this season.
The Wildcats caught a huge break when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl decided to come back for his sophomore season. Even though Saddiq Bey decided to turn pro, Jay Wright still has a loaded roster to work with this 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. In the frontcourt, Robinson-Earl leads a deep group joined by Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. The Wildcats are strong at every position and don’t have any real weakness on the roster, and another title this season isn’t out of the question.
The NBA draft declaration deadline saw the Bulldogs losing Filip Petrusev, but they did receive some good news as Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert announced their decisions to return. Mark Few welcomes his highest ranked recruit ever to run the point in five star Jalen Suggs. In addition to Kispert and Ayayi coming back, center Drew Timme also returns and was great in limited minutes last 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 last 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 2020-21 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 last season can’t 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.
Despite losing most of their core from last season, the Wildcats are still in good shape for 2020-21 thanks to 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 Ashton Hagans to take over the keys to the offense.
I’m basing this ranking under the assumption that Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr will receive a waiver and be immediately eligible to play, but if the former all-ACC forward isn’t granted a waiver, Top 50 recruits Lance Ware and Isaiah Jackson will still give the Wildcats plenty of talent down low. There’s no doubt the talent will be there in Lexington, but the season will likely boil down to how quickly, if at all, it takes the team to gel and form the chemistry needed to make a deep run in March.
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, starting with sophomores Santiago Vescovi and Josiah Jordan-James, who can both play the point or play off-ball. They also have a pair of five star freshman, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, who 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 undoubtedly the deepest team Rick Barnes will field in his tenure with the Vols, and expectations will be sky high in Knoxville.
It’s unusual to see Kansas outside of the top five in a preseason ranking, but as the roster currently stands, I think this is where they belong. With Devon Dotson turning pro, the Jayhawks lack a proven go-to scorer, and that role will likely fall on the shoulders of five star freshman wing Bryce Thompson. If the Jayhawks do take a couple steps back offensively, 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 Ochai Agbaji is an elite athlete and excellent wing defender 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 this season. Kansas will really 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. While the Jayhawks will have some new faces in starring roles and it may take them a bit to fully hit their stride, expect them to still compete for a Big 12 title and be in the national title picture.
- West Virginia
With both Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe returning to school this season, 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 last season was poor shooting and a lack of consistent guard play. Huggins had plenty 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 on the offensive end. The best bets to do so are Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman, both of whom are capable shooters and showed promise late in the year.
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 this season. Everyone knows how unstoppable Garza was in the post last 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 leaving for the draft is a major loss, 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 plethora of injuries last 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 this year.
The Illini were one of the biggest winners of the draft declaration deadline, as both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn announced their decisions to return to campus. As a result, expectations in Champaigne will be the highest they’ve been since the 2005 national finalist team. In addition to Dosunmu, Trent Frazier also returns in the backcourt, and a pair of highly touted recruits in Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller come in to give the Illini a scary amount of guard talent.
With Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili manning the frontcourt, Illinois will be give opposing defenses fits down low. The Illini had trouble defensively at times last year, but if they can figure out how to guard consistently, the sky is the limit for Brad Underwood’s club.
- Texas Tech
After a somewhat disappointing 2020 season, expect Chris Beard’s team to look better in 2021 and be among the Big 12’s best. While Jahmius Ramsey and Davide Moretti both decided to go pro, there will still be plenty of talent in Lubbock next season. Kyler Edwards returns to lead the backcourt, and coming in to replace Ramsey is five star wing Nimari Burnett.
The frontcourt is in very good shape, as Terrence Shannon Jr. is joined by a pair of stud transfers in Joel Ntambwe (UNLV) and Marcos Santos-Silva (VCU), as well as 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 this season.
- Arizona State
What an off-season for the Sun Devils, who picked up a commitment from five star wing Josh Christopher, and also received word that star point guard Remy Martin would be returning for his senior season. The trio of Martin, Christopher, and Alonzo Verge gives the Sun Devils one of the top backcourts in America and they’ll give every opposing head coach nightmares.
The frontcourt isn’t as scary on paper, but the rotation of Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Jalen Graham, and top-50 freshman Marcus Bagley will be strong. With all this talent on the roster, the Sun Devils should be one of the best teams in the West and are my pick to win the Pac-12.
- 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 last year, and I think they’ll have a similar team and be somewhere in that range this 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 declared for the NBA draft, which is 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.
Mick Cronin has brought reason for optimism back to the UCLA program, and there will be plenty of buzz surrounding the Bruins this season. The Bruins return their top five scorers, and getting Chris Smith to return to school was absolutely huge after receiving news that five star freshman Daishen Nix was headed to the G League instead of UCLA.
Point guard Tyger Campbell showed tremendous improvement last season and has plenty of options to dish the rock to. 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 Tigers got a huge gift at the draft deadline as Trendon Watford announced his decision to return to school, giving Will Wade plenty of returning talent in Baton Rogue. Emmitt Williams did decide to go pro, but LSU is still very strong down low with both Watford and Darius Days back. 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.
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 with Will Richardson and Chris Duarte both returning to form a highly skilled 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 this year will be no different.
- 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 plenty of depth on this team, a recipe for another strong season in Tallahassee.
- 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 is maybe both the deepest and most talented in the country with both Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot returning. 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.
- Saint Louis
Overshadowed by how good Dayton was last season, the Billikens were quietly terrific and were playing great basketball down the stretch. This year, they’ll be the class of the A-10 along with Richmond as Dayton loses several key players. Saint Louis plays tough, old school basketball and utilizes their strong defense to get the offense going. Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French both averaged double-doubles last season and are the best one-two punch in the country that you’ve never heard of.
Javonte Perkins was an All-10 performer and sixth man of the year as a freshman, and the big time scorer is poised for an even bigger year as a sophomore. Also back to run the point is Yuri Collins, a very smart player and gifted passer who is a perfect compliment to their big three. With a ton of continuity and even more depth on the roster this season, look for the Billikens to be atop the A-10 standings all season and possibly make a deep run in March.
The Spiders were on the NCAA tournament bubble when last season abruptly ended, but they should be good enough to not have to deal with the anxiety of sitting through Selection Sunday hoping for a bid this 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 last 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 per game last 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.
Year one of the Nate Oats era didn’t go quite 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 to the NBA, but both John Petty and Herb Jones 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 received some big commitments as well 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.
One of college basketball’s most pleasant surprises last season, Rutgers was ranked in the AP poll for the first time in 41 years. It sucks that that 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. Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. lead the backcourt, which 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’ addition of four star freshman forward Cliff Omoruyi.
Just Missed the Cut: Michigan, Texas, Florida, Michigan St, Houston, and Miami