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Men’s basketball: Top 60 NCAA teams 2020-21 - Spring Edition

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

A Pandemic Off-season

I hope this finds everyone staying safe and healthy.

In my currently secluded life, I have begun to look forward, as I do every year after basketball season ends, to the next season in the perpetual pursuit of another Michigan State and Tom Izzo championship. So consider this a first iteration of my projected top teams in the NCAA for the 2020-21 season. Obviously, we are still early in the basketball off-season, and a ton of roster movement will continue to happen likely through to the very threshold of the NCAA season because the NBA calendar appears set to be pushed back considerably: the NBA appears keen to restart their season and/or play a truncated playoffs at some point this summer, and NBA free-agency and the NBA draft will likely be pushed back until after the NBA season concludes.

With that in mind, I will likely update these rankings a number of times over the course of the summer reflecting any roster and coaching staff changes that occur. For now though, I will include some general thoughts here first:

At the conclusion of this past season, MSU and a number of other teams had a legitimate shot at the NCAA title, but, if I am being honest, Kansas was still the definitive favorite heading into the NCAA tournament. The reason? Udoka Azubuike. As in some years past, Azubuike represented a physical match-up nightmare that dominated the NCAA basketball season, placing a true physical litmus test for every team they would have played in the NCAA tournament. We will never know whether that test would have been too much for every team, but it defined the season.

There have been similar match-up limited or roster-based limitations on seasons in the past (from an NCAA-wide perspective). Ones that spring to mind: the ‘12 UK team (Anthony Davis), the ‘09 UNC team (with a host of returners and tons of NBA athletes), the ‘07 Florida team (returned their entire championship winning team), the ‘07 OSU team (Oden), the ‘18 Villanova team (returned a ton of minutes including four guys on the ‘16 championship team), ‘15 Duke team (Okafor). Of course last year, Zion Williamson’s Duke team was also a nation-wide litmus test that was overcome, and UVA confirmed that returning tons of talent from a really good team is just as much of a path to winning a championship as a dominant physical force.

At this point, I do not see a definitive physical mismatch for any top-flight team in the country heading into next season. Azubuike has graduated, and there are no truly irresolvable incoming freshmen players. That being said there is a TON of NBA talent coming in, in the freshmen class, particularly in the back-court and on the wings.

Looking at the top 35 or so players in the incoming freshmen class, there are nine high impact classes coming in (these are “high impact” because they either have a TON of NBA talent or they have a lot of not-quite one-and-done talent but are getting added to quality-vet-heavy teams):

  • Kentucky - Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Davion Mintz (grad transfer)
  • Duke - Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape (grad transfer)
  • North Carolina - Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, Caleb Love, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis
  • Michigan - Hunter Dickinson, Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams, Jace Howard, Mike Smith (grad transfer)
  • Tennessee - Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Victor Bailey jr (transfer), Corey Walker, Malachi Wideman, E.J. Anosike (grad transfer)
  • LSU - Cam Thomas, Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilkinson, Shareef O’Neal (transfer), Josh LeBlanc (transfer), Jalen Cook, Bradley Ezewiro
  • Arkansas - Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Jaylin Williams, Davonte Davis, Vance Jackson (grad transfer), Jalen Tate (grad transfer)
  • Gonzaga - Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
  • Texas Tech - Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Chibuzo Agbo jr

None of these classes appear to make their teams unbeatable from my perspective, at this point. I also do not mean to say that the other incoming classes will not play a huge role, rather that these are the most clearly impactful classes.

This lack of definitive top teams, however, means that the top-tier of teams should be fairly wide-open and should produce a truly epic NCAA tournament about 11 months from now. Depending on Michigan State’s roster outcome MSU could be either squarely within this top-tier, or just on its periphery (pending on individual players’ developments). Without further ado...

Here are the current depth-charts and rankings of the top-60 NCAA men’s basketball teams for the 2020-21 season
(brief comments per team, if I have something to say):

(Disclaimer: I have no ability to predict the future regarding roster developments and may have completely forgotten, omitted, or mis-depth-charted various players due to signings, transfers, or NBA decisions I have not accounted for. Please DO let me know about factual or obvious omissions and errors. I have indicated players who may depart for the NBA, I am assuming will return to school, or will join a given school with a ‘*’. I address each of these in the “Questions and Comments” in addition to any other relevant comments.)

I view this as a fun collective exercise: please offer your thoughts and critiques and don’t be surprised if I change my rankings and depth charts based on your excellent input!

#1 Kentucky

1 - Devin Askew, Davion Mintz
2 - Terrence Clarke, Dontaie Allen
3 - BJ Boston, Cam’Ron Fletcher
4 - Isaiah Jackson, Keion Brooks jr
5 - EJ Montgomery, Lance Ware

Questions and Comments: For now I see Kentucky as the best team in the nation. They are not completely overwhelming in terms of their talent and size (though if they land Haarms they might be), but they have two future lottery picks in Clarke and Boston - rangy, athletic, good shooters, creators, and scorers - who will set the tone for the team. Askew will start and be very good, and Mintz is a great utility guard to have coming off the bench. The front-court looks quite strong as well - Jackson (who should start), Montgomery (who should finally take a serious step forward), and Brooks look to be the featured players, but Ware and Fletcher should play significant roles as well.

#2 Gonzaga

1 - Joel Ayayi, Dominick Harris, Aaron Cook
2 - Jalen Suggs*, Julian Strawther
3 - Corey Kispert, Marytnas Arlauskas
4 - Drew Timme, Anton Watson
5 - Filip Petrusev, Oumar Ballo, Pavel Zahkarov, Abe Eagle

Questions and Comments: Gonzaga may well be the best team in the nation, but I am a bit unsure as to how Ayayi and Harris will do as the point guards. Suggs may play overseas for a year, but if he does play for a year at Gonzaga he should dominate. Kispert is superb and will be the leader and calming presence on the court. Timme (sigh) and Petrusev should form a dynamic duo in the front-court - both fairly mobile big men with size and toughness. But losing Tille should not be underestimated: neither Timme nor Petrusev are three-point threats, which will impact spacing. Fortunately Watson and Strawther have solid positional versatility. This team will be really good, but three-point shooting may come back to haunt them if Ayayi, Harris, and another bench player cannot find their range consistently.

#3 Duke

1 - Jeremy Roach, Jordan Goldwire
2 - Wendell Moore jr*, DJ Steward
3 - Jalen Johnson, Joey Baker
4 - Matthew Hurt*, Jaemyn Brakefield
5 - Mark Williams, Patrick Tape, Henry Coleman

Questions and Comments: This Duke team FASCINATES me! They have a ton of high-end talent and a couple of surprising returnees (at this point) in Moore and Hurt, both of whom came into the season as likely one-and-done players. Their roster construction is really interesting: they have three starters in Moore, Johnson, and Hurt who should all be playing at the four-spot in college basketball.

Moore thrived down the stretch last year when he played as a small-ball slashing four, Johnson is a sweet-shooting, versatile player, but he is 6’10”, which is a tough sell on the wing in college basketball unless you surround said player with shooting, but if Moore and Williams are playing along-side Johnson, that is two-non-shooters allowing defenses to shade and cut space. Hurt too, needs to be at the four: he lacks the quickness to play as a true wing and even struggled to defend ball-handling four’s last season. But would K bench either or both of those sophomores?

Duke should start Roach and DJ Steward two talented scorers and shooters (especially Steward from three-point range), and push Hurt to the bench. Williams is a great paint-protecting big who will start, but how is K going to find minutes for Tape, Coleman (a four in college), and Brakefield (another college four) minutes, let alone Joey Baker (who has the shooting and game to be a starter in most programs)? Goldwire too was one of Duke’s better players down the stretch of last season, will be be relegated to only 15 or so minutes a game? If K can convince one or both of Hurt and Moore to go to the NBA his depth chart clarifies. Regardless, the talent is here for a great team, but will they have the guts and defensive acumen? That is also very much up in the air as Goldwire, Moore, and Williams are the only defenders that I feel confident in at this point.

#4 Villanova

1 - Collin Gillespie, Caleb Daniels
2 - Justin Moore
3 - Brian Antoine, Brandon Slater
4 - Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider
5 - Jeremiah Robinson-Earl*, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Eric Dixon

Questions and Comments: The ceiling of this Villanova team hinges on Robinson-Earl’s NBA decision. If he returns as a smaller-ball five, then this team should be a clear favorite to win the Big East, and get to the second weekend. Gillespie, Moore, Daniels, and a now-healthy Antoine will form a dynamic back-court. Samuels, Swider, and Slater, with muscle-minutes from Cosby-Roundtree and Dixon, will form a great front-court. This team has shooting, smarts, competitiveness, and a hell of a coach.

#5 Virginia

1 - Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman
2 - Casey Morsell, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle
3 - Thomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman
4 - Sam Hauser, Justin McKoy
5 - Jay Huff, Francisco Caffaro, Kadin Shedrick

Questions and Comments: This will be a fascinating iteration of Bennett’s program. This team has comfortably its worst defensive personnel in years, and, probably, its second best collection of offensive talent (especially in the front-court) behind only the championship-winning team. Clark, Hauser, and Huff should star (particularly Huff, one of my favorite players in the nation). Woldetensae, Stattman, and Morsell should all play solid roles, but look for Abdur-Rahim and Beekman to be the pivot-players. Morsell had an awful year offensively (that offense takes a while to get used to) so I expect him to bounce back; Woldetensae had a torrid start to the year from behind the arc, but finished over 36 percent from three-point range. With Clark playing almost every available minute at the one, expect Beekman, Morsell, Abdur-Rahim, and Woldetensae to take up all of the wing-minutes. Hauser and Huff will be superb as long as Hauser has improved defensively. This team could easily win the ACC, and should probably be favored over Duke to do so even if their ceiling is a bit lower.

#6 Baylor

1 - Davion Mitchell, LJ Cryer
2 - Jared Butler, Adam Flagler
3 - MaCio Teague, Jordan Turner
4 - Mark Vital, Matthew Mayer, Dain Dainja, Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua
5 - Tristan Clark, Flo Thamba, Zach Loveday

Questions and Comments: Butler returns nearly everyone - especially important are their excellent foursome of Mitchell, Butler, and Teague (the sweet-shooting guard trio that led them this past year), and Vital the dirty-work glue-guy extraordinaire. If Clark is healthy and can find his form (he was in and out of the line-up last year and his form was inconsistent at best), then this team has a complete starting-five. Thamba, Mayer, Dainja, Flagler, and Cryer should round out the rotation. Probably the favorite over Kansas heading into the Big XII.

#7 Iowa

1 - Joe Toussaint, Ahron Ulis
2 - Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Tony Perkins
3 - Connor McCaffery, Patrick McCaffery
4 - Joe Wieskamp, Kris Murray, Keegan Murray
5 - Luka Garza, Jack Nunge, Josh Ogundele

Questions and Comments: The fighting Frans, fresh off their best season in a long stretch, return the whole crew, and get Bohannon, Nunge, and, hopefully, Patrick McCaffrey back healthy. This explosive offensive team should be even better next year playing mostly four-out ball (rather than their too-big two-big lineup they played last year with Kriener). Every player can make shots, make plays, and pass it (and they run beautiful offense, which is nice).

If Nunge can be the reliable second big-man that eases a potential weakness (front-court depth), and if Patrick McCaffrey and Ulis can contribute alongside the deadly-sniping of CJ Fredrick, then Iowa should be the co-favorites in the B1G along with Wisconsin and Michigan State. The big questions are whether Iowa can get over the hump in tournament settings and whether their defense continues to improve (they had a top-100 defense in Kenpom for the first time since 2016 last year, if they can get into the top-50 or so that may be enough for a second-weekend or final four run).

#8 Wisconsin

1 - D’Mitrik Trice, Lorne Bowman
2 - Brad Davison, Trevor Anderson, Jordan Davis
3 - Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl, Jonathan Davis
4 - Nate Reuvers, Ben Carlson
5 - Micah Potter, Joe Hedstrom, Steven Crowl

Questions and Comments: They’re back... they’re all back. Wisconsin will likely start games with their five seniors, but I expect them to play plenty with only one of Reuvers and Potter on the court. Wahl, Anderson, and Carlson all appear set for significant roles, with Wahl and Anderson likely getting the first cracks at being the sixth-man. If Bowman or, particularly, Jonny Davis can demonstrate both defensive acumen and, particularly, three-point competency (the main current weakness for Anderson and Wahl), then they might slide into a major playing role. This team is old, skilled, tough, and has solid three-point shooting. Co-favorites in the B1G.

#9 Michigan State

1 - Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer
2 - Aaron Henry, AJ Hoggard
3 - Gabe Brown
4 - Joey Hauser, Malik Hall, Thomas Kithier
5 - Mady Sissoko, Marcus Bingham jr, Julius Marble

Questions and Comments: For the purposes of this exercise, I am currently forecasting no additions and neither Langford nor Tillman returning. So in this “worst-case” scenario, how do the Spartans stack up? Rather well, I think. Watts, Henry, Hoggard, Brown, and some minutes from Malik Hall should form a dynamic playing-group at the one-to-three positions. I am in-no-way-whatsoever concerned about Watts shifting to play point guard; he is a natural play-maker and incredibly willing passer, but he will need to find a balance between his own shooting and creating for others.

Henry and Hauser will form a terrific trio with Watts, as Henry really demonstrated down the stretch of last season that he is not only one of the best defensive players in the country, but also finally comfortable in his role as option 2B, which will remain his role next year. Hauser will be a revelation. He will shoot over 35 percent from three-point range, average over three assists per game, and should prove himself a capable defender all over the court. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least three players on next year’s team average at least three assists (Watts, Henry, and Hauser - add Tillman to the list if he returns).

The questions for this team will revolve around Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, and the five-spot. Can Gabe relocate his consistent production from the first half of last year? Can Malik Hall take another step forward from the player we saw down the stretch, especially as he returns to a bench role with more scoring asked of him? And how will the five-position sort itself out?

My gut tells me that Sissoko will wind up as the starter, but he, Bingham jr, Marble, and Kithier will all likely get a chance to claim the fifth spot in the starting lineup. The floor for the front-court this coming season, however, is significantly higher than it was last year (and we all know how that turned out) - the returners will be a year older, wiser, stronger, tougher, and more comfortable in Izzo’s system.

Maybe most exciting of all, the 2018 class are finally juniors: while many folks laud the freshman-sophomore jump, I have always found that the biggest developmental and production jump occurs heading into players’ junior seasons (think of the junior-seasons we have seen from recent stand-outs: Winston, Tillman, McQuaid, Valentine, Costello, Forbes, Trice, Payne, etc. - all of those teams were, in large part, driven by these junior campaigns). It will be a heck of a season, and even better if roster developments break in Izzo’s favor. Co-favorites in the B1G.

#10 Kansas

1 - Marcus Garrett, Dajuan Harris, Latrell Jossell
2 - Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster
3 - Ochai Agbaji, Jalen Wilson
4 - Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot, Tristan Enaruna
5 - David McCormack, Silvio De Sousa, Gethro Muscadin

Questions and Comments: Kansas, as I mentioned in the intro comments, has lost its overwhelming match-up advantage. But this team should be right-there with Baylor in the Big XII: Garrett, Agbaji, McCormack, Braun, Enaruna, and De Sousa all return from last year’s rotation. And Kansas adds in three redishrt guys in Lightfoot, Harris, and Wilson, who will all compete for rotation minutes. Bryce Thompson may be the best player on the team - a superb scoring guard with size and confidence - and Tyon Grant-Foster, the #1 JUCO player in the country, should also compete for a starting role: he is tall, long, can shoot, and is a very good athlete.

Kansas has the best and deepest set of guards and wings in the nation, on paper, but there are only so many minutes to go around. They also will not get the same level of play from McCormack that they got from Azubuike (though McCormack is good), nor will they have Dotson’s lightning-quickness pressuring defenses in transition and on drives from the perimeter. Who starts at the four, how well Garrett handles playing the one, and what the wing-rotation settles into are the major questions. Co-Big XII favorites.

#11 Houston

1 - Marcus Sasser, Jamal Shead
2 - Caleb Mills, Tramon Mark
3 - DeJon Jarreau*, Cameron Tyson
4 - Quentin Grimes, Justin Gorham, Cedrick Alley, J’Wan Roberts
5 - Fabian White, Brison Gresham, Kiyron Powell

Questions and Comments: If both Jarreau and Nate Hinton return for one more ride on the Sampson train, then this team will look even better. Tremendous guard play, very good defense, and a tough, veteran front-court? This team appears to be pretty complete. Wichita State will be rebuilding after seeing a ton of attrition, Memphis will be good again, but UConn is headed back to the Big East, so this conference should be Houston’s to lose. Major threat for a high-seed and a deep tournament run.

#12 Tennessee

1 - Santiago Vescovi
2 - Jaden Springer, Victor Bailey jr
3 - Josiah-Jordan James, Keon Johnson, Davonte Gaines
4 - Yves Pons, Corey Walker jr, EJ Anosike, Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua
5 - John Fulkerson, Uros Plavsic, Drew Pember

Questions and Comments: I love this team, and they are probably a safe bet to unseat UK for the SEC crown if a non-UK team wins the league. They return a ton of talent in Vescovi (a creative Uruguayan-Cousy-lite), James, Pons, and Fulkerson (I love Pons and Fulkerson on both ends of the court). And then they add in an incredible recruiting class in two five-star scoring, competitive, one-and-done wings in Springer (the better shooter) and Johnson, Oregon transfer Bailey jr, another top-60 forward in Walker jr, and a solid grad-transfer in Anosike.

Plavsic, Pember, and Gaines all played some last year, and particularly the two bigs will be fighting for the reserve minutes behind Fulkerson, who is of a kind with Timme (Gonzaga) and Huff (UVA) as one of my favorite players in the country (just fun, kinda-unorthodox, smart, pretty tough, creative scorers). James will have done a heck of a job if he can retain his starting role with Bailey jr and Johnson also fighting for a starting job on the wing alongside Springer.

By the end of the summer I will have this team in the top-10 in all likelihood. They will be must-watch TV. Co-favorites with UK in the SEC.

#13 North Carolina

1 - Caleb Love, Jeremiah Francis
2 - Anthony Harris, RJ Davis
3 - Leaky Black, Puff Johnson, Andrew Platek
4 - Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot
5 - Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, Sterling Manley

Questions and Comments: North Carolina should be much better this coming season. Caleb Love will have a better season that Cole Anthony did in terms of contributing to winning, and with Francis, Harris, Davis, Black, and Johnson in the fold, UNC’s back-court, as a whole, should be vastly improved. Their front-court will also be dramatically better. Brooks and Bacot will likely take turns at the four-spot because Williams will be starting Sharpe (who is a physical beast) and playing Kessler major minutes at the five as well. UNC is back closer to where Roy likes them - bigger and stronger than just about every other team in the front-court.

But I still do not think that UNC’s talent level is high enough for Roy to do enough with them - he relies on having an overwhelming physical and talent advantage to win because he refuses to do too much coaching.

#14 Texas Tech

1 - Davide Moretti
2 - Nimari Burnett, Avery Benson, Clarence Nadolny
3 - Kyler Edwards, Micah Peavy
4 - Terrence Shannon, Kevin McCullar, Tyreek Smith, Andrei Savrasov
5 - Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Russel Tchewa

Questions and Comments: Texas Tech had a down year last year after losing valuable cogs from their final four team, and taking a step back defensively (minor step back) and offensively (more significant step back). But Beard has solved those problems in a big way: Burnett, Peavy, Agbo, and Ntambwe (transfer) will provide a HUGE talent boost on both ends. Burnett and Peavy are very talented offensive players and scorers, who should help take the pressure off of Moretti allowing him to get better looks from three-point range than he did last season. Another year of improvement from Edwards, Shannon, and McCullar, and hopefully a healthy season from Smith, and Beard should have all the weapons he needs to give Baylor and Kansas a real run for their money (literally) in the Big XII.

#15 UCLA

1 - Daishen Nix
2 - Tyger Campbell, Jaylen Clark
3 - David Singleton, Jake Kyman
4 - Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard
5 - Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Kenneth Nwuba

Questions and Comments: I see your rational tempering of expectations given Chris Smith’s departure for the NBA, and I raise you my irrational exuberence about this team. Daishen Nix and Tyger Campbell will form an awesome dual-point-guard lineup, Jaquez will slide over into Smith’s vacated stretchy-four role, and Singleton, Kyman, Bernard, and another talented scoring wing in the freshman Clark will rain three-pointers. Hill, Riley, and the red-shirt sophomore Nwuba will lock down the paint.

This team had figured out how to play by the end of the year. You may not like him but Cronin can coach, and this is the most talent he has had to work with but for a couple of years at Cincinnati (and none of those teams had the shooting that this team will have). UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State should battle for the Pac-12, and I am betting that UCLA gets back to the top. If Nix is as good as his hype, this team has second-weekend potential.

#16 West Virginia

1 - Jordan McCabe, Taz Sherman
2 - Miles McBride, Sean McNeil, Kedrian Johnson
3 - Emmitt Matthews, Jalen Bridges, Taj Thweatt
4 - Oscar Tshiebwe, Gabe Osabuohien
5 - Derek Culver, Isaiah Cottrell

Questions and Comments: I still don’t particularly care for this West Virginia team. McBride is great, their guards are fine enough, and Tschiebwe, Osabuohien, and Culver are a brawny and dominant front-court trio. So why did WVU not challenge for the conference title last year? Well... they couldn’t score the ball. They will again dominate the offensive glass, but unless they find their shooting touch from the perimeter and start making jump-shots they will again be a Kenpom-darling with nothing to show for it. This is a team I want to put lower, but McBride and that front-court are too tantalizing at this point.

#17 San Diego State

1 - Malachi Flynn*, Terrell Gomez, Lamont Butler jr
2 - Trey Pulliam, Adam Seiko, Keith Dinwiddie
3 - Jordan Schakel, Che Evans, Keshad Johnson
4 - Matt Mitchell, Aguek Arop
5 - Nathan Mensah, Joel Mensah

Questions and Comments: This ranking rides on Flynn returning. Without Flynn this team is still solid, but nowhere near this high. Pulliam, Schakel, Seiko, Mitchell, Arop, and the Mensah brothers all return as well, but Flynn makes everything happen.

#18 Michigan

1 - Zeb Jackson, Mike Smith
2 - Eli Brooks, Adrien Nunez
3 - Isaiah Livers*, Cole Bajema
4 - Franz Wagner, Brandon Johns jr, Terrance Williams
5 - Hunter Dickinson, Austin Davis

Questions and Comments: We’ll see if I keep Michigan here throughout the off-season. Losing out on Josh Christopher really hurts, and losing out on Isaiah Todd really hurts too, but they should still have a very talented team. Brooks, Livers, and Wagner are three returning starters, with Livers and Wagner as potential all-conference players. With Dickinson providing the granite-slab starting center minutes, and Davis, and possibly Johns and Williams playing some minutes there too, UM should be just fine, but a far less dangerous proposition.

Jackson will likely start at point guard as he is a more dynamic player, which will allow Smith to run the team as a score first player, which is his comfort zone, when he, Johns, Williams, and Dickinson come off the bench. Point guard play, the five-position, and wing-depth will determine the ceiling of this team, which is why I have them just below the top tier in the B1G. If Howard figures it out, this team still has second weekend talent.

#19 Arizona State

1 - Remy Martin*, Jaelen House, Caleb Christopher
2 - Josh Christopher, Alonzo Verge
3 - Marcus Bagley
4 - Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry
5 - Romello White, Jalen Graham

Questions and Comments: I really do hope that Remy Martin comes back for one last ride (he is a personal favorite of mine). If he does, then ASU has one of the top back-courts in the country with four explosive and dynamic players in Martin, Christopher, Verge, and Bagley. ASU’s front-court, finally healthy, hopefully, should put in yoeman’s work. Lawrence and White will be great seniors as starters and Cherry and Graham have plenty of talent even if they are a bit green. If Martin does not return, then Verge slides into the starting line-up (he will be playing nearly 30 mpg, regardless) and the margins get very fine. But my sense is that Martin is not on draft-boards at this point, and a starring turn along with Christopher and tournament run would go a long way to getting him onto NBA radars next summer. Co-favorites in the Pac-12.

#20 Oregon

1 - Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry
2 - Will Richardson, Addison Patterson
3 - Eric Williams jr, Chris Duarte
4 - Eugene Omoruyi, Chandler Lawson, CJ Walker
5 - Francis Okoro, N’Faly Dante

Questions and Comments: Oregon may end up winning the conference because they have a ton of proven depth, terrific size, and probably the best coach in the conference. But their point-guard duo is unproven at this level (though I expect them to do just fine, with Altman likely entering the conversation for Jaden Hardy’s commitment down the line - Amauri’s younger brother who is a top-10 player in the ‘21 class), and Richardson, Patterson, Williams jr, Duarte, Omoruyi (Rutgers transfer), Lawson, and CJ Walker will have to figure out their roles without the steadying presence of Payton Pritchard. Okoro and Dante should form a solid duo at the five, too. This team has all the pieces, but will they have the on-court leadership and will Altman get them to gel in time?

#21 LSU

1 - Javonte Smart, Eric Gaines, Jalen Cook
2 - Cam Thomas, Charles Manning jr, Aundre Hyatt
3 - Josh LeBlanc, Mwani Wilkinson
4 - Emmitt Williams, Darius Days, Courtese Cooper
5 - Trendon Watford, Shareef O’Neal, Bradley Ezewiro

Questions and Comments: LSU, we meet again. Still in wind, a performance that would make Avon Barksdale, Wee-Bay, Stringer Bell, and even Omar Little, shake their heads in wonder, Will Wade has added yet another terrificly talented group of players to a surprisingly strong crop of returnees. Cam Thomas, in particular, is a scoring dynamo who will likely take turns with Smart as the not-quite-a-point-guard leader of the offense. Williams, Days, Watford, and a hopefully healthy O’Neal should form a very good front-court. This team will get better when LeBlanc becomes eligible in the spring semester (assuming he has no more legal troubles).

This team is talented, deep, and coached by Will Wade. Expect drama a solid performance in conference, and a coaching fail in the NCAA tournament; I see them in the second-tier of the SEC, but they could push for the conference title if they sort themselves out.

#22 Illinois

1 - Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo
2 - Adam Miller, Austin Hutcherson
3 - Ayo Dosunmu*, DaMonte Williams, Jacob Grandison
4 - Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Coleman Hawkins, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk
5 - Kofi Cockburn*, Jermaine Hamlin

Questions and Comments: If Dosunmu and Cockburn do return, I will likely move Illinois further up, but for now I have them here because I still have issues with this roster and with Underwood’s choices this past year. They lost Alan Griffin (their best three-point shooter by far) to transfer and they played with both bigs on the court far too often for my liking. So what will be different about this season? First, maybe Giorgi settles into his role at the four a bit better this year (still needs to be taking and making more three-pointers)? Second, and by far the biggest change, is the addition of Curbelo and Miller (two stud freshmen guards), and Hutcherson and Grandison (two transfers fresh off of their red-shirt seasons).

Illinois will be deeper and more talented, but they still need to resolve their spacing and shooting issues. Ultimately, they will need to play a smaller four-out line-up to reach their ceiling; if they do this could be a final four team and yet another co-favorite in the B1G.

#23 Florida

1 - Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby
2 - Noah Locke, Ques Glover, Niels Lane
3 - Scottie Lewis, Samson Ruzhentsev
4 - Keyontae Johnson, Anthony Duruji, Osayi Osifo
5 - Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh

Questions and Comments: Yeesh, what a disappointment Florida was last year! They wasted Blackshear’s grad-transfer season with a dud performance all they way up and down the roster and coaching staff. But this will be a new year and should see a dramatically improved back-court as Nembhard, Locke, Mann, Glover, and Lewis all get another summer to improve and develop their chemistry. Johnson, Duruji, Osifo, and Payne should form a solid front-court, which improves greatly if Jitoboh can get in shape and exert an influence on games.

The biggest question is Mike White, who continually insists on playing one of the slowest paces in college basketball, while recruiting kids who would thrive in up-tempo, open-court games. In 2017, White’s team played fast (117 in pace), they were #5 in Kenpom, and made it to the elite eight. Since that season his teams have gotten slower and slower, and have performed worse and worse. It is bizarre. Consider this a PSA, Florida: play fast, or lose.

#24 Florida State

1 - Scottie Barnes, Rayquan Evans
2 - MJ Walker, Nathanael Jack
3 - Sardaar Calhoun, Anthony Polite, Wyatt Wilkes
4 - Raiquan Gray, Malik Osborne
5 - Balsa Koprivica, Quincy Ballard

Questions and Comments: After getting robbed of a possible final four run this past season, FSU should have another shot to build on their rinse-and-repeat foundation this coming year. Barnes will likely play as a point-forward (he is a great, do-it-all player who will likely be a one-and-done), with Evans, Walker, Jack, Calhoun, Polite, Wilkes, Gray, and Osborne taking on the “endless waves of big athletes scoring shooting and intimidating you” roles. Koprivica is tall, skilled, and a bit weaker physically, but he should start, with Ballard and Osborne chipping in minutes at the five as well. This team should be fun and, yet again, will be lurking if UVA, Duke, and UNC slip-up.

#25 Creighton

1 - Marcus Zegarowski, Shereef Mitchell
2 - Mitch Ballock, Jett Canfield
3 - Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney
4 - Christian Bishop, Antwann Jones
5 - Ryan Kalkbrenner, Jacob Epperson

Questions and Comments: Creighton got hit by some departures and Zegarowski will have to come back from his knee injury fully healthy, but this team will be good again in ‘21. Their biggest weakness last year was their front-court size and depth, which they have resolved by adding Kalkbrenner and Epperson (off a red-shirt). If Tyshon Alexander comes back, however, then Creighton has to be co-favorites in the Big East with Villanova and another second-weekend threat.

#26 Auburn

1 - Sharife Cooper, Tyrell Jones
2 - Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson, Justin Powell
3 - Devan Cambridge, Javon Franklin
4 - JT Thor, Chris Moore
5 - Babatunde Akingbola, Jaylin Williams

Questions and Comments: Sharife Cooper, a one-and-done tough scoring point guard will lead the way. Cambridge, Flanigan, and Johnson should round out the wing rotation nicely as all three played rotation minutes last year. Shooting will be a question until it is proved not to be.

The big question remains the front-court, where no returning rotation players appear on the depth-chart (Williams did play consistent minutes the last eight games, but barely had a role). Thor and Moore should provide a lot with both highly regarded as incoming freshmen, particularly Thor who is a creative attacker and scorer off the bounce. They will be young, but fun to watch. In the second-tier of the SEC with Florida, LSU, and Arkansas.

#27 Ohio State

1 - CJ Walker, Abel Porter
2 - Duane Washington jr, Gene Brown, Musa Jallow
3 - Seth Towns, Justice Sueing, Justin Ahrens
4 - EJ Liddell, Zed Key
5 - Kyle Young, Ibrahima Diallow

Questions and Comments: This may seem too high for an OSU squad that is losing a ton, but you are wrong if you think that. Walker, Washington jr, Liddell, Ahrens, Jallow, and Young all return. While newcomers Towns, Sueing, Porter, and Brown should all be B1G-level contributors right away. The real questions are three-point shooting (can enough of the perimeter guys hit over 35 percent from three?) and front-court depth. Liddell and Young are rock-solid, but can Key and Diallow play at a B1G level right away? Still I am pretty comfortable placing OSU in the second tier of the conference with Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Rutgers.

#28 Indiana

1 - Khristian Lander*, Rob Phinisee
2 - Al Durham, Armaan Franklin, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway
3 - Justin Smith, Jerome Hunter, Damezi Anderson, Jordan Geronimo
4 - Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson
5 - Joey Brunk

Questions and Comments: If Lander does reclassify, as he is expected to, then he should overtake Phinisee, who just has not lived up to expectations in his first two seasons, for the starting point guard role. Lander’s scoring acumen should continue the improvement of the Indiana offense, which at times has been down-right ugly the last couple of years. Durham, the only compentent three-point shooter returning, will start at the off-guard, with Smith at the small-forward, and some combination of Franklin, Hunter, Leal, Galloway, Anderson, and Geronimo will fill in the wing minutes behind those two. The front-court is the real strength of this team: TJD and Brunk are strong, tough, and can score the ball. With a bit of an uptick from Thompson, this team sits squarely in the second tier of the conference.

#29 Louisville

1 - David Johnson, Carlik Jones
2 - Josh Nickelberry, D’Andre Davis
3 - Samuell Williamson, JJ Traynor
4 - Jae’lyn Withers, Quinn Slazinski
5 - Malik Williams, Aidan Igiehon

Questions and Comments: Louisville intrigues me. Johnson and Withers should star, but Williamson and Withers are likely Louisville’s best NBA prospects and, if they grow into their roles, could produce a really fun team. Other than Jones, who should be a stabilizing force off the bench or alongside Johnson, the bench is a major question mark.

#30 Stanford

1 - Daejon Davis
2 - Tyrell Terry*, Isaac White, Noah Taitz
3 - Zaire Williams, Bryce Wills, Brandon Angel
4 - Spencer Jones, Jaiden Delaire, Max Murrell
5 - Oscar da Silva, Lukas Kisunas

Questions and Comments: If Terry comes back, this team will move higher. They return the rest of a squad that finish #43 in Kenpom, but only .500 in conference play. A year older Terry should put up a delightful Steph Curry impersonation, but the big news is Zaire Williams. A lottery pick one-and-done player, Williams completely changes the trajectory for the Cardinal and dramatically improve the team simply with his gravity. If Terry comes back they enter the conversation as co-favorites in the Pac-12, but for now they are on the outside looking in.

#31 Texas

1 - Matt Coleman
2 - Courtney Ramey, Jase Febres, Donovan Williams
3 - Andrew Jones, Gerald Liddell, Brock Cunningham
4 - Greg Brown*, Royce Hamm, Will Baker
5 - Jericho Sims, Kai Jones, Kamaka Hepa

Questions and Comments: Apparently Greg Brown is a near-lock for Texas, which is curious to me because they have a ton of bodies in the front-court and some of his other finalists do not; then again, he is from Austin. Assuming he joins Shaka’s crew, this team should be great. They came on strong down the stretch, playing for their coach’s job, and finally found themselves as a unit. Coleman, Ramey, and Jones form a great trio with Febres and Liddell chipping in solid reserve minutes.

Last year’s freshmen group - Baker, Jones, and Williams - underwhelmed a bit, but I expect them to look much better after a full season and off-season to improve. Brown would give the team a clear star, but six “true” bigs is a lot. Still this team has the front-court to compete in the Big XII, if Coleman, Ramey, and Jones take another step forward they could compete for the conference. For now, they are in the second tier with West Virginia, but if I had to bet on one team between the two it would be Texas.

#32 Rutgers

1 - Jacob Young
2 - Geo Baker, Montez Mathis
3 - Caleb McConnell, Paul Mulcahy, Mawot Mag, Oksar Palquist
4 - Ron Harper, Mamadou Doucoure, Dean Reibert
5 - Myles Johnson, Cliff Omoruyi

Questions and Comments: Poor Rutgers, their first tourney trip in a while taken from them. Still, they return everyone of note except Yeboah, and they add in a terrific freshman big in Omoruyi. Second tier of the B1G unless they improve their shooting and demonstrate the ability to win on the road in conference play.

#33 Arkansas

1 - Isaiah Joe*, KK Robinson
2 - Desi Sills, Davonte Davis, JD Notae
3 - Moses Moody, Jalen Tate
4 - Vance Jackson, Ethan Henderson, Abayiomi Iyiola
5 - Connor Vanover, Jaylin Williams, Reggie Chaney

Questions and Comments: Arkansas brings in a terrific freshman class and a couple of immediately eligible transfers: Moody, Robinson, Davis, and Williams are all top-100 players, and Jackson and Tate should both be immediate contributors as transfers. But that is a lot of turnover, and Arkansas needs Isaiah Joe to return and losing Mason Jones really hurts their scoring punch. Still this team has talent and quality to hang in the SEC. Their non-conference performance will be telling.

#34 Penn State

1 - Jamari Wheeler, Sam Sessoms
2 - Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington, Dallion Johnson
3 - Myles Dread, DJ Gordon, Caleb Dorsey
4 - Seth Lundy, Abdou Tetchueng Tsimbila
5 - John Harrar, Valdir Manuel, Trent Buttrick

Questions and Comments: Call me crazy, but Penn State has a chance to be even better next year than they were this past season, in what should have been an NCAA tourney appearance. How can I say such a thing? Well Harrar and Manuel (a stretch-five) will likely be a better combo at the five than Watkins and Harrar were last season. Most of all, Stevens, though PSU’s best player ever, took a lot of shots and faded in his efficiency as the season progressed.

Next year, a more democratic approach should allow Wheeler, Jones, Dread, Lundy, Brockington, andSessoms (grad transfer) to grow into a dynamic scoring group. Wheeler, Jones, Dread, and Lundy can all shoot from three-point range, as can Sessoms, who was the leading scorer at Binghamton and will step in to a great bench role along with Brockington. If Chambers can find maybe one or two more consistent producers out of the three freshmen - Johnson, Gordon, and Dorsey - or from Tsimbila and Buttrick, then he will be cooking with grease again. For now, PSU, Maryland, and Purdue form the third tier in the B1G.

#35 Richmond

1 - Jacob Gilyard, Isaiah Wilson
2 - Blake Francis, Connor Crabtree
3 - Nick Sherod, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik
4 - Nathan Cayo, Tyler Burton
5 - Grant Golden, Matt Grace, Souleymane Koureissi

Questions and Comments: Richmond finished the year #46 in Kenpom, returns its entire starting-five, three of whom shoot very well from beyond the arc, and all of whom will be seniors. They have to be favorites in the A-10, with Saint Louis following closely behind.

#36 Colorado

1 - McKinley Wright, Keeshawn Barthelemy
2 - Maddok Daniels, Eli Parquet, Dominique Clifford
3 - D’Shawn Schwartz, Daylen Kountz, Luke O’Brien
4 - Jeriah Horne, Jabari Walker, Alex Strating
5 - Evan Battey, Dallas Walton

Questions and Comments: Colorado returns a lot, expect them to finish top-5 in the Pac-12, which may get six or seven teams to the tournament (unless Arizona and USC fade early and then keep fading).

#37 NC State

1 - Cam Hayes, Teddy Allen jr, Shakeel Moore
2 - Braxton Beverly, Dereon Seabron
3 - Josh Hall*, Devon Daniels
4 - Jericole Hellems, Nick Farrar
5 - DJ Funderburk, Manny Bates, Ebenezer Dowuona

Questions and Comments: Josh Hall is maybe/possibly/probably headed to the professional ranks. But if he does play for NC State, then this team has a real chance to knock off some of the big-boys in the ACC. Cam Hayes will be a super score-first point guard, taking pressure off of Beverly, and Daniels, Hellems, Bates, and Funderburk are all good-to-great college players with another year of experience. But Hall is the key, he is a likely first-round pick in next year’s draft, and his gravity could elevate the team and lead them to a deep tournament run.

#38 Maryland

1 - Eric Ayala, Serrel Smith jr, Marcus Dockery
2 - Darryl Morsell, Aquan Smart
3 - Aaron Wiggins, Hakim Hart
4 - Donta Scott
5 - Joshua Tomaic, Chol Marial

Questions and Comments: Maryland will be interesting next year. They lost a ton, obviously, but the cupboard is not bare by any means: Ayala, Smith, Morsell, Wiggins, Scott, Tomaic, Hart, and Marial all return. With Hart, Tomaic, and, above all, Marial offering tantalizing talent. I thought that Marial would have a bigger impact last year, and he might have done so in the tournament, but next year he and Tomaic (a skilled and smooth big, who will get a chance to start) will have to play a major role. If they both find their feet and their games alongside the intriguing and confident Scott, then Maryland could force their way into the second tier of the B1G.

#39 Purdue

1 - Eric Hunter, Ethan Morton, Isaiah Thompson
2 - Sasha Stefanovic, Brandon Newman
3 - Nojel Eastern, Mason Gillis, Jaden Ivey
4 - Aaron Wheeler
5 - Trevion Williams, Zach Edey

Questions and Comments: Trevion Williams will be getting all the touches he can handle. The big questions for Purdue are whether Eastern can find a way to be more useful offensively, and whether Wheeler can take a major step forward. Edey is 7’2” and huge (Haas 2.0). Expect back-court returners Hunter, Thompson, Stefanovic to keep improving, but look for major contributions from former red-shirts Newman and Gillis, and from true freshmen Morton (a terrific passer and playmaker) and Ivey (a great athlete and scorer). It is tough to say how it will shake out for Purdue, who may benefit by putting Eastern on the bench and playing another shooter, but Painter should have a better team than he did last year simply because the back-court will have much better decision-making and better shooting.

#40 Butler

1 - Aaron Thompson, Myles Tate
2 - Christian David, Chuck Harris
3 - Jordan Tucker, Khalif Battle
4 - Bryce Nze, Carlos Johnson, JaKobe Coles
5 - Bryce Golden, John-Michael Mulloy, Miles Wilmoth

Questions and Comments: Butler returns a lot. Expect them to finish top-3 in the Big East.

#41 USC

1 - Ethan Anderson, Tahj Eaddy
2 - Elijah Weaver, Noah Baumann
3 - Max Agbonkpolo, Isaiah White
4 - Isaiah Mobley, Chevez Goodwin
5 - Evan Mobley, Boubacar Coulibaly

Questions and Comments: Do I trust this team or Enfield in the slightest? No. Is Evan Mobley a lottery pick? Yes. Is this conference all that hard to win in? No. Will USC get enough immediate contributions from transfers Goodwin and Eaddy, and/or enough improvement from their poor-performing returning back-court players in Anderson, Weaver, and Agbonkpolo, to actually do the winning? Probably not. For now, they are here. I expect them to fade, and my pre-season evaluation of them to fade as well (remember Washington last year?).

#42 Seton Hall

1 - Bryce Aiken, Jahri Long
2 - Dimingus Stevens, Shavar Reynolds, Takal Molson
3 - Myles Cale, Anthony Nelson
4 - Jared Rhoden, Tyrese Samuel
5 - Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

Questions and Comments: No Powell chucking, no Gill stuffing. But Aiken and Stevens should add scoring punch to go along with tough veterans Reynolds, Cale, Nelson, Rhoden, and Samuel. Mamukelasvili and Obiagu should take the center minutes, but this team does not have a lot of scoring acumen. Expect rock-fights every night unless Aiken and Stevens can really make fireworks every night.

#43 Memphis

1 - Alex Lomax, Damion Baugh
2 - Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, Jayden Hardaway
3 - Lester Quinones, DJ Jeffries, Ryan Boyce
4 - Lance Thomas, Ahmad Rand
5 - Malcolm Dandridge, Isaiah Stokes

Questions and Comments: Now we get to see if Hardaway et al. can really coach. This team should be poised for a great year, but with no clear one-and-done guys in the fold Memphis will need to see major internal developments (they return two guys, in Quinones and Jeffries, who had Ortgs over 100). Hardaway needs to really do some coaching and come up with some better half-court sets. For a team that faded hard and finished #59 in Kenpom a major jump may be asking too much.

#44 Saint Louis

1 - Yuri Collins, Demarius Jacobs
2 - Jordan Goodwin, Fred Thatch
3 - Gibson Jimerson, Terrence Hargrove, Markhi Strickland
4 - Javonte Perkins, Andre Lorentsson
5 - Hasahn French, Jimmy Bell, Madani Diarra

Questions and Comments: Collins, Goodwin, Perkins, and French all return. They are all tough, and Goodwin, Perkins, and French can provide real offense. But the season probably hinges on Travis Ford force-feeding red-shirt freshman Gibson Jimerson. In the 10 games he played before his injury, as a freshman last year, Jimerson shot 24-56 from three-point range. That’s approximately 2-5 from three per game! If Ford can generate six to eight three-point attempts per game for Jimerson, then Richmond will be in a real dogfight for the A-10, and Saint Louis could easily upset a team or two in the NCAA tourney.

#45 Syracuse

1 - Joe Girard
2 - Buddy Boeheim, Kadary Richmond
3 - Quincy Guerrier
4 - Marek Dolezaj, Robert Braswell, Woody Newton
5 - Bourama Sidibe, Jesse Edwards, John Bol Ajak

Questions and Comments: Syracuse may move higher, but a team that finished .500 in the ACC, who lost its best player in Elijah Hughes to the draft, and only added one impact recruit in Kadary Richmond, seems like it will not finish too much higher than it did the year before (#51 in Kenpom). That being said, they have most of their team back, and they have the right personnel for the back of their 2-3 zone. Somehow though, Girard and Boeheim jacking a billion three’s does not seem like a winning strategy to me.

#46 Oklahoma

1 - Devion Harmon, Trey Phipps
2 - Alondes Williams
3 - Austin Reaves, Jalen Hill
4 - Brady Manek, Victor Iwuakor, Anyang Garang
5 - Kur Kuath, Rick Issanza

Questions and Comments: I have picked Oklahoma as the 46th best team in the country at this point. I have no major opinions on this team other than Kruger was stupid to take the ball out of Bienemy’s hands last year, which led, directly, to his transfer. Harmon is fine, Reaves and Manek are good. This team is meh for me at this point. They will not crack the top-5 in their conference.

#47 South Carolina

1 - Jermaine Couisnard, Trae Hannibal, TJ Moss
2 - AJ Lawson, Justin Minaya
3 - Keyshawn Bryant, Trey Anderson
4 - Alanzo Frink, Jalyn McCreary
5 - Wildens Leveque, Patrick Iriel, Ja’Von Benson

Questions and Comments: Couisnard is good, heck the entire starting-five return and get a year older. Martin can still coach, and they have some intriguing depth. Should finish above .500 and make the tournament.

#48 Miami

1 - Chris Lykes, Isaiah Wong
2 - Kameron McGusty, Harlond Beverly
3 - Earl Timberlake, Matt Cross
4 - Sam Waardenberg, Anthony Walker III
5 - Nysier Brooks, Deng Gak, Rodney Miller jr

Questions and Comments: Miami could surprise me after two years of disappointment. The reasons: Earl Timberlake (a likely one-and-done stud wing player) and Nysier Brooks (the Cincinnati transfer with a huge frame and Charles Oakley game). Keep an eye on this crew in the non-con: if Wong, McGusty, Beverly, Waardenberg, Walker, and Gak take major steps forward... well, that may be asking too much. Still a twin-tower line-up (there will be very little small-ball in Coral-Gables I predict), a one-and-done wing, and a jitterbug scoring and shooting point-guard seems like it should be something. There’s plenty of quit in this team, but they may just have too much talent not to find their way into the NCAA tournament.

#49 Alabama

1 - Jahvon Quinerly, Josh Primo
2 - John Petty, Keon Ellis
3 - Jaden Shackelford, Darius Miles, Juwan Gary
4 - Herb Jones, Jordan Bruner, Keon Ambrose-Hylton
5 - Javian Davis-Fleming, Alex Reese, Galin Smith

Questions and Comments: Alabama could be interesting. Quinerly needs to hit this time around after flopping at Villanova. But petty, Primo (a talented canadian guard), Jones, and the rest of the front-court are solid. I just do not see a path towards a top-6 finish in the SEC at this point.

#50 Oklahoma State

1 - Cade Cunningham, Rondel Walker, Avery Anderson
2 - Isaac Likekele, Ferron Flavors jr, Donovan Williams
3 - Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe
4 - Keylan Boone, Montreal Pena jr
5 - Yor Anei, Kalib Boone, Hidde Roessink

Questions and Comments: This team may creep higher simply because they have the likely #1 pick in the draft in Cunningham. The front-court seems understaffed, but the back-court should be interesting next to Cunningham. Missing on JT Thor hurts a lot.

#51 Arizona

1 - Brandon Williams
2 - James Akinjo, Dalen Terry
3 - Jemarl Baker, Bennedict Mathurin
4 - Ira Lee
5 - Jordan Brown, Christian Koloko

Questions and Comments: Sean Miller will be sweating through suits yet again next year as his under-talented squad tries to elevate his underwhelming coaching in a way that no other squad has been able to. A tournament appearance and/or an above-.500 performance in conference may be a career-best coaching performance for Miller.

#52 Virginia Tech

1 - Wabissa Bede, Jalen Cone
2 - Tyrece Radford, Joe Bamisile, Nahiem Alleyne
3 - Cartier Diarra, Darius Maddox, Hunter Cattoor
4 - PJ Horne
5 - John Ojiako, Keve Aluma, David N’Guessan

Questions and Comments: Va Tech really flamed out last year despite having a healthy amount of talent. They just could not defend to save their lives, or their record. But Young has brought in Diarra (KSU transfer) and gets Aluma off of his red-shirt. Bede, Cone, Radford, Alleyne, and Cattoor all return and all can shoot from three (Bede had a bizarrely down year last year, but I expect him back above 32 percent as a senior), and Bamisile and Maddox are two larger top-100 freshmen wings. This team could easily overtake Syracuse, Miami, and NC State if all goes well.

#53 UConn

1 - RJ Cole, Jalen Gaffney
2 - James Bouknight, Brendan Adams
3 - Andre Jackson, Tyrese Martin
4 - Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Richard Springs
5 - Akok Akok, Josh Carlton, Javonte Brown-Ferguson

Questions and Comments: Back in the Big East, with a tougher set of teams and a larger pool of good coaches, Hurley should struggle somewhat. He has plenty of size in the front-court, but Bouknight and the freshman Jackson are the only perimeter players that really scare me.

#54 Georgia Tech

1 - Jose Alvarado, Bubba Parham
2 - Mike Devoe, Tristan Maxwell
3 - Jordan Usher, Khalid Moore
4 - Moses Wright, David Didenko
5 - Saba Gigiberia, Jordan Meka

Questions and Comments: They’re all back, there are a lot of seniors, and unless they all get a lot better they’re gonna keep losing.

#55 Providence

1 - Jared Bynum, Alyn Breed
2 - David Duke
3 - AJ Reeves, Jyare Davis
4 - Greg Gantt, Kris Monroe
5 - Nate Watson

Questions and Comments: This is a nod to Providence’s season last year, they kinda-sorta proved me wrong. But they lost their best player, and will struggle this season.

#56 Loyola Chicago

1 - Keith Clemons, Marquise Kennedy, Baylor Hebb
2 - Lucas Williamson, Paxson Wojcik, Braden Norris
3 - Tate Hall, Cooper Kaifes
4 - Aher Uguak
5 - Cameron Krutwig, Tom Welch, Franklin Agunanne

Questions and Comments: Loyola Chicago and Northern Iowa could both win the MVC, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the loser get an at-large bid. Both are potential cinderella type teams. But Loyola Chicago gets the edge from me because their entire starting-five are seniors and Kennedy, Wojcik, Kaifes, and Welch are as solid a mid-major bench unit as you will find.

#57 Northern Iowa

1 - Antwan Kimmons, Bowen Born, Tytan Anderson
2 - AJ Green, Nathan Heise
3 - Trae Berhow
4 - Tywhon Pickford, Cole Henry
5 - Austin Phyfe, Noah Carter, James Betz

Questions and Comments: A lot of returning talent, but they lost some key players. Keep an eye on them in the non-conference.

#58 Marquette

1 - Karim Mane*, Koby McEwen
2 - Greg Elliott, Symir Torrence, Dexter Akanno
3 - Jamal Cain
4 - Dawson Garcia, Brendan Bailey, Justin Lewis
5 - Theo John, Ikechkwu Eke, Osasere Ighodaro

Questions and Comments: I am assuming Mane commits here and starts along with Elliott (finally healthy), Cain, the excellent freshman Garcia, and Theo John. Not enough talent or depth to really make much noise, but a competitive mid-level team in the Big East.

#59 Xavier

1 - Paul Scruggs, Dwon Odom
2 - KyKy Tandy, Colby Jones
3 - Naji Marshall, CJ Wilcher, Myles Hanson
4 - Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey
5 - Zach Freemantle, Dieonte Miles

Questions and Comments: They could move up (I believe in them more than in Marquette), but the same basic story holds: not enough talent or depth to really make much noise, but a competitive mid-level team in the Big East.

#60 Georgetown

1 - Mac McClung*, Jalen Harris, Tyler Beard, Dante Harris
2 - Jahvon Blair, Jaden Robinson
3 - Jamari Sibley, Kobe Clark
4 - Jamorko Pickett
5 - Qudus Wahab, Timothy Ighoefe, Malcolm Wilson

Questions and Comments: I assume McClung returns. I also will point out that this Georgetown team, after the mid-season attrition and MSU-level of injuries, won a game playing six players (and a walk-on for three minutes) - with three players playing all 40 minutes. There is some toughness and grit to this group. And if McClung returns their talent level should be high enough to have some nice wins, but I don’t see consistency from this group in my crystal ball.

Bonus: #61 St Mary’s

1 - Tommy Kuhse, Logan Johnson
2 - Kristers Zoriks, Quinn Clinton
3 - Alex Ducas, Jabe Mullins
4 - Dan Fotu, Kyle Bowen, Judah Brown
5 - Matthias Tass, Matthew van Komen, Mitchell Saxen

Questions and Comments: St Mary’s should be good again, per usual. But unless they schedule and beat some quality teams in the non-con and unless they take down Gonzaga at least once they face a tough road getting into the tournament. Still tons of shooting to go along with their Wisconsin-level of pace.

Conference standings predictions:

B1G: MSU/Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland, Purdue, the rest in some order [9-11 teams in tourney]

Big XII: Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas, WVU, OSU/OU, the rest in some order [6-7 teams in tourney]

ACC: UVA, Duke, FSU, UNC, Louisville, NC State, Miami, Syracuse, Va Tech, the rest in some order [8-9 teams in tourney]

SEC: UK/UT, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama [6-8 teams in tourney]

Pac-12: UCLA/Oregon, ASU, Stanford, Colorado [5 teams in tourney]

Big East: Villanova, Creighton, Butler, Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, UConn, Providence, DePaul, St. John’s [4-7 teams in tourney]

Others notables: Gonzaga, SDSU, Richmond, Memphis, Saint Louis, Loyola Chicago, UNI, St. Mary’s

Go Green!!!