A mid-season re-ranking exercise...
I hope this finds everyone staying safe and healthy.
As teams begin conference play in earnest, I want to revisit and update my rankings. The exact schedule for just about every team in the nation remains up in the air to some degree even now, and there has been a fair bit of madness with scheduling, COVID infections, injuries, surprises, etc., but with the playing rosters just about set, and rotations getting trimmed and sorted out, I can now really zero in on the proper rankings of these teams.
Without further ado...
Here are the current depth-charts and rankings of the top-25 NCAA men’s basketball teams for the 2020-21 season
(brief questions and comments per team):
(Disclaimer: I may have completely forgotten, omitted, or mis-depth-charted various players due to signings, injuries, transfers, or NBA decisions I have not accounted for. Please DO let me know about factual or obvious omissions and errors.)
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 - Davion Mitchell, Adam Flagler
2 - Jared Butler, LJ Cryer
3 - MaCio Teague
4 - Mark Vital, Matthew Mayer
5 - Flo Thamba, Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua
I am increasingly believing in Baylor and head coach Scott Drew — a guy who couldn’t coach his way out of a hat-box for years is actually scheming, developing players, instilling a culture, and implementing game-plans and adjustments. Bravo, Scott Drew, I truly was not sure he would ever get to this level as a coach. To this end, Mark Vital might be the most important player that Drew ever recruited and coached — Vital is Drew’s Antonio Smith. Tough as nails, an incredible rebounder and defender, and a pure winner.
Sadly, with Tristan Clark’s retirement from basketball (he never could get over his injuries —again, Joshua Langford’s recovery is a blessing and nothing Spartan fans should take for granted), Baylor will never quite get that traditional low-post scoring threat it hoped for. But, like Michigan State in the Nick Ward to Xavier Tillman evolution, Baylor can now fully embrace the identity the team forged last season: defend like madmen (icing and denying middle as much as possible including mixing in a match-up zone), get the ball to the guards, drill threes, and score off the offensive glass. Tchamwa-Tchatchoua has been a revelation and is the Platonic form of “high-energy defense-rebound-run-and-dunk” big man — Julius Marble II, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Mady Sissoko should take notes.
This team is for real: the Bears are dynamic on both ends, have multiple creators and shot-makers and have real functional depth all over. Baylor overtakes Gonzaga for the top-spot.
1 - Jalen Suggs, Andrew Nembhard
2 - Joel Ayayi, Aaron Cook, Dominik Harris
3 - Corey Kispert
4 - Anton Watson, Julian Strawther
5 - Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo
Assuming health, Gonzaga is still one of the top national favorites. Suggs has played, on both ends, like a top-three pick in the NBA draft, Timme looks like a solid future NBA veteran, Kispert has been just as superb as expected, and Nembhard has emerged as Gonzaga’s fourth best player now unshackled after transferring from Florida. Watson has not developed to quite the degree many expected in his return from injury, but he has been solid and flashed his ability on both ends. Ballo has been good-not-great on both ends, and looks to be a year away from being a fully dominant and clear-cut NBA player. Ayayi, though he may never live up to the NBA expectations that many placed on him early, is solid on both ends.
With their top-five players all with offensive ratings better than 110, the Bulldogs probably have the best “top-five” group in the nation. But this is not an air-tight national title game “cinch.” Their bench is simply not deep or productive, and they have one consistent three-point shooter: Kispert at his typical 45 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. Unless Suggs, Nembhard, Ayayi, and Cook can locate their shooting touch and do so consistently (Suggs had a huge shooting game vs. Iowa, and Ayayi is up to 37 percent from three-point range, with 10 makes), this will be a highly beatable team — deny them easy buckets in transition, and get them into foul trouble to limit their viable options. Of course stopping them individually is difficult, and the pace Gonzaga plays with and the team’s mental toughness is excellent.
1 - Collin Gillespie
2 - Caleb Daniels, Bryan Antoine
3 - Justin Moore, Brandon Slater
4 - Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider
5 - Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Eric Dixon
This is probably the peak for this Villanova team. The Wildcats are so well drilled, play great basketball, are tough, competent, together, and efficient, but do they have enough pure talent outside of Robinson-Earl to take down the two best teams in the nation? Slater should be getting more minutes and a larger role, Samuels is having a down year, and Gillespie has squeezed every last ounce of talent from himself. Could they go on another extremely-fine-margins post-season run? Of course. But I am just not sure I see it happening for Villanova this year. Then again, look around the country and tell me which teams are better than Jay Wright’s crew? They should still own the Big East.
1 - Ayo Dosunmu, Andre Curbelo
2 - Trent Frazier
3 - Adam Miller, Jacob Grandison
4 - DaMonte Williams, Coleman Hawkins
5 - Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili
Illinois has a heck of a team. While Miller has not yet found a consistent rhythm or role on offense yet, Cockburn, Dosunmu, and Frazier have been superb for the Illini. With Bezhanishvili and Frazier returning to form after down years last season, head coach Brad Underwood has all that he needs to push for a huge season. What really puts Illinois over-the-top is the play of Curbelo, the superb freshman point guard who has control of the game from the moment he steps on the court.
The areas of concern heading into the season — three-point shooting and front-court depth and defense— have partly been resolved. Dosunmu, Frazier, Miller, and Williams have all demonstrated that they can take and make threes at a high level. But getting something out of Hawkins and Grandison will be crucial moving forward; those two have height and athletic gifts that Illinois will need against some teams.
1 - D’Mitrik Trice, Trevor Anderson
2 - Brad Davison, Jonathan Davis
3 - Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl
4 - Nate Reuvers, Ben Carlson
5 - Micah Potter, Steven Crowl, Joe Hedstrom
Yes, Wisconsin lost a stupid rivalry game to Marquette in a stupid fashion (as well as losing to Maryland), but this Wisconsin team is one to believe in. Superficially, the Badgers look exactly like they did last season, but a closer look reveals a team that Greg Gard has tweaked slightly in ways that make them far more likely to make a deep NCAA tournament run. While Wisconsin still plays at a snail’s pace overall, the bulk of that slowness comes from its defense, which denies transition and does not allow easy baskets. Offensively, Wisconsin is playing downright fast (by Wisconsin’s standards), playing as the No. 186 fastest offense in the nation (the Badgers were No. 346 last year).
Along with that improved pace of play, is a much deeper bench than Wisconsin has tended to sport under Gard: Anderson, Davis, Wahl, and Carlson are regular rotation players, with Crowl and Hedstrom getting minutes fairly consistently as well. That depth complements their outstanding all-senior starting five, who have all really started to kick into gear.
Potter and Reuvers are the best shooting big-men tandem in the nation, and can really play, Trice and Davison are finally both having great shooting seasons at the same time, and Aleem Ford is a perfect switchable, low-maintenance forward to have as your fifth-best player.
1 - Santiago Vescovi
2 - Victor Bailey Jr., Keon Johnson
3 - Josiah-Jordan James, Jaden Springer
4 - Yves Pons, Olivier Nkamhoua
5 - John Fulkerson, EJ Anosike
For as much as I love this Tennessee roster, there are some glaring issues that may limit the success the team can achieve in the NCAA tournament. The Volunteers play too slowly given their talent and the kind of open-court athletes they have, they barely have any three-point shooting, and they are shockingly inefficient from two-point range as well.
Johnson and Springer have looked great coming off the bench, but Barnes probably needs to put them into starting roles sooner rather than later to maximize the talent on this team. If Bailey is not shooting from three-point range effectively (he isn’t) and if Vescovi is too hot-and-cold with turnovers and missed assignments, then head coach Rick Barnes might as well put his two most talented players on the floor and let them operate.
That Barnes, who has gotten in the way of his own teams in the past, has still not given the two freshmen bigger roles at this point should be at least slightly alarming, and may indicate the biggest obstacle to Tennessee winning the SEC and making a Final Four run.
1 - Marcus Garrett, Dajuan Harris
2 - Ochai Agbaji, Bryce Thompson
3 - Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster
4 - Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna
5 - David McCormack, Mitch Lightfoot
A bizarre Kansas roster has only gotten stranger as the young season matures. Jalen Wilson has emerged out of nowhere to become Kansas’ best player, and has been playing primarily as a small-ball center — with McCormack simply not playing well enough to merit major minutes right now. Braun and Agbaji have settled in as Wilson’s wing-men forming a really solid trio, with Garrett predictably not becoming an All-American offensive player this past offseason despite many pundits predicting that he would.
Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, and Tristan Enaruna simply have not had the impact that Bill Self was hoping for, or that I was expecting; rendering this Kansas team as just a strange one, with a poorly constructed roster, and an offense that is increasingly reliant on three players with nearly identical skill-sets. I think Kansas may really struggle in conference play unless some of their others step to the fore. This is a team that may fade.
1 - Jordan Bohannon, Joe Toussaint
2 - CJ Fredrick, Ahron Ulis
3 - Connor McCaffery, Patrick McCaffery
4 - Joe Wieskamp, Keegan Murray
5 - Luka Garza, Jack Nunge
Iowa has been everything one might have expected heading into the season: the clear-cut best offense in the nation, and somewhat improved on defense. In the preseason rankings, I wrote that this team would need to get to a top-60 defensive rating on Kenpom for it to sustain its conference and national threat to win championships. As of now, Iowa is the No. 81 ranked team in defensive efficiency; not there, but within shouting distance.
Garza has been a juggernaut, and Wieskamp, McCaffery, Fredrick, and Bohannon have been superb. Nunge’s health gives Iowa its best backup center that Garza has had to partner with, and Murray and Toussaint have been superb bench contributors. Toussaint and Murray, in particular, helped secure Iowa’s victory over North Carolina, and should have played more in Iowa’s losses to Gonzaga and Minnesota and they will continue to play an important role as tough athletes. In fact, Fran needs to take minutes from Bohannon and his sons (unless they are producing and defending better than they have been) and give those minutes directly to Murray and Toussaint. This team can beat anyone on a given night just on the back of its offense, and if it can figure out how to stop teams the Hawkeyes may prove irresistible.
1 - Marcus Sasser, Jamal Shead
2 - DeJon Jarreau, Caleb Mills, Cameron Tyson
3 - Quentin Grimes, Tramon Mark
4 - Justin Gorham, Reggie Chaney
5 - Brison Gresham, J’Wan Roberts
Houston plays incredibly slowly on offense, and they are not a great passing team, but man can they score and defend. Sasser, Jarreau, Grimes, Mills, and Mark can all score in a lot of different ways. This team crashes the glass, defends like demons (top-10 in the nation in block and steal percentages), and they get to the line and take advantage when they do so. Houston will not win prizes for elegance, no paeans will be written about the beauty of the team’s execution, but the Cougars will beat you and grind you down, and do it for 40 minutes.
1 - Matt Coleman
2 - Courtney Ramey
3 - Andrew Jones, Brock Cunningham, Gerald Liddell
4 - Greg Brown, Royce Hamm
5 - Jericho Sims, Kai Jones, Kamaka Hepa
With Will Baker transferring and Jase Febres still not healthy after an offseason knee operation, Texas’ rotation has essentially resolved itself. Fortunately for head coach Shaka Smart, Coleman and Ramey have bounced back from down years last season to really solidify a dynamic back-court for the Longhorns.
The front-court has been outstanding for Texas thus far: Sims the sturdy, solid starting center, Jones the uber-talented shooting, handling, tantalizing backup, and Greg Brown providing the electricity with his insane athleticism. The key for Texas will be getting a bit more production from their peripheral players and the right shots to the right personnel —Jones has to shoot it better, Cunningham has to shoot it more, and Brown has to shoot fewer three-pointers and attack the paint.
1 - Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark
2 - Thomas Woldetensae, Casey Morsell
3 - Trey Murphy III, Kody Stattman
4 - Sam Hauser, Justin McKoy
5 - Jay Huff, Kadin Shedrick
Virginia still has a lot of questions, and I can see them falling from this ranking by the end of the regular season, but if the Cavaliers can figure out how to play with this roster, and with Tony Bennett increasingly implementing some new offensive wrinkles (including some “five-out” and running his “circle” sets both ways), then the ceiling is high.
Huff, Hauser, and Murphy for a dynamic shooting and offensive trio in the front-court, but Bennett has to find a way to get his guards rolling. The main problem, per usual, with Bennett hoping for great guard play is that he shackles his guards and does not let them create and make plays. UVA’s slow pace hurts them more than usual this season because the team’s individual defenders are nowhere near the quality of player that usually make UVA so difficult to score on. Ultimately, the Cavaliers likely do not have the quality of athletes or defenders to become truly elite, but if Beekman, Clark, and Morsell can raise their levels and get to the paint consistently, they may just steal the ACC and make a tournament run.
12. Texas Tech
1 - Mac McClung, Nimari Burnett
2 - Kyler Edwards, Jamarius Burton, Clarence Nadolny
3 - Terrence Shannon, Chibuzo Agbo, Avery Benson
4 - Micah Peavy, Kevin McCullar
5 - Marcus Santos-Silva, Tyreek Smith, Vladislav Golden
The questions around three-point shooting have not been resolved, and the Red Raiders will likely suffer the consequences of middling shooting throughout the year, but this team has a full stable of guards and wings that can defend, create, score, and who all play with moxie. McClung, Shannon, Edwards, and Burton are junk yard dog competitors, and freshmen Burnett, Peavy and Agbo are cut from the same cloth. Shannon’s emerging scoring prowess and shooting ability make him a bonafide NBA prospect, and this team’s ability to crash the offensive glass, defend, and get to the free throw line at will (top-15 in the nation in free-throw rate) solidify their offensive identity, but this team should not be mistaken for the true powerhouse of Texas Tech’s 2019 Final Four group. This team does not have the same level of shot-blocking or shot-making.
1 - Marcus Zegarowski, Jett Canfield
2 - Mitch Ballock, Shereef Mitchell
3 - Denzel Mahoney, Alex O’Connell
4 - Damien Jefferson, Antwann Jones
5 - Christian Bishop, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Jacob Epperson
This Creighton team is really good. Zegarowski has been his typically excellent self, while Ballock hasn’t been hitting quite as often from behind the three-point line, he should round into form. The big trick is that Mahoney and Jefferson raised their levels in a dramatic way this season. Both guys are posting career-high three-point shooting percentages, playing fast, tough, and smart. Bishop as a small-ball center has been really excellent when he avoids turning it over. Now that Kalkbrenner has emerged as a viable guy off the bench as a stout seven-footer, and now that Duke-transfer O’Connell is getting his feet wet, this team’s depth should be fully ironed out by the middle of Big East play. Major dark-horse if the Jays can ramp-up their defense a few levels.
1 - Mike Smith
2 - Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, Zeb Jackson
3 - Isaiah Livers
4 - Franz Wagner, Brandon Johns jr, Terrance Williams
5 - Hunter Dickinson, Austin Davis
If Davis can get healthy and solidify the front-court rotation behind Dickinson and Wagner, and if Wagner and Livers can really raise their games to their talent level, then this team has major potential for a deep tournament run. Dickinson is a legitimate offensive focal point in the post — though he may struggle in league play — and Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown have proved more than capable of playing at this level and contributing. The guard play is still a bit of an issue, given that Smith is not hitting three-point shots, and that Brooks is not a great creator and distributor, but this team can make noise if Wagner plays like a first-round pick more consistently.
15. North Carolina
1 - Caleb Love
2 - RJ Davis, Andrew Platek
3 - Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton, Puff Johnson
4 - Garrison Brooks, Walker Kessler
5 - Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe
Caleb Love and RJ Davis are really good, though Love’s inefficiency as a scorer and shooter is moderately disastrous. Day’Ron Sharpe, in particular, and Walker Kessler are also really good. Brooks and Bacot are improved, and Williams has gotten something from Platek, Black, Walton, and Johnson, but that weakness on the wings is a ceiling capping weakness. The team just does not shoot well enough from three-point range, has awful spacing, and is just not efficient enough from the paint to make up for its 1990s style of basketball.
1 - Jacob Young
2 - Montez Mathis, Geo Baker
3 - Paul Mulcahy, Mawot Mag
4 - Ron Harper Jr., Dean Reibert
5 - Cliff Omoruyi, Myles Johnson
This Rutgers team is outstanding. The Scarlet Knights are shooting the ball really well this year (a full four percent better from three-point range than last year as a team), have a bona fide star in Harper, a nearly-ideal complimentary two-man center rotation, and enough athleticism and shot-making from their guards Young, Baker, and Mathis. Mulcahy, an incredible glue-guy and mega IQ player links everything together. They defend terrifically with man-to-man defense, they play fast when they can, crash the glass, and get paint-touches with isolation and good offense. This team is for real and is coming for the NCAA tournament second weekend with cruel intentions; the real concern is the team’s free-throw shooting percentage, which is eye-wateringly bad.
17. West Virginia
1 - Miles McBride, Jordan McCabe
2 - Sean McNeil, Taz Sherman
3 - Emmitt Matthews, Jalen Bridges
4 - Gabe Osabuohien
5 - Derek Culver, Isaiah Cottrell
West Virginia’s three-point shooting is better than it was last year, Miles McBride has become the best NBA-prospect on the team and their clear closer, and second-year JUCO transfer Taz Sherman is fully comfortable as a senior. These factors mean that West Virginia is a team that I can believe in. The Mountaineers still defend well (even if their discipline and game-plan attention tend to disappoint), they rebound the ball with abandon, and they cut their turnover rate by four percent.
Sure, they are still one of the worst shooting teams in the nation (despite their improvements from behind the arc) — Culver, McNeil, and Matthews all take turns bricking shots at the basket and in the mid-range — but this version of the Mountaineers can truly compete with anyone. [UPDATE: with Oscar Tshiebwe now sitting out for personal reasons, and possibly transferring, the West Virginia front-line suddenly becomes far less imposing.]
1 - Jordan Goldwire
2 - Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore Jr.
3 - DJ Steward, Joey Baker
4 - Jalen Johnson, Jaemyn Brakefield
5 - Matthew Hurt, Mark Williams, Patrick Tape
When Johnson gets back from his foot injury, he will return to a better team. Mike Krzyzewski appears to have given up on the Wendell Moore experiment, which was needed, and has turned his perimeter into a three-guard high-pressure quickness group to complement Hurt and Brakefield’s perimeter shooting. If Johnson can become a dominant paint-scorer, and if Coach K can get some sort of consistent production from Mark Williams by the end of the year, then this team could stabilize and possibly even get to the second weekend.
19. Ohio State
1 - CJ Walker
2 - Duane Washington jr, Jimmy Sotos, Seth Towns
3 - Justice Sueing, Musa Jallow, Justin Ahrens, Eugene Brown
4 - EJ Liddell
5 - Kyle Young, Zed Key
Ohio State does not have a lot of matchup advantages outside of the terrific EJ Liddell as an undersized, competitive, ball-handling power forward. Instead, this team uses execution, balance, and grit to generate points; the Buckeyes defend at a high level and attack the paint (both on the offensive glass and getting to the free-throw line). The host of wings, including the increasingly-healthy Seth Towns, just sends wave after wave of solid players at opposing teams and grinds down the opposition with execution. Their general lack of talent encourages them to play a slow and risk-averse brand of basketball, and it is working. That being said, unless Towns gets healthy and stays that way, or unless some of the wings start hitting a much higher percentage from three-point range, then this team’s ceiling may be too low to make much noise.
1 - Desi Sills, JD Notae
2 - Jalen Tate, KK Robinson
3 - Moses Moody, Davonte Davis
4 - Justin Smith, Vance Jackson
5 - Connor Vanover, Jaylin Williams
Arkansas has not played much of a schedule thus far, but once the Razorbacks get into conference play people will wake up nationally. Sills, Notae, Tate, Robinson, and Davis are a super group of guards. Moses Moody is a top-10 pick as a rangy, sweet-shooting wing, who defends (like the entire roster). And, finally, the front-court is stacked with hard workers, talent, and physical players with the bodies to give any front-court in the nation problems.
If Tennessee is the clear favorite in the SEC, then Arkansas and LSU will be the first teams stepping over the corpse of Kentucky and into the role of challengers (Florida may join them if Keyontae Johnson can fully recover from his scary cardiac event; here’s hoping).
21. Florida State
1 - MJ Walker, Rayquan Evans
2 - Anthony Polite, Sardaar Calhoun, Nathanael Jack
3 - Scottie Barnes, Wyatt Wilkes
4 - Raiquan Gray, Malik Osborne
5 - Balsa Koprivica, Tanor Ngom, Quincy Ballard
Florida State has talent, the Seminoles have their usual panoply of tall guards, rangy wings, and powerful hybrid forwards, but they do not have a full compliment of shooters this year, with only two higher-volume, high-percentage shooters in Walker and Polite. Barnes has been great, but his movement skills are not entirely there (a bit robotic, stiff hips, and a discernible lack of change-of-direction) and his shooting is extremely unreliable. Koprivica has played terrifically, which gives them a different edge through a valuable low-post scorer.
But this team simply is not at the same level of last year’s team, and I do not really see their ceiling being much higher than top-15. This team will go as far as Walker, Polite, and Barnes can take them, but that may be to the top of the ACC standings given the lack of surety at the top of the league this year.
1 - Javonte Smart, Jalen Cook
2 - Cam Thomas, Eric Gaines
3 - Mwani Wilkinson, Charles Manning jr, Aundre Hyatt
4 - Darius Days, Josh LeBlanc
5 - Trendon Watford, Shareef O’Neal, Bryan Penn-Johnson
Smart and Thomas form one of the most dynamic scoring back-courts in the nation. Both can score from all three levels, and form a nice counter-point to the dynamic front-court duo of Days and Watford — who will both get long looks from the NBA next summer. How, on earth, this team is not better, especially given the talent on the bench at all five positions, is no mystery though: Will Wade is merely a solid coach and not a major talent elevator.
23. Saint Louis
1 - Yuri Collins
2 - Jordan Goodwin, Demarius Jacobs
3 - Gibson Jimerson, Terrence Hargrove, Fred Thatch
4 - Javonte Perkins
5 - Hasahn French, Marten Linssen, Jimmy Bell
While Saint Louis dropped a game to Minnesota, I really do believe in this team and its talent. Goodwin and Collins are a super and tough back-court, Jimerson and Perkins are absolute shot-makers, three-point assassins, and gamers, and French, Linssen, and Bell form a solid center trio. The real key for this team is getting Jimerson’s three-point volume higher than it was before his freshman-year injury. In his 10 games last year, Jimerson launched more than five three-point shots per game, this year he is at the same rate. But on a team with only two high-volume three-point shooters (Perkins also needs to shoot more three’s) Jimerson should be launching about eight three-pointers a game.
This team is tough, experienced, hits shots at a far better rate than they did, and are poised for a Sweet 16 run.
1 - Rob Phinisee, Khristian Lander
2 - Al Durham, Anthony Leal
3 - Armaan Franklin, Jordan Geronimo, Trey Galloway
4 - Race Thompson, Jerome Hunter
5 - Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk
While Indiana awaits Brunk’s return from injury, this team is already cooking with grease. TJD is one of the best and most consistent players in the country — an absolutely relentless worker and scorer. And Phinisee, Durham, Franklin, and Leal have formed quite a solid little four-man group in the back-court.
If this team can get healthy, stay that way, and continue to get solid play and production from its somewhat mercurial forward position, then Indiana should secure a top-six seed.
1 - Tyger Campbell, David Singleton
2 - Johnny Juzang, Jake Kyman, Jaylen Clark
3 - Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard
4 - Chris Smith
5 - Jalen Hill, Cody Riley
I still believe in this UCLA team, even more so given the context within the Pac-12: Oregon lost N’Faly Dante for the season to an ACL injury, Arizona facing continued NCAA scrutiny (and self-imposing an insulting one-year postseason ban), and Arizona State appearing wholly uninterested in resembling anything like a functional basketball team (now that Marcus Bagley is out injured for them). If this team can find its defensive spine, and if Smith can find his game a bit, then UCLA has all the talent required to win the league.