Aaron's Updated Post Emoni Bates-Commitment Top 25
Say this for college basketball: It used to be a sport where, once the season ended, you didn't really think about it again until it started the following year.
Then, this off-season happened. And thanks to the one-time transfer rule, the implementation of Name, Image, Likeness, and the NCAA giving everyone an extra year, it created an off-season unlike any we've ever seen.
And no different than the NFL or NBA, it has become a sport that we are basically talking about, nearly 12 months out of the calendar year.
I know it sounds crazy, at least until you consider this: The last time I updated my Top 25 was back at the NBA Draft deadline in July. That's normally the last time any roster movement takes place. But in 2021, with the transfer deadline pushed back, and a couple marquee high school recruits committing we now have to do another Top 25 update... in the last week of August!
That's right, a lot has changed since July 1, with All-American caliber players Kofi Cockburn (Illinois) and Jaden Shackelford (Alabama) electing to enter the portal before returning to their schools, and a handful of other transfers like Marcus Carr (Minnesota-to-Texas), Dawson Garcia (Marquette-to-North Carolina) and Kevin Obanor (Oral Roberts-to-Texas Tech) finding new destinations.
Oh, and if that wasn't enough, the top two players in the high school class of 2022 - Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates - both decided to reclassify in the middle of the summer, and enroll in college.
What a time to be alive!
With that said, here is my updated Top 25, and just to show you how wonky the off-season has been, I've included my ranking from just a few weeks ago at the deadline.
This should be my final update of the off-season. But with the way things are going, who really knows.
1. UCLA Bruins
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 1
Key Returnees: Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaime Jacquez, Jules Bernard, David Singleton, Jake Kyman, Jaylen Clark, Mac Etienne
Key Additions: Peyton Watson, Will McClendon, Myles Johnson (transfer)
Key Departures: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill
With Johnny Juzang back, UCLA is officially my No. 1 team in the country. And to be blunt, I don't think there is really even a debate here. For the Bruins, they return every single player who played in the NCAA Tournament during their Final Four run, with their only real "loss" from last season being Chris Smith, who got hurt in January and didn't play the final few months of the season.
In addition to return an entire Final Four team intact, the Bruins also added five-star, McDonald's All-American Peyton Watson and Myles Johnson, a transfer center who started on Rutgers' NCAA Tournament team last year.
And for those who say "Dude, you're overreacting to one good run in the NCAA Tournament last year" well, I'd disagree. One, UCLA was the preseason Pac-12 favorite last year, was 12-2 prior to a season-ending injury to then leading scorer Smith and even when they "struggled" down the stretch losing four straight to end the regular season, three of those losses came to teams that ended up in the Sweet 16 (Oregon, USC and Oregon State).
Point being, this team was really good, lost a star, lost to a bunch of good teams, and then found a new star on the way to the Final Four.
If anything, they might actually have too many good players - which is a problem Mick Cronin must love to have.
The Bruins are my No. 1 team entering next year.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 2
Key Returnees: Andrew Nembhard, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, Ben Gregg
Key Additions: Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman, Kaden Perry, Rasir Bolton (transfer)
Key Departures: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Aaron Cook (transfer), Oumar Ballo (transfer)
On the one hand, yes, Gonzaga lost a crap ton of talent off a team that won 30 games and was the second best team in college basketball last season. On the other hand, they add an awful lot, have some back-ups ready to step up and brought in a loaded freshman class.
It all starts with the vets, as Drew Timme (who averaged 19 points and seven rebounds) is back and should be in the running for preseason National Player of the Year, as well as Andrew Nembhard who averaged nine points and 4.5 assists for last year's NCAA runner's up. The Bulldogs also bring in a loaded freshman class that includes the best player in high school basketball (Chet Holmgren) and two Top 20 guards (Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman). Rasir Bolton, who averaged 15 points a game at Iowa State arrived via the portal.
One thing that has me especially intrigued though is that there are really three players (Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris and Ben Gregg) who are former Top 100 recruits, who simply couldn't get on the floor last year because the Zags starters were so talented. These are the exact kind of guys who have grown, developed and thrived in the Zags' system through the years.
You can quibble with the fact that the Zags have yet to win a title under Mark Few, but they basically have a roster at this point that goes eight or nine deep, all with former Top 100 recruits, many of which have proven themselves at the college level.
This team will again be in the hunt in 2021-2022.
3. Texas Longhorns
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 7
Key Returnees: Andrew Jones, Brock Cunningham, Courtney Ramey
Key Additions: Marcus Carr (transfer), Timmy Allen (transfer), Christian Bishop (transfer), Dylan Disu (transfer), Devin Askew (transfer), Tre Mitchell (transfer) Jaylon Tyson
Key Departures: Matt Coleman, Kai Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims
So this is the first real change from my post-draft deadline Top 25, and before we go any further I already know what you're thinking: "Torres, Texas at No. 3?! You're an IDIOT!"
First off, I could've done without the name calling. Second, all I'll say is this: Whether this team ultimately meets expectations or not remains to be seen. But what is indisputable is that this by far the most talented team that Chris Beard has ever coached in college basketball. And he's a coach who has made two Elite Eight's and a national title game.
Thanks to the transfer portal, the Longhorns have six players who averaged double-figures in one of the Power Six conferences last year, including two returnees (Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey) and four who did it at other schools. That includes All-Big Ten guard Marcus Carr (19 points and five assists last season), All-Pac 12 wing Timmy Allen (17 points per game last season), Dylan Disu (who averaged 15 and nine at Vanderbilt last year) and Christian Bishop who was a starter on Creighton's Sweet 16 squad a year ago. That doesn't even include Tre Mitchell, who averaged 18 and seven at UMass in 2020-2021. If you want some perspective on how deep and talented this team is, Devin Askew, a former fringe five-star recruit who played at Kentucky last season is probably, at best, their eighth man.
Again, we'll find out if Chris Beard can mesh all this talent, but the talent is indeed there. The Longhorns are good enough to win it all in Year 1 of the Beard era in Austin.
4. Villanova Wildcats
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 3
Key Returnees: Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater, Eric Dixon, Bryan Antoine
Key Additions: Trey Patterson, Jordan Longino, Nnanna Njoku, Angelo Brizzi
Key Departures: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider (transfer)
When I did my initial “Too Early Top 25” one thing I tried to do was avoid speculating which seniors would take an extra year of eligibility and which would go pro. Obviously it was going to be a unique decision for everyone, and it was impossible to speculate which 22, 23 and 24-year-old guys would want to play another year of college hoops and which wouldn’t.
I bring this up to say, there was no bigger winner in the “seniors deciding to take an extra year category” than Villanova, which had two starters – Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels – elect to return to school. And with it, the Wildcats now return seven of nine players who played significant minutes last year, to a squad that was in the top five for most of the season before Gillespie got hurt and struggled down the stretch.
Replacing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl down low (who elected to go pro) won’t be easy. But this team is simply too deep and balanced to fall much further than this spot here.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 4
Key Returnees: Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot
Key Additions: Zach Clemence, Bobby Pettiford, KJ Adams, Remy Martin (transfer), Cam Martin (transfer), Joseph Yesufu (transfer)
Key Departures: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson (transfer)
Shout out to Bill Self!! Just when you kind of looked at the Jayhawks roster a few months back and said “Meh, how good are they?” – boom, they got arguably the best player in the transfer portal Remy Martin to commit to the school and returned two key guys at the draft deadline. Martin is a two-time All-Pac 12 point guard who averaged 19 points per game each of the last two years and adds immediate scoring pop to the Jayhawks’ backcourt. Yes, he plays a little bit out of control at times. But I believe we'll see the best version of him under Self, who - for all my criticism of him - is a hell of a coach.
Martin's arrival is buoyed by the fact that two of Kansas' top three scorers (Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson) tested the NBA Draft but withdrew the last few days, meaning that basically everyone of importance from last season is back. And for all the angst about last year not being a “vintage” Kansas team, they still finished second in a loaded Big 12, and ended up with a No. 3 seed come tournament time.
This squad is the exact type of team Bill Self has thrived with in the past, filled with older, college players who know his system. They should compete with Texas and Baylor for yet another Big 12 title.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 5
Key Returnees: Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic, Zach Edey, Eric Hunter Jr., Brandon Newman
Key Additions: Trey Kaufmann, Caleb Furst
Key Departures: Aaron Wheeler (transfer)
This is another team that returns essentially everyone off of a squad that quietly finished fourth in the Big Ten and earned a No. 4 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Trevion Williams is a double-double machine down low, Jaden Ivey was spectacular as a freshman and the Boilermakers also add two Top 50 recruits. Ivey also had an especially strong summer playing for the Team USA U-19 squad overseas.
Admittedly, I know it’s not sexy to talk about teams that return intact and don’t sign big-time recruits or high-school players. But there’s also something to be said for a team that has played together, knows each other, and where the coaching staff won’t have to spend all summer figuring out what their players can and cannot do. The Boilermakers’ season-long ceiling might not be as high as others on this. But they’ll be good from Day 1.
Post NCAA Tournament Ranking: No. 6
Key Returnees: Keion Brooks, Davion Mintz, Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware
Key Additions: TyTy Washington, Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins, Oscar Tshiebwe (transfer), Kellan Grady (transfer), CJ Fredrick (transfer), Sahvir Wheeler (transfer)
Key Departures: Olivier Sarr, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Isaiah Jackson, Devin Askew (transfer)
What's that we hear? The faint sound of Eminem's "Guess Who's Back?" coming from the Kentucky basketball offices in the distance? Ok, yes, that's a bad joke (and one that our under 25 crowd is probably confused by), but outside of Texas, no one has done a complete 360 quite like Kentucky this off-season.
Yes, I know there's some frustration within the fan-base at an inability to sign Jalen Duren late, or seriously pursue Kofi Cockburn in the transfer portal. But I personally still believe the roster that was put together from March until June is good enough to bring another banner to Lexington.
The Wildcats have completely revamped their roster, adding four marquee transfers (West Virginia big man Oscar Tshiebwe, Davidson guard Kellan Grady, Iowa guard CJ Fredrick and Georgia All-SEC guard Sahvir Wheeler), a five-star combo (TyTy Washington) and if that weren't enough, got two marquee players, with real SEC experience back in the late spring and early summer. Leading scorer Davion Mintz pulled his name out of the draft near the deadline, with Keion Brooks (who quietly averaged 10 and seven) returning around Memorial Day.
Add in a few other returnees and some freshman, and Kentucky now has one of the deepest, most versatile groups in the country, one with experience, that can play big or small, fast or slow, with plenty of size and shooting.
Again, with a full, normal off-season and older, more mature group, I expect a major bounce back for the Wildcats.
8. Duke Blue Devils
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking: No. 8
Key Returnees: Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, Joey Baker
Key Additions: Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels, Theo John (transfer)
Key Departures: Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Jordan Goldwire (transfer), Jaemyn Brakefield (transfer), Henry Coleman (transfer)
It’s funny because most off-seasons I’m accused of being a “Duke hater” yet this year, I believe they’re actually being underrated in a lot of the other “Too Early” Top 25’s.
As far as I’m concerned, Paolo Banchero is the most college-ready freshman entering the sport this year, and AJ Griffin isn’t far behind. Trevor Keels is a third marquee freshman and I like the veterans coming back too. Jeremy Roach found his groove late and Wendell Moore is wayyyyy too talented to not eventually become an impact player at the college level.
The Coach K farewell tour is going to be exhausting. But this team is going to be damn good.
9. Michigan Wolverines
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 9
Key Returnees: Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns Jr., Terrence Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
Key Additions: Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabite, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins, Isaiah Barnes, Devante’ Jones (transfer)
Key Departures: Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Mike Smith, Austin Davis, Franz Wagner
I had Michigan slotted in the mid-teens coming out of the season, under the assumption that there was no way that freshman All-American Hunter Dickinson returned for a second year of college hoops. Only he is back, and the Wolverines are good enough to claim a second straight Big Ten regular season title.
Dickinson averaged 14 and seven last season and should be a preseason first team All-American. He'll be re-joined by guard Eli Brooks (9.5 points, 39.6 percent three-point shooting) and wing Brandon Johns. They will also be joined by the No. 1 high school class in the country, one that includes wing Caleb Houstan, a McDonald’s All-American and legitimate one-and-done talent. And the Wolverines also added point guard Devante’ Jones via the transfer portal.
With that, I have two minor concerns for Michigan: One, their ability to space the floor with three-point shooting last year was what made Dickinson so effective down low. With Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith all gone (after all shot 40+ percent from three) it could make life a bit tougher for Dickinson. Two, it will be an adjustment to go from a bunch of veteran, experienced upperclassmen to a bunch of inexperienced freshmen.
Still, those concerns are so big I dropped the Wolverines all the way down to... No. 9 in my polls. In Juwan Howard I trust, and this team will once again be loaded.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 10
Key Returnees: Davonte Davis, Jaylin Williams, JD Notae, Conor Vanover, KK Robinson
Key Additions: Kamani Johnson (transfer), Au’Diese Toney (transfer), Chris Lykes (transfer), Stanley Umude (transfer), Jaxson Robinson (transfer), Chance Moore
Key Departures: Moses Moody, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, Vance Jackson, Desi Sills (transfer), Ethan Henderson (transfer)
It’s an annual right of passage that Eric Musselman will bring in talented newcomers wherever he’s coaching, but in a new twist, the Razorbacks will return a bunch of talent from last season as well.
Davonte Davis hit one of the most iconic shots in school history to send the Hogs to the Elite Eight, Jaylin Williams evolved into a do-everything big man by the end of the year and JD Notae is a scorer off the bench who was actually leading Arkansas in scoring in their Elite Eight loss to Baylor before fouling out. Oh and KK Robinson is a former Top 50 recruit who missed most of last season with injury.
But more than just the talent returning, there are the transfers, and Arkansas has again restocked. Chris Lykes and Au’Diese Toney both averaged 15+ points per game last season in the ACC (at Miami and Pitt respectively) and Stanley Umude is a switchable wing who averaged 20 points per game at South Dakota. Jaxson Robinson is a developmental wing who is a formerly highly-rated recruit. Trey Wade will be a key off the bench as well.
Early reports out of Fayetteville is that this team is deeper, more talented and ahead of last year's Elite Eight team was at this time. Which is damn scary for the rest of the SEC.
11. Baylor Bears
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 11
Key Returnees: Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, Flo Thamba, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, LJ Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jordan Turner
Key Additions: Kendall Brown, Langston Love, Jeremy Sochin, James Akinjo (transfer)
Key Departures: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital
The reigning national champions are a tough team to peg, but even with the loss of four starters (including two first round picks in Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler) it’s hard to drop them too low.
Scoring guard Adam Flagler will be back, and after testing the draft waters Matt Mayer returns as well. They’ll be joined by two key bigs off of last year’s title team (Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua). Maybe most importantly, while Scott Drew didn’t wade deep into the portal waters, he got one of the best players available: Arizona point guard James Akinjo, who was first team All-Pac 12 last season. He should immediately plug into the point guard spot and help Flagler, Mayer and others get going offensively.
Add a few marquee freshmen (notably wing Kendall Brown) and a couple other other players stepping into bigger roles (most notably guard LJ Cryer) and the Bears shouldn’t drop too far, even with all the talent that left Waco this off-season.
12. North Carolina Tar Heels
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 17
Key Returnees: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson
Key Additions: Dawson Garcia (transfer), Brady Manek (transfer), Justin McKoy (transfer), Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn
Key Departures: DayRon Sharpe, Walker Kessler (transfer). Garrison Brooks (transfer)
When I did the first edition of the “Way Too Early Top 25” shortly after the season ended, Hubert Davis had just been named the new head coach at UNC, and no one was quite sure what to expect. Fast forward a few months, and while Davis has yet to coach a game, I think he has done about as well as you could've asked for him if you're a North Carolina fan.
Mainly, he was able to retain most of the guys he should’ve off last year’s team. Leading scorer and rebounder Armando Bacot is set to return alongside point guard Caleb Love and shooters RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton. To his credit, Davis has put his own stamp on the program as well, getting away from the two low-post big man system Roy Williams ran by bringing in Oklahoma forward Brady Manek, who should be able to stretch the floor. And then, after the NBA Draft deadline he added Dawson Garcia, a former McDonald's All-American, a guy that has All-ACC first team potential this season.
That small change should hopefully help give Love more space to create and lead to (in theory) more open jumpers for Davis and others. I'm excited to see what Year 1 of the Hubert Davis era looks like, mainly because I'm excited about his team.
13. Oregon Ducks
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 12
Key Returnees: Will Richardson, Eric Williams, N’Faly Dante, Franck Kepnang
Key Additions: Nathan Bittle, De’Vion Harmon (transfer), Quincy Guerrier (transfer), Jacob Young (Rutgers), Rivaldo Soares (transfer)
Key Departures: Chris Duarte, Amauri Hardy, LJ Figueroa, Eugene Omoruyi, Chandler Lawson (transfer), Jalen Terry (transfer), Aaron Estrada (transfer)
While guys like Eric Musselman, Chris Beard and John Calipari are lauded for their ability to put together rosters on the fly in the summer and have success come the winter, Dana Altman deserves the same credit. Every off-season there is major turnover in Eugene. And every year Altman figures it out and keeps the Ducks rolling.
This year the big additions were guard De’Vion Harmon, who averaged 13 points per game last year at Oklahoma and Syracuse forward Quincy Guerrier, who averaged 14 and eight helping the Orange to the Sweet 16. Oh and since our last update just a few weeks ago, they also added Jacob Young who was the starting point guard on Rutgers' NCAA Tournament team a season ago.
They’ll be joined by returnees Will Richardson, Eric Williams and Franck Kepnang, alongside McDonald’s All-American Nathan Bittle.
No. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: N/A
Key Returnees: Kofi Cockburn, Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, Dam'Monte Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Jacob Grandison
Key Additions: Alfonzo Plummer (transfer), Omar Payne (transfer), Austin Hutcherson (transfer), Luke Goode, Brandon Podziemski, RJ Melendez
Key Losses: Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller (transfer)
I'm not a huge wrestling guy, but you know that GIF of the Undertaker rising from the grave that's really popular on Twitter? When Ayo Dosunmu left, Kofi Cockburn declared for the draft and top assistants Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman both took jobs at Kentucky, I kind of felt like this program would turn into a one-hit wonder.
Then all of a sudden Kofi Cockburn withdrew from the draft, you looked at this roster, and realized, "Oh, man they're good."
Cockburn's return was obviously the biggest news, adding a potential National Player of the Year to the roster. But with him back, all the other pieces come together, as Andre Curbelo is a potential breakout player nationally after averaging nine points and four assists as a freshman, with Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier providing experience as key players on last year's Big Ten Tournament championship squad. Alfonzo Plummer was also one of the most deadly three-point shooters in college hoops last year - hitting a staggering 45 percent from three.
This team won't be the same without Ayo Dosunmu, but remember, they went 3-0 when Dosunmu got hurt late last year, including a win at eventual regular season champion Michigan.
With Cockburn back, this team is again good enough to win the Big Ten title.
No. 15 Memphis Tigers
Key Returnees: DeAndre Williams, Landers Nolley, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Alex Lomax, Jayden Hardaway
Key Additions: Earl Timberlake (transfer), Chandler Lawson (transfer), Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren, Josh Minott, Sam Ayomide, John Camden, Sam Onu
Key Losses: Boogie Ellis (transfer), Damian Baugh, D.J. Jeffries, Moussa Cisse
Say this for Penny Hardaway: He certainly gave us plenty of content in the off-season. While every college hoops coach in the country was playing golf and hanging out at Summer League in August, the Tigers' coach landed two of the most high-profile players in recent high school basketball history. Jalen Duren a week ago, and obviously Emoni Bates this week.
What. A. Summer. For Penny.
Now we'll see how it all comes together.
To be blunt, if we're basing rankings solely on talent, Memphis probably has one of the five or six most talented rosters in the sport. Bates and Duren will both be Top 5 picks when they enter the draft, and Timberlake, a transfer from Miami is a potential first round talent as well. Memphis also returns its top two scorers off a team that was playing well down the stretch last year, with DeAndre Williams and Landers Nolley back. Lester Quinones and Malcolm Dandridge are just good, solid college basketball players.
The problem is, that Hardaway hasn't always been adept at meshing talent when his teams take the court, which is why this team will be fascinating to watch, and why I ultimately can't put them any higher than No. 14 in this poll.
Still, say what you want about this team. They will be fascinating to watch this season.
16. Alabama Crimson Tide
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking: No. 16
Key Returnees: Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, James Rojas, Darius Miles, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Alex Tchikou
Key Additions: JD Davison, Charles Bediako, Jusuan Holt, Nimari Burnett (transfer), Noah Gurley (transfer)
Key Departures: John Petty, Herbert Jones, Joshua Primo, Alex Reese
Yet another team who roster has been altered since the last time we did our most recent Top 25. And if you want to know how crazy this college hoops off-season has been, how about this: The last time I did a Top 25, Nate Oats was in the process of dealing with his best player - Jaden Shackelford - entering the transfer portal after removing his name from the draft. Think about that: The best player, one of the best teams in Alabama history, spent part of his off-season wondering if there was a better spot for him than Tuscaloosa. Talk about the headaches of being a college hoops coach, huh?
Anyway, that's all a long-winded way of me saying that Shackelford is now back and the Tide will again be good enough to compete for an SEC title. They also might have the deepest backcourt in college basketball, with their top two scorers (Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly) returning, alongside McDonald's All-American JD Davison and former McDonald's All-American and Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett. Quinerly played especially well late last season and in the NCAA Tournament.
This team will miss the versatility of Herbert Jones on both ends of the court, but it won't slow them too much. Again, the Tide are good enough to compete at the top of the SEC once again.
17. Houston Cougars
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking: No. 13
Key Returnees: Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, Reggie Chaney, Fabian White
Key Additions: Ja’Vier Francis, Ramon Walker, Robbie Armbrester, Josh Carlton (transfer), Kyler Edwards (transfer)
Key Departures: DeJon Jerreau, Justin Gorham, Brison Gresham, Quentin Grimes. Cameron Tyson (transfer)
In a normal off-season, I look at Houston’s roster and think to myself “I don’t care how good Kelvin Sampson is. I just don’t see all that much with this team.” Then a few weeks into the season Sampson and Houston are beating people’s brains in and I sit there and think to myself “Why didn’t I believe in these guys?”
Well, I’m not making the same mistake this year. One, because I’m done doubting Sampson. And two, because I like the talent on this roster.
Second-leading scorer Marcus Sasser is back, and Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards should add immediate scoring pop down low. A healthy Fabian White, Reggie Chaney and UConn transfer Josh Carlton will give the Cougars their typical toughness and physicality down low.
18. Tennessee Volunteers
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 Ranking: No. 14
Key Returnees: John Fulkerson, Josiah Jordan-James, Santiago Vescovi, VJ Bailey, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic
Key Additions: Kennedy Chandler, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Jonas Aidoo, Jahmai Mashack, Justin Powell (transfer)
Key Departures: Yves Pons, Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, EJ Aniosike (transfer), Corey Walker (transfer)
I don't mean to belabor the point, but this is how crazy the college hoops off-season has gotten: ,I had Tennessee ranked No. 14 back on July 1. And six weeks later, four teams have made moves to pass them in the rankings! Four teams. Moved up the rankings in July and August. God I love this crazy, strange sport!
Anyway, let's get to the Vols. No, last year didn't go as planned for the preseason SEC favorites. But in many ways, I think this 2021-2022 roster is better built to compete at the top of the sport.
Last year’s team lacked a true play-maker at guard and this year’s squad might have two, with freshman Kennedy Chandler joined by Auburn transfer Justin Powell. Josiah Jordan-James emerged as a leader late in the season and should be helped by the return of John Fulkerson for (yet) another season of college hoops.
Santiago Vescovi adds shooting in the backcourt with VJ Bailey, and freshmen Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo provide depth in the frontcourt.
By the way, if you missed Rick Barnes talking about his team on the Aaron Torres Podcast, you can download here or watch on YouTube.
19. UConn Huskies
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25 ranking: No. 15
Key Returnees: RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Adama Sanogo, Jalen Gaffney, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley
Key Additions: Rashool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins, Samson Johnson
Key Departures: James Bouknight, Josh Carlton (transfer), Brendan Adams (transfer)
UConn might have had the most "un-college basketball in 2021" off-season of anyone in the sport. They didn't add a single player via the transfer portal and the only players they lost were a potential lottery pick that everyone knew was leaving months before the season ended (James Bouknight) and a pair of end-of-the-bench grad transfers who weren't expected to play much this season and left for bigger roles (Josh Carlton, Brendan Adams).
Wait, are you allowed to have such a quiet, boring off-season in college hoops these days?
All joking aside, the bulk of the Huskies' NCAA Tournament team is back this season, including RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Adama Sanogo. The Huskies also got a big boost when wings Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley both decided to use their extra year of eligibility to return to Storrs.
Akok Akok could also be an x-factor as he continues to recover from major injury two seasons ago.
20. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking: N/A
Key Returnees: TJ Shannon, Kevin McCullar, Marcus Santos-Silva, Clarence Nadolny, Chibuzo Agbo
Key Additions: Kevin Obanor (transfer), Sardaar Calhoun (transfer), Davion Warren (transfer), Bryson Williams (transfer), Daniel Batcho (transfer), Mylik Wilson (transfer), Adonis Arms (transfer)
Key Departures: Mac McClung, Kyler Edwards (transfer), Micah Peavy (transfer), Jamarius Burton (transfer), Tyreek Smith (transfer), Avery Benson (transfer)
So I'm not going to lie: This is just kind of a team that snuck on me in the last couple weeks. I hadn't even considered them as a Top 25 team around the NBA Draft Deadline.
Then second-leading scorer TJ Shannon elected to return.
Then they added one of the top transfers in the portal Kevin Obanor, who averaged 19 points and 10 boards, while shooting 46 percent from three, helping Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16.
And then I looked up and realized "Oh, I like this team."
Yes, it was a tumultuous off-season in Lubbock, but while all the focus has been on what Texas Tech's former coach (Beard) has done in Austin, his replacement and former top assistant, Mark Adams, has done equally as good of a job this summer. First, he hit the portal hard, adding one of the most versatile big men in the sport (Obanor), an elite shooter in Sardaar Calhoun from Florida State, and Davion Warren and Bryson Williams, who were both really good at the mid-major level last year. Yes, they also have a transfer on this team named "Adonis Arms." I know nothing about his game, but he definitely has the best name in college hoops next season. Adams also Shannon and McCullar (who averaged 13 and 10.5 points per game respectively last season) to return.
Add it up and this is a squad that all of a sudden has the pieces to be a second weekend type team next year.
Admittedly, I'm a bit higher than the Red Raiders than most, and I will also admit that their success relies on two things: One, they need McCullar to stay healthy at point guard, as he has missed parts of the last four seasons - yes, four - to injury. If he is healthy he is an All-Big 12 type player. Without him the Red Raiders don't really have anyone to make plays.
Two, their new coach is 65 and hasn't been a Division I head coach since 1997. Yes, you read that correctly.
Still, ask most Texas Tech insiders and they'll tell you Adams - Beard's right-hand man for the past few years and defensive guru - had as much to do with Beard's success as anyone. And two, Adams was a successful coach at the lower levels since 1997, winning a JUCO national title in 2010. So it's not as though this is his first (or second, or third) rodeo.
This is all a long, long winded way of me saying, the Red Raiders will be fascinating to watch this season.
21. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking No. 18
Key Returnees: Avery Anderson, Kalib Boone, Isaac Likekele, Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe, Keylan Boone, Rondel Walker, Bryce Williams, Bernard Kouma
Key Additions: Bryce Thompson (transfer), Tyreek Smith (transfer), Woody Newton (transfer), Moussa Cisse (transfer)
Key Departures: Cade Cunningham, Ferron Flavors Jr. (transfer)
To be blunt, I am stunned more people aren’t as excited about Oklahoma State heading into next year as I am.
Yes, they lost the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Cade Cunningham, but literally return everyone else off a team that was probably one of the 10 best in the country by the end of the season (remember the Cowboys beat Oklahoma twice, West Virginia twice and Baylor in the final two weeks of the season). And it’s not like they’re replacing Cunningham with an unknown, but instead the opposite as Isaac Likelele will take over the reigns of the offense. He was one of the best guards in the Big 12 two years ago before taking a back seat to Cunningham last year.
The Pokes also plugged holes in the portal, adding two former McDonald's All-Americans, Bryce Thompson (from Kansas) and Moussa Cisse (Memphis) as well as Woody Newton (Syracuse) and Tyreek Smith (Texas Tech) as well.
You want to look smart in your college basketball circles this off-season, start hyping up Oklahoma State. They're wayyyyy better than people realize.
22. Florida State Seminoles
Post NBA Draft Deadline Ranking: No. 20
Key Returnees: Anthony Polite, Malik Osbourne, Wyatt Wilkes
Key Additions: Matthew Cleveland, Jalen Warley, John Butler, Naheem McCloud, Caleb Mills (transfer), Cam’Ron Fletcher (transfer)
Key Departures: MJ Walker, RayQuan Evans, Scottie Barnes, RaiQuan Gray, Balsa Koprivica, Sadaar Calhoun (transfer)
This is another ranking that is based basically entirely on my belief in the head coach, and why wouldn’t we believe in Leonard Hamilton at this point? Over the last four seasons he’s made three Sweet 16’s and an Elite Eight. The only season he didn’t make the Sweet 16 was the lost 2020 year where no NCAA Tournament was played – and Florida State won the regular season ACC title that season. Few programs have been as successful as the Seminoles the last half-decade.
So yeah, even though there aren’t a ton of marquee returnees on this roster, in Hamilton we trust. The Seminoles will welcome in a loaded freshman class, as well as transfer Caleb Mills, who led Houston in scoring two seasons ago. We’ll also see whether Kentucky transfer Cam Fletcher can find a role here, after a tumultuous season in Lexington.
23. Auburn Tigers
Post NBA Draft Deadline Top 25: No. 23
Key Returnees: Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams, Devan Cambridge, Dylan Cardwell, Chris Moore, Tyrell Jones
Key Additions: Jabari Smith, Walker Kessler (transfer), KD Johnson (transfer), Desi Sills (transfer), Wendell Green (transfer), Zep Jasper (transfer)
Key Departures: Sharife Cooper, Javon Franklin, Jamal Johnson, Justin Powell (transfer)
Auburn has made big moves since the end of the season, as few schools have completely revamped their rosters quite like the Tigers this summer. And it’s because few teams embraced the transfer portal quite like Bruce Pearl’s squad.