This year’s tournament was great. The Final Four was one for the ages. A 15-seed made it all the way to the Elite Eight for the first time, UNC ended Coach K’s career AGAIN in the Final Four, Kansas had the biggest championship game comeback ever, and two double-digit seeds made it to the Elite Eight. There are now well over 200 days until the next college basketball season starts. I don’t know about you, but I already really miss it. So what do we do in the meantime? Let’s go ahead and start looking ahead to next season with the Way-Too-Early Men’s Top 25.
First though here are a couple of rules. Anyone that is projected to be drafted in ESPN’s latest NBA Draft projections will be looked at as not returning. That means players in the top 60. Anyone who is outside of that will be counted as a returnee. Also, any seniors who have an extra COVID year remaining will still be counted as not returning unless they have said otherwise. Additionally, keep in mind that this will change a lot between now and when the next season starts in November. NBA Draft declarations, the transfer portal, and other factors such as schedules and the coaching carousel will have a big say in those changes. Now, let’s get started.
Way-Too-Early Men’s Top 25
1. UCLA Bruins
It feels unlikely that both Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. will return to Westwood next season, but I will have them do so for now. Point guard Tyger Campbell returns, and last year’s eighth overall recruit Peyton Watson should be ready to take the next step next season as a sophomore. Amari Bailey, the best guard in this year’s class and the second-best recruit overall, will be a great addition to the backcourt with Campbell. The Bruins are losing both of their big men, but five-star Adem Bona will help offset that loss. If both Juzang and Jaquez come back, this is a top-two team to start the year.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks
I had Arkansas at number one until both Au’Diese Toney and Jaylin Williams announced they were declaring for the draft. Toney signed with an agent so he won’t be back, but Williams did leave open the possibility of returning the Fayetteville. If he does come back, I think the Razorbacks are the number one team. Without him, though the team lacks size, but Eric Musselman has proven to be a wizard when it comes to recruiting transfers. So he will undoubtedly get at least one. That is in addition to the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, highlighted by five-star recruits Jordan Walsh, Anthony Black, and Nick Smith, who is the sixth-best player in the entire class. Arkansas loses a lot, but the recruiting class and the transfers Musselman will surely bring input the team in a position to potentially reach a third straight Elite Eight.
3. Houston Cougars
2021-22 was perhaps Kelvin Sampson’s best coaching job while at Houston. He coached the team all the way to the Elite Eight, including an upset of 1 seed Arizona, and won the American Athletic Conference title despite not having arguably his two best players in Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark for most of the season. They could have won the national championship had those two been healthy. The Cougars could lose four double-digit scoring seniors, which is obviously a huge loss. But Mark and Sasser should be back and healthy, and Jamal Shead returns after putting on a great performance in the NCAA Tournament. Houston will add two top 40 recruits to the mix. Top 10 recruit Jarace Walker adds a ton of talent to the Cougs’ frontcourt, and Terrance Arceneaux is one of the best pure scorers in this class. Plus as also they will be elite defensively.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels
A month ago nobody would have thought to put UNC this high in this ranking. It may even be too high right now. Caleb Love and Armando Bacot could both certainly leave after their performances in the team’s deep tournament runs. But they are both currently outside of the top 60 in ESPN’s rankings so I’ll keep them in here. If they both return, the two of them along with R.J. Davis would be one of the best trios of players in the nation. If returnees like Puff Johnson, so played really well in the national championship game off the bench, as well as Dontrez Styles and Kerwin Walton can develop, the Tar Heels will look really good heading into the season. They also bring in three top 100 four stars.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
The new-crowned national champions are losing a ton of talent. Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack are just two of the guys that they will lose. Luckily, two starters in Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr. should return. The biggest thing is the stellar recruiting class that Bill Self is bringing in. Rated fourth overall, the class includes a trio of five stars in Gradey Dick, MJ Rice, and Ernest Udeh Jr. Returnees Joseph Yesufu and Zach Clemence should be able to take a big step forward and help the team offset the big losses that they will suffer.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky will be coming off of what I contend is the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history in their loss to Saint Peter’s (Yes, even bigger than 16 seed UMBC over Virginia.). TyTy Washington and Shaedon Sharpe, who didn’t play a single second of basketball at Kentucky, are potential lottery picks and will probably be gone. National Player Of The Year Oscar Tshiebwe is currently projected to be a second-round pick, so he could end up returning. But for now, I’ll have him gone. The likely returnees are led by two starters in Sahvir Wheeler and Keion Brooks Jr. One of the other returnees is going to step up and fill one of the holes. Whether that’s Jacob Toppin, Daimion Collins, or someone else. A pair of top 10 recruits come in Chris Livingston and Cason Wallace. Former Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick will be a key piece of the Wildcats’ puzzle. He is an elite shooter, one of the best in the nation, but missed all of his first season in Lexington with a hamstring injury.
7. Baylor Bears
Baylor is going to look a lot different for the second season in a row. Two seniors and two potential first-round picks should be gone. Scott Drew’s squad will have a smaller lineup than last year. They will likely start four guards. In the frontcourt, Flo Thamba returns and so does Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, but his health is a question. The biggest returnees come on the perimeter. LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler will anchor the offense. The two were the top two scorers from the Bears this season. Top 5 guard Keyonte George is a major addition to the squad. Dillon Hunter is another guard that is an interesting addition. Different recruiting websites/services look at him very differently. ESPN has him as a four-star and in the top 60, while 247 Sports has him as a three-star and outside of the top 100.
8. Duke Blue Devils
Duke could lose up to seven of their top eight players from this season. That amount of turnover combined with potentially starting four freshmen is not ideal for the first year under a first-time head coach. The only likely returner, point guard Jeremy Roach, will have a huge role this upcoming season. He will have to be the leader and the glue to keep all the new guys together. But there are definitely going to be some growing pains early in the season. Hopefully, the sheer talent of their incoming recruiting class can help mask some of those growing pains. Five of the six members of this class are in the top 100, four of those are five stars, and three of those are in the top 10. One thing Duke will definitely have is a lot of size and length. Two seven-footers are coming in and another player who is 6-foot-11.
9. Gonzaga Bulldogs
One of the most impactful NBA Draft decisions in regards to preseason rankings is that of Drew Timme. He is currently projected as a late second-round pick, and so because of that, he could definitely return to Spokane. He did recently declare for the NBA Draft, but did not say if he has signed with an agent so he could possibly still come back. If Timme does return to school, then the Bulldogs bring back one of the best players in the country. If not, then there is a massive hole for Mark Few to fill on a roster that would be his least proven in a long time. Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis, both five-stars in last year’s class, are poised to make big jumps in their sophomore seasons, especially with increased playing time. Julian Strawther should continue to improve and Anton Watson will be back too. Mark Few is bound to get one of the biggest names in the transfer portal too.
10. Creighton Bluejays
It feels really weird having the highest Big East team be a team that isn’t Villanova. But here we are. For a team that was supposed to be rebuilding this season, Creighton overachieved big-time. They made the NCAA Tournament, won a game, and challenged Kansas until the end. Ryan Nembhard was fantastic as a freshman, and Big East Defensive Player Of The Year Ryan Kalkbrenner was great too. The two should form one of the best center-point guard duos in the country. The rest of the team is good and young too with Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander. Big things could be in store in Omaha.
11. Michigan Wolverines
There were a lot of people who thought that Michigan should not have made the NCAA Tournament this year, or at least should have been in the First Four, due to their record. The team used that as fuel and made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Star big man Hunter Dickinson is currently projected to go undrafted so I will have him returning to Ann Arbor here, but he almost went pro last year so he very well may do so this year. The Wolverines bring in the seventh-ranked recruiting class. The four-player class is made up of all four-star recruits, including probable starting point guard Dug McDaniel and head coach Juwan Howard’s son Jett Howard. The top teams in the Big Ten are all losing a lot of talent, so Michigan could be in the driver’s seat in the conference, especially if Dickinson comes back.
12. Villanova Wildcats
Much like Gonzaga, Jay Wright’s Villanova squad is very unproven on paper. Among the departures is two-time defending Big East Player Of The Year and one of the best players in the history of Villanova basketball in Collin Gillespie. Unless Brandon Slater decides to use his extra COVID year and return to school, then the Wildcats will only return two starters – Eric Dixon and Justin Moore. But you can’t count on Moore right now as he will be recovering from the torn Achilles he suffered in the Elite Eight win over Houston. Nova does have some reinforcements coming though. Five-star recruit Cam Whitmore is a perfect Villanova player and could be their best player right away. He is a perfect fit. Fellow incoming freshman Mark Armstrong could be tasked with running the point. Returnee Jordan Longino will need to take a step forward as a sophomore and hopefully, Bryan Antoine can finally realize the potential he had coming out of high school in 2019 as a five-star recruit.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee looked like one of the best teams in the country in the final few weeks of the season, including running through and winning the SEC Tournament title. Then they hit a wall in the NCAA Tournament after being underseeded and lost to 11 seed Michigan in the second round. The Vols will return four starters, but the one they lose is going to hurt a lot. That player is Kennedy Chandler, arguably their best player this season and one of the best freshmen in the country and now a potential lottery pick. Zakai Zeigler should step up and take over at point guard and should continue his emergence. Either Santiago Vescovi or Josiah-Jordan James will have to provide for more scoring for the Volunteers with Chandler gone.
14. Arizona Wildcats
Tommy Lloyd is going to be losing a lot of talent. Bennedict Mathurin is going to be a lottery pick this summer, and both Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry are projected to be drafted as well. That is three starters right there. If just one of Koloko or Terry comes back, this is a top 10 team. But for now, without them, I’ll keep them at 14. The Wildcats are still returning a bunch of talent. Kerr Kriisa should be back to full strength next season. His injury clearly hindered the team a lot in the NCAA Tournament. Azuolas Tubelis, second on the team in both scoring and rebounding average, returns, as does seven-footer Oumar Ballo and a couple of solid guards. Their depth might be a bit of a concern if neither Koloko nor Terry return, but this is still a team that could win the PAC-12.
15. Auburn Tigers
Auburn is losing their two best players in Walker Kessler and likely top-three pick Jabari Smith. Together in their one year at Auburn, they formed one of the best frontcourt duos in the nation, perhaps even the best one. Former LSU commit Yohan Traore, a five-star recruit, committing to Auburn in late March is huge for Bruce Pearl’s squad. All of their guards return. That will be a good thing if they can play like they did earlier in the year. However, they were not very good at all late in the year. Allen Flanigan being healthy again should really help, especially if he can get back to how he played two seasons ago when he averaged over 14 points per game.
16. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is very interesting. An enigma this season, even. They beat a lot of really good teams but lost to a lot of bad ones. Finding more consistency will be key to succeeding next season. The team’s best player Jaden Shackelford recently declared for the NBA Draft, and he didn’t sound like he’ll change his mind and come back. Keon Ellis and JD Davison are both projected to be drafted right now, but either one of them coming back to Tuscaloosa would be huge. Thankfully Jahvon Quinerly will return, and so will Charles Bediako. The Crimson Tide bring in the third-best recruiting class in the country, headlined by a pair of top 20 five stars Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley.
17. Dayton Flyers
Dayton was the first team out of the NCAA Tournament this year. Although it was very surprising that they were above the likes of Texas A&M and Xavier, they weren’t undeserving. After suffering three really bad losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb, and Austin Peay to start the season, the Flyers beat Kansas, Miami, Belmont, and Virginia Tech in non-conference play and had a few huge wins in Atlantic-10 play including one over Davidson. All five starters return and six of their top seven players were freshmen this year. The other one was a sophomore. DaRon Holmes III and Malachi Smith are the best of the youth movement on Anthony Grant‘s squad and should be two of the better players in the A-10 next season.
18. Xavier Musketeers
Losing Dwon Odom to the transfer portal is a big blow to this team. Top 100 point guard Desmond Claude will now be heavily relied upon at point guard unless they bring in a talented transfer. Program mainstay Paul Scruggs is gone, and that will hurt too. On the bright side though, Zach Freemantle, Jack Nunge, and Colby Jones all return from a team that won the NIT championship. Four-star freshman Kam Craft is a good scorer. Xavier could also soon pick up a commitment from four-star recruit Tyrell Ward. There was way too much talent on that team this year to miss the NCAA Tournament. But they hit a wall in February and were terrible down the stretch after that. I don’t see that happening this year in Sean Miller’s return to Xavier.
19. Oregon Ducks
There weren’t many teams that were bigger disappointments this year than Oregon. That talent was there, but nothing went right for the Ducks all year. But this season should be an outlier for Dana Altman’s program. They will lose their best player in Will Richardson. But a lot of talent returns in guys like De’Vion Harmon and Quincy Guerrier. N’Faly Dante and Nathan Bittle should both continue to develop and improve. The Ducks bring in a top 20 recruiting class that includes two five-star recruits. Those two are point guard Dior Johnson and top 10 center Kel’el Ware. Both of them should make big, immediate impacts in Eugene.
20. Indiana Hoosiers
Trayce Jackson-Davis is an interesting one. He is not currently projected to be drafted but could still certainly end up leaving and going pro. But for now, though I’ll keep him in school. If he does come back, then Mike Woodson’s squad gets everyone back from a team that was able to get Indiana back to the NCAA Tournament. Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson will both be back. Indiana also brings in two very talented freshmen in five-star Jalen Hood-Schifino and Kaleb Banks. This could very well be too low of a ranking for the Hoosiers, especially if Jackson-Davis decides to return to school.
21. Texas Longhorns
Texas is losing a lot. Christian Bishop is the only major returnee. Dylan Disu was hampered by injuries all season, but if he can return to his Vanderbilt form that would be huge for the Longhorns. Devin Askew was a top 40 recruit coming out of high school two years ago. He will have his chance to finally show his potential. Texas has the 11th ranked recruiting class in the country. The class features two top 20 five-star recruits in Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris. This team could be very good if they play consistently, something they didn’t do this year.
22. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue suffered a really gut-wrenching loss in the NCAA Tournament. Might really have been the toughest one to swallow outside of Duke’s. Now Matt Painter has to replace a ton of talent, including two of the better players in the country in Trevion Williams and likely top-five pick Jaden Ivey. Other starters are gone too. But there was such a high amount of talent on this team that the Boilermakers could still be ok. The mountainous Zach Edey returns and so does Mason Gillis The backcourt has major question marks though.
23. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois is really only here because Kofi Cockburn is currently not projected to be drafted and therefore I still have him on this team. But he very well could leave. Brad Underwood is going to have a difficult task on his hands this year even if Cockburn does return. Everyone else is going to be gone. Luckily the Fighting Illini do boast a top 10 recruiting class that includes five-star point guard Skyy Clark. His recent commitment is a HUGE boost to Illinois’ roster for next season. A trio of four stars also arrives in Champaign, but Underwood would be wise to get a transfer or two to help with not just talent but also experience.
24. Saint Louis Billikens
I am keeping Saint Louis here because I feel like Yuri Collins, who led the nation in assists, will change his mind and return to school. If he does, this is a really good-looking team. Gibson Jimerson is an elite shooter and averaged over 16 points per game this season. Javonte Perkins missed the entire season due to a torn ACL but should be back healthy for next season. When healthy he is one of the best players in the A-10. If the Billikens can get better on defense, then Travis Ford’s squad can compete with anyone.
25. Texas A&M Aggies
There were a bunch of teams that I considered for this final spot but in the end, I decided to give it to Texas A&M. Almost everyone should return for a team that, outside of a really bad losing streak during conference play, played pretty well on the season. The team that should have made the NCAA Tournament after getting to the SEC title game eventually became the NIT runner-up. Tyrece Radford and Henry Coleman lead the team that, like I said, should remain mostly intact outside of losing leading scorer Quenton Jackson.
Other Teams That Were Considered:
Virginia, Michigan State, Ohio State, TCU, Texas Tech
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