CBB 2021 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25
The college basketball season is more than 100 days from tipoff, but it’s never too early to take a look at what teams will be poised to compete for a national title. In what will be a season dominated by headlines on and off the court, including NIL and Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement, it will be interesting to see which teams succumb to the pressure or rise to the occasion. With that being said, let’s get into the CBB way-too-early preseason top 25.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 1: Gonzaga Bulldogs
The top dog – no pun intended – is Gonzaga. The Bulldogs return All-American and 2021-22 Wooden Award favorite Drew Timme (19.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg). The No. 1 freshman in the country, Chet Holmgren, will join Timme in Spokane. That is a terrifyingly versatile and skilled frontcourt. Holmgren is a unicorn of sorts, offering playmaking and scoring on all three levels with rim protection to boot. He was dominant on the interior for the United States at the U-19 FIBA World Cup, and Zags fans should expect that play to carry over into the season. Senior guard Andrew Nembhard (9.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) will be the sure-footed leader of the squad, guiding freshmen Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman in the backcourt. Those five guys form the best starting five in the country, a promising blend of experience and youth as Few looks to finally climb over the hill. Keep an eye on transfer guard Rasir Bolton, too. He likely needs a waiver, but if the NCAA lets him play, pray for the West Coast Conference.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 2: UCLA Bruins
Last year’s Cinderella is gearing up for another run, but this time as favorites. The Bruins’ magical run last March could repeat itself if the pieces come together. The biggest question will be whether or not Mick Cronin’s squad are legit contenders. For now, they appear to be. The return of Johnny Juzang means that UCLA’s No. 1 scorer will be back. Juzang, along with Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Cody Riley, and freshman Peyton Watson form the Pac-12’s best starting five. Despite being somewhat undersized, their collective pace and scoring ability make them hard to defend (i.e., the back-and-forth Final Four game against Gonzaga). Looking for their first national title since 1995, the Bruins may add their 12th banner to the rafters in Pauley Pavilion.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 3: Kansas Jayhawks
After falling behind Baylor last season, Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks will be looking to reclaim the Big 12 title. Arizona State transfer Remy Martin and Drake transfer Joseph Yusefu will provide a ton of scoring in the backcourt. The return of Ochai Agbaji (14.2 ppg) means that four out of five starters will be back in Lawrence. While Martin’s defensive ability may come into question, his offensive spark will take some pressure off of Agbaji and David McCormack. This is a team that will be tested early on in the season with games against Kentucky, Michigan State, and more before they begin a loaded Big 12 schedule. We’ll learn what this team has to offer real quick. But a veteran starting five with explosiveness, shooting, and good frontcourt play likely spells trouble for the Big 12 and country.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 4: Michigan Wolverines
Juwan Howard’s Michigan Wolverines were one of the most exciting teams in the country last season. The playbook is deep and doesn’t put any undue pressure on one particular player, a blessing when you will have one of the top five big men in the country in Hunter Dickinson. Freshman Caleb Houstan will be an immediate starter in Ann Arbor. The Montverde Academy grad is a great shooter that can and will score at all three levels. Fellow freshman Moussa Diabate could start or certainly come off the bench as a sixth man in place of Dickinson, or Brandon Johns Jr. transfer DeVante’ Jones (19.3 ppg) from Coastal Carolina could start for the Wolverines too. This squad will be the favorite in the Big Ten and could once again challenge for a national title.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 5: Villanova Wildcats
While the return of senior guard Collin Gillespie is huge for Villanova, you never know how someone will return from a torn ACL, and that’s why the Wildcats are knocked down a peg or two. Nevertheless, Gillespie being back in Philadelphia means that Jay Wright will have a 14.0 ppg scorer and veteran presence in the backcourt one final time. Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels will be starters once again, and if Moore can consistently become a threat from beyond the arc, this team will be tough to guard. The Wildcats are Big East favorites once again and could secure Wright’s third title in seven years.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 6: Baylor Bears
The reigning national champions will lose a lot of production with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague exiting Waco, but a strong freshmen class and some really good veterans should have the Bears in the hunt again. Matthew Mayer’s jump from proven bench scorer to a top three offensive weapon will be a big determining factor for this team’s success. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Adam Flagler are important returnees that know how to win, with Arizona transfer James Akinjo (15.6 ppg and 5.4 apg) likely starting at point guard. Freshmen Langston Love and Kendall Brown, in particular, will compete for minutes, and don’t be surprised if Brown wins Freshman of the Year in the Big 12. A really talented squad that should be an Elite Eight team with a ceiling as repeat national champions.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 7: Purdue Boilermakers
As Jon Rothstein says, there are three things certain in life, “Death, taxes and Matt Painter.” Painter may finally have the squad to truly compete for a national title. The Boilermakers are returning their top eight scorers from last season, with Trevion Williams (15.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg) leading the way for an uber-talented team. Sophomore Jaden Ivey will show up in West Lafayette, Indiana, with his head held high after his fabulous performance for the USA at the U-19 FIBA World Cup. That pairing between Williams and Ivey will be elite. Big man Zach Edey (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will be a monster either off the bench or in the starting five. Matt Painter will have a veteran squad with the potential Big Ten Player of the Year in Williams and a real chance at a national title.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 8: North Carolina Tar Heels
This ranking is ambitious and likely higher than you will see on any other preseason ranking, but this Tar Heel squad is really good. The late addition of Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia elevates the UNC frontcourt to one of the best in the country. Garcia averaged 13.0 ppg and 6.6 rpg for the Golden Eagles, and that level of production will be needed this season in Chapel Hill. The departures of Day’Ron Sharpe (NBA), Garrison Brooks (Mississippi State), and Walker Kessler (Auburn) mean that Armando Bacot (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is the only big man left who played significant minutes last season. Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek (10.4 ppg) will compete for minutes and offers a lot as a stretch-four or wing for Hubert Davis. The return of Kerwin Walton, R.J. Davis, and Caleb Love offers a great backcourt trio, as Love could cement his place as the best point guard in the ACC. Though there were concerns regarding depth and talent at the start of the summer, Davis has done more than enough to secure pole position in a restored ACC this year.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 9: Texas Longhorns
In his first year in Austin, Chris Beard killed it in the transfer portal. He secured UMass transfer Tre Mitchell (18.8 ppg) along with Kentucky transfer Devin Askew and Timmy Allen (17.2 ppg) from Utah. Beard has solidified the Longhorns as a top ten team. Guards Andrew Jones (14.6 ppg) and Courtney Ramey (12.2 ppg) are the returners that the former Texas Tech coach will build around. This squad has one of the most talented seven man groups in the country, with Beard having his pick of the litter in Austin. There are endless combinations, but no one is going to complain about the abundance of talent, as well as a potential Big 12 player of the year in Mitchell. Texas could be on the rise.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 10: Duke Blue Devils
In what will be Mike Krzyzewski’s final year in Durham, he has a squad that could potentially go the distance. Duke returns wing Wendell Moore Jr., point guard Jeremy Roach, and notably, center Mark Williams. The trio will be crucial to the team’s success because the freshmen that Coach K and co. brought in should handle their own in the ACC. Forward Paolo Banchero might be the most pro-ready freshman in college basketball, and wing A.J. Griffin has expanded his game as a scorer. Duke will be a formidable threat in the ACC as they look to remedy last season’s struggles, with sights also on Coach K’s sixth national title.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 11: Kentucky Wildcats
Another blue blood coming off the heels of a terrible season, Kentucky will be looking to forget last year’s failures and start anew. And start anew they will. John Calipari hit the transfer portal hard, securing three of the top transfers in the country in Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), Kellan Grady (Davidson), and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia). The trio are all immediate introductions into the starting lineup. Iowa transfer CJ Frederick will be a good rotational wing too. Returners Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks – both double-digit scorers – will help lead the new batch of Wildcats in Lexington. There’s new young talent too. Freshman TyTy Washington is an electric scoring guard. A good shooter from beyond the arc, he is quick off the bounce and will create plenty of opportunities for his teammates. After a dismal showing last year, the Wildcats should be back on top in the SEC.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 12: Oregon Ducks
Dana Altman really took advantage of the transfer portal this offseason, securing Oklahoma transfer De’Vion Harmon as well as Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and Jacob Young (Rutgers). Young has a pending NCAA waiver, according to Rothstein, but a backcourt trio including the former Scarlet Knight, Harmon and returner Will Richardson will be a blessing to Altman. Guerrier figures to start alongside N’Faly Dante or Nate Bittle in the frontcourt. Altman has a really talented squad that has the potential to return to the Final Four like the 2016-17 Oregon Ducks squad.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 13: Arkansas Razorbacks
Eric Musselman revitalized a school last year that hasn’t really been relevant since Nolan Richardson. The 2020-21 Razorback team was so much fun to watch, and although the loss of Moses Moody stings, this is a squad that will compete on the national stage once again. Like many other coaches on this list, Musselman took full advantage of the massive transfer pool and will be bringing Chris Lykes (Miami), Au’Diese Toney (Pittsburgh), and Stanley Umude (South Dakota) to Fayetteville. All three should start and offer loads of scoring – they averaged a combined 51.5 ppg last season – to a squad that lost of a lot of production.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 14: Houston Cougars
Last year’s Houston Cougars squad was another team that restored a once great staple in college hoops. With Kelvin Sampson at the helm, this figures to be another good year. Quentin Grimes’ departure is unfortunate, but much of the Final Four team returns. Marcus Sasser will lead this Cougars squad alongside Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards (10.1 ppg). They will need good wins in non-conference play, but there’s no doubt that they can compete because this defense will be really stout once again.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 15: Alabama Crimson Tide
This was my favorite SEC team to watch last season. The Crimson Tide get up and down the floor quickly, with a high paced offense where every player has the green light from beyond the arc. The return of Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) means that Nate Oats has is floor general. Quinerly will be on the ball a lot more this season and will have to create opportunities for his teammates, but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. Furman transfer Noah Gurley (15.4 ppg) will be a good interior presence and should start immediately for Oats. However, the most exciting thing might be the pair of incoming freshmen. J.D. Davison could very well be the best scoring guard in the SEC. He’s at his best getting to the rim and leaping over opponents, and a pick-and-roll game with fellow freshman Charles Bediako is intriguing.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 16: Maryland Terrapins
Mark Turgeon will once again have another quality squad. Aaron Wiggins staying in the NBA Draft is a tough loss, but incoming transfer Fatts Russell (Rhode Island; 14.7 ppg) should shoulder that scoring load. Last season’s leading scorer, Eric Ayala (15.1 ppg), will return to College Park and could be a preseason First Team Big Ten nominee. Georgetown transfer big man Qudus Wahab (12.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) will be a handful on the interior for any opponent. Turgeon has the pieces for a squad that could advance to the Elite Eight and maybe catch a bit more magic during March.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 17: Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes incurred a severe drop when Duane Washington Jr. decided to stay in the NBA Draft. Nevertheless, the return of E.J. Liddell means that a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year will be in Columbus this season. Liddell averaged 16.2 ppg last season, and with the offense focused heavily on him this season, that scoring will be much needed. Still, Chris Holtmann has others who can really score it, including Justice Sueing and Kyle Young. It will be interesting to see what happens with this Buckeyes squad because they can definitely be a second weekend team come March.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 18: Florida State Seminoles
Leonard Hamilton may be the most underappreciated head coach in college basketball. His Seminoles always compete in the ACC, and with returners Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne, they will again. Houston transfer Caleb Mills (9.8 ppg) will start in the backcourt for Hamilton. Mills averaged 13.2 ppg during the 2019-20 season, and a return to that level of production would be a massive boost. As always, Hamilton’s squad will be tough, constantly rotating players and be a tough match-up for anybody they face, regardless of who’s suiting up in garnet and gold.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 19: Tennessee Volunteers
Incoming freshmen point guard Kennedy Chandler is coming off a gold medal at the U-19 World Cup with the USA and will be eager to lift some more hardware in Knoxville. Chandler is the best floor general in his class and will illustrate that this season. In the pick-and-roll he is pro-like, and if Rick Barnes gives him those opportunities with returning big man John Fulkerson (9.5 ppg), that duo should be dynamite. Auburn transfer Justin Powell (11.7 ppg) could start for Barnes as they look for their second SEC title in five years.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 20: Auburn Tigers
The expected departure of Sharife Cooper to the NBA Draft means that Bruce Pearl had to replace the point guard position, and he did. Western Kentucky transfer Wendell Green (15.0 ppg, 5.8 apg) will be the floor general for a talented and versatile Tigers squad. Fellow transfer Walker Kessler from North Carolina will start at the center spot. He showed glimpses of his talent – including the Duke game in Chapel Hill – last season, but a full year as a starter could see him become one of the most talented bigs in the SEC and country. Freshman Jabari Smith – ranked No. 5 in ESPN’s Top 100 list – is the epitome of a stretch-four in today’s basketball. He’s lanky, super bouncy, and with a good jumper from both mid-range and three, he will be a nightmare for any school. Pearl’s got the pieces, time to put the puzzle together.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 21: St. Bonaventure Bonnies
One of the few non-power five schools on this list, this St. Bonaventure team returns all five starters from last season. Kyle Lofton (14.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) will spearhead the attack for the Bonnies in the backcourt and should be one of the frontrunners for Atlantic Player of the Year. This squad will be battle tested come conference play too, with games against Virginia Tech and West Virginia slated in their non-conference schedule. If you like a good underdog that could make a run in March, this is your team.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 22: Virginia Tech Hokies
Mike Young transformed the Hokies last season, and with likely preseason First Team All-ACC big Keve Aluma back in Blacksburg, this team is locked and loaded. Aluma averaged 15.2 ppg and 9.7 rpg for Virginia Tech last season, and if he turns into a weekly double-double threat – he had six in the 2020-21 season – ACC Player of the Year nods will be coming his way. Wofford transfer Storm Murphy (17.8 ppg, 4.3 apg), who may also have the best name in the ACC, will be an immediate starter for Young’s squad. These Hokies will hoist up a bunch of threes, and if and when they fall, this team is scary to face.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 23: Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are a little further down the list than they are in other years, but that doesn’t mean this squad doesn’t have potential. Veteran point guard Kihei Clark (9.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) is in Charlottesville for another season. This squad has a lot of question marks surrounding the returnees and they will need to step it up come conference play. Guard Reece Beekman will get more minutes this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can step up to the plate and become a more proven scorer. Transfers Armaan Franklin (Indiana) and Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) figure to have a huge impact too.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 24: LSU Tigers
I’m high on these Tigers, and I hope they don’t let me down. They are a fringe top 25 team on a lot of lists, but their combination of size and athleticism excites me. I think Darius Days is poised for a big year this season. Days averaged 11.6 points last season and is a big factor on the glass (7.8 rpg). Illinois transfer Adam Miller can score in bunches, and when he gets going, he’s tough to stop. In Baton Rouge, he’ll have more of an opportunity to shine, but he cannot fade in and out of games like he sometimes did for Illinois. That will be crucial if Will Wade hopes to get the best out of this team.
CBB Way-Too-Early No. 25: Michigan State Spartans
The final team on this list is Izzo’s Spartans. A perennial Big Ten contender, Tom Izzo will need a lot of scoring from the backcourt this season. Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker (18.8 ppg) will be the starting point guard and will need to score at a similar level following Rocket Watts’ transfer to Mississippi State. Freshman guard Max Christie is a shooter and should provide good spacing on this team. Returner Joey Hauser needs to be more consistent this season, but Izzo has loads of talent in the frontcourt, including Malik Hall, Mady Sissoko, and Julius Marble.
Fringe top 25 teams: UConn Huskies, USC Trojans, and West Virginia Mountaineers.
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