Men’s College Basketball Too-Early Top 25: Alabama’s Best Chance to Win Title

After the NBA draft withdrawal deadline, there is much-needed clarity on where rosters stand for the 2024–25 season.
Alabama guard Mark Sears and the Crimson Tide are early contenders for the 2024–25 national championship.
Alabama guard Mark Sears and the Crimson Tide are early contenders for the 2024–25 national championship. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA’s withdrawal deadline for players testing the NBA draft waters has come and gone, providing some much-needed clarity on where rosters stand for the 2024–25 college basketball season. That makes it a good time to update Sports Illustrated’s top 25. Much has changed since our first look in the hours after the UConn Huskies cut down the nets in Phoenix in early April, with landscape-changing moves in the draft and portal that should shape which teams are in the best shape to contend for a title in 2024–25.

Rosters aren’t finalized just yet, with a few key names still available in the transfer portal and a slow trickle of freshmen both from the U.S. and internationally expected to make commitments in the coming days and weeks. That said, with a much better sense of the national landscape, here’s a look at SI’s updated top 25.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide 

Nate Oats has built a burgeoning powerhouse in Tuscaloosa, with a pair of SEC championships and a Final Four to the program’s name in its last four seasons. This season might be the Tide’s best chance yet to cut down the nets. Mark Sears’s return to school after averaging more than 21 points per game a year ago is massive, as was Grant Nelson’s earlier decision to spend one more year with the Tide. Like any Oats team, this one has tons of shooters around its best players, and unlike last season, the Tide have an elite rim protector to anchor the defense in Clifford Omoruyi (Rutgers Scarlet Knights). 

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Much will be made of KU’s loaded transfer class, which was a must for Bill Self after last season’s depth issues. But the excitement about the likes of AJ Storr (Wisconsin Badgers) and Rylan Griffen (Alabama) shouldn’t overshadow the Jayhawks’ key returners, which include a high-level floor general in Dajuan Harris Jr. and a dominant post presence in Hunter Dickinson. KU should be able to surround Dickinson with a lot more shooting thanks to the additions of Griffen and South Dakota State Jackrabbits transfer Zeke Mayo, and more scoring options take the pressure off Harris and KJ Adams Jr., allowing them to play more as glue guys. The result: a loaded roster ready to avenge last season’s disappointment and push for a third national championship under Self. 

3. UConn Huskies 

The two-time defending national champions are back for more. Can Dan Hurley pull off the elusive three-peat? Four starters are off to the professional ranks, but Hurley did get great news with the return of star forward Alex Karaban for a third season with the Huskies. As the unquestioned alpha of the 2024–25 Huskies, don’t be surprised to see the elite shooting Karaban on All-American lists. Five-star freshman Liam McNeeley gives the Huskies another big wing/forward with size and winning attributes, while portal pieces like Aidan Mahaney (Saint Mary’s Gaels) and Tarris Reed Jr. (Michigan Wolverines) should also fill key roles. Plus, Hurley’s staff has been elite at player development in recent years, so jumps from the likes of Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart can be expected. 

4. Houston Cougars 

Houston has finished second in KenPom three seasons in a row and hasn’t been outside the top 20 since the 2017–18 season, a remarkable run of consistency for a program that was largely dormant before Kelvin Sampson arrived a decade ago. This season’s group brings back several key cogs like Emanuel Sharp, L.J. Cryer and J’Wan Roberts—continuity that’s incredibly valuable in Sampson’s system. How Oklahoma Sooners transfer Milos Uzan fares will determine the ceiling here, and it’s a high bar to clear having to replace Jamal Shead as the Cougars’ floor general. 

5. Duke Blue Devils 

Duke was our way-too-early No. 1 in April thanks to its monster freshman class that includes a pair of projected top-five picks in Cooper Flagg and Khaman Maluach. Other teams have passed the Blue Devils since with huge portal hauls, but they did impressive work in that market as well. Sion James (Tulane Green Wave) is an elite defender who gets in the paint, Mason Gillis (Purdue Boilermakers) brings shooting and winning DNA and Maliq Brown (Syracuse Orange) is a versatile veteran frontcourt piece with impressive athleticism and defensive instincts. 

Flagg is a projected top-five pick in the 2025 NBA draft and gives the Blue Devils firepower this season.
Flagg is a projected top-five pick in the 2025 NBA draft and gives the Blue Devils firepower this season. / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

6. Iowa State Cyclones 

The nucleus of what was KenPom’s top-ranked defense a year ago returns for the Cyclones, who have their sights set on a Final Four or more after falling in the Sweet 16 in 2023–24. Point guard Tamin Lipsey as the head of the snake on both ends is a great place to start, and Milan Momcilovic could have a breakout sophomore campaign as one of the sport’s best shooters. More consistency on the offensive end combined with this elite defense would make this ISU team as good as anyone in college basketball.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs

After a slow start, Gonzaga surged to the finish line in 2023–24 to extend its streak to a remarkable nine straight years in the Sweet 16. With Ryan Nembhard and Graham Ike among the key returners for the Bulldogs, optimism is high in Spokane, Wash., that the Bulldogs can be a legitimate national title contender in 2024–25. Transfers Michael Ajayi (17 points, 10 rebounds per game for the Pepperdine Waves) and Khalif Battle (14.8 points per game for the Arkansas Razorbacks) could give this returning nucleus the push it needs to win the Bulldogs their first national championship.

8. Baylor Bears 

After rebuffing the Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats in the same offseason, Scott Drew built quite the roster for Baylor in 2024–25. Jeremy Roach (Duke) and Norchad Omier (Miami Hurricanes) might be the best pair of portal additions anywhere, with both having played in a Final Four and been plus starters on high-major teams already. Add that duo to a pair of elite freshmen in V.J. Edgecombe and Robert Wright, and you have a group with a real chance of getting back to the Final Four for the first time since the Bears won it all in ’21. 

9. Arizona Wildcats

It’s a bit of a step up in weight class from the Pac-12 to the Big 12, but Tommy Lloyd’s team looks built to contend right away. The return of potential All-American Caleb Love was the biggest news of the offseason for the Wildcats, but Lloyd did strong work improving this group around their leading scorer. Arizona has a chance to be one of the most physical teams in the country, with bruising guards Jaden Bradley and KJ Lewis back and sturdy frontcourt presences Trey Townsend (Oakland Golden Grizzlies) and Tobe Awaka (Tennessee Volunteers) incoming. Now, the test is whether Lloyd can avoid the March letdowns that have followed his program since he took over three years ago. 

10. Auburn Tigers 

Getting big man Johni Broome back for his fifth and final college season was a massive lift for the Tigers, and gives them a chance to avenge last year’s first-round NCAA tournament loss to the Yale Bulldogs. Bruce Pearl’s team was an analytics darling all of last season but never quite found the consistency necessary for a deep run in the Big Dance. Transfer guards Miles Kelly (Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets) and JP Pegues (Furman Paladins) should help. 

11. North Carolina Tar Heels 

The Heels’ priority No. 1 this spring was bringing back RJ Davis for his fifth year, and Hubert Davis succeeded in that task. RJ Davis will enter next season as a frontrunner for National Player of the Year. The pieces around Davis are also impressive, with two five-star freshmen, one of the best shooters in the portal and two returning ballhandlers (Elliot Cadeau and Seth Trimble) all back. That said, the Heels did strike out on their top frontcourt targets to replace Armando Bacot, instead landing Vanderbilt Commodores transfer Ven-Allen Lubin. One more big piece in the frontcourt could still be coming, but if it doesn’t, those portal misses could come back to bite the Heels. 

Davis will return to North Carolina for his fifth college season.
Davis will return to North Carolina for his fifth college season. / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

12. Tennessee Volunteers 

It’s now three straight top-10 KenPom finishes and four in the last six years for Rick Barnes at Tennessee, capped by a trip to the Elite Eight in 2024. This season’s group should keep them in that top-10 conversation. Zakai Zeigler’s back at point guard, and the Zeigler we saw in the second half of last season as he got to full health off a torn ACL was one of the best floor generals in the country. Putting the expectations of replacing Dalton Knecht on anyone would be unfair, but North Florida Ospreys transfer Chaz Lanier’s shooting ability at a lower level will certainly draw some comparisons to the Vols’ star from a year ago. Meshing four transfers into the rotation may take time for Barnes, but there’s a lot to like here. 

13. Creighton Bluejays

The momentum behind this Creighton program is huge, with three trips to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend in the last four years and coach Greg McDermott locked up for the long haul. That momentum continued with a strong offseason, one that featured the return of star big man Ryan Kalkbrenner for a fifth year and some key portal adds like Pop Isaacs (Texas Tech Red Raiders) and Jamiya Neal (Arizona State Sun Devils). 

14. Purdue Boilermakers 

Life without Zach Edey will be an adjustment for the Boilermakers, but much of the rest of Purdue’s core from its national runner-up squad returns. PG Braden Smith will be in the mix for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s best point guard, and significant growth can be expected from young wings Camden Heide and Myles Colvin. Trey Kaufman-Renn is the presumed Edey replacement at center, but watch out for 7’3” freshman Daniel Jacobsen, who was one of the big stories of USA Basketball’s U18 camp in May. 

15. Texas Tech Red Raiders 

The Red Raiders have done much of their portal work later in the cycle, making some huge splashes by landing Minnesota Golden Gophers transfer PG Elijah Hawkins in late April and former New Mexico Lobos big man JT Toppin in late May. Grant McCasland’s club also brings back four of its top seven scorers, headlined by dynamic shooters Kerwin Walton and Chance McMillian, as well as versatile forward Darrion Williams. The top of the Big 12 is loaded, but TTU has the upside to enter that conversation if things break right.

16. Xavier Musketeers 

After being plagued by youth and a lack of depth a year ago, Sean Miller went all in on the portal this time around. Six transfers join a returning group that features one of the better guards in the Big East in Dayvion McKnight and a healthy Zach Freemantle, who missed the 2023–24 season with a foot injury. I’m bullish on Indiana State Sycamores transfer Ryan Conwell’s two-way impact on the wing, and watch out for a breakout sophomore campaign from Dailyn Swain. 

17. Ole Miss Rebels 

The Rebels crushed the transfer portal this spring, reeling in some huge names like Sean Pedulla (Virginia Tech Hokies) and Dre Davis (Seton Hall Pirates) to give Chris Beard a much-needed talent injection. Beard’s team will have to be much better defensively than they were in 2023–24 when they ranked well outside the top 100 defensively per KenPom. That was by far the worst defensive rank of Beard’s career, which had featured five top-20 finishes and just one defense that finished outside of the top 50 nationally. Add Pedulla, Davis and mid-major frontcourt stars Malik Dia and Mikeal Brown-Jones to returners Matthew Murrell and Jaemyn Brakefield, and this group looks dangerous. 

18. Florida Gators 

The Gators took a big step forward in Todd Golden’s second year on the job. Now, it’s time to break through with a run in the NCAA tournament. The return of star guard Walter Clayton Jr., a preseason SEC Player of the Year candidate, is a big boost towards that goal, as is transfer add Alijah Martin (FAU Owls) in the backcourt. This group’s upside really lies in Australian big man Alex Condon, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman. If he makes the leap into a potential NBA player many in Gainesville believe he can, this Gators team could push for a top spot in the SEC race. 

19. Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati was close to a breakthrough in Wes Miller’s third season at the helm, with 10 of the Bearcats’ 15 losses last season decided by five points or less. With five of Cincinnati’s top seven scorers returning and two huge additions by way of the portal, this looks like the Bearcats’ chance to climb the ladder in the Big 12. Bradley transfer Connor Hickman adds shooting to a backcourt that already features Jizzle James, Day Day Thomas and Dan Skillings Jr., while a Dillon Mitchell-Aziz Bandaogo pairing should be one of the nation’s most athletic frontcourts. 

20. Marquette Golden Eagles 

Shaka Smart once again bucked the transfer portal trend this offseason, retaining every potential returner other than pro-bound Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro and not adding anyone from the portal. That means lefty wing Kam Jones steps into the role as the Golden Eagles’ unquestioned alpha, and role players from last year like Chase Ross, David Joplin and Ben Gold have to step up. Gold’s ability to hold down the center spot might dictate whether Smart’s team stays near the top of the Big East. 

21. Arkansas Razorbacks 

Expectations will be sky-high for John Calipari’s first season in Fayetteville. For good reason, too, given the talent assembled by Calipari this spring. Big-name transfers like Jonas Aidoo and Johnell Davis paired with top recruits like Karter Knox and Boogie Fland and a few key pieces following Calipari from Kentucky in DJ Wagner, Zvonimir Ivišić and Adou Thiero all give lots of reasons for on-paper excitement. But can Calipari press the right buttons and maximize this group’s talent in a way he couldn’t late in his Kentucky tenure?

Davis will join the Razorbacks in John Calipari’s first season in Fayetteville.
Davis will join the Razorbacks in John Calipari’s first season in Fayetteville. / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

22. Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois completely reshaped its play style in 2023–24, settling into an offense that featured a lot of the principles that made Villanova’s offense so dominant in its two national title seasons. The Illini lose a ton from a year ago, but I’m a believer in the talent coming in and its fit in the offense. Big, physical ballhandlers in Arizona transfer Kylan Boswell and potential one-and-done Kasparas Jakucionis, floor-spacing forwards like Ben Humrichous (Evansville Purple Aces) and Carey Booth (Notre Dame Fighting Irish) and a true center in Tomislav Ivišić could cause some very difficult matchups for Big Ten foes. 

23. Kentucky Wildcats

New Wildcats coach Mark Pope made the final big splash of a completely rebuilt roster by coaxing his former BYU Cougars player Jaxson Robinson to spurn the pros for a year at Kentucky. Robinson fits the mold of how Pope has built this team, with shooters everywhere. Transfers like Koby Brea (Dayton Flyers), Kerr Kriisa (West Virginia Mountaineers) and Andrew Carr (Wake Forest Demon Deacons) were among the best shooters at their respective positions in the portal, and adding Robinson to that nucleus makes the Cats even tougher to guard. Pope has a lot to prove as the new headman in Lexington, but has built a competitive roster in his first year on the job. 

24. Texas A&M Aggies 

Retaining Wade Taylor IV was a big win for Buzz Williams’s squad this spring, and Williams added to the Aggies’ strong offseason by landing a pair of impact transfers in Pharrel Payne (Minnesota) and Zhuric Phelps (SMU Mustangs). That said, the real x-factor for the Aggies could be athletic wing Manny Obaseki, who showed signs of a major breakthrough late last season. In eight games last March, Obaseki averaged better than 16 points per game on 47% shooting. If that’s a sign of things to come, watch out for the Aggies. 

25. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Five-star freshmen Dylan Harper and Ace Bailey might be two of the best players in the country next season, and that monumental recruiting haul earns the Knights the last spot in our top 25. Building around freshmen in 2024 is challenging, though Steve Pikiell did a nice job adding role-playing portal pieces to surround Harper and Bailey. Zach Martini (Princeton Tigers) and PJ Hayes (San Diego Toreros) provide shooting, while Jordan Derkack (Merrimack Warriors) is a glue guy and Tyson Acuff (Eastern Michigan Eagles) should bring some scoring firepower. 


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Kevin Sweeney

KEVIN SWEENEY

Kevin Sweeney is a staff writer at Sports Illustrated covering college basketball and the NBA Draft, and is an analyst for The Field of 68. A graduate of Northwestern, Kevin is a voter for the Naismith Trophy and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).