Way-Too-Early Men's Top 25: Ranking the 2021-22 Season's Leading Contenders

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There has never been a more difficult year to do a men's college basketball Way-Too-Early Top 25. With over 1,200 players already in the transfer portal, uncertainty over returning seniors and upcoming NCAA rule changes, every roster is very much still in flux. Add in a pandemic that has kept coaches off the road recruiting for 13 months and disrupted seasons, and there are far more questions than answers about next season right now.

Despite all that, we’re going to give it a shot. These rankings may look far different in June, September and November. Think of these as a snapshot in time: what the rankings would look like if the 2021–22 season started tomorrow.

A few baseline rules used to make roster assumptions:

  • Any player ranked in the top 60 of Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo’s most recent NBA Draft Big Board is assumed to be going pro, unless they’ve already announced otherwise. Any player not ranked on that board is expected to return to school, unless they’ve already announced otherwise.
  • While seniors can return for a fifth year, these rankings assume all seniors are moving on unless they’ve said otherwise.
  • All transfers are assumed to be immediately eligible.

Let’s give this a shot!

Duke's Jeremy Roach, Michigan's Hunter Dickinson and Kansas's Jalen Wilson

1. Gonzaga

Multiple key decisions loom for the Zags to determine just how good the 2021–22 Bulldogs will be, but they feel like the safe choice at this point. The two biggest ones are whether star big man Drew Timme returns to school (for these rankings, he’s considered a Zag) and whether the country's No. 1 recruit, Chet Holmgren, will head to Spokane as rumored. If even one of those two is on Gonzaga next year, this team will be special. Expect Andrew Nembhard to run point full-time with the expected pro departure of Jalen Suggs, but elite recruit Hunter Sallis should give this backcourt plenty of upside. And if Timme and Holmgren wind up sharing a frontcourt together? Watch out.

MORE: Gonzaga's Title Wait Lives on, but So Will Its Remarkable Season

2. Michigan

This will be a very young Michigan team if Juwan Howard can’t convince some of his seniors to come back for one last go-round, but the Wolverines should be elite regardless. Big man Hunter Dickinson will be a top-five player in college basketball after a terrific freshman campaign, and Juwan Howard has signed a No. 1 recruiting class headlined by top-10 recruit Caleb Houstan. There could be some early growing pains with this young group, but Dickinson is quite the stabilizer and Howard has proven himself as one of the elite coaches in the country.

3. Duke

The Blue Devils will have the top-end future NBA talent we’re accustomed to seeing in Durham in 2021–22. No. 3 recruit Paolo Banchero and No. 7 A.J. Griffin are both eventual lottery picks with polished games who should be college stars, and there’s a good chance Duke brings back several key cogs from a disappointing 2020–21 season. Matthew Hurt’s draft decision is worth tracking, but even if he goes pro, young talents like Jeremy Roach and Mark WIlliams should be back to augment this excellent group of newcomers.

4. Ohio State

The Buckeyes’ stunning first-round NCAA tournament exit to Oral Roberts shouldn’t overshadow a great season in Columbus that saw Ohio State ranked in the top 10 for the entirety of February and March. The dynamic duo of guard Duane Washington Jr. and big man E.J. Liddell should be back for another year, and that’s as good a place to start as any in college basketball. Add in top-30 recruit Malaki Branham and a talented young stable of role players, and the Buckeyes should be legitimate Big Ten contenders yet again.

5. UCLA

Perhaps no player boosted his draft stock in the NCAA tournament more than Johnny Juzang, but the Bruins will be special if he elects to stay for another year. The core of Juzang, Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. is an excellent one that will be able to build on the team’s Final Four run this offseason, and the addition of elite recruit Peyton Watson on the wing will give the Bruins the top-end talent they lacked this season. UCLA likely won’t shoot quite as well next season as it did during its miracle run through March, but Mick Cronin has certainly set the tone for future success in Westwood.

6. Houston

Kelvin Sampson has built a program with staying power at Houston, and the Cougars should be excellent again in 2021–22 even with the graduation of star point guard DeJon Jarreau. Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser should return in the backcourt (though Grimes is likely to consider pro options), and the addition of grad transfer Josh Carlton (UConn) should solidify the interior and provide a boost on the glass. Watch out for Tramon Mark, who could break out after a strong freshman season.

7. Baylor

The Bears will lose four starters who brought this program to historic heights, but Baylor isn’t leaving the national picture anytime soon. Top-tier recruits Kendall Brown, Langston Love and Jeremy Sochan join the fray, and Scott Drew’s staff will likely be active in the transfer portal as well. Add in the return of key cogs like Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, and it’s hard not to be excited about the future in Waco.

8. Purdue

Matt Painter’s club was definitely ahead of schedule in 2020–21, earning a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance and finishing fourth in the Big Ten despite a young roster. Now, the Boilermakers should return every key piece and are set to add a pair of high-level in-state recruits in Trey Kaufman and Caleb Furst. Guard Jaden Ivey averaged 15.8 points per game in February and March as a freshman and should be one of the Big Ten’s best as a sophomore, and Purdue's two-headed monster of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey up front will be a handful once again.

9. Alabama

Few programs are on a more positive trajectory than the Crimson Tide under Nate Oats after a breakthrough year two in Tuscaloosa. While a few key contributors will depart, Oats has fully established his style of play and the program’s talent level will continue to rise. Five-star point guard JD Davison will be a great addition to an already-explosive backcourt unit that features the likes of Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly. Expect more help to come via the transfer portal in the coming weeks.

10. Florida State

The nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, per 247Sports, belongs to the Seminoles, a group headlined by a pair of top-30 recruits in Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley. Cleveland, Warley and Houston transfer Caleb Mills should provide tons of scoring pop in the backcourt for Leonard Hamilton’s club. The Seminoles should have the combination of young talent (Warley, Cleveland) and experience (Anthony Polite, Balsa Koprivica) to be very dangerous. Warley will be the most critical piece—FSU’s offense struggled with turnovers in 2020–21 thanks to the lack of a true point guard. Can the freshman step in right away and run the show effectively?

11. Kansas

Bill Self was open about needing to add more talent this spring after a blowout NCAA tournament loss to USC, and the Jayhawks are set to do just that. In addition to strong returners like Jalen Wilson and David McCormack, Self has already signed three four-star recruits, a top-10 JUCO recruit and top D-II transfer Cam Martin. Sophomore point guard Dajuan Harris has a critical offseason ahead of him to develop as the top playmaker for the Jayhawks, and Self may have a bit of a logjam on his hands with several different options up front. One big draft decision to track: Ochai Agbaji, the team’s leading scorer this season and a projected second-round pick

12. Maryland

The champions of the transfer portal so far have been the Terps and Mark Turgeon, who’ve added a pair of elite transfers in big man Qudus Wahab (Georgetown) and Fatts Russell (Rhode Island). Those additions filled the Terps’ two main holes from 2020–21: a true center and a point guard. Add those two talents to an experienced core that features Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Donta Scott, and you have a team capable of doing special things. Maryland’s ability to go big and play through Wahab in the post or play Scott/Jairus Hamilton at center and embrace spacing will make the Terps tough to prepare for in 2021–22.

13. Villanova

The Wildcats are hard to peg without clarity on whether Collin Gillespie will return for a fifth year. This ranking assumes he won’t return. Even without him, there shouldn’t be a huge drop-off. A top-five recruiting class that features three four-star recruits joins the fray, and experienced returners like Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels remain in tow for Jay Wright’s club. Villanova needs strong early contributions from Trey Patterson and/or Jordan Longino, especially if Gillespie doesn’t return.

14. Illinois

This ranking is predicated on a return to school from star sophomore Kofi Cockburn, who is not in SI’s most recent top 60 but explored the pro waters last spring. With Cockburn back, this team should stay very competitive. Sophomore point guard Andre Curbelo is as crafty as they come and should have a breakout campaign running the show for the Illini with the departure of Ayo Dosunmu. Curbelo and Cockburn in the pick-and-roll should be hard to defend and fun to watch.

15. Kentucky

We’ll see if John Calipari and the Wildcats can put a historically disappointing 2020–21 behind them. A pair of elite transfers in Kellan Grady (Davidson) and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) should help, as should the additions of top-tier recruits Nolan Hickman, Bryce Hopkins and Daimion Collins. Hickman might be the most important addition, a McDonald’s All-American who could step in at the point guard position after UK struggled mightily there all season. This is a tough team to peg, but the talent is there for a bounce-back year.

16. UConn

Even with the pro departure of James Bouknight, the UConn program is on a clear upward trajectory under Dan Hurley. The Husky defense in 2021–22 should be terrific thanks to the rim-protecting presence of Akok Akok and Adama Sanogo down low. Expect Sanogo’s offensive game to expand in his sophomore campaign after flashes of stardom as a freshman in the post. The big need for the Huskies is consistent scoring in the backcourt, with junior Jalen Gaffney expected to take on a larger role. Freshmen Rahsool Diggins and Jordan Hawkins are exciting young talents joining the fray as well.

17. Arkansas

The Razorbacks broke through in year two under Eric Musselman, reaching the program’s first Elite Eight since the Nolan Richardson era in Fayetteville. And while multiple key cogs will depart, the Hogs aren’t going anywhere. Talented sophomores Davonte Davis and Jaylin Williams could be breakout stars, JD Notae is a gifted scorer and Pitt transfer Au’Diese Toney provides the versatility Musselman loves in his forwards. No one recruits the transfer portal harder than Musselman, so expect more big additions here.

18. Michigan State

MSU’s lack of a true point guard plagued the Spartans in 2020–21, and Tom Izzo wasted no time remedying that with the early signing of Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker. Add in elite recruit Max Christie, and a backcourt that struggled last year gets a major facelift. Christie and Walker are both high-level shooters, and Walker is also an elite defender who should set the tone on that end of the floor. A key will be whether leading scorer Aaron Henry elects to return for one more year: He’s currently No. 50 on Jeremy Woo’s Big Board and penciled in as a pro for the purposes of these rankings.

19. Oregon

This will be a different-looking Oregon team than the one we saw in 2020–21. The addition of five-star floor-spacing big Nathan Bittle and the return of 6’ 11” center N’Faly Dante gives this group far more size than it had this past season. Meanwhile, veteran guard Will Richardson should be one of the Pac-12’s best scorers. Expect Dana Altman and Co. to be very active in the transfer portal to add talent as they have in the past—the Ducks’ top four scorers this season were transfers.

20. Tennessee

It was a somewhat disappointing season for the Vols considering the talent level on the roster, but Rick Barnes’s club should be competitive yet again in the SEC in 2021–22. The additions of five-star guard Kennedy Chandler and Auburn transfer Justin Powell should give an offense that was inconsistent this season a huge lift in the shot-making department. The big question for Tennessee comes in the frontcourt, where a return from senior John Fulkerson would move the Vols further up these rankings.

21. West Virginia

Assuming big man Derek Culver returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers should be a top-25 team yet again. Elite shooter Sean McNeil should also be back, as should talented young forward Jalen Bridges and defensive extraordinaire Gabe Osabuohien. The question mark for West Virginia is at the point guard position, where Miles McBride is expected to depart for the pros without a clear answer to replace him. A late addition at that spot from the transfer portal would lessen the load on freshman Seth Wilson. A surprise return from McBride would be game-changing.

22. St. Bonaventure

The 2020–21 Atlantic 10 champs will run it back next season, creating what should be one of the most experienced teams in college basketball. All five Bonnies starters will be seniors, including wily veteran PG Kyle Lofton and shot-blocking big man Osun Osunniyi. Meanwhile, Mark Schmidt’s staff has been busy this spring using the transfer portal to add depth, with early commitments from Karim Coulibaly (Pitt) and Quadry Adams (Wake Forest).

23. LSU

Draft decisions will be critical for the Tigers and will dictate whether this is a top-15 team in the preseason or an unranked one. This ranking’s methodology pencils in high-scoring guard Cameron Thomas and versatile forward Trendon Watford as pro departures, with PG Javonte Smart and skilled big Darius Days returning to school. If at least two of that “core four” returns, LSU will be in good shape—especially with the emergence of young wings like Alex Fudge and Mwani Wilkinson.

24. Drake

Losing talented guard Joseph Yesufu to the transfer portal hurts, but all five starters return from a team that won its first 18 games and earned an at-large tournament bid this season. A healthy Roman Penn and ShanQuan 'Tank' Hemphill should help matters after both missed significant time with foot injuries late in the season. Head coach Darian DeVries also went into his backyard (literally) for reinforcements, adding his son Tucker (a top-100 recruit nationally) in his 2021 recruiting class.

25. Xavier

The Musketeers faltered late in the 2020–21 season, but the surprise returns of guards Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson for a fifth year gives this team significant upside next season. A Scruggs/Zach Freemantle duo could be one of the best in college basketball, and wing Colby Jones could be one of the nation’s best breakout candidates after a strong freshman campaign. The Musketeers have yet to reach the NCAA tournament under Travis Steele, but will have no excuses in 2022 considering how much talent and experience they return.