Men’s College Basketball Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2024–25: Duke and Elite Freshman Cooper Flagg Top List

Here’s a glimpse of who’s in the best shape as transfer portal season heats up. 
Flagg joins the Blue Devils next season.
Flagg joins the Blue Devils next season. / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023–24 men’s college basketball season is officially in the rearview mirror, but preparations have already begun inside every program for 2024–25. With well over 1,000 players already in the transfer portal, rosters across the sport are in flux, so the traditional “way-too-early” rankings are essentially a dart throw. Still, if you’re looking for an early handicap of who the best teams in the country might be, here’s a glimpse of who’s in the best shape as transfer portal season heats up. 

1. Duke Blue Devils 

There are some question marks in the backcourt, with all three starters from 2023–24 potentially departing. The Blue Devils should be elite defensively though thanks to the rim protection of elite freshmen Cooper Flagg and Khaman Maluach up front. Flagg, in particular, should be one of the best players in college basketball, a two-way star whose performance on the EYBL circuit last summer makes him a strong candidate for the top overall selection in the 2025 NBA draft. Plug in some solid guard play around him, and the Blue Devils have national title upside. 

2. Iowa State Cyclones 

The Cyclones clearly overachieved in 2023–24, winning the Big 12 tournament and reaching the Sweet 16 in what was the best year yet of the T.J. Otzelberger era. ISU has pieces to replace up front, but the head of the snake for the Cyclones was a dynamic backcourt trio of Tamin Lipsey, Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones, all of whom should return. Plus, sophomore Milan Momcilovic is one of the bigger breakout candidates for 2024–25 after a promising first season in Ames, and portal adds Nate Heise and Dishon Jackson provide experience and depth. 

3. Kansas Jayhawks 

Even after a disappointing finish, Bill Self’s Jayhawks are a must-include for any preseason rankings. After all, a Self team has never gotten worse than a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament in his 21 years as head coach of the Jayhawks. Veteran cogs Dajuan Harris Jr. and KJ Adams Jr. should be back, and there’s a chance All-American center Hunter Dickinson will return for his extra year of eligibility. Five-star big Flory Bidunga is also en route, and the Jayhawks have been active in early portal dealings, including landing Florida Gators transfer wing Riley Kugel and South Dakota State Jackrabbits guard Zeke Mayo. 

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Mark Few has made nine straight Sweet 16s, a streak as powerful as any in the sport. Is this the season for a breakthrough in the Big Dance? Returning star point guard Ryan Nembhard and productive back-to-the-basket big Graham Ike give Gonzaga the type of nucleus coaches dream of building around in the portal era. Plus, GU has already added athletic combo forward transfer Michael Ajayi to the mix, a player one WCC coach told me was the best NBA prospect in the league a year ago at Pepperdine.

5. UConn Huskies 

UConn will look different in 2024–25, with Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle likely going pro and Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer graduating. Betting against Dan Hurley would be a fool’s errand though given how good this program has been in the last two seasons. Alex Karaban should be the leader of this group, but young guys like Ahmad Nowell, Solo Ball and Jaylin Stewart should emerge and the Huskies can fill out the rest of the roster with portal pieces as they’ve done in the last two years. 

Karaban should be the Huskies’ leader next season.
Karaban should be the Huskies’ leader next season. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

6. Arizona Wildcats 

Tommy Lloyd has experienced his fair share of March disappointment, but the Wildcats have quite the nucleus to build around in the backcourt with Kylan Boswell, KJ Lewis and Jaden Bradley set to return. Add in a breakout sophomore season from big man Motiejus Krivas and the upside talented freshmen Joson Sanon and Carter Bryant provide, and this roster is in a good place before any portal adds. 

7. Houston Cougars

Houston has finished in the top five of KenPom’s national rankings in four straight years, so the floor here is ridiculously high even as Kelvin Sampson’s club likely looks to replace star veteran PG Jamal Shead. Wing Emanuel Sharp should step into a starring role as a junior, and rangy forwards Ja’Vier Francis and JoJo Tugler are perfect fits in the Cougars’ high-intensity defense. 

8. Purdue Boilermakers 

The end of the Zach Edey era in West Lafayette will take some getting used to, but that shouldn’t bring an end to Purdue as a national contender. Braden Smith is an easy projection as one of the nation’s best floor generals after a massive season in 2023–24, and Purdue has quietly stockpiled athletic, versatile wings with the likes of Cam Heide, Kanon Catchings, Myles Colvin and Mason Gillis. Don’t expect a big drop-off from the Boilermakers. 

9. Tennessee Volunteers 

It won’t be easy for Rick Barnes to replicate what he found in the transfer portal a year ago with Dalton Knecht, but the nucleus is still in place for this group to be highly competitive. Zakai Zeigler gives UT one of the best point guards in the country, and center Jonas Aidoo’s offensive game keeps expanding. An additional scoring pop on the wing should be a portal priority, but there’s plenty here to build on even if it will be a Herculean challenge to replace Knecht in the portal. 

Zeigler is one of the best point guards in the country.
Zeigler is one of the best point guards in the country. / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

10. Baylor Bears

Scott Drew has made Baylor a destination for elite young guards, and adds two more to the party in the 2024 class with VJ Edgecombe and Robert Wright. The Bears will have to supplement those youngsters with portal pieces given how hard it is to win these days with freshmen leading the way, but Wright, Edgecombe and returners like Jayden Nunn are a pretty strong starting place for Drew’s team.

11. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has plenty of stay-or-go decisions to track, with Mark Sears, Grant Nelson and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. all still having an extra year to use. It’s highly unlikely all will return, but even just getting Wrightsell back to go with Pepperdine Waves transfer Houston Mallette and junior Rylan Griffen would give the Tide a solid backcourt nucleus. Plus, Nate Oats is bringing in a strong recruiting class headlined by Derrion Reid and Aiden Sherrell, who should help solidify the frontcourt. 

12. North Carolina Tar Heels

Hubert Davis’s team will look quite a bit different in November with the departures of Armando Bacot and likely RJ Davis, but the Heels should be able to reload. Elliot Cadeau could take a big step forward as UNC’s point guard of the future, and Harrison Ingram could emerge as more of a focal point should he return to Chapel Hill over pro overtures. Five-star wings Ian Jackson and Drake Powell should be factors from Day 1, too.

13. Saint Mary’s Gaels 

Don’t let a first-round NCAA tournament loss stop you from buying into this Gaels team in 2024–25. Star guards Augustas Marčiulionis and Aidan Mahaney should be back next season, and imposing five-man Mitchell Saxen is set to return for his bonus year of eligibility. This team finished on a 23–3 tear after a 3–5 start and should be a threat to Gonzaga in the WCC race yet again.  

Saxen is set to return for his bonus year of eligibility.
Saxen is set to return for his bonus year of eligibility. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

14. Florida Gators

The Gators had a nice second season under Todd Golden, knocking on the door of a top-four SEC finish and reaching the SEC tournament title game before losing a heartbreaker to the Colorado Buffaloes in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Replacing point guard Zyon Pullin should be a priority, but Walter Clayton Jr. has established himself as one of the best scoring guards in college basketball and young bigs Alex Condon, Micah Handlogten (pending his return from a gruesome leg injury suffered in March) and Thomas Haugh are nice building blocks. 

15. Auburn Tigers

Auburn should lose its star frontcourt duo of Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams, but several important pieces from this season’s group should be back. That includes talented young guard Aden Holloway as well as veteran wings Denver Jones and Chad Baker-Mazara. Plus, freshman Tahaad Pettiford is lightning quick with the ball in his hands and could be an instant-impact guy. If Broome elects to return for a fifth year, this ranking could skyrocket. 

16. Marquette Golden Eagles

Shaka Smart’s team will look very different without Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro, but this shouldn’t be a rebuilding year. Leading scorer Kam Jones should be back, and role players like David Joplin and Chase Ross should continue to develop. It will be interesting to see whether Smart relies on internal options like Sean Jones and Tre Norman at point guard and Ben Gold at center or hits the portal to bolster those spots.  

17. Miami Hurricanes

The wheels came off late for Miami, with the Hurricanes winning just once after Feb. 1 to finish 15–17 on the season. A significant roster exodus followed, but the nucleus still intact gives the Canes a shot at a quick bounceback. Nijel Pack, Wooga Poplar and star freshman Jalil Bethea make for quite the backcourt, and early portal adds Lynn Kidd (Virginia Tech Hokies) and Brandon Johnson (East Carolina Pirates) should solidify the frontcourt. 

18. Maryland Terrapins

The Terps were a disappointment in 2023–24, but could bounce back quickly thanks to some splashy additions to this roster. Five-star big Derik Queen teaming up with returner Julian Reese could make for one of the most imposing front lines in the country, though spacing could be a concern. Kevin Willard also reeled in a big fish to replace Jahmir Young at point guard, landing Belmont Bruins transfer Ja’Kobi Gillespie over a slew of other high-major suitors. 

19. Ohio State Buckeyes

New coach Jake Diebler has a lot to prove still, but he did successfully energize the Buckeyes late in 2023–24 and has capitalized on that momentum so far this offseason. The Buckeyes have kept their core together, with PG Bruce Thornton and C Felix Okpara each confirming their return, and have since added South Carolina Gamecocks star Meechie Johnson Jr. in a homecoming of sorts for the once-former Buckeye. If rising sophomore forward Devin Royal takes a step forward, this group could be dangerous. 

20. UCLA Bruins

Mick Cronin has hit the transfer portal early after being criticized for his freshman-heavy approach in 2023–24, adding transfers Skyy Clark (Louisville Cardinals) and Kobe Johnson (USC Trojans) to a solid returning core. Combine that duo with returners Dylan Andrews and Sebastian Mack, and the Bruin backcourt should be in good shape. Clarity in the frontcourt is a must with Adem Bona likely to consider pro options, but this roster is in good shape for a bounce-back season under Cronin. 

21. New Mexico Lobos

The Lobos broke through in Richard Pitino’s third year, winning the Mountain West tournament to clinch the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in a decade. With two young stars in Donovan Dent and JT Toppin set to return, UNM could easily make back-to-back trips to the Dance. Replacing fiery guard Jaelen House won’t be easy, but the Lobos seem like an early candidate to win the always-competitive Mountain West. 

Dent is set to return to the Lobos next season.
Dent is set to return to the Lobos next season. / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

22. Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati wasn’t far from a banner first season in the Big 12. Eight of Cincinnati’s 11 losses in league play came by five or fewer points in 2023–24, and with several key pieces set to return, this team could have a breakthrough next season. Jizzle James is a major breakout candidate, and wing Dan Skillings Jr. showed flashes of stardom as a sophomore. Getting Aziz Bandaogo back for his fifth year would be big, as would a bit more scoring pop via the transfer portal.

23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Relying on freshmen is a scary proposition in this day and age of college basketball, but the Knights have two elite ones in Ace Bailey and Dylan Harper joining the fray in 2024. Bailey is a big wing scorer who could push Flagg for the No. 1 overall pick in ’25 while Harper can play on or off the ball and thrives getting to the rim. How they surround Bailey and Harper with talent will be critical, but the Scarlet Knights should be among the more interesting teams to track next season. 

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

After consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament in Chris Jans’s first two seasons, the Bulldogs could take a step forward in 2024–25. Sophomore guard Josh Hubbard had a phenomenal first season in Starkville and could well be among the nation’s leaders in scoring, and Jans added more backcourt firepower with Penn State Nittany Lions transfer Kanye Clary to help further jump-start this offense. Those two guys plus a traditionally stingy defense make this group worth ranking. 

25. BYU Cougars

Don’t let a disappointing first-round exit vs. the Duquesne Dukes overshadow a huge season from BYU. The Cougars’ adjustment to life in the Big 12 was a lot smoother than expected, and several key pieces should return. If star wing Jaxson Robinson returns, this group could be in the top 15 conversation. 


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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).