Every year, 25 teams enter their first game of the college basketball season with a number beside their name. These teams did absolutely nothing on the court to earn this number.
These are the pre-season rankings, and they are determined by recruiting and the quality and quantity of retained players.
With the transfer portal becoming more of a factor than ever, with over 1,000 players up for grabs, these predictions will be completely irrelevant come the release of the AP’s pre-season list. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try and predict who could rise to the top and follow in Kansas’s footsteps in this edition of the way too early rankings.
1. Arizona Wildcats
The ‘cats were back under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd last season. Led by star guard Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona was handed a one-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Injuries and poor form led to their eventual Sweet 16 exit at the hands of the Houston Cougars, but the season was truly impressive regardless. They were not highly regarded in the weeks leading up to the season, and they surprised the entire college basketball world as they surpassed the 30 win total.
They look to be returning their entire starting lineup from last year, minus expected first-round pick Mathurin, as well as many of their key bench players. They’ll be a team to watch next year, regardless of their transfer portal ambitions.
2. Baylor Bears
Scott Drew will be returning much of his one-seeded team from last year. Kendall Brown will be headed to the NBA, and though Jeremy Sochan and Matthew Mayer may be tempted to turn pro, both could still opt to return to Waco for another year.
Their two leading scorers from last year, Adam Flager and LJ Cryer should be back, and healthy to start the season. They also return big-man Flo Thamba who was improving in his increased minutes at the tail-end of last season after injury problems took out their sixth man ‘Everday John’.
Top-recruit Langston Love will be available theoretically after suffering a brutal ACL injury before his freshman year even began. Five-star recruit Keyontae George will enter the fold as well. If this team can mold the way Drew wants them to, they’ll be a contender once again.
3. Duke Blue Devils
Incoming coach Jon Scheyer will have some work to do if he wants to succeed in his first year at the helm of his alma mater’s program.
They will be retaining point guard Jeremy Roach, who finally seemed to be getting the hang of things as he finished his second year strong. Wendell Moore, the best SF in all of college basketball may come back as well.
They have the best recruiting class in the country, per usual, as they recruited three top-ten guys and another couple of top-50 signees.
Scheyer’s ability will be tested early, as he has all the talent in the world to work with.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
The defending champions are losing some of their core pieces. Namely, Ochai Agbaji, an All-American will be departing alongside big man David McCormack, who played great down the stretch and made the big shot to all but seal the game for Kansas in the National Championship.
But, they retain their athletic wings, Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun, as well as a reliable point guard and top-tier defender Dajuan Harris.
Right now, once-Drake star Joseph Yesefu will be slotted for some more game time if he sticks around after barely seeing the court last year.
Bobby Pettiford, KJ Adams, and Zach Clemence will get more playing time in their second year, and their three five-star recruits could produce as well.
It’s a reload year and it may take some time for this team to gel, but if they figure it out by March, they’ll be very dangerous once again and have a great shot at repeating.
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs
This is the only team in these rankings that I’m putting here, expecting something major to be done in the transfer portal. Though I would never count on that, Gonzaga has had reported interest in all of the top transfers, and they’ll be a highly sought-after destination for guys who want to win.
They lose Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, but they do keep some of their role players in Julian Strawther, Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman, and Hunter Sallis.
Though they have just one signed recruit, it means they have more roster space available to bring in players from other programs. Gonzaga will be this good again, and there’s no doubt about it.
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