Is Gonzaga still the favorite in the Way-Too-Early Top 25 college basketball rankings for 2021-22?

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, October 11, 2021

After a busier-than-usual summer due to the delayed withdrawal deadline for the NBA draft, and then some significant reclassifications and commitments in August, roster changes expectedly slowed in September. We did make some tweaks since the last update in late August, however, moving a couple of veteran-laden groups in UConn and St. Bonaventure to the back end of the rankings.

It's now been more than six months since the initial Way-Too-Early Top 25 of the offseason -- and the rankings have constantly shifted. The two biggest movers since the night of the national championship game in early April were Memphis and Texas, two teams that transformed their rosters via the transfer portal and recruiting trail and are now clear-cut preseason top 10 teams.

Some aspects of those early rankings have remained the same, however. Gonzaga is still preseason No. 1, Drew Timme is still the Wooden Award favorite and UCLA, Purdue, Kansas and Villanova should all be Final Four contenders.

We're finally officially less than one month from the start of the 2021-22 college basketball season -- which means the Way-Too-Early Top 25 isn't too early anymore. It's time.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous: 1

After coming up one game short of a national championship for the second time in five seasons, Gonzaga enters the season as the favorite to take the next step and cut down the nets. Much of it stems from the return of Timme, the Wooden Award favorite, and the arrival of Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class. There might be some early growing pains to make Timme and Holmgren work effectively up front, but they should form the best frontcourt duo in the country, with Anton Watson, a key cog in the rotation last season and someone generating positive offseason buzz, coming off the bench. Mark Few (who is currently suspended from the season openerfollowing his citation for driving under the influence in early September) is also bringing in a pair of five-star guards in Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman, as well as Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton, who earned all-conference honors last season. That trio joins Andrew Nembhard, who started 16 games last season -- including every game during the NCAA tournament run. It can be argued Nembhard's return is flying under the radar a bit; he's one of the best point guards in the country. This team is loaded -- whether it fits together as well as last season's historically good offense did is to be determined.

Projected starting lineup:

Nolan Hickman (No. 24 in ESPN 100)

Andrew Nembhard (9.1 PPG)

Rasir Bolton (15.5 PPG at Iowa State)

Chet Holmgren (No. 1 in ESPN 100)

Drew Timme (19.0 PPG)

2. Kansas Jayhawks


After finishing last season with nine wins in its final 11 games, Kansas returns four starters and adds one of the best transfers in the country. Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji have been mainstays in the rotation for multiple seasons, while Jalen Wilson looked like one of the best players in the Big 12 for long stretches last season. The Jayhawks were at their best when David McCormack was playing well, however. In the final 12 games of the regular season, he averaged 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, then went for 22 points and nine rebounds in the NCAA tournament win over Eastern Washington. With Marcus Garrett leaving, Bill Self needed reinforcements at the point guard spot -- and he went out and grabbed maybe the best one on the market, Arizona State transfer Remy Martin. A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, Martin has elite speed and scoring ability, but will need to adapt his game and become more of a playmaker and distributor. Sophomore Dajuan Harris will push Martin for minutes, too.

Projected starting lineup:

Remy Martin (19.1 PPG at Arizona State)

Christian Braun (9.7 PPG)

Ochai Agbaji (14.1 PPG)

Jalen Wilson (11.8 PPG)

David McCormack (13.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG)

3. UCLA Bruins

Previous: 3

If UCLA had not erased a 14-point deficit to Michigan State in the First Four of the NCAA tournament, where would the Bruins be ranked? They would have been 17-10 with a five-game losing streak to end the season. That's essentially the crux of the argument for UCLA being ranked too high, but, simply put, Mick Cronin brings back every player from the Bruins' Final Four run, adds a lottery pick in Peyton Watson and one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten in Rutgers graduate transfer Myles Johnson. I lean much more toward the March momentum carrying over to this season. Johnny Juzang developed into one of the best players in the country during the NCAA tournament, and he and Jaime Jaquez Jr. should form a dynamic offensive duo. Tyger Campbell is a typical Cronin point guard: tough, poised and takes care of the ball. Down low, Cody Riley had a pair of double-doubles in the NCAA tournament and now has more help with Johnson's arrival. Something clicked for the Bruins in March; I think it will again.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyger Campbell (10.2 PPG)

Johnny Juzang (15.5 PPG)

Peyton Watson (No. 12 in ESPN 100)

Jaime Jaquez Jr. (12.1 PPG)

Cody Riley (9.8 PPG)

4. Villanova Wildcats


As soon as Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels announced they were taking advantage of their extra year of eligibility, Villanova became a lock top-five team nationally. Jay Wright has an experienced team with plenty of depth and versatility, especially on the perimeter. Gillespie is arguably the best point guard in the country, while Samuels continues to expand his game every season in college; he was one of the most efficient players in the Big East last season and shot 45% from 3 in league play. Justin Moore came into his own offensively last season, and former Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels transitioned well to the Big East in 2020-21. Junior Brandon Slater and freshman Trey Patterson are two names to watch on the perimeter; they've both generated positive buzz in the offseason. The lone key loss is co-Big East Player of the Year Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who leaves a huge hole up front. Wright's options include ESPN 100 recruit Nnanna Njoku and rotation returnee Eric Dixon. If Nova can get quality production from those two players, it has a chance to get back to the Final Four.

Projected starting lineup:

Collin Gillespie (14.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG)

Justin Moore (12.9 PPG)

Caleb Daniels (9.6 PPG)

Jermaine Samuels (12.0 PPG)

Eric Dixon (3.0 PPG)

5. Texas Longhorns


If we were ranking teams solely based on on-paper talent, it would be hard to put Texas lower than No. 2. But there are some questions when it comes to how Chris Beard gets all the pieces to fit -- and that will be one of the biggest storylines to follow in the early weeks of the season. The Longhorns bring back two veteran starters on the perimeter in Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones, and Beard is supplementing that guard duo with six of ESPN's top 30 transfers. The transfer class is highlighted by Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Timmy Allen (Utah) and Tre Mitchell (UMass). Carr was arguably the best transfer all spring, while Allen was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and Mitchell was a dominant force down low. Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt), Christian Bishop (Creighton) and Devin Askew (Kentucky) have all shown the ability to play at the highest level. Top-40 recruit Jaylon Tyson has earned rave reviews early, too. Beard has plenty of experience with transfers and he's made it work in the past; if he does it again, this team will be a monster.

Projected starting lineup:

Marcus Carr (19.4 PPG at Minnesota)

Courtney Ramey (12.2 PPG)

Andrew Jones (14.6 PPG)

Timmy Allen (17.2 PPG at Utah)

Tre Mitchell (18.8 PPG at UMass)

6. Purdue Boilermakers


Matt Painter brings back nearly every key piece from a team that won 11 of its final 14 games to end the season, while adding a pair of ESPN 100 prospects. The focus will be on the interior, where All-American candidate Trevion Williams and breakout big man Zach Edey will be anchors. Williams was one of the most efficient players in the country last season, while the 7-foot-4 Edey averaged 15.1 points and 14.1 rebounds in seven games with Canada at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Latvia. Much of the offseason buzz, however, has centered onJaden Ivey -- the top-ranked returnee in ESPN's 2022 NBA draft rankings. Ivey started just 12 games last season, but averaged 14.8 points in those starts and was also very good at the World Cup. Starters Eric Hunter Jr., Brandon Newman and Sasha Stefanovic are also back, while Mason Gillis is suspended for the first four games of the season. In Gillis' place could be one of the two aforementioned freshmen,Trey Kaufman or Caleb Furst. Both are in-state products and provide a different dimension.

Projected starting lineup:

Eric Hunter Jr. (8.5 PPG)

Jaden Ivey (11.1 PPG)

Sasha Stefanovic (9.3 PPG)

Mason Gillis (5.2 PPG; suspended for first four games)

Trevion Williams (15.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG)

7. Memphis Tigers

Previous: 7

The Tigers are arguably the most intriguing team in the country entering the season, especially after Penny Hardaway landed projected top-five picks Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates after they reclassified into 2021 late in the summer. Duren will be an immediate impact big man at both ends of the floor, while the supremely skilled Bates should be the team's go-to guy offensively and will have the ball in his hands to initiate offense. Those two are joined by ESPN 100 prospects Johnathan Lawson and Josh Minott, four-star Sam Onu and three-star John Camden, as well as transfers Earl Timberlake (Miami), Tyler Harris (Iowa State) and Chandler Lawson (Oregon) in a loaded incoming group. Timberlake, in particular, could be an X-factor for Memphis. That's on top of three returning starters, including leading scorer Landers Nolley II and DeAndre Williams, one of the most underrated players in the AAC. If Bates can be the team's facilitator and Hardaway gets all the pieces to fit, the Tigers will do more than just get over the hump and into the NCAA tournament.

Projected starting lineup:

Emoni Bates (No. 3 in ESPN 100)

Earl Timberlake (9.3 PPG at Miami)

Landers Nolley II (13.1 PPG)

DeAndre Williams (11.7 PPG)

Jalen Duren (No. 7 in ESPN 100)

8. Michigan Wolverines


What does Juwan Howard do for an encore after leading a Wolverines team ranked No. 25 in the preseason to a 1-seed, a Big Ten regular-season title and one possession from the Final Four? There are now high expectations in Ann Arbor, but Howard has the talent to keep Michigan near the top of the rankings. The key will be the newcomers. Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones might have to adapt some of his offensive game to get others involved, but he's a high-level playmaker and two-way player who will have the keys to the offense from day one. Five-star freshmen Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate will see extended roles immediately, with Houstan a potential one-and-done top-10 pick. The top returnee is All-American big man Hunter Dickinson, but veteran guard Eli Brooks and forward Brandon Johns Jr., who started the final five games of the season, are also back in the fold. How quickly will this group adjust defensively? They were ranked in the top five nationally at that end of the floor last season.

Projected starting lineup:

DeVante' Jones (19.3 PPG at Coastal Carolina)

Eli Brooks (9.5 PPG)

Caleb Houstan (No. 8 in ESPN 100)

Brandon Johns Jr. (4.9 PPG)

Hunter Dickinson (14.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG)

9. Kentucky Wildcats


The biggest disappointment in college basketball last season, Kentucky should bounce right back into the Final Four conversation. John Calipari built this year's roster a bit differently than in the past, going all-in on the transfer portal as opposed to stockpiling five-star freshmen. Don't worry, Calipari did that too, landing two top-20 recruits, point guard TyTy Washington and forward Daimion Collins. But the transfers will make a bigger impact this season. Kellan Grady (Davidson) should be the best of the bunch, bringing experience, scoring and high-level shooting ability. Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia) led the SEC in assists, while CJ Fredrick (Iowa) was potentially the best shooter in the portal. Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) is the X-factor: he was outstanding as a freshman, but took a step back last season. Calipari also brings back five players from last season's rotation, led by double-figure scorers Davion Mintz and Keion Brooks Jr. Mintz started 21 games last season and Brooks has shown flashes of his potential during his two seasons in Lexington.

Projected starting lineup:

Sahvir Wheeler (14.0 PPG, 7.4 APG at Georgia)

TyTy Washington (No. 14 in ESPN 100)

Kellan Grady (17.1 PPG at Davidson)

Keion Brooks Jr. (10.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG)

Oscar Tshiebwe (8.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG at West Virginia)

10. Baylor Bears

Previous: 10

It's a new era in Waco. Out the door are Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital -- the core of last season's national championship-winning team and a group that went 54-6 over the last two seasons. Scott Drew will rely heavily on three players who didn't start a single game last season but showed enough promise to keep the Bears in the Big 12 title hunt despite the departures. Adam Flagler was a big-time scorer at Presbyterian before transferring to Baylor, and he has generated plenty of offseason buzz. Matthew Mayer is an NBA prospect due to his athleticism and shooting ability; he shot nearly 40% from 3 a season ago. Then there's Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who provided a spark every night off the bench and could beat out Flo Thamba for a starting spot this season. Arizona transfer James Akinjo earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season and will be tasked with having the ball in his hands and being the team's primary playmaker. A pair of top-30 recruits, Kendall Brown and Langston Love, could also fight for a starting spot.

Projected starting lineup:

James Akinjo (15.6 PPG at Arizona)

Adam Flagler (9.0 PPG)

Kendall Brown (No. 17 in ESPN 100)

Matthew Mayer (8.2 PPG)

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG)

11. Duke Blue Devils

Previous: 11

Mike Krzyzewski's final season at the helm is the storyline everyone is paying attention to in Durham -- but the Blue Devils have a deep, talented team, too. Last season was a disappointment from start to finish, with COVID-19 issues knocking them out of the ACC tournament and ending any remaining NCAA tournament hopes. It shouldn't get to that point this season. Elite recruit Paolo Banchero might be the most college-ready freshman in the country and could be the go-to-guy and anchor this team needs on the offensive end. A.J. Griffin is garnering lottery buzz, while Trevor Keels can really score the basketball. Among the returnees, expect big steps forward from Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore Jr. and Mark Williams. Roach has another year under his belt at the point guard spot; word out of Durham is that Moore looks outstanding and is primed for a breakout campaign; and Williams averaged 13.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over his final 10 games. Marquette transfer Theo John provides toughness and defense on the interior.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (8.7 PPG)

Wendell Moore Jr. (9.7 PPG)

A.J. Griffin (No. 29 in ESPN 100)

Paolo Banchero (No. 4 in ESPN 100)

Mark Williams (7.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG)

12. Oregon Ducks


Dana Altman is at his best when he has size, versatility and switchable pieces up and down his roster. That's exactly what Oregon has this season. Will Richardson and Eric Williams Jr. return as starters, while a pair of 6-foot-11 centers are also back in N'Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang. As always, Altman dipped into the transfer market, coming out with three impact players: Jacob Young (Rutgers), Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and De'Vion Harmon (Oklahoma). All three were starters on NCAA tournament teams, and Guerrier, in particular, has generated positive buzz in the offseason. We've gotten this far and haven't mentioned Oregon landing a top-15 prospect in Nate Bittle. He needs to fill out his body a bit, but he's skilled and will pose matchup problems for opposing bigs. The Ducks are also the lone team in the Top 25 to add a player since our last Top 25 update; Canada native Ethan Butler joined the fold in late September. He's a versatile defender who will make a bigger impact later on in his career in Eugene.

Projected starting lineup:

Will Richardson (11.3 PPG)

De'Vion Harmon (12.9 PPG at Oklahoma)

Jacob Young (14.1 PPG at Rutgers)

Eric Williams Jr. (10.0 PPG)

Quincy Guerrier (13.7 PPG at Syracuse)

13. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous: 13

A potential dream season for Illinois ended earlier than expected, with the Fighting Illini falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Loyola Chicago after winning 15 of their previous 16 games -- including the Big Ten tournament. Ayo Dosunmu, the best closer in college basketball, is gone. Despite his departure, though, Brad Underwood might still have the best inside-outside tandem in the country. Kofi Cockburn is back on the interior. The most dominant physical force in college hoops, Cockburn tested the NBA draft waters, withdrew his name at the deadline, then entered the transfer portal ... before ultimately coming back to Champaign. Replacing Dosunmu in the starting lineup will be Andre Curbelo, one of the most exciting point guards in the country and a potential All-American candidate. Supporting those two will be longtime starter Trent Frazier and veterans Da'Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison. Two potential surprises in Champaign: sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins and Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer.

Projected starting lineup:

Andre Curbelo (9.1 PPG)

Trent Frazier (10.2 PPG)

Da'Monte Williams (5.5 PPG)

Jacob Grandison (4.6 PPG)

Kofi Cockburn (17.7 PPG)

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

Previous: 14

It didn't take Eric Musselman very long to make his mark in Fayetteville, winning 20 games with the Razorbacks in his first season and then going 25-7 and coming one game short of the Final Four in year two. In typical Musselman fashion, there's been a roster revamp since last season, with six new transfers getting set to join the rotation. But it's a trio of returnees around whom Musselman can build: JD Notae was one of the best sixth men in the country last season and could reprise that instant offense role off the bench; Davonte Davis took his game to another level in the NCAA tournament, averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while establishing himself as an elite perimeter defender; and Jaylin Williams showed flashes in the second half of the season of his potential impact. Expect up to three transfers to start immediately. Stanley Umude was a three-time All-Summit selection at South Dakota and Au'diese Toney averaged 14.4 points at Pittsburgh last season, but the key will be Chris Lykes. He battled injuries last season, but averaged 15.5 points and shot 38% from 3 in his last full season with Miami.

Projected starting lineup:

Chris Lykes (15.5 PPG at Miami)

Davonte Davis (8.5 PPG)

Au'diese Toney (14.4 PPG at Pittsburgh)

Stanley Umude (21.6 PPG at South Dakota)

Jaylin Williams (3.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG)

15. Houston Cougars

Previous: 15

Kelvin Sampson's last four seasons at Houston: 111-24 overall, two AAC regular-season championships, one conference tournament title, seven NCAA tournament wins, one Final Four appearance. Safe to say former athletic director Mack Rhoades' hire has worked out better than anyone expected. It's gotten to the point where the Cougars are just slotted somewhere inside the top 15-20 in the preseason and we just assume it'll work out because they'll be elite defensively and eventually figure things out on the offensive end. Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau and Justin Gorham are gone from last season, but Sampson went out and landed three impact transfers in Kyler Edwards (Texas Tech), Taze Moore (Bakersfield) and Josh Carlton (UConn). Edwards immediately becomes one of the best scorers in the AAC. A potential Player of the Year season could be in the cards for returning guard Marcus Sasser, who finished last season with back-to-back 20-point performances against Oregon State and Baylor in the NCAA tournament. Fabian White Jr. and Reggie Chaney are back up front, and guard Tramon Markis expected to take a step forward.

Projected starting lineup:

Marcus Sasser (13.5 PPG)

Tramon Mark (8.0 PPG)

Kyler Edwards (10.1 PPG at Texas Tech)

Fabian White Jr. (6.3 PPG)

Reggie Chaney (4.6 PPG)

16. Alabama Crimson Tide

Previous: 16

There's a target on the Crimson Tide's back heading into this season. A year ago, Alabama was unranked and picked in the middle of the pack in the SEC -- Nate Oats' team went on to win the SEC regular-season title and earn a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Tide are now winning on the court and on the recruiting trail, and expectations are higher. What will they do for an encore? Oats should have one of the most explosive perimeter groups in the country, with Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford returning to the lineup and five-star freshman J.D. Davison entering the fold. Quinerly is crafty and quick with the ball in his hands, Shackelford is a natural scorer and Davison is an explosive athlete. Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett's injury robs Alabama of some of its depth, but Keon Ellis is an under-the-radar piece on the perimeter. The key will be who Oats gets production from up front. Noah Gurley was a second-team All-Southern Conference performer and Charles Bediako is a top-40 recruit, but Juwan Gary played a big role in the NCAA tournament and brings plenty of versatility. There are options.

Projected starting lineup:

Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 PPG, 3.2 APG)

J.D. Davison (No. 15 in ESPN 100)

Jaden Shackelford (14.0 PPG)

Keon Ellis (5.5 PPG)

Noah Gurley (15.4 PPG at Furman)

17. North Carolina Tar Heels


The first season in the post-Roy Williams era brings more uncertainty than usual in Chapel Hill, but the expectations are just as high. Some of that uncertainty revolves around whether Hubert Davis will tweak the two-big system that Williams utilized to so much success, although the early-summer addition of Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia might put those questions on hold for a season. Garcia, returning big man Armando Bacot and Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek should form one of the best frontcourt trios in the ACC. Garcia had a terrific freshman season in the Big East and he's skilled enough to stretch the floor and provide balance for Bacot, an interior force around the basket and on the glass. Manek averaged double-figures all four seasons in Norman, shooting 37.5% from 3 last season. The key will come at the point guard spot, where former five-star point guard Caleb Love simply needs to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes. He'll be flanked by a deep perimeter corps that includes returnees R.J. Davis, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black and top-50 recruit D'Marco Dunn.

Projected starting lineup:

Caleb Love (10.5 PPG, 3.6 APG)

R.J. Davis (8.4 PPG)

Kerwin Walton (8.2 PPG)

Dawson Garcia (13.0 PPG at Marquette)

Armando Bacot (12.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG)

18. Tennessee Volunteers

Previous: 18

After looking like a legitimate Final Four contender for the first two months of last season, Tennessee went 8-8 over its final 16 games and was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Oregon State. With three starters gone from that team, how do Rick Barnes and the Volunteers bounce back? There's plenty of buzz about the newcomers. Top-10 recruit Kennedy Chandler is arguably the best point guard entering college basketball, and he'll have the ball in his hands early. Auburn transfer Justin Powell can really shoot and is an underrated playmaker, while five-star forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield brings a different dimension up front. There's also the reliable returning quartet of John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Victor Bailey Jr.and Josiah-Jordan James. All four started at least 12 games last season and should provide size, experience and versatility. The key for Barnes' team will be improvement on the offensive end -- but Chandler's arrival should immediately rectify some of those issues.

Projected starting lineup:

Kennedy Chandler (No. 10 in ESPN 100)

Justin Powell (11.7 PPG at Auburn)

Victor Bailey Jr. (10.9 PPG)

Josiah-Jordan James (8.0 PPG)

John Fulkerson (9.5 PPG)

19. Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous: 19

A rocky end to the season -- a four-game losing streak at the end of the regular season, a run to the Big Ten title game and a first-round exit at the hands of 15-seed Oral Roberts -- plus the departures of starting guards Duane Washington Jr. and CJ Walker make it difficult to peg what the Buckeyes might look like in 2021-22. One constant will be E.J. Liddell, one of the best players in the country and a matchup problem for most opposing frontcourt players. Justice Sueing and Kyle Young are also back in the frontcourt after starting a season ago; Sueing could see himself used as a facilitator more this season due to the point guard vacancy. The questions come in the backcourt. Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler and Meechie Johnson Jr., who enrolled for the second semester last season, will battle at the point guard spot, while Justin Ahrens is the best shooter on the team and first-team All-Sun Belt guard Cedric Russell averaged 17.2 points and shot 40% from 3 last season. Then there's talented top-35 recruit Malaki Branham. If two or three of those guys can step up and become dependable options, this ranking will look low.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamari Wheeler (6.8 PPG at Penn State)

Justin Ahrens (5.7 PPG)

Justice Sueing (10.7 PPG)

E.J. Liddell (16.2 PPG)

Kyle Young (8.6 PPG)

20. Maryland Terrapins

Previous: 20

Mark Turgeon entered the offseason knowing exactly what he needed: a point guard and a big man. He landed two of the best ones in the portal before the NCAA tournament even ended. Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) was a first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection in 2020 and a third-team choice in 2021, while Qudus Wahab (Georgetown) averaged 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds and was one of the best big men in the Big East. The unexpected loss of Aaron Wiggins to the NBA stings, but the Terrapins should still have enough firepower to compete -- and will certainly be deeper. Eric Ayala will form a dynamic backcourt duo with Russell, while Hakim Hart has been an underrated piece in the past for the Terps. Alongside Wahab will be Donta Scott, a difficult matchup for opponents due to his 44% 3-point shooting ability. Early returns on incoming ESPN 100 forward Julian Reese have been overwhelmingly positive, and he's a name to watch for future NBA drafts. A three-year extension for Turgeon should ease some of the pressure, too.

Projected starting lineup:

Fatts Russell (14.7 PPG at Rhode Island)

Eric Ayala (15.1 PPG)

Hakim Hart (7.1 PPG)

Donta Scott (11.0 PPG)

Qudus Wahab (12.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG at Georgetown)

21. Florida State Seminoles


There have been few programs as successful as Florida State over the last five seasons, a stretch that has included three Sweet 16 appearances, one Elite Eight run and an ACC regular-season championship -- and Leonard Hamilton has essentially earned annual preseason Top 25 rankings regardless of the roster. That's not to say this season's team isn't talented. Anthony Polite is an under-the-radar NBA prospect and could be the team's best player. He shot 43.6% from 3 last season and brings plenty of versatility. RayQuan Evans is back as a starter, while Malik Osborne and Wyatt Wilkes have been in the program for multiple years. As usual, the Seminoles have a high-level recruiting class coming to Tallahassee. Matt Cleveland is the best of three ESPN 100 prospects entering the fold, and he and Jalen Warley could push for starting spots right away. Houston transfer Caleb Mills was among the best players in the AAC two seasons ago and could be an all-conference-caliber player if he can return to his 2019-20 form.

Projected starting lineup:

Caleb Mills (9.8 PPG at Houston)

Jalen Warley (No. 61 in ESPN 100)

Matt Cleveland (No. 30 in ESPN 100)

Anthony Polite (10.1 PPG)

Malik Osborne (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG)

22. Auburn Tigers

Previous: 22

The projected starting lineup listed below for the Tigers isn't what we'll see in their first game of the season against Morehead State next month. That's because Allen Flanigan, a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft, is expected to miss another eight to 10 weeks after injuring his Achilles in early September. If he comes back fully healthy, he will take an already-talented Auburn team to a different level. Without Flanigan, Bruce Pearl could turn to Devan Cambridge, who started 19 games last season and averaged 8.9 points. Aside from Cambridge and junior forward Jaylin Williams (10.9 PPG), most of the attention this season is on Auburn's newcomers. The Tigers bring in elite recruit Jabari Smith and North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler, a former five-star prospect; both players could start up front. And then on the perimeter, transfers K.D. Johnson (Georgia), Zep Jasper (Charleston) and Wendell Green Jr. (Eastern Kentucky) will fight for minutes. If Pearl can figure out the right mix and Flanigan comes back healthy, this team has the talent to compete with anyone.

Projected starting lineup:

Wendell Green (15.8 PPG, 5.0 APG at Eastern Kentucky)

K.D. Johnson (13.5 PPG at Georgia)

Allen Flanigan (14.3 PPG)

Jabari Smith (No. 6 in ESPN 100)

Walker Kessler (4.4 PPG at North Carolina)

23. UConn Huskies

Previous:Next in line

I've been a bit lower on the Huskies than most throughout the offseason, simply because of the departure of James Bouknight. Bouknight was one of the truly elite scorers in college basketball last season, and the Huskies don't have a ready-made replacement. That said, I think UConn still has enough options to pick up the slack and should be tough on the defensive end, like most Dan Hurley-coached teams. Hurley also brings back most other key pieces from a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament and adds four ESPN 100 recruits. R.J. Cole is back to run the point and, as evidenced by his seasons of 21.4 and 23.7 PPG at Howard, can take a step forward in the scoring department. Tyrese Martin is a double-figure scorer and a terrific offensive rebounder, while shot-blockers Isaiah Whaley and Adama Sanogo, who finished the season on a tear, return as starters up front. There will be competition for places, though, with Tyler Polley, Jalen Gaffney, Andre Jackson and a healthy Akok Akok also returning. Of the newcomers, keep an eye on Jordan Hawkins. He's got length and athleticism and can make shots.

Projected starting lineup:

R.J. Cole (12.2 PPG, 4.3 APG)

Andre Jackson (2.7 PPG)

Tyrese Martin (10.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG)

Adama Sanogo (7.3 PPG)

Isaiah Whaley (8.0 PPG, 2.6 BPG)

24. St. Bonaventure Bonnies

Previous:Next in line

The Bonnies are another team I've gone back and forth on throughout the offseason, but I think they ultimately deserve a spot in the preseason Top 25. They had the best offense and defense in Atlantic 10 play last season and have brought back all five starters, and added two high-major transfers to shore up the bench options. Mark Schmidt's team also has a couple chances to make statements in the nonconference. St. Bonaventure might be the favorite in the Charleston Classic and could face West Virginia in the championship game. It also has neutral-site games against UConn and Virginia Tech in December. Three all-conference players return in guards Kyle Lofton and Jaren Holmes, and big man Osun Osunniyi, the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Dominick Welch and Jalen Adaway are also back as double-figure scorers in the starting lineup, while the arrivals of Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (Pittsburgh) and Quadry Adams (Wake Forest) give Schmidt more depth and experience.

Projected starting lineup:

Kyle Lofton (14.4 PPG, 5.5 APG)

Jaren Holmes (13.8 PPG)

Dominick Welch (11.4 PPG)

Jalen Adaway (12.2 PPG)

Osun Osunniyi (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

25. Virginia Cavaliers

Previous: 25

Even with other teams entering the Top 25, I couldn't bring myself to leave Virginia out of the preseason rankings. It's a Tony Bennett thing. The Cavaliers have finished in the top 20 at in all but one of the last eight seasons -- and they won 11 of their final 12 games that season. They've finished lower than second in the ACC once during that span. And there's a very solid quartet of players for Bennett to build around. It starts with Kihei Clark, who has started 73 games in three seasons in Charlottesville. He's one of the best defensive players in the ACC. Reece Beekman played a huge role as a freshman, starting 20 games and making an impact with distribution and defense. Two transfers, Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana), will start immediately. Gardner was a first-team All-AAC performer and has put up huge numbers three straight seasons, while Franklin shot 42.4% from 3 last season. Bennett will need some unproven pieces to make huge strides, whether it's up front with Francisco Caffaro and Kadin Shedrick or with international imports Igor Milicic and Taine Murray.

Projected starting lineup:

Kihei Clark (9.5 PPG, 4.5 APG)

Reece Beekman (4.7 PPG)

Armaan Franklin (11.4 PPG at Indiana)

Jayden Gardner (18.3 PPG at East Carolina)

Francisco Caffaro (1.2 PPG)

Next in line:

Oklahoma State Cowboys (previous: No. 23)

Virginia Tech Hokies (previous: No. 24)

Texas Tech Red Raiders (previous: Next in line)

Michigan State Spartans (previous: Next in line)

Colorado State Rams (previous: Next in line)

Dropped out: Oklahoma State (No. 23),Virginia Tech(No. 24)

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