Kansas, Kentucky on rise in Way-Too-Early Top 25 college basketball rankings for 2021-22

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Tuesday, June 1, 2021

After a whirlwind two months since the end of the season, we can all take a collective breath ... for now. The last several weeks have seen hundreds of players transfer schools, a dozen or so ESPN 100 prospects make commitments, and a longer-than-usual list of players enter the NBA draft. But with the deadline to enter the draft passing over the weekend, we at least have some sort of feel for what rosters might look like during the 2021-22 college basketball season.

That feeling won't last forever, of course. Next up is the early-entry withdrawal deadline in early July -- 10 days after the NBA draft combine. Until that July 7 date comes and goes, the Way-Too-Early Top 25 outlook will continue to change, perhaps dramatically.

Since the last version of the rankings, on April 29, the biggest riser was Kentucky. The Wildcats added two transfers and a five-star guard, solidifying a roster that should be far more balanced and versatile than last season. It's also hard to imagine John Calipari (or Mike Krzyzewski, for that matter) having two disastrous seasons in a row. Kansas moved into the top five after landing Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, while Michigan and Oregon also moved up in the rankings. Auburn was the lone new addition to the rankings.

On the other side, the lone team to drop out of the rankings was Belmont, to make room for Auburn. Syracuse fell from the ranks of "Next in line" after Quincy Guerrier entered the transfer portal.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous: 1

Drew Timme's announcement that he was returning to Spokane for his junior season rather than entering the NBA draft cemented Gonzaga as my preseason No. 1 team, barring something shocking. The Bulldogs were slotted there as soon as the season ended, with the expectation that Timme would return. They remained there for the second version of the rankings, after No. 1 prospectChet Holmgrencommitted to Gonzaga. And since then, Mark Few went out and landed five-star point guard Nolan Hickman (a former Kentucky signee) and Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton(an All-Big 12 guard). Timme's decision solidifies that ranking. He will enter the season as the favorite for the Wooden Award after an All-America-caliber campaign in 2020-21. How he coexists up front with Holmgren, arguably the favorite to be picked first in next year's NBA draft, will be the biggest key for the Zags. The perimeter should be dynamic and creative, with playmakers all over the floor.

Projected starting lineup:

Nolan Hickman (No. 22 in ESPN 100)

Andrew Nembhard (9.1 PPG)

Hunter Sallis(No. 14 in ESPN 100)

Chet Holmgren (No. 1 in ESPN 100)

Drew Timme (19.0 PPG)

2. Villanova Wildcats

Previous: 2

After a few years that saw Villanova get significant production from its interior in the form of Omari Spellman and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, this season's Wildcats could return to the more guard-oriented units of years past. They're loaded on the perimeter. Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels both decided to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility, announcing they planned to play another season under Jay Wright. Starters Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels are also returning, while Brandon Slater, Bryan Antoine, Chris Arcidiacono, Trey Patterson and four-star recruitsJordan Longino and Angelo Brizziwill provide ample depth on the perimeter. What happens up front will be the key for Villanova. Robinson-Earl and Cole Swider are both gone, while Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree has injury concerns. That leaves Eric Dixon andNnanna Njokuas the two primary options down low. Dixon played in 21 games as a freshman and showed some flashes late in the season; Njoku is an ESPN 100 prospect.

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)

3. UCLA Bruins

Previous: 3

There are still some moving parts with UCLA, as the Bruins will have to wait until the withdrawal deadline to see if Johnny Juzang returns to Westwood, while senior Chris Smith was surprisingly not included on the preliminary senior early-entry list sent to teams late last month. If both return, the Bruins are a surefire national title contender. If both leave, the ranking will take a sizable hit. If Juzang comes back and Smith leaves, perhaps the most likely scenario, this team is still good enough to get back to the Final Four. All five starters would return in that scenario, while they also bring in potential top-10 draft pickPeyton Watsonand Rutgers graduate transfer Myles Johnson, who was selected to the Big Ten's All-Defensive team. I also don't think UCLA caught lightning in a bottle during its run to the national semifinals. Sure, the Bruins had some good fortune along the way, but this is a team that was 17-5 overall and 13-3 in the Pac-12 before some late struggles. And it might surprise some people to know that UCLA finished the season ranked No. 11 in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom -- and just No. 46 on the defensive end. In Cronin's last nine years at Cincinnati, he had a top-30 defense, so that should continue to improve as he gets more of his players in the program.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyger Campbell (10.2 PPG)

Johnny Juzang (15.5 PPG)

Jaime Jaquez Jr. (12.1 PPG)

Chris Smith (12.6 PPG)

Cody Riley (9.8 PPG)

4. Kansas Jayhawks

Previous: 8

Following the departure of Marcus Garrett, the one thing Kansas was missing entering next season was a playmaker at point guard. Bill Self knew it, too. First, Self landed Joseph Yesufu, a solid transfer from Drake who could have run the show and brought quickness and athleticism. But the reason for the Jayhawks' rise in the rankings was the addition of Arizona State transfer Remy Martin. Arguably the best transfer in the game, Martin was a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer who averaged better than 19 points each of the past two seasons. He's a high-level playmaker who will bring an added dimension to an offense that went through some lulls last season. The big question moving forward for Kansas will be the status of Ochai Agbaji. Agbaji entered the NBA draft and ultimately could decide to keep his name in the player pool. Kansas also added veteran Iowa State transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands to provide some insurance in case that happens. Restarting the Big 12 title streak could be in the cards.

Projected starting lineup:

Remy Martin (19.1 PPG at Arizona State)

Christian Braun (9.8 PPG)

Ochai Agbaji (14.2 PPG)

Jalen Wilson (12.1 PPG)

David McCormack (13.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG)

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous: 4

It's been a positive offseason thus far for the Buckeyes, who haven't seen any unexpected departures and added a couple of Big Ten-tested transfers to shore up the rotation. E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. both entered the NBA draft but could still return to Columbus for another season. If Liddell comes back, he could be a preseason All-American and would be in the mix for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Kyle Young's decision to take advantage of the NCAA's extra year of eligibility was significant, as he provides physicality, toughness and experience in the frontcourt. Chris Holtmann also made two key additions from the transfer portal in Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Joey Brunk (Indiana). Wheeler will make an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor. Top-35 freshmanMalaki Branhamwill add scoring punch to the perimeter and is a solid contingency plan if Washington ends up leaving his name in the draft. I'm also expecting a step forward from big man Zed Key.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamari Wheeler (6.8 PPG at Penn State)

Duane Washington Jr. (16.4 PPG)

Justice Sueing (10.7 PPG)

E.J. Liddell (16.2 PPG)

Kyle Young (8.6 PPG)

6. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous: 5

Jaden Ivey might be the easiest breakout call for next season. The rising sophomore guard was one of the best guards in the Big Ten over the second half of the season, starting the final 12 games of the season for the Boilermakers. During that span, he averaged 14.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Ivey capped off his first season of college basketball with a career-high 26 points and four 3-pointers in the NCAA tournament loss to North Texas. If he can continue that sort of production next season, Ivey will form an elite inside-outside tandem with Trevion Williams, assuming the all-league big man returns to West Lafayette. Williams entered the NBA draft but is expected to return. He'll be one of the best frontcourt players in the country. Matt Painter returns his top eight scorers from last season and adds two ESPN 100 prospects. Purdue has experience, continuity, plenty of depth and a legitimate go-to-guy in Williams. The Boilermakers are a legitimate threat to win the league.

Projected starting lineup:

Eric Hunter Jr. (8.5 PPG)

Jaden Ivey (11.1 PPG)

Sasha Stefanovic (9.3 PPG)

Mason Gillis (5.2 PPG)

Trevion Williams (15.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG)

7. Baylor Bears

Previous: 6

Some eyebrows were raised last month when Mark Vital's name didn't appear on the preliminary early-entry list for seniors for the NBA draft. Alas, hopes were dashed when Vital was added a few days later. But he wasn't expected to return to Waco, so Scott Drew has been preparing for life without him, Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague for some time. Drew will return just one starter, big man Flo Thamba, although impact bench producers Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua will take the next step in the starting lineup. He's bringing in plenty of reinforcements, however, led by Arizona transfer James Akinjo -- assuming he receives an NCAA waiver to play immediately. Without Akinjo, this ranking will drop down several spots. Five-star forwardKendall Brown could push for a starting spot, as could top-30 prospect Langston Love. There will be some growing pains without the elite backcourt of Butler and Mitchell, but Baylor won't fall too far.

Projected starting lineup:

James Akinjo (15.6 PPG at Arizona)

Adam Flagler (9.0 PPG)

Kendall Brown (No. 15 in ESPN 100)

Matthew Mayer (8.2 PPG)

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG)

8. Michigan Wolverines

Previous: 11

Michigan continues to steadily rise in each edition of the Way-Too-Early Top 25. The Wolverines started the offseason having significant backcourt issues and were poised to rely heavily on freshmen or untested returnees. But Juwan Howard received some big news when senior guard Eli Brooks opted to return for his extra year of eligibility, giving the Wolverines a veteran presence, high-level defender and capable 3-point shooter. And then at the point guard spot, Howard went out and landed one of the best mid-major transfers in the country, Big South Player of the Year DeVante' Jones. Jones averaged better than 19 points at Coastal Carolina and was a very good distributor and defender. With Jones and Brooks anchoring the backcourt, all eyes now turn to Hunter Dickinson. The rising sophomore announced last week he planned to enter the NBA draft while retaining his college eligibility. The assumption has been that Dickinson would return to Ann Arbor for another season, but we now have to wait and see.

Projected starting lineup:

DeVante' Jones (19.3 PPG at Coastal Carolina)

Eli Brooks (9.5 PPG)

Caleb Houstan(No. 7 in ESPN 100)

Brandon Johns Jr. (4.9 PPG)

Hunter Dickinson (14.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG)

9. Kentucky Wildcats

Previous: 19

Entering the offseason, it was clear John Calipari wanted to make major changes within the program. With the dust presumably settled, both the roster and staff have undergone a complete overhaul. Out went Brandon Boston Jr., Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson and Devin Askew. In came three more transfers and another five-star prospect. Two assistant coaches left, replaced by two assistants from Illinois. But the team as a whole is in much better shape than it was last season. The team lacked consistent shooting and capable playmakers a year ago; that's been solved. Sahvir Wheeler led the SEC in assists at Georgia, whileTyTy Washingtonwas one of the premier point guards at the high school level. Kellan Grady made at least 50 3-pointers in all four seasons at Davidson, and Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick might have been the best pure shooter in the portal, making better than 46% of his 3-point attempts. Next season's lineups should have better balance, the team should have better depth -- and more experience. The return ofDavion Mintz could boost this ranking even higher.

Projected starting lineup:

Sahvir Wheeler (14.0 PPG, 7.4 APG at Georgia)

TyTy Washington (No. 12 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. Alabama Crimson Tide

Previous: 7

Alabama appearing as a preseason top-10 team months after winning the SEC title? Basketball school! Nate Oats has things rolling in Tuscaloosa right now, and this spring reflected that momentum. The Crimson Tide landed two impact transfers in Nimari Burnett, a former five-star prospect who left Texas Tech in the middle of the season, and Noah Gurley, a second-team all-conference player at Furman. They also added a high-ceiling piece down low inCharles Bediako, a top-35 recruit. Four players who started at least nine games are gone, while Jaden Shackelford and Joshua Primo are testing the NBA draft waters. Primo has more NBA buzz at this point, as he was the youngest player in college basketball last season and is ranked in the top 40 at ESPN. Regardless, Nate Oats will have a terrific offensive backcourt in Jahvon Quinerly and five-star recruitJ.D. Davison. Davison is going to be one of the most explosive players in the country next season and will thrive in Alabama's up-tempo system.

Projected starting lineup:

Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 PPG, 3.2 APG)

J.D. Davison (No. 13 in ESPN 100)

Jaden Shackelford (14.0 PPG)

Joshua Primo (8.1 PPG)

Charles Bediako (No. 33 in ESPN 100)

11. Arkansas Razorbacks

Previous: 9

Another year, another influx of transfers for Eric Musselman. The Razorbacks are bringing in five transfers, including three immediate starters in Chris Lykes (Miami), Stanley Umude (South Dakota) and Au'diese Toney (Pittsburgh). There's optimism within the program for Texas A&M transfer Jaxson Robinson, who was a former top-100-caliber prospect but played sparingly as a freshman for the Aggies. And don't forget about Kamani Johnson, a double-figure scorer at Little Rock who should bring physicality on the interior. That quintet -- and ESPN 100 freshmanChance Moore-- will join a group of returnees that includes two returning starters and sixth man extraordinaire JD Notae. Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams are the names to watch. Davis made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament with his defensive ability and four straight double-figure performances, while Williams started the last three games of the tournament and showed flashes as a finisher and rebounder around the rim.

Projected starting lineup:

Chris Lykes (15.5 PPG at Miami)

Devo 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)

12. Maryland Terrapins

Previous: 10

The Terrapins have dropped six spots since the initial ranking, really through no fault of their own. They simply did their transfer work earlier than most teams in the country, nabbing two highly ranked impact transfers that should slot immediately into the starting lineup. Former Rhode Island guard Fatts Russell was one of the best guards in the country at his peak, but struggled last season, while Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab was one of the best big men in the portal and was a nightly double-double threat in the Big East. Those two will combine with a trio of returning starters -- Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott -- to form an outstanding starting five. Mark Turgeon will have to find some depth after several players entered the transfer portal, but Hakim Hart started 18 games last season andJulian Reesewas a top-50 recruit. Keep an eye on Ian Martinez, too; he was a touted recruit coming out of high school and played a key role late in the season for Utah as a freshman.

Projected starting lineup:

Fatts Russell (14.7 PPG at Rhode Island)

Eric Ayala (15.1 PPG)

Aaron Wiggins (14.5 PPG)

Donta Scott (11.0 PPG)

Qudus Wahab (12.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG at Georgetown)

13. Duke Blue Devils

Previous: 12

Not much has changed for Duke since the end of the season, aside from a couple of transfers in and out from rotation players. Of course, that's not exactly what the Blue Devils had hoped for, given that they were perceived to be in the final two for elite prospectPatrick Baldwin Jr.While there was some false buzz about him potentially going to Duke, Baldwin had long been expected to play for his father at Milwaukee, and that's where he committed last month. Without Baldwin in the fold, the Blue Devils are still a clear top-15 team. Mike Krzyzewski has his usual collection of top talent entering the fold next season but will also have a more experienced team than we're used to seeing in Durham -- especially after adding Marquette graduate transfer Theo John. Jeremy Roach should be improved at the point guard spot with a year under his belt, and Mark Williams should be poised for a breakout sophomore season down low. The key newcomer is obviously going to bePaolo Banchero, maybe the most college-ready recruit in the class and a potential No. 1 pick.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (8.7 PPG)

Wendell Moore (9.7 PPG)

A.J. Griffin(No. 26 in ESPN 100)

Paolo Banchero (No. 3 in ESPN 100)

Mark Williams (7.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG)

14. Texas Longhorns

Previous: 14

Chris Beard hit the ground running after taking over for Shaka Smart in Austin, diving into the transfer portal and coming out with four of the top 30 transfers in the country: Timmy Allen (Utah), Christian Bishop (Creighton), Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt) and Devin Askew (Kentucky). I would expect at least three of those four players to start, and while Askew was the lowest-ranked of the quartet, he might be the most important next season. A former five-star prospect coming out of high school, Askew struggled with shooting and turnovers as a freshman at Kentucky. Courtney Ramey and Allen are capable playmakers, but they're better when they can also play off the ball, meaning the ball will likely be in Askew's hands early and often. If Askew can take care of the ball, compete at both ends of the floor, and get the ball in the right spots, Texas has plenty of weapons offensively. And while it might take Beard some time to instill his defensive philosophy, his teams have ranked in the top 20 nationally four straight seasons at that end of the floor.

Projected starting lineup:

Devin Askew (6.5 PPG at Kentucky)

Courtney Ramey (12.2 PPG)

Andrew Jones (14.6 PPG)

Timmy Allen (17.2 PPG at Utah)

Christian Bishop (11.0 PPG at Creighton)

15. Oregon Ducks

Previous: 21

Is a Dana Altman Oregon roster ever truly settled? The Ducks will likely be tweaking their roster until late in the summer, scouring the market for potential reclassifiers or late-arriving international prospects. And since the last rankings update, they landed Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier, a Canadian forward who the Ducks pursued heavily coming out of high school. Guerrier will make an immediate impact in Altman's frontcourt, replacing a similar type of forward in Eugene Omoruyi. Guerrier's arrival also gives Altman more options up front. Returnees N'Faly Dante, who started six games before getting hurt, and Franck Kepnang, who showed flashes late in the season, will combine with top-10 prospectNate Bittleto give Oregon a number of different looks down low. Oregon also remains in the mix for Rutgers transfer Jacob Young, the younger brother of former Ducks star Joseph. Young averaged 14.1 points for the Scarlet Knights last season and would provide shooting and another veteran presence on the perimeter.

Projected starting lineup:

Will Richardson (11.3 PPG)

De'Vion Harmon (12.9 PPG at Oklahoma)

Eric Williams Jr. (10.0 PPG)

Quincy Guerrier (13.7 PPG at Syracuse)

Nate Bittle (No. 9 in ESPN 100)

16. Virginia Tech Hokies

Previous: 13

I've had to pump the brakes a bit since anointing Virginia Tech as the No. 10 team in the country the day the season ended. I'm still high on the Hokies, although seeing South Florida transfer Michael Durr decommit and go to Indiana does remove a potential contingency plan if Keve Aluma ultimately keeps his name in the NBA draft. And this ranking is almost entirely dependent on Aluma returning to Blacksburg for his senior season. Aluma will be a preseason ACC Player of the Year candidate if he returns to school, which is expected given that he's not ranked in the top 100 at ESPN. Aluma would be one of four returning starters. The one starter gone, Wabissa Bede, is being replaced by Wofford transfer Storm Murphy, a first-team All-Southern Conference guard who played under Mike Young to start his career. He would add a significant shooting and scoring boost from the point of attack. Remember, this team was 14-4 with wins over Villanova and Virginia before COVID-19 blew up its season.

Projected starting lineup:

Storm Murphy (17.8 PPG, 4.3 APG at Wofford)

Tyrece Radford (12.2 PPG)

Nahiem Alleyne (11.1 PPG)

Justyn Mutts (9.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Keve Aluma (15.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG)

17. Houston Cougars

Previous: 15

After a run to the Final Four, Houston's good fortune continued in the offseason, as the Cougars had about as good of a spring as they could have asked for when the season ended. They did lose four players who started at least 19 games last season in Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham, but all four were expected -- and Fabian White Jr., who averaged 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds two seasons but was limited to just 13 games last season, opted to return for another season. They also hit the transfer portal in a big way, reeling in immediate starter Kyler Edwards, who averaged double figures at Texas Tech, as well as Taze Moore (Bakersfield) and Josh Carlton (UConn). Carlton should fit Kelvin Sampson's identity perfectly; he was one of the elite offensive rebounders in the country last season. And in the backcourt, Marcus Sasser and breakout candidate Tramon Mark will lead the way. Mark started just four games last season, but averaged 17.0 points in those games.

Projected starting lineup:

Marcus Sasser (13.5 PPG)

Tramon Mark (8.0 PPG)

Kyler Edwards (10.1 PPG at Texas Tech)

Fabian White (6.3 PPG)

Reggie Chaney (4.6 PPG)

18. Tennessee Volunteers

Previous: 16

One of several SEC teams to revamp their rosters this spring, Rick Barnes will lose three players who could hear their names on NBA draft night -- but his team also might be better next season. The Volunteers looked like a potential Final Four team through the first five or six weeks of the season, starting 10-1 -- but went just 8-8 the rest of the season and lost by 14 to Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The biggest area of improvement should be at point guard, where five-star recruitKennedy Chandlerwill get the keys to the offense from day one. He was the nation's No. 1 point guard prospect in the 2021 class. Rick Barnes also looked to solve another issue with his incoming class, as Justin Powell -- who shot 44.2% from 3 at Auburn -- should help rectify Tennessee's perimeter shooting woes. With four players who started at least 12 games returning, the Volunteers will have plenty of experience and versatility in the rotation.

Projected starting lineup:

Kennedy Chandler (No. 8 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. Florida State Seminoles

Previous: 17

Leonard Hamilton will have to rely heavily on newcomers after the NBA draft and transfer portal hit the Seminoles pretty hard. Scottie Barnes, a potential lottery pick, was expected, but RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica also opted to enter the draft. Sardaar Calhoun and Nathanael Jack both transferred, while leading scorer M.J. Walker was a senior and isn't returning. Fortunately, Florida State is bringing in a big cast of freshmen and transfers -- and it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least three of them start early.Matt Cleveland was a top-30 recruit and consistently improved his game over the course of his high school career, while John Butler and Jalen Warleywere each ranked in the top 60. Houston transfer Caleb Mills was the preseason AAC Player of the Year after a stellar freshman season, and he should lead the Seminoles in scoring. Cam'Ron Fletcher struggled at Kentucky, but will find a role in Tallahassee, and junior college transferNaheem McLeodwill provide size. Anthony Polite is the top returnee.

Projected starting lineup:

Caleb Mills (9.8 PPG at Houston)

Jalen Warley (No. 59 in ESPN 100)

Matt Cleveland (No. 28 in ESPN 100)

Anthony Polite (10.1 PPG)

Malik Osborne (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG)

20. North Carolina Tar Heels

Previous: 18

The Tar Heels are going to be one of the bigger storylines entering next season, with legendary coach Roy Williams retiring and longtime assistant Hubert Davis taking over. The personnel will dictate this somewhat, but it appears that Davis is already looking to change the system and style somewhat from the two-big schemes Williams ran for years. The departures of Garrison Brooks, Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler have forced Davis' hand a bit, but instead of pursuing a true post player as a sidekick for Armando Bacot, he went out and landed Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek. Manek certainly isn't the prototypical Carolina big man; he's a stretch-4 who has attempted more than five 3-pointers a game over the last two seasons. The key on the perimeter will be the freshmen taking a step forward, particularly Caleb Love. Love showed real flashes of his five-star talent during his first season in Chapel Hill, but he didn't do it consistently. If he can cut down on the turnovers and improve his decision-making and 3-point shooting, Carolina will be significantly better.

Projected starting lineup:

Caleb Love (10.5 PPG, 3.6 APG)

R.J. Davis (8.4 PPG)

Kerwin Walton (8.2 PPG)

Brady Manek (10.8 PPG at Oklahoma)

Armando Bacot (12.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG)

21. Auburn Tigers

Previous: Next in line

Auburn has reloaded as effectively as any team in the country this spring, despite losing star guard Sharife Cooper and freshman JT Thor to the NBA draft and breakout freshman Justin Powell to the transfer portal. Bruce Pearl landed five transfers while also bringing in top-five freshmanJabari Smith. The most significant of the transfers is former North Carolina big man Walker Kessler, a five-star recruit who didn't carve out a consistent role in Chapel Hill as a freshman. Kessler and Smith should form one of the most talented frontcourt duos in the country -- while also being joined by playmaking forward Allen Flanigan and double-figure scorer Jaylin Williams up front. The backcourt received a big boost last month when Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson picked Auburn; Johnson is a dynamic scorer who can make shots from 3. Aside from how quickly the newcomers all mesh, the key will be point guard play. Johnson is better as a pure scorer, but Pearl also brought in transfers Wendell Green Jr. (Eastern Kentucky), Zep Jasper (Charleston) and Desi Sills (Arkansas).

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. 5 in ESPN 100)

Walker Kessler (4.4 PPG at North Carolina)

22. St. Bonaventure Bonnies

Previous: 20

It's hard to get a true gauge on how good the Bonnies were last season, since they played just two nonconference games -- against Akron and Hofstra -- and then were blown out by LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But they won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and then convincingly ran through the conference tournament. Mark Schmidt brings back all five starters -- led by first-team all-conference guard Kyle Lofton -- and then added two Power 5 transfers for depth: Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (Pittsburgh) and Quadry Adams (Wake Forest). The biggest issue in St. Bonaventure's five losses last season came on the offensive end. The Bonnies didn't reach one point per possession in any of the five losses and shot a combined 41.3% from 2 and 25.8% from 3 in those games. For a team that led the A-10 in offensive efficiency and 3-point shooting, that was a dramatic drop. The improved depth and additional weapons should help with consistency at that end of the floor.

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)

23. Virginia Cavaliers

Previous: 22

As mentioned in the last edition of the rankings, this is more of a bet on Tony Bennett than anything else. The Cavaliers, on paper, are probably not a top-25 team. But they did add two impact transfers in Jayden Gardner, a big-time producer at East Carolina, and Armaan Franklin, a talented double-figure scorer from Indiana. Kihei Clark has been a key two-way player during his time in Charlottesville, while Reece Beekman started 20 games as a freshman. But that's about it. One intriguing addition last month was Poland native Igor Milicic, considered one of the better overseas players entering college basketball next season. The player to watch for the Cavaliers moving forward this offseason is Trey Murphy III. Murphy entered the NBA draft earlier in the spring, but he retained his college eligibility. I'm working under the assumption that he will keep his name in the draft given that he's ranked No. 42 in ESPN's NBA draft rankings, but his return would vault Virginia up several spots. He's an elite shooter with size who could have a breakout campaign.

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)

24. Michigan State Spartans

Previous: 23

The Spartans hadn't ranked lower than sixth in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency since 2011, until last year, when they were 13th -- in front of only Nebraska. They turned it over at a high rate and they were one of the worst shooting teams in the league, both from inside and outside the arc. And leading scorer Aaron Henry, the lone double-figure scorer on the team last season, is gone to the NBA. So how does Tom Izzo fix it? The Spartans could go 10- or 11-deep next season, but the key will be finding more consistent and effective guard play. Michigan State is bringing in two players who could start immediately in the backcourt in five-star recruitMax Christieand Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker. Christie has good size and can make shots from the perimeter, while Walker was a first-team all-conference player and the CAA Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals last season. Those two will be at the forefront of what should be a bounce-back season in East Lansing.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyson Walker (18.8 PPG at Northeastern)

Max Christie (No. 16 in ESPN 100)

Gabe Brown (7.2 PPG)

Malik Hall (5.0 PPG)

Joey Hauser (9.7 PPG)

25. Colorado State Rams

Previous: 24

Colorado State hangs onto its spot inside the Way-Too-Early Top 25, edging out Belmont, Mississippi State and a host of other schools. All-conference selections David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens lead five returning starters for a team that would have made the NCAA tournament if not for Cinderella conference tournament runs by Oregon State and Georgetown. Niko Medved has had the Rams on the rise in each of his three seasons in Fort Collins, going from seven Mountain West wins in 2018-19 to 11 in 2019-20 and 14 last season. Next season should see Colorado State get over the hump and into the NCAA tournament. But there must be some improvements, especially on the defensive end. In six of the Rams' eight losses, they allowed more than one point per possession -- and in a seventh, they allowed 0.99 points per possession. (The eighth was a 53-33 loss to Saint Mary's the entire sport should forget.) San Diego State scored 78, Utah State scored 83, Boise State scored 85, Nevada scored 85. If Colorado State had won any of those four games, the Rams might have heard their name called on Selection Sunday.

Projected starting lineup:

Kendle Moore (10.5 PPG)

Isaiah Stevens (15.3 PPG, 5.4 APG)

Adam Thistlewood (9.1 PPG)

David Roddy (15.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

James Moors (5.9 PPG)

Next in line:

Belmont Bruins (previous: No. 25)

Mississippi State Bulldogs (previous: Next in line)

UConn Huskies (previous: Next in line)

West Virginia Mountaineers (previous: Unranked)

Xavier Musketeers (previous: Unranked)

Dropped out: Belmont (25)

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