Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.
As always, there are plenty of caveats here.
For starters, it is still March. Typically, when we publish the college basketball preseason top 25, it’s in April, after the national title game. By that point we usually have a better sense of who is leaving for the NBA, who is returning to school and where the best freshmen (and top transfer) will be playing.
That’s not the case this year.
There are a handful of names that are obviously leaving school — Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman — but given that this year’s draft class is so weak combined with the fact that the world is social distancing and there may not be any workouts during the predraft process is throwing everything for a loop.
It’s hard to know at this point.
Which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.
So with that in mind, here is the current NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:
There’s a chance, albeit a fairly slim one, that Villanova can return everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country if everyone returns. And while Saddiq Bey is their best player, I think he is not only more likely to declare for the draft than Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but I also think that he will be easier to replace. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey is the best of the bunch, but having to force Caleb Daniels or Bryan Antoine over him is a better option than having to play Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon instead of JRE.
The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are in the unique position of waiting on a freshman to decide if he is going to go pro. The player in question is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s the guy to be a full-time point guard on a team competing for a national title. That spot is really the only question mark if Suggs opts to skip college and play overseas, because Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded, especially if Filip Petrusev returns, because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside.
The Bears should get all three of their guards back, assuming Jared Butler does not go pro, and with Mark Vital slated to return, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?
Creighton’s ranking depends on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decide to do. If they come back to school, the Bluejays will once again have one of college basketball’s most dangerous perimeters. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.
The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.
Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry. The key, however, is going to be Xavier Tillman. I think he’s a first round pick, and considering that he’s a married man with two kids already, he certainly could use the income. He’s the piece that brings it all together.
My assumption is that Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans probably end up going pro. I think Immanuel Quickley is 50-50, but if a Kentucky player is 50-50, I’ll work under the context that the player is gone until he’s coming back. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties if Quickley is gone. Once again, the question is going to be in the frontcourt. Will Keion Brooks and E.J. Montgomery make the leap next year? Can Isaiah Jackson or Lance Ware take over the starting role?
When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.
The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both build in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Davide Moretti (or Edwards) can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.
The key here is going to be Malachi Flynn. A redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Washington State, Flynn is an All-American at the point that allows Brian Dutcher’s offense to run the way he wants it to run. Losing Yanni Wetzel will hurt, but Nathan Mensah started over him at the start of the year, and the defense that K.J. Feagin provided will be missed. But with Matt Mitchell back, he and Flynn should be able to provide enough firepower that the system will still run just fine. Remember, the Aztecs are coming off of a season where they lost just two games and will return 3.5 starters, including an All-American, if Flynn is back.
The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if, as expected, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all head to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and with a frontline that will apparently include just a couple of freshmen (Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield) and Columbia grad transfer Patrick Tape is somewhat concerning.
I’m assuming Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.
Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to compete for an SEC title.
The Tar Heels will lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked in my top eight.
Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I think the system will continue to work even if both remain in the draft. And even if both came back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest?
The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as junior Malik Williams this season. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The major question mark is going to be who steps forward at the four, and whether or not JuCo transfer Jay Scrubb makes it to campus or opts to head directly to the professional ranks.
After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.
After turning their season around and finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season standings, UCLA returns everyone that played a major role in their rotation down the stretch of the season while adding five-star point guard Daishen Nix. A number of Cronin’s young pieces — Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton — really played well down the stretch. The two question marks: How will Tyger Campbell and Nix fit together, and will Chris Smith return to school?
We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American.
This is another ranking that is based as much on who the coach is as it is based on the players on the roster. Ohio State will likely lose Kaleb Wesson to the NBA, but with a solid crop of guards to go along with Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and Harvard transfer Seth Towns, there is more than enough there for the Buckeyes to get back to the NCAA tournament.
The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.
The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return at least one, if not both of Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Isaiah Todd and Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of David DeJulius and Eli Brooks.
The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.
Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
The Ducks will be losing Payton Pritchard, which is a major blow, but Will Richardson and Chris Duarte should be able to handle a bigger load. Eric Williams and Eugene Omoruyi are both impact transfers that sat out last season, and there is plenty of young talent returning on the Duck bench.