1. Kentucky Wildcats
After losing several players to the draft and seeing some transfers, Kentucky was able to reload in a big way. While they may not have the top three ranked recruits like Duke, they have something very few teams have: legitimate depth. This is a team that goes two deep at literally every position. Not only that, but they have a roster full of players that complement each other, and actually have shooters this season. The cherry on top for this team is that they have experience, as PJ Washington, Quade Green, and Nick Richards are back from last year’s team as well as Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis. Their two headed freshman combo-guard monster of Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans also figure to add a lot of defensive versatility to the team, allowing them to be very aggressive with the press.
2. Duke Blue Devils
If you look at the starting lineup, Duke is as talented as anybody in the nation, and will overwhelm opponents with their overall skill level this year. RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Zion Williamson will need to figure out how to play off of each other, but once that gets figured out, this is a lineup that can be a nightmare for opponents. Meanwhile, while those three get most of the headlines, Tre Jones will need to be the one putting each of those guys in positions to score. And like his brother Tyus who lead Duke on their last title run, Jones might be up to the task. Duke’s biggest weakness is that their bench lacks any real depth and there is a substantial drop off from their starters to their reserves.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self always finds a way to win the Big 12, and this year should play out the same way. Kansas will be led by their transfers, Dedric Lawson and KJ Lawson, as well as incoming freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. Despite losing their heart and soul in Devonte Graham, this team remains among the elite with a real chance to win it all in Minnesota. There may be some growing pains early for this team as their young guards become acclimated to the college game, but it’s safe to expect this team to be playing very good basketball by February.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Mark Few and Gonzaga are coming off a 32 win season and will return juniors Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie to lead the team. Zach Norvell figures to only be stronger with another year of experience and thrives in the role of go to scorer. This is a team primed to run through the WCC once again and enter the NCAA tournament with a good seed. Corey Kispert is another extremely talented player who has yet to display his full talent, but could be primed for a break out. San Jose State transfer forward Brandon Clarke has revamped his jumper and could be a real factor in the frontcourt. Josh Perkins is a bit of a wildcard, but this is a team with potential pros at nearly every position and even some coming off the bench.
5. Virginia Cavaliers
Listen, last season will be defined, for better or worse, as the year of UMBC upending the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Because of that, it’s easy to forget just how strong Virginia was last year. While a lot of fans may not like their style of play, there is no question that it is incredibly effective (at least in the regular season) and it is likely Virginia will be a top five to ten team for much of the season. They return much of their nucleus with a very effective backcourt in Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy Also, if any team has something to prove this season, it’s Virginia.
6. Nevada Wolfpack
The Twins Caleb Martin and Cody Martin, plus their beast inside Jordan Caroline all opted to return, plus the team added 5-star 7-foot big man Jordan Brown, who may not be the prospect he’s been billed as, but should shine right away in the conference, nonetheless. They also return most of their rotation from a team that won 29 games last season. As a result, the Wolfpack looks to be in a great position for an extremely strong season. They are a versatile, high-scoring offense that will strain any defense they come across this season.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Luke Maye again projects to be UNC’s top player and after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season, he’ll be looking to help propel the team to a Final Four in his senior season. Freshman guard Coby White has a chance to make some noise as a freshman. If Nassir Little can find his groove early, he could end up being a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist type of one-and-done player and possibly challenge for freshman of the year in the conference. Forwards Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams also figure to be key contributors. While this team doesn’t have the depth of recent years, particularly in the backcourt, they have the talent to be among the ACC and the country’s elite.
8. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee shocked a lot of people last year as they made a big jump into the national discussion. Rick Barnes loses virtually no one from a scrappy team that proved to be trouble for nearly every team they faced a season ago. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are a load for any team to deal with, and they return to potentially lead the Vols on a deep run in the tourney.
9. Michigan State Spartans
Gone is super freshman big Jaren Jackson, but Tom Izzo always finds a way to get the most out of his roster, and will be trying to coax the most out of a group led by Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, and Josh Langford. The juniors will be the backbone of the team and will have to build off of their strong sophomore campaigns.
10. LSU Tigers
LSU is a team that, despite being just over .500 last year, looks primed for a big season. Their jitterbug quick point guard Tremont Waters nearly turned pro and is a legitimate contender for SEC player of the year. Unlike last season, he’ll have help. LSU adds a monster recruiting class including Nazreon Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, and Darius Days. Expect a big step forward from this team this season.
11. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan caught fire at the right time last season and found their way all the way to the championship game. Losing Mo Wagner will certainly hurt them, but Charles Matthews will be back and Ignas Brazdeikis, an underrated recruit, will provide scoring from the wing at 6-8, 220 pounds.
12. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles surprised people with their tournament run last season and much of that balanced roster returns this season. Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer, the team’s leading scorers both return, and each possess solid athleticism and abilitis. Trent Forrest and the Walkers (CJ and MJ) give the team excellent depth and are talented contributors. Add in that they have plenty of size on the interior and they will pose matchup problems for a lot of teams this season.
13. UCLA Bruins
Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are gone, but with no Ball drama and a good recruiting class featuring Moses Brown and Shareef O'Neal inside as well as returning freshmen standouts Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, they should challenge for conference supremacy. Tyger Campbell, a freshman guard, will pay dividends down the road for this team.
14. Oregon Ducks
Oregon had a down year last season, finishing 6th in a relatively weak Pac 12. So, what do they do? Enroll 5-star forwards Bol Bol and Louis King. The Ducks will be leaning heavily on their freshman class, which is ranked third in the country for this recruiting class. The team lost their most talented player in Troy Brown, but returns their leading scorer in Junior point guard Payton Prichard. Sophomore big Kenny Wooten has a ton of upside with his strength and explosiveness, and could break out into one of the better bigmen prospects in the nation.
15. Auburn Tigers
Auburn had quite the season last year. At the beginning of the year, Bruce Pearl was on the hot seat with questions surrounding the program. Then, the team went 26-8 and they will return most of last season’s roster outside of Mustapha Heron. They also get bigman Austin Wiley back after sitting out the season with eligibility issues. They are likely a step below Kentucky and Tennessee, but not far behind.
16. Loyola (IL) Ramblers
When looking at this roster on paper, it doesn’t scream 16th best in the country, but if I learned anything last season, it’s not to doubt Porter Moser’s group. Maybe it’s because I’m an alumni of an MVC school, maybe it’s just recency bias, but I expect to see Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig lead this team back to the second week of the tournament or later.
17. West Virginia Mountaineers
Losing Jevon Carter is going to cause issues for West Virginia early, as he was the emotional leader and a defensive juggernaut for the team over the course of his college career. However, the Mountaineers caught a break when Sagabe Konate, possibly the best interior defensive presence in college basketball, returned for his junior season. Lamont West is also a high level big, who figures to compliment Konate well with his ability to face up and possibly be an offensive threat. Getting quality play from their backcourt, James "Beetle" Bolden and company, will be the key.
18. Villanova Wildcats
It just seems wrong to have Villanova this low on the list after the run they’ve been on, but they got hit hard by the NBA draft. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman leaving hurts, but losing the leadership of their floor general, Jalen Brunson, figures to be the toughest, even with Jahvon Quinerly coming in. They have some pieces, including one of their key contributors Eric Paschall from last year, but expect a step backwards for the national champion Wildcats.
19. Florida Gators
Mike White’s roster may not be composed of household names, but he finds a way to win with them. Losing Chris Chiozza certainly hurts, but adding 6’4 Canadian freshman Andrew Nembhard should help to offset the loss.
20. Syracuse Orange
It’s crazy to think that this team finished tenth in the ACC last season, and then proceeded to make noise in the tournament. With Syracuse, their proficiency playing their zone is extremely difficult to prepare for. Conference opponents have become accustomed to it, so despite the Orange struggling in the conference season, if they can just make the tourney they should be a tough out again this year.
21. Virginia Tech Hokies
Buzz Williams has a way to get the most out of his teams. They will still be a small team, but mismatches can work both ways, as they were able to use their quickness to counter bigger lineups last season. Sophomore wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker could become a household name this season. This is a team that should compete night in and night out, but their ceiling is relatively low compared to other teams in this area of the rankings.
22. Clemson Tigers
Clemson thought they had a very real shot at landing coveted in-state recruit Zion Williamson, and had they done that, would certainly have been higher in the rankings. However, they didn’t and Brad Brownell will have to “settle” for returning 4 of his top 6 scorers from a team that finished third in the ACC last year. They fly under the radar a little bit nationally, but Clemson could have another strong season.
23. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland is bringing in a really talented recruiting class, including Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, and Eric Ayala, and return center Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan. So, even with Kevin Huerter leaving for the NBA draft, this is a team that should challenge for the Big 10 championship this season.
24. TCU Horned Frogs
Jamie Dixon probably should not be doubted at this point. He’s ahead of schedule in Fort Worth, and after finishing in the top half of the conference and making the NCAA tournament, looks primed to continue laying the foundation for that program. Losing Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams hurts, they were losses that Dixon anticipated so he should have a plan in place.
25. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana has struggled mightily in recent years, but Archie Miller may be about to turn that around. This ranking is about Romeo Langford more than anything. Indiana managed to secure the commitment of a top tier recruit, and will be adding it to a core of experienced players. If Langford can stay healthy, we may look back at this season in a few years as the one that got Indiana back on track.