Top 25 reset: How transfers, draft decisions changed our men’s 2021–22 outlook
|Toronto Star 22 Jul 2021 at 12:30|
The midpoint in the college basketball off-season is almost here, and rosters across the country are nearly finalized for the upcoming season. This makes projecting what the season might look like far easier than Sports Illustrated’s first 2021–22 men’s top 25 back in April.
A couple of needle-movers remain in the transfer portal, and there’s the possibility of a few high-profile 2022 recruits reclassifying and joining college programs in 2021, but for the most part, things are set in stone. With that, here’s where things stand with just over 100 days before games tip off in November.
April ranking: 1
Another undefeated regular season may not be in the cards, but the Bulldogs can be pencilled in as national title favourites in the pre-season despite losing three starters from last year’s 31–1 season. Mark Few’s club features a generationally good frontcourt duo in National Player of the Year contender Drew Timme and No. 1 recruit and SI All-American Player of the Year Chet Holmgren.
Holmgren’s shooting ability and shot-blocking prowess makes him the ideal fit next to a traditional post player in Timme. Steady veteran guard Andrew Nembhard is more than qualified to run the show, sharing the backcourt with a pair of elite recruits in Hunter Sallis (No. 16 on the SI99) and Nolan Hickman (No. 21). Add in veteran shotmaker Rasir Bolton (Iowa State) and a slew of former highly touted recruits off the bench, and this team is set up to yet again be among the nation’s best.
April ranking: N/A
No coach did better in the transfer portal this spring and summer than new Longhorns head man Chris Beard. Beard flipped a roster that appeared to be in rebuild mode for 2021–22 in the days before Shaka Smart’s departure for Marquette and turned Texas into a legitimate national title contender. Minnesota’s Marcus Carr comes in to take the reins at point guard, two-time All-Pac-12 honoree Timmy Allen (Utah) adds huge scoring pop on the wing, and the trio of Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt), Christian Bishop (Creighton) and Tre Mitchell (UMass) creates a completely loaded frontcourt. It’s perhaps the most talented group of transfers ever assembled, and they’ll join a pair of strong returning guards in Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones to form one of the best rosters in the country. Two big challenges loom for Beard: Establishing his distinct defensive-minded culture with all these new faces and making sure all these former stars buy into smaller roles in the name of winning. If he can pull that off, the sky’s the limit for this group.
April ranking: 11
The 2020–21 iteration of the Jayhawks featured the program’s worst offence of the Bill Self era, per KenPom. At the heart of that was a clear lack of a dynamic ballhandler who could create shots for both himself and others. So, Bill Self went into the portal and added not one, but two high-level scoring point guards into the mix. Arizona State’s Remy Martin heads to Lawrence for his extra year of eligibility, while March star Joseph Yesufu moves up the ranks from Drake to Kansas.
Martin is somewhat of a polarizing player in college basketball circles: On one hand, he’s an elite shotmaker and helped ASU to back-to-back men’s NCAA tournaments for the first time in nearly 40 years. On the other, he’s a shoot-first player whose Sun Devils teams underachieved relative to its talent level when he was the centrepiece. My bet is that Martin will play better when surrounded with more team-first players like Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, while David McCormack’s frontcourt presence will also open up avenues for Martin to go score. The roster around Martin is deep, experienced and talented. Can the veteran PG be the one to take the Jayhawks to the promised land?
April ranking: 5
It’s understandable to wonder how fluky the Bruins’ dream run to the Final Four was last season. It’s certainly true that UCLA had some positive jump-shooting luck through its run, and the Bruins were on the verge of bowing out in the First Four to Michigan State before a furious late comeback. But UCLA isn’t just a team running it back. The nucleus of Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell returns, but the Bruins also make two high-impact additions in top transfer Myles Johnson (Rutgers) and five-star freshman Peyton Watson.
Johnson and Watson have the potential to transform a defence that was pedestrian last season: Johnson with his ability to protect the rim and Watson with his athleticism, length and energy on the wing. Significant defensive improvement paired with the deadly Juzang/Jaquez duo on the offensive end gives Mick Cronin’s club a strong chance to get back to the Final Four, and this time maybe even win it all.
April ranking: 2
The Wolverines will be the Big Ten’s best for a second straight season. It’s a new-look supporting cast surrounding star big man Hunter Dickinson, but Juwan Howard signed the nation’s best recruiting class, per 247Sports, and added top transfer PG DeVante’ Jones (Coastal Carolina) to retool a Michigan roster that loses three starters. Five-star wing Caleb Houstan is the headliner, a sharpshooter from Canada by way of Montverde Academy who shoots the three and defends at a high level. Then there’s Jones, who had an impressive showing at the G League Elite Camp and who’ll be asked to provide similar game management skills that grad transfer Mike Smith flashed last season.
Dickinson’s presence should make the game easier for everyone around him: He was already one of the nation’s most dominant players in 2020–21 as a freshman, and a full summer of development with a former star big like Howard should only make him more difficult to stop.
April ranking: 8
The Boilermakers earning a No. 4 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament was definitely ahead of schedule in what was expected to be something of a transition year. The biggest reason Matt Painter’s club overachieved was the play of its freshmen: Jaden Ivey looked like one of the Big Ten’s best guards at times, Zach Edey established himself as the next great big in Painter’s system, and both Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman turned into essential rotation cogs.
The growth of that quartet into their sophomore years, paired with a star senior center in Trevion Williams, is the biggest reason for optimism in West Lafayette. Ivey shined with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer and could be on a Carsen Edwards–like trajectory as a scorer. Meanwhile, Edey dominated the paint for Canada at the same event, showcasing Painter’s biggest challenge entering the season: Maximizing two star centers in Edey and Williams who can’t space the floor in modern basketball. But that’s a good problem to have, and there’s no reason Purdue can’t contend for a Big Ten title in 2021–22.
April ranking: 7
The defending men’s national champions do lose a lot, but there’s no reason Scott Drew’s club can’t compete for another Big 12 title and remain among the nation’s elite in 2021–22. Central to Drew’s hopes of cutting down the nets again is the return of Matthew Mayer, the dynamic wing scorer who received strong NBA interest this spring despite not starting a single game in his college career to date.
Mayer will be the centrepiece of this Baylor attack, and while he needs to become more consistent, he certainly has the talent to be the alpha. Taking over point guard duties is the well-travelled James Akinjo, who averaged more than 15 points and five assists per game last season at Arizona. Add in an elite recruiting class that features five-star forward Kendall Brown and highly regarded combo guard Langston Love, and the talent level remains extremely high in Waco.
April ranking: 15
One-and-done king John Calipari went heavy on transfers this spring in addition to a strong incoming group of high school talent, helping to ensure UK won’t repeat its disastrous 2020–21 season. Chief among the Wildcats’ issues last year was poor point guard play, and Calipari addressed that with diminutive dime-dropper Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia) and five-star TyTy Washington. Shooting was also a huge issue, but Calipari remedied that by signing a pair of veteran transfers in Kellan Grady (Davidson) and CJ Fredrick (Iowa). Fredrick is a career 47% shooter from beyonds the arc, while Grady sits at 37% for his career and scored 2,002 points in his career at Davidson.
Combine that improved backcourt with a frontcourt loaded with long athletes like Keion Brooks Jr., Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and Damion Collins, and this UK team should be among college basketball’s most improved in 2021–22. The Wildcats also remain in contention for top 2022 center recruit Jalen Duren, who is expected to reclassify into the 2021 class.
April ranking: 13
Perhaps no team benefitted from players using the “COVID-19 year” of eligibility more than Villanova, which got point guard Collin Gillespie and forward Jermaine Samuels to return for another year. Gillespie, who saw his season end in heartbreaking fashion after tearing his MCL on March 3 against Creighton, gets the chance to go out on a high note and should be one of the nation’s best point guards. He’ll be surrounded with a veteran core that features Samuels, Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels, as well as an elite incoming recruiting class that can be brought along slowly as a result of Gillespie and Samuels’s surprise return.
Replacing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl remains the big question: I’d like to see Jay Wright go small with Samuels at center for extended stretches, giving the opportunity for Brandon Slater, Bryan Antoine or a freshman to emerge while maximizing the Wildcats’ floor spacing and versatility.
April ranking: 6
Two things are a constant with the well-oiled machine Kelvin Sampson has built in Houston: Defense and rebounding. Star players like Rob Gray, Corey Davis, Nate Hinton and now Quentin Grimes have come and gone, but the Cougars’ dominance in those two areas have persisted. Because of that, it’s hard to see much regression from the Cougars in 2021–22 despite losing the likes of Grimes and DeJon Jarreau.
Junior guard Marcus Sasser seems ready to explode after back-to-back 20-point games in the Elite Eight and Final Four, and transfers Kyler Edwards (Texas Tech), Josh Carlton (UConn) and Taze Moore (Cal State Bakersfield) are tailor-made for Sampson’s system on both ends. Add in a deep, experienced stable of bigs that know their role and play extremely hard, and the Cougars once again should be in the mix at the top of the national rankings.
April ranking: 3
Mike Krzyzewski has an incredibly talented roster for the final year of his illustrious career. The additions of three top-20 recruits nationally injects life into a Duke team that disappointed in 2020–21, headlined by potential future No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero. Banchero seems poised to dominate the college game in his lone season in Durham thanks to a polished inside-out game and a mature physique that should allow him to play multiple positions. Meanwhile, the two-headed monster of breakout candidate Mark Williams and grad transfer bruiser Theo John (Marquette) should allow Duke to control the paint.
In the end, it will be guard play that determines if this team is a national contender. Sophomore Jeremy Roach’s freshman campaign was a mixed bag, could he blossom into a star in Year 2? What about Trevor Keels, one of the most physically-gifted guards in the class of 2021? This Duke team may go as far as Roach and Keels can take it.
April ranking: 19
As has been the case the last several off-seasons, Dana Altman added multiple high-impact transfers this spring to set the Ducks up well. Replacing star guard Chris Duarte will be a challenge, but a pair of veteran lefties capable of running the show in De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Jacob Young (Rutgers) should help lessen the blow. Adding Harmon and Young to a group of returning guards that features seniors Will Richardson and Eric Williams gives Altman a backcourt with experience, shotmaking and speed galore. But Oregon’s biggest addition came in the frontcourt, where Altman signed Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier to help replace the graduated Eugene Omoruyi. Guerrier’s skill set fits perfectly in the Ducks’ five-out offence—expect him to become the next great Canadian to don an Oregon uniform.
13. North Carolina
April ranking: N/A
Hubert Davis takes over what many consider the best job in men’s college basketball with a roster capable of winning the ACC in Year 1. Davis, who takes over after nine years as an assistant under Roy Williams in Chapel Hill, added a pair of huge transfers up front to a strong returning core to set up the Heels for immediate success.
The frontcourt trio of low-post bruiser Armando Bacot, skilled lefty Dawson Garcia (Marquette) and veteran stretch big Brady Manek (Oklahoma) should be one of the nation’s best and most versatile front lines. But the upside for the Tar Heels in 2021–22 will be dictated by their young backcourt. Former five-star Caleb Love had an uneven freshman campaign running the show, and the Missouri native needs to put together a far more efficient season as a sophomore for UNC to reach its ceiling.
April ranking: 9
Winning the SEC in Year 2 in Tuscaloosa was a massive achievement for what Nate Oats is building at Alabama. With the Crimson Tide now making headway with top high school recruits, the party may just be getting started. The headliner of this year’s incoming group is JD Davison, an explosive point guard who elected to stay in-state with the Tide and should be a star in Oats’s uptempo system. Adding another ballhandler to play with Jahvon Quinerly will allow Oats to continue to play fast and attack teams off the bounce, and the return of Jaden Shackelford after briefly testing the transfer portal gives Bama one of the best backcourts in the country. Up front, I’ll be tracking sophomore breakout candidate Juwan Gary, who flashed considerable upside as a small-ball center during the Tide’s NCAA tournament run.
15. Ohio State
April ranking: 4
Last season’s stunning ending against Oral Roberts may cause many to forget how good a season the Buckeyes had in 2020–21, which featured a third top-16 finish in KenPom in four years under Chris Holtmann. There’s no reason to believe the Buckeyes won’t make that four in five years. It all starts with E.J. Liddell, who exploded onto the scene as a sophomore and should be among the nation’s best players in 2021–22 thanks to his ability to pound teams on the block while also popping out to hit perimeter jumpers.
A retooled backcourt thanks to graduations and pro departures will determine whether this team can compete for a Big Ten title: A pair of veterans in defensive-minded PG Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and high-end shooter Cedric Russell (Louisiana-Lafayette) join the fray, as does highly-regarded freshman Malaki Branham. No one on this Ohio State roster can create offence like the departed Duane Washington Jr., so it will take multiple guys to step up in order to replicate his production.
April ranking: 17
A breakthrough Year 2 for Eric Musselman and the Hogs has set the bar high in Fayetteville, as the Razorbacks reached their first men’s Elite Eight in more than 25 years. With the way Musselman’s staff is recruiting, fans won’t have to wait another 25 to see their squad back in the Big Dance’s second weekend. Transfers Au’Diese Toney (Pittsburgh) and Stanley Umude (South Dakota) are amazing fits in Musselman’s system as multi-positional combo forwards who can handle the ball and guard 1–5, and there’s still plenty of backcourt firepower with the return of Davonte “Devo” Davis and JD Notae along with the addition of Chris Lykes (Miami). This roster is deep, athletic and talented enough to push for an SEC title.
April ranking: 14
The return of Kofi Cockburn jolts the Illini back into a clear top-25 team. Flaws and all, returning a consensus All-America like Cockburn is massive for Brad Underwood’s club, and the Jamaican 7-footer is a clear top-five player in the country entering the 2021–22 season. Cockburn will certainly receive more defensive attention with the departure of Ayo Dosunmu, but sophomore Andre Curbelo seems destined to make the leap into stardom and several other veterans in the backcourt should help as well. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer is an elite-level shooter, Trent Frazier is a great two-way guard, and both Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison did a great job as role players last season.
18. Florida State
April ranking: 10
Perhaps no program in the country has been more consistent the last three years than Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles. FSU has finished No. 14, No. 15 and No. 15, respectively, the last three seasons, reaching the Sweet 16 in both NCAA tournaments that were played and trending toward a run at least that deep before the world shut down in March 2020. This year’s group has plenty of new faces, but Hamilton has a proven track record for piecing things together and developing players. Houston transfer Caleb Mills could blossom into one of the best scorers in the ACC, and this roster features a great combination of young talent like Jalen Warley and Matthew Cleveland along with experienced role players like Malik Osborne and Anthony Polite.
April ranking: N/A
The Hoosiers hiring former Knicks and Hawks head coach Mike Woodson was perhaps the biggest gamble of the off-season, and at a time when Indiana really needed to get it right. A former star in Bloomington playing for Bob Knight, Woodson represents the golden age of Hoosier men’s basketball. While his hoops and coaching acumen are hard to question, the NBA is a much different world from college basketball. So far, Woodson has made the right moves, hiring a staff (headlined by fellow Hoosier Dane Fife) with tons of college experience and making some key additions on the recruiting trail.
The return of star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis gives Indiana a real shot for a resurgent first year under Woodson, and the roster has been rounded out with experienced high-major veterans like Xavier Johnson (Pittsburgh) and Miller Kopp (Northwestern). The X-factor might be Tamar Bates, a highly-touted recruit who signed with IU after decommitting from Texas in the aftermath of Shaka Smart’s departure. He’s one of the more well-regarded scorers in the 2021 class.
April ranking: 20
The 2020–21 season was a somewhat disappointing one in Knoxville considering how much talent the Vols had. A massive COVID-19 outbreak just before the season began disrupted things and Rick Barnes’s club never seemed to find consistency after that. The next iteration of the Vols has as much upside as last year’s team, and they’ll hope that a more normal season can help them maximize their potential.
Elite recruit Kennedy Chandler and top transfer Justin Powell (Auburn) headline a revamped backcourt loaded with talent and quality depth. Powell is a particularly intriguing piece—he flashed NBA upside early last year before a serious concussion ended his season. Add in a veteran center returning for his fifth year in John Fulkerson, who’ll provide steady play and leadership on both ends, and this is yet another talented Tennessee bunch that could make serious noise in the SEC.
April ranking: 12
Late departures by Aaron Wiggins (NBA draft) and Darryl Morsell (Marquette) take some wind from the Terps’ sails, but a pair of high-impact transfers join an experienced returning core that overachieved last season. Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab has perhaps been overlooked as one of the best transfers of the off-season, but the junior made huge strides as a sophomore in the Big East and gives the Terrapins the strong interior presence they lacked last season.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell joins veteran combo guard Eric Ayala in the backcourt. Russell may dictate just how good Mark Turgeon’s team can be: He thrived as a junior at URI when surrounded with good talent, but struggled as a senior and sophomore when asked to do too much. If the Terps get the good version of Russell, they’ll be a threat nationally.
22. St. Bonaventure
April ranking: 22
No team in men’s college basketball used its bench less last season than St. Bonaventure, but when you have five starters as good as the Bonnies had, it’s easy to want to ride them as much as possible. Shot blocker extraordinaire Osun Osunniyi anchors the defence, Jalen Adaway is one of the great glue guys in the country and the three-headed backcourt monster of Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch each bring something different to the table. That five alone is enough to make the Bonnies clear Atlantic 10 favourites and a potential top-25 team, but Mark Schmidt has added some key pieces that should bolster the bench. Pitt transfer Karim Coulibaly and JUCO import Linton Brown are among the new faces on the bench that could take this team to the next level.
23. Oklahoma State
April ranking: N/A
The Cade Cunningham era in Stillwater, however brief, produced incredible results, including the Cowboys’ best men’s NCAA tournament seed since Eddie Sutton was patrolling the sidelines. And while Cunningham is off to the NBA, his time at Oklahoma State seems to have laid the foundation for future success.
Mike Boynton augmented an already-solid roster with a pair of former five-star recruits transferring out of their original homes in Moussa Cisse (Memphis) and Bryce Thompson (Kansas). Both Cisse and Thompson had their ups and downs as freshmen, but they provide huge upside for a Cowboys team that already had a strong returning core. Isaac Likekele impacts the game in more ways than almost anyone in the country, Avery Anderson broke through in his sophomore campaign, and young bigs Kalib Boone and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe will only continue to get better. OSU should be outstanding on defence and get back to the NCAA tournament in 2022—at least, pending the outcome of its ongoing appeal of a one-year post-season ban.
April ranking: N/A
Auburn picked a good year to self-impose a post-season ban, navigating injuries, NCAA eligibility questions and youth in addition to the pandemic in something of a lost season. While it felt like a different team was on the floor every game, the Tigers did gain one thing from an otherwise frustrating season: experience. Talented youngsters like Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams were thrust into action and played extremely well, and now that young core will be complemented with a hugely talented incoming group of freshmen and transfers. Five-star Jabari Smith and UNC transfer Walker Kessler headline a new-look frontcourt, while K.D. Johnson (Georgia), Wendell Green (EKU) and Zep Jasper (College of Charleston) provide much-needed ballhandling experience.
April ranking: 16
The biggest selling point for the Huskies is on the defensive end, where Dan Hurley’s club should be among the nation’s elite. Hurley’s system emphasizes physicality and effort on that end of the floor, and this roster has the combination of length and experience to execute Hurley’s vision to perfection. The question is where offence will come from without the departed James Bouknight, who was one of the best scorers in college basketball.
The Huskies have lots of young talent at guard, but elected not to take a transfer in an off-season that saw pretty much everyone join the party. The good news: UConn didn’t fall off too much last season in eight games without Bouknight, and sophomore big man Adama Sanogo could be in for a huge jump and take on some of those scoring responsibilities.
Dropped out from spring top 25: Michigan State (18th), West Virginia (21st), LSU (23rd), Drake (24th), Xavier (25th)
Also considered (alphabetically): Arizona, Colorado State, Drake, Memphis, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Xavier
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