Consensus Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2021-22 Men’s College Basketball Season
At the end of every single men's NCAA college basketball tournament—typically before "One Shining Moment" has even finished playing—the internet is inundated with way-too-early top-25 rankings for the following season.
It is always a ridiculous exercise, but it is especially preposterous this year with all seniors allowed to return next season if they so choose and with more than 1,200 players already in the transfer portal.
Trying to figure out what rosters will look like in November is about as feasible as forecasting right now whether it will be precipitating in any given city when the 2021-22 season begins.
It's still fun, though.
This year, instead of adding one more individual's ballot to the fray, I decided to put together a consensus way-too-early top 25 from 10 national analysts who published their top 25s at some point in the first 12 hours after Baylor's 86-70 national championship victory over Gonzaga.
With each of those 10 ballots, we'll take a look at the most significant outlier in each direction to try to get a sense of why that writer had a contrarian view on certain teams.
But first, here is that consensus way-too-early top 25:
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (245 votes)
2. UCLA Bruins (227)
3. Michigan Wolverines (198)
4. Duke Blue Devils (193)
5. Ohio State Buckeyes (192)
6. Purdue Boilermakers (187)
7. Alabama Crimson Tide (172)
8. Kansas Jayhawks (166)
9. Baylor Bears (162)
10. Villanova Wildcats (149)
11. Florida State Seminoles (146)
12. Maryland Terrapins (131)
13. Houston Cougars (117)
14. Kentucky Wildcats (110)
15. Arkansas Razorbacks (91)
16. Michigan State Spartans (82)
17. North Carolina Tar Heels (63)
18. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (61)
19. Connecticut Huskies (58)
20. West Virginia Mountaineers (57)
T-21. Oregon Ducks (54)
T-21. Illinois Fighting Illini (54)
T-21. Virginia Cavaliers (54)
24. Arizona Wildcats (45)
25. Syracuse Orange (38)
Close But No Cigar: Texas Longhorns (37), Memphis Tigers (28), Virginia Tech Hokies (28), Tennessee Volunteers (24), LSU Tigers (19), USC Trojans (13)
Ballots presented in no particular order.
The Athletic (Seth Davis)
Outlet: The Athletic
Author: Seth Davis
Highest On: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Davis was the only person to rank the Pokes, placing them at No. 16 on his ballot. There are seven other teams who only appeared on one top 25 ranking, but all seven were ranked No. 21 or lower on that rogue ballot. That makes this one of the biggest outlier votes of them all.
But I kind of dig it.
Yes, Cade Cunningham is going to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Losing a player of that caliber stings, to say the least. But the Cowboys should be getting everyone else of note back next season, and they did win a road game against West Virginia without Cunningham. Perhaps ranking Oklahoma State ahead of the likes of North Carolina, Michigan State, Connecticut and others is a bit aggressive, but this team still has top 25 potential.
Lowest On: Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs are No. 15 in the consensus top 25, but Davis was unable to find room for them on his ballot.
In general, though, the experts are all over the map on Arkansas. Davis was one of two to omit the Razorbacks while two others have them in their top 10.
Forced to choose one of those camps, I would have to go with the top 10 option, based solely on what a fantastic job Eric Musselman has done with the transfer portal in his short time as a head coach. He built Nevada into a serious contender a few years ago almost entirely with transfers, and this year's portal is simply overflowing with potential impact players.
Based on current roster construction and assuming none of Moses Moody, Jalen Tate and Justin Smith return, unranked makes sense. But Musselman already got Au'Diese Toney from Pittsburgh and Chris Lykes from Miami, and you just know he's going to snag one or two more key players in the near future.
Stadium (Jeff Goodman)
Author: Jeff Goodman
Highest On: Syracuse Orange
It's largely because of Goodman that Syracuse just barely made it in at No. 25 in the consensus ranking, as he has the Orange at No. 13 on his ballot.
The only noteworthy senior on Syracuse's roster is Marek Dolezaj. Freshman sixth man Kadary Richmond has also committed to Seton Hall after entering the transfer portal. But the Orange should get back four of their starters, including three-point sniper Buddy Boeheim. They picked up Cole Swider as a potential replacement for Dolezaj. They also signed 5-star freshman Benny Williams.
Syracuse should be better than it was this past season, but can it make the jump from "barely made the tournament" to top 25? Goodman clearly thinks so, but six of the other nine experts do not.
Lowest On: Michigan Wolverines
The only team in the consensus top 25 that wasn't on Goodman's ballot was No. 22 Illinois. (He instead has Belmont at No. 25.) But the one team where he's well behind most of those surveyed is Michigan.
The Wolverines are behind only Gonzaga and UCLA in the consensus poll, but Goodman has them down at No. 12 on his ballot. He is assuming that Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. will be the only semi-significant contributors returning next season and that completely hitting the reset button in the backcourt keeps them out of the top 10, despite boasting a star-studded recruiting class.
Got to say, I side with Goodman in this debate. There's enough raw talent on this roster that you simply have to put them in the top 25, but No. 3 is doggone aggressive for a team that likely needs to replace six of its seven leading scorers. If a Mike Smith or an Eli Brooks comes back for a super-senior year, sure, pencil Michigan in as a strong Final Four candidate. Unless that happens, though, a small dose of skepticism is warranted.
Washington Post (Patrick Stevens)
Outlet: Washington Post
Author: Patrick Stevens
Highest On: Alabama Crimson Tide
Nine of the 10 writers have Alabama in their top 10, and two have the Crimson Tide in the top five. However, Stevens is alone on an island with Alabama at No. 1 on his ballot.
Though Nate Oats has put together an impressive recruiting haul headlined by top-10 overall guard JD Davison, if all of the seniors (Herbert Jones, John Petty, Jordan Bruner and Alex Reese) decide not to utilize the free year of eligibility, Alabama probably will not be receiving any first-place votes when the time comes for official preseason ballots in seven months. After all, Jones was the SEC Player of the Year, Petty was the team's top three-point option, and Bruner and Reese gave the Crimson Tide some size and strength in the paint. That's a lot to replace.
They should be solid even without that quartet. Just probably not "title favorite" solid.
Lowest On: UCLA Bruins
Stevens isn't that low on UCLA. He has the Bruins at No. 7. But every other writer has them in the top five, including a pair of first-place votes.
Aside from Chris Smith, who suffered a torn ACL in December, UCLA did not have a single senior on this year's roster. If everyone (most notably Johnny Juzang) comes back, a second consecutive trip to the Final Four isn't just a possibility; it would be the expectation.
One has to wonder, though, where everyone would have landed on the Bruins if they had lost to Michigan State in the First Four.
Up until that magical tournament run, this did always feel like a team that would've at least had strong Sweet 16 potential if it had been able to stay healthy. But it's kind of hard to believe we've reached the point where 90 percent of writers surveyed expect this to be a top five team. I don't necessarily disagree with it, but I do wonder how different it would be if that first overtime hadn't gone UCLA's way.
Seattle Times (Jon Wilner)
Outlet: Seattle Times
Author: Jon Wilner
Highest On: Virginia Cavaliers
Four of the 10 writers did not have Virginia in their top 25, and five of the six who did vote for the Cavaliers had them at No. 15 or lower.
Not Wilner, though. He has Tony Bennett's guys at No. 6 on his ballot, almost single-handedly pushing them into the consensus top 25.
If seniors Sam Hauser and Jay Huff both return for a bonus year, maybe the Wahoos will rank in the top 10. Considering Huff has already declared for the draft, though, that seems rather unlikely.
I'm with the four who didn't rank Virginia at all. This was a borderline top 25 team this season, and as things stand, the Cavaliers are going to lose more talent than they gain this offseason. Having them at No. 6 is certainly something.
Lowest On: Purdue Boilermakers and Maryland Terrapins
Had Wilner just been in the minority on Virginia, this ballot would be fine.
However, he also completely omitted consensus No. 6 Purdue and No. 12 Maryland and was the only writer in either of those camps.
Every other writer has Purdue in the top 10, so I'm assuming that was a "got lost in the spreadsheet shuffle" sort of mistake. The Boilermakers are on track to bring back everyone from this season except for Aaron Wheeler (transfer), and they're bringing in a pair of top-60 overall power forwards. There's really no excuse for intentionally leaving that squad out of the top 25.
Maryland is at least a little more defensible since the Terps only went 17-14 this season. But they're also getting back just about everyone, they're adding a pair of top-100 overall forwards and already picked up two great transfers in Fatts Russell (Rhode Island PG) and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown C). This legitimately could be Maryland's best team since it won it all in 2002.
(For what it's worth, had I opted to just not include Wilner's ballot, Purdue would be No. 3 and Virginia would not be ranked, both of which sound good to me. But I wanted 10 ballots, and I'm not going to throw one out just because of a few head scratchers.)
Sporting News (Mike DeCourcy)
Outlet: Sporting News
Author: Mike DeCourcy
Highest On: West Virginia Mountaineers
Only two writers have West Virginia higher than No. 20 on their ballot, and DeCourcy is the more aggressive of that duo with the Mountaineers at No. 4.
If all five starters (none of which are seniors) come back, this could be a very good team. Emmitt Matthews Jr. is already in the transfer portal, though he hasn't chosen a new team yet. He could just be exploring his options before returning to Morgantown, in which case a top five ranking would be warranted.
WVU only went 19-10, but nine of those 10 losses were by five points or fewer, including the early December game against Gonzaga. The Mountaineers had a nasty habit of digging themselves into an early hole before clawing their way out, but they were right there in just about every game.
Lowest On: Alabama Crimson Tide
Incredibly, there's one ballot with Alabama at No. 1 (Washington Post) and then this ballot without Alabama included at all.
Welcome to trying to make sense of a way-too-early top 25 when everyone is eligible to return and it feels like everyone is in the transfer portal.
Of the two extremes, not ranking Alabama at all is the more nonsensical stance to take. As with Jon Wilner's omission of Purdue, DeCourcy is the only writer who doesn't have Alabama in his top 10. But unlike Wilner's maybe accidental omission, DeCourcy's decision was intentional. He responded to an Alabama fan on Twitter saying he's not sure if Jahvon Quinerly is coming back.
He's entirely entitled to that assumption, and it would at least be defensible to keep Alabama out of the top 25 if Quinerly doesn't come back. If he and the four seniors leave, that means replacing five of the eight leading scorers, which is a significant challenge. But considering Quinerly isn't even projected to be drafted, I'm not sure why he would assume that non-senior will leave early.
247Sports (Kevin Flaherty)
Author: Kevin Flaherty
Highest On: Arizona Wildcats
All of these rankings were published before Arizona landed Eastern Washington transfer Kim Aiken Jr. He averaged 11.0 points and 8.4 rebounds this season and could be a critical addition to what was already going to be a solid frontcourt.
Even without accounting for him, though, I think a lot of people either forgot about Arizona since it hasn't played in the past month or downgraded them because of the ongoing uncertainty from the FBI investigation. (Arizona parted ways with Sean Miller on Wednesday. Someone is about to inherit a good situation.)
The Wildcats should bring back six of the seven leaders in minutes played (losing only Terrell Brown) from a team that ended up at No. 29 in the KenPom rankings. They're also bringing in a trio of 4-star recruits and may well be the second-best team in the Pac-12.
Flaherty was the only writer to have the Wildcats in his top 15, slotting them at No. 11. Even that might be a bit low.
Lowest On: Villanova Wildcats and Michigan State Spartans
Flaherty decided to just do a top 22 instead of a top 25 for some reason. However, even if we assume he would have had Villanova at No. 23 and Michigan State at No. 24, he still would have been the lowest writer on each of those squads. As is, he’s the only one to omit either team.
On the Villanova front, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels are both seniors, Swider has already transferred to Syracuse and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is probably going to at least test the draft waters. If all four are gone, the Wildcats do have some serious shoes to fill. But Jay Wright is still the head coach, and they have the fifth-best recruiting class. They're almost certainly going to open the season ranked in the top 15.
Michigan State is probably going to get back everyone of note except for Josh Langford (senior) and Rocket Watts (transfer), and the Spartans have a top 10 recruiting class without even accounting for incoming transfer Tyson Walker, who averaged 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals for Northeastern this season. They, too, feel like a near lock for a spot in the top 15 in November.
USA Today (Scott Gleeson)
Outlet: USA Today
Author: Scott Gleeson
Highest On: Kentucky Wildcats
All 10 writers are anticipating a bounce-back year for Big Blue Nation, each ranking the Wildcats in their top 19. The only other teams for whom that holds true are Gonzaga, UCLA, Michigan, Duke, Ohio State, Baylor and Florida State.
But no one else is quite this optimistic about Kentucky. Gleeson has John Calipari's guys at No. 9 while everyone else put them in the Nos. 12-19 range.
Kentucky has already added transfers Kellen Grady (Davidson) and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia), and it (per usual) has three highly touted recruits on the way. Even assuming Olivier Sarr (senior), Davion Mintz (senior), BJ Boston (draft), Isaiah Jackson (draft), Terrence Clarke (draft) and Devin Askew (transfer) don't return, the Wildcats are going to have a talented rotation. Provided this is a much more normal offseason as far as COVID-19 is concerned, that talent should come together better and more quickly than it did this past season.
Lowest On: Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gleeson certainly isn't down on the Zags. He has them at No. 3. But each of the other nine outlets put them at either No. 1 (six) or No. 2 (three).
Along with being the highest on Kentucky at No. 9, he's also the highest on Duke at No. 2. And with UCLA at No. 1, that left Gonzaga to slide to No. 3.
In fairness, Gleeson is assuming that Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi are each leaving, and he noted that we're still waiting to hear whether Drew Timme will return as well as whether No. 1 overall recruit Chet Holmgren will choose the Zags. I believe most are assuming that Timme and Holmgren will both be in Spokane next year, and I believe Gleeson would reconsider putting Gonzaga at least ahead of Duke if that happens.
Sports Illustrated (Kevin Sweeney)
Outlet: Sports Illustrated
Author: Kevin Sweeney
Highest On: Houston Cougars
Houston is No. 13 in the consensus top 25, but there is no consensus on the Cougars. All 10 writers put them in their top 25, but nobody gave them the same ranking, with votes ranging from No. 6 down to No. 24.
By a slim margin, Sweeney is the highest on the team fresh off its first Final Four appearance in nearly four decades. Though the Cougars are presumably going to lose starting seniors DeJon Jarreau and Justin Gorham, Sweeney is assuming that leading scorer Quentin Grimes will be back in 2021-22, alongside Marcus Sasser, Connecticut transfer Josh Carlton and poised-for-a-sophomore-breakout Tramon Mark.
If and when Kelvin Sampson adds another key transfer or two, Houston will once again be the clear team to beat from the AAC.
Lowest On: North Carolina Tar Heels
Sweeney's ballot is the most "normal" of the bunch. Each team in his top 13 is also in the consensus top 13, and he has 21 of the consensus top 22 in his top 22.
The only semi-significant outlier is that he didn't rank North Carolina (consensus No. 17). Neither did Mike DeCourcy nor Kevin Flaherty, though, so he's not exactly alone there.
Considering the Tar Heels no longer have Roy Williams on the sideline and are likely going to lose five of their best frontcourt players (Garrison Brooks as a senior, Armando Bacot and Day'Ron Sharpe to the NBA draft, Walker Kessler and Sterling Manley to the transfer portal), it's entirely understandable to not rank them at the moment. If Caleb Love and R.J. Davis fare better in year No. 2 in Chapel Hill, though, North Carolina could bounce back to its normal status as a top 25 team.
ESPN (Jeff Borzello)
Author: Jeff Borzello
Highest On: Virginia Tech Hokies
If this had been a consensus top 30 instead of top 25, Virginia Tech would have made the cut at No. 27, almost entirely because Borzello has the Hokies at No. 10 on his ballot.
As with Seth Davis going rogue with Oklahoma State at No. 16 on his ballot, I kind of love this ranking from Borzello.
The Hokies were a solid team prior to going on not one, but two COVID-19 pauses late in the season. They had wins over Villanova, Virginia and Duke, and they should have the same primary seven-man rotation in 2021-22, with the exception of replacing outgoing point guard Wabissa Bede with Wofford transfer Storm Murphy. The latter is a 41.7 percent career three-point shooter who darn near scored more points this past season (426) than Bede did in his 117-game career (453).
If Murphy can make the adjustment from SoCon to ACC competition anywhere near as well as Keve Aluma did, Virginia Tech just might be the team to beat in the ACC. At the least, the Hokies deserve to be on more than two of these 10 top 25 ballots.
Lowest On: Duke Blue Devils, Michigan Wolverines and Kentucky Wildcats
In addition to breaking all sorts of college basketball news these days, Borzello is one of ESPN's primary recruiting analysts. (Or at least he recently was. Not sure which hats he's wearing for the folks in Bristol these days.)
Thus, it's interesting to see that of the 10 writers he is the lowest on each of the three teams most likely to be leaning heavily on freshmen next season. He has Duke at No. 13, Michigan at No. 17 and Kentucky at No. 19, compared to their spots at No. 4, No. 3 and No. 14, respectively, in the consensus top 25.
Given how badly many of the teams (particularly Duke and Kentucky) relying on freshmen struggled this past season and given the sheer quantity of super seniors and immediately-eligible veteran transfers that will be in play in 2021-22, it's more than fair to exercise some caution with what figure to be three of the youngest rotations in the preseason top 25.
CBS Sports (Gary Parrish)
Outlet: CBS Sports
Author: Gary Parrish
Highest On: Baylor Bears
I fully appreciate that Baylor's roster is probably going to be gutted. Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are all but certain to leave for the NBA draft, and seniors Mark Vital and MaCio Teague are presumably gone, too. That's 80 percent of the starting rotation and just about the entire heart and soul of this team.
Still, it's kind of hard to believe that in putting the Bears at No. 5 Parrish is the highest on the reigning national champions.
Scott Drew has a stout incoming recruiting class led by 5-star forward Kendall Brown and almost-5-star guard Langston Love. And considering half of this year's primary eight-man rotation was composed of former transfers, you can just about take it to the bank that Drew is going to snag one of the highly coveted transfers. (This is 100 percent speculation, but Jaemyn Brakefield, formerly of Duke, would fit perfectly with what Baylor does, and the Bears did extend him an offer out of high school.)
This team isn't going anywhere any time soon, and at least Parrish recognizes that.
Lowest On: West Virginia Mountaineers
Much like SI's Kevin Sweeney, Parrish doesn't have many outliers. Each team in his top 19 is in the consensus top 19. But consensus No. 20 West Virginia was not on his ballot. Only two of the 10 writers ranked the Mountaineers better than No. 20, though, and he is one of three who didn't rank them at all.
As previously discussed, West Virginia could be quite good if all five starters return. But with Emmitt Matthews Jr. already in the transfer portal and both Sean McNeil and Miles McBride at least testing the draft waters, I have zero qualms with leaving the Mountaineers out of the top 25 at this time.