Five takeaways from KenPom 2020-21 preseason rankings

In case you missed it during Tuesday night’s election results, college basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy unveiled his preseason rankings for the 2020-21 season.

As a refresher, KenPom rankings are based on team efficiencies on both offense and defense, forming an efficiency margin that is used to rank the 357 teams. KenPom is one of the analytical metrics used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to select and seed teams.

Heat Check CBB Season Preview Portal
Preseason conference rankings, awards tracker
SUBSCRIBE to  today!

With a fresh set of rankings for the new season, let’s take a look at the five biggest storylines from the new KenPom ladder.

Top-heavy Big 12

Baylor leads the nation in preseason KenPom rankings with the nation’s third-best offense and eighth-best defense. Behind All-American guard Jared Butler, the Bears spent the latter half of last season in the KenPom top five, finishing second in the Big 12 standings.

Conference season will be anything but a cakewalk for Scott Drew’s squad, though. Take a look at the top nine teams in the KenPom preseason rankings:

As good as Baylor figures to be this season, KenPom projects at least four other contenders for the Big 12 race. Kansas was one of the most efficient teams in recent college basketball history this past season and returns elite defender Marcus Garrett. Elsewhere, Texas Tech welcomes 5-star Nimari Burnett and a handful of starting-caliber transfers. West Virginia and Texas are also gaining national attention with the majority of their respective cores back on campus as well.

Kentucky up to No. 11

One of the biggest questions of the offseason is what Big Blue Nation will look like this fall. Kentucky was good but not necessarily elite last year with a final KenPom ranking of 29th, a high mark for most program’s but the Wildcats’ worst finish since 2013.

Almost everyone from the ’19-20 squad is gone but John Calipari’s group is reloaded and then some. The nation’s No. 1 recruiting class has a pair of 5-stars in guards BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke. Meanwhile, transfers Olivier Sarr (Wake Forest), Jacob Toppin (Rhode Island) and Davion Mintz (Creighton) help bolster the roster. This all translates to Kentucky starting the season ranked No. 11 in KenPom and atop the SEC once again.

Tightest, widest conference races

In addition to the Big 12, several other notable conference races are up for grabs. No. 7 Wisconsin has a slight lead over No. 10 Ohio State in the Big Ten with Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan and Illinois also in the also among the top 18. Over in the Pac-12, No. 21 Oregon has the edge over No. 28 UCLA in the only high-major league without a preseason top 20 team.

Elsewhere, Duke as an 11-spot lead over Louisville in the ACC, Villanova is nine spots ahead of Creighton, Kentucky leads Tennessee by nine spots, and Houston has a 17-spot advantage over Memphis. No. 2 Gonzaga, meanwhile, is in a league of its own in the WCC with second-place Saint Mary’s checking in at No. 71. San Diego State also leads the MWC by 25 spots over Utah State while Loyola Chicago leads Northern Iowa by 30 positions.

Biggest risers, fallers

Middle Tennessee is poised for the country’s biggest turnaround, having finished 295th last year with a preseason prognostication of 161st, good for a swing of 134 ranks. Grand Canyon (plus-102 to No. 163), Saint Joseph’s (plus-100 to No. 160), Cleveland State (plus-99 to No. 214) and UNC Asheville (plus-95 to No. 207) round out of the top five. The largest positive swing among high-majors is Virginia Tech, which is slotted at No. 30 after landing at No. 105 last season.

As for the declining teams, no one suffered as big of a fall as Sacred Heart, which is down 124 spots to No. 324. Radford (minus-120 to No. 306), North Florida (minus-116 to No. 282), ETSU (minus-113 to 169) and Portland State (minus-110 to No. 283) aren’t far behind. The biggest faller among high-majors is Notre Dame, which fell 43 spots to No. 100 in the preseason rankings.

Where the new D-I teams stand

The 2020-21 season will mark the Division-I debut for four institutions. As far as KenPom is concerned, the highest finisher of the quartet already looks to be decided. UC San Diego checks in at No. 186, more than 100 spots ahead of No. 291 Bellarmine, No. 321 Dixie State and No. 335 Tarleton State. The UCSD Tritons, led by Eric Olen, have made the D-II tournament each of the past four seasons and should be a factor in the Big West.


Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.