Memphis’ additions of Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates have the Tigers soaring up our Top 25 NCAA basketball rankings for 2021-22.
The 2021-22 season is approaching with fervent ferocity and it’s time to update our NCAA basketball rankings. We are already in September, and the countdown of days until the opening tip is near. College basketball is almost back, and rosters seem to be about as set as they are ever going to be. That is, of course, after Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers recently finished up their massive recruiting coup.
The Tigers dug deep into their bag of recruiting tricks to pull out a pair of new five-star additions. Both Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates elected to reclassify to 2020 and commit to Memphis, effectively joining the team for this coming season. Not only is Coach Hardaway continuing to develop his reputation as an elite recruiter, but the hire of Larry Brown as an assistant coach seems to already be paying major dividends.
With two more extremely talented players in tow, Memphis could be poised for a resurgent year. The Tigers have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014, but the expectation is that the drought will change this season. They are just one of the 25 teams that cracked our updated offseason Top 25, however.
Our Top 25 NCAA basketball rankings, which will be continuously updated throughout the offseason as news breaks, featured blurbs on each team written by Lukas Harkins and Brian Rauf. In addition to that duo, our voters include Andy Dieckhoff, Eli Boettger, Connor Hope, Riley Davis, and Jamie Shaw.
—How teams are recovering from departing All-Americans
—Memphis: Breaking down impact of Duren, Bates
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Receiving votes: Indiana, BYU, UConn, Colorado State, LSU, Mississippi State, Arizona, VCU, Iona, and Drake.
25) Virginia Cavaliers
In Tony Bennett we trust! Virginia is replacing their top three scorers from last season but landed a huge addition via the transfer portal in Jayden Gardner, a versatile 6-7 forward who averaged 18 points per game on 50.1-percent shooting during his three seasons at ECU.
Expect Gardner to carry the offense and Kihei Clark — yup, he’s still around! — will steady the ship on both ends of the court. If Reece Beekman takes a step forward and Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin contributes as expected, the Wahoos will be solid once again. -BR
24) St. Bonaventure Bonnies
St. Bonaventure snuck up on a lot of people last season. They hit their season-low on KenPom (No. 77) in early January but then continuously rose while reaching their high point (No. 25) on Selection Sunday. SBU returns every major contributor from last year and is set to make some noise out of the A10.
Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway, Dominick Welch, and Osun Osunniyi are all back. The Bonnies were one of the best defensive teams in the nation last season, holding opponents to just a .455 effective field-goal percentage. With all of their key pieces back, it is reasonable to expect much of the same. Offensive improvements will be key in St. Bonaventure realizing its full ceiling. -LH
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23) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Head coach Mike Boynton and the Cowboys are out to prove the program is set up for long-term success in the post-Cade Cunningham era. While the NBA Draft’s top pick is gone, Oklahoma State returns just about everyone else from a team that was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Isaac Likekele is back and was the team’s leader in 2019-20, and Avery Anderson III looks poised for a breakout season with a bigger role. With Memphis transfer and shot-blocking extraordinaire Moussa Cisse holding down the middle, this group will be dangerous.
22) Auburn Tigers
Auburn was one of the country’s youngest teams a season ago and return several key pieces in the backcourt, namely Allen Flanigan. The departures of players like Sharife Cooper, Justin Powell, and JT Thor will hurt, but Bruce Pearl added five-star big man Jabari Smith and UNC transfer Walker Kessler, a five-star prospect in the 2020 class and one of the offseason’s most impactful transfers.
Those two should vastly improve Auburn’s frontcourt and give this roster more balance. We know they’re going to play extremely fast and shoot (and make) a lot of threes, but the Tigers made their Final Four run when they had a solid internal presence to complement. Smith and Kessler are expected to fill that void. -BR
21) Virginia Tech Hokies
Efficiency metrics were never particularly kind to Virginia Tech last season despite its strong resume. That makes projecting this coming season a bit tricky. Still, with Keve Aluma electing to return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters, expectations should be rightfully high in Blacksburg. Aluma is an ACC Player of the Year candidate and much of his returning cast is back around him.
This includes four players who averaged at least 8 points per game: Tyrece Radford, Nahiem Alleyne, Justyn Mutts, and Hunter Cattoor. Adding Storm Murphy from his old Wofford roster is a great example. A top-tier shooter and solid playmaker, he is a big addition to help make up for the losses of Wabissa Bede and Jalen Cone. -LH
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20) Tennessee Volunteers
With both Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer leaving for the NBA this offseason, the Volunteers needed to find replacements and they did just that. Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield are much different players than Johnson/Springer but follow in their footsteps as five-stars set to star in Knoxville. Tennessee is bringing back four players who averaged at least 8 points per game last season. Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah-Jordan James are all running it back for another year.
Justin Powell is also now in the mix as a big-time shooter that might be a one-year rental of a sophomore transfer before heading to the NBA. He shot 44.2 percent from three during his 10 games at Auburn last year; considering Tennessee’s shooting struggles last season, he could be the missing piece to put them over the top. -LH
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19) Illinois Fighting Illini
Ayo Dosunmu is no longer walking through the door, but Illinois is still poised for a potentially excellent year. At the core of this optimism is the return of star big man Kofi Cockburn. He will anchor the team inside as a dominant paint force. Additionally, rising sophomore point guard Andre Curbelo has the makings of a potential star. The elite playmaker will be the offensive hub that creates for those around him all season.
Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, and Jacob Grandison are also key returners pegged as potential starters in their senior seasons with the program. Each adds a level of floor-spacing to the rotation, as does Alfonso Plummer. The 6-1 transfer from Utah is one of the purest high-volume shooters in the nation. Illinois boasts great spacing around its two stars in Cockburn and Curbelo.
The Illini will look much different in the absences of Dosunmu, Adam Miller, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Different does not always mean worse, though. -LH
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18) Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is returning its key frontcourt of EJ Liddell and Kyle Young for this coming season, setting the tone for a strong year. Justice Sueing and Zed Key are the other major returners for head coach Chris Holtmann, but the Buckeyes bolstered their lineup in the transfer portal better than most.
Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler, namely, is a dynamic defender already with two All-Defensive nods in the Big Ten. He has also shot better than 35 percent from three in each of his past two seasons. Another big newcomer will be Malaki Branham, a near-five-star recruit from the same high school as some guy called LeBron James.
Ohio State’s 2021 postseason was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but it still landed a No. 2 seed after a great regular season. -LH/BR
17) Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have some major roles to fill as they are losing four of their top five scorers from last season’s team, headlined by No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes.
However, as we’ve come to expect from FSU over the last decade, it is simply reloading. Five-star wing Matthew Cleveland headlines a talented incoming recruiting class and will be joined by Caleb Mills, who was last season’s AAC Preseason Player of the Year before he left Houston.
This is a veteran group that will be deep, talented, and have more perimeter scoring pop than your typical Florida State team. They will need a go-to guy or two to emerge if they will take the next step in our NCAA basketball rankings, but Leonard Hamilton’s squad has a very high floor. -BR
16) North Carolina Tar Heels
What should we expect from the Tar Heels under new head coach Hubert Davis? It might take some time for him to find his footing as the leader in Chapel Hill, yet some talented returners should keep UNC in the Top 25 for most of the season.
Starters Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Caleb Love, and Kerwin Walton all return, along with offensive sparkplug R.J. Davis. Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek‘s should really help UNC’s shooting, a significant weakness for the Heels over the past two seasons.
North Carolina will likely employ a smaller lineup than we’ve seen in years past as it forms a new identity under Davis. Whether this group can compete for an ACC title, though, will depend on the development of Bacot and Love. -BR
15) Arkansas Razorbacks
Eric Musselman’s combination of terrific transfers and a freshman star paid major dividends last season as the Razorbacks reached the Big Dance with a No. 3 seed. On the downside, the program lost three double-digit scorers this offseason in addition to Desi Sills transferring out. In customary fashion, though, Musselman is reloading thanks to tremendous work in the transfer portal.
Chris Lykes (Miami-FL), Stanley Umude (South Dakota), Kamani Johnson (Little Rock), and Trey Wade (Wichita State) were all solid players at their last stops and will play major roles in Fayetteville. Adding in Jaxson Robinson from Texas A&M, a former Top 75 recruit, only makes this transfer class even better. Arkansas also brings back JD Notae, Devo Davis, Jaylin Williams, and KK Robinson. -LH
14) Houston Cougars
Houston could be in contention to return to the Final Four despite the loss of AAC Player of the Year Quentin Grimes and star guard DeJon Jarreau. That’s because Fabian White and Marcus Sasser — who was Houston’s leading scorer in both the Elite Eight and Final Four — are back for more prominent roles, and Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards should fill the void in the backcourt next to him nicely. If Tramon Mark and Reggie Chaney take steps forward as well, the Cougars will remain relevant nationally in our NCAA basketball rankings. -BR
13) Memphis Tigers
No one won the offseason like Memphis did. Yes, the Tigers lost some players to the transfer portal in Cisse and Boogie Ellis, but they also landed some impact players in former five-star prospect Earl Timberlake (Miami) and Oregon transfer Chandler Lawson.
They also landed both Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, who were the top two prospects in the 2022 recruiting class. Both reclassified to play for Penny Hardaway this season, adding two legitimate stars that will have a significant on-court impact to this already talented roster.
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12) Duke Blue Devils
A bounceback season for Duke is not just projected but should be expected. Unlike last summer, the Blue Devils will have a full offseason to integrate their recruiting class and build quality team chemistry that can contribute to winning basketball. Coach K knows how to work with a young roster and he will surely go out with a bang before retiring after the season.
Leading the way for this group will be five-star freshmen Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, and Trevor Keels. Banchero is the biggest star of the bunch as the No. 2 prospect in the class, though Keels’ shooting ability will be crucial in developing quality spacing. Duke also features a few key returners in Jeremy Roach, Mark Williams, and Wendell Moore. Quality defense and 3-point shooting will be the major keys for the Blue Devils to reach their ceiling. They need to do both well to climb the NCAA basketball rankings. -LH
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11) Oregon Ducks
Three double-digit scoring departures, including that of Chris Duarte, left some major questions for head coach Dana Altman to answer. The Ducks hit the transfer market hard this offseason and came away with three monster additions. Jacob Young (14.1 at Rutgers), Quincy Guerrier (13.7 at Syracuse), and De’Vion Harmon (12.9 at Oklahoma) each scored double-figures per game at their last spot, all of which were at the high-major level.
The Ducks are also bringing in five-star big man Nate Bittle, who committed to the program last fall and will anchor the center spot as a freshman. The optimism in Eugene is not just due to the newcomers, though. Will Richardson missed Oregon’s first 12 games last season with injury but will be healthy for this whole upcoming campaign. The Ducks are also bringing back Eric Williams, who started 21 of 24 games last season. -LH
10) Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats is quickly turning Alabama into not “just a football school.” The Crimson Tide landed a No. 2 seed at the Big Dance last year and the momentum continues to grow in our NCAA basketball rankings. A trio of former five-star guards will be heavily featured in ‘Bama’s perimeter offense with Jahvon Quinerly (2018 class), Nimari Burnett (2020 class, transfer from TTU), and JD Davison (2020 commit). Jaden Shackelford is also back.
The frontcourt features another highly touted recruit in 6-10 Charles Bediako as well as Furman transfer Noah Gurley (All-SoCon). Coach Oats proved that his system can excel on both ends of the floor last season and the potential to do so again is high. This team is extremely talented. -LH
9) Baylor Bears
The defending national champs will look different in 2021-22 without Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague, but Scott Drew is still going to have a really good team on his hands. Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua give Baylor a new Big Three to work with, and five-star freshman Kendall Brown figures to play a major role as well.
Simply put, the Bears aren’t going anywhere. And with Arizona transfer James Akinjo eligible to play immediately, we could see Baylor leap into the Top 5 of our NCAA basketball rankings in no time. -BR
8) Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue has now finished in the KenPom Top 25 in six consecutive seasons, but now is the time to compete for the national title. That potential, though, hinges on two players: Trevion Williams is a proven stud big man while rising sophomore Jaden Ivey needs to live up to the hype. He must improve his 3-point shot (25.8 percent) but is a smooth-scoring off-guard who could be the second star that the Boilermakers need to get over the top.
Purdue also brings back the likes of Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, Zach Edey, Mason Gillis, and Brandon Newman as key pieces. Chemistry should not be a problem with this group; the Boilermakers are taking what was a very good team last year and running it back with more experience. The Boilermakers also add freshmen Trey Kaufman and Caleb Furst. -LH
7) Villanova Wildcats
Villanova has now finished outside of the KenPom Top 11 in three consecutive seasons. The hope is that the 2021-22 roster, which brings back essentially all but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl from last season, can return the program back to the top tier of national title contenders. Leading the way for this group will be Collin Gillespie. The 6-2 guard has improved with each season in Philly, and his injury near the end of last year put a huge wrench in Villanova’s postseason plans.
The other key returners around him include backcourt mates Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels, as well as Jermaine Samuels, who will likely be a go-to option this time around. Villanova will be guard-oriented this year and has the potential to be a blast to watch. Perhaps the biggest key will be what they get out of Eric Dixon and Nnanna Njoku. -LH
6) Texas Longhorns
Chris Beard wasted no time and raided the transfer portal seemingly as soon as he arrived in Austin. That approach worked for him at Texas Tech, yet this might be his most notable transfer class to date. The Longhorns are bringing in five players who started in power conferences last season in Timmy Allen (Utah), Devin Askew (Kentucky), Christian Bishop (Creighton), Marcus Carr (Minnesota), and Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt), along with one of the best transfers on the market in Tre Mitchell (UMass).
Add those players to a group of solid returners headlined by Andrew Jones and Jase Febres, and things look pretty good for Beard’s initial voyage with his alma mater. The Longhorns have a very high floor with their talent and coaching and should be in the Top 10 of our NCAA basketball rankings throughout the year. -BR
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5) UCLA Bruins
The Bruins return just about everyone from last season’s Final Four run, headlined by superstar wing Johnny Juzang. The addition of Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked, either, as he will add significant help in areas where UCLA was the weakest (rebounding and rim protection).
That all looks good on paper. That said, it is important to remember that the Bruins were in the First Four for a reason. Consistency escaped them and the trio of Juzang/Jaime Jaquez/Tyger Campbell collectively played the best basketball of their careers in March. There will likely be some regression to the mean there, but this group is still the Pac-12 favorite with Juzang in the fold. -BR
4) Kentucky Wildcats
No, Kentucky is not too high. In fact, when we look back on this at the end of the season, the Wildcats might actually be too low!
John Calipari is hoping to shake off a rough 2020-21 season and looked to the transfer market to do so, bringing in a special group (Davidson’s Kellan Grady, Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler, Iowa’s CJ Fredrick, West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe). That group provides much-needed shooting, backcourt depth, and elite frontcourt production, and will be the key if Kentucky makes a long run in March.
Of course, Kentucky is also bringing in an elite recruiting class, headlined by five-star guard TyTy Washington, and return several rotation players. Expect a strong bounce back year from the Wildcats as a mainstay in the Top 5 of our NCAA basketball rankings. -BR
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3) Michigan Wolverines
Reigning National Coach of the Year Juwan Howard is returning two All-Big Ten caliber starters (Eli Brooks, Hunter Dickinson), landed one of the top transfers available (DeVante Jones), and is bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class (headlined by five-stars Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate).
Not bad, huh?
Howard has proven to be one of the nation’s best defensive coaches and the Wolverines will have a plethora of options on offense. They will be the favorite to repeat as Big Ten champs and one of the favorites to win a national championship. Anything lower than No. 3 in preseason NCAA basketball rankings would be a surprise. -BR
2) Kansas Jayhawks
Remember when people thought the Kansas program was in shambles? Hah! The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Jayhawks are the favorite to win the Big 12 after a one-year absence from that throne. Four of their five starters are projected to return, and that group will be joined by two elite transfers in Arizona State’s Remy Martin (a two-time All-Pac-12 first-team performer) and Drake’s Joseph Yesufu, who averaged 23.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Throw in a top 10 recruiting class and Bill Self‘s coaching pedigree, and you have a legitimate Final Four favorite in Lawrence yet again. -BR
1) Gonzaga Bulldogs
You who just scoffed at this — stop it!
Gonzaga returns Drew Timme, who should be the Preseason National Player of the Year, and star point guard Andrew Nembhard. Mark Few also landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, headlined by top overall prospect Chet Holmgren and five-star guard Hunter Sallis. This group is as talented and as proven as anyone.
While they haven’t won a national title yet, the Zags have made six straight Sweet 16s, including four Elite Eight appearances and two national championship games. Gonzaga will enter 2021-22 as the favorite to claim that elusive first title and will start the season at No. 1 in our NCAA basketball rankings. -BR
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