Should UCLA be No. 2? Which mid-majors will crash the party? Find out how the Heat Check CBB staff reacted to Monday’s AP Top 25 college basketball rankings.
The 2021-22 preseason college basketball Top 25 rankings dropped Monday afternoon with Gonzaga again starting the season ranked No. 1 ahead of UCLA, Kansas, Villanova and Texas.
Naturally, the preseason Top 25 ushers in the new college basketball season and creates a dialogue about which teams are ranked too high and which teams aren’t receiving enough credit.
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Check out how the Heat Check CBB staff reacted to the new rankings in our latest roundtable.
Q: What are your initial takeaways from the Top 25 poll?
Eli Boettger: The main ranking that sticks out is UCLA checking in at No. 2. The Bruins may wind up being the second-best team in college basketball but it’s almost unprecedented for a team to be ranked this high after finishing near the bubble the previous year, even with the dream run to the Final Four. But overall, any other gripes are fairly minor.
Jamie Shaw: The complete flameout of the Big Ten in last year’s NCAA tournament didn’t deter any voters. Perennial powers such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Villanova get the benefit of the doubt despite question marks. Houston will finish higher than Memphis. The SEC is getting appropriate love and could end up being an eight-bid league or better. There is a dip in point guard talent across D-I. Will anything less than a national title for Gonzaga be a disappointment?
Connor Hope: This will be debated until games start, but the Top 3 includes the right teams. I am fully off the “UCLA is overrated” wagon, and I won’t go back on until they prove me wrong. Gonzaga and Kansas are going to be what they are every year — solid, top-10 teams with national championship upside.
Lukas Harkins: I think this is a generally solid consensus heading into the season based on the information we know. Gonzaga rightfully deserved the No. 1 spot and most teams fall within the range that I was expecting. There are always going to be disagreements, but that is why they play the games.
Brian Rauf: I thought it was interesting that Texas got a much more sizable bump — relative to what many of us were expecting — than Kentucky and Memphis. The Longhorns got a jump into the preseason top five from their newcomers while Kentucky was slotted at 10 and Memphis missed the top 10 entirely? I get that Texas also got a new coach in Chris Beard, but its transfer class isn’t that much better than Kentucky’s or Memphis’ combination of transfers and freshmen. To be clear, I think Texas deserves that jump, but Kentucky and Memphis do as well.
Andy Dieckhoff: I was a bit surprised to see that Maryland and Auburn still made the Top 25 given some of their losses (either due to players departing or getting injured). That being said, I think that the poll generally got it right. Not a ton of gripes, even if I’m not a huge believer in some of the teams ranked very highly.
Riley Davis: I found it surprising to see Kentucky barely hanging on in the top 10. Even after last season’s debacle, Calipari addressed the Cats’ horrific shooting through the portal and still brought in two five-stars. Illinois starting out at No. 11 shocked me as well — it can conceivably get to that level, but without Ayo, it won’t be easy.
Q: Are there any particular teams that you believe deserved more love?
EB: Virginia Tech not only being unranked but No. 30 overall is a pretty massive underselling of Mike Young’s squad. The Hokies have top-15 potential and to have them slotted behind in-state rival Virginia, which sits at No. 25, was a surprise. Elsewhere, the SEC is represented well but several teams — namely, No. 10 Kentucky, No. 14 Alabama and No. 16 Arkansas — are worthy of higher rankings.
JS: Mississippi State. The SEC is deep with talented teams, and it is apparent most people feel this way leading into the season. The Bulldogs return two of three double-figure scorers off last season’s team. In the offseason, they hit the transfer portal hard with frontcourt help from 6-9 Garrison Brooks and 6-7 DJ Jeffries and backcourt help from Rocket Watts, Shakeel Moore and Jaykwon Walton. Defense is a staple of any Ben Howland-led team; last season Mississippi State finished second in SEC play in total rebounds and opponent field-goal percentage while ending SEC play third in points allowed. This team has experience, shot-making, and toughness — a nice recipe to creep into the back end of the Top 25.
CH: There isn’t much to complain about, considering the talent on every one of these rosters. I would probably go with Virginia Tech being the team that deserved a Top 25 inclusion the most of those that missed out. Also, BYU only getting three points is utterly ridiculous, considering the talent the cougars have and the consistency they have shown under Mark Pope.
LH: Virginia Tech. I slotted the Hokies firmly within my Top 25 throughout the offseason and still believe that they deserve to be there. Keve Aluma is a legit All-ACC star and Storm Murphy is a great addition to run the offense. Virginia Tech should have been ranked and coming in with just the 30th-most votes is a head-scratcher.
BR: Virginia Tech is an obvious one, but I’ll throw Colorado State into the mix. The Rams bring just about everyone back from last year’s 20-8 team — including stars David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens — that likely would’ve made the NCAA Tournament if COVID allowed them to play any semblance of a normal non-conference schedule. I thought they should’ve been ranked or at least been much closer to the top 25 than the 11 votes they received.
AD: I thought that Oklahoma State had an outside chance of ending up in the preseason Top 25. The Cowboys lost a big piece, yes, but they return a huge amount of their production from last season and have a rising star in Avery Anderson III. The addition of Moussa Cisse in the low post will also make the Pokes into a defensive menace on the interior. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to rank OSU before we see them post-Cade, though. But I think this will be a Top 25 team before too long.
RD: Alabama at No. 14 undersells an awesome roster with perhaps the best young coach in the country. Losing Nimari Burnett and James Rojas (both to ACL tears) hurts, but the Tide still boast good depth and a super dynamic group of guards. I think Indiana could crack the Top 25 within the first month of the season as well. Mike Woodson did an incredible job infusing the backcourt with talent, and thus, giving Trayce Jackson-Davis the best team he has ever had around him.
Q: Which team ranked in the top 10 is most likely to finish the season unranked?
EB: Texas. It’s easy to look at the sum of the parts and understand why the Longhorns are No. 5 to start the season. Chris Beard is an excellent head coach and this is one of the best rosters in America. But at the end of the day, this is a ridiculous amount of roster turnover and most of the players will need to adjust to unfamiliar roles. Making the pieces fit properly is easier said than done, even for a coach of Beard’s caliber.
JS: Villanova. I took a look at both Kentucky and Baylor for this one, as I have questions for both, but I ended up on Villanova. Sure, this will not be a popular take, but I am not sure I see the perceived firepower on this team. The return of super-seniors Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels will help and double-figure scorers Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels also return. The Big East is down, so we should expect Villanova to win, and Jay Wright has earned a pass with his teams. But in looking through the Top 10, if I were an opposing coach, this is the team with the least worrisome roster.
CH: The answer is probably Kentucky on paper, but I am going with Purdue. As with any team that has a ranking based entirely on player development and non-elite recruits, I will always be wary entering the season. Where teams like Kentucky and Texas need to bring proven players together into a cohesive unit, Purdue needs almost every expected player improvement to hit. That is a tough task.
LH: Purdue. I really like this group, don’t get me wrong, but I am wary about projecting the Boilers to make this sizable jump. A lot of this optimism is predicated on Jaden Ivey leaping into national stardom — some outlets putting him in the All-American conversation — and that might be a stretch. Purdue needs all of its pieces to take noticeable steps forward this offseason. I think the Boilermakers are an easy lock to make the NCAA Tournament but could see them just being solid (No. 25-30) rather than being a true title contender.
BR: Is it slanderous for me to say Baylor? I think the Bears will be good, but I think we’re underselling just how hard it will be to replace Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague. Plus, with how good the Big 12 is expected to be, Scott Drew can have a quality team that still finishes around .500 in conference play.
AD: Let’s make some of my West Coast following mad and say UCLA. Remember, this team barely made it into the NCAA Tournament last season following a late collapse. I watched the same Big Dance that you did, but I also watched the weeks that led up to it. The Bruins disappeared for a stretch, and that’s the kind of thing that will send you tumbling from the polls in a hurry. The Pac-12 has enough spoilers throughout the league that a rough patch for UCLA seems almost inevitable.
RD: I fully acknowledge it is downright stupid to bet against Jay Wright, but I’m far from in love with this Villanova roster. Seeing them at No. 4 makes me wonder if voters realize the full impact of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Sure, the perimeter players will excel like they normally do but Villanova will desperately miss Robinson-Earl’s defensive versatility and savvy in the mid-post.
Q: St. Bonaventure is ranked 23rd while Richmond, Colorado State, Belmont, San Diego State, Drake and BYU also received votes. Which mid-major team is most likely to enter the top 15 first?
EB: BYU has the makings of a pretty special squad this year. The Cougars only received three votes but could enter the Top 25 sooner than later. Alex Barcello is back and he has an all-leaguer in Caleb Lohner and two significant transfer additions in Te’Jon Lucas and Seneca Knight by his side. It would not be a surprise to see BYU soar up the advanced metrics rankings and wind up with a quality draw come Selection Sunday.
JS: Let me start by saying I am not certain any mid-major will crack the top 15. St. Bonaventure will hover in the 18-25 range for most of the season, but the A10 will present its challenges. An outlier that has a chance to make a run to be the highest-ranked mid-major is Iona. But given the parameters around this question, San Diego State would be the answer for me. The Aztecs have a bonafide star, a talented and experienced roster, are in a good league for strength of schedule, and have some grassroots branding behind their name.
CH: Give me BYU for this one. The Cougars play San Diego State and Oregon early on in the season and have the talent to catch both teams as they try to build chemistry and momentum. The correct answer, however, is probably St. Bonaventure or Colorado State, which both have manageable November slates and can rise by attrition.
LH: Porter Moser and Cameron Krutwig departed this offseason, but I am still very high on Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers return four starters from a top-10 KenPom and Sweet 16 team. They should remain elite defensively and are clearly in the upper echelon of the MVC along with Drake. Their schedule sets up nicely where they could roll through some lower-tier teams and impress enough at the Battle 4 Atlantis to rise up the ranks before dominating most of the MVC.
BR: Colorado State for all the reasons I mentioned previously! This group can get on the map quickly as the Rams host Oral Roberts to open the season and also have non-conference showdowns with Saint Mary’s, Mississippi State and Alabama. I don’t think the Rams sweep that stretch, but a 3-1 record and quality play against those teams will give them the kind of cache they need for AP voters to move them up as they stack wins against Mountain West competition.
AD: I’m with Connor in thinking that BYU will shoot up the polls quickly. They are a team with a wealth of experience, a head coach on the rise, a bona fide star player and plenty of talent around the roster. In addition to the contests against SDSU and Oregon, the Cougars also have dates with Creighton, Utah and Missouri State, as well as the Diamond Head Classic. There are plenty of early opportunities for solid wins, and BYU is established enough as a program that pollsters should feel comfortable ranking them highly if they explode out of the gates.
RD: BYU. Its offense can drop 90 on any given night, and its defense should again be a top-30 unit. The Cougars are more than capable of beating San Diego State and Oregon, as both schools will be integrating new pieces. Conversely, BYU can lean on super-senior guard Alex Barcello to carry them through the early part of the season.