Outlooks for the Top 25 teams in the USA TODAY men's basketball preseason coaches poll
USA TODAY announced its preseason men's basketball top 25 coaches poll with Baylor leading. Here's a preview of all the teams included on the list.
With the release of USA TODAY preseason men's basketball poll, here are outlooks for each of the Top 25 teams
Coach Scott Drew has the Bears as the Big 12 favorite and possible national championship contender following a 26-4 season. Four starters return, including national player of the year candidate Jared Butler (16 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg). Butler and MaCio Teague (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) both pulled out of the NBA draft. Senior Mark Vital also returns with his elite defense alongside junior guard Davion Mitchell, who could be in line for a breakout year. Forwards Tristan Clark and Matthew Mayer provide veteran presences.
Although Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference player of the year, Filip Petrusev (17.5 ppg), went pro in his native Serbia, the Bulldogs held on to their core, including Corey Kispert (13.9 ppg), who will be helped by Joel Ayayi (10.6 ppg), plus six freshmen and transfer Andrew Nembhard, a junior guard from Florida.
The league was deeper than usual last season, but the Wildcats were still able to grab a share of the title. They’re now in the best position to take the crown outright with most key parts back on Jay Wright’s roster. The show will be run by senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.1 ppg, 4.5 apg). Fellow guard Justin Moore (11.5 ppg) is a driver who can also knock down treys. Oh yeah, those forwards. Senior Jermaine Samuels and sophomore Jeremiah Robinson-Earl both averaged in double figures and could do even more.
With few perimeter threats like the ones that led Tony Bennett’s team to the 2019 NCAA title, the Cavs last year had to rely on scrappy defense. TThis year there should be more scoring options. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is now eligible and is a big reason for UVa’s lofty projection. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting over 40% from three-point range his junior year with the Eagles. Junior Kehei Clark (10.8 ppg, 5.9 apg) is now a seasoned floor leader with championship experience. Glue guy Jay Huff is also back. Tomas Woldetensae was beginning to find his shot as last season progressed, and Cavs’ fans can expect bigger things from sophomore Casey Morsell.
The Jayhawks’ NCAA battle that could lead to major sanctions looms. They remain ultra-talented, especially on defense. Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.6 apg) returns on the perimeter. Junior guard Ochai Agbaji (10 ppg) will be bolstered by the return of Christian Braun and arrival of five-star recruit Bryce Thompson. Replacing the production of center Udoka Azubuike inside will be the biggest challenge. Junior center David McCormack (6.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg) is primed to get the first opportunity.
C Luka Garza (23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) surprised many with his development last season, and the reigning Big Ten player of the year returns for his senior season after pulling out of the NBA draft. Coach Fran McCaffery has weapons around his big man with Joe Wieskamp (14.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg), CJ Fredrick (10.2 ppg) and ageless guard Jordan Bohannon coming back from injury.
The Badgers shared the Big Ten title thanks to a balanced, veteran squad. Gone are Brevin Pritzl and Kobe King, two key contributors who combined for 18.0 ppg. But Nate Reuvers (13.1 ppg) returns as one of the league’s top inside-outside threats. Coach Greg Gard will get forward and Ohio State transfer Micah Potter (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) for a full season.
The pandemic deprived Duke fans the opportunity to see just how far last season’s next-level talent could have taken them in the Big Dance. Enter the new crop of top recruits, but this time there are some holdovers that might aid the newcomers more this time around. The solid freshman class will be led by Jalen Johnson, an athletic forward with range and passing ability. There are experienced options in the frontcourt as well like sophomores Matthew Hurt (9.7 ppg) and Wendell Moore (7.4 ppg). Senior Jordan Goldwire will likely run the point as newcomers D.J. Steward and Jeremy Roach find their footing in the college game.
Kentucky is rolling in nine new players, including five recruits ranked in the top 40. John Calipari signed the No. 1 recruiting class, topped by 6-7 guards BJ Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke. But the biggest offseason addition might be Olivier Sarr, a transfer from Wake Forest. He’s the veteran in the front court to balance the roster that only returns forward Keion Brooks Jr. from last season’s rotation.
The Illini have the veteran firepower and depth to make a big run at their first Big Ten title since 2005. Ayo Dosunmu (15.4 ppg) and Kofi Cockburn (13.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) opted out of the NBA draft, giving coach Brad Underwood star power with strong role players, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams return as starters. Underwood added another strong incoming freshman class headlined by Adam Miller. That could allow the Illini to do more than just make the tourney.
Greg McDermott’s teams are built to light up the scoreboard, and this group of Bluejays will do just that. All-league performer Ty-Shon Alexander is off to the NBA, but there are plenty of other sharpshooters still in Omaha. The most prolific is junior Marcus Zegarowski, who put up 16.1 points a game while also averaging five assists. His backcourt mate, senior Mitch Ballock (11.9 ppg), drained 43% of his three-point tries last year. Denzel Mahoney (12.0 ppg) could start or continue to come off the bench, and small forward Christian Bishop (8.6 ppg) does his job well. C
Isaiah Livers (12.9 ppg) returns after testing the NBA draft, and Franz Wagner (11.6 ppg) and Eli Brooks (10.6 ppg) give coach Juwan Howard an inside-outside presence. Losing Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske means the Wolverines need two grad transfers – Mike Smith (22.8 ppg at Columbia) and Chaundee Brown (12.1 ppg at Wake Forest) – and 7-1 freshman C Hunter Dickinson to contribute immediately.
13. Texas Tech
Chris Beard is once again reshaping the roster with transfers, much like he did two seasons ago en route to the national championship game. Wichita State transfer Jamarius Burton gained immediate eligibility in September. VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva recorded 10 double-doubles last season. Georgetown transfer Mac McClung is a game-changer in the backcourt. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe provides an interior presence after sitting out last season. Veterans Terrance Shannon Jr. and Kyler Edwards return.
Tennessee has loaded up again after a down year in 2019-20 following breakthough campaigns. John Fulkerson (13.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Yves Pons (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) are proven big men and Pons is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. The Volunteers add five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to a stacked backcourt with Josiah-Jordan James (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Santiago Vescovi (10.7 ppg) and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr.
15. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are big and improved from last year’s bounce-back season. Coach Bob Huggins believes this is perhaps his deepest team with the Mountaineers. They feature the best front court in the conference — and perhaps country — with sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe (11.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Derek Culver (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg). Six-foot-10 freshman Isaiah Cottrell is expected to bolster depth. Sophomore guard Miles McBride was primarily a bench player, but could be a potential breakout candidate this season.
16. North Carolina
While no one was happy with the abrupt manner in which the last season ended, the conclusion came as more of a relief for the Tar Heels after a dismal campaign. They figure to bounce back, but there are a lot of unknowns. What is known is Roy Williams has a slew of talented big men on his roster, led by senior Garrison Brooks (16.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and sophomore Armando Bacot (9.6 ppg). Freshmen Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler bring in even more depth up front. But it’s the guard play that holds the key to UNC’s recovery season. Elite recruits R.J. Davis and Caleb Love will step into featured roles immediately.
17. Arizona State
The addition of top-notch recruits in guard Josh Christopher and forward Marcus Bagley has brought an excitement to Tempe that hasn’t been seen in a while. Add to that guards Remy Martin (19.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Alonzo Verge (14.6 ppg) both opted to return for their senior seasons after initially declaring for the NBA draft and there is the making of a legitimate conference title contender. Transfer Holland Woods (Portland State) will also play this season, giving ASU perhaps the deepest backcourt in the country.
Houston returns one of the most talented rosters in the conference and a backcourt that stacks up against any team in the NCAA. Sophomore guard Caleb Mills led Houston in scoring last season with 13.2 points per game, and he was one of the 15 most aggressive scorers in the NCAA. Former five-star recruit Quentin Grimes averaged 12.1 points per game while shooting 44.3 percent from the field.
19. Florida State
The ACC tournament never got to completion last March, but at least the Seminoles received their presentation moment as the league’s regular-season champs. Several key pieces from that squad have moved on, most notably Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell. But Leonard Hamilton’s extensive bench usage means a lot of guys get quality minutes, which should serve the team well this season. Senior M.J. Walker (10.6 ppg) heads the group of returnees. He won’t have much proven help in the backcourt, but big things are expected from freshman forward Scottie Barnes.
The Ducks have seven NCAA tournament appearances in eight years and this team should be in the mix again. Guard Chris Duarte (12.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is the lone returning starter for the defending Pac-12 regular season champions but Will Richardson (11 ppg) had a prominent role. Oregon also gets six transfers in, led by UNLV’s Amauri Hardy (14.5 ppg). The Ducks is awaiting word on the eligibility of 6-6 wing got L.J. Figueroa (14.5 ppg).
The Bruins got off to an 8-9 start last season while learning to adapt to Mick Cronin’s defensive-minded system. The buy-in showed as UCLA went 11-3 after Jan. 19, which included a seven-game win streak, with the Bruins finishing second in the Pac-12. Cronin returns all starters and key reserves. Sophomore PG Tyger Campbell (8.3 ppg, 5 apg), the only Bruin to start all 31 games, and first-team All-Pac 12 choice Chris Smith (13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) head the cast.
Longhorns coach Shaka Smart has his best roster in his tenure, which brings the star coach more expectations to make a deep NCAA tournament run. Smart landed his big prize, signing local five-star forward Greg Brown III, a likely one-and-done player expected to make an enormous impact. Guards Courtney Ramey (10.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.9 apg), Matt Coleman III (12.7 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.4 apg) and Andrew Jones (11.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) anchor the team. Texas’ frontcourt returns Jericho Sims and Jase Febres, while sophomore forward Kai Jones showed promise and Brock Cunningham had big moments, too.
The Scarlet Knights, along with Penn State, had big reasons to be frustrated with the cancellation of the postseason. Coach Steve Pikiell had Rutgers primed for its first NCAA tournament berth since 1991 when the shutdown hit. But the nucleus of that squad returns, led by versatile Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Geo Baker (10.9 ppg), and welcomes Cliff Omoruyi as the centerpiece of a strong freshman class.
24. Ohio State
The offseason was not kind to coach Chris Holtmann. Kaleb Wesson left for the NBA draft, while D.J. Carton and Luther Muhammad both left the program. Add the graduation loss of Andre Wesson, and the Buckeyes lose the bulk of their scoring and rebounding is gone. OSU needs Duane Washington Jr. (11.5 ppg) to produce, E.J. Liddell to develop quickly and Kyle Young and Harvard transfer Seth Towns to stay healthy.
Nate Oats’ first squad at Alabama led the SEC in scoring (82 ppg) and 3-point shooting (34.9 percent). Four of the top six scorers are back, including Jaden Shackelford (15 ppg) and John Petty Jr. (14.5 ppg). Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly, a guard and former five-star recruit, will get the main shot at replacing All-SEC pick Kira Lewis Jr. and freshman Joshua Primo will be in the mix.