College basketball outlooks for every Top 25 team in the men's preseason coaches poll

·14 min read

The start of the men's college basketball season is less than two weeks away.

With the release of the Ferris Mowers preseason men's basketball poll, here are outlooks for each of the Top 25 teams with last season's, points in poll and previous ranking from last season's final poll:

No. 1 Gonzaga (31-1)

Points: 771. Previous ranking: 2.

Outlook: Drew Timme (19.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg), one of the college game’s most efficient big men, and G Andrew Nembhard (9.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) are the key pieces returning from last year’s national runner-up squad that went undefeated until its loss to Baylor in the championship game. They’ll be joined by five-star recruits Chet Holmgren and Hunter Sallis, but developing talent is also a hallmark of Mark Few’s program, so expect guys like Anton Watson and Julian Strawther to take on bigger roles.

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No. 2 UCLA (22-10)

Points: 709. Previous ranking: 7.

Outlook: With the Bruins’ loss to Gonzaga in an instant Final Four classic etched in our memory, it’s easy to forget just how improbable the March run, which began in the First Four round, truly was. With most key contributors back, including breakout tourney star Johnny Juzang (16.0 ppg) and fellow G Tyger Campbell (10.4 ppg), Mick Cronin’s team isn’t likely to cut it so close to the bubble this time.

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives against Michigan State guard Rocket Watts (2) in the first half during the First Four of the 2021 NCAA tournament at Mackey Arena.
UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives against Michigan State guard Rocket Watts (2) in the first half during the First Four of the 2021 NCAA tournament at Mackey Arena.

No. 3 Kansas (21-9)

Points: 705. Previous ranking: 16.

Outlook: The Jayhawks return their top three scorers, guard Ochai Agbaji (14.1 ppg) and forwards David McCormack (13.4) and Jalen Wilson (11.8), but Bill Self’s team was missing a dynamic creator on the perimeter. Enter transfers Remy Martin (Arizona State) and Joseph Yusufu (Drake), either or both of whom could fill that need and help the Jayhawks regain their accustomed position atop the Big 12.

No. 4 Villanova (18-7)

Points: 658. Previous ranking: 11.

Outlook: The Wildcats would likely have been pegged as Big East favorites in any event, but the news that G Collin Gillespie (14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg) and F Jermaine Samuels (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) were coming back for an extra year enhanced their national outlook considerably. Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels give Jay Wright a lot of perimeter options, but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s inside presence will be missed.

No. 5 Texas (19-8)

Points: 634. Previous ranking: 21.

Outlook: The Longhorns are under new management with Chris Beard coming over from Texas Tech, and the roster will have a largely new look as well. Minnesota transfer Marcus Carr joins incumbents Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones in the backcourt, and a slew of new arrivals, including Tre Mitchell from Massachusetts, will compete for interior minutes.

No. 6 Michigan (23-5)

Points: 627. Previous ranking: 4.

Outlook: Much of the optimism for the Wolverines is due to a highly-regarded freshmen class, including five-star signees Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. But Juwan Howard has several important returnees from last year’s Elite Eight squad, most notably C Hunter Dickinson (14.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and G Eli Brooks (9.6 ppg, 3.1 apg).

No. 7 Purdue (18-10)

Points: 578. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: Matt Painter goes from having one of the Big Ten’s youngest teams to one of the most experienced, and the seasoned Boilermakers have aspirations for a deep run in March if they can survive the grind of the extremely competitive league. F Trevion Williams (15.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg) will again be the linchpin with Eric Hunter running point for a deep guard rotation.

No. 8 Baylor (28-2)

Points: 542. Previous ranking: 1.

Outlook: Following one of the most dominant NCAA tournament runs of the 64+-team era, Scott Drew must now find replacements for the ultra-dynamic guard trio that led the Bears to the title. Arizona transfer James Akinjo will likely fill one spot along with holdovers Adam Flagler and L.J. Cryer, though freshman Kendall Brown could also crack the starting lineup quickly. Michael Mayer (8.1 ppg) looks ready to carry more of the scoring load after strong performances in the title run.

The Baylor men's basketball team celebrates after beating Gonzaga to win the national championship during the 2021 NCAA tournament.
The Baylor men's basketball team celebrates after beating Gonzaga to win the national championship during the 2021 NCAA tournament.

No. 9 Duke (13-11)

Points: 490. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Overview: The last season of Mike Krzyzewski's amazing coaching career begins with the Blue Devils not among the top contenders, but they are certainly capable of making a championship run. Three starters return with sophomore center Mark Williams the most promising after averaging 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in his final six games. As usual, Coach K brought in elite freshmen to replenish a roster hit hard by NBA draft declarations. Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin are five-star recruits that should slot into the frontcourt with the hype and outlook for Banchero similar to the level of Zion Williamson. The backcourt has returners Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore, however a consistent shooter needs to develop for this team to end with a deep tournament run.

No. 10 Illinois (24-7)

Points: 466. Previous ranking: 8.

Outlook: The postseason was good and bad for the Fighting Illini last year after a Big Ten tournament title preceded an early exit from the NCAA tournament in the second round. The team got a major boost when All-America center Kofi Cockburn returned after entering the draft and transfer portal. He gives Illinois a dominant presence in the middle. There isn't much depth behind him besides Florida transfer Omar Payne. The backcourt, even with the loss of star guard Ayo Dosunmu, will again be the backbone of the team. Andre Curbelo is a playmaker that will be comfortable moving into a starting role and with Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams back for a fifth season, there's experience. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer has been drawing rave reviews and his three-point shooting is expected to be a major weapon.

No. 11 Kentucky (9-16)

Points: 438. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: The first season during the COVID-19 pandemic couldn't have gone much worse for the Wildcats. They had their first losing season in 32 years as a lack of outside shooting and disjointed play at the end of games weighed them down. So John Calipari went to work in reshaping the roster for a turnaround. Among the incoming transfers, Kellan Grady from Davidson and C.J. Fredrick from Iowa will be expected to supply shooting. Sahvir Wheeler from Georgia will likely start in the backcourt with heralded freshman TyTy Washington. In the frontcourt, Oscar Tshiebwe from West Virginia is an interior presence. Returners Davion Mintz (11.5 ppg) and Keion Brooks (10.3 ppg) bring needed experience to the mix.

No. 12 Oregon (21-7)

Points: 382. Previous ranking: 17.

Outlook: The roster gets turned over every year and Dana Altman just keeps the Ducks winning. They reached the Sweet 16 in four of the last five tournaments and should again be a contender to get that far this season. Holdovers Will Richardson (11.3 ppg) and Eric Williams (10.0 ppg) provide a solid inside-out combination. The talent infusion will come from multiple places as Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse), De'Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Jacob Young (Rutgers) all transfer in. Joining them is five-star recruit Nate Brittle, a 7-0 center who will bring needed size and scoring in the middle.

No. 13 Alabama (26-7)

Points: 360. Previous ranking: 5.

Outlook: What does Nate Oats do for an encore after leading the Crimson Tide to their first SEC regular-season title since 2002? The backcourt looks in great shape with Jaden Shackelford (14.0 ppg) and Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 ppg), the two top scorers from last year, returning. Additional punch could come from Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett, who failed to make an impact as a freshman and may benefit from a change of scenery. Alabama's success likely will be dictated by the impact of freshmen JD Davidson, a McDonald's All-America guard, and center Charles Bediako. If both can acclimate themselves quickly, then this has the makings of a team that can duplicate last year's success.

No. 14 Houston (28-4)

Points: 343. Previous ranking: 3.

Outlook: It will be hard to top last year's run to the Final Four, especially with the core of the Cougars' backcourt gone. Still, Kelvin Sampson brings back enough talent to be the favorites in the American Athletic. Marcus Sasser (13.7 ppg) will be expected to shoulder a large portion of the scoring load. Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards should help offset some of the losses, too. The frontcourt needs Reggie Chaney and Fabian White to add some scoring punch.

No. 15 Arkansas (25-7)

Points: 340. Previous ranking: 6.

Outlook: The Razorbacks were one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of last season, winning 12 of their last 14 with losses to LSU in the SEC title game and Baylor in the Elite Eight. Now coach Eric Musselman will try to build on that momentum with his backcourt leading the way. J.D. Notae started just one game and still was second in scoring and three-pointers made. He'll be joined by Davonte Davis, whose elevation to the starting lineup coincided with the team's strong finish. Davis should only improve as a sophomore. Miami transfer Chris Lykes is short on size (5-7) but can score in bunches. Up front, Jaylin Williams and Connor Vanover need to contribute.

No. 16 Memphis (20-8)

Points: 337. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: Penny Hardaway starts his fourth season still seeking his first trip to the NCAA tournament. Expectations are high after Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates reclassified to give the Tigers two five-star freshmen big men. Deandre Williams (11.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) also will be an option up front. Landers Nolley (13.1 ppg) is the leading returning scorer. He will get help from Miami transfer Earl Timberlake and Lester Quinones. The big question is how Hardaway molds the lineup to integrate Duren and Bates. He hasn't found the solution in the previous seasons. The expectation is Memphis will compete for the American title and make a run in the postseason. It's time to deliver.

No. 17 Ohio State (21-10)

Points: 280. Previous ranking: 15.

Outlook: OSU brings back an experienced core from a team that surprised many in the Big Ten by securing a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The centerpiece is junior forward E.J. Liddell (16.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg), one of the best in the conference. In the backcourt, the Buckeyes may turn the starting jobs over to a pair of transfers in Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Cedric Russell (Louisiana-Lafayette). Making another run at the Big Ten title demands better play on defense, especially defending big men, after the Buckeyes took a step back in 2020-21.

Ohio State's E.J. Liddell rebounds over Wisconsin's Nate Reuvers during their game in 2021.
Ohio State's E.J. Liddell rebounds over Wisconsin's Nate Reuvers during their game in 2021.

No. 17 Tennessee (18-9)

Points: 280. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: The Volunteers are one of the preseason favorites to win the SEC after teaming an established handful of contributors with several high-profile freshmen, including five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler. Sixth-year senior John Fulkerson (9.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) will stabilize a frontcourt that needs help from junior Olivier Nkamhoua. There are plenty of options on the wing, from Victor Bailey Jr. (10.9 ppg) and Josiah-Jordan James (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg) to Auburn transfer Justin Powell (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.7 apg).

19. Florida State (18-7)

Points: 225. Previous ranking: 10.

Outlook: Three players with starting experience will surround a talented group of transfers and freshmen. Senior wing Anthony Polite (10.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is the team’s leading returning scorer. An all-conference pick while at Houston, redshirt sophomore Caleb Mills will step right into a huge role in the backcourt. It could get crowded for minutes at guard: FSU also has two high-impact freshmen battling for playing time in Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley. A fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 is very much in play for coach Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles.

20. North Carolina (18-11)

Points: 224. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: The Hubert Davis era begins with slightly lowered expectations given the program's exodus of talent since March. UNC lost four players to the transfer portal and a fifth to the NBA draft, leaving it up to holdovers Armando Bacot (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Caleb Love (10.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) to do the heavy lifting and keep the Tar Heels in the mix in the ACC. Davis brought in three transfers to boost a depleted frontcourt. Sixth-year senior Brady Manek was a four-year starter at Oklahoma and should help stabilize a turned-over roster.

No. 21 Maryland (17-14)

Points: 150. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: Seven new scholarship players will chip in where Maryland needs immediate help: in the backcourt and at center. Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell (14.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.5 rpg) could be the most impactful newcomer in the Big Ten. At center, the Terrapins will lean on Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab (12.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) after struggling defending the paint in 2020-21. In all, look for Maryland to have one of the most experienced rosters in the conference. All five projected starters have at least two years of starting experience, though not all with the Terps.

No. 22 Auburn (13-14)

Points: 87. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: A deep and explosive frontcourt has Bruce Pearl and the Tigers thinking about winning the national championship. Between junior Jaylin Williams (10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), five-star freshman Jabari Smith, North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler and more, Auburn will be able to play bigger lineups than in the past. The guard spots will be held by Eastern Kentucky transfer Wendell Green Jr. (15 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.4 rpg), Charleston transfer Zep Jasper (15.6 ppg), Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson (13.5 ppg, 1.9 spg) and holdover Devan Cambridge (8.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

No. 23 Connecticut (15-8)

Points: 73. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: Coach Dan Hurley got UConn back into the tournament in his third season and has the Huskies aimed at a Big East championship heading into his fourth. While star guard James Bouknight is gone to the NBA, the Huskies do bring back the next six top scorers from the 2020-21 season and nine players with significant experience. The most important piece is sophomore forward Adama Sanogo (7.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), who will be the centerpiece on offense after coming on strong late in his first season. Senior guards R.J. Cole (12.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Tyrese Martin (10.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are all-conference caliber.

No. 24 St. Bonaventure (16-5)

Points: 71. Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Outlook: Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies claimed the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament crowns last year, and the entire starting lineup is back with a little more bench help. Floor general Kyle Lofton (14.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) and C Osun Osunniyi (10.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.9 bpg) are the headliners, with Jaren Holmes (13.8 ppg), Jalen Adaway (12.2 ppg) and Dominick Welch (11.4 ppg) rounding out the first unit.

No. 25 Virginia (18-7)

Points: 60. Previous ranking: 24.

Outlook: Nine players return from last year’s rotation, but the losses are noteworthy: Virginia will have to replace its three leading scorers, leaving a heavy burden on guards Kihei Clark (9.5 ppg) and Reece Beekman (4.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.8 rpg). The Cavaliers will also be helped by transfers Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana). There is no question Virginia will play defense, but whether this team can score will decide if the Cavaliers can crack the top three in the ACC.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Top 25 college basketball poll: What ranked men's team must do to win