Villanova tops college basketball's Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2020-21

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, March 23, 2020

We're entering an offseason of uncertainty in college basketball. Not only is there trepidation on the part of potential NBA draft early-entrants and athletic directors looking into making coaching changes, but it's also impossible for coaches to go out and recruit the final players in the 2020 class. Moreover, we could see transfer eligibility rules changing in the near future.

In other words, rosters could look dramatically different a few months from now -- or there could be much less turnover than we're used to.

Either way, here's our first guess at the landscape of the 2020-21 season. We're going to constantly update this throughout the offseason as players declare for the draft and transfers and recruits make decisions. The most likely outcome in terms of early-entry players is factored into the rankings.

It's only 232 days until the 2020 Champions Classic ...

1. Villanova Wildcats

If things fall right for Jay Wright's program, a third national championship in six years isn't out of the question. The Wildcats could bring back everyone from this season, although breakout sophomore Saddiq Bey could enter the NBA draft after playing his way into the first round of mock drafts. Villanova seemed to figure things out late in the season, winning seven of its last eight games and getting a flash of what could be a breakout campaign from freshmanJustin Moore. Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl should all return. The key could be Bryan Antoine, a former five-star recruit who barely played this season due to a shoulder injury, while Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 PPG) adds even more perimeter pop. Wright will have no shortage of weapons even if Bey goes to the NBA, but Bey does bring an inside-outside skill set that could be tough to replace.

2. Creighton Bluejays

Creighton was playing as well as any team in the country over the last two months of the season, winning 11 of its last 13 games and earning the 1-seed in the Big East tournament. Could that momentum carry over to next season? Coach Greg McDermott should bring back all five starters, including the elite backcourt tandem of Marcus Zegarowski and Ty-Shon Alexander. Sixth man Denzel Mahoney (12.0 PPG) also is back. More good news comes in the form of Davion Mintz (9.7 PPG), who started all but one game of his sophomore and junior campaigns but redshirted this season due to an ankle injury. Creighton should once again have one of the best offenses in America, but the Bluejays will have to shore up defensively and on the glass -- the return of 6-foot-11 Jacob Epperson and the addition of four-star 6-11 freshmanRyan Kalkbrennershould help.

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs

There are going to be NBA draft decisions to wait for with the Bulldogs. Killian Tillie and Ryan Woolridge are graduating, but Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev are also ranked in the top 60 of ESPN's NBA draft rankings and therefore could at least go through the draft process. If both return, Mark Few's team could rise all the way up to No. 1 in the rankings. Drew Timme should step right in for Tillie, and elite five-star guard Jalen Suggs should slot into the starting lineup for Woolridge. Joel Ayayi is back and Anton Watson will be healthy as a piece off the bench. Gonzaga brings in three ESPN 100 freshmen, led by Suggs, so the Bulldogs' depth should be much improved after they played mostly a seven-man rotation for the latter half of the season. Another 30-win season seems like a lock for Gonzaga, and a potential Final Four run isn't far-fetched at all.

4. Baylor Bears

After sitting atop the rankings for several weeks this season, Baylor lost three of its final five games to finish two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings. Coach Scott Drew and the Bears will have another go-round at the conference title next season, and they should enter 2020-21 as the favorite. Their strength will once again come on the perimeter, with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague all likely to be back and four-star freshman L.J. Cryer and Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler (15.9 PPG) providing insurance if one of them heads to the NBA. Baylor didn't get enough consistent offense from its frontcourt this season, and that could potentially be an issue again -- especially with Freddie Gillespie gone. However, Mark Vital returns as a glue guy and Drew is bringing in reinforcements in the form of freshmen Dain Dainja and Zach Loveday and transferJonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Hopefully Tristan Clark has a return to form, too.

5. Kentucky Wildcats

This might be the team with the most up in the air in terms of the NBA draft. As a projected lottery pick, Tyrese Maxey is likely to go pro. But Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley are all ranked in the Nos. 45-60 range in ESPN's NBA draft rankings -- so all three could go either way. Richards and Quickley were two of the best players in the SEC this season, with both enjoying breakout campaigns. Hagans is an elite defensive point guard who had some offensive inconsistencies late in the season. And here's a surprise: John Calipari is bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Five-star wings B.J. Boston and Terrence Clarke could start immediately, and five-star point guard Devin Askew will step in if Hagans leaves. Four-star Isaiah Jackson will provide some rim protection. Kentucky could theoretically be the preseason No. 1 if everyone returns, but there's a lot left to play out in Lexington.

6. Duke Blue Devils

Like Kentucky, Duke has to see what happens with its stay-or-go decisions.Tre Jonesalready has declared for the NBA draft and Vernon Carey Jr. is very likely to do the same. Cassius Stanley improved his stock as a freshman, but he could come back for his sophomore season as the team's go-to guy offensively. Mike Krzyzewski brings in the No. 2-ranked recruiting class, led by five-star perimeter players Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward and Jalen Johnson. The Blue Devils used a number of different lineups this season, struggling to find the right combination. The incoming class should provide versatility. As far as the returnees, Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt are the most likely to take steps forward after showing flashes during their first seasons in Durham. Perhaps the biggest question will be who gets the rock late in games. Jones had the utmost confidence and Carey was dominant once he got the ball.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes

Luka Garza was my pick to win the Wooden Award, and I think he'll head back to Iowa City for his senior season. If that happens, the Hawkeyes are undoubtedly a preseason top-10 team. Fran McCaffery will bring back all five starters from a 20-win team, one that would've likely ended up with a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament. Garza should be his dominant self once again, while double-figure scorers Joe Wieskamp andCJ Fredrickalso are back. McCaffery should also get a boost from the expected return of Jordan Bohannon, who redshirted this season after playing just 10 games. A healthy Bohannon is a difference-maker at the point of attack. The Hawkeyes had some issues defensively, especially in Big Ten play, but they were able to outscore most opponents. And most of those weapons should be back again.

8. Virginia Cavaliers

Tony Bennett did a magnificent job this season, taking the Cavaliers from a team that looked unlikely to even make the NCAA tournament to a group that won eight straight to end the season and could have won games in the dance. They will lose veterans Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Keybut should have far more offensive firepower next season. ESPN 100 wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim was one of the best pure scorers in the 2020 class, while Marquette transfer Sam Hauser (14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG) is an immediate-impact newcomer. Kihei Clark, Tomas Woldetensae and Jay Huff are all back as starters, and guards Reece Beekman and Casey Morsell give Bennett even more options on the perimeter. It should be a deeper, more prolific group -- although the defensive side of the ball might see some growing pains.

9. Michigan State Spartans

Cassius Winston and the Spartans seemed poised for a March run, but that was cut short and now Winston is gone after four tremendous seasons in East Lansing. Finding a new point guard is going to be issue No. 1 for Tom Izzo. Rocket Watts made plays late in the season as a scorer and defender and ESPN 100 guard A.J. Hoggard enters the fold, but both are better as scorers. That's only one of the questions facing Michigan State. Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry could both choose to go through the NBA draft process, with Tillman the more likely of the two to leave. And what about Josh Langford? Will he return? There are a lot of pieces on the roster if everyone returns, as Izzo adds Marquette transfer Joey Hauser (9.7 PPG) and ESPN 100 big Mady Sissoko to a group that includes Watts, Malik Hall andGabe Brown.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

The overwhelming favorites to win the national championship before the NCAA tournament was canceled, the Jayhawks are unlikely to pick up exactly where they left off next season. Udoka Azubuike has seen his dominant days in Lawrence come to an end, while Devon Dotson could enter the NBA draft. Isaiah Moss also is gone. Bill Self will need to find a point guard to replace Dotson if he leaves, with redshirt freshmanDajuan Harrisand three-star freshman Latrell Jossell the only true point guards on the roster. Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji are back as starters, while Christian Braun and David McCormack should be ready for bigger roles. The two newcomers to watch are five-star guard Bryce Thompson and highly touted junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster. Both will be counted on to score right away.

11. North Carolina Tar Heels

I know, I know. The Tar Heels were a preseason top-10 team heading into the season and ended up as the most disappointing group in the country, finishing with the last seed in the ACC tournament. But next season's North Carolina team is going to be significantly deeper and more talented, even with the expected departure of Cole Anthony. Roy Williams brings in one of the nation's best recruiting classes, led by five-star guard Caleb Love and five-star bigsDay'Ron Sharpeand Walker Kessler. The Tar Heels will have a dominant interior, as Sharpe and Kessler join returning starters Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks. Love might be the best freshman point guard in the country. Wing scoring could be a question mark, but there are enough options on the roster -- if everyone stays healthy, something that didn't happen this season.

12. Texas Tech Red Raiders

We'll never know if the Red Raiders' struggles to end the season would have kept them out of the NCAA tournament, but it's unlikely to come down to the final week next season. Even ifJahmi'us Ramseyheads to the NBA, which is likely, Chris Beard will still bring back three starters and has the program's best-ever recruiting class bound for Lubbock. Kyler Edwards and Davide Moretti are back as double-figure scorers, and five-star guard Nimari Burnett should slot into the starting lineup. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe (11.8 PPG) sat out this season and has pro potential, while ESPN 100 wing Micah Peavy is another newcomer being counted on to make an immediate impact. Beard will need more from the interior next season, and he could hit the grad transfer market to address that issue.

13. Ohio State Buckeyes

Which Ohio State will show up next season? The one that started 11-1 and sat near the top of the rankings? Or the one that lost six of seven to drop to 2-6 in the Big Ten -- or the one that won nine of its last 12? I think it's something more like the third option, even though there are some personnel issues entering the offseason. One of those was addressed over the weekend, when Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns -- our No. 1 transfer -- picked the hometown Buckeyes over Duke. Towns will add perimeter shooting, while California transfer Justice Sueing brings scoring punch after sitting out last season. C.J. Walker, Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad are all back in the backcourt. What happens up front? If Kaleb Wesson turns pro, coach Chris Holtmann could be short on interior options. If Wesson returns, Ohio State will rise several spots in the rankings.

14. Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols took an expected step back this season after the departure of three starters and season-ending injury to Lamonte Turner. But the 2020-21 campaign looks bright. Veteran stalwart Jordan Bowden is gone, but that's it. Four starters return, including three double-figure scorers: point guard Santiago Vescovi and forwards Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. Versatile wing Josiah-Jordan James is also back. Rick Barnes also has a loaded group of newcomers entering the program, led by five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, as well as ESPN 100 forward Corey Walker and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. Tennessee is going to be deep, experienced and versatile -- and could move up the rankings as teams ahead of the Volunteers lose guys to the NBA draft.

15. Wisconsin Badgers

Greg Gard led one of the bigger second-half turnarounds in the country this season, with the Badgers winning eight straight games to end the season to earn a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship. All five players who started the season finale against Indiana will be back, and all five will be seniors next season. Gard will have one of the most experienced teams in the country, one that has plenty of offensive balance:D'Mitrik Triceand Brad Davison on the perimeter, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter down low, and Aleem Ford as a do-it-all glue guy. The Badgers also bring in a five-man recruiting class, led by ESPN 100 forward Ben Carlson. Potter could be the key. He was dominant at times late in the season, and he and Reuvers are brutal matchup problems for most opponents.

16. Houston Cougars

Houston never quite looked as good as the metrics pegged the Cougars, but Kelvin Sampson's team should be more consistent next season. There's a chance all but one starter return, althoughDeJon Jarreauand Quentin Grimes could have NBA draft decisions to make. If both return -- along with starter Nate Hinton and sixth man extraordinaire Caleb Mills (13.2 PPG) -- Sampson will have the most talented quartet in the AAC by some distance. The Cougars also bring in ESPN 100 prospect Tramon Mark and Idaho transfer Cameron Tyson (13.5 PPG, 42.9% 3PT) to help on the perimeter. They will have to figure out the frontcourt, as there isn't much proven behind Fabian White. It's hard to doubt Sampson at this point, though, as the Cougars have won 83 games the past three seasons and had a top-21 defense all three campaigns.

17. San Diego State Aztecs

This ranking will come down to whether Malachi Flynn decides to return to the Aztecs for his senior season. The former Washington State transfer was the catalyst behind San Diego State's 30-win season and likely 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, and the Aztecs would tumble outside the top 25 if he decided to go pro. If Flynn is back, coach Brian Dutcher should have the pieces to once again win the Mountain West and be nationally relevant. Double-figure scorers Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell will be back, and hopefully Nathan Mensah is healthy enough to play a consistent role at center. Freshmen Keith Dinwiddie and Che Evans had some notoriety at the high school level and should find spots in the rotation. But there's nobody to replace Flynn; he might have one of the most important NBA draft decisions in the country.

18. LSU Tigers

Will Wade's team could be absolutely loaded with talent if things fall right. Of course, the people of Baton Rouge will have to wait and see what happens with the potential draft decisions of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Emmitt Williams. All three could at least explore their options, and Skylar Mays is already out of eligibility. But if a couple of the draft hopefuls return to school, the Tigers will have the pieces to push toward the top of the SEC standings again. Wade has a talented incoming recruiting class, led by five-star guard Cam Thomas -- arguably the best pure bucket-getter in the 2020 class. Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc and ESPN 100 prospect Mwani Wilkinson also should make an impact. This ranking could drop significantly if a couple of the aforementioned players keep their names in the draft, though.

19. Michigan Wolverines

Juwan Howard did a very good job in his first season coaching in college, leading the Wolverines to wins over Gonzaga, Creighton, Michigan State and a host of other Big Ten teams. They do lose senior starters Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, but Howard is replacing them with a stellar first full recruiting class. Five-star Isaiah Todd is the headliner, although there are still questions on whether he chooses to head overseas before playing in the NBA. ESPN 100 big man Hunter Dickinson, small forward Terrance Williams and Zeb Jackson all should see extended roles immediately. Michigan also brings back three starters, with Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner averaging double figures. Livers is the key: When he was healthy, the Wolverines were a different team, going 13-6 with him and 6-6 when he didn't play a full game.

20. Arkansas Razorbacks

It was a transition season in Fayetteville, with Eric Musselman taking over and hitting the transfer market hard in his first season at the helm. But 2019-20 also saw a huge breakout campaign from Mason Jones, who established himself as one of the best players in the SEC. Jones and Isaiah Joe were one of the highest-scoring duos in the country and both are expected back for another season. Musselman also landed four ESPN 100 prospects from inside the state and has three transfers eligible after sitting out. The ones expected to make the biggest impact are Jacksonville transfer J.D. Notae (15.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG), California transfer Connor Vanover (7.5 PPG) and top-40 recruit Moses Moody. All three could start right off the bat. Musselman has done the rapid-rebuild thing before at Nevada and he's on his way at Arkansas.

21. Colorado Buffaloes

The continuity of Tad Boyle's starting lineup has been remarkably consistent the past two seasons, with McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey,D'Shawn Schwartzand Evan Battey all starting at least 40 games in 2018-19 and 2019-20 combined. Wright and Bey have been starters since their freshman seasons. Next season should be the year it culminates with an NCAA tournament appearance -- and even a couple of wins in the dance. The Buffs lost five in a row to end this season, and there were issues at both ends of the floor. On paper, though, Colorado has all the pieces, assuming Wright and Bey return to Boulder. There is one spot open in the starting lineup, and I'd keep an eye on incoming freshman Dominique Clifford to play an extended role quickly.

22. Florida State Seminoles

It's probably time to stop underestimating Leonard Hamilton, given what he has done with the Seminoles the past few seasons. They won the ACC regular-season title in 2020 after going to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight the two seasons prior. And maybe No. 22 is too low for Florida State -- but it's with the idea that both Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams turn pro. Vassell played himself into a first-round pick and Williams is also in that range. On top of that, Trent Forrest is out of eligibility, leaving Florida State without a bona fide point guard on the roster. If either Vassell or Williams returns, this ranking will change. Five-star Scottie Barnes is an impact newcomer and Sardaar Calhoun is a touted junior college transfer. Seven rotation pieces from this season are also back.

23. Oregon Ducks

Oregon has been relatively inactive recruiting the 2020 class, but we said something similar entering last spring and Dana Altman went out and reeled in several players to bolster the roster. He shouldn't have to do the same this time around. The Ducks already have ESPN 100 point guard Jalen Terry wrapped up to replace Payton Pritchard, and transfers Eric Williams (14.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and Eugene Omoruyi (13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG) are eligible after sitting out last season. Plus, Altman brings back starting guards Will Richardson and Chris Duarte and has a quartet of rising sophomores ready to take on bigger roles. As mentioned earlier, the Ducks also always have something up their sleeve for the spring and summer in terms of adding players. If they were to hit the transfer or reclassification market, more guard depth should be atop the list.

24. West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia exceeded expectations this season, despite struggling down the stretch and losing six of seven before beating Iowa State and then Baylor in the season finale. Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers made the Sweet 16 in three of four seasons prior to a down 2019 season, and I've got faith in Huggins getting West Virginia to 20-25 wins again. Only one starter is gone, and the interior duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver are both back down low. The Mountaineers will need to find more consistent ways to score in the half court, and another year from Miles McBride -- who had a breakout stretch midway through the season -- should help. There's also Jalen Bridges, a former ESPN 100 prospect who committed to the Mountaineers late in the process before taking a redshirt year in Morgantown.

25. Richmond Spiders

After winning nine of 10 to end the regular season, the Spiders would have entered the Atlantic 10 tournament with a legitimate chance to earn an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. And Chris Mooney should have everyone back from a group that went 14-4 in the league. There wasn't a single senior on the roster and all five starters will be seniors next season, giving Mooney a talented, experienced group that was effective at both ends of the floor. The perimeter trio of Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis and Nick Sherod brings a little bit of everything: scoring, playmaking, shooting, defense. And Grant Golden is a skilled big man up front to balance things out. Richmond will also get Tulane transfer Connor Crabtree eligible after sitting out; he brings some size and shooting to the perimeter.

Next in line:

Arizona State Sun Devils

UCLA Bruins

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Florida Gators

Indiana Hoosiers

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