ESPN releases updated Way Too Early Top 25 for college basketball

On3 imageby:Sam Gillenwater07/06/23


With the calendar flipping to July this week, college basketball is still a ways away from tipoff. Even so, Jeff Borzello had some changes to make a few days back to his Way-Too-Early Top-25 over at ESPN.

The biggest reason why was Kentucky reentering the fold. A brutal offseason had sent the Wildcats into an unranked spot before the return of Antonio Reeves and the addition of Tre Mitchell. With a little bit of experience in Lexington now alongside their No. 1 class, the Wildcats leaped back in for Borzello to No. 17.

Besides that, there wasn’t much movement in ESPN’s ranking as 20 of the 25 programs remained in their slots from the previous addition. That includes the first 16 teams that are once again led by Kansas, Duke, Purdue, Michigan State, and reigning champion UConn as the top-five.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Bill Self has a lot to like in Lawrence this season. On one hand, he brought back plenty of quality experience in Dajuan Harris Jr., Kevin McCullar, and KJ Adams. On the other, he added big-time transfers in Hunter Dickinson, Nick Timberlake, and Arterio Morris.

Mix it all together and, heading into the season, the Jayhawks should have yet another contender on their hands.

2. Duke Blue Devils

Duke’s roster building was very similar to Kansas’. Jon Scheyer’s team starts by bringing back a ton of experience, namely Kyle Filipowski, Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, and Mark Mitchell. However, rather than focus on the portal, the Blue Devils are bringing in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

That combination has made Duke the natural choice at No. 2 for ESPN behind KU as they’ll nip at the Jayhawks heels all offseason.

3. Purdue Boilermakers

Zach Edey’s return to West Lafayette is at the center of Purdue’s case. It will make him the second straight National Player of the Year to return to college after he averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks on 60.7% shooting from the field.

It doesn’t stop there for the Boilermakers, though. Matt Painter brought back all of his starters, specifically Mason Gillis as well as his young backcourt of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, for a program that has plenty to prove after being the second No. 1 seed to suffer an upset to a No. 16.

4. Michigan State Spartans

If you’re noticing a trend of experience at the center of the best teams at ESPN, you’re dead on. Michigan State falls in that category too with the returns of Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard, Malik Hall, and Jaden Akins.

That’s four starters from a team that made it to the Sweet 16 and was an explosion from Markquis Nowell away from making the Elite Eight. They’ll slide Xavier Booker, a Top-15 prospect and No. 2 center, into the paint to complete their lineup and try to get back to that level next season.

5. UConn Huskies

UConn is the first team to not bring back significant production. The champs lost a lot with Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, and Andre Jackson all going pro.

Still, there’s plenty of a foundation for Dan Hurley to still build upon. That starts with Donovan Clingan anchoring the middle now along with Tristen Newton, Stephon Castle, and Cam Spencer coming together in the backcourt.

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee’s backcourt was a big win to start as they brought back Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James for their fifth seasons of college basketball. Zakai Zeigler will join that conversation at some point as well coming off his ACL tear

Then, after that, the Volunteers won big in the portal with the additions of Dalton Knect, Chris Ledlum, and Jordan Gainey. They have some things to sort out in their frontcourt but, from a perimeter standpoint, it could be one of the better groups of backcourts and wings for the Vols under Rick Barnes.

7. Houston Cougars

Jarace Walker, Marcus Sasser, and Tramon Mark took a lot of production from Kelvin Sampson’s Sweet 16 squad in 2023.

Even so, Houston found some decent replacements. It starts with Jamal Shead coming back after testing for the NBA Draft. After that, high-scoring transfer in LJ Cryer and Damian Dunn round out another solid group for one of the Big 12’s newest teams.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Losing Drew Timme is a major shift for Gonzaga’s program. That departure is only compounded by a few more in Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, and Malachi Smith.

Still, Mark Few did some good work in the portal, namely Ryan Nembhard and Graham Ike, next to some returning pieces of his own, specifically Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman.

9. Florida Atlantic Owls

FAU became the Cinderella of last year’s NCAA Tournament with their run to the Final Four.

Now, Dusty May’s squad is back, intact, and in ESPN’s Top-10. It’s high praise for the Conference USA team but, in the end, it’s hard to ignore their high-level of continuity with no players from that dream run electing to move on from Boca Raton.

10. Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette impressed many in the Big East under Shaka Smart in his second season with the program. It was arguably his best season as a head coach with a tie for the most wins for a year in his career (29) and some of the highest rankings that he’d been a part of.

Losing Olivier-Maxence Prosper to the first-round of the NBA Draft is tough. Even so, returning players like Steve Kolek and Kam Jones should offset that as they go throughout the season and gel again.

11. Arizona Wildcats

Arizona revamped this offseason after being upset by Princeton back in the NCAA Tournament. After losing Kerr Krissa in the portal, they went shopping themselves and earned some intriguing commitments from Caleb Love and Jaden Bradley.

Pairing them with Kylan Boswell, Keshad Johnson, and Oumar Ballo should only make the start to Tommy Lloyd’s tenure even more successful.

12. San Diego State Aztecs

SDSU is focusing again on their culture to get them through some moving pieces from their offseason.

Even so, Brian Dutcher has plenty of pieces still as the Aztecs come off a runner-up finish in March. Those include Lamont Butler, Jaedon LeDee, and Darrion Trammell along with Reese Dixon-Waters.

13. Creighton Bluejays

In some ways, Creighton’s offseason did not go well. Greg McDermott surely would have loved to have Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma back rather than having to replace them.

Still, it wasn’t all bad in the end for the Bluejays. They brought back plenty in Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Then, with the addition of Steve Ashworth, things should be more than alright again for the ‘Jays in the Big East.

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

Eric Musselman and Arkansas are completely unashamed in how they go about the transfer portal. They shouldn’t be either as the ‘Hogs added six highly-impactful transfers to their roster.

Add in the returns of Davonte Davis and Trevon Brazile and the arrival of Baye Fall into the mix and the Razorbacks will be ready to shoot for their fourth straight appearance in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

15. North Carolina Tar Heels

Last season went anything but well for North Carolina. Even so, it’s time to put that failure in the rearview in Chapel Hill and, in ESPN’s eyes, Hubert Davis should have the team to help the Tar Heels do it too.

First, they bring back a great foundation of Armando Bacot and RJ Davis. Then, to round things out, they bring in some fresh faces in Harrison Ingram, Cormac Ryan, Jaelyn Withers, and Elliot Cadeau.

16. Villanova Wildcats

Missing March Madness wasn’t the ideal start to Kyle Neptune’s time as Jay Wright’s replacement. Still, Villanova did what they needed to this offseason to get back in the mix.

Justin Moore and Eric Dixon are important returners for the Wildcats. After that, they were very active in the portal with several transfers including TJ Bamba, Hakim Hart, Tyler Burton, and Lance Ware.

17. Kentucky Wildcats

UK was the main talking point for Borzello in ESPN’s update. The combination of skill sets and experience from Reeves and Mitchell should work wonders for John Calipari’s next team.

The Wildcats will need it to as well considering how young, yet talented, their roster is. They’ll need it even more considering the kind of pressure that the program is under to get back into the national hunt.

18. Miami Hurricanes

Miami has had the best two-year run in program history with an Elite Eight appearance in ’22 and a Final Four appearance in ’23.

It will be hard to replicate that success in Coral Gables, especially with Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller gone. Even so, Nijel Pack, Norchad Omier, Wooga Poplar, and Matthew Cleveland should give Jim Larrañaga a chance to compete in the ACC and nationally again.

19. Texas A&M Aggies

Buzz Williams had one of the best teams in the SEC last season. The Aggies went 25-10 last year, including 15-3 in the SEC, and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure in College Station.

Now, in ’23-’24, Texas A&M will have their shot at doing so again with Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford, Henry Coleman III, and Julius Marble all back.

20. Baylor Bears

Baylor lost all of their production from their high-powered backcourt of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer. They were the team’s three leading scorers as they each averaged over 15 ppg. and combined for nearly 46 points a night.

That’s where someone in the group of RayJ Dennis, Jayden Nunn, Ja’Kobe Walter, or Langston Love needs to step up for Scott Drew.

21. USC Trojans

USC is going to be the show for college basketball this season with Bronny James playing for Andy Enfield.

Still, it doesn’t stop at the son of The King for USC according to ESPN. They could have one of the better backcourts in the country with James, Isaiah Collier, and Boogie Ellis all handling the rock in Los Angeles next year.

22. Alabama Crimson Tide

Nate Oats has had a lot of piecing together to do after much of his No. 1 overall seed from last season left Tuscaloosa. That includes Jahvon Quinerly who departed from the Tide just a week ago to end the month of June.

Still, ‘Bama has made enough additions to weather the storm. Oats signed a Top-15 class and will also bring in the likes of Grant Nelson, Aaron Estrada, and, most recently, Mohamed Wague in the transfer portal.

23. Saint Mary’s Gaels

Experience and continuity was the name of the game for Saint Mary’s. They brought back several key contributors from the the team that made the program’s second straight NCAA Tournament and second consecutive Round of 32.

Alex Ducas, Aidan Mahaney, Mitchell Saxen, and Augustas Marciulionis will all be leading that charge for Randy Bennett next season.

24. Texas Longhorns

Rodney Terry earned the big job last season on The 40 Acres after taking over for Chris Beard at Texas. Now, ahead of his first full season at the helm, he has a roster that can make some noise and do some big things next season.

Bringing back Tyrese Hunter, Dillon Mitchell, and Dylan Disu laid some great groundwork for the Longhorns. Then, with the additions of Max Abmas and Kadin Shedrick, you’re looking a team that can definitely compete in the Big 12 again under Terry.

25. Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado missed the NCAA Tournament last year with a record of 18-17. That includes a 6-10 stretch over the final 16 games of conference play in the Pac-12.

Even so, there’s reasons for optimism in Boulder as ESPN’s final selection. That starts with the returns of KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva for the Buffaloes as a pair of high-low pieces that both averaged over 15 ppg. last year. It then ends with the additions of Cody Williams, a five-star prospect and Top-10 recruit in ’22, and transfer Eddie Lampkin Jr..

Wisconsin dropped out after being No. 25 in the previous edition at ESPN. After that, the next four teams in line behind the Badgers are the Florida Gators, St. John’s Red Storm, Auburn Tigers, and Kansas State Wildcats