After spending literal hours putting together a top 25, in which I wrote several pieces on teams before deciding that they didn’t belong, I have finally put together what I think will be the best teams in the country out of all 353. I’ll be dropping the rest as the next few weeks go on.
Here are 25 through 21.
No. 25: St. Bonaventure Bonnies
This may seem like a random team to have this high up, but I can assure you that I have reasons for it. The defending Atlantic 10 champs from both the tournament and the regular season, the Bonnies return five starters who all scored in double figures last season: G Kyle Lofton (14.4 PPG, 5.5 APG); Jaren Holmes (13.8 PPG); Dominick Welch (11.4 PPG); Jalen Adaway (12.2 PPG); and Osun Osunniyi (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.9 BPG). Additionally, these players are all high-level defenders, especially Osunniyi.
One of the stars of the team is the aforementioned Osunniyi, who is the defensive stopper in the middle of the paint. He averages more blocks per game than fouls, (though just barely), but still, this is a good indication of his skills as a defender. The reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Osunniyi could repeat this in his role in 2021-2022.
The engine offensively is definitely Lofton, who has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.5 to 2.5, despite a usage rate of 22.4%. Averaging more than twice as many assists than turnovers while being the team’s primary ball-handler is an illustration of his presence on the offensive end. Add in his solid PPG numbers and Lofton is clearly one of the best players in the conference.
The Bonnies are without a doubt the favorite in the A-10.
No. 24: Connecticut Huskies
After enduring their miserable football season, UConn fans deserve something to be excited about, and that is what they have in their men’s basketball team. Despite losing their best player in G James Bouknight (18.7 PPG), who went 11th overall to the Charlotte Hornets, they return two of their top three scorers in G RJ Cole (12.2 PPG) and G Tyrese Martin (10.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG). They also return F Isaiah Waley (8.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG). They bring in a solid recruiting class as well, with four-star G Rahsool Diggins and Isaiah Hawkins, as well as four-star C Samson Johnson.
While the scoring numbers may not be impressive, the offensive rebounding and defense are what make this team scary. They finished 42nd in the country in points allowed per game at 64.6, and 22nd in total three-pointers allowed per game at 5.8. They also averaged almost 14 ORB per game, good for fifth in the nation. They finished fifth in the nation in BPG at 5.3.
This team is going to win games based on these things. They’re not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but they will stuff the stat sheet in other aspects, like the ones I’ve mentioned. Outside of top-10 Villanova, UConn is the best team in the Big East.
No. 23: Virginia Cavaliers
The national title winners from 2019 brought in a couple of major transfers, especially F Jayden Gardner from East Carolina (18.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) and G Armaan Franklin from Indiana (11.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG). G Kihei Clark (9.5 PPG, 4.5 APG) is their most notable returner, and the only one close to double-digits scoring wise. They also added four-star SG Taine Murray from New Zealand.
They lose last season’s leading scorer in F Sam Hauser (16 PPG, 6.8 RPG), as well as F Jay Huff (13 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and G Trey Murphy (11.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG), who was drafted 17th by the Memphis Grizzlies.
This will be Gardner’s and Franklin’s team offensively. They lack offensive starpower in a lot of ways, but they will always be good on the other side of the floor. Outside of their top players, they did not get a lot of offensive production, so it will be up to the transfers to step in and immediately take over.
Last season, UVA won an admittedly weak ACC where traditional powerhouses like Duke struggled. They finished with a strong 13-4 in conference play, and finished 15th in the final AP Poll. A solid defensive team (as they always are), the Cavaliers finished sixth overall in the nation in points allowed per game (60.5) and first in the ACC in conference points allowed per game (59.6). However, they had trouble offensively, averaging just 68.2 PPG, and finished 12th in the ACC in conference PPG, at just 66.4. This is all despite brilliant individual performances from Hauser and Murphy, who, as I’ve said, have left the program.
That being said, I believe with defense and transfer prowess, Virginia will finish in the top 25 to end this season.
No. 22: Maryland Terrapins
The Terrapins finished 17-14 last season, and lost star G Aaron Wiggins (14.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to the NBA Draft, where he went 55th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Luckily for the Terps, they bring back leading scorer Eric Ayala (15.1 PPG), as well as F Donta Scott (11.0 PPG) and G Hakim Hart (7.1 PPG).
The two biggest grabs of the offseason in the transfer portal were G Fatts Russell from Rhode Island (14.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.9 SPG) as well as F/C Qudus Wahab from Georgetown (12.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG). The pickup of Wahab is extremely important given where Maryland struggled last year.
Their biggest need is a frontcourt presence, as they struggled with rebounding, finishing 13th in conference in TRB per game and 14th in ORB per game. They had trouble offensively in general last year as well, finishing 13th in the Big 10 in APG at 12 and 14th in PPG at 64.5. They didn’t draw fouls well, either, finishing 11th in attempted FTs per game at 16.
In addition to Russell and Wahab, the Terps added transfers G Ian Martinez from Utah and G Xavier Green from Old Dominion. Mark Turgeon also brought in a couple of prep talents in a pair of four-star F, Ike Cornish and Julian Reese. As I mentioned earlier, the frontcourt is a major place of issue for this current Terps roster, so I assume that Cornish and Reese will get some playing time as freshmen.
The Big 10 is no joke in basketball, with strong teams like Michigan, Purdue, and Ohio State; competing in the conference is going to be difficult no matter what roster a team runs out there. It’ll be up to Turgeon to make due with what he has, but I think the team will have success this season.
No. 21: Indiana Hoosiers
To be frank, Indiana was bad last year. They finished 15-17 overall and 10th in the Big 10. Archie Miller was fired after a fourth straight season of failure, which won’t fly at a program like Indiana. They were not good defensively, giving up an average of 72.9 PPG in conference, which landed them 10th. Opponents in conference shot 36% from three, and 44.7% overall. That is not going to get it done. But there are some things to like about Indiana this year.
They bring back their star F/C and preseason All-American in Trayce Jackson-Davis (19.1 PPG, 9 RPG), as well as F Race Thompson (9.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and G Rob Phinisee (7.1 PPG, 2.9 APG). Where Indiana really hit it out of the park was in the transfer portal, where they brought in former Pitt G Xavier Johnson (14.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG), G Parker Stewart from Tennessee-Martin (19.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG), and F Miller Kopp of Northwestern (11.3 PPG). In addition, Mike Woodson got a commitment from four-star G Tamar Bates.
Gone are G Aljaami Durham (11.3 PPG) and UVA transfer G Armaan Franklin (11.4 PPG) off of last year’s team, but with the transfer draws, the Hoosiers upgraded. The focal point of this team will be Jackson-Davis. Offensively, he’s as good as anyone in the country for this position. But, as I said in the Maryland piece, the Big 10 is as good a basketball conference as exists in this country. In order to compete for a conference title, Indiana is going to have to overcome a new coach bringing in a new system. While Woodson is highly respected, and I have no doubts about his abilities, there are always growing pains.
From a talent perspective, though, Indiana has the pieces to put it together in his first year.