The Tar Heels’ ranking is based on North Carolina returning every rotation player except for Brady Manek – among them All-American Armando Bacot, NCAA Tournament star Caleb Love and defensive specialist Leaky Black. UNC has the best and most-accomplished returning core in the sport.
The Cougars’ ranking is based on Houston returning a core featuring both players it lost to injury in December (Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark) plus Jamal Shead. That’s three double-digit scorers Kelvin Sampson should have to pair with Jarace Walker, a 5-star freshman who is among the reasons Houston will once again be the favorite in the AAC.
The Razorbacks’ ranking is based on Arkansas returning three of the top five scorers from a team that advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year – among them Jaylin Williams and Davonte Davis. Eric Musselman will add three 5-star prospects to that core and have a group good enough to get Arkansas back to the Final Four for the first time since 1995.
The Wildcats’ ranking is based on CBS Sports National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returning (alongside fellow starter Sahvir Wheeler) and being joined by a recruiting class highlighted by five-star guard Cason Wallace. Keion Brooks entering the transfer portal wasn’t ideal but will simply create a bigger opportunity for Jacob Toppin, who had better shooting percentages than Brooks from the field and 3-point line last season.
The Bulldogs’ ranking is based on Gonzaga returning five of the top eight scorers from a team that finished first at KenPom – among them All-American Drew Timme. That would provide Mark Few with a strong veteran core that will be supported by transfers like former 5-star prospect Efton Reid.
The Bruins’ ranking is based on Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell providing Mick Cronin with a veteran core to pair with a top-10 recruiting class highlighted by five-star prospects Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. If things break that way, UCLA should have a real chance to make the Final Four for the second time in three years.
The Bears’ ranking is based on LJ Cryer, Adam Flagler and Flo Thamba returning from a team that shared the Big 12 title with Kansas. The addition of 5-star guard Keyonte George should give Baylor one of the sport’s best backcourts.
The Jayhawks’ ranking is based on Kansas losing Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and David McCormack even though each has eligibility remaining, which seems to be what most are expecting. But Bill Self should still have a core of Jalen Wilson, Dajuan Harris and Joseph Yusefu to combine with a top-five recruiting class highlighted by 5-star prospects Gradey Dick, MJ Rice and Ernest Udeh.
The Blue Devils’ ranking is based on Duke losing five players early to the NBA Draft – namely Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Mark Williams, Wendell Moore and Trevor Keels. But first-year coach Jon Scheyer has set himself up for success by securing the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, one that includes 5-star prospects Dereck Lively, Kyle Filiiipowski, Dariq Whitehead and Mark Mitchell.
The Volunteers’ ranking is based on Tennessee returning four of its top five scorers – among them Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James. Tennessee will miss one-and-done point guard Kennedy Chandler but should still be a factor near the top of the SEC thanks in part to the addition of five-star forward Julian Phillips.
The Bluejays’ ranking is based on Creighton returning five of the top seven scorers from a team that advanced to the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. The addition of South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman, the reigning Summit League Player of the Year, makes Greg McDermott’s team the clear favorite in the Big East.
The Wolverines’ ranking is based on a returning core of Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate being joined by an incoming class highlighted by Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn and top-40 prospect Jett Howard, the latter of whom was named MVP at the Iverson Classic. Michigan looks like the favorite in the Big Ten.
The Tigers’ ranking is based on Auburn returning four of the top six scorers – among them K.D. Johnson, Wendell Green and Allen Flanigan – from a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That core will be joined by a nice incoming class highlighted by Morehead State transfer Johni Broome and five-star center Yohan Traore.
The Horned Frogs’ ranking is based on TCU returning the top six scorers from a team that played in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament – among them double-digit scorers Mike Miles Jr., Damian Baugh and Emmanuel Miller. That experienced core should have Jamie Dixon’s team competing for what could be TCU’s first Big 12 title.
The Wildcats’ ranking is based on Arizona returning every relevant player from its Pac-12 championship team except for Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Justin Kier. A core of Azuolas Tubelis, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry should keep Tommy Lloyd’s program a part of the national conversation.
The Longhorns’ ranking is based on Texas returning the top two scorers from a team that finished 15th at KenPom – namely Timmy Allen and Marcus Carr, each of whom is using a fifth year of eligibility. Chris Beard is adding to that core a top-15 recruiting class highlighted by five-star prospects Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris.
The Wildcats’ ranking is based on Villanova returning six of the top nine scorers from its Final Four team – among them Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels, both of whom have an extra year of eligibility remaining and could be persuaded to return in part because of an Achilles injury that will likely sideline Justin Moore for the season. Whether new coach Kyle Neptune will actually hold the roster and recruiting class together after Jay Wright’s retirement is unclear, but the assumption is that he will until something happens that suggests he won’t.
The Hoosiers’ ranking is based on Indiana returning the top three scorers from a team that made the NCAA Tournament – among them Trayce Jackson-Davis, who could be a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana’s recruiting class is ranked fifth nationally and highlighted by 5-star prospects Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau.
The Aggies’ ranking is based on Texas A&M returning every relevant player — besides Quenton Jackson — who helped the Aggies make the championship game of the NIT. Buzz Williams made the NCAA Tournament in Year 4 at both Marquette and Virginia Tech and should do the same at Texas A&M.
The Spartans’ ranking is based on Michigan State returning six of the top nine scorers from a team that advanced to the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament – among them Max Christie, who has declared for the NBA Draft but could return to school considering he’s not a projected first-round pick. If Christie is back, the hope would be that he takes a sophomore-year leap similar to the one Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis made this season.
The Rams’ ranking is based on Colorado State’s top three scorers returning – among them Mountain West Conference Play of the Year David Roddy, who has declared for the NBA Draft but could return to school considering there’s no guarantee he’d be selected. With Roddy back, the Rams would be projected to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
The Crimson Tide’s ranking is based on Alabama returning four of its top eight scorers from an NCAA Tournament team – among them Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako. Nate Oats should combine that core with a top-five recruiting class featuring two 5-star prospects and Ohio transfer Mark Sears.
The Boilermakers’ ranking is based on Purdue returning three of the top seven scorers from a team that made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament – among them All-American candidate Zach Edey. Admittedly, that’s not a lot — but Matt Painter deserves the benefit of the doubt based on the consistency with which he runs his program.
The Flyers’ ranking is based on Dayton returning the top five scorers from a team that just missed the NCAA Tournament – among them double-digit scorers Daron Holmes and Toumani Camara. If Anthony Grant can keep his talented freshmen out of the transfer portal, the Flyers’ future is bright in the Atlantic 10.
The Buckeyes’ ranking is based on Zed Key and Justice Sueing returning and being joined by a top-five recruiting class featuring four top-65 prospects. Transfers Sean McNeil (West Virginia), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State) and Tanner Holden (Wright State) will provide Chris Holtmann with a nice trio of veteran newcomers.
The Billikens’ ranking is based on Saint Louis returning four starters – among them backcourt mates Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson – and adding transfer Javon Pickett, who averaged 11.1 points at Missouri last season. SLU is also getting back Javonte Perkins, who led the team in scoring two seasons ago before missing last season with a torn ACL.