Way-Too-Early Top 25: Kentucky's back

Antonio Reeves' return to Kentucky bodes well for John Calipari and the Wildcats in 2023-24. Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

When we last updated the Way-Too-Early top 25 in late June, Kentucky dropping out of the rankings was the biggest storyline. The Wildcats had questions surrounding the status of Antonio Reeves, the health of Aaron Bradshaw, and there was little-to-no experience on the roster, period.

Just a few weeks later, Kentucky is once again the biggest storyline in the updated rankings -- but on the positive side this time. Not only are the Wildcats back in the top 25, they're comfortably inside the top 20 and could rise even more as the summer progresses and feedback from early practices begins to leak.

Reeves is back in the fold, giving John Calipari an experienced perimeter scorer who arguably was Kentucky's best offensive player last season. The Wildcats also added West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell days after he entered the portal. Mitchell has produced at three different colleges already, and gives an inside-outside threat next to Ugonna Onyenso or Bradshaw down low. Speaking of Bradshaw, the long-term status of his injury seems a bit more positive than it was a few weeks ago. It's still unclear when he might play this season, but it's not all doom and gloom anymore.

Calipari now has four top-25 recruits on the perimeter to play alongside Reeves, as well as a reliable frontcourt producer in Mitchell to go with high-ceiling bigs in Onyenso and Bradshaw. The experience is (somewhat) there, the talent is there and the depth is there. Things are looking up in Lexington.

Updated July 5, 2023

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Previous: 1

Kansas jumped to the top spot in the rankings after the return of Kevin McCullar Jr. While the incoming players, most notably Hunter Dickinson, are getting most of the attention so far this offseason, the returning trio of Dajuan Harris Jr., McCullar and K.J. Adams Jr. is what makes the Jayhawks a national championship contender. Harris is one of the elite pass-first guards in the country and a terrific defender, while McCullar is versatile and really defends. Adams' role will change next to Dickinson, but he was one of the breakout stars of last season and should take an even bigger step next season.

Projected starting lineup:

Dajuan Harris Jr. (8.9 PPG)
Nick Timberlake (17.7 PPG at Towson)
Kevin McCullar Jr. (10.7 PPG)
K.J. Adams Jr. (10.6 PPG)
Hunter Dickinson (18.5 PPG at Michigan)

2. Duke Blue Devils

Previous: 2

The Blue Devils rose to the top of the rankings with the return of Kyle Filipowski, who would have been a first-round pick had he entered the NBA draft. But he returned to anchor the frontcourt, while Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell also decided to come back to Durham. Jeremy Roach's decision to head back to the Blue Devils and run the offense makes them the primary competition to Kansas for the No. 1 spot. Jon Scheyer will need one of the wings to step up offensively; Jared McCain could be that guy.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (13.6 PPG)
Tyrese Proctor (9.4 PPG)
Jared McCain (No. 12 in ESPN 100)
Mark Mitchell (9.1 PPG)
Kyle Filipowski (15.1 PPG)

3. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous: 3

Purdue made the biggest rise following the withdrawal deadline, thanks to the return of Zach Edey. The reigning Wooden Award winner took it to the final day but opted to return to West Lafayette, Indiana, where he will once again be the most dominant player in college basketball. Matt Painter now has all five starters back from a team that won both the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament before the stunning upset to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

Projected starting lineup:

Braden Smith (9.7 PPG)
Fletcher Loyer (11.0 PPG)
Ethan Morton (3.8 PPG)
Mason Gillis (6.8 PPG)
Zach Edey (22.3 PPG)

4. Michigan State Spartans

Previous: 4

We really liked Tom Izzo's team entering the offseason, and that was before Tyson Walker and Malik Hall announced they were taking advantage of their extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and returning to East Lansing. Then A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins decided to return to the Spartans after testing the NBA draft waters. Michigan State now has experience and a high-level backcourt, as well as added depth and explosiveness with the arrival of five-star recruits Xavier Booker, Coen Carr and Jeremy Fears.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyson Walker (14.8 PG)
A.J. Hoggard (12.9 PPG)
Jaden Akins (9.8 PPG)
Malik Hall (8.9 PPG)
Xavier Booker (No. 7 in ESPN 100)

5. UConn Huskies

Previous: 5

UConn opened the offseason at No. 1 following its dominant national championship run, then dropped several spots after the departures of Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson to the NBA draft. But Dan Hurley got Tristen Newton back, and also brings in a top-five recruiting class that includes four ESPN 100 prospects. Donovan Clingan is poised for a huge season down low, while Alex Karaban should take on a bigger role offensively. The addition of Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer has boosted the Huskies back into the top five thanks to his experience and high-level shooting ability.

Projected starting lineup:

Tristen Newton (9.9 PPG)
Stephon Castle (No. 15 in ESPN 100)
Cam Spencer (13.2 PPG at Rutgers)
Alex Karaban (9.5 PPG)
Donovan Clingan (7.1 PPG)

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Previous: 6

Tennessee is one of the biggest winners of the offseason, landing Jordan Gainey (South Carolina Upstate), Chris Ledlum (Harvard) and Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado), while also getting All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi and veteran starter Josiah-Jordan James back for another year. The Volunteers should have more perimeter pop than they've had the past few seasons, combined with what should be an elite defense when Zakai Zeigler is healthy.

Projected starting lineup:

Zakai Zeigler (10.7 PPG)
Santiago Vescovi (12.5 PPG)
Dalton Knecht (20.2 PPG at Northern Colorado)
Josiah-Jordan James (10.0 PPG)
Jonas Aidoo (5.1 PPG)

7. Houston Cougars

Previous: 7

With Marcus Sasser a potential first-round pick and Tramon Mark hitting the transfer portal, it seemed like Kelvin Sampson's perimeter group was bound to take a hit. Instead, he went out and landed two of the best guards on the market in Baylor transfer LJ Cryer and Temple transfer Damian Dunn. Jamal Shead is also back after testing the NBA draft waters, and Emanuel Sharp showed flashes of his potential last season. Houston's transition to the Big 12 might be the biggest question mark for the Cougars.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamal Shead (10.5 PPG)
LJ Cryer (15.0 PPG at Baylor)
Emanuel Sharp (5.9 PPG)
Damian Dunn (15.3 PPG at Temple)
J'Wan Roberts (10.0 PPG)

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous: 8

We knew Mark Few would find a way to reload his roster following the departures of Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Malachi Smith -- and he landed three transfers to help offset the losses: Ryan Nembhard (Creighton), Graham Ike (Wyoming) and Steele Venters (Eastern Washington). The Zags also received positive news on deadline day, with Anton Watson deciding to return to Spokane, Washington, for another year up front.

Projected starting lineup:

Ryan Nembhard (12.1 PPG at Creighton)
Nolan Hickman (7.7 PPG)
Steele Venters (15.3 PPG at Eastern Washington)
Anton Watson (11.1 PPG)
Graham Ike (19.5 PPG at Wyoming in 2021-22)

9. Florida Atlantic Owls

Previous: 9

Ranking the Owls ninth in the country might seem lofty, given they were a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament and nearly lost to Memphis in the first round. But this is also a team that won 35 games, made a Final Four run and is bringing back all five starters. It's a testament to Dusty May that he was able to keep the core of this group together, with zero players entering the transfer portal or NBA draft. FAU is stepping up in competition to the AAC, but the Owls will be the favorite to win it in Year 1.

Projected starting lineup:

Bryan Greenlee (7.4 PPG)
Nick Boyd (8.9 PPG)
Johnell Davis (13.9 PPG)
Alijah Martin (13.1 PPG)
Vladislav Goldin (10.3 PPG)

10. Marquette Golden Eagles

Previous: 10

There was minimal roster movement for Marquette for the first two months of the offseason, but then Olivier-Maxence Prosper impressed scouts and NBA teams at the draft combine and opted to stay in the draft. Fortunately for coach Shaka Smart, his most productive bench player last season should slot right into the lineup. David Joplin scored in double figures in three of his final four games and shot 40% from 3 for the season.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyler Kolek (12.9 PPG)
Stevie Mitchell (7.1 PPG)
Kam Jones (15.1 PPG)
David Joplin (9.2 PPG)
Oso Ighodaro (11.4 PPG)

11. Arizona Wildcats

Previous: 11

Arizona was active in the portal and on the international circuit to rebuild its roster, but the Wildcats saved their biggest splash for last -- landing North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, one of the best guards in the portal. He'll team with Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley and returnees Pelle Larsson and Kylan Boswell on the perimeter, while Oumar Ballo will again anchor the interior. San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson should bring defense and toughness.

Projected starting lineup:

Jaden Bradley (6.4 PPG at Alabama)
Caleb Love (16.7 PPG at North Carolina)
Pelle Larsson (9.9 PPG)
Keshad Johnson (7.7 PPG at San Diego State)
Oumar Ballo (14.2 PPG)

12. San Diego State Aztecs

Previous: 12

Brian Dutcher lost a handful of veteran pieces from a team that reached the national championship game, but he brought back four players who saw at least 17 minutes in the title game, including two starters. Lamont Butler and Jaedon LeDee both withdrew from the draft shortly before the deadline, while Darrion Trammell is taking advantage of his extra year. USC transfer Reese Dixon-Waters is an underrated addition, too.

Projected starting lineup:

Darrion Trammell (9.9 PPG)
Lamont Butler (8.7 PPG)
Micah Parrish (7.7 PPG)
Reese Dixon-Waters (9.8 PPG at USC)
Jaedon LeDee (7.8 PPG)

13. Creighton Bluejays

Previous: 13

Greg McDermott had an up-and-down offseason, with starters Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma entering the transfer portal, but Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner all withdrew their names from the NBA draft to return to Omaha, Nebraska. Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth should step into the backcourt, while Mason Miller and Virginia transfer Isaac Traudt should help offset Kaluma's departure.

Projected starting lineup:

Steven Ashworth (16.2 PPG at Utah State)
Baylor Scheierman (12.8 PPG)
Trey Alexander (13.6 PPG)
Mason Miller (2.3 PPG)
Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.9 PPG)

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

Previous: 14

Arkansas was busy on NBA draft deadline day, seeing top recruiting target Ron Holland go to the G League, while retaining Devo Davis and losing Jordan Walsh to the NBA. Eric Musselman's team is absolutely loaded on the perimeter, with Davis and top-30 recruit Layden Blocker joining four experienced transfer guards. If Trevon Brazile is healthy, the frontcourt shouldn't be an issue, either. Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davenport provides a different dimension at power forward.

Projected starting lineup:

Khalif Battle (17.9 PPG at Temple)
Devo Davis (10.9 PPG)
Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG at Houston)
Trevon Brazile (11.8 PPG)
Makhi Mitchell (7.0 PPG)

15. North Carolina Tar Heels

Previous: 15

Hubert Davis started the offseason with two anchors: R.J. Davis at one guard spot and Armando Bacot down low. He then went out and surrounded those two returning stars with intriguing complementary players. Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan is a veteran shooter, while Harrison Ingram from Stanford is a versatile wing. Then top-10 2024 prospect Elliot Cadeau opted to reclassify and suit up for the Tar Heels this fall. He's a truly elite passer and playmaker who could have the ball in his hands from day one.

Projected starting lineup:

Elliot Cadeau (No. 10 in ESPN 100)
R.J. Davis (16.1 PPG)
Cormac Ryan (12.3 PPG at Notre Dame)
Harrison Ingram (10.5 PPG at Stanford)
Armando Bacot (15.9 PPG)

16. Villanova Wildcats

Previous: 16

After Villanova missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, Kyle Neptune clearly wanted to avoid a repeat entering the second season of his coaching tenure. The Wildcats had as much success in the transfer portal as any team in the country, landing TJ Bamba (Washington State), Hakim Hart (Maryland) and Tyler Burton (Richmond), while also returning veteran stalwarts Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. The starting five is as experienced and proven as you'll find in the Big East.

Projected starting lineup:

Justin Moore (13.5 PPG)
TJ Bamba (15.8 PPG at Washington State)
Hakim Hart (11.4 PPG at Maryland)
Tyler Burton (19.0 PPG at Richmond)
Eric Dixon (15.4 PPG)

17. Kentucky Wildcats

Previous: Unranked

While questions remain over the experience and youth of this season's squad, there are no doubts about the talent level in Lexington. In ESPN's 2024 mock draft, released late last month, the Wildcats have two of the four highest-ranked college players (Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner) and five players (Edwards, Wagner, Ugonna Onyenso, Aaron Bradshaw, Robert Dillingam) ranked inside the top 40 overall. If the newcomers can get on the same page, Calipari is spoiled for options.

Projected starting lineup:

D.J. Wagner (No. 4 in ESPN 100)
Antonio Reeves (14.4 PPG)
Justin Edwards (No. 3 in ESPN 100)
Tre Mitchell (11.7 PPG at West Virginia)
Ugonna Onyenso (2.5 PPG)

18. Miami Hurricanes

Previous: 17

Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both tested the NBA draft waters but opted to return to Coral Gables, Florida. Those two will form one of the best inside-outside duos in the ACC next season. Jim Larranaga also replaced Jordan Miller with an ACC-proven forward in Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland, who should add more rebounding and paint production. The Hurricanes are still in the hunt for another guard to help fill Isaiah Wong's shoes.

Projected starting lineup:

Nijel Pack (13.8 PPG)
Wooga Poplar (8.7 PPG)
Bensley Joseph (5.2 PPG)
Matthew Cleveland (13.8 PPG at Florida State)
Norchad Omier (13.3 PPG)

19. Texas A&M Aggies

Previous: 19

Will the Aggies pick up where they left off in the second half of 2022-23, when they won 19 of 22 games before falling in the SEC championship game and the first round of the NCAA tournament? Having Wade Taylor IV back to run the show is a huge plus, while Buzz Williams also has three other returning starters after Tyrece Radford decided to come back. Dexter Dennis is the lone starter leaving, but transfers Jace Carter (UIC) and Eli Lawrence (Middle Tennessee) will help replace him.

Projected starting lineup:

Wade Taylor IV (16.3 PPG)
Tyrece Radford (13.3 PPG)
Jace Carter (16.6 PPG at UIC)
Henry Coleman III (9.0 PPG)
Julius Marble (9.1 PPG)

20. Baylor Bears

Previous: 20

Scott Drew is essentially starting from scratch on the perimeter, with Keyonte George and Adam Flagler entering the NBA draft and LJ Cryer transferring to Houston. But he's bringing in two impact freshmen in Ja'Kobe Walter and Miro Little and welcomes back Langston Love. The Bears also landed two high-level transfers in RayJ Dennis (Toledo) and Jayden Nunn (VCU). Jalen Bridges' return to Waco was important for Drew; he could be poised for a breakout campaign in the frontcourt.

Projected starting lineup:

RayJ Dennis (19.5 PPG at Toledo)
Jayden Nunn (9.3 PPG at VCU)
Ja'Kobe Walter (No. 14 in ESPN 100)
Jalen Bridges (10.3 PPG)
Josh Ojianwuna (4.2 PPG)

21. USC Trojans

Previous: 21

Despite the transfer decisions of Tre White and Reese Dixon-Waters, USC will have one of the best backcourts in the country after the addition of Bronny James. Isaiah Collier is the top-ranked recruit in the country, and he'll be running the show, while Boogie Ellis is an all-conference player and the team's leading scorer. James will be a terrific third option offensively, someone who can make open shots and be a secondary ball handler while also guarding opponents at the other end.

Projected starting lineup:

Isaiah Collier (No. 1 in ESPN 100)
Boogie Ellis (17.7 PPG)
Bronny James (No. 19 in ESPN 100)
Kobe Johnson (9.2 PPG)
Joshua Morgan (7.0 PPG)

22. Alabama Crimson Tide

Previous: 18

The roster machinations have not slowed in Tuscaloosa. After an NBA draft withdrawal deadline that saw Jahvon Quinerly and Mark Sears return but Charles Bediako depart, Quinerly then opted to enter the transfer portal. Nate Oats responded by landing North Dakota State transfer Grant Nelson and five-star big man Jarin Stevenson -- and is still in pursuit of more players in the portal. The Tide will be heavily reliant on transfers and could still use another player up front.

Projected starting lineup:

Aaron Estrada (20.2 PPG at Hofstra)
Mark Sears (12.5 PPG)
Latrell Wrightsell Jr., (16.3 PPG at Cal State Fullerton)
Grant Nelson (17.9 PPG at North Dakota State)
Nick Pringle (3.5 PPG)

23. Saint Mary's Gaels

Previous: 22

Randy Bennett received great news early in the offseason when Alex Ducas announced he was returning for another season. The Gaels now have three key returnees to build around next season: Ducas, Aidan Mahaney and Mitchell Saxen. Mahaney could become a household name with another year. The Gaels also brought back Augustas Marciulionis and welcome four-star guard Jordan Ross and Harvard transfer Mason Forbes.

Projected starting lineup:

Jordan Ross (four-star)
Aidan Mahaney (13.9 PPG)
Augustas Marciulionis (5.9 PPG)
Alex Ducas (12.5 PPG)
Mitchell Saxen (11.6 PPG)

24. Texas Longhorns

Previous: 24

Rodney Terry did an incredible job taking over for Chris Beard last season, guiding the Longhorns to 29 wins, a Big 12 conference tournament title and an Elite Eight appearance. But now comes the reloading process. Texas brings back Tyrese Hunter at point guard and landed Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas, one of the premier scorers in college basketball. Dillon Mitchell taking a step forward will be the key, although top-50 recruit and former Kansas commit Chris Johnson provides another option.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyrese Hunter (10.3 PPG)
Max Abmas (21.9 PPG at Oral Roberts)
Dillon Mitchell (4.3 PPG)
Dylan Disu (8.8 PPG)
Kadin Shedrick (6.2 PPG at Virginia)

25. Colorado Buffaloes

Previous: 23

We're projecting Colorado to make a big jump from the inconsistent NIT team it was this past season. The Buffaloes showed their potential in a win over Tennessee and a blowout victory over Texas A&M but couldn't do it on a regular basis. With Tad Boyle adding potential lottery pick Cody Williams and TCU transfer Eddie Lampkin Jr. to KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva, though, they should be much improved in 2023-24. Offense is the key. Colorado ranked second in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency, but just 10th at the other end of the floor.

Projected starting lineup:

KJ Simpson (15.9 PPG)
Julian Hammond III (6.9 PPG)
Cody Williams (No. 7 in ESPN 100)
Tristan da Silva (15.9 PPG)
Eddie Lampkin Jr. (6.3 PPG at TCU)

Dropped out:

Wisconsin Badgers (No. 25)

Next in line:

Wisconsin Badgers
Florida Gators
St. John's Red Storm
Auburn Tigers
Kansas State Wildcats