College basketball rankings: Preseason countdown of every team continues with Nos. 200-69 for 2021-22 season
This is the stage where things start to get controversial. The unveiling of part two of my preseason rankings spans the widest range: Nos. 69-200. This is the only portion of the three where all 32 conferences are represented. At the top, we have prime candidates to prove me wrong and work their way to the NCAA Tournament. On the back end, some small-league secrets that you should know more about now.
There’s at least a dozen quality mid-major teams you’ll find below that will wind up having real Cinderella hopes six months from now. You’ll also find a bevy of power-conference teams that aren’t meeting expectations. This is the part of the 1-358 that brings the most variety. It also prompts the most anger; many of you are not going to be happy with where I’ve placed your favorite team. Know this: every school was gently placed in its spot with the kindest of intentions. I gotta put all these schools in there somewhere, somehow.
As a reminder, my rankings are put together each year by the most romantic of concoctions: I call and text a whole bunch of coaches, check in on what I need to know about the leagues, cross-reference roster attrition, look at how leagues historically shake out, toss it in a pot, add four dashes of pepper, two pinches of salt, and voila. Weeks of self-loathing later, here we are! My children once again get to see their father.
Thursday will bring the top 68. Before we can know those, let’s learn about the horde of schools that will open the season in shouting distance of the best teams in college basketball.
• READ MORE OF NORLANDER’S RANKINGS: 201-358
69. NC State: A little bit better on 2-point field goals, a little bit better from 3-point range, a little bit better from the foul line and a healthy Manny Bates will get the Wolfpack into the bubble conversation. Jericole Hellems — as a guy who will run the offense — needs to avoid his foul-trouble tendencies to keep the Pack relevant.
70. Miami: 72-year-old Jim Larrañaga is owed a full season with as much health for his team as possible. Miami hasn’t caught many breaks in the past five years. The Hurricanes have one of the most underrated power-conference point guards in Isaiah Wong and also return a fun ACC baller in Kameron McGusty. Charlie Moore — who honestly feels like he’s on his sixth team in 10 seasons — will wrap his college career with the U.
71. Dayton: Everyone of consequence from the 29-2 team two years ago has moved on but that doesn’t mean the Flyers can’t angle for a Big Dance bid. I don’t know where the predictive metrics will have UD in the preseason, but I think it’s a safe guess to say I’ll be at least 25 spots more generous here. I’m trusting Anthony Grant.
72. Drake: There was a push for the Bulldogs to earn an at-large bid following a 25-4 season; the committee rewarded Darian DeVries’ team. Drake gets Roman Penn and Tank Hemphill back — that’s enough for me to slot this Valley fan fave into the No. 2 hole in the conference. DeVries’ son, Tucker, a freshman, was the best high school player in Iowa last year.
73. Stanford: The Cardinal had a wonderful opportunity for a good 2020-21, but COVID-19 mandates in Stanford’s county and some strife on the roster prevented that team from approaching its ceiling. This group will again be forced to tough out wins via its defense and that process begins with Spencer Jones and France-born C Maxime Raynaud. On offense, everything trickles down from Harrison Engram’s production.
74. Boise State: The Broncos petered in the ninth inning of last season, losing enough games to kick them out of the NCAA Tournament conversation. This group, overall, will be of similar caliber but hopefully it can close better. By the way, this story about Leon Rice helping out a man who was a vocal critic of Rice’s on social media was one of the best things I’ve read this month.
75. VCU: The Rams made the NCAAs, only to have a couple of players test positive for COVID-19 and wind up as the only team to lose the opportunity to compete. Then Bones Hyland went early to the NBA Draft — and got picked 26th. Unfortunately, Jamir Watkins (7.2 ppg) will not play this season after he tore his ACL in the first week of practice. What’s the good news? This team is still wicked tough and still coached by Mike Rhoades.
76. Louisiana Tech: One of the biggest offseason bounces to any college player went to Kenneth Lofton Jr., who was a BEAST (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 65% FG) playing for Team USA’s U19 team. Lofton’s a load now, coming in around 6-foot-7 and 285. He’ll be a cult hero for college hoops hardcores — and should win C-USA Player of the Year.
77. Ohio: Had Jason Preston come back, Ohio would’ve had a case as a top-50 team. Instead Jeff Boals will have Mark Sears step into Preston’s role at the point. He’s got potential. The Bobcats’ new alpha, though, will be boomerang transfer Jason Carter, who came back after a year away. They also still have likely All-MAC honoree Ben Vander Plas.
78. Oregon State: We won’t forget about the Beavers, who made the Elite Eight from the No. 12 line and return super-seniors Warithe Alatishe, Maurice Calloo and Roman Silva. But it’s junior guard Jarod Lucas who is the centerpiece. This team started 10-10 and then went 10-3 to end the season.
79. Ole Miss: Seven new faces for Kermit Davis in Oxford, including former Duke big Jaemyn Brakefield. There’s a lot of excitement around McDonald’s All-American point guard Daeshun Ruffin, plus Jarkel Joiner is the leading returning scorer for the wild card team in the SEC.
80. UAB: A more-than-satisfactory first season with Andy Kennedy (22-7) has the Blazers aligned to be a top-three Conference USA club. Kennedy added six transfers — Tulane’s Jordan Walker should pop — and returns his top four players.
81. Liberty: Darius McGhee, a 5-9 dynamo, is the reigning ASUN Player of the Year. He sank 39.7% of his 3-pointers for a No. 13 seed that returns three starters and probably has the best freshmen class in the conference.
82. Arizona State: After some thoughtful deliberation, Marcus Bagley wound up being one of the surprise returnees to college basketball. He is going to need to be a 16-and-10 guy to give the Sun Devils a chance at making the NCAAs. Toledo transfer Marreon Jackson will be tossed into the fire, but he proved it a level below with averages of 18.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season.
83. Butler: The Bulldogs haven’t had consecutive sub-.500 seasons since 1990, and I don’t think that streak stops because there will be seven seniors playing, led by Bryce Nze and Aaron Thompson taking advantage of that bonus year. Unfortunately, Bo Hodges has a left knee tibial plateau fracture that’s going to keep him out until December.
84. Penn State: Eight new faces and seven returning ones for first-year coach Micah Shrewsberry, who is going to inject more optimism and appeal into the PSU program than ever before. Myles Dread and Sam Sessoms sticking around for one more tour will keep the Nittany Lions competitive in a year of enthusiastic transition.
85. Western Kentucky: Maryland transfer Jairus Hamilton is a nice bonus. The Hilltoppers also have the nation’s tallest player, 7-5 Jamarion Sharp. He plays point guard. Kidding. Sharp is new to D-I after spending the past two in junior college, where he averaged 5.8 blocks. Over/under 4.0 per game this season?
86. Kansas State: Nijel Pack (12.7 ppg) is the head of the snake on a roster that didn’t lose a ton despite going 9-20. Is that a good thing? This was a moldy offensive unit a year ago, and Bruce Weber will need to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid to hold on to his job.
87. UC Irvine: When Russell Turner’s team hits an in-game lull this season, there’s only one thing to say: Welp. Senior Anteater Collin Welp is the best player back for the best Big West team across the past three seasons, and that could be true again in 2021-22 — but there will be a good tussle at the top of the standings.
88. Yale: Welcome back, Ivy League hoops. No games last season in this league, so there will be a bit of mystery as to how the conference ledger shakes out into February. I will go slightly against the grain and pick the Elis, as I think Azar Swain will average nearly 20 points and be the Ivy League’s player of the year.
89. New Mexico State: No-brainer WAC bully once more, since Clayton Henry, Donnie Tillman and Johnny McCants all came back for the bonus year. It was a down season for the Aggies in 2020-21, but this is the best of a 13-team WAC.
90. Missouri: The anfractuous nature of Missouri under Cuonzo Martin looks like it’s leading to another season with the Tigers finishing between 16 and 20 wins. Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett are solid players, but in a bolstered SEC it’s hard to see Mizzou in the bubble conversation come March.
91. Wright State: Can the Raiders make up for being upset in their first league tournament game? Horizon League coaches trust Scott Nagy will replace lumberjack Loudon Love. It will be an intriguing mid-major to follow because the approach/scheme should be markedly different this year.
92. Loyola Marymount: I’m ready to declare 2021-22 as the best season for the WCC in league history. The Lions probably make the NIT thanks to super-senior wing Eli Scott and the man with the best mojo in all of college basketball, Keli Leaupepe. Look at this majesticness.
93. Rhode Island: Look for Jalen Carey to have the kind of season he was expected to have last season (but did not), since Fatts Russell has moved on. URI isn’t likely to be an NCAA Tournament team, but this program is still maintaining a healthy pulse under fourth-year coach David Cox.
94. Washington: A mortifyingly vexing team a year ago, UW went 5-21, so Mike Hopkins did what he had to do and shook up his staff and the roster. This is a hot-seat situation, so Hopkins will rely on Stanford transfer Daejon Davis, West Virginia transfer Emmitt Matthews and Arizona transfer Terrell Brown to help out key returnee Jamal Bey.
95. UC Santa Barbara: The trendy No. 12 seed from last season’s Big Dance came within a basket of upsetting Creighton in the first round. Who are these Gauchos, amigo? Bigs Amadou Sow and Miles Norris are the starters back for the team most likely to tussle with UC Irvine again for the Big West crown.
96. Georgetown: The Hoyas winning the Big East Tournament with an 8 next to their name was one of the special surprises of last season. Then came a prompt trouncing at the hands of Colorado in the NCAAs. Patrick Ewing has his best recruiting class yet, but I’m expecting regular season results similar to the .500 team of 2020-21. Losing Qudus Wahab to Maryland (of all places) was a blow.
97. Furman: If Bob Richey’s younger guys can adapt as quickly as the teams he’s had the past three seasons, then the Paladins will be the top team in the SoCon. Richey has embraced a lot of next-next-level analytics and it’s helped him build one of the better mid-majors. Mike Bothwell is a physical guard who scores with an array of moves.
98. Chattanooga: It’s probably going to the Furman or these Mocs that take the SoCon. Lamont Paris has one of the better mid-major guards in Malachi Smith: 16.8 points, 8.8 boards, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 40% from 3-point range in 23 games last season.
99. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have already seen 12 players who — at some point in the past two years — committed to play for Fred Hoiberg but then decided to transfer. The program needs a bit more stability, but I do like the potential of Alonzo Verge and Trey McGowens.
100. Davidson: Whereas so many teams were helped this year because of the free bonus season afforded to every student-athlete, Bob McKillop’s program was hindered because Davidson does not have a graduate school. Ergo: leading scorer Kellan Grady had to leave (he’s at Kentucky). These Wildcats will have a hassle of a frontcourt to defend, though, as three players (6-7, 6-9, 6-10) will be shooting from the perimeter.
101. Morehead State: The No. 2 OVC team (with the best collection of forwards) heading into the season. Johni Broome led this program to last season’s NCAA Tournament. If he can handle being a marked man on a nightly basis, Morehead State will be in for a 20-win year.
102. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have a top-40 player in Scotty Pippen Jr. That’s a nice place to start. Landing swatter/center Liam Robbins (via Drake, then Minnesota) could be intriguing. It’s key for the backcourt of Jordan Wright and Rodney Chatman (previously at Dayton) to click. If so, that’s how Vandy can be the surprise of the SEC.
103. Utah: Enigmatic group in Craig Smith’s first season in Salt Lake City. The players who were meaningful have left; the Utes lost more than 75% of their offense. If there’s one guy who has a window to pop, it’s David Jenkins, who was a stud at South Diego State, had a stopover with UNLV, and decided to stay out West. Wing Both Gach also boomerangs back to where his career began.
104. Vermont: The Catamounts will probably not be as offensively imposing in the America East the way they’ve been for most of John Becker’s run as head coach, but this is still the deepest team with the best big in the conference — 6-8 power forward Ryan Davis — and the toughest fortified perimeter.
105. Marquette: Shaka Smart is laser-focused to prove he can get back to a Final Four with a program crafted in his image. The Golden Eagles were able to hold on to some recruits Steve Wojciechowski landed, but the top guy in Milwaukee is expected to be Maryland grad transfer Darryl Morsell, who’d I’d tab as third team All-Big East heading into the year.
106. Southern Utah: This was a 20-3 team that got knocked out in the Big Sky tournament by inferior Montana State. If you haven’t been in that big spot with the pressure on, sometimes college guys don’t know how to compose themselves. The Thunderbirds have a lot back, though, and need to be No. 1 heading into the season.
107. South Dakota State: Eric Henderson’s done well for himself after getting this job a few years back. The Jackrabbits return 10 scholarship players, which will be mega in the Summit League when going up against North Dakota State and Oral Roberts. Leading scorer Baylor Scheierman will lead an electric shooting team that ranked second nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.9%).
108. Pitt: Jeff Capel continues to grind at a program still in search of getting back to national relevance. The Panthers lost some really talented guys (Justin Champagnie, Xavier Johnson, Au’Diese Toney), but maybe they’ll be better off as a collective this season. Very much wait-and-see in the Steel City.
109. Harvard: I’ve got the Yalies and Hah-vud separated by 21 spots in my rankings, but the difference in that conference will be minimal. Noah Kirkwood, Chris Ledlum and Mason Forbes will form the best triumvirate in the Ivy League. In the Time Flies Dept.: This is Tommy Amaker’s 15th season with the Crimson.
110. Toledo: Rockets G/F Ryan Rollins makes the short list of best freshmen a year ago from outside the power conferences. He might jump from 32% to 40% in 3-point accuracy. This team has some injury setbacks heading into November, but it’s at worst the No. 4 team in the MAC.
111. Northern Iowa: The Panthers have wonderful news in that A.J. Green — who might be the best player in the Valley when he’s at 100% — is indeed at 100% after suffering a hip injury in December 2020. The Valley should have a compelling top half, with UNI trotting as a dark horse.
112. Colgate: Had ‘Gate been able to retain Jordan Burns — elite Patriot League guy — I’d have this team inside the top 100. Still, the Raiders’ next eight best scorers are back. This team only lost two scholarship players. High-quality mid-major. Nelly Cummings will step into the role of being an all-league guy. Jack Ferguson will try to shoot 51% from 3-point range again (LOL).
113. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons lost their final eight games last season. Steve Forbes won’t let that stand. Best player? Kinda looks like it’ll be Indiana State transfer Jake LaRavia, and if not him, Wake vet point guard Daivien Williamson. The jump for this team comes next year.
114. Missouri State: The coaches in the Valley know that Missouri State — again — has the talent to do something that rattles every team’s cage. The question is if Dana Ford can keep his team together from November through March. With Gaige Prim and Isiaih Mosley back from a 17-7 club, this team should get four or five more wins than last season.
115. Georgia: The SEC will have a lot of appeal at the top, but as you can see there will be teams likely nowhere near the NIT conversation. Tom Crean figures to have one of the least-talented details in the league, though important returnee P.J. Horne will likely average 17 or 18 a night.
Buzz Williams’ Texas A&M program is 24-24 through two seasons under his watch.
116. Texas A&M: Rebuild isn’t taking so quickly. Buzz Williams has won in the past without having a player on the roster who projects as a preseason first, second or third team all-league guy. He’ll need to do that in ’21-22. Who will be the step-up guy? Sophomore Andre Gordon seems like the safest pick.
117. Georgia State: Super-senior Corey Allen will be the Panthers’ main fuel on offense, but the defensive potential and sure-fire rebounding prowess of Eliel Nsoseme (No. 5 in offensive rebound rate nationally) is what will make GSU a prominent threat to win the Sun Belt for the third time in four years.
118. North Dakota State: NDSU returns its top eight players, so there’s a realistic chance I’m undershooting this team’s ceiling by 30 spots. The two best are Rocky Kreuser (absolute hoss with an absolute hoss’ name) and Sam Griesel (canny combo guard with a name out of “Mad Men”).
119. California: This was a 9-20 team and Cal lost its alpha, Matt Bradley, to San Diego State. Mark Fox has plenty of leash left, but to stabilize the long-term trajectory of the program this really needs to be the final year Cal is comfortably forecast outside the top 80-90 teams in college basketball.
120. TCU: The Froggies get a nice addition from the portal in former TTU forward/local product Micah Peavy. Three others arrived via Texas A&M and UT Arlington. Too many question marks to say if this group can dodge the bottom two spots of the Big 12.
121. UMass: The Minutemen won’t have a player on this year’s roster who’s as talented as Tre Mitchell (off to Texas), but I have little doubt this team will be improved. Matt McCall has needed five seasons to truly arrange a roster he feels is the one that is his, how he wants it, through and through. This is that group.
122. Cincinnati: New coach Wes Miller will need one year to work out some kinks, get his system in place, and by the middle of ’22-23 we’ll see Cincinnati back in the top 80. Get this: Cincy has the No. 1 and No. 2 active shot-block leaders in men’s D-I on its roster: UNCG transfer Hayden Koval (337) and Mississippi State transfer Abdul Ado (249). Some sultans looming around the rim.
123. Kent State: The Golden Flashes will be a worthy test for pretty much everyone they face, and since Rob Senderoff has bulked up with down-transfers from Georgia, Vanderbilt, Duquesne and Rhode Island, the locker room should be populated with pragmatic players who now understand how their skill sets can best be utilized to better their college experience.
124. Santa Clara: Herb Sendek has six good contributors back from last season, so the Broncos are expected to have enough to pick real fights with the likes of Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount. But only one player on the roster a season ago managed an ORtg above 100, and the one who did (Miguel Tomley) was at 100.6.
125. James Madison: I’ve got a cluster of CAA teams in this vicinity. Some in this conference think JMU, with four starters back, is the team to beat. If that winds up being prophecy, the Dukes will make their second NCAA Tournament since 1994.
126. Murray State: Expect a bounce-back season for the Racers, who limped along to a 13-13 campaign. Coach Matt McMahon has a deep group that has two first team all-OVC studs in K.J. Williams (15.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Tevin Brown (14.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg). A four-game losing streak to Belmont is a thorn in this team’s side.
127. North Texas: Take note: Grant McCasland has been a head coach since 2016, and every year with the exception of one season his team has outperformed their preseason KenPom ranking. The Mean Green return two starters and six scholarship players from the group that made last season’s NCAAs. Thomas Bell will be the MVP here; he’s the team’s best scorer and defender.
128. Mercer: The Bears are moving along as expected under former Purdue assistant Greg Gary, who won 18 games last season and reached the league’s championship game. Look for Felipe Haase to continue his ascent as a mismatch menace in the SoCon.
129. South Carolina: Make-or-break season for Frank Martin, it seems like. The Gamecocks haven’t had an NCAA Tournament team since the 2017 group that made the Final Four, and now USC will try to scrape through the SEC with nine newcomers. Keyshawn Bryant’s decision to come back was a mammoth one.
130. Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels enter the ASUN and have a tasty opportunity to rattle the cages of the programs in that league. Liberty is the understandable favorite, but heading into November there’s no stronger contender for No. 2 than A.W. Hamilton’s cast, which was second nationally in tempo last season (74.8 possessions per game).
131. DePaul: Dave Leitao’s second go of it at DePaul ended the way most expected it would, so it’s Tony Stubblefield’s chance to build something relevant in Chicago. The former Oregon assistant (who waited almost 30 years for this opportunity) will lean on zestful guard Javon Freeman-Liberty for this inevitably bumpy debut season.
132. Akron: Some faith in John Groce here, as he loses (easily) his No. 1 guy, Loren Christian Jackson. But expect Akron to go 10-deep and be guided by Bryan Trimble (a high-volume 3-point taker) and Ali Ali (among the best defenders in the MAC, right there with teammate Enrique Freeman).
133. Marshall: If you’re the kind of fan who loves to dig for under-the-radar gems who could one day wind up sticking in the NBA, the Thundering Herd has a guy for ya. Taevion Kinsey averaged 19.5 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, with an offensive rating of 119.2. I’ll be making a case for him to crack the back end of our Top 100 (And 1) College Basketball Players list.
134. Wofford: There’s a palpable sense in the SoCon that the Terriers have top-three potential even though they lost the valuable Storm Murphy to former coach Mike Young (at Virginia Tech). Nearly 52% of this team’s attempts last season came from 3-point range, which was the highest rate in the sport.
135. Drexel: Early reports out of Philly have this club with a higher shooting ceiling and a better defensive mindset. Go-to guy: Cam Wynter, who has improved yearly from 33 to 36 to 42% as a 3-point shooter. Dragons fact: starting five in last season’s CAA title game had fewer than 10 combined scholarship offers coming out of high school.
136. Northeastern: Bill Coen almost always has a competitive CAA team, but one of the most obvious questions in this league is: What does Northeastern’s personality become without Tyson Walker? The hard-nosed, 6-foot point guard is now playing for Tom Izzo.
137. Temple: Khalif Battle and Damian Dunn are a fine AAC backcourt tandem, but the truth is Temple’s fan base is understandably becoming unsettled with the program’s stagnancy. The Owls borderline-need to prove me wrong and get back to being a top-100 team. Philly deserves a second winner outside of Nova.
138. Winthrop: Mark Prosser got this job after going 37-53 in three seasons at Western Carolina. Pat Kelsey (now at Charleston) left him in a good spot; Winthrop should be the best of the Big South (again). We’ll see how Prosser does at one of the best mid-major jobs on the East Coast.
139. Iona: Rick Pitino’s team played 18 games, made the NCAAs in his first tour as Iona coach and finished No. 175 at KenPom. There was no circumstance in which I was putting Pitino’s team outside the top 140. With 18 wins this season, he’ll unofficially hit 800 career college Ws … but 123 of those have been wiped off the books, so when he gets to 800, the official record will reflect 677.
140. Pepperdine: Your reigning CBI champs, baby. It’s nearly impossible for a mid-major program to lose its all-time leader in points and assists and not take a hit. So it will likely go for the Waves, who paddle forward without Colbey Ross.
141. Cleveland State: Dennis Gates through two seasons: 30-29, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a gargantuan turnaround of a program that averaged 10 wins the prior four years. He was heavily rumored to leave for a bigger job, but that didn’t materialize. Gates is fully invested in this Vikings program and CSU is trending up.
142. Appalachian State: Seems like the Sun Belt is going to take a collective step forward, and a team like App State speaks to that. Dustin Kerns took this team to the NCAA Tournament and will welcome back three starters, the most vital among them super-senior lead guard Justin Forrest.
Max Abmas led the nation in scoring last season (24.6) then put up 80 points in three tournament games.
143. Oral Roberts: The coach (Paul Mills) didn’t leave for a bigger job and the best player/nation’s leading scorer (Max Abmas) didn’t leave for a bigger school or the NBA Draft (which he easily could have done). The Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament will enter the season nationally relevant. Why this low? Kevin Obanor left for Texas Tech, and ORU was a No. 4 seed in the Summit tourney before magic struck.
144. Fresno State: So many teams had a rough go with COVID issues. Fresno State is near the top of that list, as it lost nearly 30 days on the schedule between practice and games. A couple of coaches I talked with said this team could be as good as No. 4 in the league … but also could finish eighth. I’m trying to split the difference.
145. Bowling Green: Three guys who averaged at least 10 points return, the No. 1 option being potential first team all-leaguer Daeqwon Plowden. MAC Sixth Man of the Year Trey Diggs will increase his usage, too. Wild-card team in a quality mid-major league.
146. Weber State: Randy Rahe has a lot back from a three-loss conference team, including the Big Sky’s best freshman (Dillon Jones). I don’t have the Wildcats ranked No. 1 in the conference going in, but I suspect the other coaches are anticipating this will be the toughest out in the league bracket in March.
147. Bradley: Not quite experienced enough as a group to truly qualify as a Missouri Valley dark horse. The Braves were one of the abysmal teams at drawing fouls last season, so expect a huge change in behavior — because Brian Wardle’s teams are normally not contact-averse or 3-point-reliant.
148. Iowa State: T.J. Otzelberger takes over a program that lost 18 straight to close a dreadful campaign. The Cyclones will never be worse under the man they call Otz than this season. Rocky season ahead in Ames. The future is Tyrese Hunter, a point guard who can maybe ultimately be as game-changing as another recent ISU Tyrese: Haliburton.
149. New Orleans: Hurricane Ida displaced UNO for weeks (as my colleague Gary Parrish chronicled here). Mark Slessinger’s team will have earned it if indeed UNO winds up being the top team in the Southland. Troy Green (15.4 ppg) is in his sixth season of college basketball and will be a monster player for the Privateers.
150. Tulsa: Frank Haith will be all too pleased to see where I’ve picked his Golden Hurricane team. Haith’s been a head coach since 2004 and has never finished this low (150) at KenPom. (Lowest: 144 in 2017.) Word is this team will probably have to win games in a first-to-65 style, and that doesn’t bode well in the big picture.
151. Grand Canyon: The Antelopes’ program might be on a mid-major rocket. Bryce Drew got GCU to the 2021 NCAA Tournament in his first year. Now comes a test. Only one starter is back and this team, on paper, does not come close to looking like the league champ. GCU does boast the best homecourt advantage in the conference, though. We shall see.
152. UTEP: Joe Golding’s new spot after taking Abilene Christian to the second round as a No. 14 seed. This sure seems like a nice fit for him. The Miners have only made three NCAA tourneys since 1993. In fact, UTEP hasn’t made two NCAA Tournaments with one coach since the legendary Don Haskins went to eight Dances in a nine-year span (1984-92).
153. Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks bring back more players than any other MAC team besides Ohio. They’ll be led by Dae Dae Grant and Dalonte Brown, who should combine for more than 30 points nightly. See you in the MAC semis?
154. Texas State: The Bobcats’ three best scorers are back on campus (Mason Harrell, Caleb Asberry, Isiah Small). That’s tremendous for Terrence Johnson, who was rightly promoted after guiding the Bobcats to 18-7 and coaching up a group that shot 39.4% from 3-point range — No. 6 nationally.
155. Minnesota: Ben Johnson was the surprise hire in March. The Gophers alum could prove to be a savvy choice if he can recruit the territory he knows as well, or better, than any other candidate who interviewed. Minnesota is universally expected to be the worst Big Ten team; Johnson doesn’t have one player getting minutes who played for the Gophers a season ago.
156. Brown: How many head coaches out of 358 in a given season can confidently and truthfully, in their heart of hearts, say to themselves they are about to coach the best team they’ve ever coached? Is it 30? Less than that? Brown’s Mike Martin should be one of them. Ivy sleeper!
157. Campbell: Winthrop, Radford and UNC Asheville have run much of the Big South for the past seven seasons. Campbell’s had some moments but not yet broken through. The Camels have five seniors back from the best shooting (and worst rebounding) team in the conference.
158. Louisiana: Let’s take a minute to praise Bob Marlin, as he’s not only been the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns since 2010, he was at Sam Houston State for 12 seasons before that. He’s won 60% of his games at the low-major level, mostly in obscurity. Nothing but respect for a 62-year-old dude with a name fit for the Florida Keys, who’s embraced up-tempo ball his whole career.
159. Navy: Gonna ride with what last season showed us. This team went 15-2 in the regular season, then had players forced to sit for COVID contact-tracing and lost its first league tourney game. Seems like it’s one of the top three in the Patriot again.
160. Old Dominion: The Monarchs have a blossoming interior duo in Austin Trice and Kalu Ezikpe. If those two can continue to be reliable in the paint on both ends, and if ODU can jump from 29.4% 3-point shooting to 34% then the Monarchs will be 20-30 spots better than where I’ve got ’em here.
161. Duquesne: A mystery novel. The Dukes lost 10 of their top 12 guys, prompting a rebuild and likely slotting them in the bottom third of the Atlantic 10. At least the shiny-new UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse will finally get its public debut.
162. Seattle: The Redhawks are a guaranteed problem in the WAC. All five starters back, led by Darrion Trammell, who dropped 20.5 points per night last season. Program hasn’t made the Big Dance since ’69, but there’s a remote shot at it in ’22.
163. Southern Illinois: Bryan Mullins’ four-guard offense will return to form, as Marcus Domask is back after a stress reaction in his left foot. The Salukis stumbled without the dynamic wing, going 5-13 in league play. Lance Jones also can ball a bit.
164. East Tennessee State: Third coach in three years. Jason Shay — who inherited the gig from former coach Steve Forbes — was basically pushed out following some political upheaval. (It got needlessly ugly.) Now Desmond Oliver (former Tennessee assistant) gets his shot.
165. Tulane: The Green Wave could be a top-four defensive unit in the American, so long as that flexible zone look continues to pay dividends. We’ll see. Jaylen Forbes averaged 16.4 points last season but he’ll need a squad to help out with shooting if this team is going to creep up into the top 125 or so.
166. George Mason: One of the youngest head coaches in D-I is 33-year-old Kim English, who got this job in March. English is hoping to restore some glory to GMU — and it sure helps that they’re going back to the 2006 Final Four unis. Name to know is D’Shawn Schwartz, who has high-major talent and will vie for first team status in the A-10.
167. Princeton: Had one Ivy coach tell me I was off by slotting the Tigers worse than second in the conference. My approach is that this league will give us some fun unpredictability. It’s great for the Ivy (but not for Ivy foes) that Tiger Jaelin Llewellyn returns to run the show.
168. UNLV: Kevin Kruger’s team is the most mystifying to me in all the Mountain West, but I do think it’s going to be an entertaining group that bobs and weaves its way to a .500 record. Bryce Hamilton and Jordan McCabe will help pull off a couple upsets.
169. Rice: It’s understandable if you don’t see a lot of Rice Owls hoops, but they’ve got a 6-11 center named Max Fiedler who averaged 3.6 assists last season and is one of the most adroit passing bigs in the country. Fun-but-flawed team here.
170. UNC Greensboro: Who? Mike Jones. That’s UNCG’s new coach, via Radford. This is a natural coaching switch, as the program’s staunch defensive identity under Wes Miller should jell with how Jones runs his shop. It’s a drop-off from a 2021 NCAA Tournament team, but still respectable in the SoCon.
171. Nicholls State: Austin Claunch is one of the overlooked really good young coaches, due to the fact he’s busy at work in the Southland. He lost a lot of guys to transfer, but Ty Gordon has a chance to be the Southland Player of the Year. Smart team that seldom plays faster than it wants to — but is rarely as slow as opponents would like it to be.
172. UC Riverside: Mike Magpayo, the first Filipino head coach in men’s D-I history, oversaw a program that went from 294th to 147th in offensive efficiency in a year’s time. He was promoted to full-time back in April, once the school fully committed to remaining in D-I. That should pay off in the years ahead.
173. Wyoming: Jeff Linder took over amid COVID and improved the Cowboys from 9-14 to 14-11. Coaches in the Mountain West don’t expect this to be a top-five team, but Hunter Maldonado’s the best of nine returning players, who accounted for almost 70% of the team’s points last season. The MW will be good, meaning Wyoming should again be above .500.
174. Boston College: BC hasn’t been to the NCAAs since 2009, one of the longest droughts of any power-conference team. Steve Donahue got four years, Jim Christian got seven. Neither broke through. This year will be tough, but hear me now: new coach Earl Grant will get the Eagles back in the tournament in the next five years.
175. South Alabama: Greg Parham shot 41% from 3-point range last season for VMI. Now he’s a Jaguar and will boost a team that rated better on offense (157th at KenPom) than defense (294) overall, but was vice-versa in league play (No. 5 in defensive efficiency, No. 7 on O).
176. Ball State: With the Cardinals facing a drop-off in production (more than 70% of the team’s points are gone), it’s hard to see how this will be anything other than a middle-of-the-pack MAC cadre. NIU transfer Tyler Cochran (15.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) steps in as the main guy.
177. FAU: Biggest question is who will reliably run the point for the Owls, and that reality is reflected in a relatively easy noncon schedule. Dusty May hoping his group can be at nine wins entering league play Dec. 30.
178. Hartford: The Hawks are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance ever … and the school’s board of trustees wants to downgrade to Division III by 2025. The battle isn’t over, but this is the biggest season in UHart history, and John Gallagher will have a top-two America East team to fight with.
Coach John Gallagher and the Hartford Hawks are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
179. Montana: By most accounts this is shaping up to be the rare year where the Griz are not a top-two team in the Big Sky. And yet, it’s hard to see how the offense isn’t at least a tick better from last season’s slide.
180. San Diego: Jase Townsend was a 19-and-4 guy playing at Denver last season. Now he’s a Torero and will battle to keep Sam Scholl’s team in the top half of the WCC. This was a 3-11 team last season. It will, at minimum, quadruple its win total.
181. Coastal Carolina: A 9-5 team in the Sun Belt in 2020-21, the Chanticleers will drift back a bit because league player of the year DeVante’ Jones is enrolled at Michigan. The reality of low-major hoops. Coach up a stud, then lose him to the big boys.
182. Tennessee State: A 4-19 team a season ago, yet Penny Collins has more momentum behind this program than ever before. The Tigers finished second in the recruitment of five-star Chris Livingston (going to Kentucky), and for the season ahead: 11 new players and a six-guard rotation. Hercy Miller is one of those guards; his father is rapper Master P. Fun story building in Nashville.
183. Bryant: It’s the best team in the NEC for ’21-22. Jared Grasso has diligently built the top roster in the 13-year Division I history of this school. The Bulldogs are speedy (No. 6 in tempo last season, per KenPom) and hit the 3 at a pleasing rate (37.7%). Open up the season at in-state big brother Rhode Island. The Rams will have their hands full.
184. South Dakota: It’s time to pause and give recognition to a geographically sensible and not-at-all-common nickname. They are the South Dakota Coyotes, and that is perfect. USD will likely fall in the No. 6 or 7 slot in the Summit League, led by Kruz Perrott-Hunt.
185. UC Davis: This has been one of the best free throw-shooting teams in the country the past two seasons, making better than 78% of its attempts. Jim Les’ outfit had fits and starts last season with local COVID restrictions, so actually even being able to practice in October this year is a breath of fresh air.
186. Northern Kentucky: Rolling the dice a bit here. Trevon Faulkner is the preeminent player in a quality three-guard NKU attack. Under Darrin Horn’s leadership, it’s easy to see how the Norse are a program of the future in the Horizon League. Perhaps a deep sleeper to steal the auto bid, if fully healthy.
187. Indiana State: After 11 seasons, the Greg Lansing era is over and now Josh Schertz — who comes via Division II Lincoln Memorial, where he won 85% of his games in 13 seasons — steps in and has an archetypal point guard (Tyreke Key) to run the show.
188. East Carolina: Out is one of the best players in school history, Jayden Gardner (Virginia), in comes Wynston Tabbs Jr., who was last seen making a positive impact at Boston College. The Pirates have been in the AAC since 2014-15 and are yet to win more than six league games in a season.
189. USF: There will likely be seven transfers on this roster who wind up being meaningful contributors for Brian Gregory’s team in what is a hot-seat season for the fifth-year Bulls coach.
190. Delaware: Tough group to read, as there’s a lot of veteran presence for Martin Inglesby and they’ve got one of the best rebounders in the country in Dylan Painter (11.5 average) … yet this was a 7-8 team last season. KenPom finish: 225. A nudge up in the metrics should happen. By the way: Jameer Nelson Jr. is a Blue Hen. Yeah, you’re old!
191. Sam Houston State: Some huge potential for the Bearkats, as they landed Texas A&M transfer Savion Flagg, who’s going to almost certainly average north of 20 points if he wants to. Jason Hooten also gets Demarkus Lampley back. This team is going to the WAC and has a chance to finish top-five.
192. Siena: It’d be easy to project a Siena slippage due to Jalen Pickett leaving to play at Penn State, but I think Pickett actually wound up becoming an unreliable/sure-fire plus-plus guy on a nightly basis. Carm Maciariello could well have a more cohesive club in ’21-22.
193. Charlotte: The only schools to end last season with longer losing streaks than the 49ers were Iowa State (18) and Portland (13). Those two made coaching changes. Ron Sanchez, who came by way of Tony Bennett’s Virginia program, enters his fourth season and thankfully he’s got outstanding junior G Jahmir Young (18.0 ppg) back.
194. Texas Southern: The best program in the SWAC, evidenced by the fact it’s rated No. 1 in the conference eight of the past 11 years, per KenPom’s tracking. With the clear-cut best defense again, Johnny Jones’ team should be the No. 1 seed come conference tourney time.
195. Eastern Washington: EWU has a new coach, David Riley, who was promoted in-house following last season’s NCAA Tournament showing. If EWU can keep its offensive playbook simple-yet-expansive, then the Eagles will have a chance at making it back to the Big Dance by 2024.
196. Arkansas State: There might be 35 teams fortunate enough to be returning five starters following a pandemic-afflicted season. These Red Wolves are one such team, but the starting five won’t remain the same, because Desi Sills — via those Arkansas Razorbacks — has joined the fold. Big-time Sun Belt weapon.
197. Gardner-Webb: Projects as a safe middle-tier Big South team with a lot of respectability in its frontcourt and potentially one of the top 50 3-point shooting attacks nationally.
198. Bellarmine: I’ve received a few opinions from other coaches who say this school might pop in the ASUN. The Knights went 14-8 last season, its first in Division I, and Scott Davenport runs an offense with no shortage of grease.
199. UMBC: Jim Ferry comes aboard to coach. Ferry found success at another low-major; in his ninth and 10th seasons with LIU, he took the then-Blackbirds to the NCAA Tournament and went 52-15 before going to Duquesne.
200. Saint Joseph’s: The program is averaging 10.4 wins in the past five seasons, so this had better be a campaign with real forward progress for Billy Lange. Anything fewer than 15 or 16 wins will lead to real pressure a year from now.
READ MORE OF NORLANDER’S RANKINGS: 201-358