Already released are the first part of my 1-357 rankings, focusing on teams 201 through 357. Now we look at the swaths and swaths of teams that take up the engrossing, highly populated middle of the sport.
This is the most diversified of our three-part series because it includes everyone from middling power-conference teams to potential Cinderella candidates. There’s bottom-feeding clubs in multi-bid leagues and rising coaching stars. There’s mysterious squads, ones hard to pigeonhole, and there are sleepers waiting to break out and wind up 20, 40, 60 spots higher than I’ve placed them here.
When we get to a 2021 NCAA Tournament, nearly half the field will be occupied by teams in this section. We’ve got much to discover, so let’s get to the tour.
Preseason rankings: Nos. 69-200
69. TCU: RJ Nembhard will play alpha dog, but Jamie Dixon’s got a big breakout candidate in Jaedon LeDee, whose usage numbers last year were low. Beyond that, 6-11 junior center Kevin Samuel will be the mold-maker on D for the Horned Frogs.
70. Arizona: We’ll see. Sean Miller, who will coach this season as his university disputes significant Level I allegations, has his youngest team ever. James Akinjo runs point. The Georgetown transfer will need to lift up the roster around him. Nevada transfer Jordan Brown will need to pop to ensure Arizona’s a top-half-of-the-league team in the Pac-12. Miller brought it a litany of players with international backgrounds, the best of which is probably 6-10 Lithuanian freshman Azuolas Tubelis.
71. Western Kentucky: Big man Charles Bassey is the name college hoops diehards associate with WKU, but it’s 3-point specialist Luke Frampton who will make WKU come alive. He puts the ‘Toppers in the pole position to win C-USA. Kenny Cooper at point guard rounds out a projected top-40 offense.
72. Ole Miss: Kermit Davis has Arizona State transfer Romello White, who was a 10-and-9 guy at ASU. I like the fit. Obviously the biggest news here is, in August, we learned Marshall Henderson would return to his old stomping grounds to become a graduate manager for the team.
73. Belmont: The OVC is good enough where it should be in the mix for two NCAA Tournament bids if the schedule doesn’t get chopped to the point where that prevents real consideration. I put Belmont atop the league because of multifaceted center Nick Muszynski and fellow all-league returnee Grayson Murphy. Casey Alexander’s handled the job well, inheriting it from Rick Byrd.
74. St. John’s: Mike Anderson — that’s Golden Gate Mike, for Eye on College Basketball subscribers — did well in his first season in Queens, going 17-15. This Johnnies team is a bit monotonous at first glance, but a calling card of Anderson’s over the years has been his ability to get his No. 8 player to hustle and create as effectively as his No. 1 guy.
75. UNC Greensboro: Isaiah Miller coming back is everything for UNCG, which will fight with Furman for the SoCon. The Spartans should be deep and have more reliability on O, especially if Miller improves his shot. Losing James Dickey and Kyrin Galloway means the D will slip, which is why I’ve got Furman ahead. Wes Miller is a stellar 104-34 at UNCG.
76. Iowa State: Leading returning scorer Rasir Bolton will have a big impact on two programs this season. He’ll of course be a major factor for ISU, but it was also Bolton coming out publicly in the summer and detailing allegations against former Penn State coach Pat Chambers that ultimately led to Chambers’ resignation in October. The Cyclones will try to stave off consecutive sub-.500 seasons for the first time since 2010.
77. UNLV: Eager to see how David Jenkins Jr. does after a sit-out season. He was formerly outstanding with South Dakota State (19.7 ppg). The Runnin’ Rebels top option is Bryce Hamilton (16.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who should be all-league. This could be Vegas’ best team in eight seasons and figures to finish in the top four of the Mountain West.
78. San Francisco: Who doesn’t love a great power trio? Music, especially. Acts like Rush, Nirvana, Beastie Boys and Ben Folds Five are some of my faves. USF’s got a three-man guard attack of Jamaree Bouyea, Damari Milstead, Khalil Shabazz. They’ve got pizzazz, chemistry and gumption. What I’m saying is that USF has the Dinosaur Jr. of college hoops trios. Underground act to an extent, but those who know, know.
79. Washington: So many moving parts and pieces in Seattle for Mike Hopkins that it’s tough to safely project UW as an NIT-level team. The Huskies were 15-17 last season, and in the eyes of league coaches, didn’t appear to get much better in the elongated offseason.
80. Mississippi State: I’d have the Bulldogs 15 spots higher had they kept Reggie Perry, but he rightfully left to chase NBA dreams. This is a largely characterless roster due to high turnover. Ben Howland’s next win will be his 500th.
81. Loyola Chicago: Cameron Krutwig is 20-or-so good games away from finishing off one of the best careers in the history of the program. Check this stat via the MVC: “Last year, he (Krutwig) became the first player in the storied history of the MVC to finish a season ranked in the top five in the league in scoring (5th- 15.1), rebounding (2nd- 8.1), assists (3rd- 4.2) and field goal percentage (3rd- .563).” Porter Moser has five starters back on a team nearly as dangerous as the one that made the 2018 Final Four.
82. Pitt: It’s going decently through two seasons under Jeff Capel, but expecting a jump in year three might be asking too much. Xavier Johnson is a stud, but Pitt was pitiful on the boards last season and that will be tough to overhaul.
83. Duquesne: These are turning into the golden years for Dukes hoops. The school hasn’t been this good in hoops from a wins perspective in four decades. And to think, Keith Dambrot wasn’t choice No. 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 when the job came open in 2017. Funny how it’s worked out.
84. Texas A&M: Kevin Marfo, by way of Quinnipiac, should be a vintage glass-eater for Buzz Williams. Statistically the best rebounder (13.3 per game) in college basketball in 2019-20. He’ll be complemented by alpha dog Savion Flagg, a resourceful G/F who Williams had to love inheriting when he got to A&M.
85. St. Bonaventure: No exaggeration to say there aren’t 20 coaches who could average 17.6 wins over 13 years at Bona — especially when you remember just how decrepit this program was when Mark Schmidt took it over. NIT group at worst, and then if all return for 2021-22, Bonaventure should be a top-60 team.
86. Wichita State: The Shockers are a team whose ranking could fluctuate by 40 points depending on whether or not Gregg Marshall is the coach by the time the season begins. With no news on that front yet, the Shockers are ranked as though Marshall will be on the sideline.
87. North Texas: Will fight with WKU as the best team in Conference USA thanks to Rubin Jones, a new face, and reigning C-USA Player of the Year Javion Hamlet. Grant McCasland’s team can score on you in a variety of styles but wins by toying with your tempo.
88. Auburn: I think it’ll be a tough season on the Plains, and this is a lower projection than most you’ll see with the Tigers. Bruce Pearl’s got a rebuild on his hands (lost all his starters), but at least there’s Sharife Cooper, a freshman point guard with flair who was a blue-chip prospect.
89. Winthrop: Pat Kelsey was a runner-up to getting the Wake Forest job, but his consolation prize is coaching the favorites in the Big South. D.J. Burns leads a group of 11 players who return, putting the Eagles in position to be that No. 13 seed capable of knocking off a No. 4 if and when we get to a normal-sized NCAA Tournament.
90. Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team struggled mightily against top-40 teams the past three seasons. The Irish need one more year of sculpting, with point guard Prentiss Hubb guiding the way, before they’re back in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
91. Tulsa: Unless you root for a team in the American, chances are you have no idea Tulsa finished atop the AAC standings at the end of last season. Expect Frank Haith to have a craggy defense again.
92. Siena: Class of the MAAC, led by Jalen Pickett, who I’d tab as a top-100 player. Carm Maciariello went 20-10 in his first season at his alma mater and has the Saints in a spot to make their first Big Dance in 11 years. In the offseason Maciariello created the Coaches 4 Change initiative, which produced one of the better educational websites about systemic racism you’ll find.
93. New Mexico State: Chris Jans continues to watch over among the very best mid-major programs. NMSU has averaged 27.7 wins in Jans’ three seasons. The only schools averaging more wins in that span are Gonzaga (32.0), Duke (28.7) and Kansas (28.3). To be clear: in the entire sport. Overwhelming WAC favorites again.
94. Austin Peay: Matt Figger has uplifted the Govs to a place they seldom inhabit: top-100 status. Senior Terry Taylor (21.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg) is on his way to statistically being one of the best players in OVC history. Teammate Jordyn Adams (17.2 ppg) is vying with Murray State’s Tevin Brown as the best guard in the league.
95. Georgia State: A 19-win team last season, the Panthers have their three leading scorers back, led by all-league guard Kane Williams. In fact, GSU’s got five of its six best players returning to the fold. Also a key player is Cincinnati transfer Eliel Nsoseme, whose toughness can solidify this group as the best in the Sun Belt.
96. Boise State: Leon Rice has made Boise State a consistent winner, having amassed a 198-128 record in a decade. Senior wing Derrick Alston Jr. can be Mountain West POY if he makes a big leap after nearly staying in the NBA Draft.
97. Northwestern: In talking with some other Big Ten coaches, the expectation is that Northwestern minimally wins six league games (if they play 20) after taking only three a year ago because the young talent is unquestionably respected.
98. Kansas State: Bruce Weber is 161-110 in eight seasons (a better record than most thought he’d have) and he’s had a few teams that finished in the top six in the Big 12 after initially not being highly regarded. This season? Kansas State looks to have the weakest roster in the league as far as these eyes can tell.
99. Yale: The first Ivy League team on the list. No one knows if the Ivy will be allowed to play this season (on authority of its presidents), but there is little optimism that will be the case. That said, I’m ranking all teams as if they would be able to play in 2020-21. Yale, even without its full reserves, shapes up as the best.
100. VCU: Will probably be a fun-but-young team that stubs it toe a few too many times. A strong coaching staff will ensure VCU is never overlooked by its A-10 counterparts. Let’s see if sophomore Nah’Shon Hyland can be a leader.
101. Pepperdine: One of the most explosive, impressive mid-major players in America plays for the Waves. His name is Colbey Ross and he has a chance to be a top-four player in the WCC. He really might average 25 points a night. The WCC could be DEEP.
103. Boston College: Eagles will struggle to avoid finishing in the bottom three in the ACC due to losing five solid players off a 13-win team. But at least Wynston Tabbs is back from injury, and he gives BC some hope in a weird year.
104. UCF: Collin Smith was UCF’s most important player last season, but in mid-October Smith announced he was sitting out 2020-21 due to health precautions. That means the Knights bring back just one starter.
105. Stephen F. Austin: The monumental road upset of Duke last November put SFA in a scheduling hole. Will be tough to tell just how good this team is due to a lack of opportunities against legit teams. The best team at turning other teams over (a whopping 10.5 steals per game),
106. Wright State: Scott Nagy’s got the top outfit in the Horizon League, led by Loudon Love, who could be the conference’s best player. He’s a center. That kind of thing is rare, but I love that it still happens on occasion at the mid-major level.
107. DePaul: The make-or-break season for Dave Leitao, now in the sixth season of his second stint at DePaul and coming off a 3-15 Big East run. A new AD adds to the urgency of the situation.
108. Nevada: Can’t see the Wolf Pack competing for a Mountain West title but I can see them being enough of a matchup problem to stay in the top half of the conference despite a year in roster limbo.
109. South Dakota State: Quite obviously the best team in the Summit League. Matt Dentlinger and Douglas Wilson are helping Eric Henderson seamlessly keep the Jackrabbits on top. Sophomore Noah Friedel is next in line.
110. Louisiana Tech: The definition of a very good mid-major program a season ago. No. 71 at KenPom, a 22-8 record and would have been capable of earning C-USA’s auto bid.
111. Murray State: Matt McMahon’s got a wondrous duo in combo guard Tevin Brown and power forward KJ Williams, who will keep the Racers in the thick of a great OVC race. If Wichita State parts with coach Gregg Marshall, McMahon would be my dark-horse pick to get that job.
112. Little Rock: The Trojans have all starters back and figure to be the clear challenger to Georgia State in the Sun Belt. The two best returnees are potential league POY Markquis Nowell and slimmy-slim big man Ruot Monyyong.
113. Vermont: Still easily the best team in the America East and that will remain true despite losing maybe the best player in program history (Anthony Lamb). UVM has won at least 20 games 12 straight seasons, which is territory shared only by Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga, Kentucky and Louisville.
114. Georgia: Tom Crean’s going to rely on three grad transfers and loses Anthony Edwards, which might be for the best for this team. But I’d expect this otherwise-young group to make a leap and be near the top 60 in my master rankings come fall of 2021.
115. UC Irvine: The best Big West team until proven otherwise. The Anteaters have won 28 of their past 32 league games and return Collin Welp (ferocious) and Brad Greene (Marc Gasol-type), a pair of forwards who will keep UCI atop the conference.
116. Rhode Island: Fatts Russell is still balling for the Rams, which makes the Rams a threat in every A-10 game they play. URI did lose good pieces to transfer, but new faces Jalen Carey and Jeremy Sheppard will insist on keeping the Rams in good standing.
119. California: Mark Fox, formerly of Georgia and Nevada, enters his second season with the Golden Bears. A ninth-place Pac-12 finish would be wonderful.
120. Colorado State: CSU has no seniors but returns four starters and needs to replace the best rebounder in league history, Nico Carvacho. Isaiah Stevens has some Mountain West star power. David Roddy could grow tremendously by February.
121. Wake Forest: The only coaching change in a major conference happened at Wake Forest, where Steve Forbes was pulled out of East Tennessee State to replace Danny Manning. Forbes has a mixture of characters to work around, but this is a 100% freebie of a season.
122. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing dealt with a horrible offseason. First he lost every good player he had. In the spring he caught COVID-19 and was hospitalized. On Aug. 31, his basketball mentor, John Thompson Jr., died. None of that will make this season easier, as Georgetown is scaling a cliff in the Big East.
124. Montana: Back-to-back Big Sky teams here, as I think the Griz are a toss-up with EWU to take the title. Travis DeCuire has a couple more seasons with this program before he’s recruited to a bigger job.
125. Washington State: The last team to win a men’s D-I college basketball game in 2020. Wazzu knocked off Colorado shortly before the clock flipped to March 12 in the first round of the Pac-12 tourney.
126. Bradley: Reigning MVC tourney champs. (Yep, some league tournaments wrapped before the coronavirus canceled college hoops.) If Bradley can win the auto bid in the Valley it would be the first time in school history it won the league three straight years.
127. Ohio: Jeff Boals kept Stony Brook respectable, then went to his alma mater and has Ohio in a spot where it might be the best team in the MAC thanks to having Jason Preston — potentially the league’s top player.
128. Monmouth: Siena’s the pick to win the MAAC, but the team best positioned to knock it off the canvas is Monmouth. George Papas and Deion Hammond command a crew with speed and composure that won 18 games.
129. Vanderbilt: Gets one more season of finishing last in the SEC with that being an expected (but not accepted) result. By next year Jerry Stackhouse knows real returns have to start showing.
130. Indiana State: It’s not often a team’s key player is named “Key,” but meet Sycamore Tyreke Key, one of the five best guys in the Missouri Valley. ISU has four starters back, so they’re the Valley’s automatic-bid dark horse.
131. Drake: Darian DeVries is off to a wonderful start with his first head-coaching gig. He’s won 44 games in two seasons at maybe the hardest job in the Valley. Roman Penn is arguably the best point guard in the conference.
132. Liberty: The Flames have enough stability with point guards and combo guards to ensure they won’t slip too far, if at all, in the ASUN.
133. UMass: This needs to be the year Matt McCall gets it going. Everything starts with Tre Mitchell, who was overlooked nationally as a freshman stud (17.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) but can lift the Minutemen to the top five of the A-10 standings.
134. UC Santa Barbara: Has its best chance at making the NCAAs in a decade. A reminder that UCSB has a claim to the best name for a home arena in college basketball: the Gauchos play at the Thunderdome.
135. Texas State: Roster should be good, but this is a program that has to adapt after losing its coach in September. Danny Kaspar resigned following an investigation after one of his former players accused him of racist language.
136. Oregon State: Wayne Tinkle is 93-96 in six seasons and has taken the Beavers to one NCAA Tournament. He’s met the bar of expectations, low as they may be for the second-toughest Pac-12 job.
137. North Dakota State: Dave Richman doesn’t get a lot of pub because of the league he’s in (Summit) and the school he’s at, but this is one of the best mid-major coaches under 45 in college basketball.
138. Hofstra: We send the warmth of the household to Joe Mihalich, who announced in August an indefinite leave of absence from coaching due to an unspecified health issue. The Pride are led by shooting guard Jalen Ray.
139. Nebraska: Pitt transfer Trey McGowens is among the most important transfers in power-conference play this season, as he’ll give Fred Hoiberg’s team some hope to pick off a few games. This looks like the worst team in the Big Ten by far.
140. East Tennessee State: Jason Shay was promoted from within after Steve Forbes was hired in April at Wake, but the roster has so much turnover there’s little chance ETSU can retain its SoCon title.
142. Chattanooga: The Mocs have the most D-I transfers of any SoCon team. It’s so crazy it just might work to get the team top-three in that league.
146. Marshall: Almost the entire team returns from a middle-of-the-road C-USA squad. The second-fastest team on offense in the sport (14.8 seconds average shot-clock usage).
149. Temple: The Owls are not back yet. Aaron McKie needs two more seasons to get his program in line and move to the top four of the American.
150. Towson: Pat Skerry might have the best team in the Colonial. Zane Martin is back — after transferring two years ago — and a POY candidate. What’s encouraging for the Tigers is Jason Gibson AND Nic Timberlake aren’t far behind, and yet Juwan Gray is the best defender on the team.
151. Buffalo: MAC coaches say the Bulls are as capable of winning the league as anyone. Great on the boards, always play hard. Coached by Jim Whitesell, the only active D-I coach (head or assistant) who graduated from Luther College. Relatedly, Luther College is where one of the best Dave Matthews acoustic shows was ever played. We start off by discussing the set-opening One Sweet World. You see, in 1996 Matthews and Tim Reynolds embarked on their first … OK, let’s get to 152. (But seriously, this “Warehouse” is a gem.)
153. Pacific: It’s cool how a classic, tough point guard like Damon Stoudamire has wound up coaching this Tigers team into a rugged defense group that thrives on pinching you out of rhythm 15 feet and in.
155. Lipscomb: The Bisons boast the best player in the ASUN, 6-8 junior forward/center Ahsan Asadullah (18.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.9 apg). If the rest of the team can be 70% as committed on defense as Asadullah, Lennie Acuff’s team will win the league.
157. Mercer: Greg Gary is already regarded as a top-three coaching mind in the SoCon. Give it one more year and the Bears will be top-three as a program.
159. Wofford: When Mike Young coached Wofford a few years ago he told me he’d landed a commitment from a kid named Storm who would be a great all-time Terrier. He was right. Senior Storm Murphy’s a career 43% 3-point shooter.
160. San Diego: Sam Scholl brought in five off the transfer wire, so USD’s objective will be to work out the kinks and then hope there’s a big click to finish middle of the pack in the stocked WCC.
161. Valparaiso: Outplayed their talent a season ago, so I won’t sell Valpo short in the grand scheme of things; I even had it higher in my initial rankings. Eleven scholarship players return, highlighted by leading scorer/sophomore Donovan Clay.
162. Penn: Here’s why Penn will again have a top-four Ivy squad: it ranked No. 1 in the league last season in 2-point offense (54%) and 2-point defense (45.9%). Be better on the boards and then a title is within reach.
163. Oral Roberts: Paul Mills coached the best turnover-forcing team on defense and the best non-turnover team on offense in the Summit League last season.
164. Bowling Green: Put the Falcons lower than a couple other MAC teams, but the reality is this league is a toss-up. All the more when you consider the MAC finally did away with divisions, the last D-I hoops conference to do so. (Until the SWAC goes back to it in 2021.) Justin Turner is goooooood.
165. Northeastern: Finished in the bottom 10 in “luck” at KenPom, and that trend shouldn’t continue. Bill Coen’s got a quality group in Boston.
166. UTSA: Jhivvan Jackson is one of the 40 best players in college basketball, no matter what my colleagues have voted when our list comes out next week! The Roadrunner has 2,053 points to his name. This shortened season will prevent him from catching 3,000.
167. Santa Clara: Deep sleeper in the WCC, as Herb Sendek returns four starters for the Broncos. The vulnerability seems to be in defensive agility about the perimeter.
168. Eastern Michigan: EMU didn’t have one player shoot better than 30% from 3-point range last season, but with three-fourths of the scoring production back Rob Murphy’s team gets a nudge up in the rankings.
170. Illinois State: Dan Muller’s run the gamut in his near-decade with ISU. No NCAA Tournament showings yet, and now the Redbirds will try to play spoiler in a bolstered MVC. Keith Fisher III and DJ Horne lead the way.
171. Kent State: The Golden Flashes aren’t projected to be a top-four team in the MAC. Still, few programs have been steadier in that league every season of the 2010s.
173. Charleston: If Earl Grant wins the CAA this season it will not surprise one coach in that league. He’s got a new challenge ahead, though. Never before has he had to replace a player as good as the NBA-bound Grant Riller.
175. Boston University: The last team admitted to the ill-fated 2020 NCAA Tournament. I vividly remember watching BU upset Colgate on a Wednesday night and celebrating its automatic bid. Coach Joe Jones embraced that celebration and kept the coronavirus noise out. Eighteen hours later, the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
181. Arkansas State: Finished No. 206 at KenPom last season, but enough shooters return to a sketchy defensive team to warrant bumping up the Red Wolves.
182. NJIT: Might have missed it this summer: NJIT moved out of the ASUN after a five-year residence to join the America East. A much more practical destination for the school out of Newark.
183. FIU: The arrow is pointing up, as FIU’s won 39 games the past two seasons — the most year-over-year in the history of the program. Defensive-first Antonio Daye is one of the stronger mid-major point guards.
185. George Washington: The Colonials ranked 13th in A-10 defense last season and were putrid at forcing turnovers and second-chance points. Jamion Christian will need some more time with a new group.
186. Portland: The COVID-19 restrictions situation was so screwed up in Oregon into late October that Portland and Portland State were not given exemptions by their governor and were seeking to hold practices 8-10 miles over the border into Vancouver, Washington.
187. Omaha: This one’s a bit of a dart throw. Darren Hansen’s offense is likely to be successful enough to keep the Mavericks bobbing about in the Summit League.
188. Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks are coming off a program-record 14-win MAAC season (the league played 20 games) and have found a groove under Shaheen Holloway. This is the toughest job in the MAAC.
189. Southern Utah: If Todd Simon’s Thunderbirds can remain healthy, here’s your dark-horse team to steal the Big Sky title.
190. Iona: I’m boosting my Gaels projection by 50 spots due to the Rick Pitino factor. Major roster turnover, but the MAAC is going to have as much national appeal as ever with Pitino in New Rochelle.
191. Northern Illinois: Interesting situation here because half the roster transferred in and there are no freshmen taking up a scholarship. This could really work or maybe implode on Mark Montgomery.
192. Loyola Marymount: Stan Johnson was always going to get a head gig; he landed here. It’s my prediction Johnson (eventually) gets the Lions back to the NCAAs for the time since — yeah, believe it — 1990.
194. Abilene Christian: This program’s entering its eighth year in Division I and Joe Golding has brought the win total to 47 the past two seasons.
195. Northern Kentucky: Darrin Horn took this job last year and proceeded to go 23-9. Nothing but respect for Devan Downey’s former coach. Shoutout to Devan Downey.
196. Louisiana: There’s no denying the skill, speed and savvy of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ backcourt. The rest of the team has a lot to prove.
197. New Mexico: From 1997-2014, UNM ranked as a top-100 KenPom team in 14 of those 18 seasons. The past six seasons: zero top-100s and an average of 134th at KenPom, which is nowhere near good enough for the Lobo faithful.
198. Robert Morris: Bobby Mo’ makes the geographically sensible move from the NEC (where it departed as league champs) over to the Horizon. The conference will grow by two because Purdue Fort Wayne is also coming aboard.
199. Tulane: Ron Hunter said he would walk on water before Tulane finished last in the American. Tulane went on to finish last in the American.
200. Montana State: The Bobcats are coming off a 16-win year, which matches the most in a season for the school in almost two decades. Trending well in Bozeman.
1-357 preseason college basketball preseason rankings: Teams ranked 201-357