Dickie V's early Sweet 16, baby!

Here’s an early preseason look at my Sweet 16 teams heading into the 2024-25 men’s college basketball season. After busy weeks of movement in the transfer portal and with rosters finally settling down, it’s time to dive into which teams are going to be contenders next season.

The era of free agency has hit all collegiate sports, and it has been interesting to see how coaches, who used to sell a program and university lifestyle, have now become general managers, putting together teams based on market value. Those who find the best values will be the ones who succeed.

With that in mind, let’s take a preliminary look at the top teams heading into the season — and some of their key players.


After four second-round exits in five NCAA tournaments, it looks like Bill Self has assembled a lineup that can make a deep run again. The addition of perimeter shooting should help in an area that was lacking last season.

Returns: Three of the top six scorers in Hunter Dickinson, K.J. Adams Jr. and Dajuan Harris Jr.
Transfer additions: AJ Storr (Wisconsin), Rylan Griffen (Alabama), Zeke Mayo (South Dakota State) and Noah Shelby (Rice)
Freshmen: Two top-50 prospects in center Flory Bidunga (No. 17 in the ESPN 100) and guard Rakease Passmore (No. 32 in ESPN 100)


The return of Mark Sears makes Alabama an immediate contender to return to the Final Four. Nate Oats brought in some interior depth to aid fifth-year senior Grant Nelson with the addition of All-Big Ten big man Clifford Omoruyi from Rutgers.

Returns: Three of top five scorers in Sears, Nelson and Latrell Wrightsell Jr.
Transfer additions: Omoruyi and Aden Holloway (Auburn)
Freshmen: Three top-30 recruits in Derrion Reid (No. 11 in ESPN 100), Aiden Sherrell (No. 21 in ESPN 100) and Labaron Philon (No. 30 in ESPN 100)


Dare I mention “three-peat”? Dan Hurley certainly has the semblance of a team that can make another run with St. Mary’s transfer Aidan Mahaney joining Hassan Diarra in the backcourt. Alex Karaban headlines the frontcourt and is the early front-runner for Big East player of the year.

Returns: Five of top nine scorers in Karaban, Diarra, Samson Johnson, Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart
Transfer additions: Mahaney and Tarris Reed Jr. (Michigan)
Freshmen: Five-star Liam McNeeley (No. 9 in ESPN 100) along with Ahmad Nowell (No. 34 in ESPN 100) and Isaiah Abraham (No. 58 in ESPN 100)


Kelvin Sampson and Houston made a big impact in their first season in the Big 12, and there’s no letup in year two as shotmaker L.J. Cryer returns along with Emanuel Sharp for one of the premier backcourts in the nation.

Returns: Eight of top 10 scorers with Cryer and Sharp in the backcourt. Ja’Vier Francis and J’Wan Roberts anchor the frontcourt.
Transfer additions: Milos Uzan (Oklahoma)
Freshmen: Mercy Miller (No. 68 in ESPN 100) and Chase McCarty


With a veteran lineup, the Cyclones look to move past the Sweet 16, a spot they reached in two of the past three seasons. Returner Tamin Lipsey is the guts of T.J. Otzelberger’s offense, and Milan Momcilovic is primed for a breakout sophomore season.

Returns: Top four scorers in Lipsey, Momcilovic, Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones
Transfer additions: Nate Heise (Northern Iowa), Dishon Jackson (Charlotte), Brandton Chatfield (Seattle) and Joshua Jefferson (St. Mary’s)
Freshmen: Four-star additions Nojus Indrusaitis (No. 67 in ESPN 100) and Dwayne Pierce


With fifth-year senior and national player of the year hopeful RJ Davis returning, Hubert Davis likes the foundation for this Tar Heels team. And once highly touted freshmen Ian Jackson and Drake Powell jell in the preseason, North Carolina will be the front-runner in the ACC.

Returns: Five of top eight scorers in Davis, Elliot Cadeau, Seth Trimble, Jae’Lyn Withers and Jalen Washington
Transfer additions: Cade Tyson (Belmont) and Ven-Allen Lubin (Vanderbilt)
Freshmen: Five-star prospects Jackson (No. 7 in ESPN 100) and Powell (No. 13 in ESPN 100) as well as James Brown (No. 66 in ESPN 100)


After being courted by Louisville and Kentucky, Scott Drew elected to stay at Baylor. One look at the roster and you can see why he likes this contending club. Getting transfers Jeremy Roach from Duke and Norchad Omier from Miami is huge. And with three top-50 ESPN 100 recruits, led by one of the country’s top freshmen in V.J. Edgecombe, the Bears will be a dangerous team come March.

Returns: Three of top seven scorers in Langston Love, Jayden Nunn and Josh Ojianwuna
Transfer additions: Roach (Duke), Omier (Miami) and Jalen Celestine (Cal)
Freshmen: A top-10 recruiting class, with top-50 players in five-star wing Edgecombe (No. 3 in ESPN 100), Robert Wright III (No. 23 in ESPN 100) and Jason Asemota (No. 48 in ESPN 100)


A team that made a late run and another Sweet 16 appearance under Mark Few is poised to return to the nation’s upper tier. Ryan Nembhard, Graham Ike and Nolan Hickman provide a strong nucleus. Arkansas transfer Khalif Battle has the ability to be a big-time scorer out West.

Returns: Ike, Hickman, Nembhard, Steele Venters, Braden Huff, Ben Gregg and Dusty Stromer
Transfer additions: Battle (Arkansas), Michael Ajayi (Pepperdine), Emmanuel Innocenti (Tarleton State) and Braeden Smith (Colgate)
Freshmen: Ismaila Diagne (Real Madrid)


I join the rest of the nation in wanting to see the No. 1 prep player in the country, Cooper Flagg, in a Duke uniform. He is a prime-time player who is a diaper dandy in name only. With a young team this season, Jon Scheyer is going to rely heavily on Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster.

Returns: Two of top six scorers in Foster and Proctor
Transfer additions: Maliq Brown (Syracuse), Mason Gillis (Purdue), Sion James (Tulane)
Freshmen: No. 1 prospect in Flagg (tops in ESPN 100 and also the projected No. 1 pick of the 2025 NBA draft) and top-30 freshmen in Isaiah Evans (No. 14 in ESPN 100), Kon Knueppel (No. 18 in ESPN 100), Pat Ngongba (No. 25 in ESPN 100), Darren Harris (No. 29 in ESPN 100)


A consensus third-team All-American, Johni Broome is the anchor Bruce Pearl needs to get this team doing better than last year’s first-round upset loss to Yale. The addition of JP Pegues, who averaged 18.4 points per game at Furman, gives the Tigers some scoring punch.

Returns: Three of top five scorers in Broome, Chad Baker-Mazara and Denver Jones
Transfer additions: Pegues (Furman), Miles Kelly (Georgia Tech) and Ja’Heim Hudson (SMU)
Freshmen: Five-star Tahaad Pettiford (No. 33 in ESPN 100) and four-star Jahki Howard (No. 60 in ESPN 100)


Matt Painter likes his big men, and he has another on deck in 7-foot-3 freshman Daniel Jacobsen. Given time to develop, Jacobsen can be an impact player in the Big 10. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer return as one of the best guard duos. The offense will look a lot different in the post-Zach Edey era.

Returns: Five of top eight scorers in Smith, Loyer, Trey Kaufman-Renn, Myles Colvin and Camden Heide
Transfer additions: None
Freshmen: Includes Gicarri Harris (No. 88 in ESPN 100), Raleigh Burgess and Jacobsen.


Tommy Lloyd got a big boost when Caleb Love and KJ Lewis opted to return. With those two back, Lloyd hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in Horizon player of the year Trey Townsend from Oakland and adding Anthony Dell’Orso, who averaged 19.5 points per game last season at Campbell.

Returns: Four of top eight scorers in Love, Lewis, Motiejus Krivas and Jaden Bradley
Transfer additions: Townsend (Oakland), Dell’Orso (Campbell) and Tobe Awaka (Tennessee)
Freshmen: Carter Bryant (No. 19 in ESPN 100) and Emmanuel Stephen (No. 93 in ESPN 100)


John Calipari has built this team from ground zero. Three Kentucky players join him in the move from the Bluegrass State, including projected NBA draft pick D.J. Wagner. Veteran guard Johnell Davis from FAU joins up with true freshman Boogie Fland. Three top-40 freshmen create a solid core group that should see the Razorbacks dancing in March.

Returns: One player from last year’s roster, Trevon Brazile
Transfer additions: Davis (FAU), Wagner (Kentucky), Jonas Aidoo (Tennessee), Adou Thiero (Kentucky) and Zvonimir Ivisic (Kentucky)
Freshmen: Led by the heralded recruit Fland (No. 15 in ESPN 100) along with Karter Knox (No. 26 in ESPN 100) and Billy Richmond (No. 38 in ESPN 100).


One of the most dynamic players in college basketball is Wade Taylor IV, who will once again be leaned on to guide the Aggies. Buzz Williams added a couple of impact transfers in Zhuric Phelps from SMU and Pharrel Payne from Minnesota to fill out the lineup.

Returns: Four of top five scorers, including reigning SEC player of the year Taylor, Henry Coleman III, Solomon Washington, Manny Obaseki
Transfer additions: Phelps (SMU), Payne (Minnesota) and C.J. Wilcher (Nebraska)
Freshmen: Andre Mills, George Turkson, Rob Dockery


With no Sweet 16 appearances since 2019, the Wildcats are looking to make a huge jump with new coach Mark Pope. With nine transfers and three freshmen, the Wildcats need time to mesh and gain confidence but should be primed come March.

Returns: With no returning players, Kentucky is building from the ground up
Transfer additions: Jaxson Robinson (BYU), Otega Oweh (Oklahoma), Koby Brea (Dayton), Amari Williams (Drexel), Lamont Butler (San Diego State), Andrew Carr (Wake Forest), Brandon Garrison (Oklahoma State), Kerr Kriisa (West Virginia) and Ansley Almonor (Fairleigh Dickinson)
Freshmen: Travis Perry (No. 74 in ESPN 100) is a Kentucky Mr. Basketball. Also added Collin Chandler (No. 32 in 2022 ESPN 100) and Trent Noah.


After coming so close to the NCAA tournament in his first season with the Red Storm, Rick Pitino has revamped and filled some needs, including with the No. 1 transfer in the portal, Kadary Richmond, from Seton Hall. The Johnnies now have one of the best backcourts with Richmond and Deivon Smith.

Returns: RJ Luis Jr., Simeon Wilcher, Brady Dunlap, Zuby Ejiofor, Sadiku Ibine Ayo
Transfer additions: All-Big East first-team selection Richmond (Seton Hall), Smith (Utah), Vincent Iwuchukwu (USC) and Aaron Scott (North Texas)
Freshmen: Jaiden Glover (No. 72 in ESPN 100), Khaman Maker, Lefteris Liotopoulos, Rúben Prey (CB Prat)

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