College Basketball
College basketball rankings: John Calipari's Arkansas team in way-too-early top 25 4.0
College Basketball

College basketball rankings: John Calipari's Arkansas team in way-too-early top 25 4.0

Updated Jun. 5, 2024 6:05 p.m. ET

There has not been a more compelling offseason storyline in college basketball, and there won’t be a more shocking image in the sport during the 2024-25 season, than when John Calipari is patrolling the sidelines in Arkansas Razorbacks red.  

At SEC meetings last week, the 65-year-old expressed a change in mindset to adapt to the present times in college basketball, one that will result in fewer freshmen on his Arkansas roster than he had at Kentucky and more veterans. 

"We're not going to take six or seven freshmen now," said Calipari, who told the media it’s been a "breath of fresh air" to be in Fayetteville after his 15 seasons and a poor ending in Lexington. "It’ll be three or four (freshmen). Hopefully (we will) retain a few, get a couple of transfers, and that is the formula. 

"The lesson at Kentucky was you can’t do this now with seven freshmen. You just can't. You're going to hit a team that's 25 years old on average, one was 26, and that team is physically going to get you." 


While Calipari is embellishing a bit with the age comments, and with the elimination of the COVID-19 year of eligibility ending this upcoming season, his comments do signal adjustments from his freshman-oriented approach in Lexington that he defended for years despite not taking the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 since 2019. 

John Calipari to become Arkansas Razorbacks MBB next head coach

And frankly, those adjustments are needed. But, is it enough for his Arkansas team to be ranked in our way-too-early top 25? We’re going to slot the Razorbacks into the 20s right now, and that’s because Calipari has acquired veteran players from the transfer portal. 

Before breaking down the roster, I’d like to make something clear that’s been bugging me with the discourse around the hire. Yes, it’s huge for publicity around Arkansas and that program, and there will be more eyeballs on the Razorbacks than normal, especially in the regular season. But there’s now a high standard for this program. Winning offseasons and PR battles is not what this is about, but rather expanding on what now USC coach Eric Musselman built, a program that reached the Sweet 16 in 2021, 2022 and 2023 after not having done so since 1996 and one that hit the Elite Eight in ‘21 and ‘22. 

Getting Johnell Davis, a 6-foot-4 guard who led Florida Atlantic on a magical 2023 Final Four run and averaged 18.2 points and 2.9 assists per game, was a huge add for a variety of reasons. Davis is a clutch playmaker who knows what winning at the highest level looks like and is a really tough-minded guard who’s unafraid of the moment. In the frontcourt, Calipari added Jonas Aidoo, a 6-11 forward who transferred in from Tennessee and could be a double-double type veteran after averaging 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. 

My big question that determines if Arkansas can go from being a solid team to a top-three squad in the SEC is just how much of a leap will we see from sophomores D.J. Wagner and Zvonimir Ivisic, along with junior wing Adou Thiero? All three players showed flashes this past year, with the 7-2 Ivisic, known as "Big Z," showing some intriguing upside with his frame and versatility. 

One big note: Trevon Brazile announced Tuesday that he will be returning to Arkansas for his fourth season. The versatile and long 6-10 forward averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this past year for Arkansas. That’s a very nice development for Calipari.  

What kind of strides will Wagner, the son of former No. 1 recruit Dajuan, and grandson of Louisville national champion Milt, make in Year 2 as he transitions to Fayetteville? As a freshman, the highly-touted guard posted 9.9 points and 3.3 assists per game but shot 4-for-20 over the final three games of the season. He will need to coexist with Davis and incoming five-star freshman Boogie Fland, a dynamic point guard who is very gifted offensively and is a blur in transition. 

With the No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the country this year, Calipari’s player development will be tested by the guys who followed him from Kentucky and with Davis, a player who Dusty May relied upon game in and game out at FAU. 

Calipari’s staff looks similar to his previous one in Lexington, with Orlando Antigua moving on to Brad Underwood and Illinois, while ex-Louisville coach and Calipari right-hand man Kenny Payne reunites with his former boss after two horrid seasons with the Cardinals. So, Coach Cal has most of his same inner circle. He’s changing the personnel decisions a bit. But the biggest thing remains: Will we see the X’s and O’s evolve and lead to better results in March? 

With all of this in mind, here’s our updated top 25, with Alabama rising into the top three after All-American guard Mark Sears, along with rising sophomore Jarin Stevenson, elected to withdraw from the NBA Draft ahead of last week’s deadline to run it back and pursue a national title in Tuscaloosa following the school’s first-ever Final Four appearance. That was not the only crucial deadline decision, with another coming for the back-to-back reigning national champions last week and opening the doorway further for a three-peat, which will be as big of a storyline as any entering next season because of the history at play. 

Here’s the complete top 25:

1. Kansas Jayhawks

The gap closed more than where it was with last week’s draft deadline, but the Jayhawks are still maintaining the top spot because they are welcoming back an All-American in Hunter Dickinson, a veteran point guard in Dajuan Harris, another impact returnee in KJ Adams, and have one of the best incoming classes in the country. Of course, it’s subject to change, but getting perimeter scoring from AJ Storr, Rylan Griffen and Zeke Mayo was significant and addresses the areas that the Jayhawks were missing this past season.

Last season, Zach Edey had the most pressure on him of any player in America to charge Purdue to glory, and he got the Boilers to a national championship game. This year, similar expectations will be on Dickinson. The 7-2 star went to Kansas to win it all, and that’s the constant expectation level in Lawrence. Can he lead Kansas to the Final Four in San Antonio? We shall see. 

2. UConn Huskies

The return of Alex Karaban cements the Huskies as a legitimate contender to do something that has only been done by John Wooden’s UCLA teams of the 60s and 70s: win three consecutive national championships. In this chaotic era of NIL and transferring, it feels like it’s that much harder to develop consistency at the highest level, but Dan Hurley has mastered a formula powered by as strong of a coaching staff as any in America and a culture that prioritizes winning. With Saint Mary’s transfer Aidan Mahaney joining Hassan Diarra in the backcourt and a new-look frontcourt duo of Michigan transfer Tarris Reed and returnee Samson Johnson, UConn will once again be one of the best in the nation. Karaban will be the centerpiece and a Big East Player of the Year frontrunner. 

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

Nate Oats has done one of the best coaching jobs in America, and to bring back Sears is massive. The 6-1 guard averaged 21.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this past year, shooting 51% from the floor and 44% from 3-point range while leading the Crimson Tide to the program’s first-ever Final Four. Stretch forward Grant Nelson also elected to run it back in Tuscaloosa for his fifth season of college basketball. If there was a flaw in Alabama this past year, it was a lack of an interior presence. Oats addressed that with All-Big Ten big man and Rutgers transfer Cliff Omoruyi, a 6-11 center who averaged 10.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this past year. He’ll provide experience and physicality that the Tide need next season. 

4. Houston Cougars

Yes, they lose Jamal Shead and Damian Dunn, but the Cougars still possess the trait that many others have trouble with: roster continuity. That continuity results in an elite identity of toughness that Kelvin Sampson has built into an eye-popping 97-15 record over the last three years. Houston will have one of the best shotmakers in America back in LJ Cryer, along with Emanuel Sharp on the perimeter, while Oklahoma transfer Milos Uzan will help fill the void left by Shead and Dunn being gone. The 6-4 rising junior guard averaged 9.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season. The frontcourt has returning pieces too, with upperclassmen Ja'Vier Francis and J'Wan Roberts in the fold.  

5. Iowa State Cyclones

Four of the Cyclones' projected five starters are returning from a program that has reached the Sweet 16 in two of the last three seasons after not doing so since 2016. Having their heart and soul leader back in Tamin Lipsey to run TJ Otzelberger’s system, along with Keshon Gilber, Curtis Jones, and a breakout sophomore candidate in Milan Momcilovic, gives Iowa State so many possibilities entering this season. I also love the pickup of 6-7 Saint Mary’s transfer Josh Jefferson

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels are at No. 6 because RJ Davis could be the preseason national player of the year. The rising fifth-year senior averaged 21.2 points, 3.5 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game this past season and his decision to come back is huge for Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels. The big question for North Carolina: What does life without Armando Bacot look like? Two of the top-11 freshmen in the 247 Sports rankings are coming to Chapel Hill with shooting guard Ian Jackson and wing Drake Powell, both five-star prospects. With Vanderbilt transfer Ven-Allen Lubin and Belmont transfer Cade Tyson also coming into the program, the Heels added good size in the portal and will be the front-runner in the ACC.

7. Baylor Bears

The vibes are great in Waco with Scott Drew electing to stay at Baylor after Louisville and Kentucky courted him. I feel like I went too low on the Bears here, but that might be a reflection of just how strong the rest of the country is in the top 10. Getting Duke transfer Jeremy Roach and Miami transfer Norchad Omier was big, while five-star guard V.J. Edgecombe is one of the most intriguing freshmen in America with his quickness and bucket-getting abilities, not to mention incoming freshman guard Robert Wright. Can Roach make his last dance his best act yet with a change of scenery? We shall see. 

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Bulldogs lost Anton Watson from a Sweet 16 team this past year. However, the trio of Graham Ike, Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman all returning should make the Zags a Final Four contender. Mark Few, along with continuity, normally equals dominance in the WCC and successful non-conference seasons. I’m intrigued to see what kind of leap sophomores Braden Huff and Dusty Stromer make as well, and what Steele Venters gives the Zags coming off an ACL injury. He was the Big Sky MVP at his previous stop, Eastern Washington, where he averaged 15.3 points per game while shooting 37% from 3-point range. 

9. Duke Blue Devils

The Cooper Flagg experience is about to begin at Cameron Indoor Stadium, as a candidate for the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft gets set to embark on his freshman season with the Blue Devils. The 6-9 forward has a special combination of rim protection, athleticism and feel for the game, with the key area of growth being his jump shot. If that shot comes along, there’s nothing Flagg is missing as he plays the game with fantastic aggression.

My big question for Jon Scheyer: With Roach gone to Baylor and Jared McCain heading to the NBA, will Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster be able to form a strong 1-2 punch in the backcourt? They are going to be asked to hold it together with Flagg, center Khaman Maluach, and wings Isaiah Evans and Kon Knueppel coming in. Transfers Mason Gillis, Maliq Brown and Sion James should provide solid options as well, but Duke is betting on these freshmen panning out and Proctor putting it all together. We’ll see how that goes. 

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Has Matt Painter found yet another tower of terror for the Boilermakers? It’s certainly possible with 7-3 four-star incoming freshman Daniel Jacobsen showing major upside in the past year and now suiting up for Team USA in FIBA’s U18 Americup. Jacobsen recently went for nine points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks in 20 minutes in a win over Argentina. 

We won’t put unfair expectations on Jacobsen, but it will be interesting to see him in a Purdue uniform given how much success Painter had with Isaac Haas, Matt Haarms, and, of course, Edey, who became the first repeat national player of the year since Ralph Sampson. 

Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer are back for their junior seasons and will be one of the best guard duos in college basketball, while Myles Colvin and sharpshooting Cam Heide are poised for sophomore leaps. Don’t forget about forwards Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn, who are both back as well. Obviously, Purdue will play differently in the post-Edey era, but welcoming back that type of nucleus for the national runner-up should only help the Boilermakers make this major adjustment to how they play. 

11. Auburn Tigers
12. Arizona Wildcats
13. Tennessee Volunteers
14. Creighton Bluejays
15. Indiana Hoosiers
16. Florida Gators
17. UCLA Bruins
18. Texas A&M Aggies
19. Xavier Musketeers
20. Cincinnati Bearcats
21. Marquette Golden Eagles
22. Arkansas Razorbacks
23. Oregon Ducks
24. Maryland Terrapins 
25. St. John's Red Storm

First Five Out:

Providence Friars
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kansas State Wildcats
Michigan State Spartans

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


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