With the 2021 college basketball cycle all but complete, we are beginning to get a clearer sense of how rosters will look in the season ahead. More than any season in the past, recruiting classes from this cycle are littered with transfers, meaning many schools took a mix of freshmen and players from other schools to fill out their allotment of scholarships.
So what schools are poised to improve the most because of their 2021 recruiting hauls? We'll go through the list 1-10 here. But this isn't a simple regurgitation of the team recruiting rankings.
Michigan and Gonzaga landed the No. 1 and No. 2 recruiting classes at 247Sports, respectively. However, both are missing from this list since both were No. 1 seeds in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. While a newcomer such as Chet Holmgren at Gonzaga or Caleb Houstan at Michigan could be one-and-done stars, there is minimal room for improvement after what both programs accomplished last season.
Instead, the teams featured here are those with the best chance to capitalize on the incoming talent to improve their programs moving forward. Perhaps they had rough 2020-21 seasons, or perhaps they are pairing a solid nucleus of returning talent with a good group of newcomers. Either way, these are the 10 teams in position to benefit most from the influx of talent scheduled to arrive on campus this season.
Breakdown: After a 9-16 season, the Wildcats are here by default because there is no fathomable way they will fail to improve. A dramatic roster overhaul merely ensures Kentucky's rebound from a historically bad campaign will be largely attributable to new faces. Top-40 prospects TyTy Washington, Daimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins comprise the incoming freshman class, while four top-60 transfers will provide proven veteran production. In particular, four-year Davidson star Kellan Grady and ex-West Virginia big man Oscar Tshiebwe figure to be immediate starters capable of raising last season's surprisingly low floor.
Breakdown: The Tigers only signed one class of 2021 player, but it was a good one in five-star forward Jabari Smith. With Smith set to join 7-foot-1 North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler in the front court, Auburn is in store for a serious rebound from their 13-14 campaign. Transfer guards K.D. Johnson (Georgia), Wendell Green (Eastern Kentucky) and Zeb Jasper (Charleston) will give Bruce Pearl depth and options in the back court and get the Tigers back in the mix for an SEC title.
Breakdown: After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, Duke is poised for a bounce back season in what will be coach Mike Krzyzewski's final hurrah on the bench. With freshman forward Paolo Banchero, the No. 2 overall player in the 2021 class, coming in to headline another elite recruiting haul, there is no shot the Blue Devils miss the Big Dance again. There are varying beliefs on how good Duke will ultimately be -- see our recent Dribble Handoff on the matter -- but the arrival of Banchero along with fellow top-20 prospects AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels should ensure a certain baseline of improvement.
Breakdown: The Terrapins desperately needed a good big man on last year's team, which finished 17-14 (9-11 Big Ten) and lost in the NCAA Tournament's second round. They found one in the transfer portal in ex-Georgetown center Qudus Wahab. Maryland didn't have a true point guard, either, but it got one of those, too, by snagging ex-Rhode Island star Fatts Russell. Those two players, combined with four-star freshmen Julian Reese and Ike Cornish, should raise Maryland's ceiling as coach Mark Turgeon looks to validate the contract extension he received following the season.
Breakdown: A 14-45 record through two seasons for coach Fred Hoiberg offers all the explanation needed to show how difficult the Nebraska basketball job is these days. There is help on the way with five-star guard Bryce McGowens arriving as the headliner of the nation's No. 17 ranked recruiting class. McGowens is the program's highest-rated signee of the 247Sports era and is the No. 3 ranked incoming freshman within the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers are poised to creep toward competitiveness in the 2021-22 season and their incoming talent will be a big reason why.
Breakdown: Miami's 10-17 season, replete with injuries and transfers, would have been enough to drive many 71-year-old coaches to retirement. But Jim Larranaga is returning for some redemption with the help of a solid recruiting class that will surely outshine the program's now disintegrated 2020 haul. DePaul transfer Charlie Moore and George Mason transfer Jordan Miller are proven producers, and three freshmen will compete for minutes. Assuming last year's leading scorers Isiah Wong and Kameron McGusty withdraw from the NBA Draft, the incoming players should comprise most of the supporting cast on a team that will be far more competitive.
Breakdown: Replacing the production of James Bouknight won't be easy, but UConn can improve on last season's first round NCAA Tournament exit if it gets some nice contributions from three top-60 freshmen. Samson Johnson, Rahsool Diggins and Jordan Hawkins should immediately upgrade the program's overall talent level and be able to keep coach Dan Hurley's momentum moving forward as the Huskies try to reestablish themselves as a national power.
Breakdown: Last year felt like the season Texas might finally break through under Shaka Smart as the Longhorns paired veteran guards with a solid front court and a five-star freshman talent in Greg Brown. Ultimately, the Longhorns flopped in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and then had to find a new coach when Smart left for Marquette. Those two things happening in succession didn't seem like a recipe for roster improvement, but Chris Beard pulled off some portal magic to launch Texas back into Gary Parrish's top 15 for next season. Five of this year's top 85 transfers are headed to Texas, including two of the top-10 in Timmy Allen from Utah and Tre Mitchell from UMass.
Breakdown: The Volunteers made this list last year and did improve from missing the NCAA Tournament in 2019 to making it as a No. 5 seed in 2020 thanks to a pair of five-star guards in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. However, Tennessee's 18-9 season and first round exit from the Big Dance was a disappointment that can be improved upon by another top-notch incoming class. With five-star guard Kennedy Chandler and a couple of top-40 bigs in the fold to bolster the front court, the Vols should be back in the thick of a loaded SEC this season.
Breakdown: The Buffaloes are losing a lot from last season's 23-win team, and the dividends from the Pac-12's top-ranked recruiting class may not be immediate. However, Colorado coach Tad Boyle is banking on a player development approach versus the transfer portal approach, and it could pay dividends in a couple of seasons if he can keep this group of incoming talent together. Much like the program's 2017 class laid the foundation for three straight 20+ win seasons, this 2021 class that includes a trio of four-star players and can be a group that helps a consistent program continue to move forward.