College basketball starts in less than a month. (Opening day is Nov. 9.) So we’ve still got some time, but you know games will be here before too long. That in mind, I couldn’t go another day without handing over our biggest piece of preseason content at CBS Sports: my beloved/unpropitious/mockable/earnest No. 1-358 ranking of every school in men’s college hoops.
We do this every year and wouldn’t you know it every year I get every team in exactly the right order. Don’t even bother going back to previous seasons to fact-check me. Waste of your time.
We are teasing you by breaking this up into three parts. The 1-358 will run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Today’s opening salvo has capsules for teams ranked 201st through 358th. That’s a substantial population of the sport — 44.4% of it. In this section you’ll find more than just bad teams. (I’m afraid to report there are so many bad teams.) There are plenty of good ones. Interesting squads abound! There will inevitably be a crew or two or 10 in here that wind up wildly overshooting expectations and turn themselves into league contenders in their mid- and low-major conferences.
You can count on it: at least three of these programs will make their way to the NCAA Tournament in six months.
We’ve got small-school stat monsters, coaches on the rise, intriguing rebuild projects and like 17 schools with a Wildcat nickname. Plus: there is another new team to Division I this year. Do you know who it is? Read and scroll to find out.
Here are teams 201-358 for the 2021-22 college basketball season.
201. VMI: Kamdyn Curfman and Trey Bonham return to help reigning SoCon coach of the year Dan Earl push upward in the league. Back-to-back winning seasons are very hard to come by at VMI; they’ve only happened once in the previous 20 years.
202. Penn: If the Quakers wind up making me look foolish and turn into a top-three Ivy team that finishes somewhere closer to 130 in the metrics, chances are combo guard Jordan Dingle will have morphed into a top-two guy in the conference.
203. Georgia Southern: I’m told this is a really fun group to coach; it will be one of the more veteran-laden mid-majors this season as well. To wit: Grant Weatherford. The guy started his career at Purdue in 2015. This will be his seventh season of college! He’s working on a second master’s. PG Tre Cobbs, his young’un teammate, is in his sixth year.
204. Central Michigan: This is head job No. 3 for Tony Barbee, who was 82-52 at UTEP and 49-75 at Auburn. Hard to see the Chippewas being a force in the MAC, but even the bottom-tier teams in that league usually don’t fall far beyond this spot, historically. It should come as no surprise to learn this is almost an entirely new roster.
205. Milwaukee: I can 100% declare this is the most interesting sub-200 team I’ve ever ranked because it’s the only sub-200 team I’ve ever ranked that has a potential top-five NBA pick on the roster. Pat Baldwin, Jr. opted to stay home, play for his father and make the Horizon League as enticing as it’s been in a long time.
206. Stephen F. Austin: From 2008-2021, the Lumberjacks won six Southland titles, two NCAA Tournament games and averaged 23.6 wins (and it would have been 24 or 25 had last season included only 21 games). Now SFA is in the WAC and I think the addition is going to position that league to consistently be top-20 again.
207. Loyola Maryland: I still can’t believe this happened but it did: Loyola Maryland had a player selected in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. Santi Aldama averaged 21.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks for this Patriot League program. The question is, how big, really, is the void left by Aldama, considering the Greyhounds went 6-11 last season?
208. Montana State: With C Jubrile Belo looking to shoot at least 60% from the field for a third straight season, expect the Bobcats to earn their keep in the paint, at the line and with a good chunk of seniors.
209. Elon: What will ultimately suit coach Mike Schrage well is his embrace of positionless ball. At the mid-major level that’s not always a practical approach, but Elon’s been finding a click to its style in two years under Schrage’s tutelage. Name to know: Hunter McIntosh will be first-team All-CAA.
210. Valparaiso: Valpo’s been in the Missouri Valley for four seasons and is yet to finish above .500 in league play. Good shot to break that streak this season. Oh, we have a moniker change, and it’s laughably awful. Valpo used to be the Crusaders. Now they are the Beacons. I’m not kidding. Beacons. WHY.
211. Cal State Bakersfield: Shaun Williams should grow from being a 10-a-night guy to 15-a-night. This isn’t a team expected to have reliable minutes-getters off the bench, so winning the war of attrition is going to be key for the Roadrunners in the Big West.
212. Southern Miss: Jaron Pierre could well sneak onto C-USA’s second team by March. It’s easy to fall prey to the idea that teams that finished 310th or 280th or 172nd in a predictive metric will be within 10-20 spots of that year over year, but it’s important to shake up expectations. So I’ll ride with this (272 at Torvik last season) team making a hop.
213. Saint Peter’s: The nation’s No. 1 shot-blocker last season was none other than Peacock KC Ndefo (3.6 per game), who also swiped 1.4 steals for good measure. With him back, this is a tasty MAAC contender. That’s almost never the case with this school.
214. Abilene Christian: Brette Tanner is one of more than 15 new head coaches who were promoted in-house back in March/April. It’s a solid choice; Tanner was Joe Golding’s top assistant the previous two seasons, which ended with Abilene in the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s in the WAC and will aim for a top-five finish.
215. Pacific: When Brad Stevens left his post as Celtics coach, it opened up a chance for an unlikely successor in Ime Udoka. And who is a longtime friend of Udoka’s? Former Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire, which means the Tigers promoted Leonard Perry. The WCC is stacked in the top half, so a sixth-place finish is a practical goal.
216. Army: Had a chance to see Jimmy Allen’s team in person last season and it was no surprise to eventually see the Black Knights finish above .500. This will be a defense-first group that has the best defender in the Patriot League in Josh Caldwell.
217. Northern Illinois: Trendon Hankerson (13.9 ppg) is a go-to on offense; Chris Osten is a lockdown defender. Rashon Burno, who got this job from Arizona State, brought Osten with him. NIU kept six players despite the coaching change.
218. Kansas City: Rare is the team these days that runs a generous load of its offense through an in-the-paint player, but the Roos have PF Josiah Allick back. He’ll probably have one of the heaviest usage percentages in D-I.
219. Evansville: Jawaun Newton and Shamar Givance coming back for Todd Lickliter’s team means it’s likely the Purple Aces will be able to pick off a foe here or there in the top half of the Missouri Valley. One of the toughest scouts in the league.
Did you know: Detroit’s Antoine Davis has scored at least 10 points in 82 straight games.
220. Detroit: Walking bucket Antoine Davis is averaging 24.9 points for his three-year career and has amassed 2,040. He’ll need to average north of 30 per night and have Detroit play at least 33 games to reach the rare 3,000-point club. (Last season’s 22-game schedule is what’s probably going to hold him back.)
221. Mount St. Mary’s: The Mount made the NCAA tourney for the third time in eight years in March but loses top player Damian Chong Qui, who is going to finish at Purdue Fort Wayne. Nana Opoku and Mezie Offurum become big-shoulder players for Dan Engelstad.
222. Southeast Missouri State: SEMO returns a lot of weapons, and Brad Korn’s club carries a reputation for being a hassle to handle for 40 minutes. This is the deeeep OVC sleeper, led by Chris Harris (12.3 ppg) and Eric Reed (11.0 ppg).
223. Jacksonville State: Jacksonville University and Jacksonville State are once again members of the same conference — the ASUN. But don’t be fooled. This school is in Jacksonville, Alabama, which is nearly 450 miles northwest of Jacksonville, Florida.
224. Morgan State: The Bears and Norfolk State were clearly 1 and 2 in the MEAC last season. Expect more of the same, as Kevin Broadus tries to bring this team back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010.
225. Oakland: Greg Kampe’s got a first team all league-caliber player with Jalen Moore, who had the No. 2 assist rate in the country last season (45.9%) while also taking 14 shots nightly. Few guys are as truly essential to their mid-major team like Moore.
226. UNC Asheville: Senior wing L.J. Thorpe could become one of the elite 3-and-D mid-major players in the country. The Bulldogs are a fun dark horse to take the Big South, and probably finish fourth at worst.
227. Troy: Nick Stampley is a rugged, clean-up-the-trash player and Zay Williams is a beanpole of a defender. All starters return, so Scott Cross’ Trojans will make the leap this year in the Sun Belt.
228. Florida Gulf Coast: I love this: USC and coach Andy Enfield are returning to FGCU on Nov. 16 to play a road game at the school Enfield took to the Sweet 16 in 2013 — the run that got him the USC job. Michael Fly’s group will have the biggest home game in school history.
229. La Salle: The Explorers are hoping A-10 Sixth Man of the Year Sherif Kenney makes a big leap, while Louisville transfer Josh Nickelberry is for sure an X-factor.
230. UTSA: There aren’t five programs that will miss a player more than the Roadrunners will miss Jhivvan Jackson, who scored more than 2,500 points and was one of the most talented bucket-getters in C-USA history.
231. Northern Colorado: Steve Smiley’s team only allowed 22.3% of its opponents’ shots to come from 3-point range last season, which was the stingiest defensive rate in the country. UNC went 11-11.
232. Hofstra: We’ve got a relatively rare case of the best player in school history coaching his alma mater. Speedy Claxton enters Year One. He led the then-Flying Dutchmen (bring it back, please) to the 2000 NCAAs and was the 20th pick in that year’s NBA Draft. Vibes are high in Hempstead, New York.
233. Southeastern Louisiana: Your Southland dark horse in 2022. David Kiefer has a team that’s finally healthy and relying on Keon Clergeot (15.9 ppg) and Ryan Burkhardt (38% from 3-point range), both players who started their careers elsewhere.
234. Cal Baptist: Still not NCAA Tournament-eligible, but through three seasons in D-I the Lancers are 50-35 with a fifth-pace, second-place and fourth-place finish. Well done, Rick Croy.
235. Jackson State: There were 11 teams last season that claimed a winning streak of at least 12 games vs. D-I teams. Those teams: Gonzaga, Baylor, San Diego State, Belmont, Winthrop, Morehead State, UC Santa Barbara, Colgate, Drake, Prairie View A&M and your Jackson State Tigers.
236. Hawaii: Last season’s team had to wait until Jan. 8 to play its first game against a D-I foe, then played 19 games in two months’ time. The good news is Samuta Avea (10.8 ppg) is back after going on hiatus last season because of the pandemic.
237. Monmouth: We give thanks that one more season of George Papas is on the table, all because of the bonus year available for all. UNC transfer Walker Miller could be a crucial addition in the MAAC for the Hawks.
238. Western Michigan: B. Artis White is all of 155 pounds and maybe 5-foot-10. He’s a blast. But the Broncos won’t be moving up much in the MAC unless they are no longer what they were a year ago: the worst team in the league at turning the ball over and forcing the other team into giveaways.
239. UMass Lowell: Reasonable to assume that losing Obadiah Noel (21.4 ppg, and maybe the best player in the America East last season) will mean Lowell slips a tad after making the America East championship game.
240. Wagner: The Seahawks average 11 league wins across Bashir Mason’s nine years with the program. Not yet won a postseason title. Will it happen in 2022?
241. Middle Tennessee: The biggest reason the Blue Raiders haven’t clicked yet under Nick McDevitt is shooting. In McDevitt’s five seasons with UNC Asheville (2013-18) his teams averaged 93rd nationally in effective field goal percentage. In his three seasons with MTSU: 307th.
242. Tarleton State: In the program’s first season of D-I (amid a pandemic) the Texans played five non-DI schools last season. That number drops to three in 2021-22, with four games vs. 2021 tournament teams. Reminder: Billy Gillispie coaches here.
243. Longwood: This team finished 9-4 last season. I’m pumping the brakes a bit because there may not be an elite mid-major player on the roster, but perhaps Griff Aldrich does have a team ascending in the Big South.
244. American: Few teams that opted to play last season competed in fewer games than American (10), a 4-6 ending against only four opponents. Mike Brennan’s team will be champing at the bit.
245. George Washington: The Colonials should have four double-digit scorers, led by junior lead guard James Bishop. GW needs to force the issue with its man-to-man defense in order to scoot up in the A-10.
246. New Mexico: Win percentage-wise, UNM is in the midst of its worst run since the early 1980s. So in comes Richard Pitino (159-137 career record) to turn this thing around. Pitino brought Jamal Mashburn, Jr. with him from Minnesota; Mashburn could be a top-five Mountain West player in a year’s time.
247. Idaho State: Who wouldn’t want their best player to boast the last name Cool? The Bengals will be a factor in the Big Sky with Tarik Cool. Plus, factor in that more than 80% of the team’s points and rebounds return from a 13-11 team.
248. Merrimack: Joe Gallo’s got five starters back, and remember, two seasons ago this team won the NEC regular-season title despite not yet being eligible to make the NCAA Tournament. Dark horse again.
249. Niagara: Greg Paulus seems to be building a program in his image up by the Falls. The Purple Eagles bring back Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon and Justin Roberts — a necessary vet presence in the MAAC.
250. Cornell: This program probably has more question marks than any other Ivy League team, but I’m going to zag a bit here and predict it doesn’t finish last in the standings.
251. Little Rock: Fun fact: Beloved former NC State player Julius Hodge is an assistant at this school. The Trojans will try to be a counter to most of the other teams in the Sun Belt by playing big and relying on strength inside to muscle-out victories.
252. Tennessee Tech: Jr. Clay (17.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) coming back means TTU will have a stud, someone with 30-in-a-night potential in the OVC. The Golden Eagles won three of their final six last season after going 2-19 initially, so the arrow is flickering in the right direction.
253. Charleston: All that winning at Winthrop did Pat Kelsey good, as he’s now here after Earl Grant wound up being the hire at Boston College. If Kelsey keeps it up, he’ll have Charleston ruling the CAA by his third season.
254. Long Beach State: Dan Monson (now in his 15th season with the Beach) seems to have the wild-card group of the Big West. Speed ’em up and see what spins out.
255. Illinois State: Critical year ahead for the biggest Chicago Bears fan that’s a head coach in college hoops. (As a Bears fan, I’ve gotta mention it.) Dan Muller’s Redbirds are trying to avoid a third straight sub-.500 season for the first time in program history.
256. Youngstown State: Failed to get above .500 in the Horizon League last season, extending YSU’s streak of not having two consecutive seasons at .500 or better in conference play to 20 years.
257. Columbia: Since the Ivy League doesn’t have scholarships — but we do have this bonus year for all these players — Ivy programs will have between 15-20 guys in uniform on the bench in ’21-22. Let’s get weird.
258. Sacramento State: The Hornets’ home arena is one of the most aptly named in the sport: The Nest. No corporate sponsorship. Just: The Nest. It’s one of the five smallest gyms in D-I. I gotta find a way to catch a game there someday.
259. High Point: A great moment for High Point coach Tubby Smith is coming on New Year’s Eve. That’s when Kentucky — the school he coached for almost a decade and led to the 1998 national title — will welcome him back and honor him prior to the High Point-UK game at Rupp Arena.
260. Boston University: I had a few coaches in recent weeks suggest to me that there’s going to be a major split, generally, at the mid- and low-major level this season between teams that return all their starters and ones that have three at most. BU’s another such team with all five main guys back.
261. UT Arlington: Greg Young takes over the Mavs for Chris Ogden, who not only left as UTA’s coach but took a non-coaching role on Chris Beard’s staff at Texas. So you know that paycheck is good. Arlington has the feel of a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team, according to coaches I spoke with.
262. Stony Brook: Former star Elijah Olaniyi is back for one more season with SBU after spending last year with the Miami Hurricanes. Jayden Sayles is the key guy, though, as his interior presence will dictate whether or not this team can clear .500.
263. Utah Valley: Mark Madsen signed a restructured contract in September to keep him with UVU through 2026. The Wolverines came on strong late last season and hope to carry that right into November.
264. Quinnipiac: There’s a big opportunity for the Bobcats to be the long shot that takes the MAAC. Four starters back, and the only non-returnee who’ll start is one of the five best players in school history. Rebounding machine Kevin Marfo returns after a year at Texas A&M. Bonus year will pay dividends for a school like QU.
265. Stetson: Expect Donnie Jones to have a stable backcourt, with junior guard Rob Perry poised to be one of the stat-stuffers of the ASUN in ’21-22.
266. Canisius: Though this program hasn’t been a top contender in the MAAC for basically 22 of the past 23 years, it’s now finding some footing under Reggie Weatherspoon and has a chance to move into the top three of the league in the next two seasons.
267. Samford: A program reset for the Bulldogs, who lost more than 90% of their production from a last-place SoCon team.
268. UAlbany: The Great Danes enter as a bottom-four team in the America East, but it could well be the last time that ever happens under first-year coach Dwayne Killings, who knows the area well and hired a strong staff.
Norfolk State, seen here in last season’s First Four, is well-positioned to win the MEAC once more.
269. Norfolk State: The Spartans made the NCAA Tournament in March, winning a 54-53 grinder vs. Appalachian State. Will be a top-two team again in the MEAC. They run a good ship down there in Norfolk.
270. Incarnate Word: Losing Freshman of the Year Keaston Willis to Louisiana Tech is such a stinger for the Cardinals, who’d be a top-three Southland squad otherwise. But Carson Cunningham has a sturdy point guard in Drew Lutz and a team that can make a healthy dose of 3s.
271. New Hampshire: There are some ways for UNH to make moves in what should be a down year for the America East. Can the Wildcats take advantage? They’ve never made the league final.
272. Radford: It’s a homecoming for Darris Nichols, as the area native got this job after these dominoes toppled: Cincinnati fired its coach; it hired UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller; UNCG went and hired Mike Jones away from Radford, opening up a spot for Nichols, who left Florida to take his first head job.
273. Lafayette: Leo O’Boyle is back for the Leopards, and let me say I love the idea that there’s a player out there with the name Leo O’Boyle who made becoming a Division I basketball player a reality.
274. Prairie View A&M: Great opportunity on Nov. 13 for this team when it faces Michigan in the Coaches vs. Racism showcase game in Washington, D.C. More and more HBCU schools are getting more-accommodating nonconference opportunities vs. power programs. We love to see it.
275. LIU: What I love about Derek Kellogg’s teams is how quick they are tempo-wise (72 possessions per game on average in his four seasons) and how willing those fast teams are to share the ball. If he can land legit shooters, LIU is a top-200 program.
276. Lipscomb: The Bisons have one of those enjoyable small-college passing bigs who are irresistible. Ahsan Asadullah will likely lead his team in points, boards and dimes again. By the by, I’ve got the Bisons and the Bison back-to-back here …
277. Bucknell: Who’s got the Funk? Bucknell’s got the Funk. Gotta have that Funk. Andrew Funk (12.9 ppg) is the pivotal returnee for the Bison. Time for a music break!
278. Lehigh: It’s uncommon for Brett Reed’s team to be projected near the bottom of the Patriot League. That seems probable this season as the Mountain Hawks try to get back to normal after playing just 15 games a season ago. Essentially everyone’s back, though, and that should be a positive.
279. Manhattan: The Jaspers should have one of the best 1-2 combos in the MAAC with Ant Nelson and Warren Williams. Both crucial seniors on a team that ranked last or second-to-last in the conference in free throw percentage, 3-point percentage and defensive rebounding.
280. Purdue Fort Wayne: The Mastodons return four starters off an 8-15 team that was among the best 3-point-shooting clubs in the Horizon League. Most important among them: senior guard Jarred Godfrey.
281. FIU: Maryland transfer Aquan Smart should be the most valuable player on a Panthers team that was a disappointment (9-17) in C-USA last season. I’m rating low based on a bad Jan-March, but this team has prospects.
282. Dartmouth: I’m using this space to highlight Dartmouth graduate senior Brendan Barry, who was last seen averaging 13.2 points a couple of years ago. The Ivy League normally does not allow graduate students to play basketball, but due to the pandemic, this year is a one-time-only exception. It needs to be a permanent change; not having this rule is a huge disadvantage for the Ivy League, which already faces enough athletic challenges as is.
283. Dixie State: This is the second season as a card-carrying Division I member for the Trailblazers, who are based out of St. George, Utah, and went 6-13 against D-I teams last season. Jon Judkins deploys one of the quickest offenses in the sport. Gonzaga’s first opponent.
284. Robert Morris: Its first season in the Horizon League was a quagmire. Andy Toole’s team went 4-15 a year after being the best in the NEC. The Colonials will creep up in the overall rankings this year.
285. North Dakota: Paul Sather’s Fighting Hawks don’t appear to be a top-of-the-table threat on paper in the Summit League. Bentiu Panoam will be a bucket-getter and their go-to weapon when they invariably find themselves in tight conference tilts.
286. The Citadel: Had this promising program not lost efficient forward Kaiden Rice to Georgetown, the Bulldogs would be much closer to 200 than 300.
287. Saint Francis (PA): Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash got off to a wonderful start last season, winning by double digits at Pitt. Then it finished 6-16. Alas. First up on this year’s schedule: at George Washington. Winnable again!
288. Austin Peay: Nate James will not be on the Coach K farewell tour, as the former Duke assistant took this job in March. The Govs return key PG Carlos Paez (8.9 ppg, 4.2 apg) and also have Mike Peake (10.7 ppg) back. Great opportunity for James here.
289. Kennesaw State: Nine of the team’s top 10 scorers are back, which will 100% equate to a climb in the ratings. Kennesaw State finished 335th in KenPom, so here comes a bump.
290. Fordham: Kyle Neptune, I think you are the guy. The Villanova assistant and New York City native won this job in March from a humongous pool of candidates. Fordham is a ridiculously hard assignment in the A-10, but I’m saying Neptune gets this team at least to its first 20-win season since — you ready for this? — the early 1990s. Neptune just landed a top-150 prospect for 2022, so things are rosy in the Bronx.
291. McNeese State: Heath Schroyer resigned earlier this year, transitioned to becoming McNeese State’s AD and hired his former assistant, John Aiken, immediately. VCU transfer Brendan Medley-Bacon is likely going to be the best incoming player in the Southland.
292. North Florida: UNF coach Matt Driscoll is going to absolutely razz me when he finds out I’ve slotted his team this low. The defense needs a complete makeover first.
293. Cal State Fullerton: Quirky: This team has two players with the last name Maddox Jr. who are not related. Tray Maddox Jr. is maybe one of the five best players in the Big West, while Dante Maddox, Jr. could be one of the 15 best.
294. Fairfield: A sub-300 team that went 10-17 a season ago, but the Stags do return all their starters. Unfortunately, the offense was abysmal, so I need to see some evidence before bumping ’em up too far.
295. Florida A&M: Yet another team that’s moved in to the 12-school SWAC and carries a defensive identity. By the way, more schools need their logos to aspire to be as menacing as the Florida A&M Rattler. Look at this demonic snake. That’s an angry reptile.
296. Omaha: A lot of new bodies in the frontcourt for the Mavericks, who went 5-20 but finished the regular season winning three of their final four. Small uptick loading.
297. Holy Cross: The Crusaders returning Gerrale Gates and R.J. Johnson (25 points per game combined) will give them a chance at not finishing last in the Patriot League in Brett Nelson’s third season as coach.
298. Western Carolina: Real ones remember Justin Gray from when he played with Chris Paul at Wake Forest. Now Gray, who’s 37, is entering his first season as a head coach. The Catamounts need some time to cook.
299. Portland State: In March, you might remember when an unknown coach went viral for saying he doesn’t eat breakfast and that he drives an old beat up car without AC or heat. That coach: Portland State’s Jase Coburn. I kinda can’t wait to see what he does here.
300. Texas A&M Corpus Christi: Steve Lutz spent the past decade-plus serving as an assistant to Greg McDermott at Creighton and Matt Painter at Purdue. The Islanders should ferment into a fun offensive group in time. This year’s leader will be senior guard Myles Smith.
301. Air Force: Joe Scott’s teams always rank at the bottom in tempo. If it’s a first-to-70 affair, AFA is usually not winning that race. But this year’s team will be better than the 5-20 collective from last season.
302. Southern: The Jaguars’ average KenPom ranking the past three seasons under Sean Woods: 297. I’ve got Southern in the top half of the SWAC due to its respectable 3-point capability.
303. UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks lost 11 league games to COVID cancellations last season. Rough. This team brings on eight new players, including the not-so-common “boomerang” transfer: a guy who started at one school, left, and came back. That’s Jaylen Fornes, a career 38% 3-point shooter.
304. Rider: The Broncs were one of the worst defensive teams in the nation, and it was made worse by the fact that this team suddenly stopped getting to the foul line. After ranking 18th in free throw rate on average the three prior seasons, Rider was 240th in 2020-21.
305. Western Illinois: One of those programs without a rudder. It claims only one 20-win season (in 2012-13) in the past 35 years. The school is heavily rumored to soon leave the Summit to join the OVC.
306. Towson: Transparency: Every year when I do this there are five-or-so teams that invariably pop up and I wind up ranking them a good 40 or 50 spots below where my gut tells me I should. But I get the feedback from other coaches in the league, look at the roster, see the trends, and trust. But if Pat Skerry’s Tigers end as a top-250 team, it won’t surprise me in the least.
307. Grambling: A round of applause for Tigers coach Donté Jackson, who in his first four years at Grambling has a record of 63-58. Grambling has been .500 or better all four seasons. It’s the first time in the history of the program it’s gone four straight years of .500 or better.
308. UIC: Flames coach Luke Yaklich, a defensive specialist, actually saw this team’s defensive prowess dip in his first season. This year will be the test, as the Flames have to become a better man-to-man outfit.
309. Sacred Heart: You can’t accuse me of hometown bias! This is the closest university to where I live, and Anthony Latina routinely overshoots expectations. But it’s looking like the Pioneers will be in a retooling time in the months ahead.
310. SIU Edwardsville: Briane Barone and his staff believe this program is all but two years away from taking command in the OVC. Freshman Desmond Polk will be among the best first-year players in the conference.
311. Jacksonville: Not even a 90-minute move for Jordan Mincy, who left his assistant’s post at Florida to take his first head job with the Dolphins. A hodgepodge roster in year one will make for an uphill climb in the second-lowest elevated state.
312. CSUN: Remember when Cal State Northridge hired Mark Gottfried a few years ago when his former NC State program was in the midst of a huge NCAA investigation because of the fallout from the FBI probe? And everyone in college athletics asked what the hell CSUN was thinking? Well, Gottfried and his entire staff got suspended in April, they remain on paid leave, and now the formerly retired Trent Johnson is interim coach. Mess.
313. North Carolina A&T: New league alert. The Aggies are out of the MEAC and into the Big South. Being a top-10 turnover rate team a season ago will help them adjust to the new surroundings.
314. Marist: If John Dunne’s offense can find even half a groove, the Red Foxes will make headway. But there’s so much to prove here at a school that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2008.
315. Eastern Michigan: Pretty clearly seems to be the worst team in the MAC heading in, but the good news is new coach Stan Heath is familiar with this conference. After all, he was at Kent State in 2002 when he led that program to an Elite Eight.
316. UC San Diego: In the Tritons’ first season of D-I play they finished 3-10 vs. D-I teams, all of them intra-conference games against the Big West. I’m not expecting too much growth in year two.
317. Portland: Shantay Legans parlayed his NCAA Tournament trip with Eastern Washington to getting a good job with a terribly steep climb in the WCC. This program shouldn’t be this bad so often.
318. Green Bay: The Phoenix are in their second season under Will Ryan (son of Bo Ryan) and are working their way to relevancy in the Horizon League. Personal note: Given I live in Connecticut, this is probably the most unexpected/random school I’ve ever been to for a game.
319. Alabama A&M: The Bulldogs will squarely be in the SWAC mix thanks to third-year PF Jalen Johnson, who is the dark horse choice to be the best player in the conference.
After two years away, former Nebraska coach Tim Miles returns to head up San Jose State.
320. San Jose State: I think Tim Miles can pull San Jose State into the top half of the Mountain West eventually. But this year will be brutal, most notably because the NCAA cold-bloodedly suspended his best player, Richard Washington, for the entire season after Washington didn’t properly follow pre-draft protocols before deciding to return to school.
321. Louisiana Monroe: Probably going to be a long season for one of the smallest teams in the Sun Belt. This was the worst team in the league on the boards a season ago, and that’s not likely to change.
322. Presbyterian: A seven-win team that returns all starters. Thank the bonus year, sure, but in the year 2021 the idea that you can go 7-15 and not lose one of your five best players is masterful roster management by Quinton Ferrell.
323. St. Francis Brooklyn: Rob Higgins and Trey Quartlebaum are the guys/guards who will try to get the Terriers into the top half of the NEC.
324. NJIT: Based on what I’ve heard from others in the league, the Highlanders probably won’t have nearly enough offense to make them an America East contender.
325. William & Mary: Here’s the dilemma. William & Mary returns 2021 CAA Rookie of the Year Connor Kochera. He’ll likely be better. If he sticks around for four years, he can bring W&M to the top three in the CAA. But can Dane Fischer avoid having his best player poached before then?
326. Eastern Illinois: Jay Spoonhour was let go after nine seasons, so Marty Simmons is back after a few years away from head coaching (he left Evanston in 2018). Henry Abraham is the best returning player, but Simmons’ motion offense will mean this roster will play through growing pains.
327. Northern Arizona: Another low-major that saw its two best players leave in the transfer portal, likely meaning that hitting 10 wins is a practical goal.
328. IUPUI: Yet another program (hey, there’s more than 60) with a new coach. Here, it’s Matt Crenshaw, who graduated from the school 17 years ago and is still IUPUI’s leader in assists.
329. Coppin State: Former Maryland hero Juan Dixon is now in his fifth season with the Eagles, and he’s coming off his best one. Coppin State finished 291st, its highest KenPom ranking since 2011-12. Second-year guard Nendah Tarke will be a top-five guy in the MEAC.
330. Charleston Southern: The Big South is now a 12-team league, and coming off a 3-18 showing in 2020-21, I’ve got the Buccaneers pulling the caboose in the conference.
331. Cal Poly: The Mustangs have had four straight seasons with single-digit win totals. Will ’21-22 break the streak? I don’t believe it will, as this is likely the cellar dweller of the Big West again.
332. UTRGV: Matt Figger left what many thought was a better job (Austin Peay) for a spot he believes has a higher ceiling. That probably won’t be evident in the first year. The athletic department is also still working through the grieving process over the death of former coach Lew Hill, who died in the middle of last season.
333. Fairleigh Dickinson: There’s probably too much roster turnover for Greg Herenda to finish anything better than eighth in the NEC. Look up in two years and this team could be in the league title game, though.
334. Lamar: An opportunity for something special here. Former Houston assistant Alvin Brooks got his chance at this job in the midst of UH’s Final Four run. Here’s the thing: Brooks played at Lamar and made the Sweet 16 with the program in the early 1980s. He’s in the school’s hall of fame and started his coaching career there, too. Wonderful homecoming.
335. Houston Baptist: Sophomore Za-Ontay Boothman (10.2 ppg) is a combo guard on the rise in the Southland, but super senior Hunter Janacek will be most pivotal for Ron Cottrell’s team. If junior forward Jason Thompson can stay healthy, this group will be better than 335th.
336. North Carolina Central: LeVelle Moton is 212-157 in 12 years with the Eagles. Safe to say at this point he’s one of the best coaches in the history of the MEAC. However, this team won just five games a season ago and lost four starters.
337. Binghamton: Can Binghamton ever climb out of the America East cellar? Levell Sanders is getting his shot, as an interim, for the year ahead. Gardner-Webb transfer Jacob Falko can be one of the toughest pound-for-pound guys in the conference.
338. Denver: Rodney Billups never hit at UD, so now Jeff Wulbrun (former Stanford assistant) will try to become the first coach to get the Pioneers to the NCAA Tournament.
339. Hampton: Three starters return for the Pirates, who can claim to be the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball last season in an important category. Hampton led the nation by blocking 16.1% of opponents’ shots.
340. South Carolina State: As is often the case, a good chunk of schools in the bottom 20-or-so are undergoing reboots with new coaches. That’s true of the Bulldogs, who hired Tony Madlock.
341. North Alabama: I admit this is a drastic projection for a team that made a surprise run to the ASUN title game, but this is still a program-build for a school that’s not yet eligible for the NCAA tourney because of its ongoing transition phase in D-I.
342. Howard: Last season was a lost opportunity, as the highly publicized commitment of former five-star prospect Makur Maker led to a five-game season for the Bison that saw Maker play in one game. One great thing for this program: Rod Balanis left his post after 21 years as an assistant at Notre Dame to be Howard coach Kenny Blakeney’s No. 1 assistant. The two played together in high school.
343. Northwestern State: Mike McConathy enters his 23rd year with the program, and he’ll have Kendal Coleman (a second team all-league-caliber player in the Southland) as a double-double guy. Larry Owens returning for one more go-around is also huge for the Demons.
344. Idaho: Talk about a season from hell. The Vandals went 1-21 in a pandemic and averaged 61.0 points. I predict six times as many wins this season!
345. Central Connecticut State: The Donyell Marshall era brought little success, so after four seasons CCSU hired alum Pat Sellers. Sellers is an area native, has coached in the northeast for much of his life and has the small but passionate base sanguine about the future.
346. Central Arkansas: Another inter-conference move, as the Bears left the Southland to join the ASUN, where they’re universally expected to finish last in their first year in the league.
347. UT Martin: New coach Ryan Ridder, via Bethune-Cookman, has a bottom-tier OVC team with not one player who was on the roster a season ago. But there are a lot of veteran guys, likely led by FIU transfer Bernie Andre, a 6-6 small forward.
348. Alabama State: NBA champion Mo Williams is in his second season. The remodeling of a program in his vision continues. Within the next two years, it’s plausible he’ll have one of the best teams in the SWAC.
349. USC Upstate: Dave Dickerson is trying to get the Spartans out of the basement of the Big South. Shooting will be the biggest concern for a team that’s at least got enough returning players to avoid being a walkover.
350. St. Thomas: D-I’s newest team also gives Minnesota (the school is in St. Paul) a second D-I program. The NCAA cleared a waiver for the university to make the rare, cut-the-line jump from D-III to D-I. Nickname: the Tommies. Hey, a unique one! Not another Wildcat, Tiger, Hawk or Bulldog (thank god). St. Thomas is in the Summit League.
351. UMES: Outside of the Ivy League, there were but a couple of schools that did not play a game last season. The Hawks here were one of them. Da’Shawn Phillip will be the most important player on a team that’s likely bottom-three in the MEAC.
Reggie Theus is going from coaching in the Big 3 to running Bethune-Cookman.
352. Bethune-Cookman: The SWAC swells to a 12-team league; Bethune-Cookman is one of the additions after not playing last season. Its new coach is a familiar name, though his hiring came unexpectedly: Reggie Theus. Last seen coaching CSUN in 2018.
353. Arkansas-Pine Bluff: The curious ripple effects of the NCAA Tournament. Pine Bluff coach George Ivory retires, and Solomon Bozeman winds up getting the job. Where did Bozeman come from? The 33-year-old was an assistant last season at Oral Roberts, which pulled off a Sweet 16 run as a No. 15 seed.
354. Maine: Why Black Bear basketball is so appealing to the hardcore northeast college hoops fan: there’s a player from Saskatchewan (Adefolarin Adetogun) who will star for this team. He and Stephane Ingo will be the focal points for a club that only played nine games last season.
355. Alcorn State: The past five seasons’ win totals for the Braves: 18, 11, 10, 15, 6. The program is likely in the midst of a two-year nadir before it crests back toward the top half of the SWAC.
356. Mississippi Valley State: The Delta Devils’ average KenPom ranking the past eight seasons: 348. Former NBAer Lindsey Hunter enters his third season with a 5-49 record. This was the lowest-ranked team in the sport last season, per KenPom.
357. Delaware State: The Hornets hired Stan Waterman, and why not? You’re a MEAC school in need of a change of pace. Waterman won more than 550 games and eight state titles as a high school coach. I like this approach. Give it a try.
358. Chicago State: Chicago State played nine games last season, halting prior to Christmas due to COVID and general instability within the program. Gerald Gillion was hired in July, and he’ll inherit three returning players, the best of the bunch being Coreyoun Rushin.