It’s getting late in a race that started two years ago. While the NCAA infractions posse has been hunting down Bill Self and threatening severe penalties, the Kansas basketball coach continues to chase his second national championship and first since 2008.
The Jayhawks were close in 2020, when COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the NCAA tournament and Self had a loaded team that was expected to be the No. 1 overall seed.
In September 2019, the Kansas program was tagged with a Notice of Allegations from NCAA Enforcement that charged payments to players and a lack of institutional control. About two weeks later, on a weekend night at Allen Fieldhouse, Self hosted a season tip-off event that featured Snoop Dogg, women swinging around stripper poles on the court and a cannon that shot fake $100 bills into the crowd. Self denied it was his way of defying authority and taunting the NCAA. Of course he denied it. Coaches facing alleged violations always respond with denials and vows to fight the charges.
Early this year, Kansas announced it signed Self to a lifetime contract. The NCAA’s clumsy investigation that has dragged on for more than two years -- with Self and the program accused of committing three Level 1 violations -- seems close to a ruling, according to several media reports. Self could be hit with a suspension or worse. He might also get off the hook.
It’s something to watch because Kansas has the best roster in the nation on paper. What could sidetrack the Jayhawks? Off-the-court issues are a potential problem.
But when a handicapper calculates power ratings, soap-opera storylines are not part of the math equation. Situational distractions and other issues are factors in specific game handicapping, but a team’s power rating is based solely on coaching and the level of talent on the roster from top to bottom.
Who’s No. 1 for the 2021-22 season? Kansas tops my Top 50 power ratings.
The order of the top 10 teams in the AP Top 25 preseason poll -- Gonzaga, UCLA, Kansas, Villanova, Texas, Michigan, Purdue, Baylor, Duke and Kentucky -- looks a little different from my list, but I generally agree with all of those teams being in the top 10 or close to it. Preseason ratings are an inexact science, and a team rating in early November is based mostly on opinion. The ratings are likely to fluctuate a lot the first two months with more data and results to take into consideration.
The Jayhawks’ starting five is about as good as it gets, with the middle manned by 6-foot-10, 250-pound David McCormack. Self caught a break when junior guard Ochai Agbaji, the team’s leading scorer last season, and forward Jalen Wilson withdrew from the NBA draft. Self hit the transfer market and lured point guard Remy Martin, who led the Pac-12 in scoring at Arizona State, in addition to guards Jalen Coleman-Lands (Iowa State) and Joseph Yesufu (Drake) and power forward Cam Martin (Missouri Southern). Sophomore forward Christian Braun is also a candidate to start.
With eight high-level players already mentioned, the depth on Self’s bench might be unsurpassed. He also has guards Dajuan Harris Jr. and Bobby Pettiford, senior forward Mitch Lightfoot and highly touted incoming freshmen KJ Adams, Zach Clemence and Kyle Cuffe.
Kansas rates highly in 3-point shooting, dribble-drive scoring, free-throw shooting, interior and perimeter defense, rebounding, depth and experience. The coach is good, too, even if the NCAA is still gunning for him.
The Jayhawks open the season with a rating of 90 — 100 is the top of my scale — but there’s not much separating the No. 1 and No. 10 teams at this point.
The Bruins might be slightly overrated in this spot. Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang surprisingly decided not to make a run for the NBA money. Point guard Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard and Cody Riley return to a team with legit national title hopes. Mick Cronin can coach circles around most of his colleagues. Cronin adds 6-8 freshman Peyton Watson, a McDonald’s All-American, and has a deep bench. From the First Four to the Final Four, the Bruins were a remarkable story in March, yet it’s worth remembering they finished fourth in the Pac-12 and entered the NCAA tournament on a four-game losing streak.
Is it possible a 31-1 team that lost guard Jalen Suggs and forward Corey Kispert, the fifth and 15th picks in the NBA draft, could be better this season? I have doubts, despite the Zags getting pumped up by preseason media hype. Gonzaga’s interior defense was a weakness, and its guards were too slow to contain Baylor’s attacking offense in the NCAA championship game. Coach Mark Few also must replace versatile guard Joel Ayayi and his top assistant coach, Tommy Lloyd, who left for the Arizona job. Power forward Drew Timme returns to lead the Bulldogs, who welcome in 7-foot freshman star Chet Holmgren.
It might take some time for the pieces to fit, but new coach Chris Beard is working with a complete puzzle. Beard ditched Texas Tech to take his dream job and replace Shaka Smart, who left behind veteran guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. Beard signed four high-impact transfers — Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Timmy Allen (Utah), Devin Askew (Kentucky) and Tre Mitchell (Massachusetts) — and four-star freshman Jaylon Tyson. The Longhorns have the coaching and talent to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 and NCAA titles.
Hunter Dickinson, a 7-1 sophomore, is the best big man in the Big Ten, a conference stacked with talented bigs. Wolverines coach Juwan Howard lost three starters from a 23-5 team, but this season’s team might be more talented with DeVante’ Jones, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns and highly rated freshman Caleb Houstan surrounding Dickinson.
This is an aggressive projection for the Wildcats, who finished 9-16 last season. Coach John Calipari will make a strong comeback. He snagged Davidson sharpshooter Kellan Grady and 6-9 rebounding monster Oscar Tshiebwe from West Virginia as transfers, and the rest of the incoming class appears loaded.
Shooting guard Jaden Ivey blossomed into a star as a freshman for the Boilermakers, who have the strongest big man combo in the nation with 6-10 Trevion Williams and 7-4 Zach Edey. The team’s weaknesses might be point guard play and 3-point shooting. Coach Matt Painter signed highly rated freshmen Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn, so the roster is deep enough for Purdue to make a run at the Big Ten title and more in March.
The media celebration of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season will be unbearable. The Blue Devils missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1995, but that’s not happening this time. Paolo Banchero, a 6-10, 250-pound freshman, could develop into one of the nation’s top 10 players. Coach K welcomes the attention his farewell season will attract, and it’s a good bet the officials’ whistles will favor the Devils along the way.
Senior point guard Collin Gillespie returns after a left knee injury ended his season on March 3. Caleb Daniels, Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels surround Gillespie, so the Wildcats have plenty of talent, but coach Jay Wright will miss the interior toughness that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl took to the NBA.
Bet on coach Dana Altman to mold a dangerous team in March. Junior point guard Will Richardson will lead the Ducks. Altman recruited three impact transfers — Jacob Young (Rutgers), Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) — and 6-11 freshman Nate Bittle to compensate for the void left by NBA lottery pick Chris Duarte. Fast fact: Oregon, Gonzaga and Michigan are the only teams to reach the Sweet 16 in four of the past five NCAA tournaments.
Bears coach Scott Drew lost four starters (Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, Mark Vital) from the NCAA title team that finished 28-2. Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer and Flo Thamba return, and Drew added point guard James Akinjo, a transfer from Arizona, and five-star recruit Kendall Brown. Freshman guard Langston Love recently suffered a season-ending knee injury, however.
Kofi Cockburn is the Shaq of college basketball at 7-foot, 285 pounds. He nearly left for the NBA and considered transferring to Kentucky before opting to return to Champaign. With Cockburn and returning guards Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier, Illini coach Brad Underwood has a team that will be in the fight for the Big Ten title.
Several talented players are running in and out of coach Penny Hardaway’s program. Emoni Bates, a 6-9 forward, decommitted from Michigan State, switched to Memphis and could wind up as the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. The Tigers have a high ceiling despite transfer subtractions Boogie Ellis (USC) and Moussa Cisse (Oklahoma State).
A tireless recruiter who can coach up a new-look roster better than most, Eric Musselman lost three starters from a 25-win team. The Razorbacks added transfers Chris Lykes (Miami), Au’Diese Toney (Pittsburgh) and Stanley Umude (South Dakota).
15. NORTH CAROLINA
Hubert Davis replaces retired coach Roy Williams, and Davis will spend his first season in the shadow of Duke and Coach K down the road. Point guard Caleb Love returns and should be improved. Brady Manek arrives as a transfer from Oklahoma to play next to 6-10 Armando Bacot on the front line.
Kelvin Sampson is an outstanding coach, like him or not. He waved goodbye to leading scorer Quentin Grimes, an NBA first-round pick by the Knicks, and three other starters from a 28-4 team that reached the Final Four. The Cougars will be led by point guard Marcus Sasser and shooting guard Kyler Edwards, a transfer from Texas Tech.
It’s tough to put a solid rating on the Volunteers, who could rise into the top 10 or fall out of the top 25. There are great expectations for freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler, and coach Rick Barnes can lean on veteran forwards Josiah-Jordan James and John Fulkerson.
18. MICHIGAN STATE
The lasting image of coach Tom Izzo from last season was an anguished expression as his Spartans blew a late lead in a First Four tournament loss to UCLA. This is not one of Izzo’s most talented teams, but point guard Tyson Walker and freshman shooting guard Max Christie could form an explosive backcourt. A front line formed by 6-8 Gabe Brown, 6-9 Joey Hauser and 7-foot Marcus Bingham will be strong. Michigan State might end up being much better than expected.
Expect a bounce-back season for coach Bruce Pearl, who finished 13-14. Pearl snagged Walker Kessler, a 7-1 transfer from North Carolina, and shooting guard K.D. Johnson, a Georgia transfer. Wendell Green will run the point for the Tigers, and 6-10 freshman Jabari Smith Jr. is probably a one-and-done NBA prospect.
20. OHIO STATE
Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell is one of the Big Ten’s top players and Chris Holtmann is a sharp coach, so the potential is there. The Buckeyes have two known commodities and several question marks.
After Duke lost early home games to Michigan State and Illinois, Coach K lobbied to cancel the rest of the season, citing COVID-19 issues. Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats publicly criticized the legend, and Oats deserves credit for speaking up. Alabama returns only two starters from a 26-win team, but sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford has enough talent around him for the Tide to compete for a top-three spot in the SEC.
Senior point guard Kihei Clark is still around from the Cavaliers’ 2019 NCAA championship team. Virginia lost four starters from last season, but Armaan Franklin (Indiana) and Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) arrived as transfers. It’s not an overly impressive team on paper, but Tony Bennett is not a coach to underrate.
23. TEXAS TECH
Mark Adams, a longtime assistant to Chris Beard, takes over a Red Raiders team capable of competing with Kansas, Texas and Baylor in the Big 12. Adams signed transfers Kevin Obanor (Oral Roberts) and Davion Warren (Hampton) to boost a roster highlighted by returnees Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Santos-Silva.
The Terrapins could develop into a surprise team in the Big Ten. Coach Mark Turgeon added two big-time transfers — point guard Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and 6-11 center Qudus Wahab (Georgetown).
25. FLORIDA STATE
There’s always an abundance of talent in coach Leonard Hamilton’s program. The Seminoles will follow the lead of returning point guard Rayquan Evans, and Hamilton added transfers Cam’Ron Fletcher (Kentucky) and Caleb Mills (Houston). Is there enough talent on the rest of the roster to make up for the losses of Scottie Barnes, Raiquan Gray and M.J. Walker?
26. VIRGINIA TECH
The Hokies’ strength is a front line led by 6-9 Keve Aluma, who ranked in the ACC’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. Coach Mike Young’s biggest offseason find was point guard Storm Murphy, a Wofford grad transfer.
My rating on this team is much higher than all other preseason projections, and it’s based on the excellence of Porter Moser, who coached Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four in 2018. Moser is replacing the retired Lon Kruger. Umoja Gibson, Elijah Harkless and Jalen Hill are quality returnees. Moser signed Duke transfer guard Jordan Goldwire and versatile big man Tanner Groves, who was the top player in the Big Sky Conference.
“Buddy Buckets” is back after shooting the Orange into the Sweet 16. Junior guard Buddy Boeheim averaged 22.3 points in three NCAA tournament games. His older brother Jimmy Boeheim has transferred in from Cornell to play for coach Jim Boeheim, whose top recruit is 6-8 freshman Benny Williams.
29. OKLAHOMA STATE
Cowboys coach Mike Boynton welcomes back four starters from a team that will be OK without Cade Cunningham, the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick. Boynton added four transfers to a roster led by guards Avery Anderson and Isaac Likekele.
The Huskies reached the NCAA tournament last season mostly due to top scorer James Bouknight, the 11th pick of the NBA draft. The other four starters are coming back for coach Dan Hurley.
The Pac-12 is not as deep as it was last season, when the Trojans were among four teams to reach the NCAA Sweet 16. USC lost Evan Mobley, the NBA’s No. 3 pick, but his brother Isaiah Mobley, a 6-10 third-year sophomore, returns to a team that rates third-best in the conference behind UCLA and Oregon.
32. COLORADO STATE
Rams coach Niko Medved should have the best team in the Mountain West. David Roddy is a 6-5, 250-pound workhorse in the low post, and point guard Isaiah Stevens is in the running with Roddy to be the conference’s top player. Five starters return from a 20-win team that reached the NIT semifinals.
33. MISSISSIPPI STATE
It might be time for coach Ben Howland to reappear as a factor in March. The Bulldogs have three transfers — Garrison Brooks (North Carolina), D.J. Jeffries (Memphis) and Rocket Watts (Michigan State) — ready to make noise in StarkVegas.
34. ST. BONAVENTURE
Five starters return from a 16-5 team for underrated coach Mark Schmidt. Kyle Lofton smoothly runs the point for the Bonnies, who will get perimeter shooting from Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch.
The Musketeers will stay in the mix with guards Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson returning as super seniors, and 6-9 Zach Freemantle is a strong scorer and rebounder.
36. ST. JOHN’S
Nine new players are on coach Mike Anderson’s roster. The Red Storm do return Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander, the top scorers from last season.
NCAA investigators have not nailed Will Wade, so the Tigers’ coach continues to bring talent to Baton Rouge. Seven-foot Efton Reid is a five-star recruit, and 6-7 Darius Days should be among the top scorers and rebounders in the SEC.
The Atlantic 10 is always a tough, underrated league and Richmond should run second to St. Bonaventure. The Spiders have rare experience with 15 returning players, including four starters, accounting for almost 500 career starts. The top players, Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard, are each 23 years old.
39. WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers could finish as high as fourth in the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins will feature four skilled guards (Sean McNeil, Taz Sherman, Malik Curry, Kobe Johnson) to play around forward Gabe Osabuohien.
Archie Miller was kicked out after a 12-15 finish, and former NBA coach and Hoosiers star Mike Woodson is coming in to kick the door down. Woodson has put together a good staff and an improved roster, with 6-9 forward Trayce Jackson-Davis in the starring role. Woodson is having recruiting success and will soon wake up a sleeping giant.
Steve Alford has a solid 35-22 record in his first two years as the Wolf Pack’s coach. His third team in Reno should be his best. Nevada returns five starters, with Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr. running an experienced backcourt. Alford also has 7-foot transfers Warren Washington (Oregon State) and Will Baker (Texas).
Remember these Bruins in March. Belmont, which went 26-4 overall and 18-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season, brings back five starters. Point guard Grayson Murphy leads the band in Nashville.
The return of senior guard Alex Barcello, who led a 20-win team in scoring, assists and 3-point shooting percentage, should help the Cougars win the race for second place in the West Coast Conference.
44. SAINT MARY’S
Randy Bennett could pull 10 random guys off the street and coach them into a winning team. Fortunately, he does not have to do that because five starters return.
The Cardinals’ program is clouded by controversy and coach Chris Mack is suspended for six games in November. This team needs 6-8 sophomore Samuell Williamson and 6-11 senior Malik Williams to step up or the season could go south.
46. SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs lost a lot from last season’s team that finished 23-5. Coach Brian Dutcher has a few players he can count on, including California transfer shooting guard Matt Bradley, senior point guard Trey Pulliam and senior center Nathan Mensah.
After winning only 10 games last season, the Bulldogs should take a few steps up in the Big East with five starters and 97 percent of the team’s scoring coming back. Chuck Harris and Bryce Nze are returning double-digit scorers.
Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. flirted with a jump to the NBA, but both stars returned to try to lead the Scarlet Knights back to the NCAA tournament.
49. SOUTHERN UTAH
This is no joke. The Thunderbirds, 20-4 last season, have soared from the bottom to the top of the Big Sky in coach Todd Simon’s five years. Tevian Jones, John Knight III and Dre Marin are legit big-time players.
50. ORAL ROBERTS
Sophomore guard Max Abmas averaged 24.5 points last season and helped shoot the Golden Eagles into the Sweet 16. Abmas, the top player in the Summit Conference, is one of four returning starters.