Home News What Dan Hurley’s return means for UConn

What Dan Hurley’s return means for UConn

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The throne wasn’t abdicated, after all.

Dan Hurley turned down the Lakers’ offer on Monday and will remain at Connecticut to pursue his third consecutive NCAA championship.

Which programs are best positioned to derail the Huskies?

Alabama and Iowa State are loaded with returnees.

Kansas and Indiana gorged on the transfer portal.

Gonzaga and Baylor are lurking.

There isn’t a clear favorite — there is no 2025 version of what UConn was in 2024.

But the short list of teams capable of winning the national title is impressively long after a slew of elite players turned down the NBA Draft in favor of another season in college — and more NIL money.

The following projection has been updated from the original, which was published before Eric Musselman left Arkansas for USC and John Calipari left Kentucky for Arkansas and all the other mayhem unfolded.

Also considered: Boise State, Brigham Young, Clemson, Colorado State, Grand Canyon, Illinois, Indiana State, James Madison, Kentucky, Marquette, Maryland, McNeese State, Michigan State, N.C. State, Nebraska, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, South Carolina, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, Villanova and Xavier.

1. Alabama. A second consecutive Final Four appearance moved within reach when star guard Marc Sears withdrew from the NBA Draft. He joins a stout returning core and an impressive group of transfers to give the Crimson Tide more than enough depth and playmaking. Basketball school. Previous: 4

2. Gonzaga. A retooled roster that found its groove in the stretch run should continue the ascent with the return of guards Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman, plus big man Graham Ike. Add transfers Michael Ajayi (from Pepperdine) and Khalif Battle (Arkansas), who scored 34 points against Kentucky in a late-season loss, and the Zags will be back on the national stage. Previous: 6

3. Baylor. We fully expected Ja’Kobe Walter to leave for the NBA when slotting the Bears here in early April, so his official departure had zero bearing. Instead, our outlook is based on the return of both Langston Love and Jayden Nunn, plus Duke guard Jeremy Roach and Miami big man Norchad Omier. Meet the best team in an unforgiving Big 12. Previous: 3

4. Kansas. The Jayhawks won the offseason with the return of big man Hunter Dickinson and the arrival of three transfers, AJ Storr (Wisconsin), Zeke Mayo (South Dakota State) and Rylan Griffen (Alabama), who combined to average 47 points per game last season. Still, we can’t help but wonder if Bill Self has lost a little of his old magic. Previous: 18

5. Connecticut. The dominant team of the past two years lost big man Donovan Clingan and guards Tristen Newton and Stephon Castle to the NBA. But the Huskies are stocked with blue-chip talents awaiting their turn, including forward  Alex Karaban. And don’t forget about Aidan Mahaney, the Saint Mary’s transfer who should thrive in Hurley’s system. Previous: 2

6. North Carolina. Armando Bacot’s long college career finally came to a close, but the Tar Heels retained high-scoring guard RJ Davis. If you’re looking for a mid-major transfer who could have a dynamic impact at the high-major level, consider Cade Tyson, who joins the Tar Heels from Belmont, where he averaged 16.2 points per game. Previous: 8.

7. Iowa State. The third-best team in the Big 12 is seventh in our summer rankings — the conference is just that good. This forecast for the Cyclones is based on the return of guards Tamin Lipsey and Keshon Gilbert and a first-class perimeter defense. Any improvement offensively would do wonders for ISU next March. Previous: 5

8. Duke. Coach Jon Scheyer lost loads of production to the NBA Draft and the transfer portal, but he welcomes forward Cooper Flagg, the most heralded recruit in years and the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. Guards Tyrese Proctor and Called Foster are returning to provide Flagg with perimeter support. Previous: 1

9. Tennessee. We mentioned North Carolina’s Cade Tyson as a mid-major transfer to watch at the power conference level. Well, North Florida guard Chaz Lanier also warrants a spot on that list and should help the Vols offset the loss of high-scoring guard Dalton Knecht. A team that pushed Purdue in the Elite Eight also has a solid returning group, starting with veteran guard Zakai Zeigler. Previous: 7

10. Houston. Jamal Shead is off to the pros, but we have zero reason to question coach Kelvin Sampson’s ability to quickly rebuild his rotation around returnee L.J. Cryer. You don’t average 30 wins a year for six years unless the program is built on granite. Doubt the Cougars at your peril. Previous: 14

11. Arizona. Everything changed for the Wildcats when guard Caleb Love withdrew from the NBA Draft to give coach Tommy Lloyd a crucial third perimeter piece, alongside returnee Jaden Bradley and newcomer Trey Townsend (from Oakland). But does Arizona have enough quality depth up front to navigate the rugged Big 12? Previous: 20

12. Indiana. The Hoosiers will have a distinct West Coast vibe with transfers Myles Rice (Washington State), Kanaan Carlyle (Stanford) and Oumar Ballo (Arizona). All three were double-digit scorers and will help propel Indiana onto the top tier of a Big Ten that’s devoid of heavyweight teams. Previous: Not ranked

13. Auburn. Johni Broome’s return gives the Tigers a clear shot at eliminating the lingering stench from their NCAA Tournament loss to Yale. Yet another mid-major transfer to watch: JP Pegues, who joins coach Bruce Pearl’s program  from Furman. Previous: 15

14. Creighton. The Bluejays won’t have Baylor Scheierman or Trey Alexander, but Ryan Kalkbrenner and Stephen Ashworth offer a solid foundation. The regression in Omaha could be non-existent if transfers Pop Isaacs (Texas Tech) and Jamiya Neal (Arizona State) contribute consistently. Previous: 16

15. Purdue. Get ready for Will Berg, a 7-foot-2 freshman from Sweden who played sparingly last season behind Zach Edey. And don’t forget that guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith were just sophomores, so the supporting cast is positioned to take on a leading role. Previous: 12

16. Arkansas. After accepting the job on April 10, John Calipari quickly assembled a roster capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament and, for the first time since 2019, guiding his team into the Sweet 16. Previous: Not ranked

17. Florida. Second-year coach Todd Golden is (quietly) building a solid foundation in Gainesville. With Walter Clayton Jr and Will Richard returning, plus Alijah Martin sliding over from Florida Atlantic, the Gators have a chance to continue their momentum. Previous: 19

18. Wake Forest. Our top sleeper pick for 2024-25 won 21 games last season and is scheduled to return key playmakers Hunter Sallis and Cameron Hildreth. That said, the Demon Deacons were downgraded from their early-April position because of losses to the transfer portal. Previous: 11





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