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NCAA Basketball Preview

Last Michigan State Final Four appearance
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Opening statement:

Hey gang, I have hopped on board to do a bit of basketball writing-type-stuff; at least until the pitchforks and powers-that-be “fix the glitch.” I am not the most savy math or graphs or figures wizard, but I will do my best to provide, at least, food for thought and debate (i.e. my unfiltered and honest opinions and analysis).

Please do let me know when you disagree with finer points, frame of analysis, and my general stances (probably all the time, on all of the above), and in what ways the writing, presentation, etc. can be improved (try to be nice, but my feelings won’t be hurt if you can’t help yourself!).

What is this thing:

Every summer, I create and then maintain (throughout the season) my own depth chart not only for our beloved Spartans, but also for the teams I consider to be among the top 50 in the country. I sometimes agree with the AP and USA polls, and sometimes don’t, I sometimes agree with KenPom (and some other sites), and sometimes I don’t. In short, I base my “rough rankings” on my from the hip and, sometimes, more-considered opinions from what I have seen of teams (both full games and partial games/clips), from what I have read about players and teams, from what I have heard and seen in interviews, and from looking at various stats (both raw and advanced). I base my placement of freshmen in the depth chart (and my guess as to their impact) on the various ranking sites, which I agree and disagree with at times, on what I have seen of their high school and AAU games, and what I have read about these kids (and heard about via interviews). Unsurprisingly, I have players and teams I am right about, players and teams I am wrong about, and players and teams I completely miss on.

Without further ado...

The TRUE preseason depth-charts and rankings of the ACTUAL top-50 NCAA men’s basketball teams (brief comments per team, if I have something to say):

(Disclaimer: I am not a genius, have no ability to predict the future, a tenuous grasp of reality, and may have completely forgotten, omitted, or mis-depth-charted various players due to transfers I didn’t know about or check on, legal issues, injuries, etc. please DO let me know about factual or obvious omissions and errors)

I view this as a collective exercise in debate and silliness: please offer your thoughts and critiques and don’t be surprised if I change my rankings and depth charts based on your excellent input!

#1 (AP - 4, USA - 3, Kenpom - 2) Duke

1 - Jones, Goldwire
2 - Barrett, O’Connell
3 - Reddish, Baker, White
4 - Williamson, DeLaurier, Robinson
5 - Bolden, Vrankovic

I like the 3 lottery picks more than KU and UK. They need to find a second consistent 3pt shooter (other than O’Connell), but they should be unstoppable regardless (especially on the glass). If they can figure out how to defend they should win the championship. Barrett and Williamson will likely both be top 5 picks, Reddish might be as well.

#2 (AP - 1, USA - 1, Kenpom - 1) Kansas

1 - Dotson, Moore
2 - Grimes, Garrett, Abaji
3 - Vick, Lawson
4 - Lawson, Lightfoot
5 - Azubuike, McCormack, DeSousa (NCAA?)

This team should be dominant, they have a little less talent than Duke, but not by much. Their bigs are excellent, and Dedric Lawson may be the most impactful player in the country. They too will need to find consistent shooting, and will hope that the NCAA stuff doesn’t become too much of a distraction (or impact any other players - DeSousa is already being held out as a precaution). Dotson and Grimes will determine how good this team can become - can they find time to get on the ball or will the offense run exclusively through Lawson?

[MSU plays Kansas on a neutral court in the Champions Classic, to open the season, on Nov 6]

#3 (AP - 2, USA - 2, Kenpom - 7) Kentucky

1 - Green, Quickley
2 - Herro, Hagans
3 - Johnson, Baker
4 - Washington, Travis
5 - Richards, Montgomery

This team will be very good, but they might only have 1 or 2 first round picks (Montgomery and Johnson), and 3pt shooting is a major concern outside of Herro and maybe Hagans and Baker (if it is only Herro, or only 2 of those guys then this team becomes very easy to defend in terms of scheme). Good athletes, but not a lot of longer wing-defenders. I don’t know that they will live up to this ranking, or that they will win the SEC; I also think Duke will beat them handily in the Champions Classic (I think UK will struggle defending Barrett, Williamson, and Reddish) - as it is a bad match-up for UK.

#4 (AP - 8, USA - 7, Kenpom - 3) North Carolina

1 - White, Black
2 - Williams, Robinson, Woods
3 - Little, Platek
4 - Johnson, Brooks
5 - Maye, Manley, Huffman

This team got beat soundly by Nova in their scrimmage the other day, but I think they will be very good. Little might be the best player in the country, and if one of Brooks, Manley, and Huffman step forward then they will be really good. They will also need White to provide consistent minutes at the 1 and for Maye to do his best Kevin Love impression on offense. They can definitely win the ACC if White plays consistently well.

[MSU may play UNC on a neutral court (November 23), depending on the UCLA game outcome and the Texas vs UNC game outcome]

#5 (AP - 7, USA - 9, Kenpom - 6) Nevada

1 - Martin, Drew, Henson
2 - Hall, Johnson, Zouzoua
3 - Martin, Thurman
4 - Caroline, Hymes, Lee
5 - Brown, Porter

I am mildly surprised that everyone doesn’t have this team in the top-5 (I guess this is everyone else’s version of my take on Gonzaga - see below). The Martin twins return along with Caroline and Drew, AND they add a 5* big man in Brown. I just love the match-up problems this group creates. If they get a bit better on defense they should dominate, and if not, they will probably still dominate. This team will make it to the second weekend again. Bet on it.

#6 (AP - 6, USA - 6, Kenpom - 11) Tennessee

1 - Bone
2 - Turner, Pons
3 - Bowden, Johnson
4 - Schofield, Fulkerson, Walker jr
5 - Williams, Alexander, Burns, Kent

I want this team to do just what it did last year: they were so fun to watch, competitive, great defensively, and Williams and Schofield are so compelling. But I am nervous about their depth in the back-court (their front-court gets bolstered by adding the kid DJ Burns who should be ready to contribute significant minutes come SEC play).

#7 (AP - 9, USA - 8, Kenpom - 5) Villanova

1 - Quinerly, Gillespie
2 - Booth, Slater, Cremo
3 - Swider, Bey, Samuels jr
4 - Paschall, Delaney
5 - Roundtree, Painter

They lost a lot, but added a lot too (Cremo is really good, and Swider, Slater, and Bey are all going to be immediate contributors). Booth scored 41 vs UNC in their scrimmage, and Bey hit 5 3pt shots. If they can survive playing basically 3 bigs for an entire season then they will cruise through the B1G and into the second weekend of the tourney.

#8 (AP - 3, USA - 4, Kenpom - 9) Gonzaga

1 - Perkins, Crandell
2 - Norvell jr, Foster jr
3 - Kispert, Jones, Ayayi
4 - Hachimura, Clarke
5 - Tillie, Petrusev

I am not as high on Gonzaga as most - they have 5 very good players in Perkins, Norvell jr, Kispert, Hachimura, and Tillie, but I don’t like their depth, Hachimura has been hyped for 2 years as a lottery pick and is still the same player (rebounds it well, can’t shoot from 3, but has bumped his ft% up to about 75% and really did well last year getting to the line). Kispert is probably their most important player, and the guy who will end up making me look like an idiot for ever doubting this team. Petrusev needs to be really good so that there is no drop-off from the excellent Tillie. I just don’t really love this team (they will stay near the top of the rankings all year and stroll through their conference as usual, but outside of Norvell I’m not sure they have any game-breakers).

[MSU played Gonzaga in a closed-door scrimmage a couple of days ago]
It sounds like, per Brendan Quinn, that they beat us relatively comfortably, without Tillie or Ayayi, in a recent scrimmage, and that Winston, Langford, and McQ all played really poorly (and Goins was held out for most of the game after a head-knock, as a precaution). All told I don’t put too much stock into this other than to indicate that we are a not humming along in top gear yet. Come March Gonzaga may just be basically the same team they are now and struggling to maintain their peak (kind of like MSU’s 13-14 and Valentine-senior-year teams), whereas I think MSU will be a very different team compared to where we start the season.

#9 (AP - 16, USA - 14, Kenpom - 8) Syracuse

1 - Howard, Carey, Washington
2 - Battle, Boeheim
3 - Brissett, Hughes
4 - Dolezaj, Braswell
5 - Chukwu, Sidibe

I am surprised the polls don’t like Syracuse more. They have a few potential NBA guys, who will surely have improved their shooting in the off-season, defend really well, and have a TON of experience. The kid Carey gives them a purer scorer too, which will help them a lot.

#10 (AP - 19, USA - 18, Kenpom - 24) Michigan

1 - Simpson, Brooks
2 - Poole, DeJulius, Nunez
3 - Matthews, Johns
4 - Brazdeikis, Livers
5 - Teske, Castleton

This Michigan team can really defend - starting with Simpson - and if Poole, DeJulius (a natural scorer), Matthews (who was hot down the stretch last season), Brazdeikis (a very good offensive player), and Johns (kind of a Raymar Morgan type player with some 3pt range) can provide a bump to their offense then this prediction will look right-on. For now though, I am happy being ahead of the curve on this one.

[MSU plays Michigan twice, away (February 24) and home, to close the B1G regular season (March 9)]

#11 (AP - 10, USA - 10, Kenpom - 13) Michigan State

1 - Winston, Loyer
2 - McQuaid, Henry, Brown
3 - Langford, Ahrens
4 - Goins, Bingham jr, Kithier (RS?)
5 - Ward, Tillman, Burke

I will have many, many more thoughts on this team. But for now: I am excited. The team is experienced, hungry, deep on the wings, has plenty of shooting, and three clear focal points of the offense. If Winston can take another step on defense, and if Loyer, Brown, and Henry can hold their own, this team can win the B1G and make a deep tourney run.

#12 (AP - 5, USA - 5, Kenpom - 4) Virginia

1 - Jerome, Clark
2 - Guy, Anthony, Stattmann
3 - Hunter, Badocchi
4 - Diakite, Key
5 - Salt, Huff

I like this UVA team still (even after their NCAA early loss). But man, their back-court depth is non-existent. If they get an injury (hopefully they won’t!) then they are in real trouble. Assuming Hunter is back to 100%, though, they should be nipping at the heels of Duke and UNC in the ACC. Love watching these guys defend.

#13 (AP - 11, USA - 12, Kenpom - 17) Auburn

1 - Harper, McCormick
2 - Brown, Doughty
3 - Purifoy, Dunbar
4 - McLemore, Okeke
5 - Wiley, Spencer III

Same story I told with Tennessee: I want this team to do what they did last year. They were fun (I love Pearl’s brand of ball and his enthusiasm - I just hope his NCAA-issues are well behind him), aggressive, brave. Harper and Brown are dynamic, if McLemore is back to 100%, if Purifoy can fulfill his potential, and if the 3 bigs (Okeke, Wiley, and Spencer III) can do their job, then this could be a Final 4 sleeper (I think they have a higher ceiling than Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, and Gonzaga, for example).

#14 (AP - 14, USA - 16, Kenpom - 27) Oregon

1 - Pritchard, Amin, Johnson
2 - Bailey jr, Richardson
3 - King, Kigab
4 - White, Wooten
5 - Bol, Okoro, Norris

I like this team, but need to see more of Bol before I can decide how I feel about him - he is obviously huge, long, and skilled, but I am not sure how good of an athlete he is in terms of his defensive footwork, which will determine his NCAA impact and NBA future. Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Louis King, and Vic Bailey jr though... those guys are all legit players and will guarantee that Oregon walks away with the Pac-12 title.

#15 (AP - 12, USA - 11, Kenpom - 12) Kansas State

1 - Stokes, Neal-Williams
2 - Brown, McGuirl
3 - Diarra, Trice
4 - Sneed, Shadd, Love III
5 - Wade, Mawien, Stockard III

Remember when Bruce Weber was the coach at Illinois? LOL. I was always a Weber apologist, and I am thrilled to see him thriving in Manhattan. This is the same team that went on a nice tourney run last year, and Wade (who is awesome to watch) is back and, hopefully, fully healthy. I should have them higher. And they are the nation’s great hope to end Kansas’ reign of terror over the comically inept BIG XII.

#16 (AP - NR (6 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 26) Texas Tech

1 - Culver, Moretti, Murray
2 - Mooney, Corprew, Edwards
3 - Francis, Moore
4 - Ondigo, Mballa
5 - Owens, Odiase

This is the hill I die on. No one likes Texas Tech particularly (except Kenpom, kinda). I love this team. I love Tubby. Culver and Francis will share ball-handling and creation duties. Grad-transfer Mooney will be an important shooter, Corprew will be a beast off the bench, and Owens (St John’s transfer) will help lock-down the middle. This team will be tough, smart, and apply constant pressure on both ends.

#17 (AP - 17, USA - 15, Kenpom - 15) Florida State

1 - Forrest, Polite, Nichols
2 - Savoy, Vassell
3 - Mann, Walker
4 - Kabengele, Gray, Wilkes
5 - Koumadje

This FSU team is really solid, really competitive, and, if they can find the right playing rotation should take some games off the top 3 in the ACC (I could definitely see this team beating Duke a couple times this year - they match up great vs Duke) and win a game or 2 in the NCAA tourney.

#18 (AP - NR (98 votes), USA - NR (34 votes), Kenpom - 28) Indiana

1 - Phinisee, Green
2 - Langford, Durham
3 - Hunter, Anderson, Smith
4 - Morgan, Thompson, Forrester
5 - Davis, Moore jr, Fitzner

This is surely too high, but I am on the Langford train, and think this team will capture some team-of-destiny magic. Morgan, Langford, and Davis are all quality. They need a few other guys to really step-up into consistent production roles.

[MSU plays twice, home (February 2) and away (March 2)]

#19 (AP - 13, USA - 13, Kenpom - 10) West Virginia

1 - Bolden, McCabe, Knapper
2 - Doomes, Harler, Haley
3 - Harris, West, Matthews jr
4 - Ahmad, Culver
5 - Konate, Routt, Gordon

I have no good sense for how the WVU back-court will shape up. Bolden and Doomes are solid, but I see major drop-off from Miles and Carter (who graduated) overall. They will need Harris (who apparently has some legal issues) and West to be excellent, and Ahmad, Culver, and Konate to dominate the paint. This team will be good and tough, but I just see them as limited in their offensive potential. When you can’t generate easy offense you set yourself up for trouble (see UVA).

#20 (AP - 22, USA - 23, Kenpom - 14) Clemson

1 - Mitchell, Trapp
2 - Reed, Oliver, Newman III
3 - Tyson, Spencer
4 - Simms, Skara, William
5 - Thomas, White, Jemison

The Auburn/Tennessee of the ACC! This team had a great season last year with a lot going right. I worry about them this year because they only have two real shooters. If they can find more shooting, and some help for Thomas in the front-court then they could stick around the bottom of the top-25 all year, but make no mistake: this team has a hard ceiling.

#21 (AP - 21, USA - 20, Kenpom - 47 (!!!)) UCLA

1 - Hands, Campbell (injured)
2 - Ali, Singleton
3 - Wilkes, Bernard, Smith
4 - Riley, Olesinski, O’Neal (injured)
5 - Brown, Hill, Nwuba

I am too high on this team, but, hey, so too are the press and coaches (we are all falling for the same joke again!). They weren’t great last year, Hands wasn’t efficient enough, and they have Alford as their coach. But I can’t help it. Wilkes and Ali are back, and Brown is a freak of nature and sure-fire top-10 pick - I don’t think that even Alford can screw up with this much talent.

[MSU plays UCLA on a neutral court (November 22)]

#22 (AP - NR (6 votes), USA - NR (6 votes), Kenpom - 61 (!!!)) USC

1 - Thornton jr, Weaver
2 - Mathews, Porter jr, O’Bannon
3 - Aaron, Usher
4 - Boatwright, Brooks
5 - Rakocevic, Uyaelunmo

This team seriously under-performed last year, but I think this year they live up to last-year’s promise. They have 2 good pros (NBA or Europe) starting in the front-court, and a bevy of athletes and talent in the back-court. I think they put it together and wouldn’t be surprised to see them give Oregon a run for their money in the Pac-12. This is another NCAA-T sleeper team.

#23 (AP - NR (24 votes), USA - NR (4 votes), Kenpom - 20) Wisconsin

1 - Trice, Pritzl
2 - Davison, King
3 - Iverson, Ford
4 - Reuvers, Thomas
5 - Happ, Illikainen, Currie

The depth chart may end up different from my guess here (they may go smaller with King at the 3), but any way you cut it this team should be ranked. Trice and King are healthy and really good starting-level B1G players, Davison (that scrappy SOB) is a year craftier, and Happ is. still. in. college. They will be tough, smart, and hungry. I would not put a top-2 finish in the B1G out of the question.

#24 (AP - 23, USA - NR (65 votes), Kenpom - 50 (!!!)) LSU

1 - Waters, Kingsby
2 - Smart, Edwards, Hyatt
3 - Mays, Taylor
4 - Reid, Williams, Days
5 - Bigby-Williams, Cooper

Interesting squad and situation. They tragically lost a teammate to gun-violence earlier this fall, they have a ton of new talent, not a lot of returning quality, a coach on the move-around-as-quickly-as-possible-before-any-NCAA-sanctions-catch-up-to-me train (after 2 years at Chattanooga, he spent 2 years at VCU, and I am betting he will try to parlay this upcoming season into a better gig than LSU). Williams had major legal issues in high-school, and the coach (Wade) has been implicated to a non-zero degree in the recent NCAA corruption scandal (cough. B**l Se%f is clearly his role model. cough). Just kind of a weird team; but they have a TON of talent, and if they can shut their ears and hold down the fort they can be special - I’m guessing it falls apart at some point.

#25 (AP - NR (5 votes), USA - NR (4 votes), Kenpom - 16 (!!!)) Texas

1 - Coleman, Ramey
2 - Roach, Febres, Mitrou-Long, Jones
3 - Liddell, Cunningham
4 - Sims, Hayes, Hamm
5 - Osetkowski, Hepa

I love this team, and I am still pulling for Shaka Smart to break-through, again, either to win the BIG XII or get back to a Final 4 (he went to my alma mater!). Liddell, Cunningham, Ramey, Hayes, and Hepa are all amazing additions to this team (a similar but maybe more-talented 5-some to MSU’s). I will definitely be watching this team some and am, frankly, surprised that they didn’t get more votes in either poll.

[MSU may play Texas on a neutral court (November 23), depending on the UCLA game outcome and the Texas vs UNC game outcome]

#26 (AP - NR (35 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 38) Nebraska

1 - Watson, Harris
2 - Allen, Porbjarnarson
3 - Palmer jr, Davis, Akenten
4 - Roby, Borchardt, Chan
5 - Copeland, Tshimanga

I am surprised this team isn’t getting more love from the coaches. They play small, tough, and fluid offensive basketball. Izzo loves them, and I loved their stretch run last year. This team will make the tourney.

#27 (AP - NR (28 votes), USA - NR (26 votes), Kenpom - 30) Maryland

1 - Cowan, Smith jr
2 - Morsell, Ayala
3 - Wiggins, Lindo, Ramsey
4 - Smith, Tomaic
5 - Fernando, Bender

Three great bigs (Smith will be 1-and-done and Fernando should be a first rounder too and I like Bender a lot even though he had a bad year as a junior), and a group of young, athletic wings. If Cowan can bring a steady hand to the wheel, then this team will cause lots of teams problems.

#28 (AP - NR (21 votes), USA - NR (30 votes), Kenpom - 44) Cincinnati

1 - Jenifer, Johnson
2 - Broome, Williams
3 - Cumberland, Moore, Fredericks
4 - Scott, Diarra, Hardnett, Toyambi
5 - Brooks, Nsoseme

They lost a lot in Evans and Washington, but they return their top 3 guards, and that should be enough to win the American. They are always scrappy and fun to watch.

#29 (AP - NR (71 votes), USA - NR (51 votes), Kenpom - 19 (!!!)) Florida

1 - Nembhard, Okauru, Locke
2 - Allen, Ballard
3 - Hudson, Johnson
4 - Stone, Johnson, Bassett
5 - Hayes, Gak, Stokes

I don’t have a great feel for this team right now, but White is a very good coach and these guys will play hard. They are a small team and lost a lot of shooting and play-making. If Nembhard (who is, by all reports, a stud and an amazing creator), Locke, Allen, and Hudson can provide enough scoring they will be very tough.

[MSU plays at Florida (December 8)]

#30 (AP - NR (124 votes), USA - NR (34 votes), Kenpom - 29) Marquette

1 - Chartouny
2 - Howard, Anim, Elliott (injured for a 2-3 months)
3 - Hauser, Cain
4 - Hauser, Morrow jr
5 - Heldt, John, Eke

The grad transfer, Chartouny, will need to be just as good as he was at Fordham if this team is going to reach its goal of challenging for the Big East and a tourney bid/run. Howard is excellent, but unless Elliott can come back and give them some production it is a thin back-court. Sam Hauser and Cain will likely man the 3, and need to play solid ball. Joey Hauser (now healthy) and Heldt give Marquette their best front-court in years.

#31 (AP - 15, USA - 17, Kenpom - 22) Virginia Tech

1 - Robinson, Bede, Kabongo
2 - Alexander-Walker, Wilkins
3 - Hill, Nolley
4 - Clarke, Horne
5 - Blackshear

This team plays very small apart from Blackshear, which is part of why I am not quite as high on them as everyone else (I really like this team and Buzz Williams). I am just trying to figure out how the hell they are going to be able to compete on the glass against the top teams in the ACC, and I just don’t see it. They will have to shoot lights-out to beat any of the top few teams in their league and will need to win their tougher non-con games to guarantee a tourney bid.

#32 (AP - 20, USA - 21, Kenpom - 34) TCU

1 - Fisher, Robinson, Davis
2 - Bane, Nembhard
3 - Archie, Mayen
4 - Barlow, Miller, Noi
5 - Samuel, Alok, McWilliam

They return almost 0 minutes in their front-court (all 6 of these dudes played 0 or very few minutes last year), but have an outstanding back-court (the kid Kaden Archie is a gamer) now that Fisher is back healthy. Unless they get toughness, defense, and rebounding from their front-court they will simply struggle to beat teams with size on their schedule (i.e. Kansas, K-State, Texas, WVU) or in the tourney.

#33 (AP - NR (10 votes), USA - NR (2 votes), Kenpom - 21) Miami

1 - Lykes
2 - Vasiljevic, McGusty
3 - Lawrence, Mack
4 - Waardenburg, Gak
5 - Hernandez (AKA the artist formerly known as Duwan Huell), Izundu, Miller

Really interesting and fun team. Lykes is a speedy jitterbug, Vasiljevic, Lawrence, Waardenburg, Hernandez, Izundu, and Miller have all been through the wars. This team could cause problems for the top half of the ACC simply because of their size and depth in the front-court and their experience in the back-court. They could win a game or two in the NCAA tourney...if they can get there.

#34 (AP - NR (3 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 53 (!!!)) ASU

1 - Martin, Verge jr
2 - Dort, Edwards, Valtonen
3 - Lawrence, Cherry
4 - Mitchell, Cheatham, Shibel
5 - White, Lake, Plavsic

They lost SO MUCH in those 3 seniors, but they actually have a sneaky amount of talent. Martin and, especially, Verge jr (Chicago-area kid who went to JUCO and dominated there) and Dort (Canadien Marcus Smart type bulldog of a guard, who Izzo tried to snag but couldn’t quite - all’s well that ends well for all parties) will cause teams problems. Lawrence, Mitchell, Cherry, and White are all tough, heady, and mobile. This team could work their way into the top 25 and I wouldn’t be surprised. Should make the tourney. Not a ton of size.

#35 (AP - NR (22 votes), USA - NR (4 votes), Kenpom - 59 (!!!)) Notre Dame

1 - Gibbs, Hubb
2 - Pflueger, Carmody
3 - Harvey, Goodwin, Djogo
4 - Laszewski, Durham
5 - Mooney, Doherty

This team lost a ton (Ferrell was so awesome and Colson was a tough freakin’ dude), which is why everyone (and especially Kenpom) is down on them. But Mike Brey can really coach (by far Coach K’s best protege), Gibbs, Pflueger, and Harvey bring significant nous, and the freshmen are very good (Hubb, Carmody, Goodwin, Doherty, and, especially, Laszewski) and will almost certainly out-play their rankings to a man (and 4 of them are top-100 players!). I don’t know if this team can finish inside the top 6 of the ACC, but they are going to be a nightmare for that league as of next year.

#36 (AP - NR (0 votes), USA - NR (0 votes, Kenpom - 25 (!!!)) Iowa State

1 - Wigginton, Nixon, Haliburton
2 - Weiler-Babb, Lewis
3 - Shayok, Griffin
4 - Talley jr, Horton-Tucker, Young
5 - Lard, Jacobson, Conditt

That this team got zero votes in the two major polls blows my mind. Wigginton can really play (and shoot the ball), Lard was a really good freshman last year, Marial Shayok brings some UVA defense, experience, and a sneaky-good game and Weiler-Babb and Talley jr bring more veteran production. Really though I am so excited to watch Talen Horton-Tucker and Zion Griffin who are both great prospects (Horton-Tucker was a serious Izzo target, but Chicago... so of course he didn’t come Izzo’s way; and this kid can really play - kind of a Draymond all-around game). I would ere more towards Kenpom if the top of the BIG XII wasn’t so good.

#37 (AP - 18, USA - 19, Kenpom - 23) Mississippi Sate

1 - Peters
2 - Carter, Weatherspoon
3 - Weatherspoon, Woodard, Stewart
4 - Holman, Perry, Feazell
5 - Ado, Tshisumpa-Mbiya, Datcher

This team has a ton of talent: Peters, the Weatherspoon brothers, and Aric Holman ALL tested the NBA waters last summer - Holman especially is a great inside-out big who can shoot it and defend and rebound - and Woodard, Stewart, and Carter are all really good wing-players, AND they have Tshisumpa-Mbiya and Perry two stud front-court additions. But I am lower on this team than everyone for two reasons: shooting (Holman and Carter are the only players who shot well from 3, and Holman didn’t shoot too many, while Peters and the Weatherspoon brothers just...can’t shoot well from range), and Ben Howland (who I just don’t think is a great coach, but who has always been a good recruiter... hey! he fits great in the SEC!). I can just envision the rest of the SEC turning every game into a fist-fight on defense and Mississippi State dropping a bunch of games their talent should theoretically win because they are so straight-forward to defend.

#38 (AP - 25, USA - 24, Kenpom - 46 (!!!)) Washington

1 - Crisp, Hardy
2 - Nowell, Bey
3 - Thybulle, Green
4 - Wright, Carter, Roberts
5 - Dickerson, Penn-Johnson, Timmins

I tend to agree with Kenpom on this one. Washington was barely a top-100 team last year, and returns basically everyone. Dickerson is very good, and Green should take on a larger role after a very-efficient but limited-usage junior season. But, let’s be real, this team needs every one of their other players to take a major leap on both ends, and to therefore surmount the other best teams at the top of their conference. I just don’t see it, even with the very good Penn-Johnson adding talent and size as a freshman.

#39 (AP - NR (0 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 41) Ohio State

1 - Jackson, Washington jr
2 - Muhammad, Jallow, Woods
3 - Wesson, Ahrens
4 - LeDee, Young
5 - Wesson, Potter

I really like Chris Holtmann; I think he can coach, and that he will get the very most out of this some-what limited roster. The group of freshman is an awesome group - Muhammad is a beast on defense, Washington jr has infinite moxy, Ahrens can really shoot and score, and LeDee is quality. Wesson is match-up issue and becomes more-so if he can do a Nix-esque body transformation, and Jackson, Wesson, and Woods (a NCAA journeyman) provide some veteran production and steadiness.

[MSU plays Ohio State twice, away (January 5) and home (February 17)]

#40 (AP - NR (14 votes), USA - NR (5 votes), Kenpom - 76 (!!!)) Arizona

1 - Barcello, Williams, Coleman
2 - Randolph, Doutrive
3 - Akot, Smith, Desjardins
4 - Lee, Luther
5 - Jeter, Gettings

This team lost just about everything, and needs every returner to take massive leaps in role, production, and efficiency, AND to become much better defenders. They bring in some nice freshmen in the back-court in Williams and Doutrive, but no matter how much Sean Miller sweats this team doesn’t deserve votes and should settle around the top 50-60 in Kenpom’s ratings. This front-court will get cooked by Oregon, UCLA, and USC, and ASU will work their back-court. I just don’t see this team as anything but a very-fringe NCAA hopeful, and likely an NIT team.

#41 (AP - 24, USA - 22, Kenpom - 18) Purdue

1 - Edwards
2 - Cline, Hunter jr
3 - Eastern, Stefanovic
4 - Boudreaux, Wheeler, Eifert
5 - Haarms, Williams, Dowuona

I am almost certainly wrong about Purdue: Edwards is a beast, Cline is ready to be an assassin, Haarms is quality, and surely Eastern will improve from his poor first season (and surely Eifert will maintain his high efficiency even as his role increases from near-zero to significant). Surely Evan Boudreaux will be just as good for Purdue as he was for Dartmouth, and surely Hunter jr, Stefanovic, Wheeler, Dowuona, and Williams (who chose Purdue over MSU and has a really fun game - more of a Draymond/Nix hybrid than a Swanigan redux) will be awesome. But I just don’t feel great about this team defensively on the wing, I fear that Painter will go full-Painter, and that Edwards will struggle as the clear focus of every defense. More than likely Purdue is a top team, but I am predicting that Purdue finishes out of the top 6 in the B1G and is firmly on the bubble come March.

[MSU plays Purdue twice, home (January 8) and away (January 27)]

#42 (AP - NR (2 votes), USA - NR (10 votes), Kenpom - 49) Providence

1 - White, Ashton-Langford
2 - Duke, Reeves, Edwards
3 - Diallo, Jackson, Monroe
4 - Holt, Nichols jr
5 - Watson, Young

What evidence have we had that Ed Cooley (who seems like a nice guy, and is a solid recruiter) can elevate a solid roster into a good-to-great team? None, as far as I can tell. And yet Providence was voted as one of the top teams in the Big East pre-season. They need to replace a lot of production from Cartwright, Lindsey, and Bullock who all graduated, and need Ashton-Langford and White to significantly improve in order to settle the point. They also need Duke, Reeves, Diallo, and Jackson to really produce on both ends from the wing, and for Holt (who is finally healthy) to stay healthy and be a difference maker. I just don’t really see it all with rose-tinted glasses as some do with this team. Maybe they do finish 3rd in the Big East, but I could see any number of St John’s, Georgetown, Xavier, or Butler finishing higher than Providence too - I am going against my better judgement in placing them here.

#43 (AP - NR (3 votes), USA - NR (1 vote), Kenpom - 39) St John’s

1 - Ponds, Dixon
2 - Heron, Trimble jr, Williams jr
3 - Figueroa, Simon
4 - Clark, Roberts
5 - Keita, Earlington

Speak of the devil... Chris Mullins needs to prove himself as a coach with this, his most talented roster to date. I am betting they get off the bubble and into the tournament (i.e. that I am underrating them) mostly because I want them to succeed. They have a fun team with Ponds as the star, the now-healthy, still-talented Simon, the suddenly-eligible Heron, our main-man and more-mature Marvin Clark, and the totally-Rucker Park Figueroa (a kind-of-pudgy-looking, Dominican, Big East throw-back, athletic and skilled JUCO stud). This team is eminently watchable and, with less talent than they have this year, beat Duke last year!!! Easily my rooting-interest in the Big East (can we trade Rutgers basketball for St John’s??? Please?)

#44 (AP - NR (0 votes), USA - NR (1 vote), Kenpom - 69) Vanderbilt

1 - Garland, Lee
2 - Willis, Evans
3 - Toye, Nesmith
4 - Shittu, Obinna
5 - Brown, Baptiste

I understand why no one really likes this team. They are 100% reliant on Darius Garland and Simi Shittu changing this program. The thing is... I think they can. Garland is the best freshman point guard talent in the country and if Shittu is fully recovered from his senior-year knee injury, then he will be a one-and-done. All I really want is for Vandy to knock off some of the big-boys in the SEC and cause some chaos - I think Bryce Drew is a pretty good coach, and that he and the two freshman studs will make it happen.

#45 (AP - NR (15 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 51) Alabama

1 - Johnson jr, Butler
2 - Petty, Jones, Wood
3 - Ingram, Mack
4 - Smith, Fleming
5 - Hall, Reese, Giddens

Yes, they lost Sexton (NBA) and Key (transfer to UVA), but this team returns a lot. Johnson jr is steady if not quite as good as his dad, Petty, Jones, and Ingram will get all the looks they want on the wing and are all solid defenders, and the front-court has 5 live bodies with toughness and a bit of talent. I like this team more than my ranking suggests, and I could easily see this team making the NCAA tourney.

#46 (AP - NR (11 votes), USA - NR (10 votes), Kenpom - 63) Louisville

1 - Perry, Cunningham, Fore
2 - King, McMahon
3 - Sutton, Nwora
4 - Agau
5 - Williams, Enoch

I trend more towards Kenpom’s evaluation. They lost a fair amount, and King, Sutton, McMahon, and Nwora all should be better or more impactful than they have been. Well this is the year for that foursome of wings to take over this team. I think Louisville will probably be at their best when they play 3 of the wings along with Williams and Perry. This team should finish higher than I have them, have a lot of talent, and a great coach, but they are in a beast of a conference and will get nothing handed to them.

[MSU plays at Louisville in the ACC-B1G challenge (November 27)]

#47 (AP - NR (0 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 57) Georgetown

1 - Akinjo, Mosely
2 - Blair, McClung
3 - Pickett, Johnson, LeBlanc
4 - Yurtseven, Carter
5 - Govan

I want Georgetown to be good, I want Ewing to succeed, I want McClung to play so well that he takes a starting role (and I want him to dunk on everything and everyone), I want to see Yurtseven and Govan form an unstoppable twin-tower duo, and I really do believe that the Hoyas will be better than they were last year (imagine if they still had Paul White and Isaac Copeland, sigh...). Just how much better may be determined by Ewing himself; I think he is a good coach, but can he complete a turnaround of this program in just two years? It will be a coach-of-the-year performance if he does and gets them to the NCAA tourney.

#48 (AP - NR (0 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 35 (!!!)) Iowa

1 - Bohannon, McCaffery, Fredrick
2 - Moss, Dailey
3 - Baer, Wieskamp, Pemsl
4 - Cook, Nunge
5 - Garza, Kreiner

I love this Iowa team and good ol’ Fran (seriously, I love Fran). I can definitely see this Iowa team making this ranking look foolish IF they can figure out how to defend. Bohannon, Moss, Baer, and McCaffery (who is really good, was red-shirted last year, and will definitely force his way into the rotation this year, and whose younger brother will be joining him next year - he too is really good) should provide more than enough quality on the perimeter. Cook is a beast, Nunge is a terrifying talent at the NCAA level (did they clone Utoff?), Garza is a year older and wiser. How am I not ranking them in the top 5 of the B1G? (Oh right: the conference is loaded with tough, talented, well-coached teams, and they were complete trash on defense last year) This team though is a great bet to take if you’re hitting up Vegas and looking for a longer-odds NCAA tourney team. There is no reason why this Iowa team isn’t in the spot that Washington, TCU, or Marquette currently hold in this ranking, other than my cowardice and lack of confidence in their defense.

[MSU plays Iowa twice, home (December 3) and away (January 24)]

#49 (AP - NR (2 votes), USA - NR (0 votes), Kenpom - 55) Xavier

1 - Goodin
2 - Scruggs, Harden, Kennedy
3 - Marshall, James
4 - Jones
5 - Hankins, Welage

They lost so much (Macura, Bluiett, Gates, and Kanter), but I like the new core of this team (Goodin, Scruggs, Marshall, and Jones). If they can get some help or have someone else breakout they will win more games and have a shot to make the tourney. But having a new coach worries me a bit.

#50 (AP - NR (6 votes), USA - NR (5 votes), Kenpom - 31 (!!!)) Butler

1 - Thompson, Jorgensen
2 - Baldwin, Baddley, Gillens-Butler
3 - McDermott, Hastings
4 - Golden
5 - Fowler, Brunk

I am an idiot for having Butler this low. They will make the tourney and probably finish in the top 3 of the Big East. Baldwin is a beast and a gamer who will really break-out this year and be on the first team all Big East. McDermott has an awesome offensive game, and Fowler is ready to take over the front-court. But I am nervous about their front-court depth (although they will likely play small with McDermott at the 4 a fair amount). Either way this is one of my dumbest rankings and this team will almost-definitely make me look foolish and make the NCAA tourney. There is no reason why this Butler team isn’t in the spot that Washington, TCU, or Marquette currently hold in this ranking, other than my cowardice and lack of confidence in their front-court depth.

#51 - NC State (Beverly’s injury and the brutal conference put them below Butler; I do like Keatts as a coach)

For reference: Rough rankings of major conferences (left-to-right)

ACC: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, Louisville, NC State, the rest in some order

B1G: Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa, the rest in some order
Comment: I could just as easily envision Wisconsin, Maryland, or Nebraska being 3rd (and possibly Ohio State working their way higher - very skeptical, for no great reason, on Purdue’s outlook)

Big East: Nova, Marquette, Providence, St John’s, Georgetown, Xavier, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, DePaul

Big XII: Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas, TCU, Iowa State, the rest in some order
Comment: Texas Tech is seriously underrated right now in my opinion (Beard is a really good coach too), I am nervous about West Virginia’s guard play outside of Bolden, Texas’ front-court is really exciting, and TCU’s back-court is dynamite. I can’t wait to watch Horton-Tucker at ISU, but think they are definitely behind the others in the league (before the last tier of course).

SEC: Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, the rest in some order
Comment: The top 3 are all neck and neck and that will be a fun battle, that LSU team has a ton of talent (assuming they don’t get caught up in legal/NCAA issues), and I would not be surprised at all if Vanderbilt and Alabama finish higher that Mississippi State (Howland is an awful coach in my opinion)

Pac-12: (Who cares! Just kidding, but seriously...): Oregon, UCLA, USC, ASU, Washington, Arizona, Utah, the rest in some order
Comment: Washington is overrated in my view (picked third in the league preseason?!?!), Oregon is a final 4 threat, UCLA hit with injuries (Campbell and O’Neal done for the year) but even Alford (who I also think is a terrible coach) can’t screw up Moses Brown (who will be a top 10 pick in the draft), USC will be fun, ASU has Dort (who will be dynamite - still a bit rueful we didn’t get him). I would not be surprised to see this as a 4-bid league with Washington, Arizona, Utah, and the rest falling off the pace.

“Others”: Nevada, Gonzaga, Cincinnati - also considered for the top-50: Buffalo, UCF, San Diego State, Wichita State, Loyola-Chicago, Memphis, SMU, George Washington, Memphis, Temple, St Mary’s, Rhode Island, Richmond (in roughly that order))
Comment: I am probably missing some quality teams here, so please remind me who I am sleeping on! Nevada is a Final 4 contender, maybe Gonzaga too (though I don’t think they really should be a top-5 team preseason).