Hey gang, after a crazy summer and start to the fall, I am back to darken your doorways (or gateways, or web-browsers, or... whatever). I am gonna keep doing my basketball related stuff, and will hopefully do it better than ever!
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, like Barttorvik), 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/transfers 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.
What happened last year:
Let’s take a quick look at last year, with some comments based on my 3 rankings (pre-season, mid-season, pre-NCAA Tourney). I was pretty pleased with my iterative ranking efforts last year (including accurately picking all 4 Final Four teams in my pre-NCAA Tourney ranking!), but I missed out pretty badly on some teams that I thought would do wonderfully: Nevada, Syracuse, Oregon, Indiana, WVU, UCLA, and USC to name a humbling selection from last year’s pre-season preview. But this season, I am confident that I won’t be suckered again.
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 Michigan State
1 - Winston, Watts, Loyer
2 - Langford, Brown
3 - Henry, Ahrens
4 - Hall, Marble, Bingham jr
5 - Tillman, Kithier
This team’s potential gives me chills. Assuming health MSU really should be the best team in the country. We have Winston, Langford, and Henry as
probably the best starting 1-3 in the country, we have Tillman ready to produce an NBA audition, and we have some real gamers off the bench. Watts, Brown, Ahrens, and Kithier are an incredible bench group. The real question is the “4” position, but I think that Hall will quickly answer it, and that Marble, Bingham jr, Kithier, Ahrens, and Henry will all chip in solid minutes there too. This team should run smoothly on both ends and have the bodies and savy to control every game they play. A brutal early season slate with UK (#3), Va Tech (no gimme), Georgia (#47) or Dayton (#44), KU (#2) [likely final opponent in Maui], Duke (#4), and Seton Hall (#15) should really let us know where our guys stand. All things being equal this is Izzo’s best shot at a second ship since the Appling/Payne and Bridges soph teams (and, frankly, this team should be better than both).
1 - Dotson, Garrett
2 - Agbaji, Moss
3 - Wilson, Braun
4 - DeSousa, Lightfoot, Enaruna
5 - Azubuike, McCormack
Depending on how things shake down with the NCAA (Self and Kansas just got served with a major set of charges), Kansas may have a weird season. But if all gets smoothed over (as it likely will), then this Kansas team should be the second best team in the nation. Dotson, Garrett, Agbaji, and Moss are a super foursome in the back-court. Wilson and Braun both have game and shooting ability. And DeSousa, Azubuike, and McCormack are a fearsome load on the interior. Azubuike has apparently lost about 30 lbs (which may actually hurt more than it helps - we’ll see), DeSousa is a beast, and McCormack is huge and strong. This team has balance, but lacks proven shooting and a second playmaker (Agbaji, Moss, and Garrett are finishers). This team should comfortably win the Big XII and be a favorite for a Final Four.
[Probably plays MSU in the Maui Invitational Final - Nov 27, 12pm, ESPN]
1 - Hagans, Quickley
2 - Maxey, Juzuang
3 - Whitney, Brooks jr
4 - Montgomery
5 - Richards, Sestina
This may end up being Calipari’s second best team he’s had at UK. Hagans, Quickley, Maxey, and Juzuang are a sublime foursome (better even than KU’s), and Whitney is an athletic beast (he and Henry will have an epic match-up). The question for UK is around their front-court: Montgomery and Richards were supposed to have left for the NBA by now, but haven’t because they weren’t very good last year. Sestina is a very solid and experienced player, but he’s not going to have the kind of impact Reid Travis had last year. The guy to watch, for UK, is actually Brooks jr (who chose UK over MSU) - he is skilled, can shoot it, can pass, and may be the answer at the 4 for UK in small-ball lineups. Maxey is a stud scorer and creator (a la Jamal Murray), but it is Hagans’ scoring/shooting that will determine the ceiling for this team. He is a far better defender and point guard than Quickley, but he really struggled shooting and finishing last year. I think this team will click and I would bet on MSU and UK matching up late in March (if not April).
[MSU plays UK to open the season in MSG - Nov 5, 9:30pm, ESPN]
1 - Jones, Goldwire
2 - Stanley, O’Connell
3 - Moore, Baker
4 - Hurt, White
5 - Carey jr, DeLaurier
I think this Duke team will probably end up being a better team than last year’s team. This is a curious thing to say, but last year’s team despite having clearly more talent, couldn’t shoot the ball and didn’t have enough balance. This year’s team has more shooting, better spacing, and more star role-players. They may not win what will be a dog-fight of a conference, but this team should be fully up-to-speed by March. The trip to East Lansing will be an interesting one, and hopefully a wistful ride home for Carey jr.
[MSU hosts(!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!??!) Duke in the ACC-B1G challenge, Dec 3, 9:30pm, ESPN]
1 - Kimble, Perry, Johnson (injured for a while)
2 - McMahon, Nickleberry
3 - Sutton, Williamson, Withers
4 - Nwora, Igiehon, Slazinski
5 - Enoch, Williams (injured for a month or two)
This Louisville team should be dynamite! Their big issue right now is David Johnson’s injury (and Williams’ - not a good start on the injury front). He should have been their starting point guard, instead they will have to put in Kimble (a St Joe’s transfer who everyone is high on despite his turnover issues 1:1 A:TO ratio, and offensive inefficiency at St Joe’s ~100 Ortg for 3 years... that’s just not very good...) and cycle in Perry, who for some reason disappeared from Louisville’s rotation last year despite being a solid player and a good shooter. Regardless, they are stacked on the wings where McMahon, Nickleberry, Sutton, Williamson, and Withers are all top-level college players, with Williamson and Withers especially being likely future NBA players (I just am not sure about who will start at the 2 and 3 so am going with experience right now). And THEN we get to Nwora, who should win ACC player of the year, and will set the tone for the Cardinals from day 1. Igiehon, Enoch, and Williams are a terrific and dynamic trio of bigs, but questions will linger. This team folded hard down the stretch and will sneak up on no one this year. It will be interesting to see who leads for the team and if their point guard play hampers them in the first half of the season.
1 - Nembhard, Glover
2 - Mann, Locke
3 - Lewis, Johnson
4 - Blackshear jr, Bassett
5 - Payne, Gak, Jitoboh
This team is legit, they have 2 really good play-makers in Nembhard and Mann (who should definitely start together), great shooting in Nembhard, Mann, Locke, and Lewis, and a superb frontcourt with Blackshear jr (the Va Tech transfer) and a host of athletic and long dudes in Johnson, Bassett, Payne, Gak, and Jitoboh. The SEC will be a battle and if Florida can find some mettle to go with its talent they could very well win the league and make a deep tourney run (wouldn’t it be fun to beat the Gators for another ship, 20 years after the last one?).
1 - Jones, McCormick
2 - Doughty, Flanigan, Johnson, Cambridge
3 - Okoro, Franklin
4 - McLemore, Purifoy, Williams
5 - Wiley, Akingbola
This Auburn team may have shooting issues, but they will not lack athletes. Okoro, Franklin, Flanigan, McLemore, Purifoy, Williams, Wiley (now healthy), and Akingbola will be tearing down rims and rebounds all year and will bully tons of teams (expect UK to lose at least once to Auburn where Calipari talks about his team getting “punked”). If they can find a steady enough hand from Tyrell Jones (a really exciting freshman), McCormick, and Doughty, and if they can get enough shooting from somewhere, then they could be right back in the Final Four. This team could easily wrestle the SEC away from Florida and UK, and could win a ship on grit and fight alone (assuming the NCAA vs Bruce Pearl, part 2, doesn’t come to a head).
1 - Gillespie, Arcidiacono
2 - Antoine, Moore, Slater
3 - Bey, Samuels
4 - Robinson-Earl, Swider, Dixon
5 - Cosby-Roundtree
I am not 100% sold on Gillespie as the point guard (116 Ortg last year, but played off-ball), but this team will be terrific and should comfortably win the Big East. Gillespie, Antoine, Moore, Bey, Samuels, Robinson-Earl, Swider, Dixon, and Cosby-Roundtree is the rotation and that is all they will really need. They have tons of shooting, heady scorers, good athletes, and a hell of a coach.
#9 Ohio State
1 - Carton, Walker
2 - Muhammad, Washington jr
3 - Wesson, Ahrens, Jallow
4 - Gaffney, Liddell
5 - Wesson, Young, Diallo
I am happy to be ahead of the curve on OSU, who despite not living up to their talent last year have everything they need to be at least a Sweet-16 team this season. Carton and Walker (an FSU transfer) will be a HUGE upgrade at the point both in terms of their play-making and their scoring ability. Muhammad, Washington jr, Wesson, Ahrens, and Jallow are a terrific group on the wings - long, tough, heady, and each with a bit of scoring ability (they don’t need to score nearly as much as they did last year, which is good for OSU). Gaffney and Liddell should be a big talent (and size) upgrade at the 4, and Wesson will continue to be superb in the paint. Young and Diallo should also contribute. This team doesn’t have real holes apart from not having “actually won anything” and maybe a bit less perimeter shooting than one might want. But I think that Carton will be in the running for B1G freshman of the year and that he will make all the difference for this team.
[MSU plays OSU once at home, to close the B1G regular season - Mar 8, 4:30pm, CBS]
1 - Cowan, Smith jr
2 - Morsell, Hart
3 - Ayala, Wiggins
4 - Smith, Lindo jr, Scott
5 - Mitchell, Mitchell, Marial (injured for a while, possible RS), Tomaic
I really like this UMD team - having them below OSU is more of a statement in my confidence in OSU. Cowan should be super, Smith has tons of talent, and Morsell, Ayala, Smith, Wiggins, and Lindo jr are a terrific fivesome on the wings. I do fear that UMD will suffer from the weight of expectations a bit, and that their group of sophomores may have a bit of a slump. The real question is whether or not the center position will be one of strength or one where UMD will really miss Fernando’s brawn. There are some imposing front-lines in the B1G (be they big, skilled, experienced, etc.) so relying on freshmen to carry the load might be asking for trouble.
[MSU plays UMD twice down the stretch of the B1G - vs UMD, Feb 15 and at UMD, Feb 29]
1 - Clark
2 - Morsell, Stattman
3 - Key, Woldetensae
4 - Diakite, McKoy
5 - Huff, Caffaro, Shedrick
UVA will not be as good as they were last year...probably. Then again, Huff’s readiness for a starting and potentially starring role, Diakite’s blossoming, Clark’s steady hand, and with Key, Morsell, and Woldetensae (keep an eye on this kid: a lefty JUCO who can really shoot) all providing solid defense and timely buckets... Either way, UVA is gonna be really really good. They may not have quite enough shooting (then again, Woldetensae, Huff, Morsell...) and they have no answer for any injuries or foul-trouble for Kihei Clark, but this team could be back in the Sweet-16. (UVA is the team in the top 20 that I am least confident in, given all they lost, but I will leave them here for now).
1 - Eastern, Thompson
2 - Proctor, Newman, Hunter jr
3 - Wheeler, Stefanovic, Gillis
4 - Williams, Boudreaux
5 - Haarms, Dowuona
Purdue brings a ton of size and talent to the floor on both ends. The question for them will be whether their best defensive line-ups will be good offensive line-ups, and whether their “good” offensive line-ups will, in fact, be “good” offensive line-ups. Basically, who is going to score now that Purdue doesn’t have Carsen “Noted Gunner” Edwards or Ryan Cline. Purdue is relying on grad transfer Jahaad Proctor (formerly of High Point) to come in and score against the B1G like he did down at High Point, I am a bit nervous on that bet. Outside of Proctor, Purdue’s most important offensive producers will be Wheeler (who simply must work out as a bigger 3 so that he can start along with Haarms and Williams), and Williams the delightful and creative big who had such a promising freshman year for the Boilermakers last year. Wheeler, Hunter jr, Thompson, Stefanovic, and Gillis will need to be solid-enough 3pt shooters or, like Kansas last year, Purdue’s only strategy will be attacking the paint, getting offensive rebounds, and getting to the ft line. Purdue should be solid defensively, and should find enough scoring one way or another to be a real force in the B1G and to get back to the Sweet-16.
[MSU plays Purdue once - at Purdue, Jan 12, CBS]
#13 Florida State
1 - Forrest, Evans
2 - Walker, Vassell, Jack
3 - Williams, Polite, Calhoun
4 - Gray, Osborne, Wilkes
5 - Olejniczak, Koprivica
Florida State should scare anyone they match up against. They likely will still have the same issue as last year (point guard play and generating consistently good shots in the half-court), but they also have 10 athletic, long, slashers 6’4” or taller. They will send waves of athletes at teams and will simply overwhelm plenty of teams in the ACC. If they can define roles, identify consistent shooting, and limit turnovers, then this team could snatch the ACC away from their more polished competition. My favorite players on this team are RaiQuan Gray (who reminds somewhat of Zion in body-type, game, and athleticism - even if he isn’t as good on any of those metrics) who should have a breakout year, and MJ Walker a good athlete with a more sensible game than some of his teammates’. If the trio of JUCO guys - Evans, Calhoun, and Jack can contribute - then this team becomes tremendously scary. Potential roadblocks: turnovers, half-court shot-quality, shooting and experience.
1 - Anthony, Francis
2 - Robinson, Harris, Platek
3 - Pierce, Keeling
4 - Brooks, Black
5 - Bacot, Manley, Huffman
Maybe I am being silly, but UNC is BANKING on Anthony scoring about 20 ppg, on Bacot owning the paint, and on Robinson, Pierce, and Keeling stepping into major roles and doing so seamlessly. I just am not sure I envision everything clicking. Roy’s teams do well when they are definitively more talented, bigger, and more experienced than the teams they go against, and I just don’t see that this year in an ACC with the aforementioned Duke (more talented), Louisville (equal if not more talent, equal size, more experience), UVA (more experience), and FSU (more size, equal talent). I could see this team fading down the stretch, and if Anthony sprains an ankle or something expect him to trend towards extreme caution on a return timeline.
#15 Seton Hall
1 - McKnight, Nelson
2 - Powell, Reynolds
3 - Cale, Rhoden
4 - Mamukelashvili, Thompson, Samuel
5 - Obiagu, Gill, Brodie
This team returns 4 starters, and will be big, mean, and nasty. If the perimeter trio can improve their turnover rates, then they will have a fighting shot to win the Big East and make a deep run into March. Powell is the star, but Obiagu and his paint-patrolling will be maybe as important as Powell’s scoring.
[MSU visits Seton Hall for the Gavitt Tip-Off games - at Seton Hall, Nov 14, 8:30pm, FS1]
#16 Texas Tech
1 - Moretti
2 - Ramsey, McCullar
3 - Edwards, Shannon, Nadolny
4 - Clarke, Holyfield
5 - Tchewa, Smith, Savrasov
Beard is an incredible coach, TTU returns Moretti and Edwards, but brings in big-time grad transfers Chris Clarke (Va Tech) and TJ Holyfield (SFA), stud freshman Jahmius Ramsey (reminds me a lot of Marcus Smart), and the talented Terrance Shannon. They shouldn’t be as good as they were last year, but if Kansas slips up, TTU should win the Big XII. If they can get enough bench production from McCullar, Shannon, Nadolny, Holyfield, Smith, and Tchewa (another pair of freshman - who will need to dominate the paint for TTU), then they will get really scary all of a sudden.
1 - Harris, Lomax
2 - Ellis, Quinones
3 - Jeffries, Baugh
4 - Achiuwa, Thomas
5 - Wiseman, Maurice, Dandridge
This team has absurd talent, almost no returning experience (outside of Harris and Lomax, quite possibly the two least talented players on the team, who will also be expected to run the point), a likely straight-foward regular season, tons of expectations, and future in which they can expect to lose probably 4-6 players to the NBA draft after this season. It’s gonna be weird, fun, and fraught for Penny. The AAC is no joke with Cincinnati, Houston, and Wichita State to deal with, but Memphis should win their conference and look like a juggernaut heading into the NCAA tourney. Will Wiseman, Achiuwa, and Jeffries be tough enough and disciplined enough in big games? Will Ellis, Quinones, and Baugh provide enough consistent shooting? Will Harris and Lomax distribute the ball well-enough? Will the NBA distract? Will egoes get in the way of team success? It’s gonna be interesting to watch.
1 - Gilder, Ravet
2 - Woolridge, Ayayi
3 - Kispert, Watson, Arlauskas
4 - Timme, Petrusev
5 - Tille, Zahkarov, Ballo
This Gonzaga team should take a step back this year, they have a lot of newcomers with important roles in the back-court (especially Gilder the Texas A&M transfer and Ayayi the French interational who didn’t play last year, but was superb this summer for France at FIBA 19U tournament), and unproven depth across the board. Kispert and Tille will need to stay healthy and steady the ship, but expect Drew Timme to be their most important player (and my biggest regret for MSU misses on the last recruiting cycle - change my mind Julius Marble!!!). Timme and Tille might end up as one of the more dynamic front-courts in the country; if they reach their potential, then they could lead Gonzaga to a deep march run.
[MSU plays Gonzaga in a closed-doors scrimmage on Oct 19 - MSU lost this same scrimmage last year and it should be another good measuring stick for the Spartans]
1 - Mays, Bishop
2 - Smart, Graves, Hayatt
3 - Watford, Taylor, Manning
4 - Williams, Days
5 - Thomas, Cooper
LSU lost some players to the NBA last year, but should still have a ton of talent (and the same NCAA storm clouds hanging over their coach Will Wade) especially in Trendon Watford (who I think LSU needs to play at the 3 and not the 4 this season). Mays, Smart, Watford, Williams, Taylor, Bishop, and Days is a solid core, but will their center position be good enough (similar to the position Maryland faces in the B1G)? Again, I would not be surprised to see the distractions get the best of this talented bunch (my buddy tells me Will Wade apparently “looked ashen” when he heard about the NCAA notice sent to Kansas), but they have the talent to challenge again in the SEC.
1 - Pritchard
2 - Mathis, Patterson
3 - Duarte, Wur
4 - Walker, Juiston,Lawson
5 - Dante, Okoro, Johnson
This Oregon team should win the Pac-12 (which should be the best of the “mid-major” conferences this year). Pritchard and Okoro are the only meaningful returnees, but, like Texas Tech, Oregon brings in a TON of talent in the form of impact freshmen Dante, Wur, and Walker in the front-court and Patterson in the back-court and in the form of transfers (Mathis, Duarte, and Juiston). This pastiche of other teams should wind up being a very good one by the end of the season, and if Pritchard, Duarte, Mathis (especially), and Patterson can provide enough shooting they should have the length, size, and athleticism to win some games in the NCAA tourney.
1 - Davison, Anderson
2 - Trice, Pritzl
3 - King, Wahl
4 - Ford
5 - Reuvers, Potter, Hedstrom
I know people aren’t high on Wisconsin, but this team returns a ton of minutes and has guys just waiting to explode in higher usage roles now that Happ isn’t wasting countless possessions each game with low-percentage chucks at the rim and missed free throws. Heck, last season’s “middling” Wisconsin team was #16 in Kenpom, and is replacing their least efficient offensive player with higher usage for returners ready to improve with expanded roles. Reuvers will be a stud, Davison and Trice will needle teams all year, and if Ford, Potter, and Pritzl can do enough off the bench to maintain leads, then this team could execute their way into the top-4 of the B1G. The guy to watch for is Kobe King - last year was his first back from a major injury and he was merely solid. I think he will really explode this year and help make Wisconsin one of the more balanced teams in the country.
[MSU plays Wisconsin twice - vs Wisconsin, Jan 17, FS1 and at Wisconsin, Feb 1, 1pm, Fox]
1 - Frazier
2 - Feliz, Williams, Griffin
3 - Dosunmu, Nichols, Jones
4 - Bezhanishvili, Kouma, Bosmans-Verdonk
5 - Cockburn, Hamlin
This is the year Illinois has to make a big move and make a tourney run. Dosunmu will almost certainly leave for the draft after this year, Bezhanishvili may as well, and they will lose some key rotation players to graduation in Feliz and Nichols. They have talent, and Underwood is a great coach, but everyone insisting that this team will jump from the #84 team in Kenpom (#83 Ortg, #108 Drtg), that racked up a 12-21 record (7-13 in the B1G), with only one major addition in Kofi Cockburn (a mammoth big man, but a freshman with a limited offensive game, nonetheless), is expecting a TON of internal improvement, or for a bunch of teams with better prospects, outlined above, to regress HARD. I think this team really will take a major step forward (I’m ranking them #22 in the preseason after all), but I don’t see them finishing anywhere but in the middle of the pack in the B1G. To make this leap they desperately need more 3pt shooting from Frazier (likely), Dosunmu (maybe), Feliz (doubtful), Williams (maybe), Jones (doubtful), consistent looks in the half-court, more trips to the FT line, and to defend the 3pt line (which will be even tougher this year given that it is moving out some more). Things will get nervous for Underwood if they can’t get it done, but I think he will make it happen.
[MSU plays Illinois twice - vs Illinois, Jan 2, 8pm, FS1 and at Illinois, Feb 11, 9pm, ESPN]
#23 NC State
1 - Johnson, Harris
2 - Beverly, Daniels
3 - Bryce, Seabron, Taylor
4 - Hellems, Andree
5 - Funderburk, Bates
This is a hopeful ranking, it would be fun to see NC State take a few games off the big powers in the ACC, and they might just about do it. Johnson is terrific, Funderburk is ready for a star role, and, with solid improvement, Harris, Beverly, Daniels, and Bryce are ready to take a step from underwhelming to “fully-whelming” this year as secondary players on the perimeter. If the freshman Seabron and the rest of the secondary perimeter guys show well, then this team will be solid and ready to shock people in March.
1 - Simpson, DeJulius
2 - Brooks, Nunez
3 - Wagner, Bajema
4 - Livers, Johns
5 - Teske, Castleton, Davis
Michigan is going to surprise people. Expectations are down after MSU stole their soul last season, but this team will know who they are, return 2 seniors a very experienced junior, and bring in a talented gamer in freshman Franz Wagner. If they can get some sort of consistent production from their reserves, then this team will stick in the middle of the B1G, and hover on the fringe of the top-25 all year. The big keys are the shooting guard position (Brooks? DeJulius? Nunez? Bajema? Wagner?) and Brandon Johns. Johns has to become a reliable and consistent performer. My guess is that Howard does really well with him - they have very similar personalities and Johns has a ton of talent - and that Johns ends up starting some games down the stretch. If Wagner proves physically able to handle the B1G and Johns finds a level of comfort UM could make noise, my guess is they don’t have quite enough fire-power to make the kind of noise that their fans will hype up as the season goes along, but they should be a real thorn in the side and help determine the winner of the conference.
[MSU plays UM twice - vs UM, Jan 5, CBS and at UM, Feb 8, 12pm, Fox]
1 - Turner
2 - James, Johnson
3 - Bowden, Gaines
4 - Pons, Robinson-Nkamhou, Pember
5 - Fulkerson, Kent
Sadly, this Tennessee team will not quite be what it might have if Bone had returned (he will be in the G-League rather than starring for UT, so fair play to him!), but Turner, Bowden, Pons, and Fulkerson will be a very solid core. Tennessee NEEDS Josiah-Jordan James (who passed on joining MSU) to be every bit the stud freshman he is billed as. I think he will be solid as a second ball-handler and elbow scorer (“can he shoot the 3 well enough?” will be a huge question). Sadly, Tennessee also lost DJ Burns (to transfer) after refusing to play him any minutes last year, so their front court will be short on experience and talent. All of that being said I think Turner, James, Bowden, Johnson (who will be a vital role player), and the athletic Pons and Fulkerson will be good enough to produce a very solid season. This is a tournament team, but with a limited ceiling.
1 - Mannion
2 - Baker, Hazzard, Doutrive
3 - Green, Smith
4 - Nnaji, Lee, Gettings
5 - Jeter, Koloko
This Arizona team should probably be higher. They have a ton of talent in Mannion, Baker (UK transfer who should provide a ton of shooting if he gets his waiver for immediate eligibility), Green, Nnaji, and Jeter all of whom may go pro after this season. If Baker can’t go this season that limits Arizona’s ceiling, but Hazzard (UC Irvine grad transfer) should be terrific as either the first guard off the bench or as a gunning starter. Mannion and Green will be a sublime pairing for a season, but the real question is the front-court. If Nnaji and Jeter (who at times was super at times last year and awol at others) play to their potential then Arizona may just walk away with the conference and cruise into a deep tourney run. But Sean Miller still isn’t that great a coach (not saying he’s “bad,” just that he consistently fails to deliver despite having TONS of talent), so that may end up holding them back.
1 - Cumberland, McNeal
2 - Cumberland, Harvey, Adams-Woods
3 - Williams, Moore, Davenport
4 - Scott, Toyambi
5 - Diarra
This Cincinnati team should be outstanding. Jaevin Cumberland, the Oakland transfer, should start with Chris McNeal, another grad transfer, as the back up at the point, and if those two solidify the point guard position, then Jarron Cumberland (Jaevin’s cousin) should handle the rest. He is a terrific scorer and ideal focal point of a team. Other returners Williams, Scott, Toyambi, and Diarra should play great supporting roles, with the real jolt from the reserves likely coming from Zach Harvey (a top-50 recruit; long, lean, and a scorer) and Mika Adams-Woods another quality freshman who is better than his ranking. They should finish right near the top of the AAC and will have the goods for a potential tourney run.
#28 Arizona State
1 - Martin, House
2 - Edwards, Verge, Christopher
3 - Lawrence, Mitchell
4 - Thomas, Cherry
5 - White, Allen, Graham
I really like this ASU team again this year. Last year they trailed off after one-and-done freshman Luguentz Dort (who didn’t improve whatsoever and didn’t have any interest in having Izzo him up in order to improve his game; incidentally, he went un-drafted) revealed himself to be a bit of a volume scorer with a tendency towards chucking. They were still fun last year, winning against some quality opposition (including beating Kansas again!!!) but generally lacking enough quality in the front-court, and suffering a bit in the half-court (again, Dort had a 98 Ortg and was their highest-usage player... not great Bob!). This year they should be older, wiser, more-efficient, and with a bit more quality and depth in the front-court. Remy Martin is super, Alonzo Verge will be an attacking and scoring beast for them, and Lawrence, Cherry, and Thomas should be a great trio of smaller, but versatile bigs. If this team can stay healthy they will make noise in the tournament and should finish in the top part of their conference.
1 - Hardy, Green (out until December)
2 - Bey, Battle, Tsohonis
3 - McDaniels, Carter
4 - Wright
5 - Stewart, Timmins, Penn-Johnson
This team plays a 2-3 zone
perfect for preparing kids to play in the NBA, and they will have the ideal bodies to make it a really good one. A back-line of McDaniels, Stewart, and Wright will have a ton of length, and should be great on the glass. On offense the question is how crowded will the paint be, how consistent can the two 5-star freshmen be (Stewart and McDaniels), and where will the shooting come from? This team should be really tough for the Pac-12 to beat (and they will have a shot at the conference), and a tough out in the NCAA-tourney, but their guard play and half-court consistency will remain an open question unless some guys (Hardy, Green, Bey, Battle, Tsohonis, and Carter) really step up.
1 - Akinjo, Blair
2 - McClung, Allen
3 - Mosely, Alexander, Gardner
4 - LeBlanc, Pickett, Wahab
5 - Yurtseven, Wilson, Ingohoefe
This Georgetown team, which made major strides last year returns 4 starters and 5 of their top 6 players. Akinjo, McClung, and LeBlanc all had very solid freshman seasons, and will look to take significant strides as sophomores, and adding Yurtseven, Alexander, Wahab, and Wilson will make this team much taller, longer, and tougher in the front-court. Yurtseven, especially, will really change the ceiling of this team and will likely be an all-conference first team player. Georgetown is ready to compete at the top of the Big East, could definitely win a conference tournament, and could make a run in the NCAA’s if the two freshmen guards take a major step in their efficiency and shooting.
1 - Coleman, Ramey
2 - Febres, Jones
3 - Williams, Lidell, Cunningham
4 - Sims, Hepa, Hamm
5 - Baker, Jones
Still pulling for Shaka, and I am cautiously optimistic that this year’s version of Texas will make noise in the Big XII. Baker and Jones should be a great freshman duo at the center position. Sims, Hepa, and Hamm need to step up as under-performing 4-men the last couple of years, and Coleman and Ramey need to have big bounce-back years after both played way below their true talent level last year. Febres, Jones (hopefully healthy), Williams, and Lidell need to find scoring-spots and some sort of shooting consistency from 3. All in all, this team still has talent, but really needs to find ways to win close games that the gave away last year. Texas was #25 in Kenpom last year (despite losing 16 games!!!) - they came from ahead to lose to MSU, lost a 3pt let-down game immediately after to Radford, then lost their next one to VCU by 1, a 6pt loss to Providence, 3pt loss to Ok St, 6pt loss to TTU, 2pt loss to Kansas, 4pt loss to TCU, 5pt loss to Iowa St, 7pt loss to Kansas St, 1pt loss to Oklahoma, and a 1pt loss to Baylor... I mean wow (that is 12 very winnable games - 11 of which by single digits). They were right there last year, and I think with improved play from Coleman and Ramey they will get over the hump.
1 - Howard, Torrence, Akanno
2 - Anim, Elliott
3 - Cain, Bailey
4 - Morrow jr, Eke
5 - John, Johnson
Marquette will still be solid, but any notion that they will be as good as they were last year, or better, is curious. They lost the Hauser brothers to transfer and didn’t bring in any other-worldly talents. Howard will still be shooting a ton, and they will need Anim, Torrence, Cain, Elliott, Morrow jr, and Johnson to really step forward. This should be a tourney team, but that is it, and they may really struggle if Howard has any struggles or if secondary shooters don’t step forward.
1 - Butler, Mitchell
2 - Bandoo, Teague
3 - Vital, Turner
4 - Clark, Mayer
5 - Gillespie, Thamba
Tristan Clark is terrific, and Butler, Bandoo, Vital, Mayer, Gillespie, Teague (3pt-shooting UNC Ashville transfer) and Mitchell (Auburn transfer) should all be great complementary pieces, but for some reason I am still not sold on this team. Even when they had Tristan Clark last year (first 14 games), they were still losing to teams, they lost Kegler to dismissal from the team this fall (an inauspicious lead-in to the season), and they don’t have proven bigs other than Clark. This team may be a candidate for moving up later this season, but color me skeptical.
1 - Phinisee
2 - Green, Durham, Franklin
3 - Hunter, Smith, Anderson
4 - Jackson-Davis, Thompson
5 - Davis, Brunk
So I am way more positive on this IU team than most, but here’s why: gone are the misplaced expectations on Romeo “Savior” Langford, and now the team can actually spread the ball and play decent offense. Phinisee is better than his stats from last year, Davis should be healthy all year and ready to go out on a high as a senior, Jackson-Davis really is a very good player and should be a better hub of the offense for this team than Langford was, Green, Durham, Hunter, and Smith should all find themselves a bit more this year now that they all get to step out of the shadows, and I just feel like this team will gel better than last years. I may be dropping them later, but I feel good about having this team in the top-50.
[MSU plays IU once - at IU, Jan 23, 8:30pm, FS1]
1 - Zegarowski, Mitchell
2 - Mintz, Windham, Scurry
3 - Alexander, Mahoney, Jefferson
4 - Ballock, Bishop
5 - Jones, Epperson
This team returns 4 starters and should have a great perimeter crew, but I am really concerned about their interior play. Jones (JUCO) and Epperson (talented, but hasn’t cracked the rotation in his first 2 years) are basically all they have, and neither are proven commodities. This team should shoot the lights out, but will struggle again defensively and to protect the paint. Despite a solid outlook, I don’t know that I believe in this team (I wouldn’t be surprised to re-rank them lower in the second iteration this season).
1 - Lykes, Wong
2 - Vasiljevic, Beverly
3 - McGusty
4 - Stone, Walker
5 - Waardenburg, Gak, Miller jr
Miami should be much better this year. Lykes finally has some help in the creation and wing scoring department from the two well-regarded freshmen in Wong, Beverly, and from McGusty (Oklahoma transfer), all three plus the solid Vasiljevic should make Miami’s perimeter attack much more potent than it was last year. Add to that the fact that Miami added Keith Stone (should be back soon from a knee injury), the very-long Deng Gak (off a red-shirt/knee injury), the also very-long and intriguing Rodney Miller (off a red-shirt), and the well-regarded Anthony Walker a solid freshman forward, and all of a sudden you can see the picture come into focus for Jim Larranaga. Stone and the returning Waardenburg will both stretch defenses out to the 3pt line and if the other bigs can provide enough toughness and rebounding to boot, then this team can pull off some upsets in the ACC again. They really should be making the NCAA tourney, if they don’t Larranaga should start to sweat.
1 - Bieniemy, Harmon
2 - Williams
3 - Reaves, Hill, Garang
4 - Doolittle, Iquakor, Kur
5 - Manek, Merritt, Issanza
Oklahoma lost a ton of seniors after last season. But Bieniemy is a delight and a budding star, Manek should be their focal point (and he can really play), and the guys they bring in (including Reaves, a Wichita State transfer) can all shoot it a bit, score a bit, and bring some toughness. Kruger is a solid coach, and I just can’t see this team fading.
1 - Toussaint, McCaffery, Bohannon (injured maybe all year)
2 - Wieskamp, Fredrick
3 - McCaffery
4 - Nunge, Pemsl (suspended on DUI)
5 - Garza, Kriener
They couldn’t have had a much worse off-season: Isaiah Moss transferred to KU (gross), lost Bohannon maybe for the whole season with hip surgery, and just at the start of the fall Pemsl to a DUI suspension (who knows whether or not he plays for them this year). All of that being said, let’s take a look at what they do have going for them: they had a great mini-run in the tourney last year (beating Cincinnati and getting hosed in an OT loss to Tennessee), finished the season as the #37 team in Kenpom, did a bit of addition by subtraction with Cook leaving the team (yes, he was good in some areas, but he was their highest usage player at a 102 Ortg!!! Oh, and Kansas, fyi, Moss was a 102 Ortg player as well...), they added another McCaffery to the fold (can’t have enough and now they have the complete trio in town...), they add a promising NYC point guard in Toussaint, and they get Jack Nunge back in the fold after a red-shirt (he will remind a lot of people of Jared Utoff this year I am predicting). This is a team that will need Wieskamp and Garza (their two best players last year) to take another couple of major leaps forward, and to keep their defensive improvement from last year and, then, to continue heading in the right direction on that end. Iowa always runs great offense, and they will benefit greatly from the improved spacing of the widened 3pt arc, I don’t see this team falling off the pace, and I bet they do enough to dance again.
[MSU plays Iowa once - vs Iowa, Feb 25, 7pm, ESPN]
#39 St Mary’s
1 - Kuhse, Clinton, Zoriks
2 - Ford, Bowen, Clark
3 - Krebs, Fotu, Thomas
4 - Fitts
5 - Menzies, Perry, Tass
This team lost its center (the excellent Jordan Hunter), but should be able to fill in by committee with Menzies, Perr, and Tass. Those fellas really just have to hold down the fort because Ford, Krebs, Fitts, and Kuhse really drive this team. They can all shoot, and they wear teams down by playing the slowest pace imaginable (#350 in pace last year!!!). They will give Gonzaga all they can handle for the WCC and should get into the dance as an at-large if they don’t win the auto-bid.
#40 Penn State
1 - Wheeler, Jones
2 - Dread, Jones
3 - Brockington, Lundy, Kelly
4 - Stevens, Tsimbila
5 - Watkins, Harrar, Buttrick
Penn State lost a lot of close games last year because they couldn’t shoot (#303 in eFG as a team) in a sport that, for the most part, is decided by how well you can shoot. This year will be more of the same unless Wheeler, Jones, Jones (Ok St/IU transfer), Lundy, Dread, Kelly, and Brockington can rain in more 3’s that the Nittany Lions did last year. The key is Brockington (a St Bon transfer), he needs to be so good that he starts or is the 6th man, if not, then hopes for improvement from the returners and newcomers may never be fulfilled. Lundy and Kelly both have talent as freshmen wings, but to make this team really roll Miles Dread and Mike Watkins have to step up bigly and form a dynamic trio with Lamar Stevens. If all three can get rolling together then this team could squeak into the NCAA tourney depending on their non-conference performance.
[MSU plays PSU twice - vs PSU, Feb 4, 8pm, BTN, and at PSU, Mar 3, 7pm, ESPN]
#41 Utah State
1 - Porter, Anderson
2 - Merrill, Miller
3 - Brito, Bairstow
4 - Bean, McChesney, Potter
5 - Queta, Karwowski, Stall
Utah State returns 6 of its top 7 players, including Merrill and Queta, who are both very good. Porter, Brito, Miller, and Bean round out the rest of the returning core. They pass it very well and are solid on both ends. This team will likely win their league and could win a game or few in the NCAA tourney if they can find some more shooting. This ranking is too low, I will move them up when I confirm for myself that they are as good as everyone says they are and as they appear to be.
1 - Carey, Girard
2 - Boeheim, Washington
3 - Hughes, Goodine
4 - Guerrier, Dolezaj, Braswell
5 - Sidibe, Edwards, Ajak
Syracuse amazes me, Boeheim has been there forever, he always has tons of talent, and almost every year they underperform. Here we go again, I guess... Carey will desperately need to improve (he had a 75 Ortg last year...no joke), and Syracuse needs one of Girard, Washington, and Goodine to step up and become a 4th guy on the perimeter. Guerrier should be a tone-setter for them even as a freshman, and Hughes should be as solid as ever. I just don’t see how they finish anywhere above middle of the pack in the always-tough ACC, or how they squeak into the NCAA tourney, but here I am again, giving them a shot before they disappoint.
1 - Crutcher, Chatman
2 - Watson, Cohill, Mhatos
3 - Mikesell, Landers
4 - Toppin, Johnson
5 - Tshimanga, Sissoko
This is a gamble: Dayton was merely ok last year (#62 in Kenpom; #43 Ortg, #103 Drtg), they lost their starting 2-guard to transfer, and they were really young. But I think they are ready for a big step up because Obadiah Toppin is going to be a star, Ibi Watson, Rodney Chatman, ready to emerge after transferring, Crutcher and Cohill are a year a older, and because Jordan Tshimanga (Nebraska transfer), Moulaye Sissoko (strong and big freshman), and Chase Johnson (Florida transfer who will help in the front-court) are ready to lock down the middle. These new additions plus moderate development from the talented young returners have the Flyers ready to challenge for the A-10 title and to get to the NCAA tourney if they win some non-conference games and hold their nerve in conference play.
[MSU plays one of Dayton vs Georgia in the second round of the Maui tournament]
1 - Evans, Hyland, Clark III
2 - Jenkins, Crowfield, McAllister
3 - Vann, Simms, Curry
4 - Williams, Douglas
5 - Santos-Silva, Ward
If Dayton doesn’t win the A-10, it will be VCU again. They return 5 seniors in Evans, Jenkins, Vann, Crowfield, and Simms who will take the bulk of the perimeter minutes, with freshmen Hyland, Clark III, and McAllister all competing to join the rotation in some capacity. Williams, Santos-Silva, and Douglas also return as veteran front-court members. But VCU’s struggles last year (#332 in 3pt%!!!) will return unless some of these veterans spent all summer learning how to shoot the 3-ball. I think Dayton has a higher ceiling, but VCU’s floor is about as good as it gets.
#45 Iowa State
1 - Bolton, Grill
2 - Haliburton, Lewis, Jackson III
3 - Nixon, Griffin, Leech jr
4 - Jacobson, Anderson
5 - Conditt IV, Young
Bolton getting his waiver to play immediately is big, he, Haliburton, and Nixon should form a solid trio in the back court for Iowa State. Jacobson and Conditt along with Solomon Young (who could start) will lead the way in the front court as another useful trio (I especially dig Jacobson’s game). The question is how the rest of the rotation will fill out: Anderson, Leech, Jackson III, and Grill are all freshman, Lewis is coming off an injury, and Griffin was surprisingly ineffective last year (I thought he would be better as a freshman). If Prohm can find another 2-4 guys to give solid minutes this team could move right on up into the NCAA tourney.
#46 Mississippi State
1 - Carter, Molinar
2 - Weatherspoon, Butts, Stewart jr
3 - Woodard II, King
4 - Perry, Feazell, Oduro
5 - Ado, Datcher, Post
Reggie Perry will be a beast, Carter, Weatherspoon, Ado, and Woodard should all be great starters, but this team lost a ton of shot creation from last year (Lamar Peters and Quindary Weatherspoon both departed for pro-ball). They just don’t return a lot and the rest of the SEC looks better than them. I could see any of this trio of SEC teams (Georgia and Alabama, see below) moving up, but not all of them, and probably only 1 or maybe 2 of this trio will make the NCAA tourney. Mississippi State is probably the safest bet to do so.
1 - Crump, Gresham jr, Wheeler
2 - Edwards, Walton, Fagan
3 - Harris, Brown
4 - Hammonds, Camara
5 - Ngumezi, Howard, Peake
I was gutted when Nic Claxton stayed in the NBA draft, he would have made this team SO MUCH FUN. Instead we get a still-interesting team driven by the superlative talent of Anthony Edwards. Hammonds is a solid forward, but all other bets are off in the front court (for a team that was #120 in Drtg last year WITH Claxton and a couple of seniors on board in the frontcourt...). Better to focus on the back-court, where Harris, Crump, Walton, Brown, and Camara will all be welcome additions. We may end up seeing Georgia play very small by the end of the season (with Hammonds playing more 5, and Brown and Walton playing small-ball 4). If that does happen they may have a chance to out-scrap and out-athlete teams.
[MSU plays one of Dayton vs Georgia in the second round of the Maui tournament]
1 - Lewis, Bolden, Shackelford
2 - Petty, Forbes
3 - Jones, Gary
4 - Reese, Davis-Fleming
5 - Smith, Hawkins
I really like this Bama team - Kira Lewis, John Petty, and Herb Jones are a fun and talented back-court trio. But the front-court looks rough (Reese can shoot it, but neither he nor Smith are world beaters and the two freshman reserves can’t be expected to raise the level of this group). Bolden (WVU transfer) and promising freshmen Shackelford and Forbes provide great depth in the back court, but is Bama going to play a 6 or even 7 man back-court rotation? The roster imbalance will get this team in real trouble in a big and athletic SEC. Lewis, Petty, and Jones just aren’t efficient enough to carry this team, so I fully expect Bama to fade.
1 - Gudmundson
2 - Collins, Czerapowicz
3 - Grady, Frampton, Lee
4 - Pritchett, Boachie-Yiadom
5 - Brajkovic, Jones, Kristensen
I really do like this Davidson team, and can 100% envision them getting an at-large bid (and moving up my rankings), but as the third best team in the A-10 (they were #85 in Kenpom last year), I want to see them prove it (again) before I move them up. That being said, they return some grade-A players, including their entire playing rotation from last year (minus their starting 5). Gudmundson, Collins, Grady, Frampton, and Pritchett all shoot the lights out, and Brajkovic and Jones have shown decent potential. But this team was still only #102 in Ortg (didn’t offensive rebound at all, didn’t get to the line at all) and #98 in Drtg (allowed way too many 3pt attempts). Are they magically going to get much better on both ends? Maybe? But both Dayton and VCU are just better.
#50 Wichita State
1 - Sherfield, Etienne, Fernandes
2 - Stevenson, Burton
3 - Dennis, Wade
4 - Bilau, Gordon, Udeze
5 - Echenique, Midtgaard, Bear-Chandler
Wichita State lost McDuffie and Haynes-Jones, big-time seniors from last year, but I believe in Greg Marshall in a big way. He is going to get every last ounce out of these kids. Wichita State was #66 last year in Kenpom and was on the wrong side of a lot of close games. All three freshmen in the point-guard rotation will play, and some may play off-ball, and Stevenson, Burton, and Dennis are all sophmores who will stand to improve off of their solid freshmen seasons (yes, in a year or 2 this back-court will be unreal and might just lead Wichita State on another Final Four run). The trick is the front court - none are proven commodities other than the rock-solid Echenique - if Marshall can find another one or two guys to do the dirty-work every night, then this Wichita State team could bloody the noses of the presumptive AAC front-runners in Memphis, Cincinnati, and Houston.
Plus 1: #51 Minnesota
1 - Carr, Greenlee
2 - Willis, Williams
3 - Kalscheur, Ihnen
4 - Hurt, Demir, Curry
5 - Oturu, Freeman, Omersa
Kalscheur and Oturu are good, Hurt is solid, Demir, Willis, Carr, and Greenlee may just turn out to be super additions, but I just don’t see it happening. There is talent, but it has to gel just right and Pitino just isn’t quite good enough to elevate the raw material here into an NCAA tournament team, at least not as far as I can tell at this point. I am always willing to update my priors.
[MSU plays Minnesota twice - vs Minn, Jan 9, 9pm, ESPN, and at Minn, Jan 26, 3pm, Fox]
For reference: Rough rankings of major conferences (left-to-right)
ACC: Duke, Louisville, UVA, FSU, UNC, NC State, Miami, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Va Tech, the rest in some order
Comment: The top 4 are really really good, I would not be surprised if any of the 4 won the conference.
B1G: Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota, the rest in some order
Comment: This is the best conference in the country this year, by a pretty wide margin. MSU should win the conference, but OSU, UMD, and Purdue will be dynamite too. I know that everyone else is less-impressed by Wisconsin, but Reuvers will be 1st or 2nd team all-league. Illinois will be good, and UM will be better than “expected.” Iowa, PSU, and Minnesota will be scrapping hard for a tourney bid, so they need to do well in the non-con.
Big East: Nova, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Providence, Xavier, Butler, St John’s, DePaul
Comment: Have fun in the cellar, I guess, Mr Weems (still one of the most bizarre college decisions I have seen in a stretch) - best of luck to him in all seriousness though. Nova is great, Seton Hall is savy and tough as nails, and Gtown could be good again!?!?!?!
Big XII: Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State, WVU, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State
Comment: Who knows if Kansas will even play in the tournament. I think this is the year that Shaka will get it rolling, and Baylor and Oklahoma could be strong dark-horse candidates come March.
SEC: Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Georgia, Alabama, the rest in some order
Comment: UK will be really good and should get back to the Final 4, Florida might as well, as might Auburn. LSU (pending the NCAA vs Will Wade part II), Tennessee, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama form a solid second tier
Pac-12: Oregon, Arizona, ASU, Washington, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, the rest in some order
Comment: Still not a great conference (although Cronin should tear it up at UCLA within a few years), my favorite of the bunch is ASU - they play a fun style and will be tougher this year.
“Others”: Memphis, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, St Mary’s, Utah State, Dayton, VCU, Davidson, Wichita State
Comment: Really interested to see what happens with this loaded Memphis team, Gonzaga too (they have like 7 bigs and 4 guards). Dayton and Wichita State are my real soft-spots - they are gonna be super fun!!!