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Men’s basketball: Top 26-50 NCAA teams (Mid-season Edition, Part II)

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NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A mid-season re-ranking exercise (Part II)...

I hope this finds everyone staying safe and healthy.

As teams begin conference play in earnest, I want to revisit and update my rankings. The exact schedule for just about every team in the nation remains in the air to some degree even now, and there has been a fair bit of madness with scheduling, COVID infections, injuries, surprises, etc., but with the playing rosters just about set, and rotations getting trimmed and sorted out, I can now really zero in on the proper rankings of these teams.

Note: I have dropped the teams with a post-season ban from the rankings, and there are a number of teams that would have been ranked in the top-50 in such a situation (most notably Oklahoma State).

If you missed the first part of this project, which ranked No. 1 through No. 25, please read here.

Without further ado...

Here are the current depth-charts and rankings of the NCAA men’s basketball teams from #26-#50 for the 2020-21 season
(brief questions and comments per team):

(Disclaimer: I may have completely forgotten, omitted, or mis-depth-charted various players due to signings, injuries, transfers, or NBA decisions I have not accounted for. Please DO let me know about factual or obvious omissions and errors.)

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

26. Minnesota

1 - Marcus Carr
2 - Gabe Kalscheur, Jamal Mashburn Jr.
3 - Both Gach, Tre’ Wiliams
4 - Isiah Ihnen, Brandon Johnson
5 - Liam Robbins, Eric Curry

As Minnesota confirmed for both Iowa and Michigan State in the opening days of conference play, this Gophers team is for real. Carr is an absolute star, and maybe an All-American, Robbins is an ideal 7-foot center: tall and long, tough, strong enough to compete physically with other true bigs, and mobile enough to participate in a functional defense — particularly in the pick-and-roll. Johnson has been a blessing off the bench as a lethal shooter, and Kalscheur, Gach, and Ihnen will only improve their level of play over the rest of the conference season.

27. Colorado

1 - McKinley Wright, Keeshawn Barthelemy
2 - Maddok Daniels, Eli Parquet, Dominique Clifford
3 - D’Shawn Schwartz, Daylen Kountz, Luke O’Brien
4 - Jeriah Horne, Jabari Walker, Alex Strating
5 - Evan Battey, Dallas Walton

Colorado is solid, it is not great, but the Buffaloes are solid — and their defense is a huge part of that. They mix defenses effectively, and compete hard. Wright, Horne, and Battey form a solid offensive nucleus, and they play in the Pac-12, which is a solid conference, but, as noted above, has a lot of bad or defective teams.

28. Clemson

1 - Al-Amir Dawes, Nick Honor
2 - Clyde Trapp, Chase Hunter, Alex Hemenway
3 - John Newman
4 - Aamir Simms, Olivier Prosper, Hunter Tyson
5 - Jonathan Baehre, PJ Hall

Brad Brownell is still a really good coach despite the rough season Clemson had last year. This year’s team has a number of high-level players in Dawes, Honor, and, one of my favorite players in the nation, Aamir Simms. Simms can handle, can shoot, defends, and just oozes the kind of veteran know-how that Michigan State, for example, is currently lacking.

29. Purdue

1 - Eric Hunter, Isaiah Thompson
2 - Sasha Stefanovic, Jaden Ivey
3 - Brandon Newman, Ethan Morton
4 - Mason Gillis, Aaron Wheeler
5 - Trevion Williams, Zach Edey

Despite the bizarre completion of the Aaron Wheeler two-year disappearing-act after his outstanding freshman season, this Purdue team, now with a healthy Eric Hunter, is looking like a rock-solid mid-level Big Ten team. Purdue should make the tourney, and can offer the biggest matchup problem in the nation on offense in Zach Edey. The freshman may give up as many points as he scores, but he is already offering evidence of what a problem he will be for teams for the next year or few. With Stefanovic, Newman, Thompson, and Hunter raining three-pointers, and Ivey and Gillis competing, this team’s identity is set.

30. North Carolina State

1 - Braxton Beverly, Shakeel Moore
2 - Teddy Allen Jr., Cam Hayes
3 - Devon Daniels, Dereon Seabron
4 - Jericole Hellems, Nick Farrar, Jaylon Gibson
5 - DJ Funderburk, Manny Bates, Ebenezer Dowuona

NC State’s only loss on the year is to a very good Saint Louis team, when Cam Hayes and DJ Funderburk did not play due to COVID (and currently on a minutes restriction), it has already beaten North Carolina once, and it has the quality on both ends to give every team in the ACC problems. Once Hayes and Funderburk get fully healthy and in a groove, this team may jump into the top-five of the conference.

31. Stanford

1 - Daejon Davis, Noah Taitz
2 - Bryce Wills, Michael O’Connell
3 - Ziaire Williams
4 - Spencer Jones, Jaiden Delaire, Max Murrell
5 - Oscar da Silva, James Keefe, Lukas Kisunas

While Ziaire Williams’ physical limitations as a freshman have hampered his effectiveness as a first-year collegiate player, his talent is still clear and obvious. Fortunately for Jerod Haase, the Stanford coach has a terrific team around the talented freshman and does not need to rely on his production on either end to have a solid team. This team’s typically outstanding defense will get help from its offense the more Williams can be aggressive and get to the line to boost his scoring efficiency; in the meantime, Oscar da Silva will reign supreme.

32. Syracuse

1 - Joe Girard
2 - Buddy Boeheim, Kadary Richmond
3 - Quincy Guerrier, Marek Dolezaj
4 - Robert Braswell, Woody Newton
5 - Bourama Sidibe, Jesse Edwards, John Bol Ajak

Syracuse has offensive talent, or at least has a lot of gunners — Alan Griffin, Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim, Quincy Guerrier, and Kadary Richmond — who don’t always function as a seamless offensive unit on the same page, but who often can pour in enough points to get wins. Of course, this is an optimistic ranking, because the only team inside the top-100 teams in Kenpom’s ratings that Syracuse has played — Rutgers — the Orange lost to pretty comfortably. Syracuse’s defense is designed to give up three-point shots, and fortunately for them, there are not a lot of good three-point shooting teams in the ACC.

33. San Diego State

1 - Trey Pulliam, Terrell Gomez, Lamont Butler Jr.
2 - Jordan Schakel, Adam Seiko
3 - Aguek Arop
4 - Matt Mitchell, Keshad Johnson
5 - Nathan Mensah, Joshua Tomaic

Gomez, Schakel, Mitchell, and Mensah are a solid foursome, this team is almost all veterans, and their go-to guy in Mitchell scores at all three levels while getting to the line seven times per game. This team is tough, it defends, and it never give up transition buckets to the opposition. The Aztecs should win the Mountain West going away, and pose a formidable roadblock for any team they face in the NCAA tournament.

34. Virginia Tech

1 - Wabissa Bede, Jalen Cone
2 - Tyrece Radford, Hunter Cattoor
3 - Nahiem Alleyne, Darius Maddox, Joe Bamisile
4 - Justyn Mutts, David N’Guessan
5 - Keve Aluma, Cordell Pemsell

With Cartier Diarra opting out of the season due to COVID concerns, Virginia Tech loses the Kansas State transfer’s veteran presence and, most of all, his defense. Despite that loss, the internal growth of the team and other newcomers have helped the Hokies achieve a top-50 defense in Kenpom’s ratings. That is good enough given how well Mike Young’s offenses always end up performing. While this group has not quite maximized their offensive potential, their increased size and toughness is opening up the right shots, which will, undoubtedly, start to fall at a higher rate sooner rather than later.

35. Louisville

1 - David Johnson
2 - Carlik Jones, Josh Nickelberry
3 - Dre Davis
4 - Samuell Williamson, Quinn Slazinski, JJ Traynor
5 - Jae’lyn Withers, Aidan Igiehon

With Malik Williams’ season-ending injury, and with Igiehon being in and out of the lineup, Louisville has been forced to play super-small. The Cardinals have two great guards — the only two three-point threats on the team — and a number of athletic paint-attackers. This team is limited by its front-court depth, and lack of shooting, but Johnson and Jones are fun as heck, and Withers finally getting unleashed (a year too late) is deeply satisfying to behold.

36. Marquette

1 - DJ Carton, Symir Torrence
2 - Koby McEwen, Greg Elliott
3 - Jamal Cain, Dexter Akanno
4 - Dawson Garcia, Justin Lewis
5 - Theo John, Osasere Ighodaro

Carton, McEwen, Garcia, Cain, and Lewis are just outstanding, with Lewis looking like a potential one-and-done freshman. But this Marquette team has not quite been able to maximize its talent and capitalize on winning opportunities consistently — the Golden Eagles have beaten some good teams and lost to some good teams. Part of the problem is their absurdly high 21 percent turnover rate — led by DJ Carton, who looks every bit the redshirt sophomore, and Theo John, who dismays with a nearly 30 percent turnover rate. That turnover rate has combined with their inability to defend the three-point line, and been a recipe for disaster against teams with shooting by-and-large. If the Golden Eagles cannot defend the three-point line better, then this season will merely tantalize.

37. Missouri

1 - Xavier Pinson
2 - Dru Smith, Drew Bugs, Torrence Watson
3 - Mark Smith, Javon Pickett
4 - Kobe Brown, Parker Braun
5 - Jeremiah Tilmon, Mitchell Smith

While this Missouri team has beaten Oregon (before N’Faly Dante’s injury), Illinois and Arkansas, I do not trust them particularly. In their biggest test —against Tennessee in conference play — the Tigers got waxed. The big problem? They cannot stretch defenses consistently (only Mark Smith is a viable three-point threat), and they are a poor passing team. The limitations on offense offset their feisty defense, but the SEC is not great this year, so the Tigers may have enough to finish in the top-four in conference play.

38. Penn State

1 - Jamari Wheeler, Sam Sessoms

2 - Myreon Jones
3 - Izaiah Brockington, Myles Dread
4 - Seth Lundy
5 - John Harrar, Trent Buttrick, Abdou Tetchueng Tsimbila

Penn State is probably better than its record. The Nittany Lions have lost two overtime games to good teams (Seton Hall and Indiana) and another two-possession game at Michigan. Sure, they never get to the free-throw line because they are a pure jump-shooting team. Sure they give up nearly 60 percent shooting from two-point range to their opponents. But this team is full of gamers and guys who compete and will drill big shots in your eye. They do not have a single bad offensive player, and they have six three-point shooting threats — Wheeler, Sessoms, Jones, Brockington, Dread, and Lundy — all of whom have very green lights.

39. USC

1 - Tahj Eaddy, Ethan Anderson
2 - Noah Baumann, Drew Peterson
3 - Max Agbonkpolo, Isaiah White
4 - Evan Mobley, Chevez Goodwin
5 - Isaiah Mobley, Boubacar Coulibaly

While USC, like many other teams outside of the top-25 has a lack of shooters (only Eaddy and Baumann are real threats from distance), USC also has a truly mammoth front-court, including potential top-three pick Evan Mobley, who is truly delightful to watch in every facet of the game. This team’s size (the Trojans have the tallest team in the nation in terms of average height) gives them a nightly advantage that Enfield can parlay into great interior defense, and solid offensive production, even if it is not overly beautiful to watch. It remains to be seen whether or not USC can beat good teams, but a top-four finish in conference play will have me believing in the Trojans come tournament time.

40. Maryland

1 - Eric Ayala, Aquan Smart
2 - Darryl Morsell, Reese Mona
3 - Aaron Wiggins, Hakim Hart
4 - Donta Scott, James Graham
5 - Jarius Hamilton, Galen Smith, Chol Marial

With enough three-point shooting to give teams pause, enough slashing and athleticism to give teams concern, and enough grit and veteran savy to stymie their opponents, this Maryland team will not be going anywhere — the Terrapins have lost some games they did not play particularly well in (Clemson and Rutgers), and barely lost at Purdue before finally breaking through with their road win over Wisconsin. Donta Scott is a legit sophomore star.

41. UConn

1 - RJ Cole, Jalen Gaffney
2 - James Bouknight, Brendan Adams
3 - Andre Jackson, Tyrese Martin
4 - Tyler Polley, Akok Akok, Richard Springs
5 - Isaiah Whaley, Josh Carlton, Adama Sanogo

Bouknight is one of the best scorers in the nation — a live-wire athlete, with handles, panache, and attitude — but losing freshman athletic beast Andre Jackson to a broken hand, and still playing without Akok Akok (who should be back soon) have knocked UCONN off of its early season trajectory. If the Huskies can get healthy and stay healthy, they could push for a top-three finish in the Big East, which would be a major accomplishment in Dan Hurley’s first season in a top-four conference.

42. Oklahoma

1 - Devion Harmon
2 - Austin Reaves, Umoja Gibson, Trey Phipps
3 - Alondes Williams, Elijah Harkless
4 - Brady Manek, Jalen Hill
5 - Kur Kuath, Victor Iwuakor, Rick Issanza

I need to watch this Oklahoma team more; the Sooners intrigue me, still. Reaves is finally looking like folks thought he might as a senior, Harmon and Williams are still solid, and Brady “Larry Bird’s doppleganger” Manek is still doing his thing on both ends. Oklahoma got waxed by Xavier (on the greatest three-point shooting night in Xavier history) and lost by two to Texas Tech. This team could have some real momentum if it can find a way to win one or two against West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas (in the opening nine days of the new year).

43. Michigan State

1 - Foster Loyer, AJ Hoggard
2 - Rocket Watts, Joshua Langford
3 - Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown
4 - Joey Hauser, Malik Hall, Thomas Kithier
5 - Mady Sissoko, Julius Marble, Marcus Bingham Jr.

I ranked Michigan State No. 3 in the nation in the preseason, and that was simply too ambitious; while things looked good early, the team has lost its way completely. But hope springs eternal — the talent is still there, the questions to be answered revolve around role-allocation, discipline, communication, consistency, execution, and toughness. Do not give up hope — this team has a major run or few in them yet.

I have adjusted the lineup to what I see as the needed change for the season — people will yell and scream about Loyer (be on the lookout for my article on the rotation in the coming days for a longer explanation), but he has been more than fine this year. The hope is that by the end of the year Hoggard can take over as the major minutes man at the point, and that Sissoko can play over 20 minutes per game at the center. If the staff can rediscover Marcus Bingham Jr. or if he can rediscover himself) that would go a long way to solving the rim protection issues that have so plagued this team.

At root, this team simply needs its three best players — Henry, Hauser, and Watts — to play like all-league performers on a nightly basis.

44. Richmond

1 - Jacob Gilyard, Isaiah Wilson
2 - Blake Francis, Connor Crabtree
3 - Andre Gustavson, Djimon Bailey
4 - Nathan Cayo, Tyler Burton, Andre Weir
5 - Grant Golden, Matt Grace, Souleymane Koureissi

The absence of Nick Sherod (lost to a season ending injury in the preseason), has been evident in the two losses, but this Richmond team still has the quality and competitors to challenge Saint Louis for the A-10 crown. Gilyard is one of the all-time great steal-men in NCAA basketball history (No. 33 all-time right now, who will likely finish top-five by the end of the season), and there is enough shooting and scoring savvy for this team to win a game or few in the NCAA tournament if teams fail to bully them.

45. Xavier

1 - Paul Scruggs
2 - KyKy Tandy, Adam Kunkel, Dwon Odom
3 - Nate Johnson, Colby Jones
4 - Jason Carter, Ben Stanley
5 - Zach Freemantle, Bryan Griffin

I simply do not trust this Xavier team. Every one of its shooters —Scruggs, Freemantle, Tandy, and Johnson — are having career years shooting the ball; I’m just not sure I can trust that those percentages (some of them outlandish) will last. The Musketeers do just about everything pretty solidly, and, ironically, are a kind of road-map for Michigan State in terms of their attitude. They have lost to the two best teams they have played, but the Big East is down as a whole this season, so they should be able to compete for a top-four finish.

46. Oregon

1 - Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry
2 - Will Richardson, Addison Patterson
3 - Chris Duarte, Eric Williams Jr.
4 - Eugene Omoruyi, Lok Wur
5 - Chandler Lawson

Losing N’Faly Dante to an ACL tear is a disaster for Oregon. Though Kenpom still has the Ducks at No. 20, I expect a precipitous decline for this Oregon team. Hardy is not efficient enough (nor is former Michigan State commit, Jalen Terry), and while Omoruyi (who is likely somewhat regretting not just redshirting at Rutgers and being a senior with the Scarlet Knights this year) is outstanding, he only has a few other competent high-major guys to play with him right now in Duarte, Williams, and Figueroa. Four guys, not many players over 6-foot-8, and struggles at the point guard will not get you far in college basketball. I expect this team to fade pretty hard through conference play.

47. Western Kentucky

1 - Kenny Cooper, Dayvion McKnight
2 - Taveion Hollingsworth, Jordan Rawls
3 - Josh Anderson, Luke Frampton
4 - Carson Williams, Kevin Osawe
5 - Charles Bassey

I really, really like this Western Kentucky team. Bassey has finally become that near-lock to be drafted in the lottery that everyone thought he would be as a freshman — the kid nearly single-handedly brought WKU all the way back against West Virginia (WKU lost by six). Hollingsworth is a fun and aggressive player, Frampton is their shooter, and the Hilltoppers crash the offensive glass with intent. They get teams in foul trouble, play solid defense (thanks to Bassey’s rim protection), and they should win Conference USA. I am happy to see Rick Stansbury fully on his feet at WKU after he got shunted from Mississippi State for no good reason.

48. Loyola Chicago

1 - Braden Norris, Marquise Kennedy
2 - Lucas Williamson, Keith Clemons, Baylor Hebb
3 - Tate Hall, Cooper Kaifes
4 - Aher Uguak
5 - Cameron Krutwig, Tom Welch

Porter Moser can still really coach, and he just gets how to build and now sustain this Loyola Chicago program. This team was a bad start to the second half and a bad shooting night away from beating Wisconsin (they were very much in that game, only down five at the half); they lost by two to Richmond in a toss-up game. And they have everything they need to win the MVC and make another startling run in the NCAA tournament: Krutwig, a super all-around low-post big, shooting, and bench players who are better than the minutes they get allow them to show (I am thinking primarily of Kaifes — a three-point sniper who is off to a terrible start to the season — and Welch, who has become a legit stretch big behind Krutwig).

49. Seton Hall

1 - Shavar Reynolds, Bryce Aiken
2 - Myles Cale, Takal Molson
3 - Jared Rhoden
4 - Sandro Mamukelashvili, Tyrese Samuel
5 - Ikey Obiagu

This Seton Hall team, playing with a hobbled Bryce Aiken (finally getting healthy after a bad ankle sprain), with an already small rotation (take note Tom Izzo), and with a dedication to playing through Mamukelashvili (who has reached his peak form as a senior) has played above their level already this year, and I am not sure it will last. But they have enough shooting and size to throw a wrench into the top-four of the Big East (where they currently reside). It will be up to other, more skilled, and better coached teams to over-take them, because Seton Hall will not just fall away.

50. SMU

1 - Kendric Davis
2 - Emmanuel Bandoumel, Darius McNeill
3 - Feron Hunt, Charles Smith, William Douglas
4 - Ethan Chargois
5 - Isiah Jasey, Yor Anei, Jahmar Young

It was madness not to put SMU higher than I have them, but I do want the Mustangs to prove themselves just a bit more than they have thus far this season (their only game vs a top-120 team in Kenpom’s rankings, a two-point win against Dayton, came before Yor Anei began playing with the team). Their next game is against Houston, which will be telling for both clubs. I predict that this SMU will end up as a top-35 team by the NCAA tournament, and that Yor Anei will really change the ceiling of this team. The Oklahoma State transfer is long, a great shot-blocker, gets to the line, and finishes in the paint. Adding those dimensions to Kendric Davis — a stud point guard— and the shooting (they need more shots, actually) of Bandoumel, McNeill, and Smith, gives this team a real shot to challenge in the American, and the profile of a legit threat to make a run to the second weekend. A likely riser here.

Bonus: No. 51 Kentucky

1 - Davion Mintz
2 - Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke
3 - BJ Boston
4 - Isaiah Jackson, Jacob Toppin
5 - Olivier Sarr, Lance Ware

If misery loves company, then Spartan fans can tip their collective hat to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. What a disaster of a season.

While Calipari is not an outstanding coach, and while much of the blame for this season rests with him, even this is bizarre. Kentucky, having lost six-straight, is making Michigan State’s season look like a banner year.

Sarr, completely unsurprisingly, has proved to be every bit as soft, inconsistent, and frustrating as he was at Wake Forest — it turns out that playing with Brandon Childress, a mercurial but talented veteran point-guard, really helped Sarr produce well the last couple of seasons (who would have guessed?).

Lacking functional point guard play, Calipari is now playing Mintz there, and seeing their two supposed lottery wings (Clarke and Boston) shoot a combined 10-54 from three-point range has Kentucky playing some eye-wateringly bad basketball. They cannot prevent dribble penetration, they can barely run offense, and all of their length and straight-line athleticism has not helped them one bit. I have them clinging onto the end of these rankings like grim death because they do have talent. They can turn it around (just like MSU, coincidentally). It is a question of will.

Bonus: No. 52 Florida

1 - Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby, Ques Glover
2 - Noah Locke
3 - Scottie Lewis, Niels Lane, Samson Ruzhentsev
4 - Anthony Duruji
5 - Colin Castleton, Omar Payne

I have Florida clinging to the end of the rankings for different reasons. With Keyontae Johnson’s major cardiac event (post-COVID), likely keeping him out for significant time, if not the season, and hopefully not limiting his future professional career, Florida lost its best player. A loss I am not sure the rest of the roster can make up for. Yes, Mann and Lewis are playing super ball, as is Castleton (good for him!), but this team lost all of its attitude, its best athlete, and its headiest competitor. Unless Locke really picks up the slack, and unless Lewis morphs into a much higher-usage offensive dynamo, this Florida team will struggle to hang with the better teams in the SEC.

Conference standings predictions (Note—these do not always align with the rankings):

B1G: Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Rutgers, Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, MSU, Purdue, Penn State, Maryland, the rest in some order [10-11 teams in tourney]

Big XII: Baylor, Kansas, Texas, WVU, Texas Tech, OSU, OU, the rest in some order [six teams in tourney]

ACC: UVA, UNC, FSU, NC State, Duke, Louisville, Va Tech, Syracuse, Miami, the rest in some order [seven or eight teams in tourney]

SEC: UT, LSU, Arkansas, Alabama, UK, Florida, the rest in some order [six teams in tourney]

Pac-12: UCLA, Colorado, Stanford, USC, ASU, Oregon, Arizona [five teams in tourney]

Big East: Villanova, Creighton, UConn, Marquette, Seton Hall, Xavier, Butler, the rest in some order [five or six teams in tourney]

Others notables: Gonzaga (WCC), Houston (Amer.), SMU (Amer.), Saint Louis (A-10), Richmond (A-10), SDSU (MWC), WKU (CUSA), Loyola Chicago (MVC)

Go Green!!!