Let’s keep breaking down the Top 25 best college basketball teams heading into this season.
Last week we took a look at the Top 11-15, so let’s pick up now with the Top 16-20.
16. California Golden Bears
Tate’s Take: The days of 18-15 (last season’s overall record) are in the past for Cuonzo Martin and the Bears. It’s evident and for good reason that fans in Berkeley are ecstatic when thinking of how good Cal can and will be this year after signing 2 of the nation’s top athletes in Ivan Rabb and Georgia native (Marietta), Jaylen Brown. The problem is Cal is returning VERY little experience in the paint after losing heavily relied upon David Kravish. Next up in line to replace his 11ppg, 7rpg efforts are a trio of underclassmen that consist of the frosh Rabb and a pair of Sophs (Kameron Rooks & Kingsley Okoroh), which between the 3 combine for a total of 2ppg, 2.2rpg. Outside of that ‘Big 3’, fuel has been added to the fire. None of the other players on the 15-man roster stands taller than 6’7″ which may cause issues vs. bigger teams. On the flip side, there was an NBA team also located in the Bay Area that just recently took home a championship by ‘going small’ in their lineup. No with that said, in no way am I comparing Cal to the Golden State Warriors although, it’s just proof that it can be done with the right pieces in place. Who many aren’t paying nearly enough attention to is Tyrone Wallace (17.1ppg 7.1rpg 4apg 1.3spg), who leads the team in each category but shoots horrifically from 3 (31%). Running mate Jordan Matthews (44% from field & 3-point range) gives the Golden Bears the much-needed boost that they were desperate for in critical moments of games that began getting out of control last year. Sam Singer will play and embrace a more significant role off the bench again, gaining more experience that can do nothing but help. Looking forward is what I believe to be one of the most interesting questions in the Pac-12, out west and in the nation: Jabari Bird has been nothing more than a disappointment since stepping foot onto the college basketball stage (considering his expectations) but has remained one of my personal favorites in large part due to his major upside and extremely tall ceiling. There’s no way California can exceed, let alone meet expectations if Bird doesn’t pull it together. Let’s just hope that the arrival of Cuonzo Martin will bring out the best in one of the lengthiest/athletic teams nationally.
17. LSU Tigers
Tate’s Take: I certainly hope you’re ready to talk about the topic that never seems to get old: FRESHMEN! Imagine what this team would look like had Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin returned to Baton Rouge instead of bolting for the logo. I’m unsure if I’m ready to roll out the red carpet for Ben Simmons, who many are projecting to be the ‘Next Big Thing’ and be drafted #1 in the 2016 NBA Draft. Without playing his 1st collegiate game, Simmons isn’t the only one receiving buzz around campus (although you wouldn’t know it). Brandon Sampson and Antonio Blakeney’s stock will rise tremendously with all the scouts eyeing Simmons. Senior guards Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray will be 2 X-factors that will push Kentucky to their limits again this season after falling short in winding seconds at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in ’14-’15. Hornsby will provide the Tigers with shooting abilities that are hard to match if wide open or with a hand in his face. Versatile wing Tim Quarterman and Zona transfer Craig Victor can push Johnny Jones over the top but how far is yet to be seen. It’s not a stretch to see Jones’ club berthing regional finals opportunities in the postseason, but the same can be said for an early exit despite the talent filled roster. The non-conference schedule seems to be a bit of a breeze, so that leaves the door wide open for the biggest questions: After LSU faces it’s growing pains, how long will it take to get over them? Will they embrace them and grow from them? What are the chances Ben Simmons will return for a Sophomore season?
18. Baylor Bears
Tate’s Take: Not enough can be said about the 6’8 275-pound bruising Senior space-eater, Rico Gathers. He destroys any and everyone in his way and appears to look like a grown man playing among boys averaging a double-double of 11 and 11. Besides him, Taurean Prince is no slouch either and looks to be another successful guard that can put up huge numbers in the BU system. Johnathan Motley and Lester Medford may not be enough for Coach Drew’s team that doesn’t go very deep down the bench. The last time we saw Baylor, they were on the wrong end of an upset vs. the darling father and son duo of #14-seeded cinderellas Georgia State Panthers. In order to turn things around, feed Gathers early and often. Here’s a free space on the bingo card: Look for Gathers in the upcoming article entitled: Tate’s Hungry, Hungry Hippos of College Basketball. Featuring home games vs. consistent NCAA Tourney teams may look like a walk in the park in Waco but pump your breaks before known surprise teams get off the bus. Opening with Stephen F. Austin could take many by surprise considering the game is played so early in the season (where like March Madness), anything can happen. New Mexico State has plenty of experience returning after 4 consecutive tourney appearances. Lastly of mid-major conferences, Texas Southern hung tight with many of the country’s best including on the road at Indiana, Tennessee, Baylor, Florida, Gonzaga, Auburn, SMU and struggled. Nonetheless, Texas Southern never gave in and came out victorious in Manhattan, Kansas and East Lansing, Michigan defeating Kansas State and Michigan State. Vandy is expected to be arguably the most improved team in America and in Eugene vs. Oregon could be very scary as well.
19. Wisconsin Badgers
Tate’s Take: No matter where you rank Wisky, they will simply always be Wisky as long as Hall of Famer Bo Ryan is still the HC in Madison which we may not be able to say much longer as over the off-season, Ryan announced ’15-’16 will be his final. College basketball’s worst kept secret is that the Badgers like to slow down the pace of the game and utilize the clock as much as possible in their half court sets and limit transition by possession. Wisconsin’s gritty and grimy defense in addition to their basic and fundamentally sound offensive brand of basketball is tough to prepare for, even away from the Kohl Center. Most won’t notice that besides the absence of Frank Kaminski and Sam Dekker is also Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. I’m almost certain that it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the cheese heads march on to yet another unexpectedly successful season. Likely a 1st team All-American, Nigel Hayes takes over for a Badgers program fresh off back-to-back Final Four appearances. Zak Showalter and Bronson Koenig will be around for another 2 years to be sure Wisconsin doesn’t skip a beat. Seems like they’ve been there forever but will pay dividends over time. After some of the most successful seasons in program history, the slate is full again with meetings that include at Syracuse, at Oklahoma, Georgetown, Temple and in-state rival much improved Marquette.
20. Iowa State
Tate’s Take: Looking for an explanation to ISU’s low ranking whereas nearly every other publicist has ISU in their top 5 (top 10 for sure)? The ‘Clones have repeatedly shown that regardless of the talent they put on the floor, ISU can never seem to live up to the lofty expectations set in front of them. You can almost guarantee disappointment soon to come in Ames if you just give it time. Sure I’m aware that 4 of 7 upperclassmen return to a team that hoists the most of any Power 6 team. Nader, McKay and Morris won’t shy away from the biggest games but do they finally have what it takes to take things to the next level with their backs up against the wall and so much pressure? Fan favorite Georges Niang is in his final go-around and looking to graduate with All-American honors. He’ll have to do so with ‘The Mayor’ Fred Hoiberg who dismissed himself and joined the Chicago Bulls coaching staff as the head man in charge. Iowa State have yet to reach the Elite 8 since 2000 with Marcus Fizer and Jamal Tinsley. A Sweet 16 appearance 2 years ago has been the longest ride since although reaching the Big Dance in each of the past 4 seasons. Skies are the limit considering ISU has won the past 2 Big 12 conference tournament titles but when will we see that level of play when it matters most. Ex-Murray State Racers HC Steve Prohm brings his very similar style and a winning resume to Iowa St. Banking on Prohm is just as reliable as counting on any of the Freshmen entering their debut collegiate season. Mark your calendar for December 10th and 19th when the Cyclones welcome in-state rivals Iowa and Northern Iowa into Hilton Coliseum.