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 16-20, so let’s pick up now with the Top 21-25.READ MORE: Ukrainian Forces Withdraw From Lysychansk
21. Xavier Musketeers
Tate’s Take: Just like San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Gonzaga, Wichita State and Butler, Xavier won’t and shouldn’t surprise anyone with yet another postseason appearance as they typically do. But what sets the Musketeers apart from those stated prior is their success when they arrive. The Sweet Sixteen has welcomed Xavier in 5 of the past 8 seasons that also include an Elite 8 feat that isn’t easy to come by (just ask the Mount Rushmore’s of College Basketball ‘bluebloods’ UNC, KU & UCLA who haven’t sniffed a regional final in nearly 4 years). Conference play has seemingly become a breeze for Xavier who has won over 30+ games and coming off a stellar shooting season where they ranked #1 in FG% and #2 in FT% & scoring in the Big East. With only 1 Senior back Remy Abell, most would think that the glass is half empty in Cincinnati but nearly 44 ppg, 20rpg and 7apg will take the floor again with plenty of playing experience in Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis, Jalen Reynolds and Tim Stainbrook. If it sounds too good to be true, then it just may be because outside of Reynolds, the paint doesn’t contain much depth. Freshman Kaiser Gates of Alpharetta, GA will be heavily relied upon immediately and should fit in well right out the gate after losing Matt Stainbrook. Non-conference games @Michigan and vs. a potentially scary Auburn team should be ‘pretty good’ but not necessarily ‘must-see-TV’. On the flip side of things, the annual rivalry vs. the Cincy Bearcats up the road will be. Keep a close eye on the AdvoCare Invitational where Notre Dame, Wichita State, Iowa, Bama, Dayton and USC will also participate.
22. San Diego State Aztecs
Tate’s Take: The one word that stands out most to me most is CONSISTENCY when SDSU comes to mind. Defensively, the Aztecs won’t budge especially with Steve Fisher (STILL) at the helm. Offensively, struggles show themselves early in games and often as shown on multiple occasions last year. Much like Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang, Senior Angelo Chol (Zona transfer) may not give you much on ‘O’ but does more than make up for it on ‘D’. Grab your sharpie and ink in a superb season in the making for Super Sophomore Malik Pope who has never started a single collegiate game is expected to take a huge leap and may hear his name called in June if healthy and meets expectations. Pope could develop into being SDSU’s go-to option in front of Shepard which would bring a different dimension to the offense. The days of scoring inabilities are not a thing of the past while JJ O’Brien, Dwayne Polee and Angel Quinn find themselves excluded from the roster. 61.8ppg on 41.8 shooting from the field, 32% from 3 and 63% for freebee’s just isn’t going to cut it for a team that has achieved winning 25+ wins 7 of the last 8 years including 10 consecutive seasons with 20+ victories. Where the problem lies most is at it’s guard positions where underclassmen Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley are the lone options naturally. Kell got relieved of his starting duties a year ago but can they afford the same thing again? Even more so, will Fisher ever get as close as he once did when at Michigan, and if so will/can it happen in San Diego?
23. Connecticut Huskies
Tate’s Take: Just one year removed from being crowned as national champs, Connecticut failed to make it to the Big Dance and adding insult to injury, lost in the first round of the NIT to the Sun Devils of Arizona State. The talent is there for Kevin Ollie, one of college basketball’s hottest commodities who spurned an opportunity to coach league superstars: Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook of OKC and Derrick Rose of the Bulls. There won’t be any questioning coach Ollie’s loyalty after turning those jobs down. Uconn has one of the most talented teams on paper but has yet to find a way to put it all together for 40 minutes. Plenty of flashes have been shown from reigning AAC Freshman of the Year Daniel Hamilton who relies on his versatility and utilizes it to its maximum potential. Omar Calhoun has looked so promising in the past few years but has never been able to steer himself away from the injury label being held over his head. Perhaps Calhoun can be the situational playmaker for the Huskies and primary lockdown defender that UC is searching high and low for. Speaking of defense, Amida Brimah is all but a sure lock for conference defensive POY honors once again for the 2nd consecutive season. Brimah though needs to stay away from being pulled out of the game for foul trouble and considering his wingspan as a 7-footer, averaging just barely over 4 rebounds per game has got to make Ollie scratch his head, losing sleep and hair from his tight wavy fade. Kentan Facey and Phillip Nolan will serve as experienced reserves to help Amida but the talk of the town will be a pair of proven Senior transfers, Shonn Miller (Cornell) and Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall). The concern is that the most successful Uconn teams counted on their bigs sure enough, but their guard play is what has put them over the top and won titles over the years such as Khalid El-Amin, Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Up next is the explosiveness and leadership of Gibbs and former NC State transfer Rodney Purvis who will have to stay in the gym and focus on his shooting. He’s solid but streaky as many are within the rotation. Keeping up with the women’s team won’t be easy for KO in Storrs but can be done. Uconn will have their hands full at the expense of the Big Ten when they meet with Michigan on a neutral site before welcoming Maryland and Ohio State. Following, @Texas and a home game vs. Memphis is on slate. These are games that are figured to be key when Selection Sunday rolls around.
24. Michigan Wolverines
Tate’s Take: After averaging beyond double figures in conference games won since shortly after Beilein’s arrival on campus in Ann Arbor, last year’s magic number was 8. UofM has the ability to do a complete 180 turn around and give a totally different look than when you may have last seen them last (an 11 point loss in B1G conference tourney play). If anyone in the country can have a complete identity makeover, it would be Michigan. After going 4-9 in their last 13 games & as an end result being outscored by double digits in 6 of those 9 losses, it’s hard to imagine a bounce back coming so soon in AA. After researching the Wolverines’ numbers nationally, ranking 240th in points per game, 329th in rebounding, 231st in assists and 224th in field goal percentage, having a losing record in conference play, breaking even at .500 overall (16-16) and completely missing any postseason tournaments, that wasn’t exactly the type of season that JB was looking forward to. A few matters occurred last season and injuries was the Achilles heel for a young team that was indeed restructuring their chemistry post-Trey Burke & Co. Not many teams had to deal with the losses that UofM had to face considering Tim Hardaway Jr, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary were obviously tough roles for anyone to occupy. Of that bunch, Senior Spike Albrecht was expected to vastly improve and pick up a huge load after a stellar 2013 Final Four performance but never did. Zak Irvin who’s coming into his own has been occasionally inconsistent but when he’s on, he’s really on. Problem is, when he’s not it’s also equally as clear. All eyes are on Derrick Walton Jr. and especially Caris LeVert’s medical conditions to determine what kind of success Michigan will have. Although I truly believe entertaining the “LeVert for Lottery” convo is a bit much, Caris has the skillset but is nothing that we have never seen before. Bench depth could ultimately shift Michigan into the position once again that they envision themselves. Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman, Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle and Abdur-Rahkman are pretty much all multi-dimensional athletes ready to take the next step and not many programs around the country can say the same. The Wolverines’ aren’t necessarily in a ‘championship or bust’ situation but where an NCAA Tourney appearance is a necessity, Sweet Sixteen could be their ceiling. Anything more would be considered an overachievement.
25. Texas A&M Aggies
Tate’s Take: Danuel House is a household name in Aggieland but he doesn’t stand alone. Alex Caruso, a hometown favorite, isn’t necessarily great at any one thing but very good at so many. While Caruso isn’t the prolific scorer that TXAM needs, he is unquestionably the heart and soul of this team. Jalen Jones fits the part to exactly head coach Billy Kennedy is building in College Station as he’s one of the 6 seniors that helped put it all together. USF transfer Anthony Collins will provide even more leadership as the addition should challenge UK in the Lone Star. A&M couldn’t get away from Big 12 fast enough so of course hosting Baylor, Texas and Kansas State are scheduled for AggieNation.