It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the third installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 20-16 click here.
15. Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcats got into the NCAA Tournament yet again, but they can’t stay in the dance too long once they get there. They have only made it to the Sweet 16 twice in this millennium, 2001 and 2012, despite having a good team. With the talent they have on the roster this season, they should be able to get back to the Sweet 16 for the second time under Mick Cronin.
In the frontcourt, Cincinnati will have two really good players eating up most of the minutes. Gary Clark was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season and also poses an offensive threat in the post. He averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in 2016-2017 and is in store for a big senior season. Kyle Washington is another key post player that had a solid first year at Cincinnati after transferring in from N.C. State. Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and also gave another three point shooting threat, shooting 35.9% from deep. Nysier Brooks, Quadri Moore and Tre Scott will be asked to fill in any minutes that are left over.
There is a new face in the back court. Cane Broom sat out last season after transferring from Sacred Heart. At Sacred Heart he averaged 23.1 points per game in the 2015-2016 season. He will add a scoring punch from the guard position that the Bearcats haven’t had in a long time. Flanking him will be Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland, who can both light it up as well. Evans averaged 13.5 points per game, while Cumberland set his mark at 8.3. Both can stretch the floor well and will open up space for the post players and Broom. Justin Jenifer will likely keep his role as a backup, but has valuable experience. Freshman will have to help provide more depth to cope with injuries and foul trouble.
The key to the Bearcats team is defense and they will be strong in that department again. They have enough talent to get to a Sweet 16 so the only question is: Do they have the coaching?
14. Miami Hurricanes
Jim Larranaga has rebuilt the program again after losing a lot of the team after their great 2012-2013 season. Two seasons ago they made the Sweet 16, while last year they got knocked out in the first round. This season they have some NBA-level talent on their roster that can make it back to the Sweet 16.
Dewan Huell had a decent freshman season from his forward position, but is expected to take a huge jump up from his average of 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Ebuka Izundu will play at the center position after playing 13 minutes per game last season. He is still raw, but with time could become a solid player. On the wing, Anthony Lawrence Jr. will be asked to do more. He scored 6.8 points per game last season. Rodney Miller, Chris Stowell and Deng Gak will compete for minutes and provide depth.
The guard position is loaded for Miami. Bruce Brown is back after averaging 11.9 points per game. He is good enough to play in the NBA. Ja’Quon Newton also returns to run the point. Newton can get his own shot and create for others, something that will be easier for him to do this season with so much talent around him. Chris Lykes and Lonnie Walker are two good freshman that should help make the production keep coming for the Hurricanes. Walker could get drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft as well and is really athletic.
There is enough talent to do damage in March, but can Larranaga get the job done?
13. Xavier Musketeers
Xavier made a surprise run in March to make the Elite Eight, but ended up losing to Gonzaga. They were a bubble team that mad the most of their opportunity, much like they do most years. With a lot of the key players back again, the Musketeers will be expected to do a lot.
Sean O’Mara is back for his senior season on the inside. He didn’t perform well all the time, but stepped up in the NCAA Tournament and can score and rebound from the post. Tyrique Jones is another interior player that stepped up late in the season. He can finish on the inside and play solid defense. Graduate transfer Karem Kanter can step out and hit mid range jumpers and rebound. Kaiser Gates is a stretch four who got better as the season went on and can provide a spark off the bench or start for the Musketeers and get buckets.
The big news for the Musketeers this offseason was the decision for Trevon Bluiett to return to school. He averaged 18.1 points per game last year and is moving up the all time ranks of Xavier scorers. He will get a chance to play in the NBA after the season concludes. J.P. Macura is also back for his senior season and adds a good scorer and defender. His energy can lift the level of the teams’ play up. Point guard Edmond Sumner is gone, but Quentin Goodin filled in nicely when Sumner was injured last season. Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall are dynamic recruits who will be playmakers on the second unit. Scruggs is the most talented recruit that Xavier has ever had.
With so many key players returning for Xavier, including one of college basketball’s best in Bluiett, Xavier’s expectation should be another Sweet 16 appearance at the very least.
12. Florida Gators
The Gators made an elite eight last season, as Mike White has the program heading in the right direction. They have a few key players returning and a lot of good recruits to fill out the rest of the roster. If their stars can step up, they will be in contention in the SEC and can win some games in March.
John Egbunu is back to hold down the fort at the center position. He tore his ACL last season, so he will not be able to play until midseason, but he provides an athletic big who can defend and rebound. He will need to score more when he returns, but Florida will welcome the defense and rebounding. Kevarrius Hayes helped fill in when Egbunu went down last season. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and will need to step it up again until Egbunu returns. Keith Stone and Gorjok Gak both got playing time last year and will need to progress. Chase Johnson, DeAundree Ballard and Isaiah Stokes are all freshman that will fight for minutes.
KeVaughn Allen is the leading returning scorer for Florida. Allen averaged 14 points per game last year with a good mixture of shooting and driving in his game. Chris Chiozza will take over starting point guard duties now that Casey Hill has graduated. Chiozza is quick and thrives in Mike White’s offensive system. Egor Koulachev and Jalen Hudson are transfers that can help score in bunches. Koulachev can hit a lot of shots from deep and help stretch the floor.
If Florida’s players can see an increase in production and weather the storm without Egbunu, they will be a very tough team to beat.
11. Villanova Wildcats
Villanova had an early exit from March Madness last season when they lost in the second round. They do have some key losses, but have five players returning who averaged over 20 minutes per game. The Wildcats are the class of the Big East and should expect another big year.
Mikal Bridges is a little undersized, but does a lot of things to help Villanova in the frontcourt. He is a great wing who can get to the basket and shoot the three. He averaged 9.8 points per game, but has the capability to score more this season. Eric Paschall also returns to help out on the inside after a solid season. Omari Spellman was redshirted last season after having problems with the NCAA, but he was a highly touted recruit, who will be the Wildcats’ best post player. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a four star recruit that will see minutes early in his career to relieve Spellman and others. Jermaine Samuels is an intriguing freshman wing player that will have to work his way into the mix.
Jalen Brunson, one of the best players in college basketball, is back to play point guard for Villanova. He averaged 14.7 points and 2.1 assists per game. He will need to do a better job of feeding the post and setting up teammates this season, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the star. Phil Booth didn’t play much last season due to knee tendinitis, but should be good to go this season. He is a good shooter that will likely be a starter this season. Donte DiVincenzo is a good defender that can get to the basket.
Villanova is a title contender if they can put it all together and stay healthy, but Brunson needs to get others involved to make it happen.
For teams 10-6, click here.
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