College basketball preseason top 25: 15-11

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

College basketball preseason top 25

Gary Clark (Photo by downthedrive.com)

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

College basketball preseason top 25

Bruce Brown (Photo by draftexpress.com)

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

College basketball preseason top 25

Chris Mack (Photo by wcpo.com)

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

College football preseason top 25

KeVaughn Allen (Photo by draftexpress.com)

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

College basketball preseason top 25

Jalen Brunson (Photo by draftexpress.com)

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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Best teams from the group of five conferences in 2017

A lot of talk has been placed on the teams from the big conferences, Notre Dame and BYU, but there is a lot more to college football than just that. As we approach the beginning of the season, it is a perfect time to review what teams can make a push for the group of five spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl Game.

USF Bulls

Best group of five teams

Quinton Flowers (photo by zimbio.com)

The Bulls are the easiest team to list here. They are a preseason top 25 team and have a chance to run the table and make some noise while doing so. Charlie Strong didn’t pan out at Texas, but was a good hire for the Bulls and has experience coaching in BCS Bowls.

Returning for the Bulls is Quinton Flowers, who had the offense humming last season. He is a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy, but will need to have a statistically astronomical season to win it while playing in the AAC. He is a college football star who will have six other returning starters on offense to help.

On defense Auggie Sanchez leads the way. He has a lot of experience and is ready to become one of the best USF players ever with a good senior season. Seven other starters return from a unit that needs to up their game this season.

The schedule sets up well for USF to run the table. They have tough games against Houston, Temple and UCF, all of which they should be favored in. They will be in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Houston Cougars

Best group of five teams

Ed Oliver (Photo by chron.com)

Tom Herman is now at Texas, but Major Applewhite has a lot of good players returning. Houston has about as good of a shot as any to knock off USF in the AAC. They won nine games last season and return 17 starters.

The entire offensive line returns and should improve this season. Duke Catalon is the returning starter at running back and is a great weapon. He can run in between the tackles as well as catch passes out of the backfield. Most AAC teams won’t be able to keep him in check.

Kyle Allen is a former top recruit that went to Texas A&M, but decided to transfer to Houston. He has a lot of talent and will have a lot of receivers to utilize. Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner both return at the receiver position, which should help them cope with the loss of Chance Allen, who transferred to Oregon.

The defense was the 30th best scoring defense in the country, but especially thrived against the run. The best player on the defense is Ed Oliver, who totaled five sacks and 22 tackles for loss last season. Only two former starters need to be replaced on this year’s team, making them look like a unit that will improve.

The loss of Herman is tough, but Houston can still play with everyone on their schedule. Their tough games will be against: Arizona, Texas Tech, Temple, Memphis, South Florida and Navy. While they may not run the table, the Cougars will still be a very solid group of five team.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Best Group of five teams

Mike White (Photo by wbko.com)

The Hilltoppers have been one of the most consistent group of five conference teams in the country. Last year they finished the season with eleven wins and a victory over Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl. Mike Sanford will be in his first year as head coach, but was widely recognized as a good hire.

Mike White returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. He was the main reason WKU was able to have the best scoring offense in the country last season, averaging 45.5 points per game. The problem with the offense may lie in the skill position players. Only Nacarius Fant at wide receiver returns and he had fewer than 500 receiving yards last season. The good news is that three of five starters on the offensive line are back.

The defense was above average, and that’s all it really needs to be with the high-powered offense the Hilltoppers have. They were the second best team against the rush last season in college football and will be aided by the returns of Derik Overstreet and Chris Johnson on the defensive line.

Their schedule is pretty manageable this season, with notable battles only coming at Illinois, Louisiana Tech, at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee. WKU is a sure thing to light up the scoreboard and get to ten wins again this season.

Toledo Rockets

Best group of five teams

Logan Woodside (Photo by wxyz.com)

Toledo won nine games last season and return a great quarterback. Jason Candle’s squad has a good chance to win almost all of the games on their schedule.

Logan Woodside is one of the best quarterbacks in college football outside of the power five conferences. He has completed 65.6% of his passes for over 6,000 yards in his career thus far. He is even on NFL teams’ radars. Cody Thompson returns as his favorite receiver with 1,269 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Terry Swanson didn’t start last season, but still rushed for 583 yards on only 116 attempts. Only two offensive linemen return this year which could pose a problem to their high hopes this season.

With a great offense, the defense played well too last season.They allowed just 25.7 points a game, which is good enough to win them most games. Ja’Waun Woodley leads the defense from his linebacker position and had 79 tackles last season. With six other starters returning, the defense should improve.

Toledo could very easily get to double digit wins. Games that they have to watch out for are: at Miami (FL), at Central Michigan, at Ohio and Western Michigan. They are better than every team other than Miami and just have to prove it.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Best Group of five teams

Jalin Moore (Photo by shelbystar.com)

If any team knows how to transition from FCS to FBS, it’s Appalachian State. They have become a power in the Sun Belt Conference and finished last season with 10 wins. They beat Toledo in the Camellia Bowl to cap off their season. Scott Satterfield has 12 returning starters to rely on this season.

Taylor Lamb is an experienced player who is great at managing the Mountaineer offense. Shaedon Meadors returns as the leading receiver with 716 yards and two touchdowns.

Three offensive linemen are back and should help create a solid unit. Running back Jalin Moore had a fantastic season last year with 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns. The running game is crucial to the Mountaineers’ success.

Six starters return on defense, which was the the ninth best scoring defense in the country last season. Linebacker Eric Boggs is a great player who might get a shot at an NFL roster. He is the best player on defense and had 98 tackles last season. The unit should be good again this season.

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2016 Boca Raton Bowl Preview

The Memphis Tigers, with first year head coach Mike Norvell, take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with their interim head coach Nick Holt in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Memphis Tigers

Norvell had a very good first season with the Tigers, finishing at 8-4 with very impressive wins over Temple and Houston. All of their losses came to very good competition, including Ole Miss, Navy, Tulsa and USF. A lot of people thought that Memphis would take a step back without former coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch, but they overcame the losses of personnel to be successful.

Riley Ferguson (Photo courtesy wcptv.com)

Riley Ferguson (Photo courtesy wcptv.com)

Riley Ferguson had to take the reins from Paxton Lynch this season and exceeded expectations. He threw for 3,326 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, while only throwing nine interceptions. That’s not too bad for a first year starting quarterback. His top target is Anthony Miller who finished the season with 1,283 receiving yards and eleven touchdowns.

Running back Doroland Dorceus didn’t have the most rushing yards with 783 rushing yards, but he made the most of his touches with 6.2 yards per carry. He didn’t see as many carries this season, because they have plenty of running backs who get playing time.

The kicking game can be a valuable tool for the Tigers, as Jake Elliot has made all 54 extra points and 20 out of 24 field goals this season. He has some serious range, making two field goals of over 50 yards on the season.

Defense is the main problem of Memphis. They allow 200 rushing yards per game, which ranks 85 out of 128 for FBS teams. The pass defense isn’t much better, ranking 81 in the country and giving up 242.5 yards per game.

Genard Avery Jr. does a little bit of everything for the Tigers with 72 total tackles, 5 sacks and two interceptions. He will have to lead the defense in this game, because they will need to play better than they did in the regular season.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers only lost to Alabama, Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech this season and like Memphis overcame the loss of their quarterback from last season, Brandon Doughty. They have multiple wins over teams .500 and above including Miami (OH), Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion and their rematch with Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Mike White (Photo Courtesy: wkusports.com)

Mike White (Photo Courtesy: wkusports.com)

Quarterback Mike White did a great job stepping into the role that was previously held by Doughty. He finished this season with 4,027 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. The most impressive thing about White though, is that he has only thrown six interceptions on the year. His size and frame, at six feet four inches tall and 215 pounds, makes him look like a future pro.

White has two great targets in Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, who both have over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Norris is more of the slot receiver at five foot nine inches tall, but also has 13 touchdowns, which is rare for his size. Taylor is a good outside receiver who has also scored a lot of touchdowns with 12 on the season.

It’s hard to believe with all of the passing stats that there would be room for a rusher to get over 1,000 yards, but Anthony Wales has accomplished that, finishing with 1,376 rushing yards. With Wales on the ground and the passing game being so good, the offense is great.

The rush defense of the Hilltoppers is excellent with fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed per game, which ranks third in the country. Pass defense is the issue, allowing 268.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 110 in the country.

Keith Brown has been a great player for the Western Kentucky defense at linebacker and has had eight games of ten tackles or more to go with his six sacks.

Prediction

The rush defense of Western Kentucky will make Memphis one dimensional, which they are somewhat used to. The Hilltoppers will use their high powered offense to take advantage of the adequate Tiger defense.

 

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 41 Memphis Tigers 30


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