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 second installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 25-21 click here.
20. St. Mary’s Gaels
St. Mary’s made the big dance for the first time since 2013 last season. There run ended in the round of 32, but it was a big step just to get back to the dance. With most of their scoring returning, the Gaels should make it to the second consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Leading scorer Jock Landale returns after averaging 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He will receive serious consideration for WCC Player of the Year. Calvin Hermanson is the second leading returning scorer and plays on the wing. He lights up the scoreboard, which is a theme for this team.Evan Fitzner is another returning starter in the frontcourt, who will start at power forward, even though he only played 15 minutes a game. He can stretch the floor as a three point shooter. Kyle Clark and Tanner Krebs will provide experience and depth.
Emmett Naar will be the sole point guard this season and brings back a good all around game. Starting at the two guard will be Cullen Neal who is a senior transfer from Ole Miss.This is his third college team as he played for three seasons at New Mexico before becoming a Rebel He has over 1,000 career points already and brings a lot of experience. They aren’t very deep at the guard spots so Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse and Kristers Zoriks will need to step up.
The Gaels have a good enough team to beat Gonzaga in the WCC and also do some damage in March.
19. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Last season Minnesota was one of the biggest surprises in all of college basketball. They had eight wins two seasons ago and last year improved to 24 wins. They did end up losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but with a lot of players returning the Golden Gophers’ future looks bright.
Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch are two great inside players for Richard Pitino. Murphy is more of an inside scorer and rebounder, while Lynch is a great defender who blocks a lot of shots. Lynch was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season. Eric Curry played 19.9 minutes per game as a freshman and will have to eat up a lot of minutes again and be effective. Davonte Fitzgerald had a torn ACL last year, but is figuring to make impact this season.
The backcourt returns a lot of experience. The best player on the team is point guard Nate Mason. He averaged 15.2 points and five assists per game and is a great floor general. Amir Coffey is a lengthy wing who started all 33 games as a freshman and should improve in his second season. Dupree McBrayer is the best three point shooter on the team at 41.6% and played 27.8 minutes per game in his sophomore campaign last year. Not too many other guards play a lot of minutes so those three will need to stay out of foul trouble or the Golden Gophers will have to rely on freshmen.
While they likely won’t beat out Michigan State in the Big Ten, Minnesota will be a really solid team that will make another NCAA Tournament.
18. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville got knocked out in the round of 32 last season, but a lot has happened since. Rick Pitino is out and they lost incoming star prospect Brian Bowen because of the Adidas scandal. The Cardinals still have a lot of good players returning, but David Padgett has a lot of work ahead of him coaching this team.
The Cardinals’ best player is Deng Adel, who is a good wing athlete. He does a little bit of everything for Louisville and will need to be the go to guy this season. Adel needs to improve his three point shooting and if he can, he will be one of the best players in the ACC. Anas Mahmoud and Raymond Spalding are the only returning interior player, who provide some experience, but they won’t wow anyone. They will be asked to defend, make open interior shots and rebound. For depth, their talented freshmen will need to step up. Malik Williams, Jordan Nwora and Lance Thomas need to provide an impact down low, while transfer Dwayne Sutton has to provide depth on the wing.
Quentin Snyder has been at Louisville for what seems like forever. He is the floor general that needs to be the leader of the team as they go through this difficult time. He averaged 12.4 points and 4.1 assists per game, which will need to improve this year. V.J. King was a great recruit who saw some minutes as a freshman, but will need to be a star for the Cardinals for the team to be successful. Depth will be a question as recruits need to step up and make a difference.
The Cardinals may not be eligible for the NCAA Tournament when the FBI investigation is all said and done, but Louisville has a talented roster that is deserving of being ranked.
17. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern finally made the NCAA Tournament in 2017. They also got their first ever win and now are looking for more. The Wildcats return four players who averaged over 30 minutes per game last season and have good veteran leadership to rely on.
Dererk Pardon returns on the inside for Northwestern and with improvement can average a double double, even though he is a little undersized. Barret Benson will see an increased role this season after averaging eight minutes last season. Vic Law is a talented wing that can get to the basket and knock down threes. He also is the teams second leading rebounder. His defense is a game-changer. Gavin Skelly is a senior that will get minutes an help out more on the inside.
Senior point guard Bryant McIntosh can score and set up his teammates with 14.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. He will be flanked by shooting guard Scottie Lindsey. Lindsey will get to the basket and is the second leading returning scorer behind McIntosh. Isiah Brown will be asked to do more as a sophomore as the lone returning depth piece at the guard spot. Anthony Gaines is a freshman that will need to fill in some minutes for the Wildcats.
Back to back NCAA Tournaments is a probability for a team that took so long to get one appearance in the big dance.
16. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue broke through to the Sweet 16 last season. They lost their double-double machine in Caleb Swanigan, but have a lot returning to help them be successful once again. The Boilermakers are coming off a big offseason of representing USA in the World University Games and came away with a silver medal.
The middle of the floor is anchored by Isaac Haas. He hasn’t been the prime time player yet in his Purdue career due to Swanigan and A.J. Hammons getting more minutes in years past. He will have to use his 7’2″ frame to score over shorter defenders and grab all the rebounds lost by the departure of Swanigan. At the four spot Vince Edwards is a very versatile player that can shoot the three and get to the basket. He is the perfect power forward for college basketball and averaged 12.6 points per game last season. Jacquil Taylor was redshirted last year due to injury and will need to provide depth.Matt Haarms is bigger than Haas and will back him up at center, while Eden Ewing and Aaron Wheeler will be asked to step in and provide depth.
Perimeter play is not something Purdue will be lacking. Carson Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline all return. Carson Edwards is a great defender that had a good freshman season. Thompson, Mathias and Cline all knock down shots from deep. Mathias adds senior leadership and a good perimeter defender to the team. With these four players, the Boilermakers are in great hands.
The sky is the limit for this Purdue team even without Swanigan. Matt Painter will have this team ready for another run in March.
For teams 15-11: Click here.
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