By Kevin Sweeney
We are getting closer and closer by the day.
International trip season is on to its last legs, and some schools have officially begun classes for the 2019-20 academic year. College football starts this weekend, and college basketball will be here before we know it.
With schools getting underway, rosters are more or less set. A few minor moves could still happen, but the season-changing stuff is over. It’s time to start building out rankings in conferences and nationally, and I couldn’t be more excited to release my official top 100 for the upcoming season! A few moves may be made before the season, but this is more or less where I’ll be at on November 5th.
Throughout this week, I’ll release the rankings with my writeups on all 100 teams. We begin today with #100-81, counting down to our #1 team on Friday.
Feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter: @CBB_Central.
#100. South Alabama– Richie Riley flipped it quick at Nicholls State, using a wave of talented transfers to win the Southland regular season title and quickly move up to greener pastures. A similar year two jump could be in store for Riley and USA this season, as a talented trio of transfers in Don Coleman (Cal), Andre Fox (High Point) and Josh Ayeni (St Bonaventure) join a returning core that features bruising big man Josh Ajayi and do-it-all combo forward Trhae Mitchell. My early pick to win it all in the Sun Belt, this Jaguar team should be a whole lot of fun to watch.
#99. Penn– The Quakers had an all-around strange year in 2018-19, coming out of the gates firing in the non-conference despite a devastating injury to Ryan Betley, then slumping for the early parts of Ivy play before turning things around and making things interesting down the stretch. Finding consistency and health will be critical, but having a big man like AJ Brodeur and backcourt talent like Devon Goodman, Betley, and Bryce Washington is a good place to start. The x-factor is the talented Michael Wang, who showed flashes of greatness as a freshman but needs to become more consistent.
#98. Texas A&M– I don’t think anyone doubts that Buzz Williams will get things going in College Station, as the Aggies made a slam dunk hire in landing an established high-major coach with ties to the state in replacing Billy Kennedy. I just think it will take time. Williams brings in six freshmen and a JUCO transfer as additions to this roster, and while that incoming group has significant long-term upside, it’s hard to bet on getting major contributions from them on day one. Returners like Savion Flagg and Josh Nebo should keep them relevant, but in a deep SEC, pencil in the Aggies near the bottom.
#97. UTEP– Renewed optimism abounds in El Paso, as former Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry enters year two and gets four transfers eligible who sat out last season. The headliners of that group are Bryson Williams, who followed Terry from Fresno, and Anthony Tarke, an athletic wing who began his career at NJIT. The Miners should have an elite frontcourt with Williams, returning double-double machine Efe Odigie, and newcomers Eric Vila and Tydus Verhoeven. Consistent backcourt play from Jordan Lathon, Souley Boum (San Francisco), Nigel Hawkins, and Kaden Archie (once eligible in December) will determine how good this talent group can be.
#96. Colgate– The work that Matt Langel has done at an incredibly difficult job in Colgate cannot be understated. Piece by piece, he has built this program into a top-100 team for the 2019-20 season after bringing back most of its production from a team that sent a scare through Knoxville in the NCAA Tournament. The “big 3” of dynamic lead guard Jordan Burns, two-way wing Will Rayman, and skilled big Rapolas Ivanauskas is one of the best trios not only in the Patriot League, but in mid-major basketball.
#95. UC Irvine– The loss of Max Hazzard is a big blow, but Russell Turner always has his clubs ready to compete in the Big West. Evan Leonard, Collin Welp, and Tommy Rutherford are among those returning for a team that won 31 games and knocked off Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament. This team should still dominate on the glass and on the defensive end, and Leonard is a good enough shot-maker to win them games late.
#94. TCU– I am not a fan of the Horned Frogs this year– on paper, the roster is poorly constructed and lacking talent. They should steal some Big 12 games on the back of star guard Desmond Bane, who is one of the best scorers in the country and will be making his case to NBA scouts all year. Look out for a breakout campaign from Kevin Samuel, who had a strong freshman season and is one of the only options Jamie Dixon has in the frontcourt. He’s efficient at the rim and a tremendous rim protector.
#93. Pepperdine– We knew when he got the job that Lorenzo Romar would quickly inject talent into this Pepperdine program, and he has done just that. The Waves have an elite point guard in Colbey Ross who could run the show at any program in the country, while Kameron and Kessler Edwards provide major athleticism and versatility at the forward spots. Throw in Oregon transfer Keith Smith, the breakout potential of Andre Ball, and a nice freshman class, and it’s not hard to see why I am excited to see Pepperdine in action.
#92. Nebraska– Given the amount of roster spots he was left to fill, Fred Hoiberg and his staff did a pretty tremendous job of adding Big Ten talent to the mix right away. A motley crew of grad transfers, sit-out transfers, JUCO players, and freshmen join the fray, and piecing it all together will be Hoiberg’s biggest challenge in year one. The team does lack star power, though JUCO backcourt duo of Cam Mack and Jervay Green does possess some upside.
#91. Grand Canyon– Evaluating the Lopes is difficult without knowing the status of TCU transfer Jaylen Fisher for the upcoming season. If eligible and healthy, Fisher is a game-changer– a legitimate all-conference player in the Big 12 who should dominate in the WAC. Even without Fisher, Dan Majerle has assembled an incredibly talented backcourt, with transfers Isiah Brown (Northwestern) and Mikey Dixon (St John’s– eligible midseason) joining highly-touted Jovan Blacksher and returning wing Carlos Johnson. Rebounding may be an issue with a thin frontcourt, but talent won’t be the problem for GCU. Majerle has to prove he can stand toe-to-toe with Chris Jans to get this team above NMSU in the WAC.
#90. Bradley– After a brutal 0-5 start in Missouri Valley play, the Braves played as well as anyone down the stretch and completed that bounceback with an incredible comeback win over Northern Iowa in ‘Arch Madness’. Bringing back Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs means the Braves will be a factor in the Valley once again, though the guy that could push them over the top is scoring guard Danya Kingsby, a transfer from LSU who’ll be immediately eligible.
#89. Oregon State– Featuring a member of the “how is he still in college?” team in Tres Tinkle, the Beavers are an intriguing under-the-radar club in a Pac-12 that should be improved from an ugly 2018-19 season. The loss of lead guard Stephen Thompson is a major one, with an even greater burden being lump upon Tinkle and Ethan Thompson. I’m not sure there’s enough talent there to compete in the Pac-12, though the trio of Tinkle, Thompson, and Kylor Kelley is enough to make trips to Corvallis a pain in the backside of opponents all year long.
#88. ETSU– The beat rolls on in Johnson City under Steve Forbes, as the Buccaneers have once again assembled a talented roster that should be the favorite in the SoCon. This is a very deep team capable of playing 10 without much drop-off, and the late return of Jeromy Rodriguez is massive Forbes’ group in the frontcourt. The guy I’m most excited to see is Daivien Williamson, a rising sophomore combo guard who put up great numbers as a freshman and can really score the basketball.
#87. Nevada– After four incredible years, the Eric Musselman tenure in Reno is over, with Steve Alford making his return to the Mountain West on a pricey 10-year contract to try to keep the Pack rolling. He’ll have the luxury of an incredibly talented backcourt headlined by LA Tech transfer Jalen Harris, though major questions loom in the frontcourt after Jordan Brown decided to depart for Arizona. JUCO forward Robby Robinson and RS freshman KJ Hymes are incredibly important.
#86. Penn State– It’s hard for me to buy the Penn State love preseason despite the team’s strong close to the 2018-19 season. Losing Josh Reaves is a bigger blow than many realize– not only was he an elite defender, but also one of the Nittany Lions’ most efficient perimeter scorers. The defense could take some steps back without Reaves, and PSU was not an efficient offensive team last season. Plus, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me to give the benefit of the doubt to a Pat Chambers team.
#85. St. Bonaventure– The Bonnies being 40 minutes from the NCAA Tournament last year with how much they had graduated the previous year is a testament to just how good a coach and recruiter Mark Schmidt is. Despite the heartbreaking defeat on the final possession, there’s a ton to be excited about from last season, mostly based on the way the young core of Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch, and Osun Osunniyi looked down the stretch. Osunniyi has upside that few in college hoops can match, with a hawk-like wingspan and high-level defensive instincts combined with a growing offensive game.
#84. South Carolina– Winning 11 SEC games despite losing multiple buy games in the non-conference last year was surprising, though the bad start doomed any hopes of dancing. AJ Lawson is impressive– an all-conference talent who can create for himself or others. However, the loss of Chris Silva may be too much to overcome in a loaded SEC.
#83. Wisconsin– I’m thoroughly unimpressed with this post-Ethan Happ roster in Madison, to be frank. Guys like D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers were excellent as role players maximizing Happ, but I’m concerned about how they look without him. Trice, for instance, is a guy who is perceived by many as a piece who could take major steps forward. However, he has never shot better than 40% from the field, almost never gets to the rim, and a majority of his scoring came on catch-and-shoot 3’s. I can’t buy that guy as a guy who can lead an offense. The Badgers will be a strong defensive club and tough to beat at home, but this roster feels a lot more like 2017-18 than 2018-19.
#82. Pittsburgh– This may wind up being a bit too low on the Panthers in due time, but I think it’s where I have to have them preseason. Xavier Johnson is incredible to watch, a dynamic lead guard who can really pass and create his own shot, and youngsters like Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney have upside to take steps forward. Still, with frontcourt and depth questions and a lot riding on some under-the-radar freshmen, I have to stay closer to the NIT bubble with the Panthers. Watch out for freshman wing Gerald Drumgoole, a terrific defender with 3&D qualities, as a guy who could increase this team’s upside.
#81. Murray State– Murray State may not be quite as fun to watch this season without the Ja Morant show, but the Racers should be dangerous nonetheless. Tevin Brown is a name everyone needs to know coming into the season, an elite shooter who put up huge numbers during Murray’s international trip and should be one of the OVC’s best this season. Point guard play is the real question mark, but I’ve heard very good things about freshman Noah Kamba, who could take the reigns from day one.
Check back tomorrow for #80-61!