By Kevin Sweeney
The beat rolls on into day three.
As we’ve been doing all week, here’s the release of the next 20 teams in my preseason top 100. There won’t be much roster movement with classes getting underway, so I’m confident that these rankings will hold up into the 2019-20 season.
#60-41 pretty much puts a team right on the cut line to get an at-large bid. In last year’s KenPom rankings, eight of the 20 teams in that tier earned at-large bids, while three others received auto-bids by winning their conference tournament.
Let’s dive in:
#60. New Mexico State– No team played their bench more last season than the Aggies, with 49.5% of their total minutes coming from their bench as Chris Jans deployed what at times was a 13-man rotation last season. That may tighten up a bit this season, but the Aggies will be very deep, very talented, and very good once again. Last year’s iteration of NMSU absolutely dominated the paint– ranking 7th in offensive rebounding rate, 2nd in opposing offensive rebounding rate, and 5th nationally in 2-point field goal percentage. Throw in a dynamic wing like Trevelin Queen and guards like AJ Harris and Terrell Brown, and it’s hard not to expect this team to win 28-30 games once again.
#59. Liberty– I had Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay on my podcast earlier this summer, and he said one thing that really stood out: he believes Caleb Homesley can play in the NBA. I may not be quite as bullish, but pairing a wing like Homesley who is good in every aspect of the game with one of the most efficient big men in the country in Scottie James is all kinds of trouble for opposing teams. With Lipscomb likely taking a step back with several key departures, the Flames should absolutely run through the A-Sun. It may be difficult for LU to build a resume for an at-large bid, but this team is certainly good enough to belong in that conversation.
#58. West Virginia– The Mountaineers should absolutely wreck some teams up front this season. Adding man-child fringe 5-star Oscar Tshiebwe to a frontcourt that already featured double-double machine Derek Culver should allow the Mountaineers to bully teams on the glass and make things difficult for opposing teams at the rim. Finding better guard play is what determines whether the Mountaineers get back to the NCAA Tournament. Jordan McCabe’s strong finish to the season (13.5 ppg, 5 apg, 38% 3-pt FG% in his final 10 games) provides some reason for optimism, and JUCO guard Sean McNeil can shoot the cover off the ball.
#57. BYU– The suspension to Yoeli Childs for the first nine games of the season is a big blow to the Cougars’ at-large hopes, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism for Mark Pope’s first season in Provo. TJ Haws, Jake Toolson, and Childs is quite the trio, and youngsters Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding have breakout potential. Fixing a defense that struggled at times last season will be critical for Pope in year one.
#56. USC– Consistent point guard play is the major question in SoCal this summer, as Elijah Weaver gets set to take the reigns for the Trojans. A loaded frontcourt that features a pair of 5-star recruits in Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu and a returning stud in Nick Racocevic should allow USC to control the paint, and the addition of Daniel Utomi (Akron) adds a much-needed shooter and versatile defender to the mix. Andy Enfield is running out of time to meet or exceed expectations with a talented team– though he most certainly will at least be given the chance to coach Evan Mobley in 2020-21.
#55. Missouri State– I’m not sure any coach has done a better job assembling talent quickly than Dana Ford, who has positioned Missouri State as an at-large contender in just his second year on the job. A strong mix of transfers, JUCO players, and freshmen join the fray for the Bears, with rotation players from former elite mid-majors in Tyrik Dixon (Middle Tennessee) and Josh Hall (Nevada) looking like plug-and-play guys to fill out a rotation that already features stars in Keandre Cook and Tulio Da Silva. The upside piece is Gaige Prim, a bruising true post player who put up dominating numbers in JUCO.
#54. Iowa– The early draft departure of Tyler Cook and a potentially season-ending injury to Jordan Bohannon does take some wind out of the sails of the Hawkeyes, but a nice core is still in place for Fran McCaffery’s group to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Joe Wieskamp has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball this season as he continues to round out his all-around offensive game, and Luka Garza remains a steady inside-out big man. If Bohannon is in fact out, point guard play from Connor McCaffery and Valpo grad transfer Bakari Evelyn will be critical.
#53. Ole Miss– Kermit Davis finding a way to get the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament in year one was impressive, but par for the course given what Davis did during his run at MTSU. Losing Terence Davis is a major blow, though Devontae Shuler and Breein Tyree is a very nice duo in the backcourt. JUCO product and former Virginia Tech big Khadim Sy will be asked to do a lot in the frontcourt and will have to control the glass for the Rebels to Dance again.
#52. South Florida– Coming off a CBI title and an important 14-win improvement in year two of the Brian Gregory era, optimism is high for the Bulls as they enter the 2019-20 season. LaQuincy Rideau is one of my favorite point guards in the nation, an absolute bulldog on the defensive end who can hit shots and get downhill offensively. Throw in a pair of promising 3rd-year players in David Collins and Alexis Yetna, and a strong core is in place. It feels like USF needs one more scorer– perhaps Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson can be that guy.
#51. Syracuse– This will be a new-look Orange team with the departures of Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett to the pro ranks. That’s not necessarily as bad a thing as some may think, given the trio combined to shoot just 40% from the field and 31% from the field last season. Elijah Hughes, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, and Brycen Goodine will be the ones to watch at the guard spot, with some combo of Carey, Boeheim, and Goodine needing to find a way to take some pressure of Hughes. The zone will keep the Orange in games, but they’ll have to find a way to get buckets in order to consistently win them.
#50. Oklahoma State– The Cowboys just lacked too much depth to win games consistently in the Big 12, but the 5-man core of Isaac Likelele, Thomas Dziagwa, Lindy Waters, Cam McGriff, and Yor Anei showed plenty of promise. A 6-man recruiting class that features four top-150 recruits, as well as a grad transfer in Jon Laurent who should be able to play rotation minutes, should help that depth issue.
#49. Western Kentucky– Never bet against Rick Stansbury on the recruiting trail, as they say. 4-star freshman Jordan Rawls, Lipscomb transfer Kenny Cooper, and elite grad transfer Camron Justice (IUPUI) join an already-talented core returning that features former 5-star Charles Bassey. Getting better point guard play will be critical– ideally from Cooper, who is pursuing a waiver to play right away after his head coach left Lipscomb. Allowing Justice, Taevion Hollingsworth, and Josh Anderson to be freed up to score would be ideal, and having a pure passer like Cooper would make sure Bassey gets consistent touches.
#48. Georgia– We all knew Tom Crean would get players at UGA despite his lack of ties to the area, and he did just that in his first full recruiting class. The headliner is top-3 recruit and Atlanta native Anthony Edwards, who’ll assume a high-usage role from the outset for the Bulldogs. Edwards provides a much-needed scoring talent that Crean just didn’t have last year, famously remarking after a loss last season that perhaps he should have run off some of his players when he first got the job. Size is now the problem, though some intriguing possibilities for small-ball lineups exist with RayShaun Hammonds at the five.
#47. Davidson– The Wildcats run it back from last year’s 24-win team, hopefully with a healthier Kellan Grady next to Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The room for improvement lies in the potential improvement of rising sophomores Luke Frampton and Luka Brajkovic, both of whom had huge freshman campaigns.
#46. Arizona State– I’ve had a difficult time evaluating the Bobby Hurley era in Tempe– big wins both on the court and on the recruiting trail have been memorable, but all he has to show for it are a pair of First Four appearances and a blowout loss to Buffalo in the Round of 64 this season. Adding dynamic JUCO guard Alonzo Verge to a backcourt unit that already featured Remy Martin and Rob Edwards should continue the “Guard U” brand Hurley began to build in the 2017-18 season. A breakout from Taeshon Cherry would be huge to boost this team’s upside.
#45. Mississippi State– Seeing how Ben Howland deploys FIBA U19 MVP Reggie Perry this season will be fascinating. After playing mostly PF in two-big looks next to Aric Holman last season, the bruising big looked much bigger in 4-out, 1-in looks for Team USA this offseason. Playing him at the 5 with versatile combo forward Robert Woodard would open up a ton of possibilities for this Bulldog team. How much can Nick Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter move the needle in the backcourt?
#44. Notre Dame– Per T-Rank, the Fighting Irish were a top-55 team in the season’s first 10 games. After? 115th nationally. What happened after the first ten games? Rex Pfluegger went down with a devastating knee injury that destroyed any flow the offense had. After Pfluegger went down, the Irish were 341st in effective field goal percentage, relying heavily on John Mooney and a young backcourt still working through freshman lumps. Getting Pfluegger back to full health, the growth of younger guys like Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski, and Dane Goodwin, and the return of Mooney gives Mike Brey an impressive core to build around in a wide-open middle of the ACC.
#43. Illinois– After a disastrous start to the season, the Illini found a way to turn things around with a midseason hot stretch that featured wins over Maryland and Michigan State. Bringing back Ayo Dosunmu for year two gives Brad Underwood’s team hope to get back to the NCAA Tournament. 4-star big man Kofi Cockburn is a divisive piece– blessed with amazing physical tools but also with hands of stone and no ability to space the floor. Given how impressive skilled big Giorgi Bezhanishvili was a freshman, moving him to the four and hurting both the team’s spacing and defensive switchability may not be the right play.
#42. Texas– Shaka Smart is running out of time to get it rolling at Texas, with an NCAA Tournament berth the bare minimum necessary to have a chance to be coaching the Longhorns in 2020-21. As he has for his entire tenure, Smart has brought in a strong recruiting class– a trio of top-75 recruits to add to a core that already featured Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Jase Febres. The defense should be terrific, with the addition of former Michigan assistant and defensive wunderkind Luke Yaklich to the staff. But will the Longhorns score consistently? And can Smart draw up offense that involves something other than a pick-and-roll?
#41. Colorado– An intriguing run-it-back team, the Buffs just have to be better on the offensive end than they were last season to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Adding an elite-level shooter from the JUCO ranks in Maddox Daniels should help a team that ranked 272nd in 3-point percentage last season, and CU should be able to maul teams inside with a deep frontcourt that features Tyler Bey, Evan Battey, Lucas Siewart, and Dallas Walton as options at the 4 and 5 spots.
Check back Thursday for #40-21!