NCAA Preview: Teams 21-30
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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College basketball teams around the country started practice this week, meaning we’re just a few weeks away from games being played. That will be a welcomed site for all of us who are missing basketball right now more than ever due to the NBA lockout. We’ve already taken a look at the teams 1-10 and 11-20, and now it’s time to take a look at teams 21-30, which includes a few quality teams outside of the big six conferences and some of the best defensive squads in the nation.
21. Michigan Wolverines
Key Losses: Darius Morris
Key Additions: Carlton Brundidge, Trey Burke and Max Bielfeldt
Outlook: This could potentially be a big year for John Beilein that cements his status as Michigan’s head coach for the foreseeable future. He lost Morris, his top scorer and assist man, but has star-in-the-making Tim Hardaway Jr., who appears ready and eager to take over that top spot. On the front line Jordan Morgan and Zack Novak also have serious breakout potential. Freshmen guards Brundidge and Burke should give them a nice boost in the backcourt and help solve some of their offensive woes from a year ago. The Big Ten is going to be tough as always, but the Wolverines are a serious dark horse that could surprise.
22. Villanova Wildcats
Key Losses: Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena
Key Additions: Tyrone Johnson, Achraf Yacoubou and Markus Kennedy
Outlook: Few coaches in the country do as good of a job as Jay Wright does at recruiting top-tier guards to make sure that there is a never a drop off since his system revolves around them. Stokes and Fisher were very good players, but between Maalik Wayns, Johnson and Yacoubou the Wildcats will still be as fast-paced and potent offensively as ever. What makes the Wildcats a viable threat to climb up the rankings and be formidable come tournament time is their improved inside presence. Mouphtaou Yarou has come a long ways in two years and Kennedy and JayVaughn Pinkston have the strength to be truly dominant in the paint.
23. Wisconsin Badgers
Key Losses: Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz
Key Additions: Jarrod Uthoff, Frank Kaminsky and George Marshall
Outlook: Utilizing their size and strong team defense, the Badgers made a run to the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA Tournament. They lost their top interior players Leuer and Nankivil, but added Uthoff and Kaminsky inside to hopefully remain serviceable in that area. This year they’ll be far more reliant this year on their guard play and in particular Jordan Taylor. Taylor has to approach every game with the mindset that if he doesn’t score at least 20 points they’re going to lose. He will have some nice help in the backcourt, though, in Josh Gasser, George Marshall and Traevon Jackson. Once again the Badgers will be a tough team to beat in the Big Ten.
24. Xavier Musketeers
Key Losses: Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson
Key Additions: Dezmine Wells and Darwin Davis
Outlook: Year in and year out you can count on the Musketeers to be an upper echelon team in the Atlantic 10 who can justifiably feel above the mid-major label that they, along with their passionate fan base, loathe so much. Few point guards in the country are going to produce at the rate that Tu Holloway will this season. He’s coming off of a great junior campaign, but he probably has his fingers crossed for center Kenny Frease to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff. As of right now, he’s indefinitely suspended. The additions of McLean and Jackson could help give the Musketeers the depth they need to make a deep postseason run.
25. Michigan State Spartans
Key Losses: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Delvon Roe
Key Additions: Branden Dawson, Brandan Kearney and Brandon Wood
Outlook: While a lot of schools would be happy with a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance, that’s a disappointing year by the Spartans’ high standards. They’ll look to bounce back this year, but overall this is a young team that is pretty unfamiliar with each other. They’re reliant on the talented and versatile Draymond Green, who played well for Team USA’s U19 squad this summer, having a big year. They also need their promising freshmen class to adjust to the increase in competition level quickly. The class holds great potential, but it took a hit in August when they lost Dwaun Anderson. Look for Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood to make a big impact.
26. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Key Losses: Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson
Key Additions: Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Kyle Dranginis
Outlook: Going into last year’s NCAA Tournament with high expectations, the Bulldogs got upset, and dominated, by another mid major in BYU. This year they’ll have the opportunity to get some payback as BYU has joined them in the West Coast Conference. Bulldogs head coach Mark Few welcomes back a nice group of big men in Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Sam Dower. All three of them can be quite difficult to match up with. They should help make freshman point guard Kevin Pangos’ life a lot easier as he looks to replace Goodson, who is now a member of the Baylor Bears football team. Betting on the Bulldogs to win the WCC once again seems like a safe bet this year.
27. George Mason Patriots
Key Losses: Cam Long and Isaiah Tate
Key Additions: Erik Copes, Vaughn Gray and Corey Edwards
Outlook: A completely new era has begun for the Patriots as Jim Larranaga has moved onto Miami and been replaced by former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt. Hewitt, a proven coach with postseason experience and strong recruiting skills, will ensure that there is not much of a drop off, if any at all, during the transition. He inherits a team that has solid chemistry and aspirations to do things much bigger than just winning the CAA regular season and tournament championship. If Ryan Pearson can step up and take over the vacant leadership role left by Long, they could have another historic season.
28. West Virginia Mountaineers
Key Losses: Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla
Key Additions: Jabarie Hinds, Aaron Brown and Gary Browne
Outlook: The Mountaineers are going to be relying heavily on Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant this season as they have very little experience outside of them. Six freshmen are going to be vying for time. Making the transition from high school basketball to the D-I level is tough enough as it is, but doing so under Bob Huggins is even tougher. They’re going to have to really adjust to his intensity and demands defensively. Big men Pat Forsythe and Kevin Noreen will have to realize their potential quickly in order to hold down the paint at the center position.
29. Texas Longhorns
Key Losses: Jordan Hamilton, Corey Joseph and Tristan Thompson
Key Additions: Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis
Outlook: From one perspective, it’s disappointing that the Longhorns lost three underclassmen to the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. From another, it’s somewhat of a good thing because it opens up a significant amount of playing time for another great Rick Barnes recruiting class. Kabongo could potentially be the best point guard in the country. Watching him in the backcourt with McClellan and J’Covan Brown will be extremely exciting. Freshmen forward Jonathan Holmes has some big shoes to fill, but could end up being a nice replacement for Thompson. Come the end of the year, this team could be scary.
30. Illinois Fighting Illini
Key Losses: Demetri McCamey, Jereme Richmond and Mike Davis
Key Additions: Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Mike Shaw
Outlook: The Fighting Illini were senior-laden last year and as of a result will be almost a completely different looking team this season. Brandon Paul is the lone returner from their top seven, but he is joined by a strong six-man recruiting class that features four players ranked in the top-100. Coach Weber will be forced to call on them a lot early on, which could pay off more down the road than immediately. If the Fighting Illini are going compete in the Big Ten 7’0 center Meyers Leonard is going to have to come into his own. Last year was a great learning experience for him; he has to apply everything that he learned.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat at 11 am EST on Friday October 21st. You can get your questions into him here.