Preseason College Basketball Top 26: 21-17

My college Steve Fetch and I are running down our preseason top 26 for this upcoming college basketball season. Steve covered the teams ranked 26-22 on Wednesday. I’m here to take you through the next five, from 21-17.


via Getty Images / Steve Dykes

21. Harvard Crimson (27-5, 13-1 Ivy League Postseason: NCAA Tournament Third Round)

2013-’14 tweetcap: “The Crimson crushed the Ivy en route to their second straight NCAA appearance with a win.”

Key Number: 27. Harvard’s 27 wins a season ago were the most in school history… as were the Crimson’s 13 conference wins.

Harvard returns the Ivy League Player of the Year in Wesley Saunders, a do-it-all player who averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.7 steals last season. A couple of his best games in terms of points came against Boston College and Michigan State, the latter taking place in the NCAA tournament. That was a bit of a national awakening for him.

Saunders not the only returning starter. Point guard Siyani Chambers (11 points, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals) and big man Steve Moundou-Missi (10.5 points, 6 rebounds, 1.3 blocks) are back to take a stab at Harvard’s fifth straight conference title. That’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the Ivy since the Penn teams did it from 1978-’82. Harvard should be boosted by the return of big man Kenyatta Smith. He battled injury last season, but blocked 99 shots with only 14.5 minutes per game two years ago. He blocked 15.3 % of opponents’ shots while on the floor. That’s a lot.

The schedule should give the nation a few chances to see the Crimson in action. They host Houston and UMass, while taking trips to Virginia, Arizona State and Boston College. One knock on Harvard last year is that it couldn’t get any big wins in the non-conference portion of its schedule. Obviously the Crimson corrected that by beating Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament. While the Crimson have won tournament games in each of the past two seasons, this might be their best shot to win multiple games in March. The high efficiencies of the offense and defense should roll over to make Tommy Amaker’s Ivy juggernaut tough to topple.


via The Majors

20. Michigan State Spartans (29-9, 12-6 in the Big Ten. Postseason: Elite 8)

2013-’14 tweetcap: Sparty overcame a mid-season swoon to march to its fourth Big Ten tournament title and an Elite 8 appearance.

Key Number: 30.5. That’s the total number of points per game Michigan State’s top four returning players averaged last season.

Michigan State loses a lot, A LOT, from its team last season. Adrieian Payne and Gary Harris are playing in the NBA, and Keith Appling could only play for Sparty for 15 years before the NCAA was on to him. Kenny Kaminski, who hit 49 percent of his threes last season, was kicked off the team. The good news is that Sparty has some highly talented pieces back.

Branden Dawson missed a big chunk of action last season. That conincided with the Sparty swoon. MSU lost only three games when Dawson played. In 2013-’14, his offensive game came alive. Dawson put up an offensive rating of 123.4 thanks to hitting 61.3 % from the field. His free throw percentage jumped 12 percent, which was a major boon for his game. He’s also a tremendous rebounder. Travis Trice stayed healthy last year and pounded in a healthy 43.4 percent of his shots from three. He was a three-point specialist, so his game will have to get better in other areas. Tom Izzo dropped a Draymond Green comparison on Denzel Valentine, so there will be some expectations on the junior captain this season.

There are some newcomers on Michigan State. Bryn Forbes is a transfer from Cleveland State. Forbes put up 15.6 points while shooting the lights out from three. Forbes hit 81 of 191 bombs, a 42.4-percent clip. Other newcomers include Marvin Clark, who is left handed; there will be hundreds of people calling him ‘Mo Pete’ on Twitter and you will hate them. Also new is guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. The best part is his name gets even better because his nickname is Tum Tum. I’ll root for a Tum Tum. Michigan State also returns Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis III.

The biggest return for Sparty is Tom Izzo. You know three things about Izzo: His teams are going to play tough, even if they aren’t filled to the brim with talent. Second, he’s going to line up an impossible schedule you kind of wish your team played. Third, he’s going to have a team you don’t want in your bracket come March.


via Denver Post

19. Colorado Buffaloes (23-12, 10-8 in Pac 12. Postseason: NCAA Second Round)

2013-’14 tweetcap: The Buffs were able to grind out a third straight NCAA tournament bid. For the second straight year, they scored under 50 points in that tournament game.

Key Number: 81. Colorado’s top two players, and foul shooters, both hit 81 percent at the line last season.

Colorado had a tale of two seasons in 2013-’14. In fact, it was pretty much 2013 with star Spencer Dinwiddie and 2014 without him. The Buffs ran through the non-conference slate that was highlighted by a huge win over Kansas. The only losses Colorado had on its ledger entering Pac-12 play were to ranked teams (at the time) Baylor and Oklahoma State. The Buffs went only 9-8 to close the season, a season that closed with a 77-48 drubbing by Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament, preceded by a 20-point beating by Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

Dinwiddie’s injury helped set the stage for this club, which is loaded with experience. The highlight player is Josh Scott, who averaged 14.1 points and 8.5 boards. Scott was a defense’s nightmare. He hit 51 percent from the field overall and crushed 81 percent of his free throws. Considering he had over 200 attempts, he was a serious threat. He’s joined by Askia Booker, who averaged 13.7 points a year ago. Booker’s slash line of 38 % / 81.8 % / 27.2 % from a year ago has a serious weakness which needs to be addressed, especially given the volume of his shots. Booker did lead the team in assists at 3.3 and steals at 1.3 per game.

Xavier Johnson is a wing man to watch this season. He is coming off a year in which he averaged 12 points and 5.9 rebounds, while hitting a team best 37 of 102 from three. His shooting numbers did take a slight fall from his freshman season, so a bounce-back would be beneficial.

The Buffs bring in Dominique Collier to presumably run the show at point guard. The four-star recruit should compensate for some of Dinwiddie’s production and provide what the Colorado reserves just couldn’t offer enough of last season. Neither Xavier Talton or Jarron Hopkins were offensive threats. Collier had the excitement around him building this summer. If he can get those guys back into the roles at which they were most comfortable, the Buffs could be stampeding through the nation yet again.


via Black sports online

18. Syracuse Orange (28-6, 14-4 in the ACC. Postseason: NCAA Third Round)

2013-’14 tweetcap: It was all good until it wasn’t.

Key Number: 18. Because Syracuse’s season is going to come down to how well the young guys play.

Syracuse is a team with a bit of an identity crisis. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and Baye Moussa Keita are all gone. Replacing them are a couple of top-50 recruits. The star of the class is Chris McCullough. He was a consensus top-20 recruit, top-15 in some places. He’s the highest ranked Syracuse commit since Carmelo Anthony. He’s being thrown right into the fire as he’s expected to take over Grant’s position at power forward. He’s got some big shoes to fill.

Also new is point guard Kaleb Joseph. He’s looking to continue the Syracuse point guard tradition that has developed the past few seasons. Joseph is a tall guard at 6-3, which gives Syracuse a very tall team. This is especially the case when considering the fact that one of the reserves from last season that’s taking a giant step up is 6-8 Tyler Roberson. He played in only 20 games a season ago. Jim Boeheim was quoted as saying in the Blue Ribbon preview, which is a must buy, that Roberson was “overwhelmed” in his freshman season.

Banking on these three players to take huge steps forward is a huge risk. Luckily for the Orange, there are some players returning. Most notably, Trevor Cooney is back at his guard position. He was one of the key cogs on the Orange as a three-point threat. Then he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. That coincided with Syracuse’s late-season funk. It was good that he couldn’t hit water because there probably Syracuse fans who wanted to push him out of a boat by season’s end. His predicted bounce-back — along with Rakeem Christmas in his 15th season at Syracuse, plus DaJuan Coleman and Michael Gbinije — gives the Cuse some stability. The gigantic question mark around the Orange is how the pieces meld together.


via Dallas news

17. Oklahoma Sooners (23-10, 12-6 in the Big 12. Postseason: NCAA Second Round

2013-’14 tweetcap: OU established itself as a top dog in the Big 12 Sooner than expected.

Key Number: 4. That’s how many starters the Big 12 second place finisher has returning.

Oklahoma finished second in the Big 12 a season ago. Now the Sooners might be poised to make a swipe at Kansas atop the league. The Sooners return pretty much everyone from their 23-win squad. The player that is missing is Cameron Clark, who was a staple at Oklahoma the last four seasons. However, leading scorer and three-point maven Buddy Hield is back to lead the backcourt. Hield averaged over 16 points a game. He hit 90 three pointers at a 39-percent rate. He’s joined in the backcourt by Isaiah Cousins, who smoked 40 percent of his shots from deep. Jordan Booker rounds out the group as the point guard. Booker averaged 10 points and 4.6 assists a year ago. He hit “only” 37 percent from three because he’s a disappointment. (That’s sarcasm, just to make sure.)

In the frontcourt, Ryan Spangler returns. He averaged a near double double at 9.6 points and 9.3 rebounds. He was a rebounding machine for OU. Spangler could be joined by Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas, but it is not yet known if Thomas will be able to play this season. If he can, his presence could give OU a very solid front line. If Thomas can’t play, OU is a bit lacking in depth. D.J. Bennett barely played last season, and neither did C.J. Cole. The Sooners would have to rely on a trio of freshmen big men. Dante Buford was around a top-100 recruit, and Khadeem Lattin was as well. Jamuni McNease was a center in high school.

The biggest question for Oklahoma is if its shooters, Spanglers and bangers can compete with the premium talent that’s in the Big 12. Kansas is loaded. Texas is loaded. Iowa State has a lot of talent as well. The Big 12 is a very tough league. It’s not the best for a team if you question your frontcourt. A spot like 17 seems to fit a team that could make a charge, or a team that might not cut it.

Izzo header photo via Molly Fletcher

About Scott

I write Bearcats Blog and also on the Student Section.