With a couple games into the college basketball season, we wanted to look at teams that are on the rise to look out for this year. We also added in two dark horse teams on the tournament bubble who are on the verge of entering the top 25.
- Kentucky– Last year, Kentucky looked like they were ready to have one of the best tournament runs in the program’s history. Unfortunately, the tournament was cancelled, and we can only dream about whether or not that team could have been able to achieve capturing that ninth championship. Luckily for U.K fans, this year’s team looks just as, if not more, talented than last year’s team. Two key players include Oliver Sarr, a senior grad-transfer from Wake Forest who is known to have outstanding performances on the court including a 30 pt. and 17 reb. performance against Notre Dame last year, and Jacob Toppin, brother of top ten NBA draft pick Obi Toppin, who is looking just as talented as his lottery pick sibling. Then of course you have Davion Mintz, former Creighton Bluejay, who is already showing, that he will definitely be a deadly threat at the three-point line this season. Finally, we have another stellar recruiting class, led by BJ Boston who many believe will be the leading man for U.K’s freshman class.
- Villanova– Seeing as the only loss suffered after last season was Saddiq Bey, this year’s Villanova squad is already ahead of the game with having a connection that has already been made between the players on what their roles are and what each of them need to do in order to capture a win. Two of their returning players, Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, have already made several experts list for potential Big East player of the year. They have a stellar group full of potential to round out their potential starting five with returning players Justin Moore, Cole Swidler and Jermaine Samuels. Three players who are thought to still have plenty of potential still waiting to be unlocked to help Villanova become an even stronger team and title-contender.
- Gonzaga– Throughout the past few years, Gonzaga has been one of those teams hidden in the shadows, but many experts still talk about them as having the kind of team that can capture an NCAA title quite soon. First, we have a team leader in Corey Kispert, senior forward, who averages a solid 13.9 ppg and has a solid 3-pt. percentage with 43.8%. Next, we have Jalen Suggs, a top ten recruit in the class of 2020 and the highest-rated recruit in Gonzaga’s history. Finally, we have Joel Ayayi, junior guard, who averages a solid stat-line with 10.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg, and who is someone many people were not surprised looked into declaring for the NBA draft. Overall, Gonzaga appears to have a solid team that if they can play up to their ability, definitely has a chance to make a great run in the tournament that could end with a title win.
- Baylor– Last year, Baylor was one of the top teams in the country with a 26-4 record and what was looking like a lock as No.1 seed when the tournament came around. Considering two of Baylor’s key players in Jared Butler and MaCio Teague are returning for another year, not only does Baylor appear to be ready to achieve one of, if not the top, AP poll ranking in the program’s history, but also considered the favorite to win the Big 12 for the first time in program history. According to experts, Butler and Teague are more than likely to end up on the All-Big 12 preseason first team. The next key part to this team will be the powerful force of a 250 lb. power forward they have in Mark Vital who many believe has the potential to be a top-five defender. Finally, you have Tristan Clark who although suffered a key knee injury as a sophomore, has been battling to get back to his stellar form that he had in his sophomore year when he averaged 14.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg and was considered to become one of the best players in the Big 12. Overall, if Clark is able to achieve his former talent once again and is able to gel with the other players mentioned, Baylor definitely has the potential to have one of the best seasons in program history.
- Virginia– Not that it is any surprise, but it does look like Virginia will be one of the top 10 teams in the league this year. One of the key reasons for that is during last season they achieved the No.1 per-possession and points-allowed defense last season. Seeing as Virginia is one of the schools that did not lose any talent to the draft, there is no reason to believe they can’t still achieve that type of defense. Their offense looks like it will be rather stellar in itself with Kihei Clark leading the charge. He averages a solid stat-line of 10.8 ppg and 5.9 apg. and is known to be a true leader on and off the court. A new weapon is being added to the offense with Sam Hauser, transfer from Marquette, who many hope will help add some needed boost into the teams 3-point offense. Finally, there is Casey Morsell and Jay Huff, two key bench players that still have a lot of potential to unlock but have shown that they want to do anything they can to help their team win. If the defense holds up to being just as good as last year and the offense they want to build is achieved, there is little doubt that Virginia can be a title-contender this year.
- West Virginia– Similar to many seasons before, West Virginia is projected to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. One of the key players to look at on this squad is Oscar Thsiebwe. Thsiebwe is seen as a player who never gives less than 100% on the court, one of the toughest and smartest rebounders in the league, and someone that never takes long to learn a new skill to help the team become stronger. Many experts say that if Derek Culver is able to extract even a tiny bit of that skill from his front-court partner, W.V could have the best front court in the entirety of the Big 12. Of course, similar to past teams, W.V has a point guard that has the potential to become the main star of the team in Miles McBride. He has a reliable stat line with 9.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, and 1.8 apg and he is known to be a true leader on the court with good defensive skills. Needless to say, W.V looks like they have the potential to be a solid tournament team that could make a good run.
- Wisconsin– Last year, Wisconsin was able to achieve the title of co-winner of the Big Ten regular season. One thing that makes Wisconsin one of the unique teams is the fact that they have a number of players that could be the main star of any game. Four of those players include Nate Reuvers, Michah Potter, D’Mitrik Trice, and Brad Davison. These guys made up a squad that had one hell of a rally last year by winning their last eight games to tie with Maryland and MSU atop the Big Ten standings. If they can reacquire that type of energy from last year, it is hard to believe they can’t make it atop the Big Ten standings once again, leading to a potential great run in the tournament.
- Iowa– The Hawkeyes are definitely an interesting team to look at this season. Leading the team, you have the 2019-20 Big Ten POY in Luka Garza. It’s not very often you see that type of player return so that definitely gives this squad a boost. According to experts, the Hawkeyes had the top offense last year in the Big Ten and even ranked in the top 5 of scoring in college basketball. Considering their entire starting five is returning, there is certainly little argument they can’t achieve that type of offense again. The only downside to this team is their known weakness in defensive skills, they were ranked 12th out of 14 teams in their league. So, if this Hawkeye squad has any chance to make noise in March, they will have to find some way to help each other enhance their defensive skills.
- Creighton– While many people have picked Villanova as the favorite to win the Big East, which is not much of a surprise, the team that is thought to give the best challenge to that pick is this Bluejay squad. One of the key standouts to this squad is the pick as the preseason Big East player of the year in Marcus Zegarowski. He averages a solid stat line with 16.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 5.0 apg, and has a stable 3-point percentage at 42.4%. Alongside Zegarowski, is some stellar teammates including Mitch Ballock, known as one of the best three-point shooters in the league, and Denzel Mahoney, who averages about 12.0 ppg and has a decent 3-point percentage at 35.8%. Overall, it looks like Creighton has a lot of pieces (shooters) that can make them one of the best offenses in the league and definitely give Villanova a run for its money in the race to see who wins the Big East.
- Kansas– Like every other season, Kansas has once again formed a team that is more than likely going to be one of the best teams in the league this year. Even though they lost a talented guard in Devon Dotson to the NBA and a dependable big in Azubuike to graduation. This Jayhawks squad still has some key pieces that can be formed to make a viable tournament team. One of those key pieces is none other than Marcus Garrett, who was regarded as one of the best defensive players in college basketball last year, even Coach Bill Self himself regarded Garrett as the best defensive player he’s ever had at Kansas. Needless to say, if he can improve his offense to be at a high level as well, Garrett will definitely be a phenomenal asset to this Jayhawks squad. The next key part to this team is freshman combo guard Bryce Thompson, he still needs some work, but luckily Kansas is one of the schools that knows how to lift players, especially guards, to their full potential. With the exit of Silvio De Sousa in Mid-October, a lot of the work on the frontcourt will be put on David McCormack, who is still trying to unlock his full potential. Luckily, Kansas is one of those teams that somehow always figures out how to work together and produce a decent season their fans can be proud of at some rate, so it would make sense to believe they will find some way to help take some of the pressure off of McCormack in terms of leading the frontcourt.
Dark Horse Teams:
Xavier– Ever since Mack left for Louisville, it has been a rough couple of seasons for Xavier fans that have ended in uninspiring records. However, it appears the tides might be changing as Steele finally has a team that is made up of a majority of his recruits. Therefore, he has a better mindset as to what lineups will work best for which players and what skills each player still needs help to unlock. As for the players to focus on, the first would be Paul Scruggs, a senior guard that has gotten even better after each season, for example increasing from 4.9 ppg in his freshman year to 12.7 ppg in his junior year. He is also known to be a great leader on and off the court, doing whatever he can to help and pump up his teammates. A second key player to focus on is KyKy Tandy, last year he showed that he has potential to become a consistent double figure scorer and also a decent three-point shooter. With not as much competition in the guard spot this year, KyKy should be able to obtain a bit more playing time and increase his skillset to become the kind of player that made him one of the most popular incoming players last year. Overall, this Xavier team has plenty of potential and it appears that Xavier fans could be seeing the tournament success that they saw in years past.
Michigan– One of the main highlights for the Wolverines this year is their 15th ranked freshman class, the best in the conference. This year’s team is focused around center Hunter Dickinson who many experts believe to be a top-15 first-year player this season. The Wolverines have a senior forward that is hungry to finally have a healthy season, so look for him to try and do anything he can to help the team have a successful season. Then there is Franz Wagner, Wake forest transfer-Chaundee Brown and another senior named Eli Brooks. Three players who are confident and are also projected to possibly have career high seasons. Overall, Michigan is one of those teams that has the pieces to make a great team, thus they do have the potential to be a tournament team that could make some noise in March.