*DISCLAIMER* WITH THE NEWS SURROUNDING OLIVIER SARR & JACOB TOPPIN, KENTUCKY WOULD BE MUCH HIGHER IN MY RANKINGS NOW. THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON OCTOBER 18TH
Ten teams down, fifteen to go. We saw a few big conference teams make it into the top 20 and that will continue today as we look at teams 15 through 11. Four teams come from either the ACC or the Big Ten, two of the premier conferences in college basketball. But we also have an AAC representative as well. These are the teams that should be around your two to four seeds come NCAA tournament time, depending on how conference play goes. That also means these may even be teams with a chance of winning it all in March, so let's dive in and take a look at who the 15th ranked team is.
15. Florida State (Last Year 26-5)
Gone: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, Dominik Olejniczak
Coming Back: M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Raiquan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Nathanael Jack
New Faces: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun
Projected Starters: Anthony Polite, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Raiquan Gray, Balsa Koprivica
Any team that loses a player the caliber of Devin Vassell will take a step back. But it is a very small step, as being in the top 15 in the country is still phenomenal for this program. Leonard Hamilton is truly one of the most underappreciated coaches in college basketball, mostly due to his system. He may not have brought in many recruits, but landing Scottie Barnes, the top ranked power forward in the 2020 class, is huge for this team. He will instantly start and have an impact but maybe not as much as one might think. Hamilton likes to go eight or nine guys deep and we could see that once again despite the team losing four players from last year. Florida State will be tough to beat every single night and is the type of team to watch closely come March. Depth, talent and good coaching is what wins NCAA titles.
14. Michigan State (Last Year 22-9 )
Gone: Cassius Winston (possibly Josh Langford)
COMING BACK: Rocket Watts, Aaren Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham, Julius Marble, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
New Faces Joey Hauser, Mady Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
Projected Staters: Rocket Watts, Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, Marcus Bingham
Cassius Winston's leadership will certainly be missed by Tom Izzo's team this year. But they have a suitable replacement in sophomore, Rocket Watts, who showed a ton of potential last year and will replace Winston at the point guard position. One freshman to watch this year is Mady Sissoko, the 7th ranked freshman center in the country. He will not start for this team but could see some significant minutes by the time Big Ten play hits. With so many veterans coming back and a great coach, this is another team I would watch out for come March. They will be in the top three in the Big Ten and could win the title if they pick up some big conference wins.
13. North Carolina (Last Year 14-19)
Gone:: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis
Coming Back: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
New Faces: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
Projected Starters: Caleb Love, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks
Last year was one of the worst in program history for the Tar Heels. They had some injuries that hurt them big time and if it were not for Cole Anthony this team may not have even hit double-digit wins. But with a new year comes a new freshman class, and this is a great one for North Carolina. They have five freshmen in the top 60, including three in the top 20. Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks will both start for Roy William's squad, providing some returning leadership to this young crop of talent. Brooks will be in consideration for ACC Player of the Year, and the Tar Heels will bounce back in a big way. Will they be the best team in the state? That remains to be seen. However, they will certainly not be embarrassed like they were a season ago.
12.Houston (Last Year 23-8 )
Gone: Nate Hinton, Chris Harris
Coming Back: Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, DeJon Jarreau, Fabian White, Justin Forham, Brison Gresham, Cedrick Alley
New Faces: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
Projected Starters: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes, Brison Gresham
It is not often that an AAC team starts out the year so highly touted but this Houston team is a legitimate contender. Kelvan Sampson is not one of the big names in college basketball's coaching circle but that could change this season. Nate Hinton, their 3rd leading scorer from a year ago, is gone but has been replaced with a good recruiting class. Traman Mark, the 72nd ranked freshman, is the biggest name they added, but he will not even start for the Cougars. When you have battle tested players and a weaker conference, it is a recipe for success. And Houston certainly has that heading into the season. Keep an eye out when they take on Alabama in December, as that could be a good barometer for how good this team really is.
11. Illinois (Last Year 21-10)
Gone: Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin
Coming Back: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Da’Monte Williams, Trent Frazier
New Faces: Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, Coleman Hawkins, Brandon Lieb
Projected Starters: Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Da’Monte Williams, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn
Eleven may seem low for an Illinois team that finished fourth in the Big Ten last year, but there are some question marks heading into this season for Illinois. The Fighting Illini lost two of their five leading scorers from last year, so they will need to replace them with some freshman talent. Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo could be those pieces. However, we will have to see how they fit first. Neither will start out of the gate, but that could change if they provide valuable minutes off the bench. The one guarantee is that conference play will be brutal for Illinois, as every game could change the Big Ten standings. I like Illinois to finish top four once again and perhaps even at the top if some breaks go their way.
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