Teams twenty-five through twenty-one have been discussed and it is time for part two. We had a couple of mid-conference contenders and the Big 12 represented in part one and now we are starting to get down to the elite teams. These are the teams that could be your four or five seeds come march madness, so these rankings matter. The teams on this ranking article could very-well win their respective conferences as well, but heading into the year they may have some question marks. So let us take a look at these teams and see if I am off my rocker or on point.
20. Rutgers (Last Year 20-11)
Gone: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
Coming Back: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
New Faces: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean, Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
Projected Starters: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson
Our first Big 10 team makes an appearance as this was the best conference in college basketball last year bar none. The Scarlet Knights surprised last year, finishing eighth in the Big Ten and looked to be heading to their first NCAA tournament since 1991 before COVID halted that run. So when you factor in last years record plus the fact that they are returning pretty much their entire team things look bright for Rutgers. The loss of Akwasi Yeboah is a tough one, as he was nearly a ten point scorer, but throw in number fifty-three prospect Cliff Omoruyi to the rotation and they should be fine. The Big Ten will be tough once again, but this team should find themselves in the mix come tournament time.
19. Michigan (Last Year 19-12)
Gone: Jon Teske, Zavier Simpson
Coming Back: Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez (wait and see on Caundee Brown)
New Faces: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith Terrance Williams, Jace Howard, Zeb Jackson
Projected Starters: Mike Smith, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson
The big question surrounding Michigan this year is who is going to be the guy that steps up to lead this team. Zavier Simpson led the team in scoring & Teske was third, but this team got scoring from a ton of different players. They keep double-digit scorers in Franz Wagner, Eli Brooks and Isaiah Livers, but what is most impressive is who they are adding. They added transfer Mike Smith from Columbia, who will likely start for this team. Then you throw in three of the top 100 recruits in the nation in Hunter Dickinson, Terrance Williams and Zeb Jackson and this team should be scary deep. I could see them winning the Big Ten title IF one of those players I names truly carries the scoring load at over 15 points per game.
18. Creighton (Last Year 24-7)
Gone: Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz
Coming Back: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson, Shereef Mitchell, Marcus Zegarowski
New Faces: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
Projected Starters: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop
People might be rather confused as to why I am so high on the Creighton Blue Jays. How do you lose a talent like Ty-Shon Alexander, plus two other games, and still remain relevant in the Big East? What keeps this team relevant was Marcus Zegarowski deciding to return, who was Big East All-Second Team last season. He averaged over 16 points per game, plus they kept Denzel Mahoney and Mitchell Ballock, both double digit scorers in their own right. If they can get some production from four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner then watch out for Creigton in the Big East.
17. Kentucky (Last Year 25-6)
Gone: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang, E.J. Montgomery
Coming Back: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
New Faces: B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Davion Mintz
Projected Starters: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson
There is a lot of turnover for Kentucky, which is nothing new in this one and done era. Kentucky ran through their guards last year and this year will be a little different. Coach Calipari will have to find a way to have B.J. Boston and Terrence Clarke, both listed at small forward, to co-exist on the floor together. It may be simple enough to have one play at shooting guard, but only time will tell. Keion Brooks will be the lone non-freshman to start on this team and his leadership will be needed in the SEC. Kentucky should be just behind Tennessee in the conference and could even upset them to take the crown. Do not be surprised if they start slow and then turn it on in February and March.
16.West Virginia (Last Year 21-10)
Gone: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
Coming Back: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Emmitt Matthews, Miles McBride, Gabe Osabuohien, Sean McNeil, Jalen Bridges
New Faces: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson, Jalen Bridges
Projected Starters: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe
This guy is a huge Bob Huggins fan and I see his team having a great year. West Virginia lost their fourth leading scorer in Jermaine Haley, but they should replace that production with at least one of their freshmen coming in. The biggest name in this class is center Isaiah Cottrel, who won't start but could play a big role for them. The Big 12 is tough this year, but West Virginia should be one of at least five teams to make the NCAA tournament from this conference. I like Oscar Tshiebwe to lead this team and likely be on Big 12 All-First Team as well. I truly believe this team has the best coach in the conference so I like them to make some noise in March as well.
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