Top 50 College Basketball Teams

There have already been a lot of upsets in conference play, but I’ve seen enough to make my judgments on the best teams in the country. This isn’t based solely on who’s been hot or who has struggled so far, rather on who I think are overall the top 50 teams in college basketball for the remainder of the season.

 

  1. Michigan State (15-1)

This was my preseason number one and I’m sticking with it. The Spartans are of the few teams in the country that excel at both ends of the floor. Tom Izzo may have never had a team as deep as this one, led by a selfless superstar in Miles Bridges (16.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.0 apg). The returning core of Nick Ward (15.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Cassius Winston (12.9 ppg, 7.2 apg, 55% 3PT), and Josh Langford (13.7 ppg) have all been showing improvement from a year ago. Likely lottery pick Jaren Jackson is blocking 3.2 shots a game while making 43% of his threes. The bench brings energy, shooting, and mainly defensive strength. Michigan State is the best there is this year.

 

  1. Villanova (13-1)

There is a level of trust I feel when I watch Villanova. I think a big part of that is potential POY Jalen Brunson (18.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 49% 3PT), who is a calming presence yet a killer at the same time. Then there’s Mikal Bridges (17.8 ppg, 2.1 spg, 46% 3PT) making his own All-American case. Donte DiVincenzo (12.4 ppg, 2.9 apg, 41% 3PT) would start most places but comes off the bench for the Wildcats. They limit their turnovers and all of their top five players shoot it well from deep, including 260 pound Omari Spellman (11.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 49% 3PT). This is a group of hard-nosed players that you shouldn’t bet against in most scenarios.

 

  1. Duke (13-1)

Duke starts five guys who would individually be the top scoring option on at least 90% of teams in the country. You look at super-forward Marvin Bagley (21.9 ppg, 11.6 rpg), Grayson Allen (17.4 ppg, 4.4 apg), Wendell Carter (13.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg), Gary Trent Jr. (13.0 ppg), and Trevon Duval (12.0 ppg, 6.6 apg) and it’s easy to see how gifted this team is offensively. A lack of rim protection and defensive focus is going to rear its ugly head in ACC play. Once the young team starts playing both ways, watch out.

 

  1. Arizona (11-3)

This is where you have to look past record. The Wildcats lost a string of games in a week and fell from the rankings. But now they have their all-around wing Rawle Alkins (15.5 ppg) back. Arizona is easily one of the most talented teams in America, with two potential All-Americans in Allonzo Trier (20.3 ppg) and DeAndre Ayton (20.0 ppg, 12.1 rpg). They still have a collection of freshmen just getting their feet wet too. Point guard play will be important down the line, but the conference play will sort that out.

 

  1. Wichita State (12-2)

Some teams are good on defense and others are suffocating. Wichita State is the latter, making a concerted effort to frustrate opponents. They could go 10 deep, with potential All-American Landry Shamet (17.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) running the show while guys like Shaq Morris, Darral Willis, and Conner Frankamp bring valuable tournament experience. To add icing on the cake, Markis McDuffie, arguably their best all-around player, is working his way back into game shape.

 

  1. Xavier (15-1)

Similar story for Xavier this year: Trevon Bluiett (19.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and J.P. Macura (13.3 ppg, 3.1 apg) leading a high-powered offense. The Muskies compete on the glass and have exceptional positional size. Their efficiency on offense really comes from guys knowing their strengths and playing to them. The Big East will test them, but it will be good for them in the long term.

 

  1. Oklahoma (12-1)

Trae Young (29.4 ppg, 10.6 apg, 40% 3PT) is a college mixture of Steph Curry and Steve Nash. He’s that good shooting the ball and making precise plays with the ball. But he’s far from a one-man show. Brady Manek (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 43% 3PT) is one of the most slept on freshmen in America, with a smooth jumper at 6-foot-9. Christian James (13.0 ppg, 42% 3PT) and Kam McGusty (9.9 ppg) can fill it up as well. When you lead the nation in scoring (95.6 ppg) and have a superstar with a strong supporting cast, you can go far.

 

  1. North Carolina (12-3)

Similar to some other top-ranked teams, the Tar Heels haven’t had the best Christmas break. But this team is structured for the end of the season, with a lot of new faces and new roles. Joel Berry (17.9 ppg, 3.0 apg) is the All-American that has been as advertised but it’s Luke Maye (18.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg) that has put the country on notice. Now they need someone to emerge as the complementary scorer for the big games, and I suspect Pitt transfer Cam Johnson (10.5 ppg) can fill that role. Freshmen Jalek Felton, Garrison Brooks, and Sterling Manley will be playing their best basketball later in the year.

 

  1. West Virginia (13-1)

Press Virginia has a similar roster to last year, but this one has more offensive options. The best ballhawk in America Jevon Carter is averaging 16.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists to go with a nation-leading 3.7 steals a game. He has been consistently supported by Daxter Miles (14.3 ppg) and Lamonte West (12.6 ppg). The good news is that starting forward Esa Ahmad is coming back to provide that defensive chaos and offensive versatility. Nobody wants to play this Mountaineers team.

 

  1. Kansas (11-3)

If the roster stays the way it is right now, Kansas might not make it past the first weekend. Their lack of paint presence is that dire. Devonte’ Graham (17.5 ppg, 7.5 apg) is tough as nails and Svi Mykhailiuk (16.2) and Lagerald Vick (16.3) have had their moments. But Udoka Azubuike (15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) can’t do it by himself in the post. Either Billy Preston will need to be cleared or early enrollee Silvio De Sousa must grow up quickly. Best case scenario for the Jayhawks, both occur and they’re a sure-fire top 5 team.

 

  1. Texas A&M (11-3)

Currently going through a rough patch, the Aggies should be back on the right track soon. They need everyone at full strength on the floor, which means likely lottery pick Robert Williams (10.0 rpg), sniper D.J. Hogg (14.6 ppg) and big man Tyler Davis (13.8 ppg) are all playing big minutes together. Once Admon Gilder returns, there will be a big ripple in the SEC. The Aggies have Final Four upside.

 

  1. Kentucky (12-2)

This team may be Coach Cal’s youngest and they have played like it at times, especially on defense. But when you got long, athletic, future first round picks in Kevin Knox (14.6 ppg) and Hamidou Diallo (14.4 ppg), there is hope. The freshman who has led by example and ignited this team has been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (12.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.3 spg). If his infectious effort rubs off on his teammates, the Wildcats can do some nice things. But a lack of strength down low is going to make it tough to win the SEC.

 

  1. Purdue (14-2)

Purdue’s top five could keep it close with most teams in the country. Part of the reason is because they have a fearless sophomore in Carsen Edwards (17.4 ppg, 2.7 apg) who brings the intensity every night. It seems like Vince Edwards (13.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) is comfortable as that stretch four and Dakota Mathias (13.4 ppg) is still a steady 3-and-D player. The 7-foot-2 duo of Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms is solid but they will need one of their bench guards to take off. I’d suspect Nojel Eastern makes that big jump soon.

 

  1. Virginia (13-1)

Don’t mention Virginia basketball if you don’t talk about defense. They lost a lot and yet, they are still top in the nation in points allowed. There are some understandable worries about consistent scoring, but Kyle Guy (15.5 ppg) is the type of personality that will thrive under pressure. Plus, it’s not like Devon Hall (11.6 ppg, 2.9 apg) and Ty Jerome (9.9 ppg, 2.7 apg) are chop liver. They can put the clamps on anyone, so staying patient on offense could be the key to success.

 

  1. Texas Tech (13-1)

You cannot underestimate the value of upperclassmen on a team. Once a struggling group looking to the future, Keenan Evans and company are among the Big-12 elite and it’s no fluke. Evans (16.5 ppg) is the perennial, seasoned shot maker leading the group. But it is their top-10 defense that is most admirable. With length and athleticism around the perimeter, Texas Tech keeps teams out of the paint and forces contested jumpers. That defense, and the anticipated development of freshmen scorers Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver in conference play should bode well for March.

 

  1. Cincinnati (12-2)

You really can’t expect anything else but tenacity out of the Bearcats. Being led by Jacob Evans (13.5 ppg), they are defensive-minded and opportunistic on offense. They move the ball effectively and often have five guys capable of knocking down a three on the floor. Cincy is one of the few locks in the American to be in the Big Dance this year.

 

  1. TCU (13-1)

It seems like whatever TCU does, they are overlooked on the national scale. Especially when you consider they have a complete player like Kenrich Williams (14.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.8 apg) who is one of the most consistent two-way players around. During the next few months, look for All-Big 12 player Vladimir Brodziansky (13.7 ppg) and Jaylen Fisher (11.3 ppg, 5.6 apg) to be even more aggressive.

 

  1. Notre Dame (12-3)

Losing All-American Bonzie Colson (21.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) for two months is going to hurt. But it gives their young bigs a chance to find themselves. The Irish still have a solid shooting team that is among the nation’s best in taking care of the ball. Matt Farrell (15.9 ppg, 5.1 apg), T.J. Gibbs (14.6 ppg, 2.9 apg), Rex Pflueger (9.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), and Martin Geben (8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) will need to be a little more aggressive. If freshman D.J. Harvey can make the most out of the larger role, he will be a huge scoring piece once Colson returns around tournament time.

 

  1. Arizona State (12-2)

I’m not bought in to the high ranking for the Sun Devils just yet. Tra Holder (22.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) is having an All-American season and has been terrific. Shannon Evans (16.6 ppg, 4.5 apg) is no slouch either, helping create the best backcourt in the Pac-12. The questions come with the youth of their frontcourt and suspect defense. It’s hard to compete late in the year without consistent play out of your bigs and a concerted effort to defend. Pac-12 play has already tested their depth.

 

  1. Miami (12-2)

Miami is a few jump shots away from being a really scary team. As of now, shooting deficiencies have limited them from capitalizing on their drive and kick game. That means Bruce Brown (10.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.2 apg), Ja’Quan Newton (9.9 ppg, 3.0 apg), and freshman Lonnie Walker (8.3 ppg) are going to need to step it up. Defensively they are stifling, so even if the shooting woes persist, their transition play will make them a tough out in March.

 

  1. Gonzaga (12-3)

This Zags team is a lot different than a year ago. With more youth, they spent a little bit of time finding who they were. The consensus seemed to be balanced. Mark Few’s team has six guys averaging double digits but none over 14 points a game. While Johnathan Williams (13.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Killian Tillie (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), and Josh Perkins (13.6 ppg, 5.4 apg) have the experience from a year ago, they have a group of impressive underclassmen in Corey Kispert, Zach Norvell, and Rui Hachimura. They have enough to reach the second weekend.

 

  1. SMU (12-3)

SMU is one of the best kept secrets in college basketball. The Mustangs are a team of big, versatile guards that are in a good place going into conference play. Their leader, Shake Milton, is thriving as a top option averaging 17.6 points while still posting 4.6 assists a game. They can do a lot on both ends and rank top in the top 10 nationally in both points allowed and three-point percentage. If they stay healthy, there is a lot to look forward to for SMU fans.

 

  1. Florida State (12-2)

There was every reason for Florida State to fall off a cliff after losing who they had last year. Instead, Leonard Hamilton has his team playing more as a unit and with more fire. The Seminoles bring a score by committee effort to one of the top offenses in the ACC. Terrance Mann (14.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.3 apg) has taken over as the primary weapon for a team that can be solid against stiff competition.

 

  1. Seton Hall (13-2)

The improvement of Desi Rodriguez (18.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) has pushed Seton Hall to another level. The senior trio of Rodriguez, Angel Delgado (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.0 apg), Khadeen Carrington (14.1 ppg, 3.7 apg) is what every team in the Big East has to gameplan against. Myles Powell (14.7 ppg) could be the X-factor going into games where he isn’t the focus.

 

  1. Creighton (12-3)

Creighton is fourth in the nation in scoring, averaging a tick over 90 points a game. Sure, Marcus Foster (19.4 ppg) is the clear go-to scorer, but there are other guys that can get their own bucket. Freshmen Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander continue to validate the hype around campus and Khyri Thomas (14.9 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg) is proving that he is far more than a defensive specialist. Their front line is incredibly thin, making that guard efficiency paramount to the rest of their season.

 

  1. Texas (10-4)

This is the team that Shakka Smart expected when he came to Texas. Anchored by top-5 pick Mo Bamba (11.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.5 bpg) and Dylan Osetkowski (15.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), this team can control the game with their speed and length. When the energy is there, Texas can take teams completely out of their rhythm. Unfortunately, they haven’t been as consistent. Having a healthy Andrew Jones (13.5 ppg) should help with some reliable output.

 

  1. Arkansas (11-3)

The Razorbacks have been somewhat of a surprise team. We knew the backcourt of Jaylen Barford (18.7 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Daryl Macon (17.2 ppg, 3.9 apg) was dynamic, so their production is expected. The most impressive player has been top recruit Dan Gafford, who’s averaging 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks while showing a lot of potential in the process. The SEC is tough but these guys can handle it.

 

  1. Florida (10-4)

Outside of one really bad stretch, Florida has played like a borderline top-10 team. I don’t think they are that good, but they sure got some guys that make you want to tune in. Transfers Jalen Hudson (16.9 ppg) and Egor Koulechov (15.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) have cooled off a bit, but they can get points in a hurry. The motor though is their point guard Chris Chiozza (13.1 ppg, 5.8 apg), who is as fast as they come with the ball. Frontcourt depth is nonexistent, but their perimeter scoring is dangerous.

 

  1. Butler (12-4)

In LaVall Jordan’s first year as coach, the Bulldogs have established that grit that the program was known for. Bruiser Kelan Martin (19.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and relentless attacking guard Kamar Baldwin (15.4 ppg) are the clear representations of that mindset. Without overwhelming size, they have rebounded as a group, even their undersized guards. Martin and Baldwin have to start hitting outside shots to maximize this team’s potential.

 

  1. Auburn (13-1)

Athletically speaking, Auburn is near the top of the SEC. They have multiple guys that can get to the rim with ease, highlighted by their backcourt of Bryce Brown (15.9 ppg), Mustapha Herron (15.8 ppg), and Jared Harper (12.6 ppg, 5.4 apg). The post play is soft with Austin Wiley still under investigation, so I’m curious to see how this up-tempo, guard-oriented team plays against the size and strength of the SEC.

 

  1. Saint Mary’s (13-2)

When you have a player like Jock Landale (21.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg), your team always has a shot to win. The Gaels are their typical low-turnover, unselfish, three-point shooting selves. Maestro Emmett Naar (11.0 ppg, 9.5 apg) brings the brilliant point guard play that can give Saint Mary’s an answer to the eventual athleticism that they will face in March.

 

  1. Alabama (9-5)

In case you haven’t heard, Collin Sexton (20.4 ppg) is a bona fide stud. His will and ability to take over a game are enough to warrant double teams. He’s not alone though, as classmate John Petty (12.5 ppg) is one of the top shooters in the conference. Last year’s leading scorer Braxton Key is also just coming back from an injury, so there is still a lot of growth for the Tide.

 

  1. Baylor (10-4)

Don’t let the record fool you, Baylor has suffered losses to really good teams. The coaches in the Big 12 know how good Manu Lecomte (16.8 ppg) and Jo Acuil (16.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg) are and that’s why there shouldn’t be a lot of worry in Waco. Their top players all have experience and the early season competition will prove beneficial in the long-term.

 

  1. Louisville (11-3)

It has been nothing but outside noise for the Cardinals since last summer. A beat down from Kentucky was the low point. I see a team that is going to be on the upswing from here on out, with a lot of returners with ACC experience and freshmen like Malik Williams that are starting to find their comfort zone. The defense is still elite but the shooting has been horrendous. V.J. King (9.0 ppg) needs more looks and Deng Adel (15.1 ppg) has to find his stroke, both of which I expect to occur.

 

  1. Tennessee (9-4)

I don’t know if there are many teams in the country that play with the toughness that the Vols bring every night. As long as Grant Williams (15.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) keeps being that warrior in the paint and they continue to hit a high percentage from three, there is every reason to believe Rick Barnes will be back in the NCAA Tournament.

 

  1. Minnesota (13-3)

The suspension of Reggie Lynch is going to have an incredibly negative effect on the Gophers. Without that strong defensive anchor, the emergence of Jordan Murphy (19.0 ppg, 12.9 rpg) and playmaking of Nate Mason (15.6 ppg, 4.3 apg) will be that much more important. Thin swingman Amir Coffey (14.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg) will have to spend more time attacking the glass to make up for the loss.

 

  1. Clemson (13-1)

Clemson has been a perfect representation of the ACC’s depth. Currently, at 13-1, they are a middle of the pack team. They ride and die with their starting five, who have been excellent on the defensive end being aggressive on the perimeter and funneling into Elijah Thomas (2.5 bpg). Donte Grantham and Marquise Reed need to carry their non-conference shooting to the big games.

 

  1. Nevada (14-3)

Nevada is officially Transfer-U after this showing. Caleb Martin (19.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) has looked like a different player than he was at NC State. His brother Cody (13.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Purdue transfer Kendall Stephens (11.6 ppg, 46% 3PT) have been effective as well. They have been the perfect complements to All-MWC player Jordan Caroline (17.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg). The Wolfpack need to be circled on every bracket because they are that team that could push some blue bloods to the brink.

 

  1. Michigan (13-3)

This Michigan team can flat out guard this year. It starts with the energy from their captain big man Moe Wagner (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and trickles down. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews has been brilliant of late, averaging 16.0 points and 3.0 assists. Having young guards is always risky, so it’ll be interesting to see how far they can go with underclassmen running the show.

 

  1. UCLA (11-4)

Yesterday’s 2OT loss to Stanford was off-putting, to say the least. Still, a team so reliant on skilled underclassmen should get better with time. Lucky for them, they have a pitbull of a point guard in Aaron Holiday (19.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.7 spg) and a newly-made stretch five in Thomas Welsh (12.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 38% 3PT) to keep the Bruins upright. Expect freshman Kris Wilkes (13.4 ppg) and Jaylen Hands (11.9 ppg) to grow up quickly.

 

  1. Virginia Tech (11-4)

ACC play hasn’t treated the Hokies well, starting 0-2. They still have five double-digit scorers and the conference’s top sixth man in Chris Clarke. Buzz Williams’s squad is too good at moving the ball and hitting shots to not be a threat to any team they play.

 

  1. USC (10-5)

There may not have been a more disappointing team in November and December than USC. FBI investigations seem to be looming. I still see some hope, as they have all the pieces to emerge as a top-25 team by year’s end. Chimezie Metu (17.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Bennie Boatwright (16.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) are as versatile of a post duo as you’ll find and Jordan McLaughlin (12.5 ppg, 8.0 apg) is one of the most steady guards in the country. If they can show some life on defense, the Pac-12 better watch out.

 

  1. Rhode Island (10-3)

Rhode Island is an upperclassmen-driven group that played just got their best player, E.C. Matthews back 7 games ago. Jared Terrell (17.4 ppg) has been the workhorse to this point, but there are sixth other guys averaging at least 5 points a game. They have the guard play and depth to challenge anyone in the A10.

 

  1. Syracuse (12-3)

There is a reason why Jim Boeheim has been a coach for so long. He squeezes the most out of his talent and this year has been an example of more of the same. With their bench being about as shallow as a kiddie pool, Tyus Battle (19.4 ppg), Franklin Howard (15.8 ppg, 5.9 apg), and Oshae Brissett (15.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg) are all playing 37 minutes a game. Fatigue may catch up to them, but that legendary 2-3 zone is rangy, starting 6-4, 6-6, 6-8, 6-8, and 7-2 in the normal lineup.

 

  1. Mississippi State (13-1)

I don’t know how many people would have anticipated this kind of start for such a young, unproven team. The Weatherspoon brothers have been everything as advertised, with junior Quinndary averaging 14.8 points and freshman Nick averaging 11.5. The Bulldogs can get in the paint, but their shooting deficiencies (31% from three) will be an issue as the year goes on.

 

  1. Oregon (11-5)

This is definitely not the Final Four team from a year ago, but everyone knew that. Don’t write off Dana Altman’s squad just yet. They are still trying to integrate a lot of new faces to surround budding floor general Payton Pritchard (15.4 ppg, 4.3 apg, 44% 3PT). Freshman sensation Troy Brown (12.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.0 apg) is going to be the difference maker in the Pac-12 if he can hit his stride.

 

  1. Boise State (13-2)

The Broncos will go as far as Chandler Hutchison (17.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.6 apg) takes them. The senior swingman is surrounded by reliable knockdown shooters that love to get out and run. To be taken seriously by the committee, they will need to make a statement in Mountain West play.

 

  1. Ohio State (12-4)

Chris Holtmann has made a seamless transition in his first year with the Buckeyes. A large part of that has been the return to form of All-Big 10 candidate Keita Bates-Diop, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocks. They push pace well but it will be important in the second half for them to cut down on turnovers and keep their top guys out of foul trouble.

 

  1. New Mexico State (12-3)

A victory over then #6 Miami in December gave the Aggies some attention, but they’ve been playing that grind it out, tough style of play all year. Former SWAC Player of the Year Zach Lofton has been terrific, averaging a team-best 18.8 points in his grad transfer year. There will be plenty of teams looking to avoid them in March.

 

  1. Marquette (11-4)

The two-headed monster of Andrew Rowsey (22.0 ppg, 4.1 apg, 44% 3PT) and one of the nation’s purest shooters in Markus Howard (22.6 ppg, 2.5 apg, 40% 3PT) has helped keep the Golden Eagles in a lot of games thus far. Defense isn’t their strong suit but they are sixth in the country in threes. Howard, Rowsey, and do-it-all forward Sam Hauser (14.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.0 apg) are all making at least 3 triples a game at a 40% clip. Look for the young frontcourt players to grow and support this perimeter-oriented Marquette team.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s