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Barstool’s College Basketball Top-25 Rankings: Teams 15-19

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It’s officially October, which means we’re in basketball season. You can take your Hocus Pocus. Take your pumpkin beer. Take your flannel and Halloween. I’ll take basketball starting.

So with all that said, we’re going to do the top-25 a little different this year. I want to break up the teams to focus a little bit more on what to expect with each team – think of what Luke Winn did with his power rankings. The blogs will be broken up in teams of 5 and then we’ll focus on the top-10 or so on an individual level and go a little more in depth. As I mentioned in other blogs we’ll be doing conference previews and a betting guide and more season previews so everyone is ready to go here in a few weeks. 

25. Oregon

24. Baylor

23. Northwestern

22. St. Mary’s

21. Gonzaga

20. Notre Dame

19. Alabama Crimson Tide

Key Players: Collin Sexton, Braxton Key, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Daniel Giddens

I’ll be honest with you. I can’t wait to watch Collin Sexton at this level. He’s easily one of my favorite players in the country this year and I have him as the 8th best prospect heading into the 2018 NBA Draft. The dude is a five-star recruit, who can handle the ball and do just a little bit of everything, but can really score the ball. He led the Nike EYBL with a 31.6 points per game average, which is just an insane number. What I do like about this team though, besides Sexton, is the way the pieces fit along with the depth. You have two quality ball handlers in Sexton and Avery Johnson Jr. You have experience with guys like Riley Norris. You have depth and versatility with Giddens, Ingram and Key. More importantly what you have is a team that already knows how to defend and now gets help on the scoring side. The Tide ranked 10th in the country last year in DRtg and gave up just .823 points per possession, which was good for the 96th percentile nationally. That’s still going to be there this year as it’s a staple of Avery Johnson coached teams. I full expect to see a little change in Johnson’s system though. Last year Alabama ranked 301st in tempo, you can’t do that with Sexton on the floor. He’s better when the game is uptempo and he’s getting up and down the court. With multiple ball-handlers out there now, look for Johnson to pick up the speed and the Tide to finish closer to 150th or so in tempo. Usually I’ll go with some sort of play or defensive look here, instead we’re just going to watch a Collin Sexton mixtape:

18. Cincinnati Bearcats

Key Players: Cane Broome, Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans, Jarron Cumberland, Gary Clark

The Bearcats are one of the more intriguing teams in the country to me. They have the unfortunate luck of playing in the American Conference – something we’ve seen hurt teams like UC and SMU come NCAA Tournament time. However, this is an incredibly talented team and similar to Alabama I really like how the pieces fit and the balance across the board. They don’t have to necessarily rely on just one person to score in order for them to be successful this year. The question I have though is exactly how does Cane Broome fit within the style of Cincinnati. He was an incredible scorer while at Sacred Hart, but at Cincinnati he’ll be playing in a slower pace, with better talent around him and doesn’t have to necessarily look for his shot. Now, all reports that I’ve heard from people I trust say that he’s doing just fine over the redshirt year and getting ready for this year, but you never know 100% until the season tips. If he can fill the void left by Troy Caupain – who was the type of PG that fit this style really well, this is a team that should easily make the Sweet 16. They need to continue to take care of the ball – they led the nation in not giving up steals last year, which is an incredibly important stat. You hear ‘points off turnovers’ but what that doesn’t do is break down whether it was a live turnover or not. Outside of Broome, I’m really anxious to see the jump that both Evans and Cumberland make this year as they take on a bigger role. Evans was the leading scorer last year at 13.5 per game and I expect him to be that way again this year. He was used mostly in spot up shooting last year as he scored 1.159 points per possession on 164 shots. I’d like to see him improve his PnR game, but if Broome is able to drive and kick, Evans will have plenty of open looks. I like this little play design to get Evans open, starting with him as a screener.

17. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Players: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams

This is going to be an absolutely different looking UNC team than what we’re used to seeing here. Under Roy Williams, UNC has had two important things. The first is a point guard who knows how and when to push the tempo with Williams’ fastbreak and when to go into the secondary break. He has that in Joel Berry, one of the 10 best point guards in the country. The other staple for Roy Williams has been depth at the post position with bigs who can crash the offensive glass. He’s had one team since 2002 rank outside of the top-27 in offensive rebounding percentage. He doesn’t have that this year. When Tony Bradley became a one-and-done that prototypical big that UNC always has left for this season. They have to embrace small ball, which means uptempo, looking to attack from the 3-point line and running a space and pace type offense that we see Notre Dame runs. UNC will have plenty of wings to go around, which makes them an interesting team to watch. They have guys like Cam Johnson and Theo Pinson who can play the four in the small ball era. The question is does Williams adjust and play to that strength or try and play Brandon Huffman too many minutes because of his size? Regardless, Joel Berry needs to have an extremely high usage rate. He was an excellent spot up shooter last year and just average in transition according to Synergy. He needs to be better in transition this year, but the one place that he can thrive in is pick-and-roll as he scored .845 points per possession on those sets last year. If UNC is going small the PnR can become a different look as you really have to overplay or overhelp on the pick and pop. Here’s a good example of what I expect to see a lot from UNC this year. Berry pushing the tempo, using a rub screen to come off of while in the secondary break and finding an open jumper.

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16. UCLA Bruins

Key Players: Aaron Holiday, Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, Thomas Welsh

Similar to UNC, it’s unfair to look at what UCLA did last year as some sort of guide for this year’s team. That’s what happens when you lose Lonzo Ball and pieces like TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Ike Anigbogu. Luckily for UCLA they still have some really nice pieces to follow up last year’s season. They return a guy in Aaron Holiday, who should make a jump to All-Pac-12 along with Thomas Welsh who just seems to be a model of consistency. Throw in two elite recruits in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes along with the return of Prince Ali from injury and that’s enough to compete for a top-3 spot in the Pac-12. This team will have nice spacing again like we saw last year due to Welsh’s ability to step out and hit that 15-footer. If Wilkes can be more consistent shooting the ball, that leaves the lane open for Holiday and Hands, both of whom are excellent drivers. I do want to focus on Holiday for a second though. What I do like about Holiday is his ability to adapt to his role on the team. He can score when he has to, averaging 10 as a freshman and 12 last year as a sophomore, but he was also in the top-10 in the Pac-12 both years in assist rate. He’s an excellent spot up shooting, a career 41% from the 3-point line, but can also beat you in ISO sets and in transition. The thing I noticed about Holiday though in going back and watching some film of him, is that he’s excellent in attacking when he’s off the ball and coming off a screen. He sets up his man well to run off of screens and looks to attack right away. With Hands being able to run point this year, we could see a lot more of Holiday running off of a Welsh screen to initiate the offense.

15. West Virginia Mountaineers

Key Players: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Lamont West

I’ll be honest. This is a team that would be 3-4 spots higher if Esa Ahmad wasn’t suspended for the first half of the season. Jevon Carter is an All-American and will be one of the two picks for Big 12 Player of the Year and we all know what West Virginia will do defensively. However, they still need someone like Ahmad to help them in the half court sets on offense. Ahmad has NBA talent and this was supposed to be his breakout year after being second in the team in scoring last year. There’s also a lack of experienced depth at his spot. The Mountaineers now have to rely on Maciej Bender and Sagaba Konate to fill in while Ahmad is out. To me though, more importantly, is the consistency of Carter on the offensive side of the ball. That’s what made him, and WVU, so good last year. We know he’s going to be one of the best defenders in college basketball. But, it’s when he’s shooting 39% from the 3-point line and being able to bail WVU out that makes Carter an All-American candidate. I fully expect Carter to be that sort of offensive player yet again this year. Whatever you do, don’t let Carter or West Virginia out in transition.

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