Top Ten Teams You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 18th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

If you missed last week’s article on the ten players you don’t know yet (but soon will), check it out here.

Alabama: Outside of Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis at Kentucky, Alabama has the top frontcourt duo in the SEC with JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. The dynamic tandem can rebound on both ends, block shots, defend opposing forwards and score efficiently. They’re joined by a budding star at the point in sophomore Trevor Releford, giving Anthony Grant a foundation to build on a NIT runner-up finish and potentially claim the SEC West crown and a Top 25 ranking. One area of concern: three-point shooting, where the Tide sunk just 29.8% of their attempts in 2010-11, 15th worst in the nation. Grant is hoping that his two outstanding guard prospects – freshmen Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph – can reverse that glaring flaw.

Grant and Green have the Tide on the upswing

Virginia: Tony Bennett’s hire was a coup for a Cavaliers program coming off a 10-win season under former coach Dave Leitao. Most expected a three- or four-year rebuilding process before Virginia was back contending in the upper portion of the ACC. True to prediction, Bennett has a unit in year three that could sneak up in the conference and possibly give favorites North Carolina, Duke and Florida State trouble. The big key for Virginia will be staying healthy. Key cogs Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski both suffered through injury plagued campaigns in 2010-11, forcing a medical redshirt for Scott and a return for a fifth season. With the exception of Mustapha Farrakhan, Scott is joined by last year’s core and three promising freshmen.  Bennett’s teams finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency all three seasons he coached at Washington State, so it’s only a matter of time until that type of effort translates to Charlottesville.

California: Arizona returns a handful of contributors from their Elite Eight squad, UCLA boasts a loaded frontcourt and Washington brings in a stud point guard, but California is my pick to win the Pac-12. The major reasons: Allen Crabbe, who scored 17+ in ten of Cal’s 18 conference games as a freshman, and Jorge Gutierrez, a rugged leader and defender who’s improved his offensive game dramatically. Harper Kamp is an under-appreciated and efficient fifth year senior in the post, while Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs could be an improvement at point guard. If Cal improves their defense, they’ll steal a wide open Pac-12.

Iowa State: This prediction could backfire horrendously, but I think Fred Hoiberg’s mad experiment in Ames is going to pay off. Hoiberg has assembled an enviable amount of talent in short order by taking on troubled transfers, hoping that a new environment and a second chance will expose their on-court talent rather than their excess baggage. If his head is on straight, Royce White could have the biggest impact as an aggressive, physical forward  that can score inside and out. Chris Allen also returns after a year-long hiatus and should provide another outside shooting weapon alongside marksman Scott Christopherson. The Big 12 doesn’t have an elite squad this season with Kansas down and Texas so young. If these individual pieces mesh into a cohesive unit on and off the floor, Hoiberg’s team will climb up the standings in a hurry.

Marshall: The team from Conference USA that’s going to give Memphis headaches this season? Behind play-making guard DeAndre Kane, who shot 50% from the floor as a 6’4” shooting guard, and senior Damier Pitts, the best pure passer in the conference, Marshall is the answer. Former Louisville commit Justin Coleman is also eligible as a J.R. Smith-type shooter and finisher. Marshall finished in the top 20 in the nation in both offensive rebounding and free throw rate last season, a result of coach Tom Herrion’s aggressive mentality. This team is ultra-dangerous and could make Conference USA a two-bid league for the third straight season.

Harvard: The Crimson were a few seconds from reaching the program’s first NCAA Tournament since World War II before rival Princeton crushed their dreams in that thrilling one-game playoff, surely providing enough motivation to spend an extra hour in the weight room or shoot an additional 100 jumpers this past summer. Harvard is poised to avenge that disappointment behind Wooden Award nominee Keith Wright, one of the best all-around forwards the mid-majors ranks has to offer this season, and guards Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry. The Crimson return their entire roster from a team that shot 38% from three, 53% from two and 80% from the line a season ago.

Drexel: If the Dragons can find some offense to match their superb defense, Bruiser Flint may have a tournament team on his hands. Drexel was outstanding defensively last season, leading the nation in three-point defense and the CAA in overall defense. On the flip side, they finished in the nation’s bottom 60 in effective FG% and three-point shooting. The good news: the same robust defenders that stunned Louisville on the road last season are back. Now they need talented guards like Chris Fouch and Derrick Thomas to step up their shooting efficiency alongside wing Sammie Givens, who’s a constant double-double threat given his outstanding rebounding ability.

Iona: Two reasons to love Iona’s chances this season: Michael Glover and Scott Machado. The former is the best player in the MAAC, a 6’7” forward from the Bronx that averaged a double-double (18.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG) on an absurd 61% FG. The latter is the best point passer in the league, finishing third in the nation in assists per game, plenty of those ending up in the hands of Glover. When you have the best big man and best point guard in an entire conference, that’s a pretty solid foundation to outlast a formidable Fairfield team and play the role of this year’s Morehead State.

Creighton: The Bluejays have an inside-outside duo that’s quite lethal in their own right with Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique manning the post and senior point guard Antoine Young dishing out the assists. Echenique played like a Big East recruit in the Valley once he became eligible and most observers believe he’s oozing with untapped potential, while Young finished second in the league in assist rate and should only improve as a senior. But the biggest revelation for Creighton a season ago was the play of coach’s son Doug McDermott, a face-up hybrid forward who sunk 57% of his two’s and 41% of his threes during a sterling debut campaign. McDermott gained valuable experience on the international stage over the summer that should pay immediate dividends.

New Mexico: There may be an early transition period post-Dairese Gary, who meant so much to the program during his four years in Albuquerque. The Lobos were also maddeningly inconsistent a season ago, getting swept by a moribund Utah program before turning around and taking two from BYU. If those two issues can be addressed by the time January rolls around, New Mexico is the favorite to claim the Mountain West title and win a few games in March. Kendall Williams is an all-league candidate who is equally adept passing or shooting, and there sufficient depth with the likes of Alex Kirk, A.J. Hardeman, Tony Snell, Phil McDonald and Jamal Fenton. The best option is Drew Gordon down low in the post. Playing under a more agreeable system to his style than at UCLA, Gordon will be a household name by the end of the season.

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3 responses to “Top Ten Teams You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)”

  1. WakeFan says:

    A lot of people are going to be surprised by Virginia.

  2. Mac says:

    Alabama is the NIT Champion??? I don’t think Wichita State would be too happy to hear that they’ve been strippers of their crown!

  3. Mac says:

    **stripped…dang auto correct!

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