O26 Never-Too-Early Top Five (and More)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 15th, 2015

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Okay, so that may seem a bit far off, but it’s never too early to gin up a little excitement for the sport we love. Let’s examine a few O26 teams that are sure to make some noise in 2015-16.

Top Five

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Photo : Getty Images Sport)

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Getty Images Sport)

  1. Wichita State. Fred VanVleet is back. Ron Baker is back. As is Gregg Marshall, much wealthier after a sizable pay raise. With one of the country’s top backcourts and most sought-after coaches rejoining the fold, it almost goes without saying that Wichita State – on the heels of three-straight program-defining seasons – should be very good again next season. Of course, the Shockers will have to adjust to life without guard Tekele Cotton (9.8 PPG) and big man Darius Carter (11.4 PPG), but the late-season development of Evan Wessel (12 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament) along with forward Shaq Morris (4.7 PPG) should help mitigate those departures. So too should the addition of Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and a solid recruiting class. Expect another year of big things from Wichita State next season.
  2. Gonzaga. Gone are WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, guard Gary Bell Jr. and wing Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG). Still, barring an early leap to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 PPG) are each returning for what should be one of the top frontcourts in America. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, both former prized recruits, bring plenty of talent (if youth) to the backcourt, where senior Kyle Dranginis will likely help both guys blossom. Throw in very good depth – like 6’8” Angel Nunez, who was granted another year of eligibility – and you quickly see why the Bulldogs could be top-15-worthy next season. Oh, and did I mention that the Zags are in contention for Drexel transfer Damion Lee (21.4 PPG), the nation’s fifth-leading scorer?
  3. San Diego State. Okay, so Steve Fisher loses three of his top four scorers – Aqeel Quinn (10.7 PPG), J.J. O’Brien (10.3 PPG) and Dwayne Polee II (7.8 PPG) – along with sophomore guard Kevin Zabo, who announced on Monday that he is transferring. But top scorer and rebounder Winston Shepard returns (11. 1 PPG, 5.3 RPG), joining a talented young cast for what should be the Mountain West’s team to beat again in 2015-16. Small forward Malik Pope (5.1 PPG) improved so rapidly toward the end of season that he considered going pro, while sophomore guard Trey Kell, Arizona transfer Angelo Chol and rim-protector Skylar Spencer (2.5 BPG) have each shown flashes of immense talent during their tenures. Four-star recruit Jeremy Hemsley will also provide immediate, much-needed ball-handling. Expect a seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Aztecs.
  4. Dayton. Top-scorer Jordan Sibert (16.1 PPG) graduates, but the remainder of a roster that upset #6 seed Providence in March stays intact. That includes versatile forward Dyshawn Pierre (12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG), frontcourt-mate Kendall Pollard (12.7 PPG) and point guard Scoochie Smith (9.2 PPG, 3.8 APG). The further development of sophomore Darrell Davis and defensive maven Kyle Davis (1.5 SPG) should further bolster the backcourt, not to mention James Madison transfer Charles Cooke (14.3 PPG in 2013-14). Several three-star recruits and a general feeling of program continuity – head coach Archie Miller just signed an extension through 2022 – will keep Dayton’s momentum going strong into 2015-16.
  5. Rhode Island. With VCU likely to regress a bit next season, the Atlantic 10 might see the rise of a different kind of Rams in 2015-16. Rhode Island welcomes back the core of its roster, led by junior shooting guard E.C. Matthews (16.9 PPG) – a bona fide NBA prospect – and athletic shot-blocker Hassan Martin (7.7 RPG, 3.1 BPG). Talented guards Jared Terrell (9.2 PPG) and Jarvis Garrett should be even better as sophomores, while incoming transfers Four McGlynn (Towson) and Kuran Iverson (Memphis) will more than fill the void left by outgoing transfer Biggie Minnis. All signs point to Rhody’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.

Five More

After nearly toppling Maryland in March, Valpo should be even better next season. (Joe Raymond/Associated Press)

After nearly toppling Maryland in March, Valpo should be even better next season. (Joe Raymond/Associated Press)

  • Davidson. Taylor Kalinoski graduates (16.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.1 APG) – arguably Davidson’s best all-around player – but everyone else is back for a squad that ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency this season. That includes second-leading scorer Jack Gibbs (16.2 PPG, 4.8 APG), and 6’7” freshman stud Peyton Aldridge (9.4 PPG), who should be even better in year two. The simple fact is that Bob McKillop is a coaching wizard, and so long as he has a stable of pass-happy sharpshooters running his motion scheme, the Wildcats will be in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
  • Valparaiso. Losing conference defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez (2.9 BPG) will hurt, but nearly everyone else returns for this season’s Horizon League champions. Stretch-four Alec Peters (16.8 PPG) will likely enter 2015-16 as the preseason Player of the Year, while the Crusaders’ already-good backcourt – led by Darien Walker (10.7 PPG) and Tevonn Walker (10.3 PPG) – should be even better with the return of injured point guard Lexus Williams. To boot, Bryce Drew welcomes 7’0” freshman Derrik Smits, son of Indiana Pacers great Rik Smits, along with LSU transfer Shane Hammink (6’7”) and Portuguese import Daniel Relvao (6’9”).
  • Buffalo. Just because Bobby Hurley is gone doesn’t mean Buffalo won’t be very good next season. Not only is MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss (17.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG) back for his senior season, but the Bulls’ talented backcourt trio of Shannon Evans (15.4 PPG), Lamonte Bearden (4.4 APG) and Jarryn Skeete (9.1 PPG) all rejoin the fold as well. What’s more, the swift hiring of assistant Nate Oats means there’s a good chance the program holds onto Houston transfer Torian Graham – once a four-star recruit – and highly-coveted JuCo signee Maurice O’Field. With Central Michigan returning the vast majority of its roster, don’t be surprised if the Bulls and Chippewas end up squaring off in the MAC title game again next March.
  • Old Dominion. There are several Conference USA squads with good potential heading into 2015-16 – including NCAA Tournament darling UAB – but Old Dominion seems like the surest bet. First team all-conference point guard Trey Freeman returns after averaging 16.9 PPG this year, leading a deep, defensively stout group that should be hungrier than ever after narrowly missing the Dance. Graduating seniors Jonathan Arledge (8.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and Richard Ross (8.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG) will be missed, but promising stand-ins Javonte Douglas and Denzell Taylor – along with East Carolina transfer Brandan Stith – should complement the Monarchs’ productive backcourt nicely.
  • Iona. The absence of MAAC Player of the Year David Laury (19.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG) will make Iona less dynamic in the early-going, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Tim Cluess over the years, it’s that he will keep the offense rolling. Especially when you consider what he has at his disposal: A.J. English (20.1 PPG, 5.1 APG) and Shadrac Casimir (14.5 PPG) might be the two best scoring guards in the league, each capable of dropping 30-plus points on any given night. Their presence alongside sharpshooting forward Isaiah Williams (44% 3FG) and athletic wing Kelvin Amayo will put the Gaels in position to win 25 games for the third time since 2011.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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