The Forgotten 40: The Country’s Best College Basketball Teams that No One is Talking About

One of the regular features that we plan to run on BSB throughout this year’s college hoops season is a ranking of the best teams that no one is talking about.  We want to highlight some of the “other” teams in college basketball’s wide landscape.  So, we are going to try and rank the best teams in the country that have yet to receive a single vote in the AP Top 25 (aka…”not being talked about”).  We are going to start the season with a list of 40 teams, though as the season goes on and more polls come out, obviously fewer and fewer teams will be “eligible,” so we will probably cut it down as we move along, but, for now, we are debuting our list as a “Forgotten Forty.”

  1. Arkansas – The Razorbacks probably aren’t long for this list because I expect them to start getting noticed rather quickly.  Coach Anderson’s “40 Minutes of Hell, Jr.” style will be bolstered by the return of possible 1st-team All-SEC forward Marshon Powell, who missed all last year with an ACL tear.
  2. Alabama – Another overlooked SEC team is led by the outstanding coaching of Anthony Grant.  But, Grant’s got some players, too, as they return 4 starters and add 5-star recruit Devonta Pollard, who could be a standout freshman even in a conference that includes a team of Calipari recruits.
  3. BYU – With their level of program and coach, the Cougars will always be good. Noah Hartsock is gone, but do-it-all forward (get it?) Brandon Davies is back, as is UCLA transfer Matt Carlino.  They also add Tyler Haws, who averaged 11 ppg as a freshman starter in 2009-10, and is now back from his two-year Mormon mission for his sophomore season.
  4. Rutgers – Most of the Big East is ineligible for this list because, well, they get a decent amount of exposure.  But, this Rutgers team could be an actual sleeper in Big East.  I really like Mike Rice’s coaching style, and he returns 4 starters from a team that started to play pretty well down the stretch last year.
  5. Iowa State – I suspect that this team will be off this list rather soon, but it could go either way as to why.  Either it all comes together – like it did last year – and they are very, very good.  Or, it all fizzles, and they are lurking near the basement of the Big XII.  They lost 3 of their 5 starters, including first-round NBA pick, Royce White, but they added a couple potentially crucial pieces in Michigan State transfer Corey Lucious and Will Clyburn, a guard who averaged 17 points and 8 boards at Utah two years ago.
  6. Temple – Trust me, there will be plenty of discussion on BSB of our hometown, Temple Owls, but they are another team that lost a ton from last year, but found a way to replace it with experience, as they get Scootie Randall back from injury and they add key transfers Dalton Pepper (former top-50 high school player who didn’t work out at West Virginia) and Jake O’Brien (a 1000-point scorer in 3 years at BU).  Oh, and they do return a guy with 20-ppg potential in Khalif Wyatt.
  7. California – When you’ve got one of the game’s best coaches on the sideline – Mike Montgomery – and two of the game’s headiest guards on the floor – Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs – that’s a recipe for a lot of success, even if the overall talent level may fall short.
  8. South Florida – And, then there’s the team that won NCAA tournament games against each of the two teams ahead of them last year.  USF came out of nowhere last year, led by a tenacious defense with elite athletes, and a breakout season from a freshman point guard.  Well, Anthony Collins is now a sophomore, and the Bulls still have a stable of athletes to wreak havoc on the defensive end.
  9. South Dakota State – You have probably now heard of, and maybe even witnessed, the legend of Nate Wolters, but have you really examined his numbers?  He was 8th in the nation in scoring (21.2 ppg) AND 19th in the nation in assists (5.9 apg).  He was one single assist away from becoming only the fifth player in college basketball history to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.  Oh, and the Jackrabbits return three other starters from a tournament team a year ago, including sharpshooter Jordan Dykstra, who hit 52 of 110 three-point attempts last year.
  10. Bucknell – There is a lot of praise being heaped upon a Patriot League team this year, but it is not the team that returns 3 guys who already started in FIFTY of their team’s wins over the past two years.  That’s right, the Bison of Bucknell return 4 starters from last year’s 25-win team, 3 of whom were starters on the 25-win team two years ago.  But, none of them are named C.J. McCollum (the starting 2-guard beside Casper Ware on my all-time low-major team), so the Bison enter the Patriot League picked behind Lehigh, despite all their returning talent.
  11. Ole Miss – A list of underappreciated teams is one thing, but if we were to make a list of underappreciated coaches, Andy Kennedy would probably be at the very top.  Get this:  only 6 coaches in SEC history have five 20-win seasons in their first 6 years – and Andy Kennedy is one of them.  Yes, Andy Kennedy – the same guy who is rumored to be on the hot seat this year if he doesn’t make the tournament.  Do people forget that he has been doing this at one of the hardest jobs in the SEC to find success?  Well, this year, led by Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner, the Rebels should break through and get their well-deserving coach his chance to dance.
  12. Akron – Here is another piece of interesting trivia that you can use to wow friends at a bar:  what do Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Gonzaga, and Pitt all have in common?  They are the only five teams – besides the Akron Zips – to have won at least 22 games in each of the past 7 seasons.   That is right, the Zips have been that consistently good.  In fact, they have reached the MAC title game in an amazing six straight seasons.  And, this team might actually be the best they have had yet, as they return four starters, including ferocious shot-blocker Zeke Marshall, and the solid backcourt of Alex Abreu and Xavier-transfer, Brian Walsh.  If returning Sweet 16 team, Ohio, is the class of the MAC, it is not by much.
  13. Colorado – It is hard to imagine a program like Colorado graduating three starters from a second-round tournament team, returning no seniors this year, adding five freshmen…and getting better.  But, that might be the case this year, if everything goes as planned for the underrated head man of the Buffs, Tad Boyle.  It doesn’t hurt that the two returning starters are a junior superstar in Andre Roberson and a solid sophomore in Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as sophomore 6th-man Askia Booker.  But, as good as Roberson is (and he is really good), he will need at least one or two of the talented freshmen class to contribute immediately (most likely, Josh Scott – the #9 ranked high school center last year and highest ranked Colorado high schooler since a guy named Chauncey Billups.
  14. Illinois State – How soon we forget, but Illinois State was a basket away from upsetting Creighton in the Missouri Valley championship game (one night after upsetting Wichita State in the semis), before losing in OT.  It was so devastating for the Redbirds that they decided to hire the guy who hit the winning shot the last time they made the Dance – some 15 years ago – Dan Muller.  And, Muller’s got the talent to get them back, particularly potential first-team all-Valley forward Jackie Carmichael and lights-out shooter Tyler Brown.
  15. Belmont – Belmont decided to leave the Atlantic Sun – a conference which they have dominated for the better part of a decade now – for the bright lights of the…Ohio Valley?  First of all, it seems like a bit of a lateral move, with one key difference – there already is a hegemon in the OVC, and Isaiah Canaan is back to keep Murray on top.  While the move may hurt the Bruins chances to keep going back to the tournament, it is great for us hoops fans because two of the perennial best low-major teams now have to go through each other to go dancing.  And, don’t let the fact that Belmont lost three starters from last year’s team – they were very deep and very good and the next guys in line are ready to step right up.
  16. Northwestern – Is this finally the year?  While I would like to see it, part of me wants to keep the intrigue alive with Northwestern being the only Rich Six conference team to never make the tournament.  It is only made more entertaining by the fact that their sports journalism school is one of the two best in the nation, so so many sportswriters can lament the failures of Coach Carmody and company.  John Shurna is gone, but the rest of the team, led by Drew Crawford, comes back in tact to make another run at history.
  17. Iowa – There was never a doubt in my mind that the great Philly mind of Fran McCaffery would bring Iowa back to relevance in the Big Ten, but even I didn’t think it would be this quickly.  Still with a very young team, McCaffery has a real shot to make noise in an absolutely loaded conference – maybe even loud enough to be heard by the Selection Committee in March.
  18. Georgia – This is more of a speculative ranking, with the respect given to Mark Fox and his rather highly-touted recruiting class to add to uber-talented sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.  Fox has constructed a team full of guys who racked up a TON of wins in high school, so we will see if that translates to the collegiate game.
  19. Massachusetts – If you like uptempo, baseline-to-baseline basketball, UMass might be the team for you.  They like to run, run, and run some more, and they ran their way to 25 wins last year.  And, the most exciting of all is lightning-quick point guard Chaz Williams, who – in true Shawntae Rodgers fashion – somehow managed 4 rebounds per game last year, despite being listed at a generous 5’9″.
  20. Connecticut – The talent on this year’s Huskies roster – complete with a new guy on the sidelines – barely even resembles the talent level of the recent UConn teams under Coach Calhoun.  But, they do still have a potentially elite backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who will be bolstered on the wing by Neils Giffey and in the pivot by Tyler Olander.  The problem is that there isn’t much else to work with for first-year coach Kevin Ollie.  But, if anyone can overcome the odds, it’s Ollie, who played 13 years in the NBA and signed 13 one-year contracts.
  21. Oklahoma – It is time for Lon Kruger to make his mark on this OU program.  He used last year to establish his way in Norman, and now he has everyone back and is ready to take the next step.  He also brought in two talented transfers and a solid five-man freshman class.  Kruger is doing what he does best – cleaning up messes in no time flat.
  22. Middle Tennessee State – The Blue Raiders did lose Sun Belt Player of the Year LeRon Dendy (who is now in the D-League as property of the Wizards), but they return everyone else from a 27-win team.  If they can find a way to replace what Dendy gave them, this team could be really good yet again.
  23. Long Island – And, here it is.  I gave you Davidson before anyone had ever heard of Steph Curry.  The next year I gave you Long Beach State when Ware, Anderson, and Robinson were just sophomores.  And, last year, I even gave you Scotty Machado and Iona before the world fell in love with them.  Yes, I am notorious for  beating the hype for low-major teams that finally get noticed only to bow out early in the tournament.  Well, here it is this year – the Long Island Blackbirds.  This is my pet team of 2012-13.  This team is absolutely LOADED by low-major standards. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere are incredibly athletic and skilled bigs, while Jason Brickman – only a junior – is the second-leading returning assist man in the country.  Throw in a potentially elite scorer at the 2-guard in C.J. Garner and a big body Kenny Onyechi, and you’ve got a terrifying starting five in the NEC.  And, they have depth up and down the roster.  This is a team that has won back-to-back NEC titles and only lost one player from either of those teams.  They have to be a lock to win a third straight NEC title, right?  Not necessarily…
  24. Robert Morris – As good as LIU is this year (and I can’t/won’t be partial all year), they will be pushed to the brink in one of the best “Big Three” you will find in any league in the country.  The Colonials of RMC might be ready to unseat the Blackbirds, led by true NEC superstar Velton Jones.  They return 4 starters from a 26-win team a year ago.
  25. Wagner – And, if it’s not RMC that ends the reign of LIU, it very well could be the Seahawks of Wagner, who return all 5 starters from a 25-6 team a year ago.  They did, however, lose their head coach, Danny Hurley, who jumped to Rhode Island.  But, Hurley did leave behind an immensely talented team, capable of playing with anyone on any given night.
  26. North Texas – We all know the story:  a kid knows he can be a mid-first round draft pick after his freshman year, but decides to come back for his sophomore year to work on his mid-range game and things like that to try and improve his stock to maybe break into the lottery after his sophomore season.  While it doesn’t happen often enough, it is certainly common enough not to be surprising…unless you consider the fact that this kid PLAYS IN THE SUN BELT CONFERENCE.  That’s right, Tony Mitchell would have been the first selection of an NBA team in June, but decided to go BACK TO NORTH TEXAS to work on his game before he enters the draft after his sophomore season this spring.  Must I say more?  Does it matter his supporting cast?  When NBA talent plays in the Sun Belt, that team could have the staff of BSB as the other 4 starters and they would be very, very good.
  27. Detroit – Remember the name Ray McCallum.  While the Titans don’t have a ton of talent around the coach’s son, they might not need it because Junior is that good.  Recruited hard to play at schools like Michigan State, Ray decided that he wanted to play for his dad at Detroit, and he looks like a guy playing at a level below his talent dictates.  And, he is fun to watch.  If they can get contributions from some of his supporting cast, including some guy named Juwan Howard Jr., the Titans could be a real surprise team this year.
  28. Penn State – When you are carried by one superstar in the Horizon League or the Sun Belt, that is one thing, but when you are totally reliant on one guy to lead to every night and you play in the Big Ten, it’s kind of embarrassing.  But, that is the situation PSU finds itself in, as they do have one true megastar and a host of “other guys.”  Tim Frazier is simply that good.  If you get a chance to watch the Lions, do it, he’s worth it.
  29. Long Beach State – Rebuild?  Who needs to rebuild?  They only lost four 1000-point scorers, including the school’s all-time leader in points and assists (Casper Ware), and steals (Larry Anderson), as well as the all-time leading rebounder in the history of the Big West Conference (T.J. Robinson).  But, rebuild?  Not at the Beach.  They retool.  Not only do they do return James Ennis, who looked pretty good as the fifth guy next to four superstars, and Mike Caffey, who looked really good filling in for Ware during an injury, but they also brought in a slew of incredibly-talented transfers from decent programs like Arizona State, West Virginia, DePaul, and Loyola Marymount.  If these guys were good enough to contribute in leagues like the Pac-12 and Big East, they might shine in the Big West.
  30. Princeton – This is an Ivy League team with FIVE guys at 6’10” or bigger, including two legit 7-footers.  Coupling that size with even a modest amount of skill would make for a tough team in any conference, let alone the non-scholarship Ivy League.
  31. Marshall – Deandre Kane is a big-time player and is joined this year by a dynamic scorer at the JUCO ranks in D.D. Scarver.  The Thundering Herd have been knocking at the door recently and might the talent to break it down this year.
  32. Richmond – With Chris Mooney calling the shots and a really solid veteran nucleus of Darien Brothers, Cedrick Lindsay, Kendall Anthony, and Derrick Williams, the Spiders might be a bit of a sleeper in the A-10 this year.
  33. Montana – The two best players in the Big Sky have something in common – they are both guards for the Montana Grizzlies.  Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar constitute one of the best backcourts that no one has ever heard of.  Cherry, in particular, is truly an elite player and might be the best perimeter defender in the nation.  The only problem is that the Grizz basically have no other reliable guards on the roster, so Cherry and Jamar will have to log serious minutes from the get-go.  If they can weather the workload, this could be a scary team for the whole Big Sky and then whichever 4-seed happens to draw them come March.
  34. Loyola (MD) – Erik Etherly and Dylan Cormier are back from a really good Loyola team that finally broke through to win the MAAC tournament and go dancing.  The Greyhounds are, once again, picked to reign supreme in a pretty tough MAAC this year.
  35. Manhattan – The Jaspers – who might be the biggest threat to the Greyhounds in the MAAC this year – return their whole roster from a team that had a serious rejuvenation last year, under Rick Pitino-disciple Steve Masiello.  The key to this season is the preseason MAAC player of the year, George Beamon, who led the league in scoring last year at 19 per game.
  36. Tulane – Last year, the Green Wave looked like they were going to defy all preseason prognostications when they blew through their non-conference schedule in impressive fashion.  But, a couple of tough injuries hit them just in time for the Conf USA season, and they fizzled.  The good news is that the whole team is back and, presumably, healthy, so they are ready to try again this year to put the Green Wave back on the map.
  37. Denver – Chris Odiofa and a talented sophomore class lead the Pioneers this year, who look to continue on last year’s success in their new league – the WAC.  They may even challenge for a WAC title in their inaugural season.
  38. USC-Upstate – Last year was the best season in the history of the USC-Upstate program, but it will be the second-best after this season, as everyone returns from the 21-win team, and they actually are the preseason favorites (to some) to win an Atlantic Sun championship that no longer goes through Belmont.
  39. Mercer – If it’s not USC-Upstate that takes the A-Sun this year, it very well could be the Mercer Bears.  Mercer returns four starters from the CIT Championship team of a year ago, including do-it-all junior point guard Langston Hall.  The A-Sun is shaping up to be a really interesting race between USCU, Mercer, and other possible contenders like E. Tennessee St., Lipscomb, and this year’s potential upstart, Florida Gulf Coast.
  40. North Dakota State – Very, very quietly, Saul Phillips is building something solid and sustainable in Fargo.  They essentially return the whole team from a year where the Bison started 15-7.  And, many of the key players are still only sophomores or juniors, including the starting backcourt of Lawrence Alexander and Mike Felt, and starting forwards Taylor Braun and TrayVonn Wright.  They have both the talent to break through this year, but even if they don’t, they could be awfully good next year.
This entry was posted in College Hoops and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Forgotten 40: The Country’s Best College Basketball Teams that No One is Talking About

  1. Pingback: College Hoops Opening Night Viewers Guide | Broad Street Believers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *