Which teams in college basketball are on the rise? Check out our list below as we identify five programs heading on an upward trajectory into next season. In no particular order…
TCU: The “Jamie Dixon Factor” was in full effect last season. The Horned Frogs were an NCAA Tournament contender before ultimately winding up in the postseason NIT and winning the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
TCU returns its top six scorers from that group while adding three key newcomers: Freshmen R.J. Nembhard and Kouat Noi along with VCU grad transfer Ahmed Hamdy.
With Dixon pulling the strings from the sidelines and the combination of Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson providing the Horned Frogs one of the sport’s most underrated backcourts, there’s a real chance that the Big 12’s third-best team this season may play its basketball in Fort Worth.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost a lethal scorer in Peter Jok, but everyone else of significance is back from last year’s team that won 19 games, including10 triumphs coming in Big Ten play.
Iowa won back-to-back road games at Maryland and Wisconsin when both teams were ranked at the tail end of last season, and the Hawkeyes should come into the 2017-18 season on fire.
Fran McCaffery has 10 of his top 11 scorers back from a season ago, headlined by sophomores Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon, with veteran forward Nicholas Baer also in position to be a starter.
The Hawkeyes’ best teams under McCaffery haven’t always had first-year players in primary roles, but this team may not have a choice with 6-11 big man Luka Garza.
Sturdy, skilled, and unfazed, this Washington, D.C., native played for the famous Team Takeover AAU program and should be Iowa’s starting center from the first day of practice.
If Garza lives up to the hype, there’s no reason why the Hawkeyes shouldn’t push for a top-five finish in the Big Ten next season.
Saint Louis: Operation “reload” was deemed a massive success when Travis Ford signed two top-100 freshmen — Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French — as well as five high-major transfers in Javon Bess (Michigan State), Adonys Henriquez (UCF), D.J. Foreman (Rutgers), Ty Graves (Boston College) and Rashed Anthony (Seton Hall).
Now it’s time to see if those additions can again make the Billikens’ program one of the best in the Atlantic 10.
The seven players listed above join a 12-win team from a year ago. SLU won six conference tilts in a season when the Atlantic 10 was definitely better than it is expected to be in 2017-18.
Ford also returns four quality pieces from last season to mold with his newcomers: Davell Roby, Jermaine Bishop, Jalen Johnson and Elliott Welmer.
With its conference peers in a state of transition, aside from Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis is in position to again become the type of program it was in the Atlantic 10 under both Rick Majerus and Jim Crews.
A word to the wise: Keep an eye on both Goodwin and French, who both spurned several high-major programs to play for the Billikens.
UCF: Johnny Dawkins’ first season in Orlando featured 24 wins and a trip to the postseason NIT.
Should more be expected in Year 2?
UCF led the nation in field-goal percentage defense last season and held its opponents under 60 points in 16 of its 36 games played. The Knights boast one of the most physically imposing power forward-center combos in the sport with A.J. Davis and 7-6 big man Tacko Fall, who single-handedly alters the way opponents can run offense.
Add junior B.J. Taylor (17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists) — arguably the least appreciated guard in the sport — and you can see why this team is a dark horse to reach the NCAA Tournament.
UCF will also add several transfers — Aubrey Dawkins (Michigan), Dayton Griffin (Louisiana Tech), Terrell Allen (Drexel) and Rokas Ulvydas (Texas Tech) — who figure to play prominent roles in this team’s rotation.
Auburn: Despite having one assistant coach linked to the recent FBI probe, things are still fine with Bruce Pearl’s program from a basketball perspective.
The Tigers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, but there’s a strong chance that changes next spring.
Auburn returns its top four scorers — Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, Austin Wiley and Jared Harper — from last year’s 18-win team while adding two top-100 freshmen in Davion Mitchell and Chuma Okeke.
Long-range sniper Bryce Brown is also back to provide floor spacing. Pearl — who led Tennessee to an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 — finally has the depth, length, and athleticism he possessed when he made the Vols a top-three program in the SEC.
The Tigers are two-deep at every position and have all the requisites to end their 15-year NCAA Tournament drought in the upcoming season.
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.
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