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NCAAB Top 25 Preview Series: Last 5 and Cinderellas

Part three and the final part of this three-part preview series of the college basketball season will touch on the last five teams in the top 25 according to the USA Today’s coaches poll, as well an include five potential “Cinderella” teams, a couple that are listed on the AP Top 25 poll. With that said, lets finish this preview shall we.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers: In a powerful Big Ten conference, the Huskers did pretty well last season, finishing 4th in the conference, ahead of once-favored Ohio State Buckeyes. Led by their 6-6 forward Terran Petteway (led team in scoring and assists, 2nd in rebounds) the Huskers look to improve and make a serious case for Big Ten supremacy. Freshman forward B.J. Day may have been lost for the season (ACL tear during a practice) but the roster surrounding Petteway is sound and adding freshman forward/center Jacob Hammond, gives in the inside more presence. Head coach Tim Miles also managed to out-recruit schools like Creighton, SMU. FSU and others in bringing in power forward Ed Morrow, #62 recruit out of ESPN Top 100 in the nation. With Morrow, just adds even more depth inside.

22. SMU Mustangs: The Mustangs last season came onto the college basketball team and made a name for themselves in an always tough American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East). Last season, the Mustangs were 16th in the nation in field-goal percentage (just under 49%) and 24th in points allowed (62 points per game by opponents). 6-11 Center Yanick Moreira looks to take more of the inside scoring burden as he continues to develop his inside game. Recruit 6-5 guard Keith Frazier looks to supply more outside fire power with a slash of dash to boot. ESPN Top 100 ranked point guard Shake Milton looks to bring a much more “ball control” leadership role to the Mustangs(pass first, in-control). SMU has one of the DEEPEST teams in all of college basketball and while they are in the lower tier of the Top 25, expect SMU to make serious noise and contend.

23. Michigan Wolverines: Last season, the Wolverines were the typical “Dr. Jekyll vs Mr. Hyde” team. When they were hot, they were unstoppable and when they were cold, they were Antarctic cold. With their leader in points and assists on to the NBA (Nik Stauskas), the scoring load will fall onto 6-7 guard, junior Caris LeVert who last season was second in the team in scoring (just under 14 points a game). Head Coach John Beilein returns just four players with actual NCAA playing experience, so it is another tough road for the Wolverines moving forward.

24. Syracuse Orangemen; With the “academic violations” investigation looming over the Orange and a committee infractions meeting pending, Hall of fame head coach Jim Boeheim looks to find a sense of peace on the hardwood coaching his always dominant zone game. The acquisition of power forward Chris McCullough (ranked 24th in the ESPN Top 100 recruits) adds even more depth to the front line that has returning players like Rakeem Christmas and Albert Nassar. Guard Trevor Cooney looks to improve his game and give that leadership that will be missed by the departed C.J. Fair (NBA ).

25. Iowa Hawkeyes: The Hawkeyes broke out last season during last season to finish in the top 15 in the nation in scoring (82 points per game average), rebounds (40.7 boards per game, 7th on offensive boards and 12th on defensive) and assists (16.2 dimes per game). The inside presence of the Hawkeyes is where their strength lies. Center Adam Woodbury looks to be that “leader” for the Hawkeyes which last season gave us some the worst defensive performances any college basketball fan would ever see. Fellow teammate and forward Aaron White looks to give more scoring power to add to his already dominant inside presence on the boards. Head Coach Fran McCaffery has without question a high-powered offense but without question is missing something on the defensive side and come the late months leading into the NCAA Tournament, that hole gets exposed by must better and more disciplined teams.

Potential “Cinderella teams”

Yes. It is early but it is NEVER too early to talk “Cinderellas” in college basketball. So lets touch on five real quick. As said before, you may notice a couple from the AP poll and the other three are teams that always find themselves in the Tournament talks when it comes March Madness time.

1. Harvard Crimson: This IVY League powerhouse always makes their way into the NCAA Tournament, in fact they have represented the Ivy League the last three seasons in the NCAA Tournament, and this year according to the AP preseason top 25 poll, they are ranked 24th in the nation. So the defending Ivy League champs bring back a solid roster that looks to repeat as champions and go further in the tournament.

2. Utah Utes: This team from the Pac-12 looks to make themselves a serious contender for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Ranked 25th in the nation, according to the AP poll, the Utes and Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak looks to continue the “upward trend” that he has been building since he came into the Utah program in 2011. Senior guard Delon Wright looks to contribute in big ways for the Utes as they seem to be an under-the-radar team this upcoming season. Their team is filled with veterans and a solid recruiting class behind them. Coach Krystkowiak has done and will continue to do a good job for the Utes this season and for seasons to come.

3. Stanford Cardinals: The Cardinals looks to be that elusive “first team out” as they are out of both the AP and USA Today top 25 polls entering the 2014-2015 season. That could mean they are not good enough OR that could mean that there are questions as to whether or not they belong. Johnny Dawkins looks to get his team into prime shape and break that top 25 rankings. Guard Chasson Randle looks to improve from his 18-points and 3-rebounds per game and throw his name into the “All-American” ballot as well.

4. UCLA Bruins: If ANY team had  terrible off-season, it is these UCLA Bruins. The water-main break that flooded a recently renovated Pauley Pavillion, has not been practiced yet by the sports teams and yet, coming off a season where the Bruins were ranked in the top 20 in offense and 4th in the nation in steals, the Bruins look to continue to have their solid overall game, while carrying this sympathy chip on their shoulders. In a land where “magic happens” do not be surprised if the Bruins have some magic this season.

5. University of New Mexico Lobos: It always seems to be the Lobos and the SDSU Aztecs fighting for Mountain West conference supremacy. With the depart of key players for the Aztecs, the Lobos look to take advantage and take the Mountain West crown this season. While Aztecs coach Steve Fisher has a contract looming for discussion, the Lobos Head Coach Craig Neal, recently signed a 2-year extension, so that distraction is a distant memory. These Lobos always find a way to be overlooked in a very strong conference and expect them to be a force this year, even in the NCAA Tournament in March.

THIS concludes the National Gridiron NCAAB preview of the Top 25 teams and even included a few potential Cinderellas. Be sure to follow and see if the preseason predictions come true and if there are more that come out of the woodwork to make some noise this season.

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