When looking at college basketball teams in the preseason the first thing people want to know is who makes up the true title contenders list. Well, there are plenty ways to look at the breakdown of teams across the country, most notably by preseason polls.
However, while preseason polls are great and lead to debate, is there really a difference between the No. 5 and No. 8 team on that list? Likely no, but between the No. 5 and No. 9? Quite possibly. That’s the beauty of putting teams into a tier.
Last season there were really three tiers when looking at college basketball throughout the season. The first tier arguably was just Kentucky as they were the odds on favorite to win the title the entire season. Then there was a group of Wisconsin, Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona in the second tier.
This year? Well, expect something drastically different. There isn’t a team that will go undefeated in the regular season or a team that will have the mainstream media asking if they’d take them or the field come March.
Last season was actually very predictable when you go back and look at the preseason poll and compare it to how the NCAA Tournament played out. Looking at the preseason AP poll, three of the four Final Four teams were ranked in the top four to start the season. Michigan State was the obvious lone outsider, but were still ranked No. 17 – again a tier 2/3 team when looking back at the season.
Right now there seems to be seven-to-eight teams that are true title contenders before the season kicks off. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the eventual national champion will come from that first tier. Just like UConn in 2014 made a surprise run to win it all, they most likely would have started the season off in what is considered the third tier.
Now, obviously teams can jump tiers throughout the season as it’s likely a couple teams will pull a Florida/Texas and just stink the entire year, while a team like Maryland who was hardly looked at in the preseason last season jumped up into the tiered section. But, instead of looking at ‘Team X won’t make it past the Sweet 16’ this should be a better variable when discussing teams and their chances to make runs. Obviously the NCAA Tournament can be a little fluky depending on matchups and a one-and-done format, so let’s say a certain team can’t jump into Tier 1 or something along those lines.
So, without any more hesitation, here are the tiers for the 2015-16 preseason, along with a little breakdown of each group.
Tier 1 – National Title Contenders
Teams (in no particular order): North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, Duke, Iowa State, Oklahoma)
These are the obvious choices for national title contenders. They are seven of the top eight teams according to ESPN’s No-Longer-Way-Too-Early Top 25 that came out this week. North Carolina is the expected No. 1 team in the country when the AP poll is released as they return everyone but J.P. Tokoto from last year’s Sweet 16 team.
Maryland has shot up the charts, thanks to the return of Melo Trimble, commitment of Diamond Stone and transfer of Robert Carter. Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are well, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke. They reloaded yet again and have a good mix of upper classmen to pair with big time recruits. Iowa State and Oklahoma, despite the Big 12 postseason troubles, should be contenders again this year, especially Iowa State.
Tier 2 – Solid Teams That Will Be Around All Year
Teams (in no particular order): Virginia, Wichita State, Arizona, Cal, Villanova, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State)
This is the group that is likely missing just one piece or two to truly contend for a national title. Whether they have a strong backcourt, but lack a frontcourt or aren’t deep enough as a team, there’s some missing piece for these guys.
Virginia, which is the team most people will wonder why it isn’t in Tier 1 is because of how important Justin Anderson was to that team last year. Per KenPom (premium version needed) in the 12 games that Anderson didn’t play or played less than 15 minutes, the Cavaliers had an OEff Rating of 103.28. That would have them ranked 145th in the country and behind every at-large team besides San Diego State in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Before Anderson went down with the injury they were ranked fifth in the country. This just shows Virginia can’t count on London Perrantes as the number two option behind Malcolm Brogdon.
Tier 3 – Sleepers that Can Make a Final Four Run
Teams (in no particular order): Xavier, Butler, SMU, LSU, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Utah, Michigan, UConn)
These are teams that either lost a major part of their roster (see Delon Wright at Utah) or there are a ton of question marks whether it’s return from injury (Caris LeVert at Michigan) or a ton of freshmen on the roster (LSU). However, all these teams could make a jump to Tier 1 and it’s likely at least one of these teams will do that.
My personal pick to make jumps are Michigan to Tier 1 and Xavier to Tier 2. Both teams are well balanced with an interior presence and outside shooting and are deep enough to challenge night in and night out. Keep an eye on these teams as the season progresses.