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The Other Top 25: Mountain West contenders and defending OVC champs occupy spots 6-10

Roster continuity and NBA prospects are the two themes across these five teams.

San Diego State v Boise State Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

Well, it’s that time again. Now that we’re knee-deep in the college basketball offseason, it’s time to reveal our Too Early Other Top 25 Rankings for the 2020-21 season*. Over the next few days, we’ll release them five at a time until the whole set is out and ready to be blasted by the crazed fans of Twitter. Away we go!

*if necessary

Hey, we’ve arrived at the top 10 of the Too Early Other Top 25 Rankings. Thanks for sticking with us from first three installments.

Although all 10 of these teams appeared on our voters’ ballots — some of which even cracked the top five — the usual caveats of any way too early (or too early) lists apply. Making the top 10 of any poll doesn’t ensure a phenomenal season. For instance, Davidson was ranked fifth in this poll last year, but the Wildcats stumbled out the gate and never recovered in a 16-14 season. Ditto for VCU, which started second (!) in The Other Top 25, hovered around the bubble once Atlantic 10 play started and eventually cratered in February.

Some teams simply will not live up to expectations. It’s inevitable.

On the other hand, a few of these teams could outperform lofty expectations. Last season, San Diego State and Dayton were ranked ninth and 10th, respectively, but both ended up stealing the show for the majority of the season. Spoiler alert: An A-10 and a Mountain West teams are in the 9-10 spots of this year’s Too Early Other Top 25 poll as well.

Without further ado, let’s reveal teams 6-10.

Duquesne v Dayton Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

10. Duquesne Dukes

2019-20: 21-9 (11-7)

The case for Duquesne, in a word: continuity.

Since Atlantic 10 stalwarts like Dayton and VCU lose plenty of production from last season, Duquesne’s roster retention makes it one of the teams to beat in 2020-21. The Dukes bring back 83.9 percent of their minutes from last season, per Bart Torvik, which includes all five starters, five of their top six scorers and lose one rotation player — all while adding a seven-man freshman class. Please don’t ask how those numbers add up. Just bet on Duquesne being quite good next season.

Led by its backcourt of Sincere Carry (12.2 PPG, 5.3 APG), Tavian Dunn-Martin (10.2 PPG), and one of the league’s best freshmen in Maceo Austin, the Dukes had the fourth-best offense in the conference and were a top-100 team in offensive efficiency. Last but certainly not least, All-Atlantic 10 Second Team selection Marcus Weathers (14.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG) returns and will be one of the conference’s best all-around players next year.

Keith Dambrot’s team has steadily improved over the past three seasons, but next season’s team could easily surpass 21 wins and even reach the NCAA Tournament.

CSU Northridge v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

9. Boise State Broncos

2019-20: 20-12 (11-7)

Yes, the Broncos lose five seniors. Yes, the Broncos finished fifth in a two-bid league, and were clinging to an NIT bid before the postseason was cancelled entirely.

But given the progress of Derrick Alston, the emergence of volume scorer Abu Kigab and the transfers eligible next season, the Broncos could have a roster talented enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

A large part of the case for Boise State hinges a lot on whether or not Alston, a walk-on turned bona fide NBA wing prospect, returns for his senior season. However, Alston is merely testing the NBA Draft waters and he has been participating in team Zoom meetings and activities, which is, at most, a promising sign. On the other hand, his father coaches the G-League’s Westchester Knicks, so that could cause some speculation.

Replacing Alston’s 17.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG will be a huge blow, should he decide to turn pro. But the Broncos bring back double-digit scorer Kigab, an emerging point guard in RayJ Dennis and a plethora of transfers, most of whom fill voids left from the departed seniors.

Here’s where the speculation happens. Boise State has Arizona transfers Emmanuel Akot and Devonaire Doutrive, both of whom were former ESPN top-10 recruits at their respective positions before getting overshadowed in Tucson. Marcus Shaver Jr. was the lone bright spot during his time in Portland, averaging 14.8 PPG in his last season while starting 31 of a possible 32 games. And former ETSU big Mladen Armus, who averaged 8.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG in his final season in Johnson City, will bolster a backcourt in need of answers for MWC opponents like Neemias Queta, Nathan Mensah and Cheikh Mbacke Diong.

While Boise State’s case is more speculative than most of the teams in the top 10, the talent and coach Leon Rice’s track record of player development are definitely there.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 07 Ohio Valley Tournament - Murray State v Belmont
Simpler times.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

8. Belmont Bruins

2019-20: 26-7 (15-3), outright Ohio Valley Conference champions

The defending outright OVC champs are in a unique position amongst the mid-major ranks: They actually completed their tournament and punched that comically large ticket to the NCAA Tournament, and, most importantly, they bring back most of the key players from that team.

Despite losing seniors Tyler Scanlon and Michael Benkert, the Bruins bring back leading scorer Adam Kunkel, do-it-all guard Grayson Murphy and one of the conference’s best big men in Nick Muszynski. Three-star recruit Even Brauns, the No. 2 recruit in Iowa per ESPN, should help replace Scanlon down low.

Although the trip to the OVC Championship had plenty of bumps in the road — that 10-point home loss to SIUE and the close-ish calls against Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State come to mind — more experience should help Casey Alexander’s team avoid those obstacles in year two. Austin Peay might have the best duo in the league and Murray State is always a contender, but Belmont’s balanced attack and playbook of nifty backdoor cuts aren’t going anywhere.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Western Kentucky Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

7. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

2019-20: 20-10

Last season, this six-man roster was an overtime thriller away from a regular-season championship. Now the Hilltoppers might not need as many blistering comebacks, 43-point performances from Taveion Hollingsworth or Old Dominion blown leads to do something special.

Head coach Rick Stansbury said he’s never “had a team that’s been down and out as many times and find ways to claw back against really good teams” like the 2019-20 Hilltoppers, and the nucleus from that resilient team returns for next year with some help.

Future pro Charles Bassey, whose season-ending injury late in the Hilltoppers’ overtime win over Arkansas changed the trajectory of the team, spurned the NBA Draft waters entirely and will return. Former Lipscomb point guard Kenny Cooper will bring his distribution and defense to a backcourt already brimming with talent from Hollingsworth (16.6 PPG), Josh Anderson (10.1 PPG) and Jordan Rawls (7.9 PPG). Plus Carson Williams won’t have to do most of the dirty work down low now that Bassey and JucoRecruiting top 10 prospect Kevin Osawe enter the fold.

Given the Hilltoppers’ talent, penchant for aggressive scheduling and the tumultuous world of Conference-USA, a postseason appearance is the expectation once again.

NCAA Basketball: Utah State at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

6. San Diego State Aztecs

2019-20: 30-2 (17-1), Mountain West regular season champion

The world was robbed from seeing Malachi Flynn, Yanni Wetzell and KJ Feagin play on the biggest stage this March, but Brian Dutcher’s team was much more than a handful of one-year stars.

Matt Mitchell — arguably one of the toughest players to guard in the Mountain West because of his physicality and outside shot — returns. So does Jordan Schakel, one of the top returning three-point shooters in the Mountain West. And Nathan Mensah, a promising big man whose season was derailed by a pulmonary embolism, looks set to return. The Aztecs’ new, three-point savvy system isn’t going anywhere — especially with the shooters it brings back.

Although the Aztecs bid adieu to Flynn, Wetzell and Feagin, those grad transfers will be replaced in part by Cal State Northridge star Terrell Gomez and former Maryland Terrapin Joshua Tomaić. The former was one of the best pure shooters available in the transfer market, while the latter told Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union Tribune that he wants to mimic Wetzell’s development:

“When he first reached out, he explained the situation with Yanni,” Tomaic said of Dutcher. “As our relationship evolved, he told me stories about him and how Yanni kind of had the same concerns and needs. He talked about various scenarios for next season. I really liked it. It was really useful to see Yanni succeed like that. That’s the path I also want to follow for my last year.”

Yet next year’s roster is still one piece away from completion. Dutcher and his staff have been in the mix for transfers like ETSU’s Daivien Williamson, Wake Forest’s Ismael Massoud and UAB’s Makhtar Gueye, among others. While bettering a 30-win season is a monumental task, the right guy can push this team closer to where it was last year.