By: Evan Brunelle
The 2019-2020 college basketball season has been a whirlwind, as we have seen several number one ranked teams suffer shocking losses. Teams ranked in the top five have tumbled out of the AP Top 25 in just weeks, and even blueblood programs are having less than spectacular seasons.
Despite the season of ups and downs that has unfolded to this point, February is on the horizon.
With February comes the hunt for conference championships, seeding, and a final push by bubble teams to be selected in this year’s field of 68 for The Big Dance.
Who will win it all?
Here are the five teams to watch as the season comes to an end and tournament time nears:
#1 Baylor Bears (18-1, 7-0)
Baylor has been college basketball’s most complete and impressive team to this point, so it should come as no surprise that I expect them to make a deep push into March.
The Bears have been bolstered in the middle of the floor thanks to forward Freddie Gillespie, who is averaging 10 points per game and leads the team in both rebounds per game (9.2) and blocks per game (2.2).
The only blemish on Baylor’s record is an early loss to Washington on a neutral floor, but they have since rifled off 18 consecutive wins, the second longest winning streak in Division 1.
Throughout the winning streak, they have defeated teams such like Villanova, Arizona, Butler, Florida, Texas Tech, and Kansas. Villanova, Arizona, Butler, and Texas Tech were all ranked at the time.
Baylor has shown that they can play consistently and efficiently as they have compiled a string of impressive wins since their sole loss. Look for the Bears to stay hot and make a bid for a title in March.
#4 San Diego State Aztecs (22-0,11-0)
As the only unbeaten team in Division 1, it only makes sense to have the Aztecs on this list.
While many discredit the significance of the unbeaten San Diego State squad, make no mistake about it – this team is the real deal.
They offer an offensive onslaught that relies on the three-point shot, where they shoot at an impressive 39%.
What makes San Diego State such a tough opponent is the balance of their scoring.
Malachi Flynn has emerged as the star for the Aztecs, leading the team in points (16.5), assists (5), and steals (1.7) per game. However, Flynn is not alone in his production, as forwards Yanni Wetzell and Matt Mitchell contribute 12 and 11.2 points per game respectively.
While the Aztecs do not have as impressive a resume as other highly ranked teams, they are consistent and have secured wins over Iowa and Creighton, both of whom are likely to make the NCAA tournament.
Do not let a weak conference dissuade you from picking San Diego State in your brackets in March.
Gonzaga faces the same criticism each year, yet consistently makes Sweet 16 runs and beyond. Watch out for the Aztecs come March.
#7 Dayton Flyers (19-2, 11-0)
The Dayton Flyers have emerged as another powerhouse from a mid-major conference. Similarly to San Diego State, the weaker conference schedule of Dayton does not mean they are not legit.
This Flyers team has put on an offensive clinic the entire season, averaging 82.7 points per game and shooting 52.8 % from the field, while assisting on just under 19 baskets per game.
Dayton’s lethal offensive attack is led by forward Obi Toppin, who is averaging a stellar 19.8 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. While he has been the best performer for the Flyers, he is not alone.
With this venomous shooting attack, Dayton is very hard to stop. They spread the floor, attack the basket, drive and kick, shoot off the dribble, and convert on free throws – a very well balanced offense to say the least.
Their defense has been suspect at times, but Dayton has lost only two contests this season, both to ranked PAC-12 teams in overtime (Colorado and Oregon). Other than that, their potent barrage has been enough to outscore every opponent en route to a 10-game winning streak.
Despite playing in a mid-major conference, Dayton boasts wins over Georgia, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, VCU, Saint Louis, and Richmond.
Do not sleep on the Flyers, as they are fully capable of scoring their way to a national title.
#10 Seton Hall Pirates (16-4, 8-0)
In recent years, Villanova has been the cream of the crop in the Big East while Butler, Seton Hall, Marquette, and Xavier have been nipping at their heels.
However this year feels different. It seems that the guard has changed. It seems like Seton Hall has arrived, and they are for real.
The Pirates have ripped off 10 gritty wins in a row after starting the 2019-2020 campaign at 6-4. The difference maker in this hot streak has been Myles Powell.
The senior from New Jersey has earned national acclaim for his electrifying scoring and playmaking. He currently sits at eighth in the country in scoring with 22.1 points per game. But Powell is not alone.
Guards Quincy McKnight, Jared Rhoden, and Myles Cale have all proven to be solid scorers and hard-nosed defenders. Meanwhile, in the front court, Seton Hall hasn’t missed a step despite an injury to prolific big man Sandro Mamukelashvili early in the season. Center Romaro Gill has stepped up to fill the void left in the middle, leading the team in blocks and rebounds while adding almost 10 points per game.
Every pirate ship has a good captain, and it does not hurt that Seton Hall’s captain, Kevin Willard, is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college hoops.
Seton Hall has feature wins against Maryland, 18th ranked Butler, Georgetown, Marquette, and Providence, along with every other conference foe they have faced so far in the daunting Big East.
Seton Hall looks to be one of the most complete teams in the country. Combine that with the relentless hustle they display on both ends of the floor? Look out everybody.
#22 LSU Tigers (16-4, 11-1)
The LSU Tigers have already given fans more than they could ask for this year, bringing home a College Football National Championship to Baton Rouge just weeks ago.
However, the celebration may not be over yet for fans of the Bayou Bengals.
After a shaky start to this season, the Tigers find themselves in first place in the SEC and on a winning streak of nine games.
LSU displays a balanced and effective scoring attack, as all five starters average double-digit points per game, with the team as a whole averaging 80 points.
Skylar Mays has been the brightest of all scorers, as he leads the team with 15.9 points per game.
The Tigers strength comes in their front court, as their trio of forwards Emmitt Williams (14ppg, 6.9 rpg), Trendon Watford (13.4ppg, 7.2 rpg), and Darius Days (11.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) present match-up nightmares for opposing teams.
All three are big, strong, and agile, allowing them to corral rebounds and score efficiently in the paint. I’m not sure how many teams can match their forwards up with these three guys, and despite a rocky start, LSU seems to be gelling at the right time.
The SEC, while known as a football conference, provides competition year in and year out, as teams like Florida, Kentucky, and Tennesee are always formidable. LSU has beaten Tennessee and Florida this year, and they are coming off recent wins against Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas.
LSU will square off against conference villain Kentucky twice in the final month of the season, and those games will go a long way in determining the fate of this Tigers team.
With that being said, I believe that if the Tigers continue to spread the ball around, they will be tough to beat and could bust a lot of brackets next month.
Cover photo via: NCAA Basketball
Follow Edge Sports Network on Twitter: @TheEdgeSN
Follow Evan Brunelle on Twitter: @ebrunie14