5 NCAA basketball teams that will be better than you think next season

Rick Barnes, Tennessee basketball coach. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Rick Barnes, Tennessee basketball coach. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /
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Underrated NCAA basketball teams, NCAA basketball rankings
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images) /

2. Houston Cougars: FanSided way-too-early ranking – No. 6

Don’t look now, but the American Athletic Conference could have a potential top-5 squad in its midst in the Houston Cougars. A frequent NCAA Tournament participant since Kelvin Sampson took over, the Cougars were well on their way to another bid before this year’s dance was canceled.

This pick does depend on the decisions of a pair of key Cougars who are in the NBA’s draft process. DeJon Jarreau and Nate Hinton are both testing the waters of a jump to the pros, but at this point the expectation is both will opt to return to school.

The return of those players would be huge for Houston, which was highly competitive against a strong schedule. The Cougars lost eight games last season but six of those were by six points or less, with four of those defeats coming by two or less.

Finding a way to clean up those struggles in close games could significantly raise the ceiling of Houston’s team, which will also welcome in one of the best recruiting classes in their conference. The Cougars won 33 games only two years ago so there is precedent for massive success in Houston.

Assuming Sampson works out his rotation and the Cougars get back Jarreau and Hinton, the sky is the limit for Houston. This team should easily win the American and be well-positioned for a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament.