With so many new faces being added to rosters in the offseason, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict an outcome for a team in the whirlwind that is a college basketball season. Experts will take their best shot at telling you which squads will be dancing in the spring. No matter how accurate they may be, there are always a few sleepers that come out of nowhere and play their way into contention. Here are five teams that have a very good chance to be one of the aforementioned sleepers, and shake up the world of college hoops.
In only his second year as HC, Bruce Pearl has the Tigers well on their way to ascending out of the basement of the SEC. He has put together a very talented incoming freshman class, (led by 6’9 Finley Prep, VA forward Horace Spencer). Throw in 2 returning starters, 2 immediate impact transfers, a high scoring JUCO transfer, and this team has ‘scary’ depth. There’s more of a feeling that this team will be something special in the future, but if all the puzzle pieces fit then the future is now.
2. Mississippi State
Sticking with the SEC theme because they are arguably the most improved conference from top to bottom. Expect 6, 7 or possibly 8 teams to get into the tournament. Add up new coach Ben Howland, with his 3 final four appearances, with the number one shooting guard and 5 star prospect Malik Newman, and your team becomes an immediate contender. They also have 4 seniors and 1 junior who collectively started 110 games last year. With Malik Newman being a probable one and done, look for the bulldogs to try and ride his shoulders all the way to March.
This a team that returns all 5 starters after finishing 14-4 in the AAC and getting completely snubbed by the selection committee last year. Nah, they won’t have a giant chip on their shoulders, (I don’t know if I need to clarify, but that was thick sarcasm). This team has 9 seniors. Ill say that again…They have 9 seniors. Unheard of in this day of college basketball. These are also 9 seniors who know how to win and want to end on a high note. Guard play is their strength with James Woodard as the top scoring threat. Do not be shocked when the Golden Hurricanes are still alive in March.
Will it finally happen? Will Northwestern be celebrating on Selection Sunday? The Big Ten is going to be stacked yet again, but the Wildcats, thanks to wonderful recruiting by Chris Collins, have the talent to compete. This team has 8 players who saw significant minutes last year. The key, however, will be 6’10 senior transfer from Virginia Tech, Joey van Zegeren. His experience, along with seniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah, should help gel with the younger players and create a team that could pull off a few surprises.
5. Oregon State
This could be the best Beaver team in history. The key phrase of that statement is “could be”. They finished 3 games over .500 a season ago and return all 5 starters. One of those starters is All American candidate and Oregon State royalty Gary Payton II. He is one of the most complete players in the country on both ends. The PAC12 is stacked at the top, but the Beavers also have a highly touted recruiting class with 6’4 guard Stephen Thompson Jr. leading the way. Making a postseason tournament seems definite. Making the NCAA tournament is within reach, and soon will be in the rearview mirror.