The college basketball season is, happily, underway. There are always lots of teams that get plenty of attention from the media, but there are so many teams that good teams can easily slip under the radar and get less attention from the public than they deserve. Here are six teams that stand out to me because they have the potential to make some noise and exceed early expectations.
The Wildcats haven’t been relevant since Stephen Curry moved to the Bay Area. They have a chance to really make some noise this year, though. There are four guys who make this team really work, and they are three seniors and a junior so experience is not in short supply. One of those four — junior forward De’Mon Brooks — is the best player in his league, and he should get some national attention this year as well. He’s a pure scorer with the mentality of a bulldog. On Tuesday they headed into The Pit to play New Mexico. That’s a totally brutal place to play, but they lost in solid fashion and showed that they can be contenders. There is no reason this can’t be a tournament team — the kind that makes things very uncomfortable for their opponents. This is by far the best Davidson squad since the team that went deep. However, the public has moved on with Curry, so they won’t get the attention they deserve.
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Iowa State Cyclones
They lost the brilliant Royce White, so the public is likely to give this team less attention than they had last year. For two good reasons, though, that’s a mistake. First, head coach Fred Hoiberg is the real deal, and he is quietly building a strong program that is bigger than one star player here. Second, Hoiberg has added two very nice transfers in Korie Lucious and Will Clyburn. Both are good fits for the program, and they will help make it much easier to move on after White.
Fran Dunphy is a very good coach, and he has a competitive team. There will be an incentive to compete this year because it’s their last year before they head to the Big East. Senior guard Khalif Wyatt is a very good player and a strong leader. Add in a key player returning from injury and a couple of nice transfers and you have a team that can compete in the suddenly even tougher-than-usual A-10.
South Florida Bulls
The Bulls made big steps forward last year, and they had a third-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament to show for it. Now coach Stan Heath needs to build on that progress — something he has never done in his five years with the Bulls. That job is made easier by the presence of sophomore guard Anthony Collins. His style of play is odd, but he controls the floor very well and will keep this team on track.
Head coach Tad Boyle has been in Boulder for two years, but he has won 24 games each year and is on the verge of building a very competitive program. Given the awful struggles of the Buffaloes on the football field, it would be easy for the public to overlook this team and undervalue them. There are two very nice pieces to build this team around. Andre Roberson, a junior forward, is an elite rebounder. Josh Scott, a freshman giant, is the kind of player who can make an immediate impact on a program. He’s tough to defend, and he creates matchup headaches from the start. Those two form a very strong core for the program to continue their winning ways.
Mark Turgeon stepped into huge shoes following Gary Williams. He had a lot of work to do last year, and the Terrapins won only 17 games. He should be positioned to take a big step forward this year. He has a strong point guard to work with in Pe’Shon Howard and some young players ready to improve with another year in his system. Most significantly, they got a good break after Dez Wells was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from Xavier. Wells, a sophomore, is the real deal, and he will be working hard to put his past behind him — he was kicked out of Xavier after being charged with sexual assault, but those charges were later rejected by a grand jury. This team has a good chance of being a tournament team, but a lot of public bettors won’t expect that at this point.
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