College Basketball: Ranking 5 Sleeper Teams That Will Prove They're for Real
As much as we like to think we know exactly how the college basketball season is going to play out in November, the reality is there will be plenty of teams that surprise us for the better or worse.
There will be the teams, a la USC in football, that fail to live up to their early season hype. There will also be the teams that seemingly come out of nowhere to make a deep run in March.
Let’s play glass half-full today and focus on the pleasant surprises.
Read on to see five teams that will prove they are for real by the spring.
No. 5: Saint Mary’s
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Those of you who watched Olympic basketball in London know about Matthew Dellavedova.
The reining WCC Player of the Year spent the summer lacing it up for Australia’s national team, an experience that will undoubtedly help the Gaels' leader this season.
Dellavedova is a speedy point guard who can slash the lane, hit from the outside and make life miserable for opposing ball handlers.
However, it won’t only be the Dellavedova show for Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels return starters Stephen Holt, Jorden Page and Brad Waldow. Holt, along with Dellavedova, was named to the preseason All-WCC team.
If Saint Mary’s can find consistent production in the paint, it should have a real chance to hold off challengers Gonzaga and BYU to defend its WCC crown.
No. 4: Saint Joseph’s
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The buzz in the offseason within Atlantic 10 circles surrounded the additions of mid-major powers VCU and Butler.
After all, the A-10 is probably the best non-power conference in the country with the Rams and Bulldogs in the fold.
However, conference holdover Saint Joseph’s may be the best team of a bunch that includes the newcomers, Temple and Xavier heading into the 2012-13 season.
Phil Martelli returns all five starters from last year to make up what should be a well-rounded squad.
Guards Langston Galloway and Carl Jones will provide scoring and athleticism in the backcourt, while a frontcourt that includes C.J. Aiken and Halil Kanacevic will give the Hawks plenty of options in the paint.
This could very well be Martelli’s best chance to replicate some of the magic the Hawks had in the 2003-04 season when they played in the Elite Eight behind the efforts of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.
No. 3: San Diego State
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San Diego State may be the most talented team on this list, and at No. 25 the Aztecs are the only one in the current AP Poll.
However, after the loss to Syracuse in the opening game it will be easy for fans across the country to forget about this Mountain West team.
That would be a mistake.
The Aztecs will be led by swingman Jamaal Franklin, who averaged better than 17 points and almost eight rebounds per game last season. In a perfect world, Franklin will play the same talented leader role that Kawhi Leonard did during the Aztecs’ impressive 34-3 run during the 2010-11 campaign.
Head coach Steve Fisher, of “Fab Five” fame at Michigan, will impressively be going for his eighth consecutive 20-win season as the Aztecs' leader.
Xavier Thames and Chase Tapley make up one of the most formidable backcourts in the entire country, something that, along with Franklin, could very well get San Diego State into the Sweet 16 come March.
If it did, it would mark the second time in three years for the Aztecs.
No. 2: Ohio
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Ask Michigan and North Carolina if Ohio will be a dangerous team in March.
The Bobcats made an impressive run to the Sweet 16 last season that included a victory over the Wolverines and a heart-breaking overtime loss to the Tar Heels at the end.
It seemed like people forgot about that March magic because the Bobcats are not in either poll despite the fact that they returned the majority of their contributors from a year ago.
The only real significant loss Ohio had was the departure of its head coach, John Groce (which is admittedly a significant loss), to Illinois.
The Bobcats will win plenty of games this season behind the excellent play of All-American candidate D.J. Cooper and the contributions of role players such as Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg.
It is only a matter of time before Ohio enters the realms of the Top 25.
No. 1: Minnesota
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The importance of the return of big man Trevor Mbakwe cannot be overstated.
If he can stay healthy (and out of trouble), he could lead the Big Ten in blocked shots and rebounds. He will at least find himself near the top of those statistics.
What’s more, Mbakwe could be the most dynamic paint presence in the entire conference this side of Cody Zeller.
But Tubby Smith has a lot more than Mbakwe at his disposal in 2012-13. The Golden Gophers return Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins and have plenty of depth to help Mbakwe ease his way back into the lineup.
This is the deepest team Smith has had in Minnesota. It will be challenged during the regular season in the premier conference in America, but that will mean the Gophers are battle-tested come March.
Don’t be surprised if Minnesota is playing in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.