Under-the-Radar College Basketball Teams Most Likely to Crack Top 25 in 2013-14
The college basketball season is less than a month old and we have already had significant changes in the Top 25 polls.
For one, the hype surrounding Kentucky’s chances at going 40-0 and staying in the No. 1 position all season died out an entire three games into the schedule. Michigan State now sits atop the rankings, but close games against Columbia and Portland showed how precarious the pole position can be this early.
But what about the bottom of the Top 25? Which under-the-radar teams are going to sneak into the rankings at some point this year?
Read on to find out.
With no more Xavier, Temple or Butler around, the Atlantic 10 lost much of its firepower this offseason. It was presumed that this would be a two-team race between VCU and Saint Louis, but Massachusetts may have something to say about that in the early going.
The Minutemen wasted no time knocking off two “power” conference squads to start their season when they played Boston College and LSU. They handled the Eagles by double digits, but the contest against the Tigers (a 92-90 victory) was one of the most exciting games of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon.
Chaz Williams may clock in at significantly less than 6 feet tall, but he is a legitimate superstar. The senior is averaging 21 points and 7.7 assists a night from the lead guard spot and is drilling 53.8 percent of his three-point attempts.
Williams has gotten plenty of help in the scoring department from big man and walking double-double Cady Lalanne (18.7 points and 11 rebounds a night) and Sampson Carter (16 points a game). Massachusetts’ high-powered offensive attack will lead it to the Top 25 at some point this year.
Boise State is not only a dark-horse candidate to crack the Top 25 polls, it is also a sleeper pick to win the entire Mountain West conference.
The Broncos have only played two games against lackluster competition, but they lead the nation in points per game (113), are fifth in field-goal percentage (57), are 22nd in assists per game (18) and are 11th in rebounds per game (48). It is safe to say that things are clicking in Boise during the early going.
Coming into the season the argument could have been made that Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are the best one-two punch in the Mountain West. Drmic is a scoring machine, while Marks is the floor general that controls both ends and can score a bit on his own. Thus far, they have not disappointed (Drmic 25 points a night, Marks 13 points and 3.5 steals a game).
But it was senior Jeff Elorriaga that made headlines when he scored 26 points on 9-of-10 shooting (including seven three-pointers) in only 12 minutes of action in his season debut against Simpson University.
If Elorriaga becomes a third cog in the Broncos’ attack, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV better watch out.
It may seem strange to call Xavier an under-the-radar team given the Musketeers recent March success, but after missing out on the NCAA tournament last season many are sleeping on Chris Mack’s squad.
Thus far, Xavier is sitting pretty at 3-0 and features one of the most underrated wins in the early season. Tennessee came into the Cintas Center as a borderline-Top 25 team that many were picking to make some noise this season, but the Musketeers never trailed and eventually won 67-63.
It was more impressive than simply a win against a tournament-bound squad from a “power” conference though. Xavier controlled the entire game with two starters sidelined by injury (Dee Davis and Justin Martin).
Fortunately for the X-Men, Semaj Christon was healthy and able to play. Christon is one of the best players in the country who rarely receives the recognition he deserves and is averaging 17.3 points a night behind a blazing 60 percent mark from the field.
Christon will lead the Musketeers back to the NCAA tournament and the Top 25 this year.
Could Indiana State be the best basketball team in the Hoosier State this season?
Indiana would probably have something to say about that even though they struggled mightily with LIU Brooklyn and Stony Brook in Assembly Hall. But after losing to Indiana State, Notre Dame certainly doesn’t have a case right now.
The Sycamores hope to return to the NCAA tournament this year after fizzling out down the stretch in 2012-13. Senior Jake Odum is one of the best mid-major players in the country and is averaging 16.7 points, 5.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and a steal a night thus far.
But Odum is not a one-man team by any stretch. Five players are scoring in double-figures in the early going. The balanced attack helped the Sycamores stun Notre Dame in South Bend. What’s more, Indiana State’s heartbreaking one-point loss at Belmont doesn’t look too bad anymore after the Bruins shocked North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Look for the Sycamores to battle Wichita State for the Missouri Valley Conference title now that Creighton is no longer around. They will also crack the Top 25 poll at some point.
Memphis is no longer around in the Conference USA, and no team will benefit from the Tigers’ move more so than Southern Mississippi.
The Golden Eagles will win plenty of games this season and they are off to a 3-0 start, including a victory over DePaul from the Big East. The team even gets a chance to test their mettle at Louisville later in November, and while a victory is unlikely don’t be surprised if it is at least close for most of the game.
Dynamic point guard Neil Watson and backcourt mate Jerrold Brooks are the star attractions for Southern Mississippi, but there has been a balanced scoring attack thus far. Aaron Brown leads the way with 14.3 points a night.
But it is the suffocating defense that has led the way in the early going for the Golden Eagles. Michael Craig, Brooks and Watson make life incredibly difficult on opposing ball-handlers, and will certainly continue to do so once C-USA play begins.
Don’t be surprised if Southern Mississippi runs rampant through the league in much the same way Memphis used to do before March.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.