Nowhere will you find these teams among the perennially ranked elite, or even upper-tier, programs when it comes to top pre and postseason rankings or recruiting classes.
Whether they are creating offseason buzz for the first time or trying to regain some of the glory of decades gone by, I've identified a trio of teams that probably won't gain much recognition otherwise—although they should.
One team many might expect to see, University of Detroit, wasn't included. I actually had the Titans ranked No. 25 in my recent Top 25 College Basketball recruiting classes of 2010.
Here are three sleeper teams that appear to be headed in the right direction and could surprise their conference, if not the nation, next year.
Ohio provided one of the true upsets in the NCAA tournament as they upended Georgetown in the first round. As an assistant at Ohio State, John Groce is a proven x’s and o’s tactician with the ability to recruit. It appears those traits are beginning to pay off.
RICARDO JOHNSON—SG (6’4, 195)
Johnson’s game doesn’t lack in any one area. In fact, he’s an extremely athletic—sometimes acrobatic—scorer who doesn’t let up on either end of the floor. He can penetrate exceptionally well to create his own shot but scouts believe his mid-range jumper is the best part of his game.
ETHAN JACOBS—C (6’11, 220)
Many think this Indiana native may now be over seven-feet tall. Jacobs will need to focus on adding some weight before he becomes a true force in the paint. However, there’s a reason a handful of Big Ten and Big 12 teams were beginning to ramp up their recruiting efforts shortly before he gave the Bobcats a verbal.
Bobcats’ fans will love his energy and hustle. His coaches will appreciate the immediate contributions he will provide on defense and crashing the boards on offense.
T.J. HALL—SF (6’6, 215)
A Gainesville, Florida native, Hall is a pretty good all-around player that uses his size and awareness to his advantage. Effective passing and taking his man off the dribble are probably the most developed aspects of his game right now.
NICK KELLOGG—PG (6’3, 190)
While Nick could have probably used his Dad’s legacy to become a preferred walk-on at Ohio State, the athletic combo guard chose the Bobcats instead. Former Buckeyes standout, Clark Kellogg, surely instilled some of the intangibles—hard work, toughness and accountability—that his son now possesses.
Because of that I see Nick as a future captain at Ohio.
From a physical perspective, Nick is an extremely strong player who can score in many different ways on the court. What I like best about his game is his ability and desire to get to the rim off the dribble. He reminds me a lot of Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey.
It’s been almost 20 years since La Salle has appeared in the NCAA tournament, but the Explorers coach, Dr. John Giannini, is one step closer after assembling this impressive 2010 class.
SAM MILLS—G (6’4, 185)
Mills is one of the more talented recruits in this class to have committed to a non-traditional, non-powerhouse program, fans might otherwise have expected him to do. The Explorers are gaining a big, physical point guard capable of leading the charge for several years.
With a pass-first mentality, quick crossover to penetrate and kick out—or score—and high basketball IQ, La Salle has found itself a gritty, smart point guard to run the show in front of the four thousand strong Explorers fans inside Tom Gola arena.
TYREEK DUREN—PG (6-2, 180)
As part of an impressive future backcourt, Duren is fun to watch on film. He’s lightning quick and uses his excellent handle to set up plays and bust presses. I like his three-point range and combined with a passer’s mentality Duren is a dependable floor general.
If Giannini wants to put a wet blanket on an opponent’s top guard, Duren would probably be given that responsibility. Like a true point guard, he will stay on his opponent’s hip pocket denying him the ball, or picking his pocket.
MATT LOPEZ—C (6’10, 225)
The Friars go from a 12-19 record, including a dismal 4-14 conference showing, to a definite team on the rise. Behind this momentum is a terrific 2010 class led by a pair of Top 100 players.
Coach Keno Davis and his staff—as well as every other proud Providence College staff, student and alum—are still in disarray after two players, James Still and Johnnie Lacy, allegedly attacked and beat a fellow student to the point where he was rushed to the hospital with broken facial bones.
Providence desperately needs some positive news to lessen the sting and frustration from this unfortunate event. By all accounts, not only is this incoming class very talented, but they seem to be hard-working, humble kids.
GERARD COLEMAN—G (6’4, 175)
Coleman is an excellent grab for the Friars. On film, it’s easy to see why many top-tier programs such as Marquette and Connecticut were after him. He’s smooth and athletic penetrating with a mid-range game that will need to be respected. Perhaps the most impressive, or underrated, aspect of his game might be his intense, blanketing man-to-man defense.
JOSEPH YOUNG—G (6-2, 185)
A top 100 recruit, Young is a big-time scorer. His near 26 ppg last season was enough to earn Gatorade’s 2010 Texas Player of the Year award. With so many players blurring traditional positional boundaries, Young is a classic shooting guard who can, and will, knock it down from beyond the arc.
He looks like the energizer bunny on the court and adds instant offense to a somewhat stagnant group.
BRICE KOFANE—PF (6-8, 200)
A Cameroon native, Kofane is an intriguing prospect with promising upside.
While parts of his offensive game are undeveloped, the Friars staff knows much of that is likely correlated to a lack of coaching. He’s an aggressive presence on the floor who shows no fear in the post exploding to rebound or block shots.
RON GIPLAYE—PF (6’8, 240)
Giplaye is a big kid who gives Providence some much needed bulk in the paint.