While most of the Pre Season NCAA basketball polls have again predicted great seasons for Kansas, UNC, Texas, or Michigan State, there are always a few teams who fly below the radar and make a deep run into March Madness. Last season it was Cleveland State, Arizona, and Missouri. Not many experts had these Cinderella teams making it as far as they did.
Who will be this season’s surprise success story in college basketball. Here is my list of 10 NCAA teams that not many are talking about, but may make a surprise appearance in College Basketball’s postseason in ‘09-’10.
Conference – Big East Last Season’s Record – 18-14
Although the Bearcats slipped late last season by losing in the first round of the Big East Tourney to DePaul, they gained valuable experience and took a step in the right direction.
Last season’s leading scorer Jr. Deonta Vaughn(15.2 ppg) can return to his natural SG position with the expected return of ‘08 highly touted recruit, PG Cashmere Wright, who missed his freshman season due to a torn ACL. Last year’s Big East All-Freshman Team Selection, PF Yancy Gates(10.6 points and 6.1 rebs), is a beast and could be the the confernce’s next great dominant big man. Ibrahima Thomas, a talented 6′11 transfer from Oklahoma State is eligible to play in December.
The two gems of the program are incoming freshmen, Lance Stephenson, who is NYC’s all time leading scorer and top 10 recruit, along with Jaquon Parker, a 6′4 guard, who was a Virginia HS phenom.
Conference – Big 12 Last Season’s Record – 24-15 NIT Tournament
Last season the Bears finished strong by making it to the Finals in both the Big 12 Tournament and the NIT. Even with some heavy losses and an improving conference, they should improve on their 5-11 Big 12 record from last season and possibly push for a March Madness bid.
With the loss of their leading scorer, Curtis Jerrells(16.3 ppg) to graduation, the Bears will look to two former McDonald's All Americans in LaceDarius Dunn(15.7 points, 4.9 rebs ) and Tweety Carter(10.6 ppg and 40+% from 3pt ), US HS basketball’s All time leading scorer, and a six man, top 25 recruiting class led by 6′5 slasher, Nolan Dennis, who chose Baylor over Memphis when Calipari bolted for Kentucky. Michigan transfer, Ekpe Udoh will be a dominant defensive player in the paint, since he was an All Big 10 Defensive Team Selection by blocking over 90 shots in 24 games.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Conference – ACC Last Season’s Record – 12-19
The Jackets could rebound nicely after winning only two conference games last season primarily because of a star studded np. 4 ranked recruiting class and the return of one of the ACC’s best players, Gani Lawal(15.1 pts and 9.5 rebs), who pulled out of the NBA draft. They could have another star in the making in G Iman Shumpert(10.6 ppg and 5 assists). Maurice Miller also provides help in the backcourt with his 4.3 assists.
Prized recruit Derrick Favors(no. 4 in ‘09 Class) is an elite PF prospect who may have his sites set on the NBA after only one season and may become an All american by seasons end. They also boast four other top 150 recruits led by PG Mfon Udofia and SG Glen Rice. One of their incoming recruits who could help immediately, F Kammeon Holsey, will miss the entire season with a torn ACL sustained in August. They could make the biggest jump in the ACC this season.
Conference – Atlantic 10 Last Season’s Record – 27-7 NCAA Tournament Second Round
While most college hoops aficionados already know of Dayton’s fast paced attack, they still are sometimes an afterthought behind A-10 powers Xavier, Temple, and even St. Joseph’s.
The Flyers return four starters and 10 of 11 top scorers to a team who made it to the second round of March Madness, losing to Kansas. Led by one of the more underrated second year players in the country in Chris Wright(13.3 pts, 6.6 rebs, and 6 double doubles), Dayton plays an insane uptempo offense and intense defense by implimenting a style that most teams aren’t accustomed to by spreading regular minutes( no one avgs over 28 mins/gm) among a 10-12 man rotation, keeping everyone fresh. Luke Fabrizious keeps defenses honest by shooting almost 40% from three point land. Look for Dayton to be in the Top 25 all season and because of their style of play, and possibly make a deep run in March.
Kansas State Wildcats
Conference – Big 12 Last Season’s Record – 22-12 NIT Tournament
Blessed by having one of the best backcourts in the Big 12 in Dennis Clemente and Jacob Pullen, and some super talented incoming recruits, the Wildcats may sneak into the NCAA Tournament since they play tremendous defense and will be flying under the radar with everyone focused on Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.
The backcourt is stacked with leading scorers, SG Clemente(15 ppg, high of 44 pts vs Texas) and PG Pullen(13.9 ppg, high of 32 pts). A 6′10 transfer from UCONN, Curtis Kelly, who was a former NY HS phenom, and , PF Wally Judge(no. 15 recruit in ‘09 Class) who is a Michael Beasley clone, will help solidify the frontcourt. A Top 20, five man recruiting class will help K State not only in ‘09, but also build for years to come.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Conference – Big 10 Last Season’s Record – 24-10 NCAA Tournament First Round
Bruce Weber’s Illini made it back to the NCAA Tournament last season after missing the Big Dance in ‘07-’08. Not to make excuses, but they just weren’t themselves without Sr G Chester Frazier in their first round loss the the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, in a 12 vs 5 upset.
Even with losing two Sr guards (Frazier and Meachum) and sixth man (Brock), the Illini are in good hands with 3 talented sophomores and a #14 ranked recruiting class for ‘09-’10. Forward Mike Davis(11.3 pts, 8.1 rebs), who is recovering from a broken foot at USA Basketball tryouts, 7′1 C Mike Tisdale(10.2 pts, 4 rebs), and PG Demetri McCamey(11.5 pts, 4.6 assists) should keep Illinois in the top half of the Big 10 all season. Three top tier guards led by DJ Richardson and PF Tyler Griffey highlight Weber’s prized recruiting class.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Conference – Conference USA Last Season’s Record – 25-11
Could this be the year that the Golden Cane surpass the rebuilding Memphis Tigers in Conference USA? With Memphis in it’s most vulnerable state, with the departure of Calipari and his prized recruits, Tulsa is primed to challenge for the Conference USA Title and a NCAA birth.
Led by possible NBA bound, seven foot, 250 lb C Jerome Jordan(13.8 pts, 8.6 rebs, 2.5 blks) and returning leading scorer, guard Ben Uzoh(14 pts, 5 rebs, 3.6 assists), Tulsa seems to have everything aligned in their favor with the Conference Tournament moved to their home gym. The Cane are so confident they will be improved that they even scheduled a game against the Duke Blue Devils in February.
Conference – SEC Last Season’s Record – 19-12
Fresh off of a team bonding trip to Australia, Vandy seems poised for a NCAA birth. Led by proven big man AJ Ogilvy(15.4 pts, 7.1 rebs) and Jermaine Beal(12.5 pts, 40% 3pt), a trio of sophomore contributors, as well as a highly touted freshman, John Jenkins, who is a big time scorer, the Commodores could finish 3rd behind Tennessee and Kentucky in the SEC and be in the discussion for one of the final NCAA bids.
Niagara Purple Eagles
Conference – MAAC Last Season’s Record – 26-9
While playing in the shadows of MAAC Conference annual frontrunner Siena, the Purple Eagles bring back four starters from a team that won 26 games a year ago. Niagara is led by former Villanova transfer, Bilal Benn(13.8 pts, 9.3 rebs), who is an undersized PF who causes fits for bigger defenders, and leading scorer, G Tyrone Lewis(16.2 ppg).
The Blue Eagles will also have help from new recruits like PF Andre Gillette from Philly, for whom they outbid other mid majors like Temple, Xavier, and St. Joe’s, and 6′11 Luuk Kortekaas, who played on the 18 and under Dutch National Team.
Conference – Mountain West Last Season’s Record – 25-8 NCAA Tournament First Round
Thankfully Coach Dave Rose is cancer free. BYU is always at or near the top of the Mountain West Conference and are regular participants in the Big Dance, but have had touble getting past the first round. The Cougars should once again be near or atop the MWC again along with UNLV and SD State.
Losing leading scorer, Lee Cummard hurts but BYU has more than capable reinforcements in Jonathan Tavernari(15.7 pts, 7.2 rebs), who pulled out of the NBA Draft early, and one of the better all around players in the conference in Jimmer Fredette(16.2ppg), who showed he is much improved by dropping 41 points while competing in the King of Kings Tourney in New York. The Cougars also get help in the form of new recruits G Tyler Haws, who was Utah’s Mr. Basketball, and F Brandon Davies, who won back to back state titles in HS.