Thursday, October 11, 2007

Major Conference Sleepers


Everyone thinks of sleepers as the mid-major teams that have great seasons and have huge amounts of hype going into the NCAA Tournament. That may be true, but sleepers come in all shapes and sizes. Another category for sleepers is the major conference sleepers. Going into the season, they are teams that didn't make the Field of 65 the season before or have lowered expectations after losing several key players, and aren't considered locks to make it to the Tournament this season. Furthermore, I didn’t include teams like Georgia Tech, Purdue, West Virginia, California, etc., who are predicted to be second-division teams in their respective conferences but have enough talent to easily make a run at the Dance. These are true sleepers

Miami (Fl.): The Hurricanes are hoping their surprising play in the ACC Tournament bodes well for this season. They certainly have the depth and talent to pull off a few upsets. Jack McClinton leads the way in the backcourt, while wing Brian Asbury can do a variety of things. Inside, Anthony King is one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the conference, and Dwayne Collins, Jimmy Graham, and Raymond Hicks form a solid trio at the forward spots. The key may be the play of newcomers Edwin Rios and Lance Hurdle at the point guard position.

Wake Forest: Prior to the tragic passing of coach Skip Prosser, there was much optimism in Demon Deacon country. Still, Wake does have some quality players and could surprise some people in the ACC. The backcourt is going to have to lead the way for them. Ishmael Smith was one of the country’s leading assist men, while Harvey Hale and Anthony Gurley are both solid scorers. L.D. Williams just needs to develop some consistency. Freshmen Gary Clark and Jeff Teague will also push for time. Up front, Jamie Skeen and David Weaver will need to replace Kyle Visser. 6-8 James Johnson might be the best athlete on the team.

Florida State: I know the Seminoles were one of the last teams left out of the Tournament two seasons in a row, but it seems like most publications and experts are writing them off heading into this season. However, I think that Leonard Hamilton still has ample talent up and down the roster, and will make another February run at a tourney bid. The perimeter is in good hands with double-figure scorers Toney Douglas, Isaiah Swann, and Jason Rich, but the frontcourt is a question—star Al Thornton needs to be replaced. Freshmen big men Soloman Alabi and Julian Vaughn might be the keys to FSU’s season.

Seton Hall: Bobby Gonzalez’s rebuilding project is almost there—if not this year, then definitely next. The Pirates have a lot of talent coming into the program, and return a solid core of players. Eugene Harvey and Brian Laing lead the way. They are the top two returning scorers in the conference. Jamar Nutter is another decent scorer on the wing. Paul Gause, Larry Davis, and Jeremy Hazell provide a myriad of options off the bench. Up front, John Garcia is the lone returnee, but a decent group of young players are welcomed into the program.

Auburn: There might not be a team in the SEC with as much experience at key positions—the Tigers’ top six scorers are all juniors and seniors. However, most of that experience struggled in mediocrity throughout their respective careers. Auburn is led by its frontcourt. Josh Dollard led the team in scoring and rebounding, while Korvotney Barber is also solid down low. Quan Prowell might be the team’s best overall forward. Wings Rasheem Barrett and Frank Tolbert both scored in double-figures, and Quantez Robertson was one of the SEC’s top assist men.

LSU: Yes, I know the Tigers lose their entire post rotation, including All-SEC Glen Davis, don’t have a point guard or any sort of post presence—but I think they will still be competitive. Tasmin Mitchell is one of the best all-around forwards in the conference, and coach John Brady welcomes highly-touted freshman Anthony Randolph to the frontcourt as well. On the perimeter, Garrett Temple can do a variety of things and Terry Martin can score well. JC transfers Marcus and Quinton Thornton (no relation) will have to make an immediate impact in the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively.

Georgia: The Bulldogs were on the verge of an NCAA Tournament bid a season ago, but faltered down the stretch, dropping to fifth in the division by the end of the year. However, this year, they might be right there for a bid late in the season again. Sundiata Gaines is one of the better guards in the SEC, and Mike Mercer will be a very good player if fully recovered from injury. Billy Humphrey and Terrance Woodbury are also solid performers in the backcourt. Up front, Takais Brown is a go-to-guy in the post, and will only improve this season. A plethora of returnees and newcomers will fight for minutes next to Brown inside.

Arizona State: Even in the loaded Pac-10, the Sun Devils have a chance to make a move in the standings. The newcomers are a major reason for that optimism. There is a chance that three fresh faces will start immediately, in 6-10 Duke transfer Eric Boateng, five-star wing James Harden, and highly-touted point guard Jamelle McMillan. Furthermore, ASU returns All-Pac-10 big man Jeff Pendergraph, as well as three other starters from a season ago. Christian Polk was second on the team in scoring last year, while Derek Glasser, Jerren Shipp, and Antwi Atuahene were also decent on the perimeter.

The Bears have been building for this season since Scott Drew arrived in Waco. They return all five starters, their sixth man, and some key newcomers. Leading the way is a deep perimeter group. Curtis Jerrells and Aaron Bruce are both talented combo guards who can score and distribute with efficiency. Tweety Carter is a good scorer and shooter, while Henry Dugat averaged almost 12 points per game splitting starting time with Carter. The arrival of highly-touted freshman LaceDarius Dunn will make an impact as well. Kevin Rogers is underrated at forward, and Mamadou Diene can rebound and block shots.

Nebraska: This prediction hinges entirely on the incoming group of newcomers, since there are a whopping nine fresh faces on the roster this season. The Cornhuskers’ best player, though, is All-Big 12 big man Aleks Maric, one of the best centers in the country. Ryan Anderson is a good scorer on the wing, while guards Sek Henry, Jay-R Stowbridge, and Paul Velander return on the perimeter. Freshmen Cookie Miller and Brandon Richardson are expected to fight for point guard minutes, with JC transfer Steve Harley also factoring in the mix. Freshman Alonzo Edwards is athletic up front and USC transfer Jeremy Barr should also make an impact.

Penn State: Yes, the Nittany Lions. The same team that went 2-14 in the Big Ten last season, did not win a conference game on the road in ten attempts lat season, and lose two players that started at least 20 games a year ago. The main reason for optimism is the return of one of the best forward tandems around in Geary Claxton, a terrific scorer and rebounder, and Jamelle Cornley, an undersized force inside. Mike Walker is solid at the point, and Danny Morrisey can score. Brandon Hassell returns inside. Redshirt freshmen Andrew Jones and D.J. Jackson will make an impact up front, with JC guard Stanley Pringle also fighting for time.

Photo Credit: Curtis Jerrells; The Baylor Lariat


  1. Just so you know, Anthony Gurley, who played for Wake Forest transferred to UMass several weeks ago.

  2. You're right. I was referencing something I wrote for the Wake Forest site in the summer, and at the time, Gurley was still on the squad.

    I can't blame Gurley, though--his PT was going to decrease this year with the additions of Clark and Teague, I think.

  3. the Newton North duo of Gurley and Corey Lowe were supposed to both be playing at major d1's (gurley at wake and lowe at providence). 2 years later, gurley will be sitting out a year waiting to play in the A-10 and lowe is playing at BU. not exactly how everyone thought it would work out

  4. Go Noles. Isaiah Swann is one of the most slept on players in college basketball. Look for FSU to have a great year and make the tournament.Also for Swann and Rich to have the type of seasons that get them into the NBA next year.

  5. Anthony Mason Jr. -- St.Johns is a sleeper team to look out for in the Big East.. The talent that they have coming in can rival any team in its conference on paper... If the season play translates to that. Look Out