Thursday, October 21, 2010

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 Seton Hall, St. John’s, California, Oklahoma State, Alabama, etc., who are predicted to be second-division teams in their respective conferences but have enough talent and/or experience to make a run at the Dance. These are true sleepers that no one really expects to make a run towards March Madness.

Miami (Fl.): The Hurricanes had a gaudy 20-win season last year, but they went only 4-12 in the ACC and lose their top two scorers. With that said, they’ll have some decent pieces this year. Durand Scott is developing into one of the better all-around point guards in the country, while Malcolm Grant is a scorer. Adrian Thomas is one of the best three-point shooters in the ACC, and big man Reggie Johnson could have a breakout campaign down low. The Hurricanes need to learn how to win on the road, though.

Boston College: The Eagles have a new coach and don’t even have 10 scholarship players on the roster. With that said, their trio of guard Reggie Jackson, wing Corey Raji and forward Joe Trapani is one of the best in the conference. Jackson is poised to be a very productive scorer and passer; Raji is a lefty finisher; and Trapani can score and rebound effectively. Biko Paris is a solid point guard, and Josh Southern is ready to go this season. Steve Donahue could have this team competitive sooner than most think.

Wake Forest: This is really going out on a limb, as the Demon Deacons lose four starters and center Tony Woods from last season. Moreover, they have a new coach in Jeff Bzdelik. On the bright side, Wake welcomes a dynamite recruiting class that includes versatile big man Carson Desrosiers, scorer Travis McKie, gunner J.T. Terrell and two solid players in Melvin Tabb and Tony Chennault. As for the returnees, Ari Stewart has the potential to fill it up, while C.J. Harris can shoot from the perimeter.

South Florida: The Bulls do lose do-it-all guard Dominique Jones, who carried this team all season last year. However, they have one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts in the Big East. Augustus Gilchrist is healthy and ready to bounce back, while Jarrid Famous can rack up double-doubles. Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson is productive and creates match-up problems. In the backcourt, JC transfers Hugh Robertson and Shedrick Haynes could surprise some people. They will need to.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders struggled en route to a 4-12 Big 12 campaign, but they did reach the quarterfinals of the NIT and return one of the better inside-outside combos in the country in guard John Roberson and forward Mike Singletary. Roberson can score and distribute, while Singletary is a 6-foot-6 match-up nightmare. The key for this team will be freshman Javarez Willis, who might step in immediately to run the point guard position. JC transfer Paul Cooper is another newcomer looking to make an impact.

Colorado: The optimism surrounding the Buffaloes stems from the return of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, one of the best wing tandems in the country. Burks impressed all summer at camps, and could be poised to become one of the best players in America. Higgins is a big-time scorer who can get hot. Forward Marcus Relphrode is another double-figure scorer, and freshman Shannon Sharpe is strong and athletic at the point guard spot. Former Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle will take over for Jeff Bzdelik.

Indiana: A 10-21 season isn’t the best way to build for a big jump in the standings, but the Hoosiers are quietly building a decent talent base under Tom Crean. Maurice Creek should be fully recovered from his season-ending injury, and he combines with Verdell Jones III to form a high-scoring perimeter duo. Jordan Hulls and Jeremiah Rivers are two more solid guards. Up front, Christian Watford and sophomore Derek Elston will be the primary options. If this team improves its defense and rebounding, it could surprise.

Stanford: Tying for 8th in the Pac-10 and then losing the league’s leading scorer in Landry Fields might not sound like the perfect recipe for an NCAA Tournament season, but the Cardinal do return four starters and have plenty of fresh faces to make an impact. Jeremy Green is a shooter who can fill it up, while junior Jarrett Mann is versatile. Two freshmen, 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell and 6-foot-7 Anthony Brown, bring a much-needed influx of talent into Palo Alto. Those two need to contribute immediately.

USC: The drama surrounding O.J. Mayo and the NCAA investigation should be behind this team, which could make for a surprising season. Kevin O’Neill did a terrific job keeping this team focused last season, and his defense-first mindset is back again. Up front, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson are a formidable inside duo, while Fordham transfer Jio Fontan is going to be the go-to-guy on the perimeter when he becomes eligible in December. Freshman Bryce Jones is also expected to score from day one.

Arkansas: it seems like every season I get excited about the sleeper status of the Razorbacks, and then they let me down very quickly. Why stop now? Forward Marshawn Powell is looking to build upon an impressive freshman campaign, but this team’s strength is on the perimeter. Rotnei Clarke is one of the premier three-point shooters in the country, and Iowa transfer Jeff Peterson will come in and provide scoring at the point. Marcus Britt, Julysses Nobles and Jemal Farmer also have starting experience in the backcourt, while freshmen Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott will see minutes.

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