With 342 Division I basketball teams in America, there will always be teams that fly under the radar. Every year, every tournament, there will be bracket busters and new faces. Spring is a time of new life. And March always brings us fresh, unknown blood. We’re at the midway point in the year and there are a few teams that could gain some steam as the years goes on.
Here are some sleepers that everyone should keep an eye on:
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There’s no worse feeling than going from overrated to underrated. At one moment, analysts were saying this was their year and at the next, they lost to Cleveland State. It did not help that Festus Ezeli was injured at the beginning of the year either.
Here’s my argument for Vandy: three of their five losses came to top-15 teams in overtime games. Sure, a win is a win and a loss is a loss, but do not look at Vanderbilt’s record and scoff. Losing to Cleveland State and Indiana State hurt, but they are back and playing their best basketball of the year. In their last ten games, they have gone 9-1 with an average win margin of 18 points. It also helps that their x-factor – Jeffery Taylor – is finally shooting better (58 percent from the field in his last ten games) and that Ezeli is slowly getting back in his groove. Keep your eye on this team as they will have a shot to upset either Kentucky or Florida twice later in the season.
They have the best record in the Atlantic-10 and yet nobody is talking about Dayton. Wait, what about Xavier? On Saturday, Dayton beat Xavier by 15 points. Their leading scorer is Kevin Dillard yet they are one of the best-balanced scoring teams in America. Six players on their roster average nine or more points per game. They beat Alabama when they were ranked No. 15 in the nation. It might be his first year in Dayton but Archie Miller deserves a shot at Coach of the Year with the job he has done with this team.
KANSAS STATE (15-4)
I’m a big believer that a team takes the personality of its coach. And that is just the case with Kansas State. This team is tough just like Frank Martin; They are 13th-best rebounding team in the nation (40.1 boards per game). Don’t forget that they had a great victory over Missouri, who checked in this week as the No. 2 team in the nation. Luckily for the Wildcats, they will be getting 6-11 Jordan Henriquez back after he was suspended. This team might already be ranked in the AP Top 25, but the Wildcats could make a jump should they upset any of the highly-ranked Big-12 teams. They have the toughness to do so.
Florida State might look like the sexy sleeper pick for ACC teams after two big wins against Duke and UNC. However, when you watch the Virginia Cavaliers you may want to reconsider that pick. They might not have any highly-touted freshmen or ridiculous athletes, but they are a team full of players with high basketball IQs. Their bread and butter is defense. When they get the momentum going, they are a tough team to stop. While they did lose a recent game to Virginia Tech, this team only lost to Duke by three and beat Michigan. They have solid veterans in Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski and promising youth in Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon. This team might not pass the look test, but when you see them play, you’ll understand why they can hang with any of the elite teams in the nation.
They are not the top team in the WCC, but they might be the most talented. Elias Harris is quietly having a breakout year, and is shooting the ball 10 percent better than last year from beyond the arc. Kevin Pangos has had an up-and-down first year for the Zags, but has still shown good promise. Their key is to make sure 7-0 Robert Sacre is playing well. They have lost to St. Mary’s, Michigan State and Illinois, three losses that aren’t too bad. The key for them will be to continue to win games in WWC play.
…and one deep sleeper to keep an eye on…
WEBER STATE (15-3)
Odds are against Weber State beating any big-time teams as a small conference school. But there are two things interesting about this team. They have the leading scorer in the nation in Damian Lillard who is averaging 25.1 points per game. Lillard is a 6-3 guard with potential to be an NBA Draft pick one day. The Wildcats also have the highest free-throw percentage in the country at 80 percent. Weber State has a great go-to option and takes advantage every time they go to the line (they attempt 21.8 free throws per game too). They have good size and are the favorites to win the Big Sky Conference. Small schools never get a lot of recognition, but we are warning you now that this won’t be the last you’ll hear of the Weber State Wildcats.
Who do you think is the biggest sleeper in college basketball this season?
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