A few days ago (now several) I discussed two teams that were having great seasons in different capacities in reference to success of the previous season. Virginia was at the top of the ACC last year and Maryland barely finished over .500. Now, Virginia is top 5 and Maryland is a top 15 squad. So the teams worth noting right now that might be under the radar for the very fact that they are better than average but still probably not good enough to make the tournament this season. Teams outside of Big 5 conferences are tougher to predict because it’s more based off of team chemistry, but these are teams with quality recruits coming in that are known commodities. Some of these teams have already had some good results or will have good results while I finish typing this out. So let’s not act like I didn’t see it coming before you watched it happen.
LSU. The Tigers have been churning out talent here and there even when they haven’t been good, but they haven’t seen this kind of talent in Baton Rouge since the days of Tasmin Mitchell, Glen Davis, Anthony Randolph and Co. They’ve got the top-rated high school player coming in, Ben Simmons (who’s a 3/4 with size, skill, and athleticism). Add to that 5-star two-guard Antonio Blakeney and newly announced Arizona transfer Craig Victor at midseason and you’ve got three separate guys that can contribute right away. This will likely be added to Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey who are both undersized bigs with tons of potential and production, as well as still-growing 7’1 big man Elbert Robinson.
Wake Forest. Danny Manning. It was easy to doubt him after sitting on the Kansas bench as an assistant for several years and then going to Tulsa for whatever reason. But in one season Manning was able to improve a team (albeit with lots of older talent) and bring back a dormant program to respectability. Now onto to Winston-Salem, Manning has cleaned house and looks to add to a quality cast of vets including Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Madison Jones, and Andre Washington. Next year he will bring in 4-star big man Doral Moore (all 7’0 of him) and two other 4-star players, PG Bryant Crawford and PF John Collins.
UCLA. Two 4-star guys will hopefully be added to a team that greatly needs some shooting and someone to create those shots. Point guard Aaron Holliday will hope to be that guy while Prince Ali (I could start singing songs from Aladdin right now) hopes to be scoring in bunches. Add these guys to the three quality bigs of this year: Kevon Looney, Thomas Welsh, and Jonah Bolden as well as Tony Parker and Bryce Alford and you’ve got a decent team. The travesty that was Jordan Adams’ inability to make a decision and go with it really hurt the Bruins. And if Looney doesn’t continue to get better (and he’s getting better at a rapid rate right now), this team could be just outside the rankings provided they have a little guard depth added.
Florida. Yeah, I know. These guys aren’t really under the radar. But right now they stink. So to say they will be really good next year is a bit of a stretch. Oh yeah? Well I’m saying it. Florida will be really good next year. So will other teams in the SEC (we will get to that). Right now the only guy that might go to the NBA Draft would be Chris Walker. Somehow that guy is still living on potential because he hasn’t done much on the court. But there are other good players just waiting to break out/play for a team that wins (i.e. Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, Eli Carter, Devin Robinson, Alex Murphy, and Michael Frazier). You’d think with that many good players already they’d be better. But with four 4-stars (consisting of bigs Kevarrius Hayes and former Georgetown commit Noah Dickerson, SF Keith Stone, and SG KeVaugh Allen) they will be pretty loaded going forward.
Oregon State. They aren’t doing as well as their big brothers in Eugene, but the Beavers are getting better in a hurry. With Gary Payton’s son leading his father’s alma mater in every useful statistical category the future looks bright. To help out next year OrSU will have 4-star SF and coach’s son Tres Tinkle, 4-star SG Stephen Thompson Jr., two centers (4-star Drew Eubanks and 2-star Gligorije Rakocevic), and 3-star PG Derrick Bruce.
Auburn. In a crazy world of recruiting, having a big-name coach never hurt anyone. Bruce Pearl is back in college basketball and coaching rag-tag bunch in Auburn. The Tigers have thus far struggled to a record of 8-6, but have some talent to work with in Cinmeon Bowers (who is a load in the middle), 7-2 gift of a transfer/not admitted to Maryland C Trayvon Reed, and transfer G from Marshall Kareem Canty among others. To help out the roster next year are a few recruiting coups in the form of 4-stars Horace Spencer and Daniel Purifoy along with two 3-star SGs and an additional SG.
NC State. So maybe you’re wondering why the Wolfpack are listed here. But transfers are just as good or better than big recruits. This team is young and still developing. With former Alabama SG Trevor Lacey, former Top 100 high school players Abdul Malik-Abu, Anthony Barber, Cody and Caleb Martin, BeeJay Anya, and Kyle Washington. Both Anya and Washington have the ability to eventually make their way to at least the NBDL if not more. And while Ralston Turner will be graduating this year, transfer G Terry Henderson from West Virginia will be eligible and the team you saw play so big against Duke will have the chance to make an impression on the ACC.
Florida State. Another ACC program that has been brushing up with success here and there (even tying for a conference championship a few years ago) is the Seminoles. Leonard Hamilton has built a solid program in Tallahassee and his big team might get smaller next year, but won’t lack the talent to improve next year. With four 4-star players already signed for next year, things are looking bright. While Aaron Thomas was expected to play this season and be a team leader he decided to turn pro. But players like Jarquez Smith and Montay Brandon have gotten some of that extra time as long and lean athletic wing guys. Xavier Rathan-Mayes has been forced into maturing quicker and should be better for it next year. Though they haven’t made big strides in the last three years, the 7-1 Michael Ojo and 7-3 Boris Bojanovsky have height you can’t teach and still have upside. Freshmen Jean Marc Christ Koumadje is 7-2 and if not redshirted will have some time to grow (no pun intended). All three other recruits will offer shot-making (Dwayne Bacon, Terrance Mann, and Malik Beasley).
Providence. The Friars’ Ed Cooley has been an up-and-coming coach and recruiter for some time now. For whatever reason, certain guys haven’t worked out for the program and the big splash Cooley expected never materialized (Brandon Austin and Ricky Ledo). Kris Dunn has finally been able to play a full season and should be a very productive player as a junior PG. While Providence will lose some senior talent, three freshmen will be looked to make a significant improvement (Ben Bentil, Paschal Chukwu, and Jalen Lindsay). Two 4-star PFs and a 4-star SG are coming in next year to add depth.
South Carolina. Long a football school, USC is finally beginning to see some progress on the hardcourt as well as on the recruiting trail. Frank Martin has some depth in G Sindarius Thornwell, G Duane Notice, Lithuanian big mean Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius, and solid wing Demetrius Henry, while a great class to start of PG PJ Dozier and PF Chris Silva are both 4-stars. Slowly but surely, the Gamecocks are building a program with the ability to stick around.
Marquette. While rookie head coach Steve Wojciekowski continues to build on a few recruiting coups, the Golden Eagles aren’t exactly living up to previous seasons. But with transfer C Luke Fischer, F Steve Taylor, and young guards John Dawson, Duane Wilson, and JaJuan Johnson returning things are looking bright. Add in 5-star in-state product Henry Ellenson (whose older brother will be a senior) and three 4-star talents (PG Nick Noskowiak, SG Haanif Cheatham, and C Matt Heldt, and you’re looking at a team with the ability on paper to be a Top 25 team by the end of next year.
UConn. Like a few other programs, the Huskies aren’t exactly under the radar in the general sense. But this year isn’t going too smoothly and next year already seems to be fast-approaching. There’s just so many players that will have to return that this group can’t be bad. Purvis, Samuel, Hamilton, Cassell, Calhoun, Facey, and Nolan will all be vets by next year with the ability to play beyond college. Whether Amidah Brimah stays or not is a bit of a question but likely isn’t a threat as of right now. 4-stars from New England Jalen Adams and Steven Enoch will help with depth if needed.
Memphis. Josh Pastner is an awesome recruiter. He hasn’t proven to be a great coach yet. But at some point, the recruits have to make it happen whether the coaches help or not. Still, there’s been high hopes recently, especially with a weakened conference, and the Tigers still haven’t been great. Assuming Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are back next year with Kedren Johnson, Markel Crawford, Pookie Powell, and Nick King; a good year is likely. Adding in KJ and Dedric Lawson as well as Randall Broddie will help a lot. The Lawson’s are from the Memphis area and their father was added as an assistant coach prior to this season. There are two other little brothers that will be the rated higher whenever they make their decisions.
UNLV. Depending upon attrition after this season, Dave Rice may have another really talented squad. After bringing 4 guys with either high 4-star ratings or 5-star ratings in preps (Dwayne Morgan, Goodluck Okonoboh, Rashad Vaughn, and sophomore Christian Wood), you’d think the team would have done better than it’s current 10-7 record. While two transfers (Jerome Seagears and Jelan Kendrick) will be gone, Ben Carter comes from Oregon and SF Derrick Jones as well as 3-star SG Jalen Poyser will also be on the roster.
Texas A & M. While they weren’t able to upset Kentucky last week, the Aggies will have experience returning in PG Alex Caruso, CG Alex Robinson, forwards Jamal and Jalen Jones, and Davonte Fitzgerald. A very impressive group of 4-star recruits are coming in the form of centers Tyler Davis and Elijah Thomas, SF DJ Hogg, and SG Admon Gilder. Billy Kennedy will be a consistent Top 15 squad next year and will challenge Kentucky in the top tier of the SEC. Believe it.
(First draft 1/08)