The top teams for the upcoming NCAA basketball season have been hashed and rehashed by the national media outlets. I thought I would take a look at the best of the rest to select my Sleeper team that could make the Final Four this year and some other unranked teams that I think will end the season ranked.
First of all, lets define a sleeper team -- no it is not a Duke team ranked 11th in preseason polls. I am looking to go a lot more out on the limb than that for a sleeper pick. I am going to eliminate all of the Top 25 teams in the the Preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Since the poll will be changing all year, I am posting these 25 excluded teams: UNC, UCLA, Memphis, Kansas, Georgetown, Louisville, Tennessee, Mich State, Indiana, Wash St, Duke, Marquette, Oregon, Gonzaga, Texas A&M, Texas, Arizona, USC, Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Kentucky, Southern Ill, NC State and Villanova.
Alright, now we know who is off limits. To make a deep run in the tourney a team usually needs talented upper class guards (either Srs or Jrs), solid defense and they usually have a player that can average 15+ pts a game throughout the tourney.
Without further adieu, my sleeper pick for the 2008's Final Four is:
the Ohio State University
Despite losing 4 starters including 3 very talented players to the NBA draft in Oden, Conley Jr and Cook, OSU still has immense talent remaining and has restocked vacated positions. They have Senior leadership at PG in Jamar Butler. Prior to Conley joining the team last year, Butler was the starting PG and played well as a Sophomore. Last year he moved to SG and spent some time at point when Conley was out on team that fell to Florida in the National Title game -- the kid has some experience. Also returning is the sophomore wing/SG, David Lightly, who showed flashes off the bench last year.
They also add a Top 100 wing in freshman Eric Turner who can play either the 2 or 3 spot. Turner is very talented and is a proven scorer. I would be very surprised if Turner is not playing significant minutes, and maybe even starting by mid-season.
In the front court, OSU adds Kosta Koufas, a 7'1" Center that was one of the top 15 rated freshman coming in for 2007 to two Sr PFs, Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger. But Matta also added another highly talented Top 100 forward in Dallas Lauderdale who could compete for minutes this year.
This team is tournament tested and has made a deep run so they know what it takes to win. Matta has proven himself as a very good recruiter and this year he reloads but with some key senior leadership at PG and in the front court. Don't be surprised if they make another deep run this year.
Other Teams Not Currently Rated that Should be by Year-End
I might have included KState as a potential sleeper team for a Final Four run if Huggins had remained. However, with a new coach and lack of upper class leadership at the guard position, I do not think they have the legs to make a deep run in the tournament.
But make no mistake, this team is loaded with talent. Bill Walker returns from an ACL injury during his freshman campaign. He was one of the Top 5 rated players in the 2006 recruiting class and he appears to be back at full strength and agility. In addition, KState adds Michael Beasley, a 6'10" forward that was rated #2 behind OJ Mayo in this 2007 class. They also return 6'5" David Hoskins for one of the top front court's in the nation.
However, the backcourt is shaky and became more so with the loss of incoming freshman Dominique Sutton for academic reasons. With unproven guard play it seems unlikely KState will be able to make a deep run in the tournament.
With four remaining starters, one might also consider them for a Final Four run in the tournament. However, the lost fifth starter was team leader Vernon Hamilton, the PG and teams 2nd leading scorer. If incoming freshman, Demontez Stitt can quickly learn the offense and limit turnovers this team could make noise.
With veteran leadership from bigs James Mays, Raymond Sykes and Trevor Booker the Tigers will have plenty of interior scoring and rebounding. Cliff Hammonds returns at SG and is a consistent scorer who hits 38% from 3 pt range.
After a dismal end to the season last year, the Tigers wound up in the NIT but then made a run to the Championship Game where they lost to West Virginia. While not the NCAA tournament such a run was good experience for this year.
If this team can gel around a freshman PG they could conceivably make a Sweet Sixteen run in the tournament.