Michael Rogner sort of stole my thunder by looking at 5 teams underrated by the media, but today we are going to go one step deeper and give you a sleeper or two from every BCS (plus a couple others). Sleeper is, of course, a bit of a nebulous term. Does it mean a sleeper to win the league? A traditionally bottom of the pack team surging towards the middle? Well….yes.
ACC - Boston College and Georgia Tech
The Eagles and Yellow Jackets matched up in the first round of the ACC tournament last year, with BC’s Olivier Hanlan stealing the show, scoring 41 points in the win. Both teams are returning most of their talent from last year, so it’s not hard to see why they are on this list.
Georgia Tech already has one thing going for it in that they were a pretty good defensive team last year, ranking 33rd in KenPom. They got a bit worse once they got to ACC play, but in Senior Daniel Miller they have a good rim protector (7.8 block percentage) and with everyone getting a year older, the offense should be able to catch up to the defense and the Yellow Jackets can make a run to perhaps the ACC top 6.
BC was the opposite last year, with a competitive offense but poor defense. Hanlan shot almost 50% from two and 40% from three while taking the second most shots on the team so, depending on how he adjusts to the extra attention he is sure to get from defenses, he could be in line for a big year. All told, the Eagles had three players shoot 37.5% or better from three, so if some of their other guys get a bit more selective, or shoot a little better, they could be in for a good year.
Big 12 - Baylor
Everyone has Iowa State as the Big 12’s sleeper, which kinda makes them not a sleeper anymore. Baylor, on the other hand, seems to get forgotten in the Big 12, but the Bears have made it to two Elite 8s in the last 4 years. Of course, they’ve also been to the NIT twice in the last 4 years, so who knows what to expect from that program.
This year’s installment might have more talent than everyone in the league except for Kansas, but they’ll have to overcome the loss of Pierre Jackson, who was probably the most underrated player in the entire country last year. However, the Bears might have the best frontcourt in the league. Cory Jefferson was 13th nationally in offensive rating last year, with an eFG of 61.5% and he also shot 70% from the line, while being the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker. Isaiah Austin is a potential lottery pick as a 7 footer who can step out and hit a jump shot, but he does need to improve his bulk a bit so he can score down low more easily, as he shot under 50% from two last year. And if one of those two has a rare bout of foul trouble, Sophomore Rico Gathers, who percentage wise was the 7th best offensive rebounder in the country (albeit in minimal playing time) can come and spell them. Add in three point specialist Brady Heslip, and you have a team that shouldn’t be overlooked in the Big 12 race.
Big 10 - Purdue
Similar to the Big 12, it seems like everyone in Big 10 country is tabbing Iowa as a sleeper, making them not really a sleeper. So digging a bit deeper, I’m going with Purdue. The Boilermakers lose just DJ Byrd off last year’s team and while they struggled on both sides of the ball last year, some of that was due to luck, which can be reasonably expected to swing the other way this year.
Their biggest problems defensively, where they ranked 9th in 3pt% allowed and last in free throw percentage allowed. Those are two areas in which not a lot can be done. Meanwhile, they ranked second in two point percentage allowed and did not allow opponents to attempt many threes, so they should see a marked improvement on defense this year.
As has been a theme with a lot of the other players and teams we have talked about, most of Purdue’s players will benefit from another year of experience. They will need to find someone to stretch the defense, however, as Purdue ranked last in the league in threes and 339th nationally in that stat. And Byrd, at 218 threes attempted, took roughly as many as the rest of the team combined.
Big East - St. John’s
I picked Georgetown to win the league, but Creighton should be right there and I won’t count out a Buzz Williams team. The team with the most talent in the league, however, might be St. John’s. They really struggled offensively last year, but the five players who played the most were three Sophomores and two Freshmen, so it’s hardly unforgivable. The fact that they were 37th in KenPom defensively shows that they have the athleticism to compete in the Big East. They finished just 8-10 in the league last year, but of course this is a brand new Big East, so that record means virtually nothing.
Everyone is touting Jakarr Sampson as a guy who could lead St. John’s to the NCAA tournament and beyond, but he will need to get a lot better efficiency wise. He shot just under 46% from two last year, in large part because a whopping 72% of his shots were 2 point jumpers. He’ll need to get to the rim a lot more in order to become the type of player people think he can be, but he and the rest of the Red Storm have the physical tools to do so.
Pac 12 - Arizona State
There isn’t a great answer for the Pac 12 like there is for most of the rest of the leagues, but I am taking the Sun Devils. Jahii Carson had a great Freshman season and absolutely should be the preseason first team All American point guard. Inside, the Sun Devils feature 7’2” Senior Jordan Bachynski, who had the 7th best block percentage in the country last year. Arizona State loses Carrick Felix, who led them in three point percentage, but 6’7” Jonathan Gilling took 229 threes last year, so there’s little doubt that they’ll have someone to stretch the defense. If the Sun Devils get enough secondary scoring to help Carson, they should be an NCAA tournament team. (and, just to reiterate, free beers or candy or at least twitter kudos to the writers who have enough stones to go against the grain and vote the right guy in as preseason All American at the point guard spot).
SEC - Florida
Everyone has hammered the point home that Kentucky is head and shoulders above the rest and, while I think they are the favorites going into the season, I feel the need to keep bringing up the fact that Florida is probably a better team right now given Kentucky’s inexperience, and might end up the champion of the league.
I like Kasey Hill better than I like Andrew Harrison, and Florida returns the bulk of a team that was one of the best defensive groups in the country, and losing Kenny Boynton will probably end up being a net positive for their offense. Patric Young quietly had a very good year inside and with the addition of transfer Dorian Finney Smith and (presumably) the addition of highly touted Freshman Chris Walker, the Gators look to be among the nation’s best teams in terms of offense, defense, talent and depth.