Home > Current Updates > Preseason: Ten teams that could surprise in ’17-18

Preseason: Ten teams that could surprise in ’17-18

Dave2015Every year a few surprise teams emerge during the college hoops season:  squads that burst on the scene and find themselves in the mix for a bid to the NCAA tournament.  Who might those teams be in 2017-18?  Here are ten candidates.  You may have others.  Note: Teams are listed in alphabetical order, not by rank.

Central Florida – If you’re a hoops junkie, the Golden Knights may already be on your radar.  In addition to massive 7’6″ center Tacko Fall, UCF returns B.J. Taylor and A.J. Davis. They also inherit the services of Aubrey Dawkins, coach Johnny Dawkins’ son, who sat out last year after transferring from Michigan.  If the Knights continue to be a stout defense group, a bid is more than attainable.

Illinois – Coach Brad Underwood has a history of taking teams to the NCAAs.  The middle of the Big Ten is unsettled.  Freshman Mark Smith has Blue Blood-type talent, and classmate Da’Monte Williams has received rave reviews in early practices.  If the Illini find consistent production from frontline juniors Leron Black and Michael Finke, along with graduate guard transfer Mark Alstork, they could find themselves the mix.

Missouri State – With Wichita State now in the American, the Missouri Valley race is wide open.  Enter the Bears, who return several starters from a team that finished 17-16 last season. That talent includes Alize Johnson, one of the league’s best players, and  Ronnie Rousseau III, a potential backcourt playmaker.

Penn State – It could be the perfect time for head coach Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions  – as noted with Illinois, the middle of the Big Ten race is up for grabs.  PSU returns a strong guard trio in Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Shep Garner, along with power forward Mike Watkins.  With a deep and versatile roster, the Lions have a realistic shot on Selection Sunday.

Saint Louis – After Rhode Island, the Atlantic 10 race is very much a question mark. Know this about the Billikens: they add a host of potential difference-making transfers to go along with six returnees.  Two of those transfers include Javon Bess from Michigan State and Adonys Henriquez, a former All-Rookie selection as a freshman at Central Florida.  An NCAA bid might be a stretch, but, the Billikens are capable of taking a big leap forward.

St. Bonaventure – Let’s start with senior guard Jaylen Adams, who could well earn A-10 Player of the Year honors; he returns after testing the NBA waters.  He’ll pair with Matt Mobley to provide the Bonnies a dynamic back court.  In all, four starters return.  The Bonnies have as good a chance as anyone to challenge for second place in the A-10, a spot that should warrant NCAA consideration.

St. John’s – Under coach Chris Mullen, the Red Storm improved from 1-17 two years ago to 7-11 last season in Big East play.  That’s a huge jump – and another leap forward is certainly possible. Guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett return with a year of experience after making the All-Freshman team in conference play.  SJU also adds a couple of solid transfers. Put together, there’s enough talent to think St. John’s could be knocking at the door.

Stanford – The Cardinal struggled on the road last season.  Whether they can fix that issue remains to be seen.  But four starters return for coach Jerod Haase, including forward Reid Travis, a potential dark horse in the Pac-12 MVP race.  It’s also worth noting that down the stretch last season, Stanford came within an eyelash of beating both Oregon and Arizona.  If those type of close losses flip, the Cardinal could hear their name on Selection Sunday.

UAB – Lost behind March C-USA darling Middle Tennessee State, the Blazers return senior William Lee, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in C-USA.  Early indications also suggest that injured point guard Nick Norton will be fully recovered, a huge boost.  Chris Cokley is the third member of a trio that could help the Blazers challenge the Blue Raiders for a league title and a subsequent spot in March Madness.

Western Michigan – The Broncos finished an even 16-16 last season, ending 11-7 in Mid-American play.  Why the jump?  It starts with point guard Thomas Wilder, who returns after considering the NBA.  That alone attests to his talent.  A young group a year ago, the Broncos keep returning guard Reggie Jones and forward Brandon Johnson.  Think experience matters?  As the season progressed, WMU had a stretch of 10 wins in 11 games.  That bodes well for a group hoping to take another step forward.

Other teams considered: Arizona State, Auburn, Ball State, Boston College, Davidson, Houston, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Oregon State, St. Joseph’s


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