College basketball analyst and writer
When it comes to college basketball terminology, or really any sport, a “sleeper” is known as a player or team that has the potential to outperform their more established counterparts.
When we think of some of the best dorm teams in recent memory, the likes of Saint Peters (2021-22) and Loyola-Chicago (2017-18) come to mind. Could there be a sleeper team taking the college basketball universe by storm again this season?
Here’s a look at the sleeper teams this season. Some of the teams on this list are ranked in the AP Top 25. But that shouldn’t matter to you. They still don’t get love. Now is the time to shed some light on them.
Here are my college basketball team rankings.
Andy Katz Tiers: The Best Sleeping Gear
Level 1: The leaders
Miami, Florida: The Hurricanes made it to the Elite Eight last season and were given little consideration to return. Yes, they’re ranked (currently No. 14), but this squad has every reason to believe it could do it again. Isaiah Wong is a star, averaging 17.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and the Canes already have wins over Providence, NC State and No. 13 Virginia.
TCU: The Horned Frogs have had injury issues this season, but Jamie Dixon’s group has persevered to be a real threat to finish in the top three of the Big 12. TCU will be tested throughout the month of January, with six games against teams currently ranked in the standings. the Top 25 of the AP.
New Mexico: Richard Pitino has combined trades and a second-year comfort level into a top-25 team and an undefeated start. Jaelen House, Morris Udeze and Jamal Mashburn Jr. they’ve formed a pretty impressive trio, and all three started their college careers at other schools. The Pit is rocking again and you love to see it.
Xavier: Sean Miller 2.0 is doing pretty well. The Musketeers are 11-3, with those three losses coming to a trio of college basketball programs in Indiana, Duke and Gonzaga. They are off to a 3-0 start in the Big East and are probably the biggest threat to UConn.
Level 2: Next in line
Mississippi State: Chris Jans has this team defending and looking to be one of the surprise teams in the SEC. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to just 54.5 points per contest, which ranks sixth in the nation. An upcoming matchup against No. 7 Tennessee should be an epic defensive battle.
Missouri: The Tigers beat Illinois and Kentucky. Sure, they lost to Kansas, but that’s the only blemish on their resume so far. It will be interesting to see if this Mizzou group can compete with Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee in the SEC. Take this team seriously.
LSU: The Tigers have former Murray State head coach Matt McMahon at the helm, and he brought his best player with him in KJ Williams, who is thriving in Baton Rouge. LSU also added Illinois transfer Adam Miller, who is averaging 13 points per contest. This team is legit.
Penn State: Jalen Pickett is a star. The 6-foot-4 guard ranks in the top eight in the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding and assists. The Nittany Lions are poised to make an NCAA Tournament run under Micah Shrewsberry. The team’s win in Illinois was the score that they are for real.
Level 3: It’s hard to keep them that low
Memphis: The win over Auburn was a sign that the Tigers are a real threat to be title contenders in the American Conference. They also played Alabama exceptionally well on the road.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights beat Ohio State on the road, but lost on a controversial buzzer beater. However, wins over Indiana and Wake Forest are signs that Rutgers is back in the NCAA tournament. They are doing so with excellent defense, holding opponents to just 54.3 points per game, which ranks fifth in the nation.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have two of the best wins of any team in the ACC this season with a home win over Duke and a win at Wisconsin. While the ACC isn’t as top-heavy as it has been in recent years, it’s a deep conference with plenty of teams that can beat you on any given night. This Wake Forest group is definitely one of those teams.
providence: The Friars have a star in Kentucky transfer Bryce Hopkins, who is averaging 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Ed Cooley’s team is off to a 3-0 start in the Big East, which should send a warning to the rest of the league.
Level 4: Climb
Marquette: Shaka Smart has the Golden Eagles off to a 10-4 start and a 2-1 Big East record. This team is starting to play their style of basketball, and it’s clearly working. Wins over Baylor, Notre Dame and Creighton are proof.
USC: Andy Enfield’s crew never seem to get the respect they deserve. Always. Yet here they are again, 10-3 overall and a top-three team in the Pac-12. Time to start giving this show the respect it deserves.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers weren’t ready for prime time in Portland, but they’ve finally found their footing. Bob Huggins’ team has won six of its last seven games, including an impressive 84-55 win over Florida. Looks like a team that can make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
San Francisco: Chris Gerlufsen replaced Todd Golden and the Dons haven’t missed a beat. The 97-60 win over Arizona State should have been an indicator that USF should be in contention to get back into the top three in the WCC.
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Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.
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