On Thursday evening, ESPN.com’s Fran Fraschilla put together a list of five teams — plus about ten honorable mentions — that he believes are under-the-radar programs.
It’s a good list. I agree with most of it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t add to it. Here are five more programs that are currently flying under the national radar:
UMass: The Atlantic 10 has the potential to be absolutely loaded next season, and that was before both VCU and Butler were added to the mix. And while St. Louis, St. Joe’s, Temple and Xavier will get plenty of preseason attention, there is a strong argument to make that the UMass Minutemen will be conference champions come March. They are led by point guard Chaz Williams, who might be the best point guard in the country that you’ve never seen play. He averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 assists and 4.4 boards last season.
If the Minutemen — who upset No. 1 seed Temple in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament last season — can get more consistent perimeter play from Raphiael Putney, Terrell Vinson and Jesse Morgan at the same time that Sampson Carter, Sean Carter and Cady Lalanne are providing a stronger interior presence, don’t be surprised to see Derek Kellogg’s team spend some time in the top 25 next season.
Arkansas: There are three big reasons that I think the Razorbacks will surprise some people next year: 1) BJ Young, who averaged 15.3 points as a freshman coming off the bench, returned to school. 2) Marshawn Powell should be healthy and back to 100% by the time the season starts. 3) Everyone important on that roster was young last season. Maybe, with a year experience under their belt, they’ll be able to win a game on the road?
Tennessee: I love the way that the Vols play, embodying the grittiness and toughness of their head coach, Cuonzo Martin. Trae Golden looks like he has a chance to be an all-conference caliber point guard, while the front line of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes has as much muscle as any in the country. Two keys for the Vols: can Jordan McRae become a a consistent scoring threat on the wing? Will Skyler McBee be a guy that can be counted on for 8-10 points and 43% shooting from three?
Davidson: Creighton and Murray State are the mid-major programs that have gotten all the love since the end of the 2012-2013 season, but Davidson is a team that you will have to keep an eye on as well. They bring back all eight members of their rotation, and that includes the five starters that averaged in double figures. Remember, this Wildcat team beat Kansas in Kansas City last season.
Pittsburgh: There is no way that a Jamie Dixon coached team puts together another season as ugly as 2011-2012 was for the Panthers. Losing Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson hurts, but with Tray Woodall coming back healthy, a solid core of young players returning and a talent like Steven Adams entering the program, Pitt should once again be relevant in their final season as a member of the Big East.