Underdogs are the lifeblood of college basketball. Everyone roots for the titans to fall, for the mid-major to take down the blue blood, for the scrappy first four team to make a run in March Madness. While it’s hard to predict which squad will step up their game, keep an eye out for the following under-the-radar teams to take a big step forward this year.
Florida may not be as “under-the-radar” as some of the other teams on this list, but they’re out-hyped by their conference mates, including title contender Kentucky. Don’t sleep on the Gators though: while Florida was average at best last season, they look primed for a deep run this year. The Gators returned the nucleus of their core while adding the best graduate transfer and one of the best recruits in the nation. Mike White might still be a bit green compared to some other SEC coaches, but he’s got arguably the most talented roster of his career and if he can put it all together, this Florida team could be something special.
The state of Florida is going to have a good year for college basketball. USF was very up-and-down last season, playing some top teams close and losing a couple nailbiters (3 losses in overtime, 6 losses within 3 points). This offseason, the Bulls remained strong, losing virtually nobody to graduation or transfer, while the top of the AAC got weaker. Memphis should be the unquestioned leader in the conference on the back of Penny Hardaway’s absolutely loaded recruiting class, but there’s no reason USF can’t make the tournament and win a game or two as well.
Davidson had a solid season only to see it end in a surprise blowout to eventual conference champs St. Louis. VCU is getting all the love in the A10 this offseason, but Davidson’s arrow is screaming upwards for the 2019-2020 season. They return prolific scorer and A10 player of the year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and will have a fully healthy Kellan Grady – something they sorely missed last season. Luka Brajkovic showed flashes from the post last season, and if he continues to improve, the Wildcats should have no problem securing the A10 title.
The Pac-12 was a basketball wasteland in 2018-2019. The one bright spot was Washington, who, with a strong offseason, should again be conference favorites. However, Colorado should be nipping at their heels. Things clicked for the Buffaloes late last season, reeling off 5 straight wins against some solid opponents before narrowly falling in the conference title game. Nothing of note happened for them this offseason, which – in this case – is a good thing: Colorado enters the season with one of the most experienced rosters in the conference. Look for the Buffaloes to keep the momentum they finished with and make a run for both the Pac-12 crown and a bid in the big dance.
Ivy League teams are routinely counted out even before the season starts, but the 2019-2020 Harvard squad should not be one such team. Bryce Aiken, Harvard’s star guard, forwent the NBA draft and is poised for a big year. Seth Towns, the 2018-2019 Ivy League player of the year who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury, comes into this season fully healthy. Add in the surprise #36 recruiting class featuring 4-star Chris Ledlum and Harvard looks to be a prolific scoring team. They’re currently hovering just outside the preseason top 25; don’t be surprised if they finish inside the top 20 and are this year’s Cinderella team come tournament time.
By Luke Greenberg