The consensus seems to be that 2016 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.
That is, unless you’re a Villanova fan. In which case it was, to paraphrase Yes singer Jon Anderson, something beautiful, amazing, wonderful, extraordinarily beautiful.
You see the difference a little perspective makes? It doesn’t matter what kind of year it was. What matters is what kind of year we’re going to have. We are hoopheads, after all. We don’t despair when the ball drops. Rather, we remain hopeful because we know it’s going to bounce back up.
And so, as the calendar turns to 2017, it is time to revisit a tradition as storied and celebrated as the Times Square ball drop, only this time without the Mariah Carey turnover. I’m speaking, of course, about the annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report.
Regular visitors to this space know the drill. Your resident hoop thinker has assembled a large group of promiment teams and taken stock of their value based on their records, rankings and buzz. Then I have peered into my crystal—or should I say, leather ball to determine whether those prices will rise, fall, or hold steady. As such, I have given each stock a rating of Buy, Sell or Hold.
As you read through these—and I know you will study every word closely, because there’s going to be a quiz later—bear in mind the counterintuitive nature of the Hoop Thoughts Stock Report (HTSR). The better a team is, the higher the ranking, the greater the buzz . . . the greater likelihood I would rate it as a Sell. The same is true for a team that has much potential but has fallen on hard times lately. Thus, just because I rate Team A a Buy and Team B a Sell, that does not mean I believe Team B is better than Team A. Got it?
Of course you do. You are a wise reader and a savvy shopper. And you have come to the right place. Behold, then, my beautiful, amazing, wonderful, extraordinary, beautiful stock ratings. Try to lip synch along if you can:
Arizona (12–2) — HOLD
Even while the Wildcats have been playing well and winning games, the season feels like it is in one big holding pattern while we await the fate of 6' 5" sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who has yet to play this season. The school has not revealed what Trier did to warrant sitting out, nor is coach Sean Miller saying when (or if) he might be back. Trier averaged 14.8 points per game last year, but even if he came back soon, it would take him a while to get back up to speed. In the meantime, Arizona is saddled with a short bench and a starting lineup that includes three very talented freshmen. Should be an interesting couple of months.
Baylor (13–0) — SELL
It’s been a rough decade for the Scott-Drew-can’t-coach crowd, but let’s be honest. The Bears have shown impressive guile and cohesion in staying undefeated, but they do not have the same level of talent as the other schools currently occupying the top tier of the rankings. So unless you think Baylor is going to snap Kansas’s Big 12 streak and make it to the Final Four—which I don’t—then you have no choice but to sell this stock, because it has no place to go but down.
Butler (12–2) — BUY
This is purely a timing play. The Bulldogs’ stock price just took a nasty hit with a loss at St. John’s, but they are hosting Villanova at home on Wednesday night. That’s a golden opportunity to hand the No. 1 team its first loss. Butler may not be a great team, but it is a solid squad that will not lose many more games it shouldn’t. The Bulldogs take care of the ball (No. 12 nationally in turnover percentage), they have a bona fide late-in-the-shot-clock scorer in 6' 7" junior forward Kelan Martin, and they have an exciting freshman in 6-foot guard Kamar Baldwin who recently moved into the starting lineup and is only going to get better.
BYU (11–4) — HOLD
I want to believe the Cougars are good enough to be an NCAA tournament team, if only because they’re so much fun to watch. Even when they suffered a disappointing loss at home to Utah Valley back in November, they still put 101 points on the scoreboard. But the fact is they did not do nearly enough in the nonconference to warrant an at-large bid, so they will be operating on very little margin for error these next two months. That starts with Thursday’s road game at Saint Mary’s and flows through a home date with Gonzaga on Feb. 2. Better start tightening up on D, guys.
Cal (10–4) — SELL
I know Cuonzo Martin’s teams typically get better as the season goes on, but right now I’m not seeing many signs that these Bears are going to be formidable in March. Freshman guard Charlie Moore has been one of the season’s big surprises, but 6' 11" sophomore forward Ivan Rabb, who made a lot of preseason All-America lists, has not improved at all from the end of last season. If anything, I’d say he has regressed. The Bears just had two chances for major stock-boosting wins last month, but they couldn’t quite get over the top against Virginia and Arizona, losing both games at home. They have road swings to Los Angeles and Oregon coming up later this month, so this is definitely not a good time to invest.
Cincinnati (12–2) — SELL
This is a good team, but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. The Bearcats grind their way to a lot of wins, but when they get into a big spot and need a bucket in their halfcourt offense (not to mention some clutch free throw shooting), they come up short. Cincinnati is ranked 24th in defensive efficiency but 61st in offensive efficiency; 9th in defensive free throw rate but 322nd in offensive free throw rate; 17th in steal percentage but 306th in free throw percentage. It’s a down year in the American which means there are plenty of wins coming. It also means those wins will not be earn the Bearcats a higher ranking or greater buzz. The exception is the Jan. 26 date at home against Xavier.
Creighton (13–1) — HOLD
This might be the nation’s most entertaining team, but once again, the Bluejays are falling into a familiar pattern of scoring a ton of points but being unable to get a stop when they really need one. I’m also concerned that 6' 3" junior guard Marcus Foster is reverting to his bad habit of being a volume shooter. Even though Creighton went into its big matchup with Villanova undefeated, it was fortunate to escape Oral Roberts at home two weeks ago. I still think this team has Final Four potential, but having been unable to cash in on its opportunity to knock off the nation’s No. 1 team at home, it’s hard to imagine Creighton’s stock going any higher.
Duke (12–2) — BUY
(Editor's note: This entry was updated after Duke announced that Mike Krzyzewski would miss four weeks or more following lower back surgery.)
I can’t remember the last time you could buy Duke at such a low low price. The Blue Devils have been rocked by injuries as well as the Grayson Allen contretempts, and they just got their butts handed to them by Virginia Tech. That was followed on Monday by the news that Mike Krzzyewski would have back surgery that will force him to rest and recover for at least the next month. Yet, this looks to me like just a temporary stroll through the valley. The program will be in good hands under Jeff Capel until Coach K returns. Allen should be back soon, and hopefully he will benefit from a hard lesson. Freshman forward Harry Giles, who has played just three games after returning from knee surgery, is only going to get better, as will Jayson Tatum, who also missed the first eight games with a foot injury. Even without those two future NBA draft lottery picks, Duke took Kansas to the wire in Madison Square Garden before suffering its only loss. Moreover, the Blue Devils’ ACC schedule is back-loaded. So this is a depressed stock with a ton of upside. I’d recommend buying lots of shares.
Florida (10–3) — BUY
The Gators have been flying under the radar for a while, but that is going to change. Their three losses came against quality teams (Gonzaga, Duke, Florida State) away from home, but their win at Arkansas demonstrates that the Gators have what it takes to win the race for second place in the SEC behind Kentucky. This is a veteran team that plays tough defense (No. 11 nationally in efficiency) and is starting to show signs of being a potent offensive team as well. They’ve been getting inconsistent play from 6' 6" senior guard Canyon Barry, the heralded transfer from College of Charleston who for some reason has forgotten how to make three-point shots. But I expect him to improve as the season goes on, and I expect Florida to benefit from the overall weakness of this league.
Florida State (14–1) — BUY
It may seem a risky proposition to invest in this stock right after that huge road win at Virginia, but that should tell you how bullish I am on this team. One of the things I look for is a dynamic scorer who can create his own offense. We saw that on display last Saturday, when 6' 7" sophomore forward Dwayne Bacon scored 26 second-half points at Virginia. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 6' 4" junior guard, is capable of doing the same. The Seminoles have a future lottery pick in 6' 10" freshman Jonathan Isaac, a first-rate rim protector in 7' 1" senior Michael Ojo, and a stellar defensive coach in Leonard Hamilton. They also have four of their next five games at home, with Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville as the opponents.
Gonzaga (14–0) — BUY
This has been one of the nation’s truly elite programs over the last two decades, and yet the Zags just did something the program never had done before—complete a perfect nonconference record. That means Gonzaga has a legitimate chance to end the regular season with a perfect record, which would in all likelihood make it the No. 1 ranked team in the country. I know, I know, Gonzaga always excels during the regular season but has yet to cross that Final Four threshold. All this program needs is a little more luck, because this is a team that checks off all the boxes. It has a winning point guard in junior Nigel Williams-Goss, a bunch of wing players who can defend and shoot threes, a handful of stretch fours (including a very talented pair of freshmen, 7-foot Zach Collins and 6' 10" Killian Tillie) and an immovable post five-man in 7' 1" senior Przemek Karnowski. Don’t be a doubter, be a wise investor. Buy this stock while you can still afford it.
Indiana (10–4) — BUY
This is a great time to invest in Indiana. The Hoosiers are reeling after dropping three of their last five, including an embarrassing loss at home to Nebraska. But there is no doubt that there are some excellent pieces here. The Hoosiers’ main two problems of late are that they are weak defensively and commit way too many turnovers. Both problems are correctible. Plus, the schedule is set up for an uptick. Four of Indiana’s next six games are at home, beginning with a visit from Wisconsin on Tuesday. There’s nothing like a couple of bad losses to get players’ attention on what they need to improve upon. I trust Tom Crean to get these guys going.
Iowa State (9–3) — BUY
When an unranked team starts five seniors and boasts one of the top point guards in the country in Monte Morris, that team is a pretty safe bet. All three of the Cyclones’ losses were respectable. They fell by two points to Gonzaga in Orlando, in overtime at home to Cincinnati, and by 14 points in a true road game at Iowa. Iowa State plays Baylor in Waco on Wednesday and they’ll host Kansas in two weeks. I spy a payday.
Kansas (12–1) — BUY
For a team with this record, this rank and this pedigree, the Jayhawks have been oddly quiet. That will change as they embark upon—indeed, as they complete—their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Yes, it’s a bummer that 7-foot freshman Udoka Azubuike is lost for the season because of wrist injury, but there are plenty of strong bodies in the frontcourt to make up for it. Two players in particular, 6' 8" junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk and 6' 10" sophomore forward Carlton Bragg, have underperformed the first two months. I’m guessing one if not both will step it up. But the bottom line here is this team has Bill Self coaching and senior guard Frank Mason running the show. If you’re looking for a place to stash your money, you could do a whole lot worse than those two guys.
Kentucky (11–2) — BUY
It was said long ago that the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. I think the best thing about freshmen now is they grow up quickly if they get enough minutes. So I love buying stocks in January of teams that rely on supremely talented but raw freshmen. This UK squad has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams John Calipari has ever had, and even when the other team does score, the Wildcats are so fast getting down the court it almost doesn’t matter. Malik Monk went 1 for 9 from three at Louisville and Kentucky shot 5 for 22 as a team, and yet the Wildcats still almost won the darn game. That should tell you a lot about this team’s margin for error, as well as its potential for growth.
Louisville (12–2) — BUY
If the Cardinals go on to have a great season, their win over Indiana on Saturday will be seen as a turning point, even moreso than last week’s triumph over Kentucky. That’s because they forged an identity around their defense. Yes, Louisville is a speedy, tenacious pressing team, but now the Cards are locking teams up in the halfcourt, thanks largely to the rim-protecting presence of 7-foot junior center Anas Mahmoud. I still don’t trust the Cardinals’ capacity to score in the halfcourt, which is why a slow-it-down opponent like Virginia is such a tough matchup. But as long as the Cardinals are committed to playing defense and crashing the offensive glass, they have a chance to be special.
Michigan (10–3) — HOLD
The Wolverines are who we thought they were. They can score as quickly and efficiently as any team in the country, but they are not good enough defensively to beat the elite schools consistently, especially away from home. Their toughest opponents were South Carolina (road), Virginia Tech (home) and UCLA (road), and in all three cases, Michigan stayed competitive but lost. They also have a real tough Big Ten schedule, with two games each against Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State.
Michigan State (10–5) — BUY-PLUS
You’re not really going to doubt Tom Izzo, are you? Have you not been paying attention the last 20 years? First of all, Michigan State has been playing some pretty good ball the last couple weeks after a brutal opening stretch that included too many games, too many miles, and too many opponents who were just too good. The Spartans have been playing the last couple of weeks without their superlative freshman wing Miles Bridges, but he should be returning soon from a high ankle sprain. In the meantime, Izzo has been developing some of his other guards (particularly 6' 4" senior Alvin Ellis) because it’s apparent that 6' 3" senior Eron Harris isn’t quite good enough to carry the load. And 6' 8" freshman forward Nick Ward has become a bona fide post threat who can draw double teams. It will take Bridges a couple of weeks to regain the form he showed early in the season, but when that happens, look out. The Spartans will be cresting at just the right time, just like they always do.
North Carolina (12–3) — BUY
In the paradoxical logic of the HTSR, North Carolina’s loss at Georgia Tech makes this an even better bargain. There’s still a lot to like about this team. The Tar Heels have better role definition than a year ago, they have benefited from the dramatic improvements of wing Justin Jackson and guard Joel Berry, and they made an upgrade on the glass when they added 6' 11" freshman Tony Bradley. It also appears that 6’6” junior Theo Pinson, who broke his foot in the preseason and has yet to play a game, is ahead of schedule in his recovery. Most of all, I love that the Tar Heels only have to play Florida State, Notre Dame and Louisville once—and all those games are in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina State (11–3) — BUY
The Wolfpack’s 18-point loss at Miami on Saturday shook my faith somewhat, but I still believe this team has some nice pieces. Besides, you can buy this stock for cheap. N.C. State has one of the nation’s top point guards (and a soon-to-be lottery pick) in freshman Dennis Smith, and it just added an intriguing weapon in Omar Yurtseven, a 7-foot freshman scoring machine from Turkey who missed the first eight games because of eligibility issues.
Notre Dame (12–2) — BUY
I went with the Buy rating largely because the Irish are about to host Louisville on Wednesday. If they win that one, this price will go up—and also hit its ceiling. I admit, though, I have a thing for teams that score easily. Given the way the games are being officiated and the overall trends in the sport, I’d rather invest in a team that scores easily but is suspect on D than one that has the converse profile. Besides being both offensively efficient (No. 10 nationally on kenpom.com) and prolific (83.2 ppg), Notre Dame is among the nation’s elite in two important categories: free throw percentage (first at 84.1 percent) and turnover percentage (second). Throw in a starting lineup that includes four upperclassmen plus a tough-as-nails point guard in 6' 1" junior Matt Farrell, and I’d say you’ve got yourself a pretty good bet.
Ohio State (10–3) — SELL
The Buckeyes lost four freshmen off last year’s team to transfers, and coach Thad Matta did not bring in a vintage recruiting class. So they are still trapped in quasi-rebuilding mode, good enough to compete with teams like Virginia and UCLA but not quite good enough to beat them. Plus, four of their next six games are on the road, and one of the home games is against Michigan State. That means this stock is going to go down before it goes up again.
Oklahoma State (10–3) — BUY
I was disappointed the Cowboys didn’t give West Virginia a better game on Saturday (they lost by 17 in Stillwater), but I still think this is a tournament team. First-year coach Brad Underwood has cranked up the tempo, and he has a true gem (and a future pro) in 6' 1" sophomore guard Juwan Evans, who ranks in the top five of the Big 12 in points (19.8), assists (5.2) and steals (2.3).
Oregon (13–2) — BUY
Hopefully you were smart enough to buy this stock last week, before the Ducks beat then undefeated UCLA. This team was already on a nine-game win streak coming into that game. More important, we are finally seeing the real Dillon Brooks. The 6' 7" junior forward was on a lot of preseason All-American lists (including mine), but he missed several months this summer following foot surgery and sat out Oregon’s first three games. Even after Brooks came back, he hardly looked like his old self. But he was sensational in those wins over UCLA and USC last week, scoring a combined 51 points while shooting 6 for 12 from three-point range. That, of course, included the clutch late three-pointer that delivered the knockout blow against the Bruins. That’s a pretty good memory to carry into the New Year.
Pittsburgh (11–3) — SELL
The Panthers have a gaudy record but it came against a weak schedule. In their only ACC game so far, they blew a golden opportunity to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, and instead fell by one point in overtime. The problem is not a lack of talent—senior forward Michael Young might be the best player in America nobody has heard about—so much as the overall toughness of the ACC. Pitt is not tough enough defensively right now to be an upper-tier team in this league. Therefore, this stock has nowhere to go but down.
Purdue (12–3) — BUY
I must say I was surprised that the Boilermakers lost at home in overtime to Minnesota on Sunday night, but I still think they could end up as the best team in the Big Ten. They have the best player in the league in 6' 9" sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, who is ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring (18.5 ppg) and second nationally in rebounding (12.4 rpg). He is also 13th in the conference in free throw shooting at 77.1 percent. Purdue also has the added dimension of being one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, although they shot it poorly in that loss to the Golden Gophers. Last month, coach Matt Painter inserted freshman guard Carson Edwards into the starting lineup and starting bringing 6' 8" junior forward Vince Edwards, who had been struggling, off the bench. That move appears to have paid off. And Purdue being Purdue, this team continues to play stellar defense (20th nationally in efficiency) without fouling (second nationally in defensive free throw rate). That combination will play quite well in March.
Saint Mary’s (12–1) — SELL
Once again, coach Randy Bennett has put together a weak nonconference schedule (ranked No. 276 nationally) that overinflates his team’s stock. The Gaels are wonderful to watch on offense (they’re ninth in the nation in assists per made field goals), but they are, as usual, just so-so on defense (51st in adjusted efficiency). Plus, it’s hard to trust a team that lost at home by 14 points to UT Arlington. Saint Mary’s will win its share of games, but I don’t see the Gaels knocking off Gonzaga in the WCC, which means a lower seed in the NCAA tournament, which means a more difficult path to the second weekend.
South Carolina (10–3) — BUY
This is a pretty easy call. The Gamecocks were undefeated and playing pretty good ball before Frank Martin suspended their leading scorer, 6' 5" senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, for a violation of team rules. In Thornwell’s absence, 6' 6" sophomore guard P.J. Dozier has looked like a future pro, but defensively the Gamecocks haven’t been as good, which is why they dropped three out of five games to fall off the map. With Thornwell now reinstated, South Carolina is about to be pretty good again. Better scoop ’em up fast.
St. John’s (7–7) — SELL
Yes, this team notched a pair of compelling wins at Syracuse and at home against Butler, but let’s not fool ourselves. The Johnnies are not an NCAA tournament team. Their players are talented but inexperienced, and their main guys have slight frames that will not hold up in the rough-and-tumble Big East.
Syracuse (8–5) — HOLD
If you haven’t dumped this stock by now, there’s no point selling while the price is at rock bottom. After all, you can’t get any worse than losing by 33 at home to St. John’s and falling by 16 at Boston College. So you might as well bide your time and see whether Jim Boeheim can work his usual late-season magic. After all, last season the Orange started off 0–4 in the ACC, lost five of their last six games, and still wound up in the Final Four. Maybe this team, which is relying on two graduate transfers and a pair of freshmen, will gel in time to make things respectable down the stretch.
Tennessee (8–5) — BUY
The Vols had two impressive near misses in the nonconference, falling to Oregon in overtime on a neutral court and taking North Carolina to the wire in Chapel Hill before losing by two. Last Thursday, they knocked off Texas A&M in College Station. Tennessee is one of the youngest teams in the country and struggles to score at times, but like most Rick Barnes-coached teams, it plays tough defense and competes really, really hard. A young team with no buzz in a weak league that has shown it can stand toe to toe with good opponents away from home? That, my friends, is a bargain.
UCLA (14–1) — BUY
You probably won’t get a ton of return on this stock, but it’s still a pretty good time to buy given that the Bruins just lost their first game, at Oregon. That loss revived some familiar, nagging questions. Is this team good enough defensively to win a title? Can coach Steve Alford finally get this team past the Sweet 16? My answers are yes and yes. UCLA has a perfect blend of old and new, and those two freshman starters, Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf, are only going to get better. (That’s a scary thought.) Junior forward Thomas Welsh missed four games with an injury, yet in his first game back he had 20 points and ten rebounds in the loss to the Ducks.
USC (14–1) — HOLD
If this were a week ago, I would have recommended that you sell USC. After all, the Trojans were undefeated, ranked No. 22 and had a road date at Oregon coming up. Now that they’ve taken their hit and dropped out of the ranks of the unbeatens, you might as well see how this plays out. In the first place, 6' 10" sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright should be returning pretty soon from the sprained MCL in his knee that he sustained on Nov. 30. Also, within the next three weeks the Trojans will be playing both Arizona and UCLA at home. If USC wins one or both of those games, that would be a good time to cash out.
Utah (10–3) — BUY
The truly smart shopper looks for teams who have added good players midseason and then scoops up their stocks before the rest of the world catches on. Utah added two quality mid-semester transfers in David Collette, a 6' 8" junior who arrived from Utah State, and Sedrick Barefield, a 6' 2" sophomore from SMU. The Utes are 5–0 since those two became ineligible, including Sunday’s home win over Colorado when the pair combined for 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Villanova (12–0) — HOLD
I was much prepared to rate the Wildcats as a Sell, but Saturday’s win at Creighton changed my mind. Not only did Villanova knock off a really good team on the road, but it didn’t have to rely on Josh Hart playing Superman to do it. That’s because sophomore guard Jalen Brunson stepped up with a career-high 27 points. Villanova is hoping that 6' 3" junior guard Phil Booth, who has missed the last 10 games with lingering tendinitis in his left knee, will return soon. Still, it’s hard to rate a team that is undefeated, ranked No. 1 and plays in a tough conference as a Buy at this point in the season. Villanova is bound to get tripped up a couple of times in the next few weeks. If you haven’t bought their stock before, there’s no point in doing so now.
Virginia (11–2) — SELL
Virginia’s road domination at Louisville obscured the fact that the Cavaliers had lost at home to West Virginia and had to come back at home to edge a mediocre Ohio State squad by a single bucket. Yes, this is yet another ridiculously good defensive team under Tony Bennett, but the reality is that from a talent standpoint, there is no Malcolm Brogdon on this roster. Rather, Virginia beats teams with its style; the Cavs play at literally the slowest pace of any team in America. We will see how that holds up as the Cavs play five of their next seven games on the road, including a dandy of a back-to-back at Notre Dame and Villanova to end the month.
West Virginia (12–1) — BUY
Even by the standards that we’ve grown accustomed to under Bob Huggins, West Virginia’s defense has been absolutely suffocating. The Mountaineers are ranked fifth nationally in defensive efficiency and are first in steal percentage. The difference this year is that West Virginia is just as effective on offense: sixth nationally in efficiency, fourth in offensive turnover percentage, sixth in offensive rebound percentage. All this from a team that doesn’t have any player averaging more than 13 points per game. The Mountaineers have road wins at Virginia and Oklahoma State, and they’re just getting started.
Wichita State (12–3) — BUY
The Shockers lost their dynamic backcourt tandem of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, but they don’t much look like a team in rebuilding mode. They played Louisville and Michigan State well on neutral courts before losing, and they beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t have any superstars, but he does have a deep bench, and he still knows how to get his guys to play angry. Now that conference play has begun, I expect Wichita State to romp through the a weakened Missouri Valley Conference as usual, which means it will have a good chance to re-enter the rankings between now and the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin (12–2) — HOLD
The Badgers have road games coming up this week at Indiana and Purdue, so this is not the time to be buying their stock. Next week will be a different story as Wisconsin embarks on a stretch where it will play five out of seven at the Kohl Center against bottom-tier Big Ten teams. Long-term, it’s going to be the same old story for Wisconsin. This team has some really good talent—sophomore forward Ethan Happ could be on his way to Kaminskyville—but it will grind teams down with its maturity, cohesion, efficiency and pace.
Xavier (12–2) — SELL
After losing at Baylor and Colorado in December, the Musketeers showed some real road mettle in getting past Georgetown on Saturday. But they’ve got a brutal stretch coming up that includes two games against Creighton and Villanova, a road game at Butler, and the annual matchup against Cincinnati—also on the road. The good news is that 6' 2" senior guard Myles Davis, who has been suspended after he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, is going to rejoin the team soon, which should allow for a few more easy buckets. This team is too good to fall far, but it’s due for a comedown.
Ten sleeper stocks
Harvard (6–4). No, Jeremy Lin is not coming through that door, but the Crimson tested themselves with a tough nonconference schedule that included an impressive road win at Houston. They feature an exciting freshman in 6-foot guard Bryce Aiken who is only going to get better.
Lehigh (7–5). The Mountain Hawks gave Xavier all it wanted on the road in the season opener. They are the class of the Patriot League thanks to the presence of two-time conference POY Tim Kempton, a 6' 10" senior who can score inside and out.
Middle Tennessee (10–3). The Blue Raiders just dropped two straight, including a home loss to Georgia State, but I am still a believer. They return the core from the group that upset Michigan State in the NCAA tournament, and they have quality wins over Vanderbilt at home, Ole Miss and Belmont on the road and UNC Wilmington on a neutral court.
Northeastern (8–5). The Huskies already have three quality road wins over UConn, Michigan State and Oakland. Their second-leading scorer, 6' 8" senior forward Alex Murphy, is a graduate transfer who previously played for Duke and Florida.
Northwestern (12–3). The Wildcats have had three golden opportunities to notch significant wins, but came up short against Butler, Notre Dame and Michigan State. Their starting power forward, 6’8” sophomore Dererk Pardon, is returning soon from a hand injury. If they are going to earn the first NCAA tournament bid in school history, they are going to need to pull out some good wins in the Big Ten, especially away from home.
SMU (12–3). The Mustangs have slowed the pace under first-year coach Tim Jankovic, but it seems to be working. They’ve won eight in a row, including routs at home over TCU (by 15) and Stanford (by 23).
TCU (11–2). Jamie Dixon is earning plaudits in his first season coaching at his alma mater. The Horned Frogs came close to knocking off Kansas at home last Friday. Remember the name Vladimir Brodziansky, even if you can’t pronounce it. The 6' 11" junior from Slovakia had 28 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in that loss.
Tennessee State (9–4). The Tigers are one of the most experienced teams in the country, and it showed when they took NC State to overtime in Raleigh before losing. They also gave Duke all it wanted in Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off Middle Tennessee on the road.
UNC Wilmington (12–2). This team’s coach, Kevin Keatts, is a Rick Pitino disciple whose team gave Duke a difficult test in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The Seahawks still commit too many fouls, but they nearly knocked off Georgetown on the road and look like the team to beat in the CAA.
UT Arlington (11–3). The Mavericks scored impressive road wins at Texas and Saint Mary’s, making them the overwhelming favorite to win the Sun Belt. Their starting lineup consists of three seniors and two juniors, including 5’ 10" point guard Erick Neal, who ranks seventh nationally in assists with 7.1 per game.
Six to dump (if you haven’t already)
Missouri (5–7). Kim Anderson’s third season in Columbia is off to another rocky start. The Tigers have lost at home to North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb.
Oregon State (4–11). The Beavers’ leading scorer, 6' 8" sophomore forward Tres Tinkle (son of coach Wayne), has not played since late November because of a broken wrist, but even when he was in the lineup Oregon State still lost to the likes of Lamar, Nevada, Tulsa and Fresno State. It’s going to be a long couple of months in Corvallis.
Stephen F. Austin (6–7). The post-Thomas Walkup, post-Brad Underwood era is not going well in Nacogdoches. The Lumberjacks have looked like a team that lost four senior starters while losing games to Louisiana Monroe, UAB and Rice.
Tulsa (7–6). This program also lost four starters from a team that made the NCAA tournament. The Golden Hurricane are a tragically sloppy team, turning the ball over 16.3 times per game. They began the season with an 11-point loss at home to Jacksonville State and have never recovered.
Texas (6–7). The Longhorns were ranked No. 21 in the AP’s preseason poll, but they have never looked like a ranked team. They were fortunate to beat Incarnate Word at home in the season opener. Ranked No. 340 nationally in experience by kenpom.com, Texas has lost to UT Arlington and Kent State at home.
UConn (5–8). This team started the season losing at home to Wagner and Northeastern, and that was before they were decimated by injuries. That includes two season-enders to its top offensive player, 6' 8" sophomore forward Terry Larrier, and promising freshman point guard Alterique Gilbert.