With the NBA draft pool set and a slate of transfer decisions made, we now enter the summer with a largely settled crop of rosters throughout the NCAA. The title favorites have been identified with the usual stalwarts at the top, as Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke headline the early list of contenders for the national championship in April 2020.
The clearing picture allowed for SI's updated prospective Top 25 last week, but there are still other teams that deserve an extra look five months before the season opener. Below are the top sleeper teams for 2019–20, including a few potential conference champions.
Not only are Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes capable of winning their first NCAA tournament game since 2012 this season, they could very well claim their first conference title since the Big 8 days in 1969. The Pac-12 remains in flux and Colorado is likely the conference’s most stable squad. Entering his 10th season in Boulder, Boyle may have his best team yet.
The Buffs return a pair of First-Team Pac-12 members in 2019–20, swingman Tyler Bey and point guard McKinley Wright IV. Bey is Colorado’s premier interior force and could emerge as a potential pro prospect. Wright remains the heart of the Buffaloes offense. The diminutive guard earned All-Freshman honors in 2017–18 and grew his jumper last season, hitting a respectable 36.5% of threes after a 30% mark as a freshman. Wright is an adept shotmaker and a maestro late in the shot clock. Expect continued improvement under Boyle in 2019–20. As the Pac-12 roster churn continues, Colorado’s steady nature could lead to the Pac-12 title.
A return to the tournament should be in store for the Wildcats in 2019–20. Bob McKillop’s squad returns its top six scores, including reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year (and serious Name of the Year candidate) Jon Axel Gudmundsson. Junior guard Kellan Grady actually led Davidson in scoring last season at 17.3 points per game, and three-point specialist Luke Frampton should continue to improve in his sophomore season. Davidson’s season ended last year in an Atlantic 10 tournament upset to Saint Louis. This time around, expect the Wildcats to secure their tournament appearance by the end of the regular season.
Perhaps no team was decimated more by the transfer market than Marquette. The Golden Eagles lost both of the Hauser brothers in March, robbing Markus Howard of two elite sharpshooters. But Howard was a consensus All-American for a reason. He’s arguably college basketball’s premier scorers, an elite high-volume guard who can pour in 50 on a given night. His presence alone should carry Marquette to the tournament.
Can the Golden Eagles actually make any noise in March? The jury is still out. Senior Sacar Anim will need to carry an increased scoring burden and an improvement from last year’s No. 123 scoring defense will help lighten Howard’s load. Howard is good enough to keep playing into March. He’ll need some unexpected help to make noise in the tournament.
Tennessee risks falling from championship contender to rebuild candidate this season, tasked with replacing both Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield on the front line. But there is still enough talent for Rick Barnes to finish near the top of the SEC. And if last season was defined by the Volunteers’ frontcourt, this year will swing on its guards.
Barnes returns both Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, Tennessee’s No. 4 and No. 5 scorers from last season. Turner is the truer point guard of the two, while Bowden is versatile and can take difficult assignments defensively. John Fulkerson will eye a greater role in the frontcourt, filling an interior void left by Kyle Alexander’s graduation. This isn’t a perfect Tennessee team, and Kentucky enters the season as the stand alone favorite in the SEC. But the Volunteers should still be a safe bet for the tournament, and a dangerous out for anyone in the first weekend.
Mike Rhoades could very well be in line for his first career tournament win in 2019–20. VCU enters the season as the reigning A-10 regular season champs, returning leading scorer Marcus Evans. The senior guard earned All-Atlantic 10 honors as a junior, but could very well win the conference’s player of the year award in his second season with the program. A Rice transfer, Evans shot 37.6% from beyond the arc in his sophomore season before a regression last year. If he can regain his three-point stroke this winter, VCU is a candidate to return to the tournament’s second weekend for the first time since the Shaka Smart’s Final Four run in 2011.