Who doesn’t love a great March Madness Cinderella story? Last year, teams like Fairleigh Dickinson, Florida Atlantic, and Furman stole the show. Here are five teams I feel could have that type of impact in the upcoming College Basketball Season.
- Conference: Patriot League
- Last Year’s Record: 26-9 (17-1) – #15 seed, lost to #2 Texas in Round 1
- Head Coach: Matt Langel (13th year)
When Head Coach Matt Langel took over this program in 2012, the Raiders were coming off three straight losing seasons. It took a few years to get it going, but fast forward to today, and Colgate is now a perennial Patriot League champion. Winners of four of the last five regular season titles and winning the last four automatic bids, the Raiders’ expectations have been raised to a new level. Most of last year’s roster is intact, minus star Tucker Richardson and Oliver Lynch-Daniels. One thing we know for sure is that this team will be able to light it up from three. The Raiders have finished first, second, and third in the country over the last three seasons in 3-point shooting. This year’s team will be anchored by a “Big Three” of guard Braeden Smith (11.6 points, 4.4 assists), forward Ryan Moffatt (10.6 points), and big man Keegan Records (13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds). Coach Langel’s squad is loaded once again and ready to break through in March.
Grand Canyon Lopes
- Conference: Western Athletic Conference
- Last Year’s Record: 24-12 (10-7) – #14 seed, lost to #3 Gonzaga in Round 1
- Head Coach: Bryce Drew (fourth year)
The Lopes had a tremendous season in 2022 despite losing Preseason WAC Player of the Year, guard Jovan Blacksher Jr (10.7 points, 2.4 assists), to injury after 12 games. Blacksher is back as part of Coach Drew’s strongest roster on paper to date. That’s saying something as he’s transformed the Lopes in three seasons to one of the top mid-major programs in the country, racking up two NCAA tournaments and back-to-back 20-win seasons in the last three years. Along with Blacksher, Grand Canyon returns stud guard Ray Harrison (17.8 points, 3.6 assists) and promising forward Gabe McGlothan (12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds). That’s a “Big 3” any coach across the country would be excited about, but the transfer portal additions this offseason are what give the Lopes such an incredible ceiling. Guard Collin Moore (14.2 points, 2.2 steals) comes in after a spectacular season with Georgia State. Then you have the “Power Conference” transfers with Louisville forward Sydney Curry (4.9 points, 4.3 rebounds), Oregon forward Lok Wur, Arizona State forward Duke Brennan, and DePaul guard Tyon Grant-Foster. It’s put up or shut up in Phoenix this Spring.
McNeese State Cowboys
- Conference: Southland
- Last Year’s Record: 11-23 (6-12) – No Postseason
- Head Coach: Will Wade (first year)
Unfortunately for McNeese State, losing is a common theme during the program’s history. The Cowboys have not had a winning record since 2012 and haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Insert a splash coaching hire in Will Wade, who has a career Division 1 winning percentage of 67%, but a resume that is also marred by recruiting scandals and FBI wiretaps. Since getting the job in early March, all Coach Wade has done is transform this roster into a Southland favorite, but he will miss the first 10 games of the year due to previous recruiting infractions at LSU. The first big priority for Coach Wade was to retain All-Southland forward Christian Shumate (15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds). Shumate did initially enter the portal this offseason but made the decision to come back and anchor a very talented roster. The Cowboys’ roster is mostly made up of high-quality transfers such as TCU guard Shahada Wells (5.9 points), CSU Bakersfield guard Antavion Collum (13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds), and Florida forward CJ Felder (2.3 points) among others depending on waivers. However, promising guard Trae English (10.8 points, 3.6 assists) is also back, creating the best-looking roster in the Southland.
Weber State Wildcats
- Conference: Big Sky
- Last Year’s Record: 18-15 (12-6) – No Postseason
- Head Coach: Eric Duft (second year)
The Wildcats battled hard in a very competitive Big Sky but ultimately fell short in Head Coach Eric Duft’s first year last season. A third-place finish and a defense that ranked just outside of the Top 100 in Defensive Efficiency is nothing to be ashamed of for Weber State faithful. While most mid-major teams have to go out and rebuild their roster through the transfer portal, Coach Duft has the luxury of getting all five starters back. That includes mid-major superstar forward Dillon Jones (16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds), who tested NBA Draft waters but is back for what should be a special junior year. He will be flanked by the familiar faces of guard Steven Verplancken Jr (13.2 points), guard Korbin Cunningham (6.5 points), forward Dyson Koehler (6.4 points), and big man Alex Tew (6.6 points, 3.7 rebounds). Behind the starters is a bit of a question as there isn’t much D1 experience on the bench. That help may come in the form of Serbian cousins. Forward Marco Sarenac decided to join his cousin, guard Nemanja Sarenac, after playing professional ball in Serbia’s top pro league. These are two very skilled international players who could be the difference needed for the Wildcats to achieve their goal of winning Big Sky and making the NCAA Tournament.
Wright State Raiders
- Conference: Horizon League
- Last Year’s Record: 18-15 (10-10) – No Postseason
- Head Coach: Scott Nagy (8th year)
Quietly, Scott Nagy has taken the Wright State program to a new level during his tenure. Not that this program wasn’t winning before he came, but Nagy is responsible for taking this program to two of its four NCAA Tournament appearances in its 36-year history. He’s done that by simply playing to the strengths of his teams, whether they be up-tempo, defensive-minded, or offensive-oriented. Whatever the style, one thing that will make life easy is the return of All-Horizon star point guard Trey Calvin (20.3 points, 3.7 assists). He’s one of the most efficient guards in the country, and he’s entering his fifth year of college ball. Calvin will form a dynamic duo with his former teammate, wing Tanner Holden (3.6 points), who is back after transferring last season to Ohio State. Holden was a major part of the 2022 team that went to the NCAA Tournament after he dominated the Horizon League, scoring over 20 points per game. Nine other players are back from last year including forward Brandon Noel (13.0 points, 8.7 rebounds) who posted a spectacular freshman year. He’s set to be the third member of Wright State’s “Big Three,” but it could be guys like forward A.J. Braun (9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) and guard Alex Huibregtse (8.6 points) who determine this team’s ceiling. This squad is loaded, has Tournament experience, and is built to bust brackets come March.