There are less than 50 days until the tip of College Basketball, and I couldn’t be more excited. Every year, teams are overlooked in the offseason/preseason, especially in the Power Five Conferences. Last year, I chose North Carolina State, Penn State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Missouri as my Power Five sleeper teams to watch and boy, I nailed it. All but Oklahoma, who played in the ridiculous Big 12 gauntlet, made the NCAA Tournament. This year I will identify a new crop of teams heading into the year that can exceed expectations within the Power Five conferences.
College Basketball Sleeper Teams 2023
ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
- Last Year: 19-14 (10-10) – No Postseason
- Head Coach: Steve Forbes (Year Four)
Two years in a row, the bubble has burst in the last few weeks of the season for the Demon Deacons. Still, what Forbes has done so far is remarkable. This program has really struggled and only boasts one NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. The backbone of success in the last two seasons (44 wins) has been the development of a dominant on-ball transfer guard in consecutive seasons. First, Alondes Williams in 2022 and then Tyree Appleby in 2023. Coach Forbes will try the same magic with transfer guard Hunter Sallis (4.5 points) and/or former Central Michigan guard Kevin Miller (18.5 points, 4.5 assists). Outside of the point guard position, the rest of the starting lineup is back. Cameron Hildreth (12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) and Damari Monsanto (13.3 points, 41% from three) showed they could get it going. The frontcourt is now a year seasoned with Andrew Carr (10.7 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Matthew Marsh (6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds). If they can pick it up defensively, this team has plenty of offensive firepower.
Big 12: TCU Horned Frogs
- Last Year: 22-13 (9-9) – Lost in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament
- Head Coach: Jamie Dixon (Year Eight)
As if the Big 12 wasn’t already the toughest conference in the country, now BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF arrive looking to shake things up. That puts Jamie Dixon and his TCU Horned Frogs in no-man’s land heading into the year. The electric backcourt of Mike Miles Jr. and Damion Baugh is gone. While they were one of the top duos in the conference over the past few years, there should be plenty of excitement from their replacements. Delaware transfer Jameer Nelson Jr. (20.6 points, 3.6 assists) and Oklahoma State transfer Avery Anderson III (11.1 points) offer plenty of upside. Nelson has the pedigree and has shown the ability to impact the game on both ends, while Anderson is no stranger to the Big 12. The Horned Frogs love to play a two-guard lineup, and this frontcourt is set up to be long and versatile. Returning starters Charles O’Bannon Jr. (7.7 points) and Emanuel Miller (12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds) are back. Whether they earn an NCAA Tournament berth will come down to the play of the center position, where Kansas transfer Ernest Udeh Jr. (2.6 points) and Xavier Cork (4.4 points) will do the heavy lifting.
Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats
- Last Year: 22-12 (12-8) – Lost in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament
- Head Coach: Chris Collins (Year 11)
We aren’t ready for the Wildcat magic to come to an end, and neither is star guard Boo Buie (17.3 points, 4.5 assists). Without Buie’s magnificent play last season, Head Coach Chris Collins knows his program would not have made the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in its 118-year history. Once again, this program will need to prove that it belongs and has a strong chance with three starters returning: Buie, Guard Ty Berry (8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds), and center Matthew Nicholson (6.3 points, 5.4 rebounds) enter their senior season with high hopes. The loss of guard Chase Audige certainly hurts, but Coach Collins did a wonderful job in the transfer portal nabbing Princeton transfer guard Ryan Langborg (12.7 points) and Denver transfer guard Justin Mullins (9.8 points) to fill the role. The most important piece of this roster for the Wildcats to have continued success is the development of wing Brooks Barnhizer (7.6 points, 4.9 rebounds). Barnhizer showed tremendous two-way ability off the bench and will be a key part of turning Coach Collins’ desire to defend at a high level every night into a reality
SEC: Vanderbilt Commodores
- Last Year: 22-15 (11-7) – Lost in Quarterfinals of the NIT
- Head Coach: Jerry Stackhouse (Year Five)
What an incredible job Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse has done with this program. After winning 13 SEC games in his first three years, the Commodores racked up an impressive 11-7 record while making a late run at an NCAA Tournament bid in 2022. Unfortunately for Coach Stackhouse, the beginning of the offseason presented many challenges, including an exodus of key players. He rebounded by getting guard Tyrin Lawrence (13.1 points) back in the fold to man the backcourt once again with fellow guard Ezra Manjon (10.5 points, 3.8 assists). Lawrence went nuclear the final few weeks of the season and looks to be one of the top returning guards in the conference. The Commodores were also able to land quality transfers in Lehigh wing Evan Taylor (14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds), Notre Dame forward Ven-Allen Lubin (6.2 points, 4.4 rebounds), and South Dakota big man Tasos Kamateros (12.5 points, 6.4 rebounds). Taylor is a versatile scorer, Lubin has big-time upside, and Kamateros has a versatile inside/outside game. A key final piece to the puzzle comes in the form of a solid five-man recruiting class that is headlined by four-star wing Jason Rivera-Torres. If there is one thing we know, it is that Coach Stackhouse will get the most out of his roster.
PAC 12: California Golden Bears
- Last Year: 3-19 (2-18) – No Postseason
- Head Coach: Mark Madsen (Year One)
The Cal program hit rock bottom last year. A six-year run of losing at least 18 games has led the program to seek a total reboot with the hire of former Utah Valley Head Coach Mark Madsen. All Madsen did was lead Utah Valley to their best season in program history, and he will now try to re-energize the Golden Bears faithful. In today’s college athletics, that can be done overnight with the transfer portal. Madsen was able to pull off a very successful transfer haul that is headlined by a former pair of Texas Tech Red Raiders, center Fardaws Aimaq (11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds) and wing Jaylon Tyson (10.7 points, 6.1 rebounds). Aimaq and Madsen have history from Utah Valley, where he put up monster stats. Northern Arizona transfer guard Jalen Cone (17.6 points, 40% from three) and Memphis guard Keonte Kennedy (9.2 points, 38% from three) will provide a boost to a program that has finished under 31% from three in each of the last two seasons. It’s not just the transfers that are exciting, as players like guard Devin Askew (15.5 points, 3.0 assists) and forward Grant Newell (8.0 points) have gained valuable on-court experience. If this team gels and plays within Madsen’s system, the ceiling is there to turn this thing around in a hurry.