My 5 underdogs for 2014-15 NCAA Hoops

Welcome to my second season as an NCAA basketball blogger.  Last year, in my first-ever article, I listed UCONN in my “starting five,” a list of five underdog teams I believe have a chance to win a championship.  How is that for a rookie perfomance?

I create my “starting five” of underdog teams with a simple method.  I pretend I have $100 to spend in Vegas.  In this hypothetical, I am trying to win at least $1,000 bucks.  I pick five teams that could win me that $1,000.  Betting $17 on UCONN at 60-to-1 odds would have earned you $1,020 dollars.  If you won on my advice last season, you’re welcome.

Here’s my “starting five” for 2014-15, according to odds published by the vegasinsiders.com.

St. John’s at 200-to-1 is attractive.  The Red Storm lost Jakarr Sampson to the NBA, but what good team doesn’t?  I personally believe coach Steve Lavin is at a turning point with this program.  I know he is a great coach, seemingly a better motivator.  Lavin has reached the point in where the team is full of “his guys.”  Sadly, the Big East is watered down from its glory days of Syracuse and so on.  This presents an opportunity for St. John’s to battle with Villanova and Georgetown for the top spot.  Don’t sleep on Providence (hello: conference champions) and Creighton.  However, I think St. John’s has a great chance of making the NCAA tournament with momentum, even if I’m wrong and they finished third place in this league.

Speaking of a coach who has a full tenure as “having his guys” in the program, Virginia is a no-brainer risk at 35-to-1.  Coach Tony Bennett brings back talented and now-experience swingmen Malcom Brogdon and Anthony Gill.  The Cavaliers have asserted themselves as one of the nation’s best defensive programs.  There’s also another player I’ll tell you more about later.

LSU is another huge sleeper of mine.  The Tigers sit at 220-to-1 odds currently.  They have two sophomore stud forwards and add the orchestration of Bruce Hornsby’s son Keith at point guard.  Yes, the son of the Grammy-Award winner will be eligible to play this season after transferring from UNC Asheville.

My fourth team makes me nervous, but that pales in comparison to what the club experienced this offseason.  A player on the team was hit by a car driven by his teammate.  You can research on your own the conditions surrounding that incident.  However, in this case, I think what doesn’t kill IU will make them stronger.  Yogi Ferrell and the Indiana Hoosiers top my preseason value picks.  Let the record show, this team is listed as a 220-to-1 underdog to win the title.  I think this team is one of a few that is not expected to win its conference, but can in fact win a national championship.  The reason is that Indiana has a point guard that is a true floor general in Yogi Ferrell.  My UCONN pick was based on point guard Shabazz Napier.  If there will be a repeat storyline in 2015, with a winning point guard taking complete command of a team, I can envision it in Ferrell.  The report embedded below is Ferrell’s reaction to the off-the-court incidents, as filed by Indianapolis WRTV-6 ( ABC) sports anchor Dave Furst.

My fifth and final underdog value pick is Utah.  Coach Larry Krystkowiak is more likely to tweet a photo of a snowman than his own basketball team, but don’t send the Utes “packing” just yet.

Utah is listed at 85-to-1 now.  Las Vegas seems to be catching on, as I saw them 200-to-1 a few weeks ago.  Bleacher Report wrote an entire article about how Delon Wright, the brother of NBA player Dorrell Wright, is the best prospect you’ve never heard off.  Put $11 fictitious dollars on Utah, $5 apiece on LSU, Indiana, St. John’s, and $28 on Virginia.  That leaves me with $46 and plenty of room left to write about my counter to the AP’s top 5 players.

Once again, I am again shaking my head at the Associated Press preseason top 5 All-Americans.  The only guy who deserves to be there is Montrezl Harrell.  Have you ever wished for Gold Glove Awards and season MVP’s to be handed out *after* championship are decided.  In many leagues, like the MLB, that is not the case.  Apparently, in the NCAA preseason top 5 selection, the reverse logic is at play.  Whichever player has performed well in postseason is a shoe-in for the preseason 2014-15 projection.  Frank Kaminsky, Fred Van Vleet, and Marcus Paige all made the list.  Sure, they had fine seasons and performed in the tournament.  However, I feel the selection is more a reflection that these guys playing for teams with huge expectations for March 2015.  The Associated Press has to assign a player to carry those flags.

To replace Paige and Van Vleet, I am choosing Ferrell and London Perrantes.  Sure, the hardcore NCAA fans could note that my Perrantes pick is a hypocritical stance, considering my previous argument.  His Virginia squad surged last season.  However, my argument is that his ceiling is much higher than Van Vleet and Paige’s (when it comes to room for growth).  I think Paige and Van Vleet are terrific.  Both will play in the NBA.  Van Vleet is the best chance at a future Jason Kidd the NBA will have.  Both players were squarely on the radar in 2013-14.  However, Perrantes himself only scratched the surface last season as a freshman.  He played with the confidence of a baller whose team has held court all afternoon and has never had to call “next.”  He plays point at Virginia, but I am listing him in my top 5 at shooting guard because of his range and ability to play away from the ball.

I look forward to telling you about my front court selections.  Treveon Graham of VCU has waited for his opportunity.  He averaged 7 points as as freshman, then became a consistent scorer for the Rams with an average of 15 points the past two seasons.  Now it is unquestionably his team.  Juvonte Reddic is gone, which will help Graham’s cause from the standpoint that he is absolutely the late-game option.  Graham scored the game-winning basket a couple times for VCU last season, and I expect more of the same this year.  Graham is a physical, big bodied, swingman who reminds me of Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors fame.  He is not as freakishly athletic, but will probably end up with a better jump shot in the end.

My second forward is Jarell Martin of LSU.  On a team where J.J. O’Brien and Jordan Mickey had high expectations, Martin was able to play his third-ever season of basketball and grow into his ability.  See that snapshot below on the LSU season highlight?  Yeah, that’s number 12, Mr. Martin throwing one down in transition.  As big men, he and Mickey love getting out in transition.  Martin wears number 1 headed into this season and has dropped numbers when it comes to his playing weight as well.

Martin and LSU are one of three teams I’m pointing to for a possible and serious Cinderella sleeper run.

Rounding out my top 5 player board that consists of Martin, Graham, Perenthes and Ferrell, I am going with a guy who is unseen in plain sight.  Kaleb Tarczewski should be talked about the way Tyler Hansborough was in the offseason leading to his 2009 UNC Championship.  This guy is an absolute beast.  To see that a freshman made the AP list over him may be an indictment on the Arizona offense.  It’s going to be time to feed the post and get Tarczewski his touches.  Give collegebasketballeyetest.com your own personal touch.  Follow the blog with wordpress.com or on Facebook and Twitter.  

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