A lot of people ask me about potential sleeper teams in college hoops -- the mid-majors, like Butler, who can shock the world by beating a "Goliath" program.
Early in the season, I get to shoot the breeze with a lot of coaches. I recently spoke to coaches Rick Pitino, Brad Stevens, Bruce Pearl, and Bruce Weber to discuss some sleepers. One name that came up and intrigued me was my former employer, Titan territory. That's right, keep an eye on the University of Detroit-Mercy, baby!
Butler's Brad Stevens told me that Ray MacCallum's club has loads of talent. He said that if his team was No. 1 in the Horizon conference, talent-wise, Detroit was 1-A. Now the Titans add a potential superstar in Ray McCallum Jr., so it should be a big year.
Stevens told me that last season, Butler won by five at home and in overtime at Detroit in two regular-season meetings. This year's Detroit team is much more talented with the younger McCallum in the lineup. I would say a vital part of Ray McCallum Jr.'s decision was to play at home. Detroit also has a guard who can flat-out play in Chase Simon. He was a big-time recruit.
Detroit can make a big, big splash in the Horizon and I am excited to hear that there is a buzz in the Motor City. But there are other teams that can do damage as sleepers, too.
Keep an eye on Coastal Carolina of the Big South. Cliff Ellis has done a solid job at Clemson, Auburn and South Alabama and now he's the head coach at Coastal Carolina. Senior forward Chad Gray can flat-out play and he will give opponents fits this season.
Wofford made the Big Dance last year and this club should be right on top of the Southern Conference again. I love the fact that the Terriers play such a competitive non-league schedule. Minnesota, Clemson, Xavier, South Carolina VCU and possibly Georgetown (in a tournament) are on the agenda before league play. Big man Noah Dahlman will give those teams trouble.
Wichita State is the favorite over Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley. If you don't think this league is tough, go ask Bill Self and Kansas what happened in the Big Dance last season. Gregg Marshall has the Shockers in contention for an NCAA berth.
Also keep an eye on Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth as the battle for the CAA title always produces great games.
Schools like Butler and Gonzaga are really above the mid-major label in my book. These programs have proven themselves year in and year out. Remember, the biggest reason schools get labeled as mid-majors is their recruiting budget. There are a lot of great players across America -- these kids at smaller schools can really compete.
Butler nearly beating Duke in last year's title game was just one example of a college hoops field that is continually filled with surprise challengers, baby! Let the games begin.