Doug Gottlieb, one of ESPN’s top college basketball analysts, recently offered up his five “breakout teams” for the college basketball season. Who qualifies as a breakout team? It’s tough to nail down a firm definition, but here’s what I’d go with: didn’t make the NCAA tournament last year (or finished under .500) and doesn’t open this season in the Top 25. I’d say maybe one of Gottlieb’s picks qualify as a breakout team.
Baylor – Perry Jones is back, they’ve got Quincy Miller coming in and they’re projected to be a top three team in the Big 12. They’ll be ranked to open the season, probably in the Top 15. Sure, they were only 18-13 last year, but the amount of national pub the Bears have been getting makes it hard to qualify them as a breakout candidate.
Cal – I’ll give Gottlieb the Bears. Smart pick, considering how down the Pac-12 is (again). The Bears went 18-15 last year. Anything could happen in that crappy conference.
Florida State – Can a team coming off a Sweet 16 appearance possibly be a breakout team? Sure, the Seminoles lost their two best scorers and the ACC is top-heavy, but the Seminoles might open the season in the Top 25.
BYU - A popular pick to finish 2nd in the WCC because Brandon Davies is back. Cougars can’t possibly duplicate their 32-win season with their starting backcourt (Jimmer and Emery) gone, but playing in the WCC should mean at least 20-25 wins and an NCAA berth. It’s impossible to pick BYU as a breakout team.
Vanderbilt - The Commodores have their best team in the program’s history and should be a Top 10 team all season. They were ranked last year and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That’s a sleeper, Doug?
Here are three non-NCAA teams from last year who probably won’t open the season in the Top 25. I’d qualify them as breakout candidates:
Harvard - An obvious one. Went 23-7 last year but didn’t get to the NCAA tournament. Lost nobody and had a strong recruiting class. Tommy Amaker will have this team in the NCAA tournament and could possibly win two games there.
Virginia – Only 16-15 last year, and could be as good or better than FSU. Mike Scott’s underrated, the nucleus is back, the freshman aren’t bad, and I like Tony Bennett (the singer and UVA’s coach).
Indiana – Another rough year for Tom Crean (12-20, just 3-15 in the Big Ten), but he’s got better talent, and the conference is weak. After Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, the conference is wide open. Cody Zeller’s presence alone might be worth 4-5 wins, and Christian Watford is the 31st best player in the country by one metric. A fringe NCAA team, depending on just how good Zeller is.
Doug Gottlieb’s Breakout Teams for 2011-2012 [ESPN Insider]