Teams from every D-I conference that will surprise in 2022-23

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Every 2022-23 men’s college basketball preseason list coming out right now will be naming superlatives. In fact, we did the same thing, with our picks for the top coaches and players across every Division I conference.

We’re going to choose something a little different for this next edition: the come-from-behind team that will surprise in each league this season, better known as the sleeper team.

The criteria for a “sleeper” team is usually too broad. Just because a team isn’t the favorite to win a conference doesn’t make it a sleeper. Can’t be that easy.

A real sleeper has to start in a place that makes its eventual rise — on paper, at least — improbable.

That’s why we made a few rules for our list of the sleeper teams of all 32 conferences in America:

  • Any team picked to finish top three in its league’s preseason poll is disqualified.

  • Any team that received a first-place vote (yeah, we know that’s not necessarily fair) is also disqualified.

  • The selected team has to have something — a strong track record, a star or two, reliable coaching, impressive newcomers — to justify its sleeper status.

Here are our picks. Find other preseason coverage here.

Navigate to each league:

American | America East | ACC | ASUN | A-10| Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC


American Athletic Conference

Temple Owls
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Khalif Battle averaged 21.4 PPG through seven games before a 2021-22 season-ending foot injury. But he’s back and healthy. That bodes well for Temple’s shot at shocking the field in the AAC race.


America East Conference

Binghamton Bearcats
League poll predicted finish: fourth

Preseason all-conference selection Jacob Falko leads a squad that finished fourth in defensive efficiency in America East action in a 2021-22 campaign that included four losses in league play by four points or fewer.


Atlantic Coast Conference

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
League poll predicted finish: sixth

Yes, Mike Brey has lost significant production from last season’s squad — see: the departures of Blake Wesley and Paul Atkinson Jr. But Dane Goodwin (13.6 PPG, 46% from beyond the arc), five-star recruit J.J. Starling and Co. will attempt to help the head coach capture his 17th 20-win season since he arrived at Notre Dame in 2000.


ASUN Conference

North Florida Ospreys
League poll predicted finish: seventh

COVID-19 disrupted the Ospreys’ 2021-22 campaign. But Jose Placer (14.7 PPG) and Carter Hendricksen (12.2 PPG) are back for a squad that showed some promise with a 7-4 finish in its last 11 games.


Atlantic 10 Conference

Davidson Wildcats
League poll predicted finish: sixth

A new McKillop — Matt, son of former coach Bob McKillop — is running things at Davidson, which will count on Foster Loyer (16.1 PPG, 44% from the 3-point line) and a handful of new faces to preserve the program’s legacy of success.


Big East Conference

Providence Friars
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Although the defending Big East champs lost nearly 54 points per game to departures in the offseason, Jared Bynum (12.2 PPG, 41% from beyond the arc) joins key transfers in playing for a coach, Ed Cooley, who has managed to manufacture a top-five defensive efficiency mark in the league in seven of the past eight years.


Big Sky Conference

Eastern Washington Eagles
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Continuity has never been more difficult to achieve for the mid-major leagues in college basketball, which is why the returns of Steele Venters (16.7 PPG), Angelo Allegri (12.1 PPG) and Ethan Price (9.9 PPG) could give Eastern Washington the experience and talent needed to challenge predicted first-place finisher Montana State for the conference championship.


Big South Conference

High Point Panthers
League poll predicted finish: fifth

G.G. Smith, who succeeded his father, Tubby Smith, after he resigned late last season, has Zack Austin (14.4 PPG, 2.2 BPG) and a collection of key returnees to help High Point — which made 56% of its shots inside the arc in league play — fight for a spot in the Big South title hunt.


Big 12 Conference

Oklahoma Sooners
League poll predicted finish: seventh

A more physical Tanner Groves (he added 10 pounds worth of muscle to his frame this offseason), a more mature Jacob Groves and a big year from Grant Sherfield (19.1 PPG at Nevada in 2021-22) could just turn Oklahoma into a major player in a conference that lost every member of last season’s all-Big 12 first team.


Big Ten Conference

Iowa Hawkeyes
League poll (unofficial) predicted finish: fifth

Kris Murray (9.7 PPG, 39% from 3) could become the second Murray in a row to compete for the conference player of the year award while also elevating Iowa into the fight for the Big Ten title. His brother, Keegan, did the same thing last season before becoming a lottery pick.


Big West Conference

UC Davis Aggies
League poll predicted finish: sixth

With the returning Elijah Pepper on the floor last season, UC Davis held opponents to 90 points per 100 possessions and a 44.4% mark inside the 3-point line (per hooplens.com) — defensive success that should keep UC-Davis afloat in the Big West race in 2022-23.


Colonial Athletic Association

Stony Brook Seawolves
League poll predicted finish: ninth

Sure, Frankie Policelli (7.7 PPG) is one of the few returning players on Geno Ford’s roster. But Stony Brook failed to finish within the top three in the America East race only twice since 2012. Perhaps it’s a sign the Seawolves shouldn’t be doubted in their first season in the CAA.


Conference USA

Florida Atlantic Owls
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Alijah Martin (13.9 PPG, 40% from 3) is one of C-USA’s top returnees, and a star for a Florida Atlantic squad that finished 10-5 in its last 15 regular-season games of 2021-22.


Horizon League

Cleveland State Vikings
League poll predicted finish: seventh

Daniyal Robinson has returnees Deante Johnson (7.5 PPG) and Deshon Parker (4.4 PPG), along with a multitude of transfers, in his first year in Cleveland. He’s following the same roster formula he helped Iowa State use as an assistant during some of its most successful years.


Ivy League

Cornell Big Red
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Chris Manon (9.9 PPG) is back and surrounded by an intriguing group of former reserves we imagine will step up for a Cornell squad that forced turnovers on 20% of its Ivy League opponents’ possessions last season.


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Fairfield Stags
League poll predicted finish: fifth

The return of Supreme Cook (10.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG) and multiple top reserves makes Fairfield an intriguing sleeper in the league race, especially after Manhattan lost its head coach and the preseason MAAC player of the year just two weeks before the season started.


Mid-American Conference

Eastern Michigan Eagles
League poll predicted finish: seventh

The combination of Noah Farrakhan (16.6 PPG, 41% from beyond the arc) and Memphis transfer Emoni Bates — recently reinstated after clearing his legal hurdles related to an offseason arrest — could change the MAC title race, provided those two can blend.


Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Morgan State Bears
League poll predicted finish: fourth

De’Torrion Ware and Malik Miller combined to average more than 23 points per game for a Bears squad looking to build on its 2021-22 momentum: It finished 5-1 in its last six regular-season games.


Missouri Valley Conference

Belmont Bruins
League poll predicted finish: sixth

Ben Sheppard (16.2 PPG, 37% from beyond the arc) could be the conference player of the year in the first year in the MVC for the Bruins — a program that hasn’t won fewer than 20 games in a season since 2010.


Mountain West Conference

New Mexico Lobos
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Jaelen House (16.9 PPG, 4.5 APG) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (18.2 PPG) can reverse last year’s 13-19 finish (5-12 in Mountain West). That is, if Richard Pitino’s squad can make some significant changes to its defensive prowess (243rd in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom).


Northeast Conference

St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Rob Higgins (11.5 PPG) and Larry Moreno (9.2 PPG) are a pair of upperclassmen who could help St. Francis Brooklyn put last year’s 10-20 finish behind it to climb into the top tier of the NEC.


Ohio Valley Conference

Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles
League poll predicted finish: seventh

While the program can’t win the OVC’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament in its first season as a Division I program, the former Division II powerhouse (16 NCAA tournament appearances since 2000) could follow Jelani Simmons (14.2 PPG) and a team backed by upperclassmen for conference championship contention.


Pac-12 Conference

Washington State Cougars
League poll predicted finish: eighth

Mouhamed Gueye (7.4 PPG), a 6-foot-11 NBA prospect, and Adrame Diongue (No. 43 in the 2022 recruiting class, per ESPN) give Washington State a pair of big bodies capable of protecting the rim for a squad that just needs to find consistent scoring to become a dark horse in the Pac-12 title race.


Patriot League

Army Black Knights
League poll predicted finish: fifth

If Army can win the Patriot League tournament, it would reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. All that’s needed is for Jalen Rucker (17.1 PPG, 37% from the 3-point line) to have another incredible season.


Southeastern Conference

Florida Gators
League poll predicted finish: seventh

Todd Golden has been tapped to restore Florida’s good name, and the presence of Kyle Lofton (12.8 PPG, 5.9 APG), a star point guard at St. Bonaventure for the past four years, and Colin Castleton (16.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.2 BPG), one of America’s most underrated players, could accelerate the reboot under a new head coach.


Southern Conference

East Tennessee State Buccaneers
League poll predicted finish: sixth

He might want to erase last year’s 7-11 finish in league play, but Jordan King (14.6 PPG, 43% from 3) will also hope to repeat the program’s third-place finish in offensive efficiency last season in collaboration with key returnees.


Southland Conference

McNeese Cowboys
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Although it’s difficult to find a silver lining in McNeese’s 11-22 record last season, Christian Shumate (12.2 PPG) and Zach Scott (10.9 PPG) return this year to lead a potential turnaround for this Southland Conference sleeper.


Summit League

Denver Pioneers
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Coban Porter (11.4 PPG) and Tevin Smith (10.4 PPG) return for Jeff Wulbrun’s second season after a 2021-22 campaign in which the Pioneers connected on 39% of their 3-point attempts.


Sun Belt Conference

Marshall Thundering Herd
League poll predicted finish: sixth

Taevion Kinsey (19.1 PPG) is one of three Marshall players who earned spots on the league’s preseason all-conference squads. Clearly, this is a collection of talent that could help the Thundering Herd crash the Sun Belt championship race.


Southwestern Athletic Conference

Grambling Tigers
League poll predicted finish: sixth

With Cam Christon and Tra’Michael Moton, a pair of double-figure scorers from last season, back to lead this team, Grambling State could go from a losing record in the SWAC in 2021-22 to contention for the championship. It just all has to come together for Donte’ Jackson’s squad.


Western Athletic Conference

Seattle U Redhawks
League poll predicted finish: sixth

Cameron Tyson (14.7 PPG, 38% from 3) and Riley Grigsby (12.8 PPG) were two of the top three scorers for a squad that overcame preseason chaos to win the WAC regular-season championship. This program could shock the league again.


West Coast Conference

Portland Pilots
League poll predicted finish: fifth

Every team is a sleeper in a league that features Gonzaga. But Tyler Robertson (15.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.5 APG) and the rest of the nucleus from last season’s squad that finished 7-7 in the WCC is back.



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