Three Under the Radar Teams in College Basketball


Marquette certainly got younger this year, and players such as freshman Sean jones need to provide instant impacts. (Courtesy of Twitter)

It’s almost time for chaos to ensue in college basketball with a more balanced field this year, but there are tons of teams that are flying under the national radar. 

Keep an eye on these three teams as we enter the 2022-23 college hoops season.

Marquette Golden Eagles

Finger pointing is rude, but in this instance it is acceptable. Last season, head coach Shaka Smart morphed the Marquette program into his old Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) “HAVOC” teams: a fast, defensive-minded team centered around a strong culture which transformed VCU into a mid-major power. 

Losing two leaders, Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell, are large holes to fill. But the Golden Eagles have replacements within. Third-year sophomore Tyler Kolek is primed to lead the team in assists again, but needs to be a double digit scorer if the team wants elevated status. Last year, he shot 32% from the field and looked visibly frustrated while doing so. 

Sophomore Kam Jones looks the part of the lead scorer for the Golden Eagles with all reports saying he has significantly improved. The Big East All-Freshman selection from a year ago is ready to leap with all his totals. Oso Ighodaro is a name to watch: a 6’9” center who Smart is going to let loose. Ighodaro will be asked to replace Kur Kurath, who averaged 2.5 blocks last year. Ighodaro is not the same player Kurath was, but his overall versatility is of more value. 

Smart has added three very intriguing freshmen: Chase Ross, Sean Jones and Ben Gold. Ross and Jones stand at 6’4” and 5’10” respectively and will play sparingly, but the folks closest to the team have said they are showing promise. Gold is the closest replacement to Kurath in terms of his build: 6’11” and mobile around the rim with a shooting touch. Marquette also adds Zach Wrightsil, a transfer from Loyola University New Orleans who averaged close to 19 points and nine rebounds. He comes in as their all-time leader in points, rebounds and assists, another multi-skilled weapon for Smart. 

Smart is yet to showcase the full-court press that changes Marquette’s season drastically if deployed (and executed correctly). The one issue here is that nobody averaged double figures last year. The unproven need to become consistent for this to work. But with each passing day, the more I say “they could be elite right now.”

Temple Owls

Since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013, Temple has produced mixed results of highs and lows. There was a drastic coaching change when Fran Dunphy was named interim athletic director. Aaron McKie, a program legend as a player, took the reins as head coach in 2019 but struggled the first two years due to outside factors.

McKie changed the flight pattern last year piloting the Owls to a 17-12 record, going 10-7 in conference, good for fourth in the American. When Khalif Battle went down with a broken foot, he was averaging over 20 points per game. In stepped Damian Dunn, whose 14.9 points on 39% shooting earned him a second team selection in the American. 

Despite injuries last year and outside factors, the Temple Owls may be trending upward for good reason. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Behind the redshirt-sophomore were a pair of all-freshman selections: Jahlil White and Zach Hicks. White is a 6’7” combo wing who was a defensive menace last year, a +2.6 according to advanced defensive metrics. His offensive output will improve, but he needs to add both volume and accuracy. White shot 50 threes while making only 11 (22%). Hicks, also standing at 6’7”, is a nice defensive player, but a better three point shooter at 37%. Both must evolve as scoring options behind Battle and Dunn while spacing the floor.

McKie has assembled a very long, athletic team. One player stands under 6’5”: sophomore Hysier Miller, who’s elite speed makes him a ball hawk on defense. McKie found success in the portal too: 6’9” University of Central Florida transfer Jamille Reynolds, 6′ 5” Shane Dezone from Vanderbilt University,  6’10” Kur Jongkuch from the University of Northern Colorado as a glass eater and Deuce Roberts as his lone true freshman. All are defensive headaches for opposing coaches. 

The current Owls resemble a throwback John Chaney/Dunphy team with all these wings and philosophies. But their season depends on two things: health and offensive improvement. Defense will not be a problem, Temple can finish as a top 100 defense by March. The offensive numbers have to improve after finishing second to last in total points in the American. A healthy Khalif Battle (and overall healthy team) fixes that. Temple has the element of surprise, and it is safe to say North Broad Street wants a winner. 

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State College’s basketball reach under head coach Patrick Chambers was growing until investigations opened up about questionable comments he made to players. After a year with the interim Jim Ferry, Micah Shrewsberry’s first year at Penn State was … ordinary, until the Big Ten tournament. The Nittany Lions beat up the University of Minnesota, then shocked Ohio State University before narrowly taking down Purdue University in the quarterfinals. 

A returning backcourt of Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy is uplifting; their two leading scorers need to be all-league caliber this year. Pickett took time to find his footing but was quality down the stretch. Lundy has the skills to be effective on both ends, but lacks consistency. Pickett and Lundy’s points need to be in the 15-17 range this year. Myles Dread is also a huge piece as a fifth year guard. His 41% shooting from three is nothing to slouch at especially in a four guard, small ball lineup if they knock down their threes.

Penn State’s fusion of veterans and freshman could make or break their season in the Big Ten. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Shrewsberry has utilized the portal well too, scooping Andrew Funk, Camren Wynter and Mikey Henn. Funk scored 1,230 points at Bucknell University and shot 36% from three in the Patriot League. Wynter is an expert at penetrating and dishing to open shooters, one of the more accomplished players in Drexel lure who also has NCAA tournament experience. Mikey Henn is now on his fifth team in college, but has one constant: a career 35% from three at 6’8″. 

Amidst five freshmen, the two most important ones are a pair of 6’10” dudes in Kebba Njie and Demetrius Lilly. Njie is a sick athlete who’s rim running and dunking will fit nicely in the four-out offense, and could provide rim protection if his athleticism is weaponized correctly. Lilly, a Philadelphia native, is more offensive minded. A floor spacer, he is Lower Merion High’s all time leading rebounder, but isn’t the same athlete Njie is. Fellow neophyte Jameel Brown is going to be paramount from three. The 6’4” shooter is another spacer for Picket, Lundy and Wynter if they are in trouble.

Shrewsberry’s team finished dead last in points per game in the Big Ten last season, but what kept them in games was the stout effort. That serves as an unknown due to the five freshmen and losing players like Jon Harrar, a 240-pound enforcer who averaged 10 rebounds per contest. Njie and Lilly need to fill that void as freshman, which might kill Penn State if they can’t secure rebounds. The team is small, but a fast paced air raid could get them in the top half of the Big Ten if the shots fall.