At this time last year, there was minimal buzz about Michigan, Ohio State or Purdue in the Big Ten title race. The three programs were all picked middle-of-the-pack in most preseason rankings, some distance behind the likes of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin at the top. Three months later, Michigan won the regular-season title, Ohio State earned a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament and Purdue finished just two games back of the Wolverines.
Alabama and Arkansas were picked fifth and sixth in the SEC, respectively. The Crimson Tide ended up running roughshod over the rest of the league, finishing 16-2 and winning the regular-season title, while Arkansas went 13-4 and ultimately made a run to the Elite Eight.
It was a similar story in the ACC with Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech. They were Nos. 9, 10 and 11 in the preseason ACC poll, unlikely to be much of a factor in the league race. By the end of the season, Virginia Tech finished in third, Georgia Tech won the ACC tournament and all three teams made the NCAA tournament.
There are examples in every league — Colorado was picked seventh in the Pac-12 but earned a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament, while Wichita State won the AAC despite a seventh-place preseason projection — and we will undoubtedly have similar stories this season.
To try to get out ahead of the surprises, I reached out to a handful of coaches in each of the top seven leagues to get their picks for the biggest sleepers and underrated teams entering the season.